Singer, songwriter and yodeller Wilf Carter – also known as Montana Slim or the Yodelling Cowboy – is recognized as “the father of Canadian country music.” He was Canada’s first country-music star and an enormous influence on generations of musicians.
Carter was born on December 18, 1904, in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia. Inspired at an early age by a yodeller who was passing through town, Carter began to practice and develop his own unique “three-in-one” or “echo” yodel. He worked a short stint in the lumber woods in West Leicester, Nova Scotia, and then drifted to the Alberta grain fields.
He began singing at the local dances and, in 1929, attended an audition at a Calgary radio station. Management doubted his ability and told him to return in another year. Determined to become a professional singer, Carter returned the following year, auditioned for another Calgary station and was hired to sing on their Friday night hoedowns, “The Old Timers.” Mail began to pour into the radio station from all over the Prairies.
One night, Carter was approached by an official of the Brewster Transport Company and invited to be part of the on-board entertainment for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s trail rides through the Rockies. For several years, Carter accompanied the trail riders on their summer packing trips. At night, they would sit around the campfire and listen to him tell stories, sing and yodel.
On one trip, Carter stopped in Montreal to audition for RCA. He sang two original compositions, “Swiss Moonlight Lullaby,” a yodeling tune, and a song about the capture of Albert Johnson, the mad trapper. Carter later contacted RCA and discovered they had produced his first 78 recording and were anxious to release it.
While on another trail ride, Carter was introduced to New York executives at NBC and CBS where, after 15 minutes of singing and yodelling, he was offered a contract to broadcast The Wilf Carter Show. Shortly afterward, a New York secretary who was typing the lyrics to his song, “A Cowboy’s High-Toned Dance,” asked him: “What name do I put on it?”
“Anyone’ll do,” Carter replied. The young woman thought for a moment and typed ‘Montana Slim.’ The name stuck, and to this day, it’s how Carter is still known to millions of Americans.
In 1937, Carter left New York and bought a ranch near Calgary. He appeared regularly on both American and Canadian network radio, but in 1940 he sustained a severe back injury in an automobile accident. Though he continued to record, he did not tour again until 1949. He sold the Calgary ranch and bought a 180-acre farm in New Jersey, resumed his CBS show and went back on the trail. In 1952, Carter moved his family to Orlando, Florida, where he opened the Wilf Carter Motor Lodge, only to close it two years later. Carter toured Australia in 1953.
He remained one of Canada’s most popular country entertainers through the 1960s, but as the years went by, he began limiting his appearances to about 20 per year. He was made Honourary Chief of the Stony Indian Tribe and an Honourary Citizen of both Winnipeg and Tennessee. Both Hank Snow and Johnny Cash interrupted their own performances to salute Carter as “a legend in his own time.”
Carter died in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1996 at age 91.
Begins singing at Nova Scotia dances
Hired to sing aboard CP trail rides through the Rockies.
Moves to New York City in 1935, where he’s nicknamed Montana Slim.
Begins hosting The Wilf Carter Show on CBS country radio.
Tours with his daughters as “The Family Show with the Folks You Know”
Performs at the Calgary Stampede
Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
Tours “The Last Round-up” at age 86.