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The Silver-Voiced Cyclone

Posted: February 22, 2024, 7:48PM

The Collection of Brother Cy Williams of Doc Williams & the Border Riders

By Sean Duffy, with Salli J. Barach

Note: Thanks to his niece Salli J. Barach, the Ohio County Public Library recently acquired a collection of artifacts once belonging to Cy Williams, fiddle player for the band, "Doc Williams & the Border Riders." The artifacts are currently on display in the main exhibit area at the Library. Read Salli's statement.

"Cy had a unique, smooth sound on the fiddle and, as brothers, we had a close harmony . . . As I look back, I was truly blessed to have him as part of my show." - Doc Williams

Cy Williams with his sweet-voiced fiddle, Ca 1939. Photo by George Kossuth.

Milo Smik (1918-2006) was born July 31, 1918 to Slovak immigrant parents, Andrew and Susie Smik, in Cowansville, PA, north of Pittsburgh. Young Milo learned to play the fiddle from his coal miner father, who also played the Mandolin back in Prague.

As a "hillbilly music" performer, Milo adopted the stage name "Cy Williams." Cy was short for "Cyclone," a nickname earned for his powerful fiddle playing, though his brother Andrew (stage name "Doc Williams") insisted Cy was “The boy with the silver-voiced fiddle.” Many of his fans simply claimed Cy was the best fiddle player they'd ever heard.

The collection contains and a typed list of an amazing 105 fiddle tunes known by Cy. We are left wondering what #106 was to be.

The instrumental song, “My Little Ole Home in West Virginia,” perhaps best showcases Cy’s fiddle skills.

Listen to the song.

For an example of Cy's vocals, try My Sinner Friend.

As Cy later recalled: "I bought this hand-made violin from a distant relative in Cleveland, my hometown, and originally paid $300 for it. My relative used it as a practice violin in the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Curly Sims, who played mandolin for Doc, in the early days at WWVA, used to sandpaper his mandolin to get the right tone. So I started doing this on my violin. I sandpapered the bridges and the body of the violin until I got the tone I wanted. I had really good tones on the high strings, like a gypsy tone. I still have this fiddle. It's always been my favorite fiddle even though I've owned and played several other fiddles on stage and over the radio with Doc." That's a lot for a fiddle during that era. Cy got his first for only $7.50 and learned to play at Doc's urging as Doc (who had started on the cornet, then the fiddle) learned guitar.

The two brothers started performing together at square dances for their father. While in Cleveland, Doc formed the Allegheny Ramblers with Cy and Curley Sims.  In Pittsburgh, in 1935, Doc and Cy performed over KQV-WJAS. Known as the "Bobby-Sox Crooner" in his early years, Cy sang harmony with Doc and also did solo work. Cy would then play fiddle for his brother's band, "Doc Williams and the Border Riders" from 1935 to 1953. 

 "The Doc Williams Sound" consisted of Doc on guitar, Marion Martin on accordion, and Cy on fiddle. In addition to the Williams brothers, members of the Border Riders included "Sunflower" (Mary Calvas), comedian "Rawhide" Fincher, "Big Slim the Lone Cowboy," and Curly Sims. Doc's wife Chickie (Jesse Wanda Crupe) joined in 1946. Cy also frequently participated in the comedy skits, which were part of the act.

Doc Williams and the Border Riders traveled the eastern United States and most of Canada to perform. They first performed on "The World's Original WWVA Jamboree," which was broadcast on radio station WWVA, in May 1937. A year later they won the station's popularity contest with 15,877 write-in votes from their fans.

But Cy's contribution wasn't appreciated by everyone. When some radio station employees claimed the fiddle was no longer popular in country music (ca. 1940), his brother Doc asked for requests for fiddle tunes during a live show. A week later, they had more than 900 requests.

Cy and Sunflower (Mary Calvas) married in 1938 but divorced shortly Cy served in the U. S. Army in the Philippines during and after WWII from July of 1944 to April 1946.

After the war, when Doc and Cy performed at Doc's Music Park at Musselman's Grove in Claysburg, PA from 1947-49, Cy operated a concession stand, the "cook shack," between shows, selling hamburgers and hot dogs. He was a meticulous record keeper. His ledgers and hamburger press are in the collection.

Cy Williams met Dorothy Lenko at one of the Saturday night Jamborees at the Virginia Theatre. He married her on October 9, 1952 and retired from Doc Williams and the Border Riders in 1953. After a year at C.A. House Music in Wheeling selling instruments, he went to work for the Wheeling Post Office, retiring in 1983. He passed in 2006.

Doc Williams and the Border Riders, ca late 1930s. L to R: "Rawhide" Hamilton Fincher, Cy, Doc, and "Sunflower" Mary Calvas.

The Cy Williams Collection & Exhibit

The Ohio County Public Library now has a collection of Cy William's memorabilia and artifacts on display in its main exhibit area. The collection includes:

  • Cy's original "silver-voiced" fiddle and fiddle case.
  • 2 cowboy hats, 1 pair of cowboy boots, and stage clothes worn by Cy Williams
  • Cy's original hamburger press and concession ledgers
  • Several Doc Williams and the Border Riders vinyl records made in town at Doc's Wheeling Recording Company.
  • Doc's original guitar lesson book and 2 related 45 rpm records.
  • Doc Williams and the Border Riders "Family Album"
  • WWVA 25th Anniversary booklet, 1951.
  • "Brother Cy" shaving mug.
  • Doc Williams & the Border Riders hand-painted, decorative, collector plates.
  • Numerous photographs of Cy and Doc Williams and the Border Riders

See a slideshow of artifacts and photos.



Doc Williams and The Border Riders Family Album. 1939.

Letter from Salli J. Barach. Jan., 2024.

Tribe, I. Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia. University Press of Kentucky. 1996. Williams, Doc, with Smik, B. Looking Back. Creative Impressions. 2006.


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