Born in Senath, MO, on November 10, 1921, Onie Wheeler recorded traditional country, bluegrass, and rockabilly (for Sun) in a career that stretched from a small radio show in Missouri all the way to the Grand Ole Opry. He played guitar and harmonica as a child, but never performed professionally until after service in World War II. Beginning in 1945, he worked radio broadcasts in Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, and Kentucky. Wheeler formed the Ozark Cowboys five years later with Ernest Thompson and brothers A.J. and Doyal Nelson. The Cowboys played clubs in Texas in 1952, and were encouraged to travel to Nashville by Little Jimmy Dickens.
After reaching Music City, Onie Wheeler and the Cowboys found a deal with Columbia. He recorded in 1953, and though his material wasn't successful, Lefty Frizzell reached the Country Top Ten a year later with Wheeler's "Run 'Em Off." By the mid-'50s, his repertoire began to lean toward rockabilly; he signed to Sun Records in 1957, and toured with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. He spent some of the late '50s in California, but returned to Nashville to record for Epic, Starday, United Artists, and Musicor during the '60s. Wheeler toured with the bands of George Jones and Roy Acuff, and finally hit the charts himself when "John's Been Shucking My Corn" placed modestly in 1973. He even watched his daughter Karen place three singles on the charts during the mid-'70s. Wheeler owned and operated a guitar repair shop during the late '70s and early '80s, working occasionally with Acuff on the Grand Ole Opry. He was playing at the Opry with Rev. Jimmie Snow in May 1984 when he collapsed and died on-stage. ~ John Bush
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