Eugene Lowrey Stripling, who performed in country radio’s early days under the name of “Uncle Ned” with his group, Texas Wranglers, told writer Celestia Bailey of Rural Radio Magazine in the June 1939 issue how he got his nickname.

Here’s a reprint of Bailey’s story along with an update at the end with more information about this popular performer of his time.

The Story

Want to learn how to play the piano? Get a job as a piano player on a radio program. That’s what “Uncle Ned” did, and he learned quick enough. The foreman of “Uncle Ned and His Texas Wranglers,” popular WSB Cross Roads Follies attraction, also plays the guitar and bass fiddle, and he learned the art of both in the same manner as his mastery of the keyboard. “Uncle Ned,” whose real name is Gene Stripling – remind me to tell you how he got that other handle –started out as a grocery clerk in his father’s store at Macon, Georgia, his hometown. That was while he was still a student at Lanier High School.

On graduation, he felt the call of wider horizons, and so he saw the world from the cab of an express truck, on which he traveled as driver. It was while he was employed in this capacity that he joined a string band then playing over the local radio station, WMAZ.

“I couldn’t play the piano,” Gene grinned, “but nobody knew it but me, and I could fake enough tunes to get me by. I even doubled at the drums, peddling the piano with my left foot, and beating the bass drum with my right. Pretty soon I branched out on the guitar and bull fiddle, and now I play them all.”

Oh, yes, about that “Uncle Ned.” The name dates from the first performance of his own outfit, which he soon organized.

“The family pride was such that I didn’t want to do anything to disgrace it,” Gene related. “If I appeared under another name, and the debut was a flop, my folks wouldn’t be any the wiser, and there wouldn’t be any embarrassment to anybody but myself. So, for some reason I adopted for the evening the name of Uncle Ned. And I’ve never been able to get rid of it since.” It was about two years ago that Gene again felt the need of a change, and left his home station for WSB in Atlanta. Since then, he and the boys have become widely-followed stars on the station’s Cross Roads Follies, heard daily during the noon hour.

Slim Hutcheson sings and strums the banjo. Pete Cassels is the blind piano player and guitarist. Chick Stripling (no relation to Gene) plays the fiddle and does expert buck and wing dancing when the group makes a personal appearance. Cicero (Ray) Merneigh is a virtuoso of all the instruments and a crack comedian besides. And tall lanky Sammy Forsmark, the newest member of the outfit, interprets the steel guitar. The boys are all young, the average age for the band being 23 years.

Though they are called the Texas Wranglers, not a single member of the group is a native of the Lone Star State. They’ve visited Texas, however, and the name they chose expresses the admiration they feel for the cowboys and their life. They compliment the range riders further with their stage dress-cowboy outfits complete with boots, chaps, guns and ten-gallon hats. Stripling’s hobby, he quickly admits, is flying, and he’s done quite a bit of it, with more than 200 hours in the air. But he doesn’t get to fly much now. When he lived in Macon, the airport was practically in his father’s backyard, and before he left the roost, he used to spend all his free time at the hangar. A pal owned an old crate, and he and Gene barnstormed all the nearby small towns, giving many a Georgia cracker the thrill of his life.

“I took up a paid passenger on my third solo flight,” Gene confessed, “but the poor soul fortunately didn’t know all the facts.”

The element of chance has largely been eliminated from flying now, he points out, and as a consequence he feels that it has lost much of its fascination. Fishing is a mighty good way to spend any time you aren’t working, Gene holds, and he and his father have some swell times together at their old haunts around Macon when he goes home for a visit. He takes his family with him, for there are more Striplings now – the missus and a year-old son, Gene, Jr.

In appearance, Gene “Uncle Ned” Stripling is a handsome and commanding figure. He is six feet tall, weighs 170 pounds and wears a small clipped black moustache. His favorite food, he decides, as if hard-put to make a choice between many things he likes, is butterscotch pie with ice cream. Which ought to prove beyond any doubt that Uncle Ned can take it!

The Update

Stripling, 42, died unexpectedly on Oct. 18, 1958, in Hawkinsville, Georgia, while entertaining. According to his obituary, Stripling was born on Dec. 18, 1915, in Jones County, the son of Lowery Franklin Stripling and Sally Nash Baker Stripling. He was a 32nd degree Mason, a member of the Grotto, Eastern Star and was a member of Cross Keys Baptist Church. He was a veteran of World War II and member of the American Legion. He participated in the Macon Motorboat Club and Macon Aviation Club.
He was survived by his wife, Lois Turner Alexander; a son L.E. Stripling, Jr, 20; and two daughters, Sally, 18, and Evelyn 12.

Header Photo: “Uncle Ned and the Texas Wranglers” pose against WSB’s tower just outside the studios. Left to right, “Uncle Ned” – Gene Stripling, Pete Cassels, Slim Hutcheson, Cicero (Ray) Merneigh. In the rear. Chick Stripling and Sammy Forsmark..

Story by Claudia Johnson © 2023, Country Reunion MagazineSubscribe here.