Lonzo and Oscar were an American country music duo founded in 1945 originally consisting of Lloyd George (1924-1991) as “Lonzo” and Rollin “Oscar” Sullivan (1919-2012), best known for being the first to perform the 1948 song “I’m My Own Grandpa“. George departed in 1950, and Lonzo was later portrayed by Johnny Sullivan (1917-1967) from 1950 to 1967 and by David Hooten from 1967 to 1985, when the band retired (with some final shows performed by Sullivan and first Cleo C. Hogan, then Billy Henson, the later of which eventually bought the rights to the name).
Rollin Sullivan was born in Edmonton, Kentucky, one in a family of ten. Rollin (born January 9, 1919) and brother Johnny Sullivan (born July 7, 1917) toured together in the 1930s; they were also in a local group known as the Kentucky Ramblers. They made their professional debut on WTJS-AM in Jackson, Tennessee, about 1939. In 1942, Rollin joined Paul Howard’s Arkansas Cotton Pickers playing an electric mandolin, where he received the nickname Oscar. Johnny was in the military at the time. In the summer of 1944, Rollin, with WSM-AM’s Grand Ole Opry, played tent shows with Eddy Arnold.
By 1945, the Sullivan brothers joined George with Arnold’s show. They played a comedy act called Cicero and Oscar, opening shows for Arnold and His Tennessee Plowboys. George was Cicero and Rollin was Oscar. One evening the troupe stopped at a hotel. “While we was checking in, this black man, a porter, was coming down the steps just covered with dirty linen. The desk clerk looked up and said, ‘Lonzo! Don’t you ever come down those front steps with dirty linen anymore,’” recounted Rollin. Arnold then changed Cicero to Lonzo. According to Rollin, they would “go out on the stage, and boy, we’d wang-bang them, get them all laughing and having a good time [Lonzo and Oscar got 20 minutes before Arnold.] Then we introduced Eddy. Eddy came out on the stage, and he would sing ‘Mommy Please Stay Home with Me,’ and they’d all start bawling.” Rollin continued on the electric mandolin, recording for Arnold on November 21, 1945. By Arnold’s next two recording dates on March 20 and September 24, 1946, all three were playing as session musicians: George played bass and Johnny Sullivan played guitar.
In 1947, Arnold signed George and Sullivan with his label, RCA Victor. They recorded their first songs on May 18, 1947, which were released in August. George named the group Lonzo and Oscar with their Winston County Pea Pickers. Sullivan still recorded for Arnold throughout 1947, but at the end of the year, Arnold let Lonzo and Oscar go. Besides persuading Steve Sholes of RCA Victor to get them a contract and landing them a spot on the Grand Ole Opry, he also hired Johnny Sullivan to manage a record store Arnold owned in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Lonzo and Oscar with their Winston County Pea Pickers recorded 16 songs for RCA. Their best selling song was released in 1948. Written by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, “I’m My Own Grandpa” became their signature tune and was recorded by many others. It sold over four million copies. Originally, RCA Victor approached Arnold to sing and release this record, but Arnold thought that it would better suit Lonzo and Oscar.
In 1949, the team switched record companies, finding their home with Capitol Records. Their first recording date with Capitol was August 21, 1949; however, George recorded his first songs as Ken Marvin on Capitol two days before he recorded with Rollin as Lonzo and Oscar. They recorded ten songs for Capitol. By the end of January 1950, Lloyd left the group to solo as Ken Marvin. George asked Rollin if he could quit, and told him “sometime in my life, I am gonna try to go solo. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.” Lloyd had to use a different name because WSM stipulated that Lloyd would have to give up the name Lonzo.
Johnny Sullivan then took on the role. Rollin produced the duo from this point on. They went to Decca Records and released 29 singles. In 1963, the group scored another hit with “Country Music Time”. Johnny Sullivan died of a massive heart attack on June 5, 1967, and Rollin continued with Lonzo and Oscar when he found David Hooten, the third Lonzo.
- January, 09, 1919
- Edmonton, Kentucky
- September, 07, 2012
- Madison, Tennessee
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park
- Goodlettsville, Tennessee