September 2016 issue IN THIS ISSUE: He Came from Petty’s Studio NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE 1940 through 1968 in the Duke City Was a
Night-and-Day Difference Then That of the Present Day Composer of Buddy Holly’s Hits “Rave On” and
“Oh Boy” Will Receive Honor Sept 15 Six Decades of Rock-and-Roll Memories Now
Available A Collection of 14
Classic Instrumental Rancheras from the Past He’s Been Working on It for More Than 14
years Standout Rock-and-Roll Pioneer in Odessa,
LEADING SOUND ENGINEER, JOHN WAGNER
He Came from Petty’s Studio
(Interview conducted by Dick Stewart)
© Lance Monthly Vol. 11, No. 11 September 2016 (Special Issue)
Dick Stewart: Editor and Features Interviewer
(To license articles from "The Lance Monthly" for your site, write to:
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September 2016 issue
IN THIS ISSUE:
He Came from Petty’s Studio
NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE
1940 through 1968 in the Duke City Was a Night-and-Day Difference Then That of the Present Day
Composer of Buddy Holly’s Hits “Rave On” and “Oh Boy” Will Receive Honor Sept 15
Six Decades of Rock-and-Roll Memories Now Available
A Collection of 14 Classic Instrumental Rancheras from the Past
He’s Been Working on It for More Than 14 years
Standout Rock-and-Roll Pioneer in Odessa, Texas
LEADING SOUND ENGINEER, JOHN WAGNER
He Came from Petty’s Studio
(Interview conducted by Dick Stewart)
Albuquerque, known officially as the Duke City and recently referred to as Burque (‘50s Hispanic slang), experienced its first garage band explosion in the early ‘60s during the instrumental craze, and it was inspired by the Ventures’ 1960’s instrumental guitar release of “Walk Don’t Run.” The band’s choice of guitar was the Fender, and the heavy use of the tremolo bar (whammy bar), tremolo, echo, and minor chords were infectious, and the result was the emergence in mass throughout the United States of instrumental guitar rock-and-roll combos (as they were called then). Fender guitars flew off the shelves and the cumbersome upright bass took a back seat. The Fender’s Precision electric bass replaced it because they were much easier to tote to the various venues, and the unique tones of the Fender Stratocasters, Jazzmasters, and Jaguars took center stage.
The first Albuquerque Ventures cover band of note was the Chessman; the second, the Knights, and the group’s unique instrumental-guitar/classical-piano rock release, “Precision” on Red Feather Records was a hit on KQEO AM radio in 1964, and it inspired a number of newly formed Albuquerque (mostly) vocal bands to head to the nearest sound studio to record and release their own 45s citing, “If the Knights can do it, we can too,” but with whom?
In Albuquerque in the early to mid-‘60s, there was Red Feather Records on San Mateo Blvd near UNM, and in Clovis, New Mexico, about 219 miles east of Albuquerque, there was legendary sound man named Norman Petty, who was responsible for the production of a number of hits, the most notable by Buddy Holly and the Crickets: “That’ll Be the Day,” “Oh Boy,” and “Rave On.”
Then along came John Wagner from Clovis to the Duke City in 1964 because his dream of being Petty’s apprentice was unceremoniously dashed by the man himself. Another reason was to attend the University of New Mexico where he earned an Electrical Engineering Degree.
John’s childhood years were spent living in rural areas near Clovis and shortly thereafter in a home community about ten miles south of Clovis that his dad built called Green Acres. When he entered fifth grade, his family moved to town, and he remain there throughout his high school years:
“My Dad had many jobs,” says John. “Public Utility in Portales, farmer, carpenter, plumber, home builder and anything he could find. My mom was a housewife and mother who assisted him in any way she could, [such as] house painting, [and] making clothes, etc."
During John’s preteen days, he and his compadres rode their bicycles, made dugouts, and built hideaways because electronic entertainment with the exception of a radio and a new-on-the-market black-and-white, rabbit-eared television with two broadcasting channels, didn’t exist.According to John, the physical environment on the outskirts of Clovis, in which he and his compadres explored, was a bit precarious and wreaked from a mix of oil, cow flops, and horse manure:
John loved his parents and said they were not into corporal punishment, which was common during those times. According to him, he was given a lot of freedom as long as he didn't do anything stupid:
According to John, he never smoked, drank alcohol or got into serious trouble. Music, however, became his passion in his early teenage years, although his Dad was concerned about him and his band performing at the Midway in Clovis, as he considered them much too rough and rowdy. Nevertheless, Mr. Wagner was very proud of his son and came to a lot of his YRB dances.
According to John, Mickey, who is seven years older than him, is the closest to his age:
John’s mother worked at the Mesa Theatre in Clovis, and after school, he would drop by and watch “Rocket Man” and Superman serials. When the Mesa shut down, Norman Petty bought it and turned it into a performance hall recording studio.
John became interested in playing the guitar shortly after Dugar had a motorcycle accident. To the best of his recollection, John was in the first grade. He remembers buying a five-minute guaranteed guitar course and practiced like mad until his fingers got so sore he had to quit. Dugar said he needed a much better guitar and they found a Kay f-hole arched top in the paper for $50:
John played a three-minute guitar boogie shuffle and became possessed with playing the guitar from then on:
According to John, Clovis was a segregated town, and although he witnessed it from time to time, it never became a problem for him:
“There was a school in the Black district called Lincoln Jackson. There might have been one or two Blacks in the public schools, and back then I really didn't understand the race situation too much. In the summertime I remember going to basketball camps at Lincoln Jackson and having a good time with no problems. I asked a black vocal group to get on stage at the YRB during one of the dances we played, and I remember they had to be allowed in, sing and then leave. I didn't really understand racial issues until leaving high school for college in Albuquerque. I did have quite a few fistfights and rough times in Clovis, but it was all caused by red-neck-bullying white farm boys.”
Because of the guitar-instrumental rock-and-roll explosion, which was inspired by Norman Petty’s late ‘50s instrumental releases of Raton, New Mexico’s Fireballs and West Texas’ String-A-Longs and later brought to a higher level of performances by Southern California’s Dwaine Eddy and Washington State’s Ventures, John went in the direction of an instrumental-rock guitarist and headed for the Norman Petty Studio in the early ‘60s to begin laying down some tracks:
“I loved the Ventures’ ‘Walk Don't Run’ and really got excited about instrumentals when ‘Torque’ by the Fireballs and ‘Wheels’ by the String-A-Longs [came out]. Dwaine Eddy was a big influence. When we recorded at Norman's in about 1960 we did ‘Leave My Woman Alone’ by Ray Charles with James Usery singing and several instrumentals that I wrote. Ace records released a package of instrumentals from the ‘60s titled by one of my songs, ‘That's Swift!’ Another one of my instrumentals on that release is ‘Skuzzy.’
John’s first band, which he considered a real band, was called the Ramrods and he formed it during his early high school years at Clovis High. His band members were Alan Brewer, Donny Tucker and his brother, Bob, and the boys’ specialty was instrumental guitar performances, covering tunes by the Ventures, Champs and Fireballs. After being together for a few years, the group recorded a single in the garage of the Tucker brothers’ father. A 45 rpm record was made, and John gave it to his choral high school teacher, who gave it to Petty as what john refers to as a sort of introduction.
When John wasn’t rehearsing, he spent a lot of time dragging main street with his 52 Plymouth two-door coup that had April Paris Rose and Smooth Operator painted on it, and because all the teens with wheels drove up and down main street, too, it was a certainty that he would run into others who didn’t take kindly to the coup’s look. The result was a few ugly fights with the local farm boys, as john called them. [Editor’s note: They were called stompers in Albuquerque during the ‘50s and ‘60s, and many wore the Future Farmers of America jackets.]:
“I didn't date a lot in high school and focused a great deal on the band and getting jobs. In about mid High School I formed a band named the 5 Counts and the members were Eddie Boling, Doug Roberts, James Usery, Phil Elliott and me. We became quite popular all over Eastern New Mexico and played Portales, Roswell, Hobbs, Artesia, Carlsbad and Clovis to name a few. We played my high school prom sharing the night with the Champs featuring Glen Campbell.
“My mom and I thought we were going to be stars,” says John, “but my dad reminded us not to get too excited about it. As usual my dad was right.”
Norman told the band members that it would be a while to get a release, which John hoped to mean he wanted to encourage the 5 Counts not to get discouraged and continue creating music. Wagner, however, did get the feeling that it would be hard to get Petty to do more sessions with the band unless something positive took place, adding that Norman had a strange personality, but was very nice to him and the boys on their first recordings:
“[When] my high school chorus teacher gave Norman a garage recording we did, he offered to sign us when I met him and talked with him. He said he would publish the songs we wrote and record us on speculation. I know he was known for putting his name on things that he altered or made a change to, but I have never seen our copyrights and would not know if he did that to us. I heard complaints about that from other people but have no direct experience I can present.”
John was impressed with Petty’s engineering genius and marveled over his ability to capture that right sound and appealing hook, which resulted in releases that garnered national fame:
“Norman was nice to us when we worked there and I was in awe of the studio and the activity attached to Norman. I remember a cool and pleasant air conditioned studio. We recorded on mono Ampex machines and bounced between machines to overdub any additional tracks and vocals. His great achievement was the natural reverb echo chamber built in what was his father's car repair shop. I believe my brother worked there when it was built. I think we did use a box for drums on one song. We did several takes on each song until it seemed to be the best we could do.”
One day John talked to him about a possible apprentice and he welcomed the idea:
“I did ‘Not Just Jazz’ with Clyde Hankins and Arlen Asher as the first album I ever produced. That was the beginning.”
According to “Eleven Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll,” Hankins, who sadly passed away in 2006 at the age of 88, was an Albuquerque Jazz-guitar legend who sold a number of relatively new-on-the-market Fender Stratocaster guitars (he was the first recipient of the Strat in Texas and not Holly as many believe) to a growing number of aspiring rock-and-roll artists in Lubbock, Texas while he was employed at Adair in the late ‘50s, including Buddy Holly himself. When he moved to Albuquerque in 1959 he was hired by Riedlings and began selling all models of Fender guitars and other popular electric-guitar brands, such as Gibson and Gretsch, to a rapidly increasing number of impassioned Duke City rock-and-roll guitarists, too. In addition, Hankins recorded an album at Petty’s studio in 1955, called “Swing Fever” in which Norman offered his piano expertise.
But recording bands and licensing their tracks to record labels of note with great success that John witnessed Petty achieve, was not in the immediate cards for him. The talent of the musicians with whom John worked wasn’t the problem; he had some good ones, but perhaps the talent for getting the major labels to listen to their tracks was. John did not have a lot of success in finding that person who could get it done, so he formed Delta Records, and released a number of his artists’ tracks on 45 rpm beginning in 1964. That didn’t get it done either:
Wagner had great hopes with the Wickham brothers and considered them very talented “at pleasing crowds and entertaining.” But their working relationship faltered due partly to alcohol and drugs, which was common with most aspiring artists:
“Johhny Dagucon was also a big part of that magic. I believed Louie [Wickham] was an exceptional writer in the vein of Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and other great artist in those times. They had a style and presentation that seemed to have great hope. I would get a lot of comments that Louie couldn't sing and that Hank was better, but I always believed it was a combination of talents that made them interesting.
“My story of Louie is longer than we have time for. I still believe he was a unique talent and wish it had come out better for us.
“Louie and I parted ways at that time and never worked together again.”
Sidro and the Sneakers was arguably the most talented Albuquerque rock-and-roll/soul band of the time, and Wagner strongly believed that the group’s talent coupled with the strikingly beautiful voice of Beverly Brown would be the musicians to fatten his corporate account:
“When I started college in 1961 I would get haircuts at a barber shop run by Ray Garcia, Sidro's brother. I believe he told me about the music scene because he had a band, too. He introduced me to David Nunez one day in his shop. David was 17 years old. Sidro and the Sneakers were playing at a city youth club behind the Highland Theatre on Lead or Coal. I went to see them and the house was packed and really rockin'. I introduced myself and said I would like to talk them about producing records for them. I had already produced ‘Not Just Jazz,’ and it was my calling card for being a recording engineer.
But because of the long distance between him and the touring band, they began to drift apart:
“I had met Billy Sherman at Valiant records on one of my LA trips. He had big hits with the Association, [and] he was riding high with [the Cascades’] ‘Rhythm of the Rain.’ He was very nice to me and offered to always listen to my material. We never really connected on much, but he had a staff of great writers. When I played some of Sidro and Beverly's recordings for him, he gave me some song demos to have them record. We did ‘It's Just Not Funny Anymore’ and he showed it around. White Whale, who had the Turtles, liked it, signed them as a group, and dropped me like a hot potato. I learned some hard lessons in my life.”
A partnership breakup was imminent:
“It (sound production) started as a hobby in college and slowly grew into something much bigger. We formed a corporation John Wagner Productions, Inc. As life and marriages intervened from all sides we finally reached an impasse about the company and [in 1984] I found a way to purchase the assets and move on after about twelve years of having partners. We shared in the early Copyrights until my brother Rex passed and gave his stock to me. There were very difficult times and trials back in those days.
“I was 24 when I moved into my house, but sold my equipment to raise cash and bought new equipment that I moved to Candelaria Street.
“Jack and I participated and joined together in numerous musical adventures and never got hold of the brass ring. Jack died of an embolism bursting in the 2006 or 2007 time. He was living in Colorado. I watched him have meaningful success in movies and always hoped it would help his music career, but no luck. One of his biggest movies was Convoy. H was in quite a few movies. He was in a David Bowie movie, too.”
This writer also knew Jackson well, and we did business together unrelated to music. He was very personal and his deep, very appealing voice was heard often in ads run by one of the local Ford dealerships in Albuquerque. He once told me that the State of New Mexico order him to pay gross receipts state taxes that he never charged for his services from the beginning of his career in Albuquerque, which exceeded one-hundred-thousand dollars. “It nearly broke me,” said Kane.
John Wagner, who was inducted into the New Mexico Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago, is still very active today in his sound studio located in the Ritch Ford dealership in Albuquerque, and he’s doing well, but he’s no longer looking for that next mainstream hit. No, his investment days are over. He and his right hand man, long-time musician and sound engineer, Dick Orr are now being paid for their services, and they’re very happy about that.
I know, because Lance Records has been writing them a lot of checks.
Because Wagner and Orr’s services have been well worth it. The only thing that sets John’s more-than-fifty years of recording and engineering prowess with that of Norman Petty is that Wagner never found his special hook, which would have put him over the top that Petty succeeded in doing. Listen to Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ drummer in the band’s first hit, “That’ll Be the Day.” Sound different? Norman Petty had replaced J.I. Allison’s snare drum with a cardboard box, and the unique, very appealing sound instantly caught on with the vinyl-buying, finicky teens. John did come close in finding his as this interview implies, but the cards were never stacked in his favor; however, his long-term experience as a full-service sound engineer has been achieved. See for yourself: http://johnwagnerstudios.com
Dick’s Stewart’s “A Time of Innocence”
Now Available for Purchase
1940 through 1968 in the Duke City Was aNight-and-Day Difference
Then That of the Present Day
West Texas Hall of Fame
Composer of Buddy Holly’s Hits “Rave On” and “Oh Boy”
Will Receive Honor Sept 15
Lubbock’s world-famous Walk of Fame, which is handled exclusively by the Board of Directors of Civic Lubbock, a non-profit corporation with volunteers appointed by the city council, has asked Sonny West to take the walk at the Lubbock Memorial Center on Thursday, September 15, 2016 beginning at 6:00 p.m. Central Standard Time. The council, whose mission is to foster and promote educational, cultural and entertainment programs, including the visual and performing arts, has made an obvious choice.
It’s been a long-time coming, but noted composer and musician Sonny West, who turned 79 on July 30, 2016 and who “is best known for being the principal composer of ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Rave On,’ two hollowed rock and roll anthems made famous by ‘50s rock-and-roll icon, Buddy Holly,” according to Eleven Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll, has at last been recognized as a deserving candidate.
The Walk of Fame is located in the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza just west of the Buddy Holly Center and contains plaques featuring names of the inductees and the year of induction. These activities generally occur in the early evening and include a private reception honoring the inductees followed by the formal ceremony that is open to the public.
Others who will be inducted along with West will be accordionist, bandleader, vocalist and songwriter, Ponty Bone; opera singer, Terry Cook; and the forefathers of alternative country music, the Flatlanders.
The staff at The Lance Monthly congratulates the great Sonny West for this great honor.
Six Decades of Rock-and-Roll Memories
By Judi and Dick Stewart
(TLM Staff Contributors)
This book is a very detailed historic journey of the iconic Lubbock, Texas band, the Crickets, from 1957 to 2012, who recorded and released three hits in a row at the Norman Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico that began in 1957 with “That’ll Be the Day,” followed shortly thereafter with Sonny West’s “Oh Boy” and “Rave On.” But when these songs are searched today, unless you’re a rabid, diehard fan of the band, lead singer, Buddy Holly is usually the first name that comes to mind and not that of the Crickets. This Crickets’ bio, however, gives this four-member band its due as equal contributors, and in addition to Holly, focuses on the life and times of the rest of the musicians that were so extraordinarily important in the songs’ breakout successes.
The Crickets’ original members are Holly’s best friend, drummer, Jerry Allison, who co-wrote “That’ll be the Day” with Buddy (Petty had his name listed as a contributing composer, too, as well as the other two hits mentioned, but, for the record, didn’t); the late Bassist Joe B. Mauldin who was still in high school when he began slapping the upright bass for the band; guitarist, Nicki Sullivan, who left the band after about a year; exceptionally talented lead guitarist, Sonny Curtis, who composed “I Fought the Law” and who never left the band; and a number of other part timers to fill the vacancies of the changing band membership.
And unless you are an ardent fan who has spent nearly a lifetime studying the life and times of the members of the Crickets, you would not have been aware of the breakups and makeups of many of the band members and the intricate evolvement of the music.
This “11 by 8.5 inch” sized read with nearly six-hundred pages has an amazing number of historic photographs and one-on-one interviews from multiple sources with enough information to warm the hearts of every aficionado.
So read “The Crickets Six Decades of Rock ‘n’ Roll Memories” by the collaborating authors who are separated by the Atlantic Ocean (America’s Gary Clevenger and the U.K.’s Tony Warran), and let the journey take you back to another time and place before today’s sophisticated technology took hold and the hardships that some of these musicians endured, the worst being the famous tour, in which they traveled from show to show at unimaginable distances and subzero temperatures; you know, the Winter Dance Party tour. Sadly, that was Buddy’s last music journey with the Crickets in the early nighttime hours of February 09, 1959, but it’s also the backstory of the untimely deaths of him, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper, where the rest of the story begins.
Lance Record’s “El Rancho Grande”
A Collection of 14 Classic Instrumental Rancheras from the Past
During the mid-‘60s and early ‘70s, ranchera instrumentals, garage-band style were the rage in the Mexican-American music market in the American Southwest, thanks to the newly established Albuquerque, New Mexico record labels such as Lance, Lobo, and Casanova and the growing pool of talented instrumental guitarists of the time. The popular picker in this genre was arguably the late Eddie Dimas of Eddie Dimas and the Upsets as a result of his monstrous hit, “El Mosquito,” which garnered sales in excess of one-hundred-thousand units thanks to Scottsdale Arizona’s Dektr Records in 1966. In the mid-‘80s, Dimas and Lance Records’ owner, Dick Stewart, formed a publishing company (Jyck Publishing) and released a follow-up instrumental that Dimas named “Mosquito Junction” on his newly formed label, Ice Flame. It would be his last vinyl 45, and it was, sadly, during a time when CDs began to rule, which resulted in minimal exposure and unit sales. “It’s a great instrumental, and I had to include it as one of the standout instrumental gems on this 14-track album of cherished ranchera instros of the past,” says Stewart. In addition, “Viva Albuquerque” was Lance Records’ final 45 rpm release as well as that of Lobo Records.
In Albuquerque, it was Little Ralph who turned heads during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and he was the talk of the town in ranchera-style, instrumental-guitar picking with his expert use of vibrato. Ralphie’s unique employment earned him and his combo a release as the first artist on Lobo Records (a division of Lance Records). Titled “Con Cartitas” (“With Little Letters) b/w “La Ladina” (The Half-Breed Woman”), they were well received, and they are featured on this album.
Manny and the Casanovas could be seen live at the Red Baron in downtown Albuquerque nearly every weekend during the ‘60s and ‘70s, performing instrumentals as well as vocal arrangements, big-band orchestrational style with horns and the fine guitar licks of Bobby Garcia, and the band always packed the joint. Four of their most popular instrumentals are included in this album, including that of the band’s popular original, “Polka Milligan” and cover “Floresitas Mexicanas.”
And finally, there is Albuquerque, New Mexico’s North Valley native, guitarist Dick Stewart, a.k.a. King Richard of King Richard and the Knights, who began his career as a rock-and-roll instrumental guitar picker with a similar style to that of the Ventures and who fell in love with some of the catchy melodies of such poplar vocals as “A Medias de la Noche” (In the Middle of the Night), “La del Mono Colorado” (“The Girl with the Red Bow”), and the title tune, “El Rancho Grande” (“The Big Ranch”), which was released in 1969 on Casanova Records. Stewart originally asked Manny Gonzales of Manny and the Casanovas to record this popular number, but he refused, citing “It’s too Gringo. Why don’t you record it?” He did, and it became the record label’s biggest seller with no close seconds. Go figure.For full track listings and information on how to order, go here.
He’s Been Working on It for More Than 14 years
Dick Stewart recently contacted Shaun Nagy of Super Oldies for an update on his latest film about the legendary sound studio engineer and record producer, Norman Petty, who is best known for his hit recordings on Buddy Holly and the Crickets during the 1950s. According to Nagy, the release date is just around the corner:
STEWART: Why did you decide to make this film? Was it because you admired his music accomplishments mostly because of Buddy Holly's breakout successes?
NAGY: I come from a family of story tellers. There’s nothing like an interesting story, especially ones like the early rock and rollers have. During my very first trip to the Petty Studio in 1997, we met Jimmy Self and sat in the lobby for 30 minutes or so before the tour began. I was in awe of his stories, and later enjoyed chatting with The Roses and Tolletts as well [Editor’s note: these groups did the backup vocals to some of Holly’s hits. The Picks was another who contributed].
I was surprised such history had never been documented, so I started a website for the studio that year, with some brief info on a handful of artists that I had met. Within two years, my band was asked to perform at the Norman and Vi Petty festival, and on the day of the 2000 festival, Jimmy Self passed away. I knew he had been working on a book, but I realized there was so much history that likely no one would ever hear. Then within a year [Roses’ tenor] Robert Linville passed away; more history gone. I decided to gather as many of the musicians as I could, bring them back to the studio, and record their stories over a weekend period.
The project began in 2002, but I knew that the late ‘50s rockers were only a small portion of the story. Since then, I have been traveling all over to interview various bands in Canada and the US that fill in the history of Norman’s varied productions, not just a handful of artists from a brief period. I have gotten the surviving family members of Norman and Vi involved as well, so there will be some early and personal history there as well that I hope some people will find as interesting as I did. The Buddy Holly story has been retold over and over, that wasn’t something I rehash over again.
STEWART: Do you believe that
Petty's ingenious style of recording was one of the principal factors in Holly's
NAGY: “Not just Buddy, but Roy Orbison and Buddy Knox would record elsewhere, as did Buddy in Nashville, and they all went back to Petty’s to have free reign and capture their raw sound. Then they took their recordings back to the major labels and said “HERE. This is what I want the band’s recordings to sound like.” There was no clock ticking at the Petty studio; you recorded over and over until you were happy with the final result. No other studio or producer would do that.” [Editor’s Note: Well, not quite. If the group or individual artists had hit potential and signed with the record producer such as John Wagner, who came from Petty’s studio and formed the John Wagner Recording Studios in Albuquerque, sessions were free to them, and the clock didn’t tick either.]
STEWART: In your opinion, if Holly had never met Petty, would he have made it as big as he did?
NAGY: General consensus within the Holly circle, excluding The Crickets, is a definite no. Neither Buddy, nor The Crickets had success with their recordings with other studios, producers, or labels.”
STEWART: You indicated that the Pettys had some surviving relatives. Who are they, and did any or all of them inherit their estate? Who owns it lock stock, and barrel today?
NAGY: “Norman and Vi’s nieces are still around and were extremely helpful with the early family history and how they ended up in Clovis to begin with. There is an Estate LLC that handles the publishing and licensing, which the family didn’t have knowledge of nor want to delve into legal music matters and sold it to a few individuals
STEWART: In your interviews with the Pettys' relatives and friends, did they discuss their childhood days? Was he born and raised in Clovis? What enticed him to go into the sound production business?
NAGY: “Yes, the family history was very interesting in itself, I think. The families both were originally from Oklahoma. Norman was born and raised in Clovis, getting newspaper coverage with his endeavors while still in elementary school, so he was a prodigy from his early beginnings and probably would have done well in any field he would have been interested in.
His interest in sound recording stemmed from work at KICA radio and running off acetate discs for local politicians, groups of all genres to later play on-air. The studio was originally set up solely to record the Trio [Norman’s group], but as more acts came in for small projects, Norman began taking public projects as early as 1948 in what is now the Nor-Va-Jak Music building. It was previously Petty’s Garage operated by Norman’s Father and sessions were done either in the upstairs apartment, or for a little extra ambience, Norman would move out the vehicles and record in the garage area; cement helped add a bit of natural reverb in the early days.
STEWART: Did Norman have a right-hand man who helped him set up his studio, and was he able to get financing for the startup of his studio?
NAGY: Part of the miss-information that has floated around for years is that [Buddy Knox’s] “Party Doll” or Buddy Holly material made the studio what it is today. [This is] entirely false. Success from [by Petty’s] “Mood Indigo” on his own Nor-Va-Jak label bought the 1313 building and the early equipment. [The instrumental’s continued] success after it was picked up and distributed on an RCA subsidiary, the X label, furthered building modifications. [His follow-up,] “Almost Paradise” was released in December 1956 [and] covered by a number of artists around the world, so a good amount of [the] publishing royalties helped him add the back apartment and patio as it is today.
Songwriting royalties from Roger Williams’ hit version meant Sidney Petty didn’t have to work for a living the rest of his life, so the front area of the garage was converted into offices, or Nor-Va-Jak Music, as we see it today. For those interested in mid-century décor and design, the buildings and inside contents are 1955-1957 era.
STEWART: Was Norman well liked in Clovis during his heyday, or was the population somewhat clueless as to his accomplishments?
NAGY: [He was] popular in musical circles and with school choir activities, but the rest of the population was probably not overly interested in their activities, even though they were featured quite regularly in the local newspaper. The recording was one thing; then when he started up the radio station in 1963, he was known for that endeavor, but was airing classical style music to begin with, again, not an interest to many locals. So the genre was short lived and the station changed to C&W and Top 40 in the late ‘60s.
STEWART: How did Norman and Vi meet?
NAGY: Both were in the school’s music program under Harry Barton, the school’s music director for many years in Clovis. There was a rivalry at first, because Vi was a classically trained pianist, and it bothered her that Norman could play so well without any training whatsoever. When Vi and a friend were scheduled to perform on a radio show in Amarillo, their third partner cancelled and couldn’t make it at the last minute. They reluctantly asked Norman to accompany them, not that they cared for him on a musical level, but they knew he was their best option at such short notice. It worked out well for the show, and they continued doing local shows afterwards. They eventually respected each other’s abilities and started dating [in the] mid-‘40s.
STEWART: So where were you born, raised and approximately when?
NAGY: [I was] born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. I got the best of both the ‘70s AND ‘80s, but my Mother had a sizable ‘50s collection and there was still quite a bit of ‘50s culture around like Sha Na Na and Happy Days throughout the ‘70s period.
STEWART: Did you grow up in a musical family in which other members had an interest in playing a music instrument or specialized in vocalization?
NAGY: All family members were musical, playing multiple instruments, so I picked up a few. My parents danced to bands almost every weekend when I was young, and I got to see quite a few. It looked like something I could handle doing.
STEWART: What is the name of your band, and is it still active?
NAGY: I was full-time with The Shackshakers for twenty-eight years, quite a few years of performing six nights a week, and almost every weekend after that. Times are changing, music is changing, and people are changing, [so] I shut down the full-time music a year ago. I got to see most of Canada and the USA because of my music, playing some big venues, playing with some popular musicians, and making a little bit of money. I consider myself extremely fortunate in that regard.
STEWART: Do you have a day job?
NAGY: Yes, entertainment business here in Southern CA
STEWART: Are you married and do you have children? And if yes, are any members in your family interested in playing music as a profession?
NAGY: Happily married for twenty years. My wife and I were fortunate enough to perform together since 1997. Thankfully she appreciates classic rock and oldies and loves the history of it as much as I do and understands why I do what I do.
STEWART: Was the financing of this film made just by you or do you have some investors?
NAGY: Back in 2002, the Internet was fairly new, let alone social networking and things like Kickstarter. All of this has come out of my pocket, [which is] part of the reason why it has taken so long. I’ve had to come up with the money and memorabilia as I went along. Getting the families involved three years ago helped a ton. The Petty Estate didn’t participate until this past year; now things are moving fast and it should be done very soon.
STEWART: What is the actual name of the film and your production company?
NAGY: “The Definitive History of Norman Petty Recording Studios” from Super Oldies, which is my trademarked company.
Richard Porter Newest
Lance Monthly Unsung Hero
A Standout Rock-and-Roll Pioneer in Odessa, Texas
(By Dick Stewart)
Richard Porter, who turned 76 on January 23, 2016, is not a household name, but he is an important rockabilly pioneer in Odessa, Texas, during the early days of a blossoming music genre that the teens immediately called their own. Yes, his pioneering credentials are regional, but they’re important roots of the defining characteristics of rockabilly (loosely translated as rock and roll with a country beat) that took the world by storm.
According to “The Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll,” “Carl’s Aunt Dorothy bought him his first set of drums when he was fifteen and shortly thereafter, he hooked up with a group called The Poor Boys. His Odessa High School buddy, Richard Porter, formed the seven-piece band in the mid-‘50s, and the ‘in’ music of the day—principally the novel rockabilly expressions of Elvis Presley and the rhythm-and-blues offerings of Fats Domino—was his passion.” And according to Porter, “This kind of rock and roll requires an upright bass. I always hated the electric bass.
The Poor Boys were a hit at Odessa High during the mid to late ‘50s, and they were easily recognized with their matching red windbreakers ala James Dean in Rebel without a Cause with their collars turned up. The chicks, as they were called then, who were lucky enough to wear their jackets, were considered super cool by the other students. According to Carl, “The Poor Boys just about set the clothing style at Odessa High and for cool as well.”
The Poor Boys were in direct competition with Roy Orbison’s band, The Teen Kings as being the next local band to go national, but it didn’t happen for Richard’s band. (It must be noted that Orbison was originally from Wink, Texas.) Amazingly, the Poor Boys never released any vinyl, but the bands legacy lives in Odessa, Texas.
Richard Porter graduated from Odessa High School in 1958 as an athlete and a scholar. “About a dozen different colleges were recruiting me to play football on scholarship,” Porter says, “including the U.S. Air Force Academy. I chose SMU in Dallas and a teammate was Don Meredith of Monday Night Football" fame.”
It seems as if all the artists who had any connections musically with Buddy Holly and the Crickets during Holly’s heyday despise the 1978 Buddy Holly Story film starring Gary Busey. Maybe it’s because there was no mention of anyone else in the film except Buddy and his wife, Maria Elena. Even the members of the Crickets and Norman Petty have different names. Why? Ask Maria Elena.
“I have gotten to know more performers and artists of that time period [mid-50s] in the last five years than I did in the old days,” Says Porter. “I have particularly enjoyed my renewing friendship with Peggy Sue Gerron and share her dismay at the factually weak movie The Buddy Holly Story. Also in the play ‘Buddy,’ she was embarrassed by the ‘locker room’ humor in which the drummer character (J. I.) presumably was letting Buddy know that he (drummer) would be the recipient of Peggy Sue's ‘special favors’ if Buddy would agree to change the title of his new song from ‘Cindy Lou’ to ‘Peggy Sue.’ I doubt there's any basis to that, http://www.musicdish.com/mag/index.php3?id=9904 but we all know screenwriters have to take dramatic license to make a movie funny or telling. The day-to-day lives of most people including performers, is pretty boring and not the fodder for an interesting film.”
For a thorough TLM interview of Richard Porter, in which the details of his preteen, teen, and adult life are discussed, go to http://www.musicdish.com/mag/index.php3?id=9904
Congratulations, Compadre for being TLM’s newest Unsung Hero of Early Rock and Roll. You will be receiving a plaque in the mail stating that honor.