A Candid Behind-the-Scene’s Recollection Of The Cavaliers Of 'Last Kiss' Fame (1956 – 2007)
Notes from The Lance Monthly Editor, Dick Stewart: I became aware of Sid Holmes via his postings on a popular ‘50s rock-and-roll/Buddy Holly Internet board, owned by leading Buddy Holly historian, Bill Griggs. Holmes, as of this writing, has been rather aggressive with his posts, and wastes no time in attempting to set the record straight as to what it was really like in West Texas during the time rock and roll was in its beginning stages of development in which western music played a principal role, with Elvis Presley being the major designer and motivator of a genre of music now referred to as rockabilly.
Sid especially lashes out at those who make unsupportive statements of a factual nature in reference to West-Texas ‘50s rock and roll, and he is especially harsh toward those he considers ‘50s rock-and-roll know-it-alls that either had not yet been conceived or too young to understand what it was really like to be a rock-and-roll musician during that period of time. And his at-times sulfurous demeanor has not won him friends or admirers on Griggs’ board; but then Sid isn’t interested in conducting a personality contest that might score him the number one spot on the Likable Guy List. His combative behavior is mostly an act of frustration over much of what’s presently being printed about the West-Texas ‘50s rock-and-roll musicians of note in which he fervently believes is really just an exaggerated glut of sensational niceties and inventions, while knowing it wasn’t anything like that at all.
I never took offense at Sid’s postings, but rather was intrigued by them. I knew he possessed a wealth of historic knowledge of the early West Texas rock-and-roll period, being in the thick of things, and being one of the founding members of a hugely popular ‘50s/‘60s Texas group called The Cavaliers that scored a number one hit on Billboard’s national top-100 rock-and-roll chart. So, I offered to do a featured interview with him and posted the request on Bill Griggs’ board; this was Sid Holmes’ reply:
“I would like to thank Mr. Dick Stewart for inviting me to be a part of Lance Monthly. Mr. Stewart had wanted to do an interview, but since I’m not very well known, he has allowed me, instead, to write a complete and unabridged history of our music group.
“As a founding member, from San Angelo, Texas, I hope to keep the story interesting and factual as possible. Since The Cavaliers’ two most successful singers are J. Frank Wilson and Jerry Naylor, I will give readers information never before published.”
This candid, “unabridged history” in Sid’s own words (with some minimal editing) will be presented in two parts, because Sid, indeed, has a lot he wants to say:
Like many thousands of other groups all across the United States in the fifties, we formed after seeing Elvis, Scotty and Bill. The very first time I heard Elvis was at Christoval Park near San Angelo, Texas. The outside jukebox was blasting the airwaves with “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” In 1955, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” b/w “Mystery Train” could be heard many times a day on KPEP Radio in San Angelo. We learned later this was the Elvis record, his longest charting record at 40 weeks, that caught the ear of numerous major labels, which would eventually lead to his signing with R.C.A.
Our future up-right bass player, Carroll Smith, attended the first Elvis concert on January 5, 1955, at The San Angelo Municipal Auditorium. Upon meeting Scotty and Bill after the show backstage, they followed Carroll in their car to the Hanger, a large popular nightclub. Elvis left with some girls, going to a small teen hangout not far from the Hanger called The Circus Club. When Elvis returned the following month on February 17, I attended this show with my teen girlfriend. Many years later I would read where a Jerry Naylor, Cavalier vocalist from 1957, had opened with his little band for Elvis at one of these shows in San Angelo. Facts are there was never a performer in San Angelo in the fifties by the name of “Jerry Naylor.” Unless Jerry Jackson performed before show time, neither Carroll Smith nor I can recall seeing him. I do remember seeing a small Jerry Jackson photo in the San Angelo Standard Times later that same year where he had performed at the auditorium on a program called Stage Review that showcased local talent. Dean Beard and Buddy Holly are the only two I recall opening for Elvis.
In 1955, I had purchased a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top guitar at a local music store and began playing rhythm guitar with local celebrity Wayland Chandler. Wayland had recently returned from California where he had written two songs that Patsy Cline recorded on 4 Star Records. In the nineties, these two recordings ended up on albums RIAA Certified Gold. Wayland, Daniel Dusek (lead guitarist) and I began playing Saturday-morning KPEP Jamborees in which we would meet Carroll Smith (bass) and Alton Baird (vocalist).
The following year Alton, Carroll and I entered a talent contest held at the Municipal Auditorium sponsored by The San Angelo Chamber of Commerce. It was backstage where we ran into Jerry Jackson, who then requested that we back him, as he had no band.
The crowd was estimated at 800 with the majority being screaming teen girls from local schools that included Lake View High that Jerry attended. After a couple of hours when all of the acts had finally completed their performances, the announcer came over to the side of the stage where we were standing, asking for our band name. We just looked at each other puzzled at which Alton finally came up with a name, The Cavaliers. The M.C. then announced the third place winner; then Jerry Jackson, second place; and the first place winner calling us “the cigarette boys” The Cavaliers (a popular brand of cigarettes at the time). Although we were unaware there was already a Cavalier group in Midland (100 miles from SA), fronted by Joe Melson, it never seemed to cause any problems, as he would soon hook up with Elroy Dietzel and The Rhythm Bandits. As most everyone knows, Joe would later co-write hit songs with Roy Orbison.
After winning first place at the talent show, The Cavaliers, which included manager Frank White, toured 16 small towns, playing to sold-out crowds at theaters, drive-in theaters, and high schools and colleges across West Texas. White would act as master of ceremonies, along with opening each show with his Dr. Murco and His Mad House of Magic Show. Alton Baird, with his good looks and vocal talents, would soon have the girls screaming. When the traveling Louisiana Hayride Show toured West Texas in 1956 and then again in early 1957, The Cavaliers were invited as special guests.
The first show (featuring Johnny Horton, Carl Belew and Country Johnny Mathis) was sponsored by the Sul Ross College Rodeo Club in Alpine [and] held in the college auditorium. In the afternoon of the show, Alton was invited to be interviewed on radio with Johnny Horton, as Carroll, Frank and I listened outside the station on the car radio. When Ron Stovall, drummer from Kermit and a student at Sul Ross, heard the interview on his radio, he showed up and would later join our group. When 8:00 PM rolled around, I became apprehensive, as we stood to the side of the stage looking out into a large crowd of college cowboys. It was some years later when I asked Alton how we did, as I was too nervous to look up during our three-song segment. Alton said we went over well.
The next time we played the Louisiana Hayride Show at the Texas Theater in Ballinger, it was in our territory. According to the theater manager, the crowd was more than 900 with the majority being teen girls. Johnny Horton was so impressed when Alton brought the house down with screaming teens, [that] he wanted to take our three-piece group on the road with him.
After becoming popular attractions around West Texas, a Dallas banker came to town and offered our group an all-expense-paid trip to record at Sellers Studio in Dallas. It was not known at the time, but the banker was part of a promotional group that had plans for a national televised talent show. After recording two original vocals and one instrumental in about an hour in Dallas, the group then returned back to San Angelo.
During the banker’s next visit to San Angelo, I happened to notice a large bundle of color posters in the back seat of his Cadillac. When I got the opportunity, I opened the back door in order to read one of the posters. It all came to light as the pre-printed posters had the Cavaliers winning a regional talent contest. Without even performing, we were to be the winners! After this visit, we never heard from him again, as his plans for a national talent show evidently failed to materialize. It would be three years before we would hear anything concerning the recordings made in Dallas.
When Alton left for his tour of duty, I then offered 18-year-old Jerry Jackson the lead vocalists spot in early 1957. The group began playing daily 15-minute radio shows six afternoons a week on KPEP Radio, where Jerry was being groomed to be a radio DJ. The band also played three nights a week at a local club called Taylor’s Night Spot, along with rotating with Dean Beard and The Crew Cats that included Jimmy Seals (sax) and Dash Crofts (drums), on Fridays at The San Angelo Youth Center. Jerry would eventually be inducted into the Army Signal Corps, being stationed in Germany assigned as a disc jockey on American Forces Radio Services.
In 2001, I was a performer and co-producer with Jerry on Vol. 1 CD/DVD entitled Jerry Naylor the Rockabilly Legends, A Tribute to My Friends, [and] it was in 2000 when I had just completed The Cavaliers Rockabilly Heaven CD that contained early ‘50s and ‘60s live performances, when Jerry happened upon the scene. I had been trying to locate Jerry Jackson for 40 years with no success. After Jerry had attended a class reunion in the ‘90s, someone informed me by phone that he had been going by his middle name, Naylor. When I learned he was going to Dallas to see his back specialist, I asked him if he would like to do a couple of recordings for the Cavalier CD; and when we recorded “Everyday” and “Ooby Dooby” in Arlington, Texas, Jerry got very excited with the final results.
Not too long after, he decided to do a rockabilly legends tribute, asking me to co-produce/perform. After sending me his list of rockabilly legends, I told him he had left off some important names like Ricky Nelson, Bill Haley and Eddy Cochran, and I questioned him about his selections of Charlie Rich, Johnny Horton and Bob Luman.
The sessions went well at first with Jerry’s voice improving as time went along. After completing 21 tracks that included a pop, a blues, a spiritual, a country and a gospel number, Jerry then had a CD cover specially designed by a black artist in Memphis. After seeing the new cover, which came across to me as Superman standing in the middle of some jazz musicians, I told him he had thrown away five grand, as my daughter could have designed one better and more in line with rockabilly music for $500. From this time on, I began to realize that this rockabilly-legends-tribute thing was beginning to look more and more like a Jerry Naylor tribute.
When I finally got to see the 1958 Louisiana Hayride photo, taken after the show in a restaurant in San Angelo that was used in the booklet, it all came to light. Jerry’s rockabilly-legends line-up for the tribute was apparently based on this classic photo that includes Johnny Horton, Bob Luman and Johnny Cash. Since KPEP Radio sponsored this show, others in the photo included owner Joe Treadway and part-time disc jockey Jerry Jackson. Having seemingly covered all of his tracks, Jerry could now say the rockabilly legends had all been his friends. Quoting from Jerry’s book and documentary: “I put up Elvis posters and then rushed back and performed.” . . . “I met Roy as he only lived about a hundred miles from San Angelo.” . . . “I met Buddy by chance at KDVA.” All hogwash.
If Mr. Naylor still has any fans left, he should offer an apology. Because of my constant pressure on Jerry to get off the ego trip and be more honest, I was edited out completely from the one-hour PBS Documentary. The PBS bosses apparently agreed with me as they had him change the title, along with removing much of the more obvious ego portions, cleaning things up nicely.
When Jerry Jackson left the band, I began playing in some local country groups until I could find another vocalist. After meeting Tommy Ruble in New Orleans in 1958, I organized another Cavalier group that included Carroll Smith (bass), Tommy Ruble (vocals) and Ray Smith (drums). When Ronald Stovall took Ray Smith’s place in the summer of 1958, Ron asked me to ride with him to Kermit to pick up his drums. When we arrived at his mother and dad’s home, we learned Roy Orbison would be performing at the Kermit Convention Center. Since Ron had played drums a couple of times with Roy, he said he would introduce me. When we walked in, Roy was sitting at a table with band members. The crowd looked to be around 300, with tables that seemed to connect going around the room.
[After] Ron introduced me to Roy telling him we were with the Cavaliers from San Angelo, he invited us to play a couple of numbers. I felt somewhat relieved when I glanced at the bandstand, seeing a Gibson Les Paul like the one I played. The rest of the band, whom I thought were the Teen Kings, came up with us. I played “Honky Tonk” and “Raunchy.” Ron told Roy we couldn’t stay as we hoped to be back in San Angelo by midnight. I learned later it was not the Teen Kings. Roy had previously known about the Cavaliers, as he had been invited to a Battle of the Bands with us at Club 67 back in 1956.
He had plans on being there, especially when he was told a couple of hundred cute gals would be there. The Cavaliers would then play local clubs in San Angelo until July 1959 when I was informed a Dallas record promoter had been trying to contact “the person who played the lead guitar on the instrumental” from the 1956 session in Dallas. Seems he had obtained the master recordings from the Dallas banker, and the only information he was given was [that] the band was from San Angelo. When I finally got to talk to him on the phone, he said his name was Tom Fleeger and that he had called the SA Chamber of Commerce in which he was given the name and phone number of Carroll Smith.
Tom Fleeger then said he had informed Carroll Smith, by phone, that he was only interested in the person who played the guitar on the instrumental. After calling back numerous times, Carroll Smith told him he not only composed the instrumental, but was the one who played it. Mr. Fleeger then informed him the record was going to be released with national distribution. After become suspicious from continually getting the run a round, the promoter decided to release the record under the name of Billy The Kidd, taking the publishing rights, along with falsely giving Carroll Smith the writing credits. After finally getting wind of this, I was able to contact the record promoter when I drove to Dallas and played it for him in his office.
This strange twist of fate forced the band to promote the record using the name Billy Kidd and The Cavaliers. “Crazy Guitar” (Jane 107, composed/performed by Sid Holmes) was given a three-star rating by Billboard [with the wording], “A wild guitar solo features this exciting side and it has a sound and could grab some loot.” (Two years earlier, Tom Fleeger had been instrumental in getting Gene Vincent a hit with a song he had published called “Lotta Lovin’.”) In order to promote “Crazy Guitar,” the band moved to New Orleans in 1959 where they would back Frankie Ford (“Sea Cruise”), Thomas Wayne (“Tragedy”), and future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Scotty Moore (Elvis guitarist) at record hops.
After the band members returned to San Angelo from New Orleans, Tommy Ruble and I moved on to Memphis where Sylvia Holmes, my sister, was a radio personality. In 1960, The Cavaliers opened for Jerry Lee Lewis at the Starlight Club in which I was then offered the lead guitar spot for Jerry Lee. I thanked Jerry Lee and Roland Janes for the honor, but had to decline, as I had already committed to play six nights a week at a popular private club in Memphis. Facts are, without a prior commitment, I would still have declined, as I just don’t tour.
The Cavaliers in Memphis eventually had some of the best players around with Ed Logan on sax (Ed would later become a member of The Memphis Horns playing on Elvis LP’s); Bobby Stewart (bass) is currently playing with Ace Cannon; Tommy Bennett (piano) played on the Carla Thomas hit “Gee Wiz” and Harold Dorman’s hit “Mountain of Love”; and Johnny Will Hunter (drums), [who] in 1967 would have a novelty hit record as a member of the group, The Hombres [with] “Let It All Hang Out” that reached number 12.
In 1980, Tommy Ruble would receive The Memphis Song of the Year Award for “Swinging Down in Memphis Town,” The Memphis Press Top Male Vocalist for 1981, and in 1991, selected to be the vocalist on “One Last Bridge,” the official song of Memphis.
After being a special guest on the Grand Ole Opry as Miss DJ U.S.A in 1960, Sylvia Holmes would become one of Elvis Presley’s most trusted friends.
In early 1962 I moved back to San Angelo and Tommy Ruble decided to stay in Memphis. It was some tough going in San Angelo with no job and no band. After a few months, I was able to land a job, playing bass at the Boots and Saddle Club. It was here I met Buck Owens and Don Rich, as they were touring across the country in a pickup with a camper heading to California. As the bandleader and bass player, I got the club owner, Helen Goode, to hire them for that Sunday afternoon. At this point in time they had not yet had their first number one on the country charts, although “Foolin’ Around” had reached number two for eight weeks. (Buck (and Don) would eventually become the top recording country act in the ‘60s.)
Anyway, I must say I was latterly blown away by their performance that Sunday afternoon, as they had turned their Fender amps so high I had to retreat outside. Not only were they one of country music’s greatest performers, they just might have been one of the loudest.
J. FRANK WILSON
A few weeks down the road I began putting together a new Cavalier group with Lewis Elliott. When he told me he could play rhythm guitar, I then offered to teach him the bass.
The new Cavalier band would consist of only three pieces with Bob Zeller (sax), Lewis Elliott (bass) and me on guitar. Our first job was playing Happy Hour (5-9 PM) six days a week at a small club in San Angelo. Since we didn’t have a vocalist, we played instrumentals that were popular at the time that included [songs by] Bill Black, Duane Eddy, and the Ventures. After a few weeks the place would become a popular hangout for salesmen in suits, cowboys in boots, and ladies both young and old. Since the club had seating for only 50, it soon became “first come, first serve” as most days over a hundred would be standing shoulder to shoulder talking loudly [and] holding on to their drinks.
One evening an airman, stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base, gave me the name and phone number of a serviceman he had heard sing and was soon to be discharged. After contacting Airman John Frank Wilson by phone, I made arrangements to pick him up the next evening. When I drove to the north gate of the air base where he had told me to meet him, I had no idea what he looked like. After parking and standing outside, I didn’t see anyone around with the exception of this one guy coming out of a convenience store with a six pack of beer under his arm. Sure enough it was Frank in his civilian clothes.
Frank was 20 years old, about 5’ 9’’ and 145 pounds. When we arrived at the club, we had a portable tape player all set up ready for him to record. After singing portions of about ten songs, we told him we would let him know. After he was gone, I played the tape back asking everyone [his] opinion. Our booking agent, bass player and sax player all voted “no.” After taking another listen, I over-ruled them and can remember saying, “This guy has a recording voice.” The following week, Frank would become the new vocalist.
A short time before his discharge, the band would play at a picnic for the servicemen at Goodfellow AFB that was held on their grounds. In 1962 Airman J. Frank Wilson received an honorable discharge, despite the fact he was being forced out, being unable to cope and unable to fit in with military life. My next surprise was learning Frank was married to a gal from Lufkin who had three small kids from her previous marriage. Had I known this from day one, I would have also voted “no,” as new wife Joe wanted Frank to return back to Lufkin.
With Frank as the new vocalist, I rented an office at 1312 North Chadbourne [in the business name of] Cavalier Enterprises, in order to handle bookings. After playing radio shows on KWFR, KTXL along with some live TV appearances, offers began to come in: high school proms, San Angelo College dances, middle school and high school assemblies, football banquets, Miss Wool of America street dance, SA Police Officers Association, S.A. Coliseum with Bruce Channel, teen clubs, SA Country Club, Lions Club, nightclubs, Goodfellow NCO Club, 4th of July Crowning of Miss S.A., along with offers from towns as far away as Odessa.
It was around this same time when white-soul-singer Wayne Cochran had gotten some inspiration from the many car wrecks on the highway where he lived in Georgia, to write a song. Wayne had been recording, performing in clubs, along with appearing on network TV that included the Jackie Gleason Show. Over in Midland, Texas, Sonley Roush was beginning to branch out with his music that included booking and promoting bands.
In San Angelo a brand new modern recording studio was in the process of being built by Ronald Newdoll. When Sonley Roush heard about The Cavaliers, he contacted Cavalier Enterprises [and] booked the band at a small club in Big Spring (80 miles from SA) called The Blue Note Club. The first time Sonley Roush heard Frank sing at The Blue Note Club, he was impressed. The band played the Blue Note Club in Big Spring and The Rock and Roll Club in Odessa numerous times.
After returning back from Memphis, I had brought with me some new songs in which one happened to be “The Twist.” Even though this new dance sensation had not yet made it to Texas, we added it to our song list. When Johnny Thurman, KPEP DJ and owner of The Dixie Club, heard about the Cavaliers, he offered us a spot on Sunday nights. The Dixie Club was located near the San Angelo Stock Yards and drew large crowds of cowboys. The club was made famous by the likes of Bob Wills, Hoyle Nix, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, Marty Robbins, Ernest Tubb and others. The house band consisted of some of the best players of Western Swing, in Texas, being fronted by Jimmie Fletcher and Larry Butler.
The timing was perfect, as when the Twist began moving across Texas, we began to draw large crowds at The Dixie on Sunday nights. When cowboys started doing the Twist, we were then offered six nights a week, becoming the first rock-and-roll band in history to be the house band at The Dixie Club. I then called Johnny Hunter (drums) in Memphis [and] he made a beeline for San Angelo. Next, I contacted Jim Wynn (piano/sax), who was attending college in Abilene, majoring in music. Jim joined the band [and] played on weekends.
Everything seemed to be going our way until J. Frank Wilson started getting on the phone at the Dixie about every break arguing with his wife, Jo. Seems most conversations didn’t go his way, as after yelling and ranting [and] then hanging up the phone, he would throw his empty beer glass against the wall where it would shatter, attracting the attention of customers and fans. This was something we all had to get accustomed to, as it continued for months on end.
Many times past midnight, Lewis would call me saying Frank is out on the highway trying to hitch a ride back to Lufkin. Many times he succeeded. Four or five days later, he would call collect saying he missed the band and would be hitching a ride back to San Angelo. Johnny Thurman’s only concern was getting Frank back on the bandstand.
The next surprise, concerning Frank, was when his mother informed me he had a steel plate in his head. According to her, he had fallen back in his chair as a child, hitting his head. From this time on, Lewis, Frank’s mother in Lufkin, and I would all work together doing what we could to keep Frank under some kind of control.
The reason for telling readers this information is that when Sonley Roush did his takeover in 1964, he had no idea until it was too late; he had a tiger by the tail.
After turning 21 years old in 1963, Frank approached me [with the request] to be his personal manager. I dug through my contracts, finding one I had brought from Memphis. We both signed the contract in front of a notary (January 23, 1963 - January 1966) on which he then put his official stamp, along with [his signature]. After our contract had run out at the Dixie Club in 1963, the band continued to stay busy until the spring, when J. Frank Wilson took a leave of absence, returning home to Lufkin.
I decided to move to Corpus Christi [and] turned the leadership of The Cavaliers over to Lewis Elliott. Lewis then hired local black blues singer, John Maberry to take Frank’s place. With Frank now residing in Lufkin and I in Corpus Christi, new songwriting ideas began to be exchanged between us, along with talks of getting new bookings in the popular Corpus tourist area. This failed to materialize, as Lewis would soon call me requesting that Frank be reinstated as the lead singer. In order not to cause any bad feelings between John Maberry and Lewis Elliott, I wrote an official letter, requesting that J. Frank Wilson be reinstated as the lead singer of The Cavaliers.
After hearing about another wreck on Highway 341 near Barnsville [that occurred on] December 22, 1962, [and which] took the lives of three teens, Wayne Cochran went about the business of completing the song he had started in 1961. This wreck gave him new inspiration, as his drummer had been dating the sister of one of the girls who had died. After completing the song, he gave it the title of “Last Kiss,” dedicating it to the memory of Jeannette Clark 16, Wayne Cooper 17, J. L. Hancock 16, all from a nearby military academy.
Wayne then recorded the song at a small studio in Vidalia, Georgia, being released on the Gala Label. The owner, Ed Perry, would later sell Wayne’s contract and the publishing to King Records. Wayne’s new recording on King [was] produced and arranged by studio professionals, utilizing session musicians, along with a first-rate three-girl-backing group.
This was an excellent recording with Wayne in good voice. The only problem was Wayne’s voice breaking slightly in a couple of places. Had he done a tad bit more work, he would have had the hit with proper distribution. In today’s modern studios, they would have had no problem correcting Wayne’s voice without having to re-record the [the song].
When King Records, a black blues-oriented label, showed little interest in distributing Wayne’s new 45 nationally, Wayne loaded some in the trunk of his car, taking off across the country. (Note: The reason Wayne recorded “Last Kiss” at King in Macon, Georgia, was because he was a soul singer and this was his label.)
Over in Ft. Worth, another future player, Major Bill Smith, had produced a couple of big hits in 1962: “Hey Paula” and “Hey, Baby,” both going to number one.
It wasn’t known at the time, but Sonley Roush (Midland), had an on-going contract agreement with Bill Smith concerning any recordings or talent Sonley might find.
Although it’s a long way to drive from Georgia, Wayne decided West Texas would be the best place to get his record played. After arriving in West Texas, he dropped one of his promotional records off at one particular radio station that would eventually change, not only his life, but many others, forever.
One evening while listening to an Odessa radio station from his mother’s home in Midland where he resided, Sonley Roush happened to hear Wayne’s “Last Kiss.” The program had been based around new record releases in which kids would call in [and] vote for their favorite. [He was] not particularly impressed at first, but as the record kept winning, getting the most votes week after week, he had second thoughts. [So,] the first thing he did was to find a 45 copy where he could get more information from the label. Roush thought the soundtrack was perfect, but had reservations about the vocal performance. Because of the many Odessa/Midland teen girls’ overwhelming response to Wayne’s 45, he thought the song was hit material.
Having no funds, the plan was to contact Frank Wilson, [and] find a free band and a free recording studio. After learning Frank had been reinstated as the lead singer of The Cavaliers, along with a new recording studio having been completed in San Angelo, everything began to fall in place. [However,] 26-year-old Sonley Roush’s real character would soon reveal itself as being not only shrewd, deceptive and unethical, but dishonest.
The first thing Lewis Elliott was told was that some tape recordings were going to be made in the studio, in order to obtain new band bookings. J. Frank Wilson was told in private by Sonley that if he wanted a chance at having a hit record he would have to sign a personal manager’s contract with him. When Frank informed him he was already under contract, Sonley told him not to worry, as he would take care of the situation.
Roland Atkinson (a blues guitar player) would play the drums, Gene Croyle (a recent SA high school grad and formally with a local teen band, The Regents) would play my Duane Eddy Gretsch guitar, Lewis Elliott (bass) would play his Red Gibson bass, [and] Jim Wynn, from the 1962 group, would be called in to play piano. One girl singer, unknown today, would sing behind Frank. The musicians, including the girl singer, were given a copy of Wayne’s record [to take] home and learn their parts. The plan was to clone Wayne Cochran’s 45 note-for-note, laying down a sound track, and then adding Frank’s vocals.
The first master recording, with too much echo on Frank, was sent out to Tamara Records in Philadelphia. When this record began receiving airplay in Philadelphia, Sonley knew he had something. The final master took 64 tries, as Lewis Elliott had difficulty playing the bass rift, along with all the rest of the group being inexperienced with the exception of Jim Wynn (piano), who had a degree in music.
At this point in time, I began to realize Sonley had plans of doing a complete takeover. I then confronted Lewis Elliott, reminding him, I not only owned the Cavalier name, but had a legal binding contract with J. Frank Wilson. I told him if we worked together we could prevent a complete takeover by Sonley Roush by keeping Frank’s name off the record. Lewis then made the decision to stick with Sonley Roush, saying he had been offered a contract on record sales. I then approached Sonley Roush, who then offered a compromise, saying he would use a song I had written and had given to Frank in 1962, on one side of any follow-up release if “Last Kiss” was successful. After checking with some attorneys in San Angelo, I soon learned they knew absolutely nothing about music contracts, [and] suggested I try Nashville.
When the final master tape of “Last Kiss” was completed, Sonley Roush then had the band record a number he had “written and published” on his Midessa Publishing Company entitled “That’s How Much I Love You.” Sonley, being street smart, knew writers and publishers on flip sides of hit records received the same royalties. When I heard this awful recording, I informed Lewis Elliott [that] this song was not written by Roush, but was an Eddy Arnold, number-two country hit from 1946, written by Eddy Arnold [and] published by Acuff/Rose. I could not believe Major Bill Smith, Josie Record executives and Ron Newdoll [had] bought into this plagiarism! In some countries plagiarism is a serious crime (in which Michael Jackson learned) that could send a person to prison.
After Major Bill took the new master to Jay-Gee Records in New York City, they got wind of another “Last Kiss” on another label and getting airplay. When confronted, Sonley Roush denied making any deals with Tamara Records, saying he just sent them the first master tape for them to review. Jose Records then sued Tamara in U.S. District Court in which Tamara claimed Sonley Roush had made an oral contract with them by phone. Tamara didn’t have a chance, as Sonley denied this in court under oath in which Major Bill presented a written contract. Tamara was then forced to deliver to Jay-Gee all labels, mastered recordings, [and] stamps used in manufacturing of the record, [and took] a huge loss.
When “Last Kiss” (Josie 923) hit the radio stations, Frank had his name on the record in large print with The Cavaliers below in smaller print. On the flip side was Eddy Arnold’s song with the writers being listed as S. Roush and J. Wilks, published by Midessa Music. [When I ran] into Mr. J. Wilks in Ft. Worth some years later, I questioned him why his name was on Eddy Arnold’s song as a co-writer. He replied by saying he told Sonley, back in 1964, “We can’t get away with stealing that song.” I then informed Mr. Wilks he would be the one taking the fall, as one of Sonley’s tricks, if he gets caught, is to say his co-writer was the one who brought him the song, putting the blame all on you, saying he had no idea you had stolen it.
Instead of Sonley using the song I had written on one side of the follow-up single, Sonley put his name on it as the writer on a track on the “Last Kiss” LP. When the record began to climb [in the national charts], Sonley took the group on the road, [kept] the lion’s share of the gate receipts, [and sent them] back to his mother in Midland. When Lewis confronted Sonley, he was dumped, along with Roland Atkinson, and they returned home. Teenager, Gene Croyle from a wealthy family, [who] didn’t rock the boat [and didn’t need] money, managed to stay aboard.
Sonley Roush had now completed his takeover and was now in control of hot new property, J. Frank Wilson, [and] it didn’t take Sonley long in realizing J. Frank Wilson was now beginning to get too hot to handle. Frank continued to run up long distant calls, talking for hours on end to some airline hostess he had met, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Women, booze, and staying up all night partying became the order of the day. One day he’s an unknown singer in a band in a small town in West Texas and the next day he’s the featured singer on a record that has now moved up to number three on the Billboard singles charts. Surly, even The Beatles would now know who J. Frank Wilson was.
This overnight success would now keep him from sleeping at night as he just couldn’t seem to get over himself, never giving any credit to Wayne Cochran for writing, singing, [and] producing the original soundtrack. “Hey, I’m J. Frank Wilson, a big overnight sensation,” [but] one who breaks contracts, dumps his loyal band boys, giving no credit to Ron Newdoll and his studio, no credit to the girl who sang behind him, no credit to Jay-Gee Records [for] spending big bucks distributing [the 45], and no credit to Sid Holmes, who gave him his big break and the chance to gain valuable experience as the lead singer of The Cavaliers.
At this point in time, J. Frank Wilson was now in control of his destiny, needing no one, not even Sonley Roush. After replacing Lewis Elliott and Roland Atkinson with more professional players from Memphis, the tour continued until Sonley Roush kept losing sleep, trying to keep up with Wilson. Then one morning, after another sleepless night, Sonley would doze off while driving, hitting an 18-wheeler head-on [and] dying from a broken neck. In the front seat with Sonley was superstar, J. Frank Wilson. In the backseat were some notable musicians from Memphis that included Bobby Wood. Bobby would lose an eye in the wreck but would later become Garth Brook’s keyboard player on all of his hits.
After the news of the wreck hit, the record moved up the charts to number two. After Sonley was buried in Midland in late 1964, J. Frank, in desperation for money, filed a lawsuit in San Angelo against Roush’s estate that was controlled by his mother (who had just lost her only son) to the tune of $19,500 for negligence (falling asleep at the wheel). Since $19,500 was a lot of money in 1964, Wilson’s ex got wind, filing for back child support. After paying his attorney, along with back child support, Frank ended up with enough money to buy a used car, [and] seeing San Angelo in his rearview mirror for the very last time. In October, 1964 J. Frank [went] solo.
Next time, “Would You Catch a Falling Star?” - royalty checks, lawsuits, power struggles, “Last Kiss” LP, solo tours, American Bandstand, national newspapers, food stamps, NBC Nightly News, Gold Record Award, Canadian charts, Wayne Cochran royalties, BMI, J. Frank imposters, J. Frank’s early musical influence, J. Frank’s record producers, J. Frank’s long list of bad recordings, world’s worst recording, Josie Records’ bankruptcy, J. Frank’s Mother, DWI convictions, divorces, alcohol abuse, jail time, false hopes, stabbing, gun shot, hospital stays, Texas Monthly, Canadian group’s “Last Kiss,” Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss, 2005,” “Last Kiss” book release, and more.
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