Country Bandleader Doc Williams Dead at 96

Country bandleader and recording artist Doc Williams died Monday (Jan. 31) at his home in Wheeling, W.Va. He was 96. Born in Cleveland of Slovakian parents, Andrew John Smik grew up and learned to play cornet, fiddle and guitar in Tarrtown, Pa., a tiny settlement north of Pittsburgh. He began his radio career in Cleveland in 1932 on The Barn Busters, a program produced by future TV comic Morey Amsterdam. Smik changed his stage name to Doc Williams in 1936 while playing at Pittsburgh station WJAS. He named his band the Border Riders. In 1937, he and his band joined the Wheeling Jamboree on powerhouse station WWVA. He would remain a top act there, building a large fan following in the northeastern U.S. and Canada, until his final performance in 2003. At various stages, the Border Riders included many members of Williams’ family, including his wife Jessie (Chickie) Williams, who died in 2007. Fiddler Buddy Spicher and singer-songwriter Lionel Cartwright also played in various editions of the band. Williams began recording in 1947 but never scored a national hit. He published his autobiography, Looking Back, in 2006.