Although online information about Joe Wolverton is somewhat sparse, I
have been able to find a significant amount of material in response to
Joe Wolverton was born on July 8, 1906, and died on August 27, 1994.
His real name was "Ralph Edwin Wolverton." I have not found his exact
place of birth, but his first social security card was issued in
Illinois. Although his last place of residence was Yavapai, Arizona,
he is buried on North Union Cemetery in Parke County, Indiana.
The primary sources for this information are the following websites:
Source for birth/death dates, given name and burial site:
NORTH UNION (alphabetical listing)
Wolverton's social security registration and last residence were found
using the Social Security Death Index, found here:
Social Security Death Index (enter "Wolverton" and "Ralph" in the name
Most of the online references to Wolverton appear in references
primarily concerned with his relationship with Les Paul. Since you
are already familiar with that relationship, I will not summarize it
here, but you can find information on that subject using a simple
Google search using the following search terms:
"Joe Wolverton" "Les Paul"
A very interesting summary of Wolverton's performing career can be
found here, at the website of the All Music Guide, an invaluable
resource for music-related information of all kinds:
All Music Guide: Joe Wolverton
Although you will certainly want to review this article by Eugene
Chadbourne carefully, a brief outline of the information may be
convenient for you here:
The article begins: "Every person who straps on a Les Paul guitar owes
a debt of gratitude to Joe Wolverton, got that?"
A youthful Les Paul first encountered "Sunny Joe" in a Western band
and was "drooling" at Wolverton's ability to play "above the third
fret." Chadbourne then summarizes the rest of their relationship
(with which you are already familiar).
Wolverton split with Paul because "Sunny Joe" wanted to pursue a
country and acoustic career. That career consisted largely of
recording with a singer named "Polly O'Neal," who also used the name
"Polly Possum." He then went to California and backed up a country
singer named "Betty Bennett."
The next chapter of his career involved playing guitar with Spike
Jones and the City Slickers from 1943-45 and again in 1946. Chadbourne
credits Wolverton with giving Spike Jones the fateful idea for his
"new kind" of band combining goofy humor with virtuoso musicianship.
Indeed, Wolverton, who shared Jones's offbeat sense of humor, had
founded a similar group called the "Local Yokels."
Following the Spike Jones stint, Wolverton continued his unusual
career by joining an otherwise "all-girl" orchestra called the Polly
Ship. Later in the 50's Wolverton, described by Chadbourne as "a
single guy," toured military bases in Asia and then worked in Las
Vegas until the early 60's.
You asked whether Wolverton was also a songwriter. Although I found
no online references to Wolverton as songwriter, I searched the ASCAP
and BMI databases and found one composition under his name (i.e. Ralph
E. Wolverton). It is called "Joe's Blues." Here is the source for
You also asked about any recordings that might have been made by Joe
Wolverton. The authoritative All Music Guide does not include any
references to LP or CD recordings that include Wolverton vocals or
guitar work, but the Chadbourne article refers to the fact that his
radio work with Spike Jones on the Bob Burns show in 1943 "was
recorded for the 'Standard Transcription' library and later released
on CD anthologies." There are many, many CD compilations of Spike
Jones recordings. Several of them are compilations of radio
transcriptions, which may well include some of those 1943 sessions.
Here is a link to a list of 46 of those CD compilations at Amazon.com:
Amazon.com: Spike Jones
Also, as the Chadbourne article notes, some of Wolverton's country
recordings "were issued by labels such as Columbia on various 78s and
45s, and are said to be an interesting blend of country and western
swing." There seems to be a market for these recordings. Here is an
example of the online offerings of one of them:
Possum, Polly & Joe Wolverton:
Sad Singin', Slow Ridin'/Don't Cry, Baby ... CBS 20908 With The Dog
Little Big Store: Country & Western 78s
And here's an offer of the 45 rpm version of the same recording:
World Wide Wax
Here is a reference to a Wolverton/Wolfe gig at the Nevada Club in
1958 or 1959
Las Vegas Strip History (about 3/4 down the page)
Initial Google searches revealed mainly sketchy information about the
Les Paul connection:
The one clue that resulted from this initial search was a reference
(with birth and death dates) to a "Joe Wolverton" who was a banjo
player with Spike Jones:
Daves Datebook (alphabetical listing)
This prompted a search for further biographical information with a
Google Search using the following search terms:
joe OR joseph OR "j." wolverton 1906 1994
This led to the cemetery listing that revealed his real name to be
"Wolverton, Ralph E. ('Joe')." This in turn led to the Social
Security listing and BMI songwriter listings under his real name.
Finally, I always check the All Music Guide to attempt to fill out
information on musical artists.
This has been a fascinating question to research. Although there is a
gap in Wolverton's researchable biography between his 1960s Las Vegas
club gigs and his death, it seems very likely that his performing
career ended in the 60s as suggested by the biography in the All Music
I was pleased to be able to come up with timely answers to your
several specific questions, including your "most important" one as to
whether he is still alive and working. The unfortunate answer to that
is "no". If any of the information is unclear or if any of the links
don't work, please ask for clarification before rating this answer.