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Transcript of interview with James Dull, March 3, 1992, for the film "West Virginia"

Source: WV History Film Project


Q: Tell me about how you and your brother got involved in the Wheeling Steel program?
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JD: In the Wheeling Steel program, whoever the managers was, called my brother and said that their trombone player -- I think his name was Jay Woods -- was leaving the orchestra. My brother just took his place in the band. Now, Al played there for a couple of years and in the meantime they lost another trumpet player and Al asked me if I wanted to play. I told him I was playing with a band right now and I liked it very well; I'm a big band man. You play some long haired stuff and short haired stuff, and I'll stay with my big band. Al said, "All right, okay." So that went on for about a year, and I didn't get disgusted but there was so much going on with the Wheeling Steel program. They were very well known. I said maybe this is time for a change, so that's what I did. I called Earl because Earl Summers had asked before, so I joined the program I think it was November in 1939.


Q: You were saying when you got with Wheeling Steel it was a big deal; tell me about what the program was like; how it was thought about by people?
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JD: It was an honor to be on the show, let me tell you. I mean, it's the reasons I finally decided. I liked the big band music before, but nobody ever heard it. When you got on Wheeling Steel you were on stage, and you were heard over 145 stations on the Blue Network. It was sort of a challenge too. My brother and I both, I mean we really never had any musical training whatsoever like nowadays. You get the music and you measure on your instrument, etc. I had some college, but nothing in music. It all sort of came natural, really. Al and I always enjoyed it. When I got on the show it felt good. It was an 18 or 20 piece orchestra. Now the dance band was only about ten, so it felt better. That's about the only way I can say it. It felt good.

Q: Now your father worked for the mill?
JD: That's right, yes.

Q: Was that a requirement, that you have a family member work, say to be on the program or -- Tell me how that was connected? ?
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JD: It was either direct family member or somebody back in the relationship. They didn't hold a real sign up. We were sort of direct because my dad did work for many years at the Yorkville Plant of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, so there was no problem with my brother and I. We got on right away. No, you didn't have to have a direct link. Somewhere in the relationship, they would like you to be connected to be on the show.

Q: What did your father do at the plant?
JD: First of all, he worked at what they used to call the 'pots'. Excuse the language. They would dip the metal by hand, by tongs. Of course that's all mechanized now. Then coat the steel with tin or galvanize and put it out to dry. That was one of his jobs, using the forks to pick up the ?? They'd have acid. He'd come home every once in awhile with some little spots on his head where the acid would fly, you know. He used a protective cap, but even so.

Q: I guess your father was proud he had two sons on the Wheeling Steel program?
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JD: Always, of course. He came to every show there was. When we were in high school, he'd come to every football game, etc., not to see footballs especially, but to see his boys in the band.

Q: Did you have fans around town? How did people treat you around the area? Were you a celebrity?
JD: Not quite. There was more than once somebody would say, "Hey, can you get me on the program?" Maybe some trombone player in Martin's Ferry or Yorkville or somewhere -- try to get me on the program. I says, "Well, I'll try." But of course I didn't try because whoever it was would never make it. So there was some prestige to being on the program really.

Q: What do you think the show meant to Wheeling and the Wheeling area. It was on national broadcast. What kind of prestige did that lend to the town?
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JD: I would say quite a bit. We were starting to battle country and western because WWVA was the real foundation of country music in the country. It could have been the capital instead of national I think if they'd have hung in ?? but they didn't. But Wheeling Steel I think overshone the WWVA and it was just like you say. It was a prestige program; more so than the -- we always called the country and western show from the -- we called them hillbillies -- now they call it country western.

Q: Did you detect a tension between -- you had Wheeling Steel program and the Jamboree going on here? Two different ? ?
JD: I never liked the country western. Nowadays it's a little different cause country western I think is got pretty refined nowadays. Sometimes you can't tell the difference.

Q: But back then you had different audiences ? ?
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JD: Right, yes. In those days, I mean hillbilly was hillbilly. It wasn't country western you know.

Q: Moving on, you came on in '39. War hits in '41. Do you remember when the war started and wasn't their program going on?
JD: Right. I remember the very afternoon that we got the reports. We'd rehearsed that morning. My brother and I went back home. He was resting on the couch. We had the radio on, and they came in with the news report about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I says, "Al, did you hear that, did you hear that?" He grumped and he rolled back over. Then when we came to do the show, everybody knew it. We just continued on with that. Did the show that afternoon, but from then on it was every show was a little bit different and special for the war effort all the way through, you know.

Q: So the show became oriented toward the war effort.
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JD: Definitely, all the way. Buy bonds; sell bonds, etc. We would take trips down state and maybe a do a show at maybe Clarksburg. Maybe do a show at Morgantown, etc. Do the afternoon show, like we went to Great Lakes that one time. I forget when it was, '41 or '42. It had to be '42 I think. We did a show in February at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. There were five or six thousand people there to see the show.

Q: You had a quite a number of people in Morgantown at the rally too? ??? thousands ??
JD: Probably; I can't really recall now, see.

Q: Your brother went off to the war too?
JD: Yes, that's right. I can't remember exactly when, but I know he was drafted.

Q: We have this great picture of him coming back. Tell about when he went off and came back on furlough? ??
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JD: They had the big send off on the last show he did before he went into the service, almost like a party, a little bit that morning. The first time he came back on a furlough was sort of bad news. My dad had a stroke and he had special permission and he had special permission. It wasn't a regular furlough because anybody who's been in service -- I don't know how many months he was in -- wouldn't be allowed to come home. But he got back on emergency furlough. Of course, he came in that Sunday and played the show. My dad, although he had the stroke, he lived for many, many years. He was just incapacitated; he couldn't work at the mill any more.


Q: When your brother was out to war, there was all this war emphasis on the program. Did he hear about the Wheeling Steel program?
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JD: Of course, they would tune it in, you know. He was at Ft. Sull? Oklahoma. The guys would get around and listen to the program every Sunday. At the Ft. Sull they had a big dance band, and my brother was in the dance band. In fact I was doing some writing and arranging; I sent him an arrangement. They recorded it and sent the LP back to me. They listened to the show all the time.

Q: Did you get reactions from servicemen about the program? Did you get a sense it was helping out or that you were helping out with the war effort.
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JD: It was implied. It wasn't said per se I don't' think, but I'm sure they all appreciated what we were doing cause we were putting our time, taking the trips, playing to the servicemen, etc.

Q: Your father -- you were talking earlier about the ethnic tradition of the music. Tell about how you got started in music and how your music is important to your family?
JD: Like I said it was a big Hungarian ethnic majority in Martin's Ferry. I don't think there were more than two of the younger Hungarians who really had instruments, but they all decided they wanted to have a band, and they called it the Hungarian Brass Band. They got about 20 or 25. They all learned their instruments. To this day I never know how they sounded, but it was probably half and half you know.
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But that's how my dad -- and of course he had a coronet at home. I think that's what chartered, started the whole chain because when my brother got in the 7th he asked him what instrument he wanted to play. I think he probably said coronet because we had one at home. The band director said no, we have a baritone horn for you to play. Then my brother he played baritone horn and trombone all the way through, and that's where he wound up. With me it was a little different. They had a coronet. Once again, the band leader wanted me to play baritone, so --