Greenway, Arkansas, is a small town nestled into the extreme northeastern corner of the state, next to the Missouri boot heel; eighty miles to the west is West Plains, Missouri, home of Porter Wagoner; eighty miles to the southeast is Memphis, home of the blues. It is an interesting musical climate, and was the home turf for one of the most underrated country singers of the 1950s, Skeets McDonald. Born on October 1, 1915, as Enos William McDonald, into a cotton-picking family of three brothers and three sisters, Skeets grew up on his father’s farm at a hamlet called Rector.
Early in life he acquired the nickname that would stick with him throughout his life. “We raised cotton down there,” brother Lynn McDonald recalls, “and he was the baby in the family, but he always wanted to go out with us. There was one day when we were out hoeing twenty acres of cotton, and he wanted to come and help; we said it was too hot, though, and the cotton was too tall—it was about as tall as he was. But he insisted, so we took him. Well, the mosquitoes were really bad that day, and they started getting after him. After a little of this, he shouted, ‘I got to go home! Skeets bite!’ My brother-in-law was with us, and he got a kick out of this, and started calling him Skeets. Skeets didn’t like the name at all, didn’t like to be called that, but it stuck and after a while he couldn’t do much about it. It was Skeets McDonald.”
Though none of his immediate family was a notable musician, Skeets learned traditional Ozarks music at the local “music parties” that still characterize Ozarks grassroots music. The older generation of pickers Skeets listened to included mandolin player Charlie Dodd, and guitarists Carol Hasty and Scott Bradford. By the time he was five, Skeets had a homemade cigar-box fiddle, and was trying to saw out the fiddle tunes he heard from the region’s premier fiddler, Elvin Burns. (In later life, Skeets would often call a set of square dancing on a stage show in