Saturday, January 26, 2013

Last Kiss

In his new book "Rockabilly Heaven - West Texas in the '50's ... The Untold Story of The Cavaliers, 1956 - 1964", original Cavalier Sid Holmes recalls the recording session that produced their #1 Hit "Last Kiss" ...  

The script couldn't have been written any better; over in San Angelo, Ron Newdoll had visions of recording something important in his brand new studio, while across town Lewis Elliott was keeping The Cavaliers' name alive. Down in Corpus Christi, I had written an official letter to Lewis Elliott that would re-instate J. Frank Wilson as the lead singer for The Cavaliers. Three hundred miles away in Lufkin, Texas, J. Frank Wilson was packing up his belongings and heading for San Angelo, not knowing he had a date with destiny.  

Sonley Roush had gotten the brainstorm for recording "Last Kiss" after hearing Wayne Cochran's King #5856 demo 45 record played weekly on an Odessa radio station. The station had added the song to their weekly "Record Challenge", where new releases would go up against one another and then listeners would call in, make comments about the song, and vote. When Wayne's record continued getting good responses from the young girls, Sonley Roush (who liked the song but not Wayne Cochran's vocal performance on this particular record) remembered Frank Wilson, lead singer for The Cavaliers from San Angelo, Texas from 1962. Roush had previously approached a rock band from Abilene he had been producing called The Chevelles to record "Last Kiss", but they turned it down.  

When Sonley Roush finally made the decision to move forward with his idea, he was faced with numerous challenges. The most important one was that singer J. Frank Wilson was still involved with The Cavaliers, and he wasn't sure if he'd be available. After learning that Frank was available, the next challenge for Roush was his very limited funds. Roush approached Ron Newdoll, owner of Accurate Sound Recording, and convinced him that "Last Kiss" with J. Frank Wilson as the vocalist, could be the stuff dreams are made of.  

Roush's final challenge was finding a band that would play on the recording without getting paid. In the beginning, Lewis Elliott said he was under the impression that the band was going to record some demos at Accurate Sound Recording Studio in order to get more bookings. In time, Roush revealed his "idea", offering The Cavaliers a contract that would pay a small percent in royalties.  

Sonley Roush's secretive plan was to record "Last Kiss" in Ron Newdoll's new studio in San Angelo, at no charge, copying Wayne Cochran's 45. Since Wayne had a three-girl backing group on his record, Sonley tried to round up some girls who sang in church. The girls failed to show. Sonley contacted Jim Wynne, from the 1962 Cavalier group, by phone, and asked him to play piano on the recording in which he agreed. Ron Newdoll contacted local musician Marilyn Massey, offering her son, Lynn, to play drums, but she wouldn't let him skip school.  

J. Frank Wilson (vocalist), Gene Croyle (guitar), Roland Atkinson (drums), Lewis Elliott (bass), me (Sid Holmes, playing the studio piano), Sonley Roush and Ron Newdoll (studio owner) were all at Accurate Sound Recording studio around 1:00 pm in early August, 1964.   
(What?!?!?  Are you telling me that Leo Lucas wasn't there?!?!? Who'dathunk!?!?!) kk   

Sonley Roush began the session by holding up a 45 copy of Wayne Cochran's teen tragedy ballad, "Last Kiss". He said "You guys are here in order to copy this record by Wayne Cochran, who also wrote the song, and I have confidence that you are going to do a much better job." (Please note: It is not illegal to copy another band's recording as musical arrangements cannot be copyrighted.)  

The session began with Sonley Roush playing the 45 record a couple of times through the speakers in order for each player to hear it and to concentrate on their part. When everyone felt somewhat comfortable with the song, Roland Atkinson began the drum intro, followed by Lewis Elliott's bass riff, in which he had some difficulty. After a couple of false starts, I left the piano stool, walked over to Lewis, and offered him some assistance. In order to help, I took the electric bass from Lewis, put the strap over my shoulder, and played the tricky bass riff showing him some positions and technique. 
(Maybe Leo ran out to get everybody coffee???) kk  

The actual recording of "Last Kiss" went like this:  

With Sonley Roush giving the instructions through the monitor speakers, we began recording the song over and over, with few pauses, for three straight hours. The few pauses that were made Sonley would play the record over again through the monitor speakers. Most of the time, if there was a goof-up, we just kept on playing and then we would begin over, starting from the top. At around 4:00 pm, we were up to around "Last Kiss" take #62 and most everyone was about shot. We did two more attempts, "Last Kiss" #63 and finally Sonley called out to us "Last Kiss", take #64, which probably was the best of the lot.  

Since he did not sing, write arrangements, play an instrument, provide any monetary funds or have any connection with The Cavaliers, the only thing Sonley Roush brough to the table that day was an "idea".   
(Maybe Leo Lucas drove Sonley to the session???) kk  
Since Frank Wilson seemed to be familiar with the song, it's likely he was the only one given a cassette practice tape in advance. (Sonley Roush had not provided any previous practice cassette tapes of Wayne Cochran's "Last Kiss" 45 for the players; it's not surprising that it took so long to record. Perhaps no cassette practice tapes were made and sent out before the recording session because Roush was being overly cautious, not wanting anyone to steal his "idea".)  
Despite the fact that no one had a chance to practice beforehand, the final track turned out well. The name of the lone female back-up singer who was brought in at a later time is unknown.   
(Maybe THAT'S Leo Lucas!!! Damn it, Leo, you might have gotten away with this one ... telling everybody that you were brought into the session to sing those high female parts!!!) kk   

It was thought to be Gwen Coleman, but upon interviewing her, she said the rumors were false.   
(OMG ... Gwen may be the first person EVER to claim to have NOT played on "Last Kiss"!!!) kk

The teen tragedy ballad "Last Kiss" was perfect material for J. Frank Wilson; his voice was always crisp and clear with a slight hint of pain.  
And then the record was a hit, right??? Well, not exactly. To see how this record was bootlegged by other record companies ... how an alternate version was released on another label ... how J. Frank Wilson was ousted from the band ... and much, much more, order Sid Holmes' book here: Click here: Rollercoaster Records  

At some point in time shortly thereafter, Sid Holmes signed away his rights to any future royalties for the record for $100.  

We had about three more pages of "Last Kiss" comments ready to go when we experienced our big computer crash of 2012 ... as a result, we lost virtually all of it ... except the few comments shown below that I was able to resurrect thanks to still being in my "live" active mail file. 

In addition, we received several NEW comments after yesterday's piece ran ... we've saved those for the end.

I think Sid Holmes' account closes the last chapter on this once and for all. He was there ... and his book outlines, in great detail, all the various ways The Cavaliers were screwed and abused ... but it ALSO tells the true, complete story of this landmark recording session ... and that's good enough for me! (kk)  

Meanwhile, here are the last of your surviving comments ...  

Have you published the last chapter on The Last Kiss?
I doubt it ... it seems that every time this topic comes up, we get a great response ... including some of those featured below. (kk)  

Hi Kent,
Interesting story about "Last Kiss" and all the Cavaliers claims. I can add two more versions of "Last Kiss" recorded by Wayne Cochran himself, including one of the earliest:
Last Kiss / Edge of the Sea (Aire 150)  

Released in 1962, which makes it the second version of the song recorded by Cochran. It's completely different from all the other takes, with Cochran sharing vocals with an unnamed male vocalist - possibly Loyd Thunder, whose 45 on Aire was released at the same time. This 45 is not listed in any Cochran discographies and was pretty much unknown until two copies turned up in a private collection a few months ago.  
Last Kiss II / Hey! Baby (Boblo 101)  
Yet another take with different lyrics, released on Bobby Smith's label out of Macon, GA.   
I've attached scans of the labels, and mp3's of both versions for you to share.  
Jeff Lemlich  


Reading your coverage on "Last Kiss," I was reminded of this quote from a great movie called "The Kid Stays In the Picture": There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.
The more stories I cover, the more I see the wisdom in this statement.
Carl Wiser 
Don Henley sang the same thing on his first solo album ... "There's three sides to every story baby ... there's yours and there's mine and there's the cold, hard truth". I've found that in some instances memories fade ... in some instances people literally convince themselves that it happened the way they said it did (simply because they've told the story so many times now that in their own mind, it's fact) ... and in virtually ALL instances, there is an element of truth in each version of the story. The challenge is picking the parts that make the most sense ... which is why we always strive to present "The Most Accurate Truth" whenever possible. (Of course they also say when in doubt between the truth and the legend, print the legend ... simply because it's usually FAR more interesting!!!) kk  

Kent --   
Had a chance to read the latest Last Kiss epistle more closely and wanted to compliment you on the detective work. I got a real kick out of Leo's latest, of course -- how he didn't discuss band business with fill-ins like myself, repeating that lie, and acknowledging that I'm a real nice guy who just likes to feel important. And it was just priceless that he used his good friend Sid Holmes as a "verifier."  
I have to admit that this whole Leo thing has REALLY stuck in my craw. I just haven't been able to shake my anger about being accused of lying and misrepresenting myself and the group. He not only changed his story about his involvement with the song, contradicting how he's represented himself to producers and audiences alike, but everything he said about my involvement with the group was a lie that could easily be disproved. I was a full-time member of group for years, despite my discomfort about the "Last Kiss lie," and was always introduced by Leo as his music director. He has lied about the group and song with impunity for literally decades and obviously felt no compunction about lying even more in his unverifiable defense. To me, the most telling thing that happened with Leo is when he cited Sid Holmes as someone who'd back up his story ... and there was Sid's post calling Leo an imposter. I don't think he realizes that there is a record of how this song was written, recorded, released and rendered hit-bound, and none of it involves him.   
I don't claim to be the world's greatest keyboard player. I'm a decent player who knows a lot of songs, has a good ear and can fit into a solid pocket, whether it's a ballad or a funk tune. But one thing that I've really taken pride in is that I'm a straight shooter, an honest guy, reliable and dependable. I played my first paid gig when I was 11, 48 years ago, and in all that time I've missed exactly one gig -- on the night that my wife got into a fairly serious car accident. I have no stories to retract and no apologies to make, including anything I shared with you about the Cavaliers and Leo. I have been fortunate, in the aftermath of my involvement with Leo, to go on to work with many really good bands under much more friendly, positive circumstances. And you won't find anyone who's ever played with me or "in front" of me with a bad word to say about my musicianship or integrity ... at least besides Leo.   
What this really shows me is that the eternal separation between people who are into music for the music and those who are into it for the money seems ... those principally involved in the quest for joy and those principally involved in the quest for cash.   
Thanks again for the venting opportunity! I'm still deciding whether to contact Leo and confront him about all this directly. But honestly -- I think any contact with him would kind of give me the creeps.  
Meanwhile, it occurred to me that I probably had a copy of Leo's Cavaliers singing Last Kiss with myself in the backline. And I do. So attached you will get to hear Leo Lucas making his bogus claims, as he always did, and then launching into his off-key lead vocal. My favorite part is after the singers leave and the band is just jamming -- even if you can't bear to listen to Leo's singing, be sure to catch Ed Merin's excellent solo after the singers depart. (It kicks in about 3:30. Ed is one fantastic guitarist and had a hard time containing his blues and rock tendencies as we slogged through the doo-wop swamp.)   
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what you'll hear here has to be worth several hundred.  

I enjoyed your article about J Frank Wilson.  
I can certainly tell you Leo Lucas is full of shit.  
You see, I am J Frank's son - his only son.  
One would assume I am the owner of J Frank Wilson's name.  
I have found Leo's trademark paperwork and am thinking about pursuing it.  
Have a good day  
Interesting! Certainly you must have known about this then for several years ... can you provide some verification for our readers? Thanks, Rodney. (kk)  
Here's a copy of an article you can read.  
Click here: Marjorie Andersen Mayer (1924 - 2003) - Find A Grave Memorial

Survivors include her husband, Jack Mayer, Sr., of Lufkin; son and daughter-in-law, Jack, Jr., and Judy Mayer of Deer Park; daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Steve New of Lufkin; grandchildren, Resa Neel and husband, Richard of San Antonio, Rodney Swearingen of San Angelo, Julie Mayer of Texas City, Jamey.
I am the Rodney, Frank's son.
You can ask all of the original Cavaliers - they will all tell you that I am his only son!
My sister Resa is not interested in involvement although she gets some small checks from (small) record sales - Kathy (Frank's sister) got them after Marjorie died and my sister took them from her - cost her a little so I just let her keep the small sums). I am not interested much either but will explain things to you if you wish.
One thing that really pisses me off is the attitude of Leo - I do not like liars and theifs and I know he is both - just to prove a point, I am considering pushing the issue - I talked to him a year ago and my thoughts were he is an arrogoant lying s.o.b.
I did enjoy your article
My last name is different as my mother divorced Frank when I was young and I have a wonderful father whom I do not wish to hurt his feelings - although I am aware he most likely would never know and if he did, would support me getting the truth out as he is the one who taught me my beliefs. I cannot believe Leo actually got a trademark.
There is an organization that punishes such persons and there is always the opportunity of a lawyer as I am sure he has made some money on his lies - money is not the point to me but it actually seems everyone I know loves Last Kiss and I think Frank deserves the recognition - he never really got anything else.
Have a good day.

Hi Kent -
The series of articles about "Last Kiss" were pretty amazing.
I did not know that the 1964 Josie version was cut here in NY ... it does not sound like a typical NY production of the time. I'm wondering if Don's studio was primarily a Demo studio and that's what gave the record that sparse sound. I'm also curious if it was done on a multitrack deck, or if it was recorded "live" right onto a mono 15 ips Ampex machine ... almost every studio in NY had an Ampex deck, they were the studio standard at that time.

Kent - 
Very interesting! And a bit of vindication in that everything I ever told you on Leo and the NY group has pretty much been substantiated. I don't claim to know much, but all I've told you has been true. Hope things are going well. Regards to Frannie! 

Hi, Kent,  
Great take on the Sid Holmes book and story.   
If you talk with him again, I wonder if you could ask him about another act the late Sonley Roush produced. Granger Hunt & The Believers, also on Josie, had a novelty / ballad combo with "Motor Mouth" / "Love Wasn't Real" (Josie 925, I think) that shared the same (lack of) production values. I know Roush died shortly thereafter in a car crash (how ironic) with some band members of either The Believers and/or The Cavaliers. Could he clarify this for me, please?
BTW, I've discovered that, after another 45 or two, Hunt (now spelled Grainger) became a Nashville songwriter (he had a hit for Jim Ed Brown, which I think was "Regular on My Mind") and subsequently got a Ph.D. and is a highly-respected ornithologist (bird expert) out west. 
By the way, I've been busy on the music front. My doo-wop group, The Fabulous Dudes, just released our debut CD, "The Kids Would Go Wild!", and we're still working the long lost tracks by Benefit Street / The American Dream. Both albums and more are detailed at   
I don't comment as often as I'd like to, but I do check in and I do care! Thanks for all your research and hard work.  
Best to you and all,  
(Country) Paul Payton
I will forward your email to Sid regarding Granger Hunt and the Believers.  I don't recall them being mentioned in Sid's book (although an incredible amount of "side players" are.)  As for the car accident that took Sonley Roush's life, J. Frank Wilson was also in that vehicle and suffered some serious injuries as a result of the crash.
Here is Sid Holmes' account of the incident: 
On October 23rd, 1964, J. Frank Wilson (solo artist) and the touring group were traveling in a caravan on State Route 32 around 5 am from Parkersburg, West Virginia, to Lima, Ohio, for a performance at the Candy Cane Club.  Sonley Roush, driving a station wagon, momentarily dozed off, hitting a trailer-truck head-on, dying instantly.  J. Frank Wilson, sitting in the front seat, and Bobby Wood (vocalist / piano) from Memphis, sitting in the back, suffered serious injuries. 
Holmes goes on to explain ...
On this date, October 23rd, 1964, "Last Kiss" had stalled at #3 in Billboard and, after the wreck, moved up a notch to #2.  After many years of recuperating, Bobby Wood played piano on Garth Brooks' numerous hit recordings.

I seem to recall J. Frank Wilson making television appearances after the accident in a cast.  How ironic that their biggest hit was about a car crash ... and then, at the peak of its performance on the charts, they were in one ... that also killed their manager.  (kk)

The fact that Wayne Cochran never had a song that charted is truly a shame. Honest to gosh, I don't think the record labels he was with had any idea how to sell him.  
I'd kill to go back to the Happy Medium one more time and hear him cut loose on "You Don't Know Like I Do" or "Goin' Back to Miami." His band, the air tight C.C. Ryders, were just tremendous. At his apex with synchronized drums, Wayne was running a 14-15 piece orchestra. His bass
player Chester Mass is still the best bassist I've ever seen or heard.
Do you know if Wayne made any bread on "Last Kiss' or did he get ripped off on publishing
Chet Coppock

As I understand it, Cochran's greatest source of income has always come from the royalties for "Last Kiss".  When Pearl Jam remade the song in 1999, Wayne reportedly earned enough to build his own church.  As you know, he has been a minister for many, many years now ... and really doesn't talk about his early rock and roll days anymore.  From everything I've heard and read, he was the ULTIMATE performer live on stage ... but no record label was ever able to capture that and transfer it effectively to vinyl.  I also seem to remember one of his biggest supporters being Jackie Gleason, who had Cochran on his television show numerous times.  Even that didn't help.  His best-known single, "Goin' Back To Miami", never even officially charted ... and the one that did ... Wayne's version of "Harlem Shuffle", only managed to "bubble under" at #127 in 1966.  (kk)
Fascinating read today, Kent. I'm home sick today so I got to read the whole page at my leisure.  Thank you for all you do to keep us informed of the music we love.
I really don't have much to offer in the "Last Kiss" story, but I was a DJ on KTEO in San Angelo, TX, from 9/62 to 10/63. I was in the USAF at the time, but worked the evening shifts (6-9 or 9-12) every day during that stretch. I knew J. Frank a bit since I dropped in to hear him and the band now and then, and I also had hung out just a bit with one of the band members ... name forgotten but I think his nickname was Spider.  
KTEO was always in a weak financial situation and always behind two weeks or more in cashing paychecks. But I was living on base and had no debt so I didn't care and I was playing the hits on a real radio station ... that was all that mattered.  
I had moved on to KXLF in Butte, MT, when Last Kiss came out and an old friend from San Angelo had alerted me to the song, so it was my "personal pick" and it reached #1 on our chart.  
I know this isn't much of a help, but you might ask Sid if he remembers "Jim Southern" on KTEO.

Hi Kent, 
I remember my wife telling me about driving our daughter and one of her friends to some function.  At the time, my daughter and her friend were about 16. Pearl Jam's version of "Last Kiss" was less than a week old when it came on the car radio. My daughter started singing the words and her friend was amazed. "How do you know the words?" she said. My daughter still prefers the good stuff in my collection to most of the unimaginative music of today that lacks creativity and innovation. 
Oh, by the way, I played triangle on the Cavaliers' original recording. I think I was 10 at the time. 
Makes sense ... renown triangle player Tracy Partridge would have been too young at the time to make this session.  Thanks, Dube!  (I was there, too ... The Cavaliers went through something like 65 takes that day before they recorded the version of "Last Kiss" that made the record.  If you listen REAL closely on Take 43, you can hear me clearing my throat in the background.  Sadly, left on the cutting room floor once again.)  kk