September, 2009, on the occasion of the 50 Year Reunion of the Van Horn Graduating Class of 1959
My Jukebox. I do not actually have a jukebox, but it sounds better than referring to my four beat-up record cases holding my 45-rpm record collection. Every adolescent generation fondly remembers its own popular music, but those of my age were uniquely blessed because our teenage years coincided with the birth of Rock and Roll. It was not really the birth of the style of music, but instead the mass acceptance of a genre that had been around for years as “race music,” a mix of blues and jazz, which in 1948 became known as Rhythm and Blues – a term coined by Jerry Wexler, a writer at Billboard Magazine, to provide a more marketable reference for the music. Rock and Roll would emerge from this genre, often with crossover elements from country, folk, gospel and pop. When my wife Rita and I made the pilgrimage to Cleveland to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I saw a great quote from a Muddy Waters’ song: “The Blues had a baby and they named it Rock and Roll.” Muddy also had a 1948 song titled “Rollin’ Stone,” which inspired the naming of a band still playing today and, in conflicting reports, may have also inspired the naming of Rolling Stone Magazine (the other possibility being 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone” by Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan).
Junior High School. In the fall of 1954, I was 13 years old and beginning the 8th grade at Northeast Junior High School in Kansas City. We lived in Independence, but a fluke of city incorporation and school district lines placed us in the Kansas City School District (this was finally corrected in 2008 with the area joining the Independence district). This meant that high school students from the Englewood, Maywood and Fairmount business districts of Independence and the town of Sugar Creek went to Northeast, a 30-minute bus ride from home. My family lived in the Maywood area, and we were just up the street from Curt’s Market where I would end up working during high school (starting at 80 cents an hour). Curt’s house was across the street, and at age 11 or 12, I came to know his niece Diana Sullivan who often visited her uncle and cousins there and chatted with me over the fence. Diana lived in the Fairmount area and went to a different grade school, but we would both be going to Northeast. By happy coincidence, we ended up in the same Math and Common Learnings classes at Northeast and cemented a friendship that endures to this day. She is in the middle of my Rock and Roll memories – no, we never dated, but we were repeatedly giving ideas to each other for dates – starting in the 8th grade with her dating my friend Jasper DeSimone and my attempts to date her best friend Shirley Maycock, and ending with me introducing her to my college fraternity brother, Larry Brewer, who became her husband, and Diana introducing me to her college classmate who became my first wife.
Teen Town. One of the rites of passage for local teenagers was to start going to Teen Town, a parent-chaperoned dance party held on Saturday nights in the gym at what had been my grade school, Bristol, in the Englewood area. I was introduced to Teen Town by my next door neighbor, Jim Mitchener, who was a year older than me when an extra year of experience really seemed important. He was also an unusual character with ideas and pranks that led to his nickname “Suicide” (as fondly remembered by his fellow ‘58 classmate Jim Davis). Diana has a December birthday and was incensed that her mother would not let her attend Teen Town with the other 8th-graders until she actually turned 13.
Whispers of Rock and Roll. Rhythm and Blues was enjoying substantial growth in 1954, led by the Atlantic, Chess and King record labels. Jerry Wexler had joined the Ertegun brothers at Atlantic to groom such stars as Ray Charles, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker and Ruth Brown. At King, Syd Nathan, Johnny Otis and Ralph Bass were doing likewise with Hank Ballard, James Brown, Bill Doggett, Little Willie John and Ivory Joe Hunter. As depicted in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records,” Leonard and Phil Chess were on the same path with Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Little Walter and Etta James, to be joined in 1955 by Chuck Berry. Atlantic’s stable of artists also included Kansas City’s Big Joe Turner who hit #1 on the R&B chart in June of 1954 with “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” R&B music rarely reached the playlist at Teen Town in our 8th grade year, and the formal dances still had big bands that played Glenn Miller style tunes. However, we started getting a taste of what was coming from Bill Haley and the Comets who covered “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and moved the song over to the pop charts. Haley had previously recorded “Rock Around the Clock” in May of 1954, but it was not successful, possibly because the producer considered it to be the B-side and was promoting the flip side, “Thirteen Women And Only One Man In Town” (after a nuclear explosion). This intent was also evident from the recording session time – 2 ½ hours for “Thirteen Women” and only the last 30 minutes for two takes of “Rock.” This mistake was overcome in March of 1955 when the song was played at the beginning and end of the movie “Blackboard Jungle” and jumped to the top of the charts to become one of the biggest hits of all time. My personal collection includes 12 Bill Haley records, and he was our early notice that teenage music was changing.
Shouts of Rock and Roll. In the fall of 1955, the district opened Van Horn High School, and I started my freshman year in a brand new school three blocks from my house. Just before school started, classmate and long-time neighbor Kenny Parkes and I got some press when we were photographed touring the new library. The photo took up the full front page of the “Independence Pictorial Shopper” (ran across this and other dusty items when locating my yearbooks). Teen Town also moved to Van Horn, and we would be getting some new dance music as we were starting to hear the sounds of four early giants of Rock and Roll: Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and The Platters. As a sad start to Rock and Roll, racism then played a major role in the purchase and broadcasting of records. To set the stage of the times, “Brown v. Board of Education” outlawing school desegregation had been decided by the Supreme Court in 1954. In Kansas City, there were still separate lunch counters in the department stores and many public facilities remained segregated. A public accommodations ordinance would not be passed until 1964. The Top-40 radio format was pioneered in the country by Todd Storz who owned WHB (710 on the AM dial – there was no FM), but its early playlists did not include the likes of Fats Domino and Little Richard (that was still “race music” to them). Instead, WHB played covers by white artists, and the worst examples were Pat Boone’s insipid versions of “Ain’t It A Shame,” “Tutti Frutti,” and “Long Tall Sally.” We were saved by KUDL (1380 on the dial, with deejay Johnny “Alligator” Argo) – KUDL had no problem playing the black artists leading the charge for Rock and Roll. WHB ultimately followed the money and joined the trend with their “World’s Happiest Broadcasters.”
The Playlist. For the chronological soundtrack of my high school years, I have selected 50 records from my collection. The dates and numbers on the record charts come from an excellent book I bought at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Josh Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles from Billboard (1955-1999). Also helpful was “The Heart of Rock and Soul” by Dave Marsh covering his choices for the 1001 greatest records of all time. The Internet was invaluable, especially Wikipedia and Google. Several classmates provided source material (Bill Lochman had amazing recall) and Diana and Shirley were helpful editors through the many drafts. Both the high school memories and Rock and Roll history details will have differing interpretations and recollections, but that is what naturally happens after 50 years.
1 and 2. “Rock Around the Clock” (released in 5/54, but did not debut on the charts until 3/55, then rising to #1 for 8 weeks) and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (8/54 debut, peaking at #7) by Bill Haley and the Comets. The group had two more Top-10 records: “Burn That Candle” (11/55, #9) and “See You Later Alligator” (1/56, #6). Haley combined his western swing with R&B to create his own brand of Rock and Roll – a path that would be followed by others such as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Everly Brothers. R&B hits were crossing over to the pop charts, and a good example was a record that should have been in my collection: “Earth Angel” by The Penguins (12/54, #8), the first independent label R&B record to hit the pop charts. In the other direction, Haley became the first white artist to cross over for a major hit on the R&B charts with “Dim, Dim The Lights” (11/54, #11 on Billboard pop; #10 on R&B). This convergence was confirmation that Rock and Roll was not black or white music, but a new genre that was universal for all teenagers. One of the pioneers was deejay Alan Freed who had started an R&B show on Cleveland radio in 1951. He found that many of his listeners and those attending his concerts were white teenagers – an early sign that the music had wide appeal. He moved on to New York in the fall of 1954 and is generally given credit for coining the term “Rock and Roll.” His early support of black artists and playing of the “devil’s music” made him unpopular with many parts of the establishment (the New York Times said that Freed “jumped into radio like a stripper into Swan Lake”). It did not help that many of the songs included sexual innuendo and some were downright risqué. Many parents, school administrators, religious leaders and public officials were hoping it was just a phase.
An 8th Grade Year Story: I was an avid baseball fan and followed the Kansas City Blues and its parent team, the Yankees. A big addition to my life in 1955 was the introduction of major league baseball to Kansas City. The Athletics had moved from Philadelphia, and on opening day, I cut school with Northeast pal Jasper DeSimone – we got our tickets by getting in line for general admission very early in the morning (still have my ticket stub – $1.25). I attended over 20 games in the summer of ‘55, most of them by meeting Jasper at the convergence of our bus lines and then walking up to Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn. One of the few semi-stars on the A’s was Gus Zernial, once touted as the new Joe DiMaggio. As it turned out, the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, and no one ever wrote a song with the nostalgic line “Where have you gone, Gus Zernial?” Little league baseball was popular, and cub/boy scout friends Jim Whipple and Tom Foley recruited me into 3&2 baseball. We also honed our skills with stickball in Lynn Carlisle’s back yard. In the summer of ‘55, the four of us played for Moses Lithograph, as did classmates Steve Vajda, Dick Peve, Phil Clemens, John Bauer, Gary Clark and Jim Kirkham. A primary rival was Intercity Kiwanis which that summer fielded classmates Brian Firkins, Jim Graham, Charlie Phipps, John Steele, Jerry Titus, Dick Young and Bill Leach. Not that I can take any credit (I was a good field-no hit 2nd baseman), we beat Intercity 23-2 and 23-1. Firkins claims he must have been out of town for those games. Now, back to the music.
3. “Ain’t It A Shame” (7/55, #10) by Fats Domino. Fats had earlier hits on the R&B charts, but this was his first move to the pop charts. The song is usually recalled as “Ain’t That A Shame” because those are the actual words in the song’s refrain and also because it was the title of Pat Boone’s sterile cover version that went to #1 while Fats peaked at #10 – now that was a shame. It could have been worse – the legend is that Boone tried to change the words to “Isn’t That A Shame,” but his label wisely refused the grammar change. I had the habit (some would say obsession) of reading the record labels and remembering the record company name and the songwriters listed in parenthesis under the song title. Therefore, I was aware that Fats co-wrote this song (as he did with about 50 of his 66 chart hits) with his producer David Bartholomew, and so Fats at least had the good news of getting songwriter royalties from Boone’s sales. A few years later, Fats invited Pat Boone out of the audience during a concert and gave credit to Boone’s record sales for helping Fats buy the big diamond ring that he flashed to the crowd. They then joined for a duet of “Ain’t It/That A Shame.”
4. “Maybellene” (8/55, #5) by Chuck Berry, a guitar innovator who was a major influence for many Rock and Roll stars – John Lennon famously said “If you tried to give Rock and Roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” His “duck-walking” performances were classic. Berry recorded several hits from 1955 to 1958: “Roll Over Beethoven” (#29), “School Day” (#3), “Rock & Roll Music” (#8), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (#2) and “Johnny B. Goode” (#8). While Berry was in jail in 1963, the Beach Boys released their first Top-10 hit, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (3/63, #3). The song was initially credited to Brian Wilson, but after a lawsuit was threatened, the sole writing and composing credit was returned to Berry because the Beach Boys had essentially copied “Sweet Little Sixteen” to create their hit.
Fall of 1955 – Freshman Year. As the first hits from Fats Domino and Chuck Berry are rising in the charts, our freshman year starts at the brand new Van Horn. Little Richard is on the way, as is another Richard – my English teacher, Mr. Barnett.
5. “Speedo” (12/55, #17) by the Cadillacs. They often called him Speedo, but his real name was Mr. Earl – as in Earl Campbell, the lead singer who became one of the Coasters in 1961.
12/1/55 – Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
6. “Tutti Frutti” (1/56, #17) by Little Richard. We were introduced to Little Richard with his famous opening shout “Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom” (or something like that; Mr. Barnett did not get to the spelling of this in his class). The recording was a toned down version from Little Richard’s live performances that had lines like “Tutti Frutti, good booty” and worse, but he was smart enough to clean it up for airplay. This record may be the best example of the difference between excellent passionate music from the new breed and a lame cover version (Pat Boone’s version got to #12 while Little Richard’s peaked at #17). Little Richard was not happy about that until he realized he was getting songwriter royalty checks for Boone’s sales. Jimi Hendrix later played in Little Richard’s band and was quoted as saying “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.” I remember buying this record at the same time I bought “Speedo” at Mr. Z’s Record shop on 11th Street in downtown KC.
7. “The Great Pretender” (2/56, #1) by The Platters, the most successful recording group in the 1955-1959 time period. I often travel with Van Horn classmates Diana Sullivan and Jim Graham and Diana’s mother named the three of us and our traveling mates (Larry, Sandy and Rita) the “Big 6.” The Big 6 saw Herb Reed, the bass singer in the Platters, performing on a cruise ship in 2004 – he did not have much of a voice left by then, but he was an entertaining front man for a young group reviving the Platters’ hits. Reed was born in Kansas City in 1931 and is now the sole surviving Platter.
3/3/56 – Blue Suede Shoes. Debut date of another record that should have been in my collection: “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins on Sun Records (3/56, #2). This was also the debut date for the first hit by Elvis Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel” (3/56, #1), to be followed a month later by an Elvis cover of “Blue Suede Shoes” (4/56, #20).
8. “Long Tall Sally” (4/56, #6) by Little Richard. Another song written by Little Richard Penniman and covered by Pat Boone, but with more satisfying results: Boone’s version peaked at #8, while Little Richard’s got to #6. Van Horn had its own Long Tall Sally, Sally Morgan. Over the next couple of years, Little Richard had several hits on the bright yellow and white Specialty record label: “Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)” (#33), “Rip It Up” (#17), “Lucille” (#21), “Jenny, Jenny” (#10), “Keep A Knockin’ ” (#8) and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” (#10). At age 76, Little Richard is still performing. In 2007, Rita and I met him in the Delta lounge in Kansas City the day after he played one of the casino showrooms – he told Rita she was going to have a good year (which she did and credits his prediction). We also saw Little Richard perform at the Gala Concert as part of Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inaugural.
9. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” (6/56, #7) by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. The record company promoted the flip side of “Woman Love” as the A-side, but some critics thought the lyrics were too suggestive. The disc jockeys turned the record over and “the queen of all the teens” became a hit. One of the many singers that died young – at 36 from a ruptured ulcer.
10. “Honky Tonk – Part 2” (8/56, #2) by Bill Doggett. An instrumental with one of the best guitar riffs ever – but the riff is not by Doggett. He played the organ, and co-writer Billy Butler was on the guitar. The tenor sax lick on the record is also considered a classic and was performed by Clifford Scott, another co-writer of the song. The “shuffle beat” was perfect for what became our favorite dance in later school years, the West Coast.
Fall of 1956 – Sophomore Year. I would get the pleasure of taking Biology from my favorite high school teacher, Mr. Clayton (you never forget that the knee cap is the patella when taught that this is where you “pat Ella”). Mr. Cross was our Geometry teacher and gave us a memorable math lesson one day: Ken Dewey and Jim Whipple ran cross country for the school and races were often held at half-time at the football games. Whipple was winning by a close margin, and Mr. Cross pointed out that Dewey and Whipple were running side-by side with Whipple always on the inside so that Dewey was running a bigger circumference in each of the several laps of the race. Dewey started running behind Whipple and then had the better kick at the end of what was now the same distance. Dewey became one of the top runners in the state under the training of Coach Fields, but we credited Mr. Cross with an assist.
11. “Don’t Be Cruel” (8/56, #1) by Elvis Presley. It is hard to choose among my 22 Elvis records, and I finally settled on “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Jailhouse Rock.” I first heard about Elvis from my parents who saw him in early 1956 on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey variety show which they watched while I was at Teen Town on Saturday nights. My parents correctly predicted big things for this shaking performer. He recorded five records at Sun Records in Memphis where owner/producer Sam Phillips backed him with top sidemen Scotty Moore and Bill Black. Presley signed a management agreement with “Colonel” Tom Parker in August of 1955, and in November, Phillips sold his Presley recording contract to RCA for $35,000. In March of 1956, Elvis recorded his first #1 at RCA, “Heartbreak Hotel.” “Don’t Be Cruel” came later that year and with its flip side “Hound Dog” was the #1 record for 11 weeks. Unlike Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly, Elvis was not a songwriter, and over 20 of his songs were written by the legendary duo of Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller. Leiber & Stoller were Jewish, but were such fans of the blues that Leiber has said “We used to argue between the two of us which one was the blackest”? Who won? Stoller’s answer: “We did.” In their early songwriting years, they worked in Los Angeles where blues, jazz and Kansas City swing were influencing the growing R&B scene. While still teenagers, they wrote two songs that would have a valuable second life: “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton (a #1 on the R&B chart in 1953) and “K.C. Lovin’ ” for Little Willie Littlefield (released in 1952). Elvis recorded his cover version of “Hound Dog” three years after Thornton and took it to #1 on the pop charts, and Wilbert Harrison did likewise with the renamed “Kansas City” in 1959. Leiber & Stoller did not think much of the Elvis version of “Hound Dog” because it converted the antagonist from Big Mama’s freeloading gigolo to Presley’s hunting dog, but Stoller says “After it sold 7 or 8 million the first week, we began to see the merit in it.” Leiber & Stoller used 31 of their hits to provide the score for their successful 1995 Broadway play “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
12 and 13. “Blueberry Hill” (10/56, #2) and “Blue Monday” (1/57, #5) by Fats Domino. Although he unbelievably never had a #1, Fats charted 66 records in the Top-100, starting with “Ain’t It A Shame” in 1955, and ending with “Lady Madonna” in 1968 (barely making it in, at #100 for 2 weeks). The bookends of his string of hits provide an interesting twist – Pat Boone covering Fats’ first hit and then Fats ending his chart success by covering a white band’s song. Times had of course changed by 1968, and there is also an interesting back-story of why Fats might have thought “Lady Madonna” would be a good song for him to record. Paul McCartney has said he was looking for a bluesy, boogie-woogie song, and when he started writing and playing “Lady Madonna,” he found himself impersonating Fats Domino which took his voice to an odd place – and the song to #4 for the Beatles. The Big 6 had the good fortune to see Paul McCartney at Arrowhead in 1993, and Rita can do us one better – she was one of the screaming teenagers at the 1964 Beatles concert when Athletics’ owner Charlie Finley brought the band to Municipal Stadium.
12/4/56. Diana’s 15th birthday, and also a big day in music history. Carl Perkins was at Sun Studios recording a new song to follow up his hit of “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Sun owner Sam Phillips brought in the then-unknown Jerry Lee Lewis to be the session piano player. Elvis Presley, who had moved from Sun to RCA a year earlier, dropped by the studio for a visit. After Perkins’ session, Elvis joined the group in the studio for a jam session and Phillips kept the tapes running. Sun artist Johnny Cash also dropped in for part of the session. Sensing a publicity opportunity, Sam Phillips called the local paper, and a reporter and photographer came by – the article appeared the next day under the headline “Million Dollar Quartet” and included a famous photo of the four artists. Contract and copyright issues led to a checkered history of bootleg and other records covering part of tapes, but starting in 1987, several records covering most of the tracks have been issued. The jam session is the basis for the stage musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” which opened in Chicago in 2008 and is headed for Broadway in 2010.
A Sophomore Year Story: Elvis Presley had become a phenomenon with six #1 records in his first year on the pop charts. The nickname of “Elvis” attached to Don Russell, the boy with the best ducktail haircut in our class. Don was also named class flirt when we were seniors, but he was ultimately tamed by classmate Marcia Pippinger who became his wife. He still has Marcia, but may have lost some of that good hair.
14. “Come Go With Me” (2/57, #4) by the Dell-Vikings (a/k/a Del Vikings). The group was formed by Air Force buddies and had the distinction of being one of the first that was racially integrated. I like the song, but also include it because I remember how I got the record. I was grocery shopping with my mom at the A&P in Fairmount. The family grocery was Curt’s Market, but we were at the A&P to get the weekly bargain specials. A&P had a record rack, and a bit of mom’s savings on the bargains was lost when she let me put this record in the basket. This song was among the many ‘50’s records on the soundtrack of the excellent 1982 movie, “Diner,” where the character Shrevie shared my passion for the music and related trivia.
15. “Party Doll” (2/57, #1) by Buddy Knox. I cannot listen to this song without thinking of Shirley Maycock – we loved to dance to this and did so again at one of our class reunions. By the time “Party Doll” came out in 1957, it was clear that Shirley and I were to be just good friends. However, when I first met her in the 8th grade, I somehow persuaded her to be my date for our first Teen Town formal dance. Many, many years later (2005), Diana advised me that Shirley was going to be in Italy with her husband Gary at the same time that Rita and I were to be there. We got together in Venice for a couple of dinners, and Gary took one of my favorite photos: Lonnie between Shirley and Rita, my first and last dates. I bet most people do not get that opportunity, nor maybe have such an understanding wife. Shirley and Gary joined the Big 6 for an Alaskan cruise in 2006.
16. “Little Darlin’ ” (3/57, #2) by The Diamonds. Later that year, The Diamonds would again hit big with “The Stroll” (12/57, #4).
17. “I’m Walkin’ ” (3/57, #4) by Fats Domino. Love the Fat Man. Ricky Nelson’s cover version came out two months later. Both peaked at #4. Fats continued to perform into the new century, but lost most of his gold records along with his home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Another Sophomore Year Story: I return to Jim Mitchener, my “mentor” who was kind enough to drag me along, plus he was now driving to give us some mobility. He was dating Linda Riley, and so I got the benefit of going to dance parties in the rec room in her basement. Tom Foley and Bill Leach hosted similar parties, but Linda’s had something extra – kissing games like “This, That and Peaches.” My thanks to Linda, Janet Pavola and the other kind girls in the games.
18. “Searchin’ ” (5/57, #3) by The Coasters. Two members of the Coasters had previously been with the Robins who had a minor hit with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (12/55, #79), written by Leiber & Stoller. The songwriting duo had a production deal with Atlantic and wrote all six of the Coasters’ Top-10 hits issued on Atlantic’s subsidiary label Atco. The others: “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy,” “Charlie Brown” and “Along Came Jones.” Most of the Coasters songs were humorous which might lead one to miss that “Poison Ivy” was a metaphor for a social disease – “She comes on like a rose/but everybody knows/she’ll get you in Dutch/you can look but you better not touch.”
19. “Bye Bye Love” (5/57, #2) by the Everly Brothers. This was their first on the charts, and they later had four #1’s: “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog” and “Cathy’s Clown.”
20. “A Teenager’s Romance” (5/57, #2) by Ricky Nelson. Flip side of “I’m Walkin’.” Ricky and David Nelson were in parallel lives with our generation through both radio and TV on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett” (1949-1966). Little Ricky did well with the platform of the TV series to showcase his songs – he chose “I’m Walkin’“ for his singing debut on the TV show because it had the two chords he had so far learned to play on the guitar.
8/5/57 – Bandstand. The local Philadelphia “Bandstand” hosted by Dick Clark goes national on ABC as “American Bandstand.” We had a new source for Rock and Roll music trends. There was also a local Kansas City weekly version that rotated among the high schools, and I got to go to a couple of them. One was at the invitation of Carmen Foster from the Class of ‘60. Carmen lived in the carriage house of the castle on Truman Road and was almost every Van Horn boy’s desire for a date – alas, she was just looking to me only as a dance partner, although I did get the obligatory thank you date.
Fall of 1957 – Junior Year. Paul Anka’s “Diana” hits #1 on September 9 and Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” hits #1 on September 23, a great start for our junior year. Bob Dickeson, Class of ‘58, is elected Mayor of Teen Town and Diana and Shirley are on his Teen Town Council. Tom Black is elected Junior Class President and Captain of the football team – not bad for a country boy who transferred to Van Horn from Kennett, Missouri. It would be Miss Grassley for American History (Jo Ann Norman wrote in my yearbook that we had a ball in this class – Edith Grassley?) and Mr. Hodges for Chemistry (he wrote in my yearbook “Poor Lonnie” – I have no memory of what that meant). Maude Rogers was the English teacher, and to show her long-term effect, I was in a recent email exchange that included Lynn Carlisle and Brian Firkins jokingly calling each other names with “good words” they had learned in her classes (pusillanimous, pugnacious). I wonder if Maude Rogers would have agreed with Pat Boone that the song title should have been “Isn’t That A Shame”?
21. “That’ll Be The Day” (8/57, #1) by Buddy Holly and The Crickets. A new force entered the music scene. Buddy would be alive only 17 more months, but he left behind one of the richest legacies of Rock and Roll music.
22. “Drive In Show” (9/57, #82) by Eddie Cochran. “We’ll be sittin’ in the moonlight row.” In light of the importance of drive-ins to teenagers in the 50’s, I was surprised to find that this song never got higher than #82. Cochran’s first record had promoted similar thoughts: “Sittin’ In The Balcony” (3/57, #18) – “…on the very last row…We may stop lovin’ to watch Bugs Bunny. But he can’t take the place of my honey.” Our local theatres did not have balconies, and so the back rows of the Englewood, Byam and Maywood Theatres served this purpose. There is always some place.
23. “Wake Up Little Susie” (9/57, #1) by the Everly Brothers. Yet another couple on that moonlight row. “The movie’s over, its four o’clock…..our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot….” The Everly Brothers had 15 Top-10 hits, topped in the early rock era only by Elvis Presley (38), Ricky Nelson (19) and Pat Boone (18).
10/4/57 – Sputnik. Russia launches Sputnik. I remember pulling over on Truman Road by Stone Arch Bridge to watch the blinking satellite. Little Richard was on tour in Australia and oddly considered the launch of Sputnik to be the sign from God that he had been waiting for to convince him to leave the evils of Rock and Roll and become a minister. He returned to Rock and Roll in 1963 and successfully toured Europe where his opening acts included the then relatively unknown Beatles and Rolling Stones.
24. “Jailhouse Rock” (10/57, #1) by Elvis Presley. Leiber & Stoller were the songwriters. I first heard this in drafting class at school when Pete Comstock (Class of ‘61) turned up his transistor radio for the whole class to enjoy. The transistor radio was a valuable ally to the accessibility of Rock and Roll as it gave teenagers a cheap and mobile way of hearing the music without parents controlling the dial – a precursor of today’s digital world of music. Elvis was 42 when he died in 1977, but that was enough time to chart 151 records (18 going to #1) and have big successes in movies and Las Vegas.
25. “Silhouettes” (10/57, #3) by The Rays. “When two strangers who had been two silhouettes on the shade – said to my shock – you’re on the wrong block. Rushed down to your house with wings – on my feet….”. Also a hit for the Diamonds who got to #10.
26. “Great Balls Of Fire” (11/57, #2) by Jerry Lee Lewis and his pumpin’ piano. He had three top ten hits recorded by Sam Phillips at Sun Records. The others were “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On” (6/57, #3) and “Breathless” (3/58, #7). His career quickly went downhill after he married his 13 year old cousin (Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder played the young couple in the 1989 movie). Lewis resurfaced as a country singer and has continued to perform into his 70’s.
27 and 28. “Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy!” (11/57, #3 and #10) by Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Their second and third chart hits. “Peggy Sue” had first been written as “Cindy Lou”, but was renamed for Cricket Jerry Allison’s girl friend. Gary Busey was very good in the title role of the 1978 movie, “The Buddy Holly Story,” and the Big 6 saw a good stage play about Buddy a few years ago at the American Heartland Theatre. Buddy and Fats Domino have the most records in my playlist for a simple reason – they are my favorites.
29. “Little Bitty Pretty One” (11/57, #57) by Bobby Day and The Satellites. Day wrote the song but was supportive of it also being recorded by Thurston Harris who took it to #6 – a black-on-black cover version. Day’s version only got to #57. Both are excellent. The song title reminds me of my high school girl friend, Marilyn Knapheide.
11/3/57 – Biggest Show of Stars. Alan Freed’s concerts in Cleveland and New York had popularized the concept of having many groups perform on the same bill. Irvin Feld of Washington D.C., an owner of a chain of record stores, took the concept national and packed the artists in buses to tour the country. Feld later became the long-time operator and owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Kansas City was one of the stops on Feld’s 78-city tour in the fall and winter of 1957, and Tom Foley won a couple of tickets from WHB for the show. Tom’s parents would not let him go, and he was kind enough to give the tickets to me. I used my extra ticket in return for a ride with Jim Mitchener. The “Biggest Show of Stars for 1957” was held in Municipal Auditorium, and to help me remember who I might have seen, I went to the Internet and was able to track down a tour itinerary, list of acts and even a poster for the Wichita show which was the day before the KC stop. I needed the reminders because there were so many acts playing short sets that this 68-year old brain remembers the totality of the event more than the pieces. Per the poster, we saw Lavern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Buddy Holly, Frankie Lyman, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Buddy Knox, Paul Anka, The Drifters, The Diamonds and Eddie Cochran. The poster indicates tickets were $2 to $3. [Disclaimer – I don’t have a ticket stub to prove the date, and a similar tour and acts would be in KC in 1958. So, I could be a few months off, but otherwise, the story is the same].
30. “You Send Me” (12/57, #1) by Sam Cooke. The gospel singer from the “Soul Stirrers” crossed over to pop and another Rock and Roll legend started a string of hits. Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown and Jackie Wilson were some of the early innovators who mixed R&B with gospel to create the emerging genre of soul music, which would blossom fully in the 60’s through many artists at Motown, Stax and Atlantic. Cooke would chart 45 pop records in a career that ended at age 33 with his 1964 shooting death at a motel under strange circumstances. Just before his death, he recorded the prophetic “A Change is Gonna Come” which over the years became a civil rights anthem and was used in Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Cooke had written this after being impressed with how well that “white boy” songwriter Bob Dylan had captured the civil rights movement in “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
31. “At the Hop” (12/57, #1) by Danny and The Juniors. An anthem to fast dancing. It held the #1 spot for 7 weeks.
New Year’s Eve. I pause here to thank Evelyn May, one of my favorite dance partners at Teen Town. We had an unstated agreement – if we did not have a New Year’s date, why not us? We did this two years, but not so sure which years. I remember one in Tom Foley’s basement when only three couples showed up, and we all squeezed in side-by-side on the couch with the lights down low.
Unrest in Rock and Roll. 1957 was a rough year with censors and others in the establishment trying to stem the tide. Many cities and states prohibited concerts because of riot concerns. Boston banned “Wake Up Little Susie” for its alleged indecent lyrics. Elvis was filmed from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan show so the country would not be exposed to his suggestive moves. Alan Freed’s TV dance show was cancelled when performer Frankie Lymon was shown on screen dancing with a white girl. Frank Sinatra said Rock and Roll comes from “…cretinous goons…is the most brutal, ugly, vicious form of expression – sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty…rancid smelling aphrodisiac…the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the the earth.” 1958 did not start much better as Boston police shut down Alan Freed’s concert and he was indicted for inciting a riot – the charges were found to be groundless, but the damage to his reputation cost him his deejay job. Many problems were self-inflicted, including questionable business practices by Freed and other deejays as well as unscrupulous managers, producers and record companies – all of which had the effect of cheating the artists who were making the music. But the music did not stop.
32. “Get a Job” (1/58, #1) by The Silhouettes. This was the only recording by the Silhouettes to make the pop charts, joining many other “one hit wonders” in the 50’s. Their words lived on when the repeated refrain of “sha-na-na-na, sha-na-na-na-na” was adopted in 1969 as the name for popular nostalgia act “Sha Na Na.”
33. “Tequila” (2/58, #1) by The Champs. This was another one of those records where a record company intended this as a throwaway for the B-side, but the music fans had a better idea. This instrumental may now be better known as the music for Pee Wee Herman’s dance on the bar in his 1985 movie.
34. “Don’t You Just Know It” (3/58, #9) by Huey (Piano) Smith & The Clowns. They had an earlier modest hit with “Rocking Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu” (8/57, #52).
A Junior Year Story: This is about a record that is in my collection but not really Rock and Roll: “Lollipop” (3/58, #2) by The Chordettes. The song was first recorded by Ronald and Ruby in 1957 and released in 1958, peaking at #20. However, when it was learned that Ronald was black and Ruby was white, their TV appearances were cancelled and the song dropped from the charts. The Chordettes cover became a worldwide hit, but Ruby still did well – her real name was Beverly Ross, a co-writer of the song with Julius Dixson, which meant royalties for her for all record versions and later advertising jingles. She and Dixson, a rare pairing of black and white songwriters, had also co-written Bill Haley’s seminal crossover hit, “Dim, Dim The Lights.” Ross wrote over 200 songs, including “Candy Man” by Roy Orbison and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” by Leslie Gore. Lollipop made a memorable appearance on the TV show “Cheers” when Norm and Cliff sucked helium from a balloon to get a higher singing voice to do their version of “Lollipop.” In April of 1958, Bill Lochman was listening to the Chordettes’ version of “Lollipop” while driving his mother’s Plymouth down Kentucky Road near Arlington (he thinks maybe 80 mph). The Plymouth met a tree head-on, causing Bill serious injuries. Bill later got his own car, a 1950 Ford, and I was with him one night when we left Teen Town and proceeded down Arlington toward Fairmount. To assure good rubber going to second gear (and maybe also go fast), Bill attempted a speed shift that never got to second – blew the transmission. I don’t remember what song was playing. Shirley has reminded me that she was in a girls’ quartet with Diana, Evelyn May and Gail Benson that sang “Lollipop” at the school variety show.
35. “Twilight Time” (4/58, #1) by The Platters. The third of their four #1 hits – the others are “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” “Twilight Time” sold over 1.5 million copies, 1.8% being 78-rpm, and the balance 45-rpm. This led to the Mercury label dropping the 78-rpm format, soon to be followed by other record companies.
36. “Johnny B. Goode” (4/58, #8) by Chuck Berry. The line “there lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode” had been “colored boy” in the early takes, but Berry switched to “country boy” to be sure he did not lose radio airplay. A live version of this song was used by Berry as the flip side of his only #1 hit, the lame 1973 novelty record “My Ding-A-Ling.” “Goode” is the spelling of the street where Berry grew up in St. Louis. He performed at the Clinton Inaugural Gala Concert that Rita and I attended in 1993, and at age 82, he is still occasionally performing.
37. “Rebel Rouser” (6/58, #6) by Duane Eddy, and His ‘Twangy’ Guitar And The Rebels. Eddy was the most successful instrumentalist in the 50’s. His highest chart hit (#4) came in 1961 when he played the title song in Dick Clark’s movie “Because They’re Young.”
38. “Little Star” (7/58, #1) by The Elegants. Another one hit wonder. I was introduced to this song by Tom Black when he turned up the radio in his old Packard as we were on our way to play tennis at what was then Slover Park (now the Truman Library). Michael Jackson was born during the week this song was #1.
39. “Summertime Blues” (8/58, #8) by Eddie Cochran. “Every time I try to call my baby to try and get a date, my boss says ‘No dice son, you gotta work late’….Well I called my Congressman, and he said quote: ‘I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.’“ This line is more important than you might first think – we were not eligible to vote in the coming 1960 Kennedy/Nixon race. The 26th Amendment for the 18 year old vote was adopted in 1971. Cochran was only 21 when he was killed in a 1960 car crash in England that also seriously injured fellow rocker Gene Vincent.
40. “Poor Little Fool” (8/58, #1) by Ricky Nelson. It was a tough choice between this and “Be-Bop Baby” (10/57, #3). He was 45 when he was killed in a plane crash while on tour in 1985.
41. “Rockin’ Robin” (8/58, #2) by Bobby Day. His only record in the Top-40, but he picked up two slots in my playlist.
Fall of 1958 – Senior Year. Ken Dewey is elected Mayor of Teen Town. Some 48 years later, classmate Don Reimal will be elected Mayor of Independence. Jerry Titus is elected Senior Class President. I take what turns out to be my most valuable class, including any in engineering and law schools: typing from Mrs. Viles. Who knew then we would someday be sitting in front of computers sending emails, browsing the Internet and composing some memories? The typewriters were of course manual and easily jammed, especially by immature boys who hit the girls’ keyboards with a full hand (I must have also talked a lot – Mrs. Viles wrote in my year book “I’ll bet you learned to talk early in life.”). I generally did fine with grades, but those separate “Citizenship” numbers (especially “Self Control”) were not always so good and regretfully seemed important to my parents. Another class was Physics with Mr. Coleman. It was common to buy used textbooks from the preceding class, and one of those buys in the fall of ‘58 had a student’s returned test papers filed in the book (just the handwritten answers, not the questions). At some stage, it was determined that Mr. Coleman’s tests were identical to the prior year, leading to many students having the good fortune to know a version of the answers before they saw the questions. It is rumored that some even prepared their answers before taking the test. The tests soon changed after Mr. Coleman apparently determined there was unexpected improvement by certain students. I forget the names of anyone involved in this.
42. “To Know Him, Is To Love Him” (9/58, #1) by The Teddy Bears – two guys and a gal. One of the guys was 18-year old Phil Spector who took the song title from the epitaph on his father’s gravestone. Spector later became one of the most successful record producers of all time. A lover of guns, he used one on a date and was convicted of murder in 2009 at age 69. The gal in The Teddy Bears was Carol Connors who would later write “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from the movie “Rocky”. The drummer was Sandy Nelson who had his own hit a year later (“Teen Beat,” 9/59, #4).
43. “Queen Of The Hop” (10/58, #9) by Bobby Darin. I remember sacking groceries at Curt’s Market and watching Bobby Darin on television, sitting in a bathtub singing his first chart hit “Splish Splash” (6/58, #3). Darin had completed his recording sessions for “Queen Of The Hop” and “Splish Splash,” but feared they were not going to be released and that Atlantic’s Atco label was not going to renew his contract. To have “something in the can,” he wrote and recorded “Early In The Morning” with Decca which rushed out the record under the fictional group “Ding Dongs.” Atco surprised Darin by renewing his contract and then forgave him after they found out about the Decca record. They reclaimed the Decca tapes and released “Early In The Morning” under the Atco label with the fictional group now being called the “Rinky Dinks.” Decca counterpunched by having Buddy Holly record the song and even used the same flip side of “Now We’re One” which was also written by Darin. Darin’s version went to # 24 and Holly’s went to #32. I have all three of these Darin records, but “Queen Of The Hop” is clearly my favorite. I have both the Darin and Holly versions of “Early In The Morning” and replayed them recently – Holly’s is much better. Darin’s “Mack The Knife” hit #1 in the summer of 1959, leading him to an outstanding night club and recording career cut short by heart failure in 1973 at age 37.
Sports/Scouts to Cars – Other than girls and music, my primary interest had been sports. I was too little, too slow and too unskilled to be a varsity athlete, but I was always busy as a spectator and participant – 3&2 baseball, intramurals, manager of the basketball team and attendance at Van Horn sporting events. This led to many of my social friends being the sports fans and jocks at the school. I had also been active in boy scouts – Eagle Scout and Mic-O-Say – but there would be no more Osceola summer camps for the same reason that sports would be taking a back seat. It started innocently as I turned 16 in the summer of 1957 and got my driver’s license, but getting my own car (a 1954 Ford) opened the floodgates – cars joined girls and music for my attention. Jim Graham (who I had known since early grade school) and Bill Lochman lured me to their hot rod club, “The Draggin’ Diplomats,” operating out of Larry Keck’s garage. In recognition of the club’s work on the tech line at the drag strip and preventing street racing (Lochman?), the KC Police Department had awarded the club a Chrysler engine that they were installing in a tiny 1948 Crosley sedan. They worked on customizing cars and some members were even mechanically inclined and could repair our sometimes abused cars. They did other fun things, not all of which need to be discussed here. My mother was somewhat disappointed when she started seeing these new and different friends, and it did not help when Bill cut off my dad on Truman Road to make a turn up Cedar to come to my house – Bill quickly realized what he had done and went around the block in the hope that dad would not notice it was Bill. Did not work. In the end, mom and dad grew very fond of Jim and Bill who would even come by the house to visit while I was away at college. Larry Keck continued to race for more than 35 years and moved on from street rods to dragsters. He was featured in a 1994 edition of “National Dragster,” where he perfectly summed up the nature of our old club: “Our club had about 15 members, but only two or three of us got greasy.” I was not one of those two or three, but enjoyed the street rod and custom car scene. Graham and Lochman were not done with me – as soon as I got out of law school, they recruited me into their next social organization, the Young Democrats (about the same ratio of workers to party animals as in the Draggin’ Diplomats).
44 and 45. “Donna” and “LaBamba” (11/58, #2 and 12/58, #22) by Richie Valens. The flip sides of this record would provide the only Top-40 hits for Valens. A little over two months after the record started moving up the charts, Valens was killed (see below). My most vivid memory of the record is hearing both sides over and over as we played penny-ante poker all night after a New Year’s Eve party in the basement of Bill Leach’s house. It was at the top of the stack, and we were slow to get up from the poker table to switch the records, and so Valens got much of the night. Another person had a big night on that New Year’s Eve: Fidel Castro took over power in Cuba (and Michael Corleone fled Havana that night in “The Godfather Part II”).
46. “Sixteen Candles” (11/58, #2) by The Crests. “Sixteen candles, make a lovely light…You’re only sixteen/But you’re my teenage queen/You’re the prettiest, loveliest girl I’ve ever seen.” For my 50th birthday party, my law partner Mike White and his wife Alice revised the lyrics, and the party guests sang such notable lines as “Fifty candles, make a blinding light…My God, you’re 50/But you’re Rita’s dream/You’re the oldest naked person that she’s ever seen.” The guests were led in this new version by an entourage of Van Horn ‘59 graduates (Diana, Lochman, Graham, Don/Marcia, Bob Farrand) wearing fake campaign shirts with my yearbook photo and promoting “Lonnie for Teen Town Mayor.”
47. “I Cried A Tear” (12/58, #6) by LaVern Baker. Her biggest hit, although likely more remembered for “Jim Dandy” (12/56, #17). Another Atlantic artist would also have his biggest hit at the end of 1958: Clyde McPhatter with “A Lover’s Question” (10/58, #6). Baker is the only lead female artist in my list, but that is consistent with the early days of Rock and Roll. This would change dramatically in the 60’s with Phil Spector’s “girl-groups,” Motown’s Supremes, Atlantic’s Aretha Franklin and many others.
48. “Stagger Lee” (12/58, #1) by Lloyd Price. This song has it origin in a gun fight in a bar in St. Louis in 1895, leading to many musical versions of the story over the years. Lloyd Price initially released a version that had two men gambling in the dark (“The night was clear and the moon was yellow…”) and ending with Stagger Lee shooting a bullet that went through Billy and “broke the bartender’s glass.” Dick Clark and many Top-40 programmers censored this version because of the gambling and violence, and so Price went back to the studio and cut a “Bandstand” version. This one had Billy temporarily stealing Stagger Lee’s girl, but then feeling bad and returning her so that “Stagger Lee was no more sore.” Yech. The original had been moving up the charts and the Bandstand version took it to #1. Thankfully I bought on the early side and my copy has such great lines as “Stagger Lee threw seven and Billy swore that he threw eight” and “You have won all my money and my brand new Stetson hat,” and of course, Stagger Lee pulled his .44 and shot Billy. Price became widely known as “Mr. Personality” after the release of his second Top-10 hit, “Personality” (4/59, #2).
2/3/59 – The Day the Music Died. As memorialized in Don McLean’s “American Pie” (11/71, #1), Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed in a plane crash soon after takeoff from Clear Lake, Iowa, where they had just performed at the Surf Ballroom. Buddy had split with the Crickets and added backup musicians Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings for the 24-city “Winter Dance Party” tour promoted by Irvin Feld. No one wanted to take the ride to the next gig in the unheated bus, but Jennings gave up his seat to the Big Bopper who was ill. Allsup flipped a coin with Valens for the other seat. After the crash, the tour continued with the remaining headliner, Dion and the Belmonts, The Spaniels (“Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight”) and 15-year old Bobby Vee subbing for Buddy to get a jump-start on his career. Buddy recorded a record that was released soon after his death, and the flip sides both leave poignant messages: “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (2/59, #13; written by Paul Anka) and “Raining In My Heart” (3/59, #88). Although I have “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper (8/58, #8), I have not included in my main list because I consider it more of a novelty record than Rock and Roll.
A Senior Year Story: The school was basketball crazy as Van Horn and Lincoln battled for the city championship. Coach Ragle had a great team with stars Phil Clemens and Jim Whipple plus solid starters Tom Foley, Larry Cordell and Charlie Whipple. Carlisle, Firkins, Tommy Sugg, Ted Loulos, Gary Hoyer and Gary Clark rounded out the senior contingent on the team. Clemens was voted 2nd Team – All City and later also won Janet Pavola (definitely 1st Team). Whipple received the DiRenna Award as the best player in Greater Kansas City and was on 1st Teams – All City and State. I was a student manager for the team and always had a birds-eye view at the games because I sat at the scorers table and kept the team statistics. I sat next to Mr. Coleman who served as the official scorer for the games, but the Physics test situation never came up. In the showdown game before a packed house in the Van Horn gym, we had a 3 point lead with less than a minute to go, but somehow Lincoln was able to score two late baskets to beat us by 1 point. Virginia Johnson has reminded me that she and Marilyn Knapheide were meeting Tom Foley and me after the same to go to the Dairy Queen, but they had to wait for an hour and a half before the depressed group left the locker room. There was a temporary reprieve in the post-season when we beat archrival Northeast in the regional final to advance to the state tournament, but we then lost in the next round, again by 1 point. The varsity cheerleaders at the games were Diana, Shirley and Linda plus Leslie Gray, Jo Ann Norman, Janice Lingle and Eddy Jean Myers.
2/9/59 – “Venus” by Frankie Avalon debuts and goes to #1 for five weeks. When WHB had a countdown at the end of the year, they could not find their recording of “Venus.” Bill Lochman’s brother was then station manager at WHB, and so Bill and I hustled my copy downtown for them to temporarily use. Never got it back – so, it is not in my jukebox anymore, but remains in my typewritten index, slot 11 in the brown case.
3/26/59 – Our school paper, “The Pioneer”, periodically ran a column naming Lord and Lady Falcon of the week – some recognition for school activities or maybe being a friend of the public relations manager (Linda Riley, who recently passed along the 3/26/59 copy of the paper to me). I had the good fortune to be paired in this honor with Denise Danforth, one of our sweetest classmates. The headline read “Typical Teenager Says Girls Give Him Trouble; Kappa President is Member of Concert Choir.” My pathetic quote was girls going steady “give me trouble.” Denise gave a grown-up answer that she planned to train to be an X-ray technician – and actually did that after graduation.
49. “So Fine” (4/59, #11) by The Fiestas. Good West Coast beat.
Another Senior Year Story: Before the days of long spring breaks, we got a 4-day “Easter Holiday” from Good Friday through the following Monday. The drama class was preparing for their spring play and rehearsals were planned for the holiday weekend. The male leads, Bill Lochman and his unnamed coconspirator, asked Miss Nanabel Cassell for permission to skip rehearsal so they could drive to Houston to see Bill’s girl friend who had just moved there. Miss Cassell said no, but of course they went anyway and ended up with car trouble in Corsicana, Texas – that same poor ‘50 Ford that had lost at least one transmission. While buying parts so they could replace a piston on the side of the highway, they also acquired a tire, apparently without payment or permission. They fixed the car and went on to Houston, not realizing that their tire acquisition had been reported to the authorities. They unwisely returned by the same route and were stopped by the police and spent a night in the Corsicana jail. Diana and Shirley were at a rehearsal during that weekend and report that Miss Cassell asked a silent/grinning cast and crew where the leads were – someone finally broke down and told her they were in a Texas jail. Miss Cassell was not amused, but almost everyone else was – many substituting Corsicana for Tijuana and adding new lines to sing to the tune of the recently released Kingston Trio song, “The Tijuana Jail” (3/59, #12).
5/11/59 – “The Happy Organ” by Dave “Baby” Cortez rises to #1. Jim Graham continues to this day to claim that this senior year song was named after him. After one week at #1, the song was knocked out of the top spot by the last record on my playlist, “Kansas City.” Both records have classic guitar solos by the same session musician, “Wild Jimmy” Spruill.
50. “Kansas City” (4/59, #1) by Wilbert Harrison. Talk about great timing. This Leiber & Stoller song about our city was #1 in the country during the last two weeks of our senior year. The songwriters had never been to the city – their knowledge of Kansas City music came through the sounds of Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Big Joe Turner (remember, the guy who recorded the R&B original of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”). The song they had titled “Kansas City” was recorded as “K.C. Lovin’ ” by Little Willie Littlefield in 1952. They were disappointed by the name change which record producer Ralph Bass had done because he thought “K.C.” was hipper and “Lovin’ ” was in the refrain (“They got a crazy way of lovin’ there and I’m gonna get me some”). Littlefield has claimed he wrote the song and sold it to Leiber & Stoller, but they vehemently deny this. There is no doubt however on why the song is so well known today – it was the interpretation by Wilbert Harrison that turned it into a hit record and a Rock and Roll standard. Harrison had done some recording earlier in the 50’s, but he had not recorded for two years when he went to New York to record some gospel songs. He had some time left at the end of the session and recorded “Kansas City” which he had been using in his live performances. Wise move. Both Little Willie and Harrison sang of standing on the corner of 12th Street and Vine with a bottle of Kansas City wine, but Harrison changed the refrain to “They got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one.” He also used a shuffle beat that was perfect for dancing the West Coast. The record has been covered over 300 times, including by Bill Haley, Peggy Lee, Little Richard (#95), James Brown (#55), Hank Ballard (#72) and The Beatles, but no other version is better than Harrison’s. At the end of the games at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals play the Beatles version after a Royals win and the Harrison version after a loss. Wilbert Harrison gets much more airplay in this particular venue.
Summer of 1959. June 2 was graduation day and coincided with the debut of “There Goes My Baby” by The Drifters (6/59, #2) – yet another Leiber & Stoller song, co-written with lead singer Ben E. King. Our graduation party was at Rockwood Country Club, and the biggest move that night was by Jim Davis who gave a ring to our classmate Denise Danforth – now married 48 years and counting. They then joined with many other trespassing graduates in a late night venture on the adjoining golf course. After a few days with the guys at Jim Tally’s place at the Ozarks, I settled in to a summer that was almost perfectly captured in the 1973 movie “American Graffiti” – the movie had many of the records listed above and director George Lucas had the good sense to use Fats Domino’s version of “Ain’t It A Shame.” I spent almost every night cruising with Lochman, Keck and Graham plus other friends from The Draggin’ Diplomats. The Nu-Way and Starlight drive-in restaurants were part of the regular route and late night meant the Trolley Inn on Truman Road or the Big Six (not our travel group, but the tenderloin joint on 24 Highway that had “Party Doll” on the jukebox). Mostly, we struck out on any major dating scene, but custom cars (often with Lancer hubcaps), drag strips and Rock and Roll music filled in the non-work time. Classmates Bob Gower and Chet (formerly known as Chester) Adkins could also be found at the drag strip, and Chet had an ongoing challenge with Draggin’ Diplomats’ member Lonnie Offineer (outrageously funny guy from the Class of ‘61, but not to be confused with this Lonnie). Chet didn’t do so well with Offineer, but he later won the real trophy, classmate/wife Sandy Ring. I still have a set of those Lancer hubcaps, as does Jim Beard who brought one to the last reunion. My mind gets fuzzy on where we danced that summer (as opposed to the summer of ‘60 when I came back from college), but somewhere along the line we were meeting up with Diana, Shirley, Barbara Kreeger and other friends to West Coast at the Promenade Ballroom at 31st and Main, the Coke Bar in Grandview and Barry’s Barn in Olathe.
7/8/59 – Whispers of War. We were oblivious (as was almost everyone else) to the potential ramifications of a little-known event that summer – the first two U.S. combat deaths of advisors in Viet Nam occurred on this date.
Blue Room. One aberration from our routine was a night Lochman, Graham, Offineer and I in our t-shirts and jeans strolled into the Blue Room at 18th and Paseo. This was the old Blue Room in the Street Hotel, not the new version in the redeveloped 18th and Vine District. It was just blocks away from where Big Joe Turner had been the singing bartender at the Sunset Club in the ‘30’s before heading to New York to someday help start Rock and Roll (or, as he said, “It wasn’t but a different name for the same music I been singin’ all my life.”). The Blue Room was packed with a well dressed black crowd, but these underage white boys were shown to a table by the bandstand which featured none other than Dizzy Gillespie. An enjoyable evening that was not reported to our parents.
Rock and Roll Transition. On the national music scene in the summer of ‘59, Little Richard had moved on to become a preacher, Buddy Holly was dead, Jerry Lee Lewis was ostracized, Elvis was in the army and Chuck Berry was about to go to jail for violation of the Mann Act. The payola scandal was unfolding, and the primary target was Alan Freed. But Rock and Roll was more than a phase and new recruits were on the way: R&B singer Ray Charles was crossing over to the pop charts that summer with “What’d I Say,” Berry Gordy had just formed Motown, Leiber & Stoller had left L.A. to join other great songwriters like Carole King at the Brill Building in New York, Phil Spector was developing his “Wall of Sound” technique and songwriter Bob Gaudio joined Frankie Valli in what would become The Four Seasons. On another continent, Paul McCartney and John Lennon were working their way through several band name changes from the “The Quarrymen” to “Long John and the Beetles” (a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets) to “The Beatles” for the “beat” of the music. And that rock critic Frank Sinatra? When Elvis Presley was released from the army in 1960, his first TV appearance was on a Frank Sinatra variety special billed as “Welcome Home Elvis.” As Danny and the Juniors had assured us: “Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay” (3/58, #19).
College. At the end of the summer, the Class of ‘59 spread out to colleges, jobs and the military. I sold my Ford to Kenny Parkes. I started my engineering classes at Rolla, and the Sigma Nu fraternity house became my new home. The first party weekend coincided with the release of “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, the best party song of all time – a perfect introduction to college fraternity life which in some (but not all) ways was accurately depicted in the 1978 movie “Animal House.” I wore sunglasses at the parties to show solidarity with my new music hero, the genius Ray Charles. I also studied there.
And then 50 years went by……