top of page

A life of making music

He’s been making music all his life, first with a paper and a comb, then with a cigar box he made into a guitar using a ruler and some rubber bands.When he was 10 years old he was given a real guitar and began singing as a guest artist on the radio.     That was Sherwin Linton’s start into his musical career.     Linton has been performing professionally about 55 years now and in that time has never missed a performance. He estimates he’s probably given 10,000 plus performances from coast to coast over those years.     “I started in late 1955 with my first band when I was in high school, and before that I was performing too but not on a professional level.”     The 71 year old performer, who has a home in the cities but in actuality calls many different places home since he’s traveling all the time, doesn’t ever plan to lay that guitar down and call it quits. He loves what he’s doing too much for that. Over the last 40 years he’s played state fairs in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and Minnesota, plus nearly every county fair throughout the entire mid section of the country. He’s played in Willmar, Glenwood, Montevideo, actually wherever there’s a county fair.     “Some we repeat and some maybe play every other year, every five years, or maybe once, depending on where it is, but we continue to repeat a lot of places.”     He’s playing in the area so often he’s pretty much become more or less a household name. Just mention Sherwin Linton and the Cotton Kings and most everybody knows who you’re talking about.     Linton said what he’s doing through his music is communicating his enjoyment of life and his feelings on different venues, from the emotional, to the serious, the humorous and the spiritual. It also portrays his philosophy of life. Linton said he’s able to give that to people through his music, lyrics and songs. “I give them enjoyment, give them something to take with them in a way that they can remember. That would be what my hope would be and to some degree I think I’ve been able to do that.” Included in Linton’s performances is a tribute to Johnny Cash, something he’s been doing ever since Cash’s records came out in 1955. “I started doing a tribute to him, or special medley and segments of his songs in the late 50s and through the 60s and 70s and continue to do so. We do a full tribute to him also.” That tribute runs from five to ten minutes, to 90 minutes to a two hour performance, depending on what time allows. “It’s been a good part of our musical repertoire.     Cash was a good friend of Linton’s and when Linton did an album tribute to Cash called ‘Hello, I’m not Johnny Cash,’ he received a letter from Cash saying that was the nicest tribute anyone had ever paid to him on a record. Linton said that’s probably his most famous recording and it was recorded in the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1971.     Linton described the Johnny Cash rendition for the most part as ‘just a natural way of presenting his music and doing his songs in his style but applying a little bit of my own feeling to it too.’     Linton has done a lot of other people’s music too, and does a variety of Rock-A-Billy and fifties music, plus country and folk. “I also do a lot of the many songs I have written.”     The ideas for those songs just come. “I would write a lot more, but I’m working full-time on the performing end of it, playing music and taking care of all the rest of the business part of it.”     A Christmas hit, ‘Santa Got a DWI’ was written and recorded by Linton. It has an anti-drunk driving theme and is a Christmas favorite.     Mainly he plays guitar but he can play the banjo, the fiddle and the piano as well. “I have several pump organs in my home I like to play on and a harmonica and a few other folk instruments that are kind of nondescript and people may not be familiar with like the ‘picking bow’ or the ‘mouthbow’ as its called sometimes, plus other folk type instruments.”     Linton became interested in music at the very early age of three and his first instrument was a paper and a comb. “Back when I was a kid I’d take a pocket comb and a piece of wax paper or bread wrapper, whatever we had at the time, and put it over the comb and then you hum on it. It’s kind of like a poor man’s kazoo.”     He said they also had a little wind up phonograph when he was a child. “My parents had an electric phonograph so I was interested in all that. When I was six years old I took a cigar box, nailed a ruler across it, put some rubber bands across and made a little guitar of sorts.” When he was ten years old and got a guitar, a man that worked for his father showed Linton some chords.          “By the time I was 10 or 11 I was singing on the radio as a guest artist.” He got himself an electric guitar and in the mid 50s had his own little band and got his own radio show.     “When I got my own radio show that was the start of my professional level of career. I just continued to promote myself and work on getting bookings and interacting with other musicians wherever I could get exposed and continued to do so.”     He went to Minneapolis in the late 50s and started a band there, then toured with them around the country. In the mid 60s he went to Nashville and began recording.     When he recorded the song “Cotton King,” that kind of catapulted him up to the next level and got him some national recognition.     The first radio station he appeared on was KWAT in Watertown, S.D. in 1950 and WNAX out of Yankton which was a powerful station that could be heard all over the country. “They had a show called ‘Missouri Valley Barn Dance’ which I got to be a guest on in 1953 when I was 13 years old.”     There were a few other radio stations on which he was a guest as well, and when he was growing up he lived in a lot of small towns in South Dakota. His dad was a railroad section foreman so they moved around quite a bit, and when Linton was in high school he worked on an extra gang himself. “A lot of people from the Willmar and Benson area came out and worked on these gangs too. Willmar and Benson were meccas of the Great Northern Railroad.     Linton said his dad also sang a lot, but never professionally. “He had grown up with it and sang a lot in his younger days and still sang everywhere he went. He would sing in the car and at home . . . a lot of old songs. My mother played harmonica and she did some singing too. My sister took piano lessons and became very good. Everyone in the family had a strong interest in music.”     Linton’s first band was made up of some high school friends of his. They weren’t the same kids every time and there were two to three different guys that played drums with him. “We’d have a little Rock-A-Billy band with three to five people. We were kind of garage band. We’d practice in a garage, my yard, the living room, wherever. My mother loved it when I’d bring friends over and play.”     That group was called Sherwin Linton and the Rocketeers. From there they went to Minneapolis and started a group called the Fender Benders, named after the Fender guitar. “Somebody would come up and say ‘bend that fender’ because I’d swing it around and slap it across my knee and do crazy things, so they called us the Fender Benders. When I recorded ‘Cotton King’ I changed the name to Cotton Kings and that name stayed.”     Linton has recorded over 500 songs and has a lot more he would like to record. “I’ve probably got 15 to 20 different CD projects I’d like to do.” which would include a pop song CD, songs that were popular, Frank Sinatra type stuff.” He’s working on a duet CD. He’s recorded a duet with Tom Cash, David Frizzell and several other people he’s worked with over the years. “I’ve known nearly every country music person of National status from Tex Ritter to Hank Williams Jr. to Roy Acuff, Marty Robbins, Faron Young and all those people.” He added, “we toured with all of them at one time or another, and some of those that are still living have expressed an interest in doing a duet with me. We’re working on that project but that will take some time because of coordinating all the time frames and the songs and selection of materials.”     At his birthday party, Linton’s friends also wrote and recorded a song called “The Ballad of Sherwin Linton.”     Linton’s wife, Pam, said Sherwin had the biggest smile she had ever seen as they were singing the song to her husband. And it kept getting bigger as the song went on. Linton said that was quite a tribute and one he will never forget. He said he loves people, music, traveling and giving of himself in whatever way he can. “I was 70 for the second time July 28 of this year. Jack Benny was 39 forever. I’ll keep being 70 forever.”

2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page