Billy Edd Wheeler

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Billy Edd Wheeler
Birth nameBilly Edward Wheeler
Born (1932-12-09) December 9, 1932 (age 90)
OriginWhitesville, West Virginia, United States
GenresFolk, Country
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, playwright
Years active1964–2012
LabelsKapp, United Artists, RCA, Radio Cinema, NSD

Billy Edward "Edd" Wheeler[1] (born December 9, 1932, Boone County, West Virginia, United States) is an American songwriter, performer, writer, and visual artist.

His songs include "Jackson" (Grammy award winner for Johnny Cash and June Carter) "The Reverend Mr. Black", "Desert Pete", "Ann", "High Flyin' Bird", "The Coming of the Roads", "It’s Midnight", "Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back", "Coal Tattoo", "Winter Sky", and "Coward of the County" (which inspired a 1981 television movie of the same name) and have been performed by over 160 artists including Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Hazel Dickens, Florence and the Machine, Kathy Mattea, Nancy Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. "Jackson" was also recorded by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for the movie Walk the Line. His song "Sassafras" was covered in the folk rock era by Modern Folk Quartet and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

Wheeler is the author-composer of eight plays and musicals, a folk opera (Song of the Cumberland Gap), commissioned by the National Geographic Society, and three outdoor dramas: the long-running Hatfields & McCoys at Beckley, West Virginia, Young Abe Lincoln at Lincoln Amphitheatre, Lincoln City, Indiana, and Johnny Appleseed, at Mansfield, Ohio. He has authored six books of humor, four with Loyal Jones of Berea, Kentucky: Laughter in Appalachia, Hometown Humor USA, Curing the Cross-Eyed Mule, and More Laughter in Appalachia, and two as sole author: Outhouse Humor, and Real Country Humor / Jokes from Country Music Personalities. His first novel, Star of Appalachia, was published in January 2004, and his second, co-written with Ewel Cornett, Kudzu Covers Manhattan, in 2005. Song of a Woods Colt, a book of poetry, was published in 1969. Travis and Other Poems of the Swannanoa Valley (With Some Poems and Prayers by Dr. Henry W. Jensen) was published in 1977. He was the featured author in Appalachian Heritage magazine's 2008 winter issue, which included 16 of his original paintings. North Carolina’s Our State magazine featured him in its December 2007 issue. In 2018, Billy Edd published a book of memoirs entitled "Hotter Than A Pepper Sprout", a Hillybilly poet's journey from Appalachia to Yale to writing hits for Elvis, Johnny Cash & More.


Wheeler was born on December 9, 1932. He graduated from Warren Wilson College in 1953, and Berea College in 1955.[2] After serving as a student pilot in the Navy, he served as Alumni Director of Berea College. Wheeler recorded a couple of albums for Monitor Records, then from 1961 to 1962 he attended the Yale School of Drama, majoring in playwriting.[2] With Ewel Cornett, he co-wrote the musical Hatfields and McCoys, which has been performed annually since 1970 by Theatre West Virginia in the Grandview Cliffside Amphitheatre (part of the New River Gorge National River area).[3][4] He is married to the former Mary Mitchell Bannerman. They have two adult children, Lucy and Travis, and live in Swannanoa, North Carolina.[3]

In the 1968 book by Milt Okun Something to Sing About: the personal choices of America's folk singers[5] Wheeler's choice was "Turtle Dove" (Fare Thee Well).



Year Album Chart Positions Label
US Country US
1961 Billy Edd: USA Monitor
1962 Billy Edd and Bluegrass, Too
1963 A New Bag of Songs Kapp
1964 Memories of America 6 132
1965 The Wheeler Man
1966 Goin' Town and Country
1967 Paper Birds
1968 I Ain't the Worrying Kind
1969 Nashville Zodiac United Artists
1971 Love RCA
1972 Some Mountain Tales About Jack Spoken Arts
1979 Wild Mountain Flowers Flying Fish
1995 Songs I wrote With Chet Sagittarius
2001 Milestones (A Self Portrait)
2006 New Wine From Old Vines


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US
1964 "Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back" 3 50 Memories of America
1968 "I Ain't the Worryin' Kind" 63 I Ain't the Worryin' Kind
1969 "West Virginia Woman" 51 single only
"Fried Chicken and a Country Tune" 62 Nashville Zodiac
1972 "200 Lbs. O' Slingin' Hound" 71 singles only
1979 "Duel Under the Snow" 94
1979 "Ring the Bells of Freedom"
1980 "Humperdink, the Coon-Hunting Monkey"
1981 "Daddy" (with Rashell Richmond) 55


Wheeler was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001, the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007, and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.[6] He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from his two alma maters: Berea College in 2004, and Warren Wilson College in 2011.

He has received 13 awards from ASCAP, the "Best Appalachian Poetry" from Morris Harvey College, and Billboard Magazine’s "Pacesetter Award for Music and Drama". In June 2005, Country Music Television voted "Jackson" one of the Ten Greatest Love Songs of Country Music.


  • Song of a Woods Colt, Droke House (Anderson, SC) 1969
  • Travis & Other Poems of the Swannanoa Valley, Wild Goose, Inc.


  1. ^ Spencer Leigh interview Archived June 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Manheim, James. "Billy Edd Wheeler: Biography". Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Theatre West Virginia 2005 Program" (PDF). Theatre West Virginia. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 19, 2006. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  4. ^ "Production History". Theatre West Virginia. Archived from the original on May 11, 2015. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  5. ^ New York: Macmillan Company ISBN 978-0-02-592820-6; pp. 192-94
  6. ^ "2011 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.

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