Everybody's Rockin' with Werly Fairburn
Werly Fairburn

Lewi Werly Fairburn was born in the Charity Hospital Orleans on November 27, 1924, although his family lived out on a farm across Lake Ponchartrain, near Folsom, Louisiana. The family background was one eighth Cherokee with a bit of Irish, Scots and English. His father was a farmer and a woodcutter, and he died when Werly was thirteen. From that point, the oldest son Morris took over the farm, and that's where Werly, who was the youngest son, worked until war broke out. Like so many country families, Saturday night revolved around the Grand Ole Opry's and Werly's father bought a guitar for his sons. They took turns playing it, but, as Werly told a local reporter in 1975, "My brothers would be working out in the corn and cotton fields, and I had the guitar to myself. When they came in for lunch, that's when the fighting started over it." An old black guy across the fields had taught the boys how to play what Werly termed 'blue' guitar and he fitted hillbilly to blues changes.

After the war started, Werly went to New Orleans to work in Higgins Shipyard. By then he had married his first wife, Yvonne Myers. He joined the Navy's maintenance division in 1943 and was posted to Honolu where he spent the remainder of the war. Like many others, Werly began think seriously about an entertainment career while he was in the service, but he hedged his bets by going to Muller's Barber School in New Orleans on the G.I. Bill. He had cut hair in the Navy and it seemed an easier way of making a living.

Werly began playing hillbilly music on the side, and a promo man for WJBW in New Orleans came up with the notion of having Werly broadcast remote from the barber shop. This was in 1948, and Werly became known around New Orleans as the Singing Barber. Later, he got a show on WWEZ in New Orleans. He always said that Hank Williams was his biggest influence but on "It's A Cold Weary World" he shows that he'd listened to Jimmy Rodgers as well. At some point in the early 50s, Werly decided to leard music formally and he enrolled the Gruenwald School of Music.

Little labels came and went in the Delta, but the only one with any durability in the early '50s was Lillian McMurry's Trumpet Records in Jackson. She has no firm recollections of Werly, but it's a fair guess that as Jackson was within his touring area, he went to audition and got himself a contract. There was one session on which Werly was backed by the Jimmy Swan band, and another on which he backed Jimmy Swan. Swan was a Mississippi hillbilly singer who later stood for governor on what amounted to a'Send 'em Back to Africa' ticket. Werly's Trumpet single "Camping With Marie" earned him the adulation of overseas rockabilly fans, although in truth it was just a very good uptempo hillbilly record with a passing nod to Hank Williams Jambalaya.

Of course, most of what Werly did was country and hillbilly, but he did it in a way that is appreciated a lot by most rockabilly fans. He earned his spot in our little Hall Of Fame with his 1956 rockabilly tracks "Everybody's Rockin" (Columbia 21528), "I'm A Fool About Your Love" (Savoy 1503) and "All The Time" (Savoy 1503).

Werly died of lung-cancer on January 18, 1985. He continued to sing and play until he completely lost his voice. "It was a terrible way to go for a singer", said Louise Herman, Werly's second wife.

Bear Family Records has issued a great compilation of Werly's 50s and 60s recordings named "Everybody's Rockin" on BCD15578.