Exclusive to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame
8 - published March 5, 1998
KAY WHEELER:(The photos are used by
permission of Kay Wheeler from her Collection Archives.)
THE QUEEN OF THE ROCK' n BOP!
week ago I received an e-mail from a girl named Anna who said she did an AOL
members' profile search looking for cats who liked JOHNNY CARROLL, and she
found...me! Then she further added that her mother is KAY WHEELER, The Queen Of
The Rock'n Bop! I was floored! I had been seeing this gorgeous rockin' babe on
my "Rock Baby Rock It" poster many times a day for the last 20 years, and I
always wondered what she might be doing these days!
Welllllll, here is the interview with KAY WHEELER, THE TEXAS QUEEN
OF THE ROCK 'n' BOP
RONNY: How did you first find out about Rock'n'Roll and who got you
interested in Rock'n'Roll. Please give us some background.
KAY: The credit for turning me on to R&R
goes to the original black rhythm and blues greats - specifically Hank Ballard
& the Midnighters, the 78 rpm record called "Sexy Ways"; "Little Mama" by
the Clovers...among others. I think most of all it was the dance called "THE
BOP" that really intrigued me: the smoothness of the movement, the way you could
actually become a part of the music--most of all, it was the unbridled freedom
of expression that the dance and R&R music offered: "LET'S
RONNY: How then did you get professionally involved in R'n'R
KAY: Right from the
beginning, it was the bop dancing that I took to - the music was like a smooth
ski slope and my feet were the skis - it was lift-off. Somehow I grabbed the
heart of the beat and was able to move to it. I guess I was "discovered" as you
may call it at a Johnny Carroll R&R concert in 1956 at the Palace Theater in
Dallas, Texas. His band was playing a live concert after the showing of a film.
I had on black & white, stripped "pedal pusher" tight pants and when all of
the kids started dancing in the aisles while Johnny was playing - I broke into
my version of the "rocknbop"! They guy handling the spotlight saw me and put it
directly on me for the entire song - while the other dancers cleared away - it
was "Hot Rock" in Big D that day! After the concert, a bearded guy came up to me
and said, "I really like the way you dance. I'm going to be making a movie in
Dallas and I want you to do your dance in it. I'm Johnny Carroll's manager. My
name is J.G. Tiger and I have a company called "Top 10 Music."
I thought he
looked like a major creep; but I kept the card and showed it to my Mother,
Vivian, when I got home. She saved it. (A very cool Mom). Weeks afterward Mom
read in the newspaper about a R&R movie being made in Dallas--she asked me
if this could be the same guy that wanted me to dance and handed me the card. I
called J.G. Tiger and he set up a time to meet with me. That's the story of how
I got the starring role in "ROCK BABY, ROCK IT" along with Johnny Carroll.
RONNY: You met JOHNNY CARROLL, GENE VINCENT? How did this come about?
Who else did you know back then? Groovey Joe Poovey? Mac Curtis? Bob Luman?
Please tell us about the Texas Rockabillies you knew!
KAY: I had the privilege of knowing Gene Vincent very well.
He came to my house on several occasions, along with the Blue Caps and we would
load up his cadillac with beer and food and head for Lewisville Lake in Dallas
for a evening at the lake with a bonfire and R&R! One of the Blue Caps,
Bubba Facenda, dated my sister Donna for some time. I attended several of Gene's
concerts at the Sportatorium in Dallas - there was really nothing to compare
with a live Gene Vincent concert; he really had the rockabilly down to
perfection. Later, in Hollywood, I made a movie with Gene Vincent called "HOT
ROD GANG". We also hung out with him in Hollywood during that time in 1958. I
knew Johnny Carroll only professionally when we made the film, "Rock Baby Rock
It" together. Also, when we did a R&R tour across Texas to promote the film
- Johnny playing and singing and me doing the "rocknbop".
did it feel to live in the 1950s and to know all these legends, and you to be
known as THE QUEEN OF THE ROCK'n BOP?? How was Texas back then?? Rockabilly
KAY: It was too
much fun and excitement for one 16-year old girl! Yes, we were living in
"Rockabilly Heaven" - I wish everyone alive today could have been there too!
But, hey, it lives on! Texas deserves a lot of credit for being a launch pad for
rockabilly. There is a bit of "wild streak" in Texans, I think, that allows for
extra fun! The honky tonk places in little towns like Gladewater and Lubbock
allowed the early "hillbilly kats" to do their thing even though it was a
C&W joint! The first I heard of Elvis was in high school when a girl told me
about this wild, goodlooking guy, who shook his leg like crazy, that played in
Gladewater last week end. I said, "Oh really...." (with eyes widened). In the
beginning, rock and roll music and the performers involved - as most people know
- suffered a lot of criticism. Believe me, the adults did not like the music or
the bop! Frankly, for me personally, the music, the R&R films... everything
that happened to me was almost unbelievable. However, my teachers at school
hated me for it and branded me a rebel. As a young teenager, I stepped forward
to be verbal and outspoken in behalf of R&R. To the adults, we bopping teens
were the enemy; and the war was on! Everything is OK today with R&R - but in
the 50's it was a very different story! The R&R pioneers deserve a lot for
going on with R&R in spite of the trememdous attack on the music and the
RONNY: Tell us about some of the highlights of your
KAY: Making the film
"Rock Baby Rock It" and then doing the R&R tour, bopping all the way--was a
real blast. I also did several TV teen shows in Dallas as well as acting as a
teen DJ on WRR in Dallas for "all Elvis" shows, etc... Additionally, I did
promotion for Elvis and Gene Vincent during this time. I wrote articles for DIG,
16 Magazine and eventually became Hollywood/West Coast editor of "COOL" &
"HEP KATS" magazines. A highlight too, was getting the movie contract with
AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL FILMS (after they saw me in Rock Baby, Rock It") and
going to Hollywood at the tender age of 17. Soon after I arrived in Hollywood in
1957, I made "HOT ROD GANG" with Gene Vincent. After being with Elvis at the
premiere of "JAILHOUSE ROCK" in Hollywood at that same time, I could not believe
how lost and empty he looked. I think that is when I unconsciously made the
decision that I was going to cut the career short. Maybe this was not what I
wanted to do after all. It was a turning point for me.
addition to Carroll, Vincent, Presley please tell us a bit about some of the
other Rhythm & Blues, Country & Western and Rockabilly artists with whom
KAY: I knew Presley
and Vincent at very close range and Johnny Carroll professionally. I met Ricky
Nelson and Eddie Cochran when I was in Hollywood in 57-58. I went to high school
with Trini Lopez. I sang with his band at school assemblies.
How did the Elvis Fan Club come about?
KAY: The first time I heard Elvis sing was a live radio
broadcast from the "Big D Jamboree" in Dallas. He was singing "Mystery Train"
and it was like an atomic bomb was dropped on me and my life would never be the
same! That night I caught a ride on the rockabilly Mystery Train and I have
managed to stay on it all these years! It so happened that I had a connection
with Radio Station KLIF in Dallas (the founder of "Top 40 Radio). My aunt worked
there; and one Saturday I went in to work with her. A Disc Jockey stopped by and
said, "Hey, you won't believe this crazy record I just got by some corny name
like Elvis Presley". I spoke up - "What do you mean by that - all the girls are
just crazy about him...why I've even thought about having a fan club for him!
Later, the DJ played the Elvis record as a joke on his Saturday night show - he
announced my name and address as the Elvis Presley Fan club president. On the
following Monday morning there were 3 large boxes of mail on my front porch -
all girls wanting to join the club! I wrote Bob Neal, Elvis' manager at the
time, and my letter was forwarded to Colonel Parker's office who had just taken
over management of Elvis.
My letter was answered by Colonel Parker's
assistant, Carolyn Asmus (to her everlasting credit)! She wrote me back saying,"
Colonel Parker has instructed me to let you know that we have absolutely no fan
club facilities set up for Elvis Presley, who is only one of our minor acts.
Col. Parker's main attractions are Hank Snow, June Carter, etc... . The Colonel
told you to just go ahead and do whatever you want to do for an Elvis Presley
Fan Club." Well, friends, I took the ball and ran with it as the first
officially organized E.P. fan club in the world! There were to be major problems
down the road as the club grew into the tens of thousands and Parker wanted
control - but that whole wild story as well as my life story is in my book
titled, "Growing Up With The Memphis Flash", which I wrote and was published in
Europe. Her letter to me also mentioned that Elvis Presley was doing a show in
San Antonio, Texas; and if I wanted to go, I could meet Elvis there!
RONNY: What did you think of Elvis, his music, his character, his
KAY: When I walked
into Elvis' backstage dressing room in San Antonio - he was a rockabilly rebel!
He had on a blue satin shirt, a gaudy EP diamond ring - hair in a cool ducktail
with sideburns. He was plumb dangerous! He turned to me and said in a strong,
sensual voice with a heavy lidded grin on his face, "So you're my fan club
president. Honey, what do you want me to do?" He walked up to me - slid his
hands down my sides and said, "Is all this really you, Baby?" At that point, he
started to kiss me. I flipped! Later, during his show, I was dancing in the
wings on the stage. After it was over, Elvis made me show him my special "rock
& bop" bop steps that I did during his show. The early Elvis at that time
was all you could imagine a rebel to be - he said anything he wanted to shock
the news reporters. I was with Elvis on the rest of the Texas tour and on many
occasions during the next 2 years. Elvis was wild and free in the beginning. I
loved him for it and was really disappointed when the influence of Col. Parker
caused Elvis to nearly abandon his rockabilly roots to be a main stream crooner
and a movie actor. But friends, that's not the Elvis I knew in 1956! Elvis was a
wild one - like his music! He was in deed and in truth - "The Memphis
RONNY: Rockabilly went thru some hard times during the '60s,
'70s and '80s, but now, while we are approaching the year 2000, Rockabilly has
come back with a vengeance, almost half a century after its debut, how does this
make you feel?
Isn't this exciting that all over the world the Hep Cats and
Rockabilly Rebels are spreading like wildfire?
KAY: It is difficult for me to grasp that so much time has
passed since the fabulous 50's - and, thank God, the music has survived the
decades as they rolled by. Yes, it was a shocker for me to know also that
somehow the movie "Rock Baby, Rock It" survived the time warp and is alive and
well and available at Rhino Video! I'm glad that the movie poster was hanging on
your wall, Rocking Ronny!
Well, I have been seeing you a dozen times every day over the last 20 years,
your pic, that is, on the "Rock Baby, Rock It" poster hangin' on my wall, and
it's been such a great excitement to finally get to know you in real life
Thank you for this coolest interview!
Any last words for all your
KAY: My humble advice
is this: - Stay with the music. Stay away from chemical crutches - which robbed
us of some of our greatest stars. Play it cool - Have you heard the news -
there's good rocking tonight...STILL!
Love ya all,
E-mail Kay ROCKNBOP2@AOL.COM
Always Rollin' The Rock,
Rockin' Ronny Weiser,
Rockabilly Rebel Westerner from Las Vegas, Nevada,
The Wild Wild West
E-Mail Ronny at Rollin' Rock
ROCKIN' RONNY WEISER -
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