LISTEN: 'Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller' Was Sound of UW Football Success

Dan Raley

Sonny Sixkiller was a half-dozen games into his University of Washington sophomore football season when he tried to call an audible.

An out-of-work radio disc jockey named Rex Parker from Kenmore, Washington, wrote a song about him, one heavy on the quarterback's Cherokee ancestry mixed with his role as Husky football savior.

Parker called it "The Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller." 

The songwriter was determined to press it into a 45 rpm record and release it to the masses before the 1970 season ended. He saw opportunity to turn his personal fortunes around with this project. 

As with everyone else, he was fascinated with Sixkiller. Parker was an opportunist.

Just 19 and dealing with instant celebrity, Sixkiller mildly protested when the guy revealed his musical intentions and sought his cooperation, telling Parker that the song about him would detract from his teammates.

"The hardest thing is to be an average guy," Sixkiller tried to explain.

In the end, the quarterback gave in, realizing there wasn't much he could do about it. Parker brought the finished version to Sixkiller and played it for him before practice one day prior to it being heard on the radio.

On Nov. 5, 1970, two days before the Huskies hosted the Oregon Ducks, the Sixkiller ballad debuted on KJR radio. Within 10 minutes following its first airing, Parker's creation became the station's most requested song.

Sixkiller was eating with fullback Bo Cornell at Dairy Delight, his favorite burger place, when the song was played on popular disc jock Emperor Smith's KJR show. Cornell did a double-take in mid-bite.

"I thought I was going to have to give Bo the Heimlich," Sixkiller wisecracked. 

Parker, who grew up in Bothell and had served in the Vietnam war, not only wrote the song, he narrated it in a folksy manner. He added in a pounding drum beat and cut-ins of warpath music heard universally on Western TV shows or in the movies.

He ordered 500 records initially. He didn't get rich off this enterprising business venture, though, earning just two cents off every dollar made.

"He sounds like someone out of Hollywood," Parker said as his motivation for immortalizing Sixkiller in a song.

Parker ran ads in the newspapers offering mail-order sales through record producer Seattle Sound. He distributed his creation for $1 each, plus postage. He coaxed the University Book Store, the Warehouse of Music and other musical outlets into selling it.

He used photos of Sixkiller in the newspaper print ads until university officials asked him to stop, explaining that Sonny could  be penalized by the NCAA for "commercialization." He replaced the quarterback's image with one of himself.

With drums pounding and repeated musical beat, the Sixkiller song went like this as it become a hot seller:

"He was born one morning 'neath the sun and the heat

The proud grandson of an Indian chief

The Cherokee tribe from which he came

Was first to learn of his famous name, Sonny Sixkiller.

He grew up strong into a proud young man

A determined breed, he left his land

Put down his arrows, hung up his shield

And became a warrior on the football field, Sonny Sixkiller.

So he came to Seattle, joined the Husky team

In purple and gold he looked mighty mean

In practice he could pass, was quick to attack

So the coach put him in as their quarterback.

Now you'll see this warrior every Saturday, see

He wears a big number '6' on his purple jersey

In his blood flows the spirit to win

This proud grandson of a Cherokee Indian, Sonny Sixkiller."

With profit limited, Parker hoped to use the record as a springboard to a more successful songwriting career. He hoped it might return him to the radio airwaves. He sold a lot of Sixkiller records. 

Fifty years later, Husky fans still hang to keepsake copies of the "Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller," including Sixkiller himself, though record players have become somewhat obsolete to the mainstream.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2
monkeyarms
monkeyarms

I still recall one of my older brothers bought a 45 and him playing it over and over again. Two years later, my brother was a teammate of Sixkiller. Enjoying this series.

Mike Martin
Mike Martin

Editor

@monkeyarms I just missed out on the Sonny Sixkiller era moving here in 74. I've met him a few times on the sidelines and he's just a lot of fun to chat with


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