Remembering Sonny Flaharty: Dayton native’s lifetime journey in music, TV



Dayton native Sonny Flaharty, immersed in the entertainment industry from an early age, passed away Oct. 14 in Simi Valley, California. He was 81.

Born at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Dayton on Aug. 12, 1942, Flaharty was billed as “The Little Boy with the Big Voice.” He was only 5 when he began performing with his uncle, Jack Elliott, a Dayton singer and organ player. He performed at school events and family functions, but working professionally meant he was suddenly walking away with a pocketful of change. The youngster was hooked, which set him on a lifetime journey working in music and television.

Flaharty scored a regional hit in 1958 with the single, “My Baby’s Casual,” which is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1960, the same year he graduated from Fairmont High School, he enjoyed more minor success with the countryfied song, “Heartbreak Station,” on Epic Records.

Flaharty’s best known track, “Hey Conductor” (Phillips Records), was recorded with his band the Mark V and released in 1967. While the single was banned from many radio stations for what was misconstrued as drug-related content, the song is now considered a garage rock classic.

Watch the music video for Sonny Flaharty’s 2014 song, “Old Stray Dogs … Like Us”:

According to Flaharty’s official obituary, he played countless shows as a solo artist and with his bands the Young Americans, the Mark V, and the Grey Imprint. He did extensive voice work on commercials, especially Kenner Toys based in Cincinnati, where he was the voice of the Easy Bake Oven ads. He also wrote the song, “Save the Union Terminal,” which was recorded by future talk show host, Jerry Springer.

After moving to Nashville, Flaharty wrote numerous songs recorded by other artists. One track, Billy Walker’s “Coffee Brown Eyes,” hit the Billboard country charts in 1985. He later worked in television at WCAY and WNAB in Nashville, hosting the popular “Let’s Go to the Movies” program. He was also part of the cult duo Pappy and Dufus, whose shows were syndicated briefly across the United States.

During his career, Flaharty worked with other notable artists such as Bob Hope, the McGuire Sisters, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Bobby Rydell and the Four Seasons.

In the late 1990s, Flaharty retired from the entertainment industry, moving to Simi Valley with his wife, Kathy, mother-in-law, Janet, and two dogs. He continued to sing and play in church and raise awareness for stray animals.

A Celebration of Life in Dayton will be held at a future date. Donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association on Flaharty’s behalf.

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