Music

Western Film & TV Star Slim Pickens Moonlighted as a Country Singer

Bing Crosby (right) with actor Silm Pickens on location for film 'Stage Coach' in August 1965. (AP Photo)

Most associate Slim Pickens, the coolest name this side of  Rip Torn, with his many Hollywood roles. For some, he's the comedic character actor seen in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, Disney's Never a Dull Moment or Stephen Spielberg's 1941. To others, he's a Western film star, known for his roles in Rocky Mountain, Old Oklahoma Plains, Iron Mountain Trail, The Great Locomotive Chase, Tonka, Down Laredo Way, Major Dundee, A Thunder of Drums, One Eyed Jacks, An Eye For an Eye, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Tom Horn, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Stagecoach Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The White Buffalo, Tom Evans and The Cowboys, just to name a few.

Beyond his film career, Pickens moonlighted as a gifted singer and country-adjacent celebrity. This can be heard on his self-titled 1977 album (Blue Canyon Records) and seen via his semi-regular appearances on Hee Haw from 1981 until his 1983 passing.

The promise of Pickens' short-lived attempt at breaking into country music can be summed up with one song: "Desperados Waiting on a Train." The song, written and recorded by Texas legend Guy Clark and also associated with Jerry Jeff Walker and The Highwaymen, sounds as great as ever when sung by Pickens.

Other choice cuts in the Pickens discography include the singles "Christmas in November" and Kinky Friedman's "Carryin' the Torch." Both have a spoken word quality and capture Pickens' jovial nature, making them a cross between Bill Anderson and Ray Stevens.

The list of TV shows to feature Pickens includes such country fan favorites as The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, Gunsmoke and one of the quirkier responses to the CB radio craze, BJ and the Bear. Pickens also hosted NBC's short lived country music variety series The Nashville Palace (1981).

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Pickens' big screen roles that overlap with country music fan culture include White Line Fever and Willie Nelson's Honeysuckle Rose.

Born Louis Burton Lindley Jr. on June 29, 1919 in Kingsburg, California, the future Slim Pickens began his life as an entertainer as a rodeo clown. He went on to share the silver screen with Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Errol Flynn, Sam Peckinpah, John Wayne and other superstars. His most iconic scene came not on a horse but on the atomic bomb he rode as the cowboy hat-wearing B-52 pilot Major T.J. "King" Kong in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove.

His final film, 1982's Pink Motel, co-starred Phyllis Diller.

Pickens died on Dec. 8, 1983 in Modesto, California following surgery for a brain tumor.

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Western Film & TV Star Slim Pickens Moonlighted as a Country Singer