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Archive for Sunday, November 27, 2005

Artist celebrates almost 50 years in country music

November 27, 2005

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— "Hey well alright, sir, here we go there and what are ya' gonna give for 'em." So opens the song that took Leroy Van Dyke from a career in journalism to nearly 50 years as the world's best known auctioneer.

"The joke of it is that when I wrote this song, I really wasn't much of an auctioneer," Van Dyke said. "I wanted to be, but I was just learning."

The country entertainer had wanted to be an auctioneer since he was 10 years old and heard Ray Sims selling cattle at a sale barn.

"When Ray Sims started selling, it knocked me right back in my seat," he said. "I just stared and listened and decided right then that I wanted to learn to do that."

At 76, Van Dyke is entering his 50th year in entertainment. He's not content to stay at the home he built in the middle of 1,000 acres southeast of Sedalia, with red cedar trees, wild turkeys and deer.

Van Dyke still makes more than 200 appearances each year, including the Country Gold Tour developed by his wife of 25 years, Gladys.

Over the years, he has developed his own philosophy about life and success, borrowing ideas from Popeye (I yam what I yam) and J. Wilkins McCawber (Something will turn up). He said every few years he reinvents himself.

In the 1960s, he went to Las Vegas and saw the need for a totally self-contained show. To him, that meant he would take care of everything from transportation to performing.

"We offer a total package - a complete show - with older country stars that can be customized to meet the needs and budget of everything from a small weekend festival all the way up to huge state fairs," Van Dyke said.

The country singer has a strong faith in God, instilled by his parents while he was growing up on the family farm south of Smithton. He said his life has been up and down, but it always got better if he just followed the flow and worked hard.

Tony Shaffer, of Warrensburg, who has played bass, guitar and pedal steel guitar in Van Dyke's band for the past seven or eight years, compares that voice, and the barrel chest and vocal cords that produce it, to a cello made by the master luthiers of the 1600s and 1700s.

"His voice is rich and distinctive and makes most other voices sound like cheap instruments," Shaffer said.

Van Dyke credits his father, Frank Benjamin Van Dyke, for first pointing out that his voice was different and could be a big part of his future.

He said he was about 13, riding in a farm truck with his father, when his dad asked him what he would do with his life.

"I told him I guessed I would be a farmer like him," Van Dyke said. "He said, 'No, what would you do if you could do anything you wanted to do?' and made me think hard.

"I told him I would really like to be a singer."

Van Dyke said his father then told him that with a voice like his, he would be wasting his time and talent being a farmer and should follow his dream.

"I never forgot that. He's always been there at my shoulder," Van Dyke said.

But, he said, his father said he should also be prepared for another profession, just in case.

After finishing high school, Van Dyke attended University of Missouri-Columbia, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture, with majors in animal husbandry and journalism.

"If 'The Auctioneer' and 'Walk On By' hadn't come along, I might have been doing the interviewing instead of being interviewed," he said.

He then went to work for the Drover's Journal, a livestock newspaper based in Chicago.

"I heard the best auctioneers of their time selling purebred livestock," he said.

"At home, I would practice my own cry."

It was a song he wrote and recorded about an auctioneer that made his dream come true.

Van Dyke said people believed for a long time that "The Auctioneer" was about him, but that's not true.

"It was written about Ray Sims and the influence he had on my life," Van Dyke said. "Everything in that song is the absolute truth except for the first line, 'There was a boy from Arkansas.'

"Ray was raised right out there by Green Ridge, but I couldn't think of anything to rhyme with Missouri."

Drafted by the Army in 1953, Van Dyke was serving in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps in Korea when he wrote "The Auctioneer."

"One night I sat down in my tent - I had an acoustic guitar with me - and I wrote that song in about 20 minutes," he said. "It felt like someone else was pushing the pencil."

Back in the Midwest, Van Dyke recorded the song in 1956 while he was working for the Drover's Journal.

When "The Auctioneer" was released, it had sold over a million copies in three months. The fame came fast, but the fortune didn't, he said.

"It was nothing like the millions stars make today," he said.

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