Wheeling has long been a place with a lot going on. Rivers, roads, and railways have allowed folks to both breeze into town as well as venture away with ease. Given our setting and history, Wheeling was bound to inspire some catchy tunes. Some songs about West Virginia are well known (looking at you, “Country Roads”), while others are more obscure.
How many of these Wheeling-centric songs have flown under your radar?
In this song released in 1969, Neil Sedaka weaves a sad tale about a Wheelingite who hits the “big time” in Los Angeles and feels some kind of way about it. The chorus contains lyrics questioning his choice to leave his beloved hometown.
Doc William and the Border Riders – Wheeling Back to Wheeling West Virginia (1955)
Clickity-clack clickity-clack on a track that leads me straight to home
I’m wheeling back to Wheeling West Virginia
Clickity-clack clickity-clack, When I’m back I’ll never, never roam
How many times have you driven on the Doc and Chickie Williams memorial highway but never heard their music? Doc and Chickie were integral to the WWVA Jamboree and were fixtures of the program since the early years. Chickie isn’t on this track, but “Wheeling back to Wheeling West Virginia” is a perfect example of the Williams’ cheerful country stylings.
Wheeling sounds like a town of heartbreakers, huh? Here’s another broken-hearted singer bemoaning that their ex is choosing to stay in the Friendly City while they presumably move elsewhere. Your loss, bud.
And I spent the night with the daughter of the Ohio
Counteracting all of these folks moping around about Wheeling and the one who got away, this song is about someone chasing a ghost into town. I’m sure they’re referring to a metaphorical ghost, but perhaps this is a love-letter to one of our resident ghosts.
There are no words to describe how lovely Mark Shumacher’s “Back in Wheeling” is. No, really, there are no words. This is a nice instrumental track with a title that suggests a return to the city. It could also be about Wheeling, Illinois, but let’s dare to dream.
“It’s Wheeling Steel” was a weekly radio show put on by the “Musical Steelmakers” of the Wheeling Steel Corporation. Employees and their family members were invited to perform on the show, and the result was a popular, locally-produced effort that ran until 1944. In addition to performances of popular music, jingles for Wheeling Steel products could be heard throughout the show. This is a jingle that was too catchy not to include in this list…can someone tell me how to get it out of my head?
Maybe you’ve seen The Sunflower Brothersplaying around town recently. Did you know that their latest release is called “Wheeling Cowboy”? The whole album is a hit, but I’d be remiss not to mention the track that includes the line:
It wouldn’t be a mixtape without a bonus track. While they don’t have a tune that mentions Wheeling by name, they have a unique playing style that would have let folks of the time know they were from our fair city.
The Tweedy Brothers were a local duo that hailed from just north of Wheeling. With riverboats, saloons, fairs, and sideshows, 1920s Wheeling provided a welcoming landscape for them to perform.1 With the recording industry taking off, many labels clamored to record mountain musicians and capitalize on that “mountain sound.” It’s worth noting that while the tunes they recorded are considered “standards” in the old-time community, their use of a piano to accompany the fiddle is not. Leave it to two Wheelingites to make something truly unique.
Well, this concludes our “Songs about Wheeling” roundup. With a place so steeped in history and so full of talent, I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a tune or two. Sound off in the comments with either your favorite song about Wheeling or one that I’ve somehow overlooked!
• Kate Wietor is currently studying Architectural History and Historic Preservation at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent one glorious year in Wheeling serving as the 2021-22 AmeriCorps member at Wheeling Heritage. Since moving back to Virginia, she’s still looking for an antique store that rivals Sibs.