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. 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?

Neil Sedaka – Wheeling West Virginia (1969)

Neil Sedaka - Wheeling West Virginia

Where is the guy from Wheelin’ West Virginia

Why did he have to roam

So far away from Wheelin’ West Virginia,

Thousands of miles from home

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)

Doc William and the Border Riders - Wheeling Back to Wheeling West Virginia (1955)

I’m wheeling back to Wheeling, West Virginia

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.

Read More: Doc and Chickie Williams: Wheeling’s Pioneers on the Country Music Trail Part One

Read More: Doc and Chickie Williams: Wheeling’s Pioneers on the Country Music Trail Part Two

Billy Joel – Ballad of Billy the Kidd (1973)

Billy Joel - Ballad of Billy the Kidd (1973)

 

From a town known as Wheeling, West Virginia

Rode a boy with a six-gun in his hand

And his daring life of crime

Made him a legend in his time

East and west of the Rio Grande

From what I can tell Billy the Kidd is not from Wheeling, or even West Virginia. I’m not sure why Billy Joel took creative liberties with this fact, but it makes for an interesting story nonetheless. 

Mel Tillis – Goodbye Wheeling (1967)

Mel Tillis - Goodbye Wheeling (1967)

Well, I’ve been reeling around Wheeling

West Virginia just a little too long

Well, I gotta be leaving ’cause one deceiving

Free wheeling woman done me wrong

This song seems like a bookend to “Detroit City.” Both songs have writing credits to Tills, and they’re both about two Rust Belt cities he didn’t seem to have a good time in.  

 Phoebe Bridgers – You Missed my Heart (2017)

Phoebe Bridgers - You Missed my Heart (2017)
 

Driving into downtown Wheeling, showing her off

Backyard barbecues and reunions in the park 

“You Missed my Heart” has a couple of nods to the Wheeling area. Beyond mentioning the city by name, the narrator of this grim ballad also name-checks the Ohio River and Moundsville. 

Curt Perkins – Wheeling, West Virginia (2021)

Curt Perkins - Wheeling, West Virginia (2021)

 

Wheeling, West Virginia

Where my baby’s gonna stay

I will never think of you again 

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. 

Tough Old Bird – Wheeling, WV

Tough Old Bird - Wheeling, WV

I’ve never been to West Virginia

But somehow I know

That the great white pine is a gracious host

And I rode into Wheeling on the heels of a ghost

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. 

Mark Shumacher – Back in Wheeling (2020)

Mark Shumacher - Back in Wheeling (2020)

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. 

Wheeling Steel – “Look for the Old Red Label”

Here’s the “Old Red Label” being used to communicate Wheeling Steel’s support and manufacturing efforts during World War II. Image courtesy of the Ohio County Public Library.

Listen to Wheeling Steel Radio Recordings Here

Look for the old Red Label

Renowned in fact and fable

For its Wheeling corrugating

The country’s highest rating 

For bucket, tub, or roofing

Or a fence around the farm 

“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? 

Read More: Wheeling Steel’s Roots Still Run Deep in the Ohio Valley

The Sunflower Brothers – Wheeling Cowboy

The Sunflower Brothers - Wheeling Cowboy

Maybe you’ve seen The Sunflower Brothers playing 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:

Wheeling Cowboy writes a letter…

Bonus Track: Tweedy Brothers – Sugar in the Gourd

Bonus Track: Tweedy Brothers - Sugar in the Gourd

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! 

If you want more locally-minded music, stop by the Ohio County Public Library for their Lunch With Books program. They will be hosting a two-part series on West Virginia Anthems on December 28 and January 4. Learn more about this program at ohiocountylibrary.org

• Kate Wietor is an AmeriCorps member currently serving with Wheeling Heritage researching and writing historical content for Weelunk. Kate has a BS in Anthropology from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In her free time, you can find her lurking in antique stores, marveling at the resiliency of plants in the urban landscape, and enjoying the multitude of hand-painted signs around Wheeling.

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