Though his stopover in rock was brief and incidental at best and his impact on its evolution was all but non-existent, Doc Wiley holds the distinction of being the senior artist in the field in terms of date of birth, the only one alive in the 1800’s, making him a rather interesting footnote in rock’s long history.

Arnold “Doc” Wiley was born in Missouri in 1898 and had a full life before ever encountering rock ‘n’ roll. As a child he left home to join a Chinese Circus as an acrobat and in the 1910’s took up piano while in Arkansas which led to a career in Vaudeville alongside his wife Bertha, a singer. She later was replaced in the act by his sister, Irene, a better vocalist by all accounts, and upon moving to Chicago in 1925 he made his first recordings in a Washboard Band that same year, while later under his own name he had a string of releases on Paramount, Brunswick and Columbia in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

His colorful personal life during this period also included being arrested and jailed for violating Prohibition, getting into theater acting and appearing in a film and joining the Communist Party which at the time was the only political party calling for equality for African-Americans. With the Great Depression disproportionately impacting the recording opportunities for black artists Wiley didn’t get back into a studio for fifteen years by which time World War Two had come and gone and the musical styles of his younger days had been replaced by newer innovations. When he recorded for Sensation Records out of Detroit in the waning days of 1947 rock ‘n’ roll was in its formative years and he showed he could render highly serviceable records in that idiom if called on, but Sensation only released one which qualified as a rocker, leaving solid efforts in that field such as “Chain Gang Blues” and “I Got A Gal For Everyday Of The Week” on the shelf while choosing instead to push his blues, pop and jazzier sides including a credible rendition of “Bewildered” that Amos Milburn would make a rock classic around the same time.

As rock’s commercial returns grew more potent however Wiley saw his opportunities start to dry up, as the accepted wisdom strongly suggested there probably wasn’t much demand for rock acts past fifty years old. He stuck with music however and continued to record here and there when the chance presented itself, making his last sides in 1959 when his health had deteriorated to the point where he had to be replaced on piano by Sammy Price.

Wiley died in 1964, still a relatively young sixty-six years old, but as the saying goes, it’s not the years but the mileage and Doc Wiley had wracked up more miles during that time than most could imagine, including ever so briefly making a pit stop in rock ‘n’ roll.
DOC WILEY DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Sensation 24; December, 1949)
A very well arranged instrumental featuring strong playing by all three leads, Wiley’s boogie piano, a gritty alto sax and a sublime guitar, all of which may not be too groundbreaking but is welcome on the scene all the same. (6)