Bobby Poe, Jr.I'm Bobby Poe, Jr. and I am your host for this journey back in time, which was originally completed in 2007.

You can check out the official websites of Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats, Big Al Downing, The Chartbusters, The British Walkers and many of the other artist mentioned here by clicking on the links provided.

Visit Amazon to buy CDs, DVDs and books by The Chartbusters, Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats, The British Walkers, Mr. Dynamite, Big Al Downing, Wanda Jackson and other artists connected to Bobby Poe!

Here's an interview I did with Marc Carey of Deal Radio, where I discussed my father's career:

1. Early Daze

Bobby PoeTo start at the beginning...

My father would have been just 22 years old. Elvis was the catalyst. Dad started a band. A Rockabilly Rock and Roll band. Elvis was his model and his hero.

I don't remember ANY of the early days. Was I dragged around to gigs to watch my dad in action? I just can't remember. Yes, I was young, but other people sometimes say that they can remember when they were around 4 or 5 years old. Not me. I attribute this to a family tragedy. My mother's mother, Opal Rhodes, was dying a slow, painful death from cancer at the time, in the back room of my family's home. I cannot recall one image from those dark days. I figure that somehow I blocked the entire experience from my mind. It was a talent I developed very well over the coming years...

2. How The Poe Kat Got His Nickname

The Poe KatsThis one is pretty easy. My dad's band was called Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats - I guess because it was the days of Hep Cats and Cool Cats. The Poe Kats featured Big Al Downing on piano, Vernon Sandusky on lead guitar and Joe Brawley on drums. For the most part, bass was handled by Big Al with his piano.

Big Al was discovered by my dad when Big Al won a amateur talent show sponsored by KGGF, their local radio station in Coffeyville, Kansas. Big Al was immediately asked to join the band after performing Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill" at the contest. Later on in their careers, my dad and Big Al co-wrote several songs for Fats Domino.

rock and Roll Record Girl SingleIn any event, the band's first single, "Rock And Roll Record Girl" b/w "Rock And Roll Boogie" is somewhat of a collector's item. The single was eventually released on the White Rock label, but almost didn't see the light of day because my dad had basically used the tune of "Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy" and slapped his own lyrics on it. How the publisher's of "Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy" ever figured that one out is one of life's little mysteries. In an unfortunate twist of fate, that whole scenario scared off Sam Phillips at Sun Records, who had originally been interested in releasing the single...

3. The Poe Kat Loses His Day Job

Jensen Pump JackMy mother recently reminded me of this story. My mom Ora Mae was a telephone operator. Two small kids (myself and my younger sister Teresa Kay). My dad worked at a pump jack manufacturer while trying to get the band off the ground. One day he called in sick so he could appear with the band on a local TV show. You can guess the rest - people from work saw my dad on TV and he was fired immediately.

My dad losing his job was very stressful on my parents. But he wanted to pursue his dream. And he swore that he would never work for someone else ever again - a promise he's stuck to for over 50 years. Yet my dad couldn't have gone after his dream if my mom hadn't worked so hard to support the family. This is a drama re-enacted every day in the entertainment business...

4. The Rock And Roll Business Plan

ElvisTV and Elvis changed everything. Now everyone in the country could see with their own eyes what it took to be a performer. And you certainly couldn't get anymore out "in the country" than Coffeyville, Kansas. My dad's plan was to cover all of the popular musical bases.

As lead vocalist, my dad would take on pretty much the Sun stable of artists - Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash - with some Bill Haley thrown in for good measure. African-American piano player Big Al Downing had Little Richard and Fats Domino down pat. Guitar prodigy Vernon Sandusky could play a guitar like ringin' a bell, so Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins were at the top of his list. Joe Brawley was rock solid on the backbeat.

Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats put together a set list that quickly built them an avid following throughout Kansas and Oklahoma. My dad's old scrapbook is full of sold out gigs and record breaking performances. The world at that time was their oyster...

5. How The South Was Won or The Kids Were Alright

Central High SchoolSeptember 4th, 1957. Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas calls out the National Guard to prevent 9 African-American students from attending Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. That night Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats had a gig at The University of Arkansas. Integrated bands were not the norm, to say the least, in 1957. What could have been a recipe for disaster turned into a reaffirmation of the human spirit.

The Poe Kats played the gig. My dad remembers that the crowd of college kids swarmed around African-American piano player Big Al Downing in joyous ecstacy when Big Al played the Fats Domino and Little Richard numbers in the band's repertoire. The only unpleasant reminder of segregation that evening was that Big Al couldn't leave the stage to go to the bathroom because the toilets were "Whites Only".

In those days The Poe Kats took a sort of fiendish delight in circumventing the Jim Crow rules of the day. To get Big Al in motels on the road, one band member would distract the desk clerk while Big Al carried some equipment with a blanket over his head quickly towards the room. It's a wonder they weren't lynched at some point.

Many of the gigs on the road for the band were at little dives and beer joints. My dad had the bright idea of approaching the biggest, baddest dude in the place and buying him a drink. The band usually had no problems after enlisting such a protector at each gig...

6. The Rockabilly Queen

Wanda JacksonWhile my dad did have a flamboyant stage persona, it's not him I'm talking about. I'm talking about Wanda Jackson, who exploded upon the music scene in the late 1950's. Because they shared Jim Halsey as their manager, The Poe Kats became Wanda's backing band and can be heard on her early Capitol Records singles - most notably "Let's Have A Party". Also included in the backing band for "Let's Have A Party" were Buck Owens on rhythm guitar (who was just starting his career) and Skeets McDonald on bass.

My dad has fond memories of hanging out in Hollywood while the rest of the band was in the studio with Wanda. The highlight of the trip for him was getting to sit in on a Tennessee Ernie Ford/Kay Starr recording session at the Capitol Tower. Another of his biggest thrills was meeting actress Gail Russell on the street. While staying at The Ambassador Hotel, he met several other movie stars including Thelma Ritter, Henry Hull and Mike Mazurki.

Back when Wanda first started out, she and Elvis Presley became very close. Wanda to this day still wears a ring Elvis gave her around her neck. Elvis was instrumental in persuading Wanda to record her now trademark Rockabilly music. He had even recorded "Let's Have A Party" (known then simply as "Party") shortly before Wanda's version, though Wanda credits The Collins Kids version of the song as her inspiration. It wasn't until two years later, in 1960, that Wanda's version became a Pop hit and her signature song.

These days, another Elvis - Mr. Elvis Costello - is one of her biggest fans. Elvis C. and Wanda have recently recorded together and he is championing her for a long overdue spot in the "Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame".

I'm happy to say Wanda, Vernon and Big Al have often performed together over the past decades. I'm also happy to say that my dad has presented Wanda several times in concert - with Vernon backing her - since his retirement to Oklahoma...

Editor's Note: In 2009 Wanda was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the "Early Influence" category!

7. Before The Beginning

Nelson PoeThe Poe Kat's father, Nelson Poe, was a traveling preacher and musician. He appeared on the radio throughout the mid-west. Nelson wasn't the best role model for my father and often was away from his family for years at a time. My grandmother, Ruth Lucille Poe, finally divorced him. The one piece of advice he gave my dad stuck with him, "In show business, if someone can get one rung up the ladder by climbing over your back, they will do it." Of course, that goes without saying these days, but I thought that was a pretty perceptive remark to be made in the 1930's.

I don't believe I ever met my paternal grandfather and no one ever heard a thing from him over the years. He died in 1996 in Wyoming. Shown here is a picture of Nelson Poe from the 1930's on the "Wake Up Montana" show on KXLL in Helena, Montana.

WatermelonMy dad's maternal grandfather, Daniel Bridgeman, could have given W.C. Fields a run for his money. He was always coming up with one outlandish scheme or another. One of his best was to buy watermelons and strategically lay them out in the weeds by his home. He would then make a big show of cutting the non-existent watermelon vine and bringing the produce to his customers. Many people would return to say that they were the best fresh-picked watermelons they had ever had.

But Grandpa Bridgeman was also a poet of sorts. Some of his poems are on display at a museum in his hometown of Vinita, Oklahoma. One of my favorite poems is one of his shortest: "Turn back, turn back, O time in its flight - and make me a child once more for tonight." Much later I was to discover that this poem bears a striking similarity to the first lines of a poem by Elizabeth Akers Allen, but that in no way diminishes my admiration for Grandpa Bridgeman's abbreviated version.

For all of the lighthearted adventures Grandpa Bridgeman was a part of, it was a sad tragedy that ended his life. Grandpa Bridgeman went out for a walk one night on the train tracks. Being completely deaf at the time, he didn't hear the train coming. A nice lawyer man got a big settlement from the railroad. For himself. The family got nothing...

8. The End Of The Beginning

Bobby Poe and The Poe KatsOne particularly brutal winter, Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats had a fantastic gig in the Colorado Rockies in support of Marty Robbins, with Wanda Jackson also on the bill. While cursing their fate that there was so much bad weather to deal with, the band finally made it through the snow to the gig.

After the gig, which was a highlight of the band's career, it was my dad's turn to drive home. It was a hair-raising experience. It was all my dad could do to keep the car from sliding off the snowy mountain roads into oblivion. As it was, he rolled the car over in a ditch at the bottom of a particularly slippery slope.

Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt. It was at that exact point that I believe my dad prayed hard and promised to change his ways on that lonely mountain byway. And he did change his ways - he decided he would rather be the manager in the nice warm office, instead of the poor performer traveling mostly from one godforsaken hellhole to the next.

Also around this time, Big Al became even more of a focus in the band and on record. Billed as Big Al Downing and The Poe Kats, a now classic recording was released called "Down On the Farm". "Down On The Farm" has been covered by a multitude of artists over the years, including on Shakin' Stevens and The Sunsets debut album "A Legend" (produced by Dave Edmunds, the track featured the band's Rockin' Louie on lead vocals), as well as later covers by Webb Wilder and Kim Lenz, among others. "Down On The Farm" was recently included in Rhino Records comprehensive 2006 compilation "Rockin' Bones: '50's Punk & Rockabilly"...

9. Beantown Beckons

Piano Nellie SingleAfter the band's close call in the Colorado Rockies in the winter of 1958/1959, my dad was becoming a bit disenchanted with life on the road and the way his career seemed to stall. So he changed the band's name to Bobby Brant and The Rhythm Rockers in an attempt to take one final stab at the brass ring. Under that name, the band released a new single, "Piano Nellie" on EastWest Records. Their manager Phil Ladd - who lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania - secured a 10 day residency for the band at a hot club in Boston.

Bobby PoeBoston seemed to rejuvenate the band, but money remained pretty scarce due to tight living expenses on the road. Each band member was allowed a total of $4.00 to eat on, which had to last for 10 days. Luckily there was a great hot dog place near the club, so the guys spent 40 cents a day and got 3 hot dogs and a chocolate milk, which was their breakfast, lunch and dinner COMBINED every day for each of the 10 days.

The club owners were keen to extend the band's residency, but as time went on my dad started picking up some strange vibes. The previous house band at the club featured a guitarist that had played with Chuck Berry. My dad heard that when that guitarist announced he was leaving the club, his hands became mysteriously broken. Not wanting to take a chance, my dad told the club owners that the band would love to stay, it's just that they had to make a quick trip back to Kansas because my dad's mom was "sick" - but, not to worry, they would return as soon as the crisis was over. Needless to say, the band never went back to Boston and, just to be safe, my dad hasn't set foot in the town since...

10. We're Not In Kansas Anymore

After avoiding another potential Boston Massacre, my dad was pretty much done as a performer. Drummer Joe Brawley had also had enough, deciding to rejoin his family's trucking business in North Carolina. Big Al Downing and Vernon Sandusky would carry on, relocating to Scranton, Pennsylvania where manager Phil Ladd was. Once established in Scranton, Big Al and Vernon added Mitch Corday on drums and Johnny Dubas on bass. My dad was persuaded to come along as co-manager/producer.

Vernon's family and our family also came to Scranton and at one point we all lived across the street from each other. I was approaching 7 years old and I do have some fond memories of Scranton. But Coffeyville, Kansas was another matter. I still have almost no recollections of the Kansas years. One thing I do remember is a dream (more like a nightmare). At the edge of town were the train tracks. In my dream, I was watching a train go by filled with ghosts or lost souls. Over the years my dream would come back to me from time to time, more as a puzzling enigma than as a terrorizing event...

11. The Poe Kat & Company Become Established In D.C.

Big Al DowningDuring the Scranton years, Big Al and the band were gigging constantly and were pulling down $500.00 a week, which wasn't too bad for 1960. Over this time co-manager Phil Ladd was pretty much eased out of his position, with The Poe Kat taking over completely. Our family relocated once more, to the Washington, D.C. area. This time we wouldn't move again for over 35 years.

At some point my dad heard that a club in Washington, D.C. named Rand's was paying $1,000.00 a week for their entertainment. The club owner was keen to book the band until he heard that Big Al was black. So my dad made the club owner an offer he couldn't refuse - the club wouldn't have to pay the band ANYTHING if they didn't go over well, but if they did, the band was to get the $1,000.00 a week. Five years later Big Al Downing and The Rhythm Rockers were still playing Rand's, with Big Al breaking the unwritten color barrier in that part of town...

12. 1964

Big Al SingleDuring the early 1960's Big Al Downing and The Rhythm Rockers owned Washington, D.C. and Big Al's fortunes were on the upswing. Recording for V-Tone and then shortly thereafter for Lelan Rogers' Lenox Records, Big Al was recording some great music in a variety of musical styles. Plus my dad and Big Al were writing and co-writing several songs that were recorded by Fats Domino. The Poe Kat's fortunes were therefore also on the upswing.

In the meantime, Vernon and the other Rhythm Rockers put out some singles of their own, under the name of Spic and Span. They were still gigging full time with Big Al, but they were also taking time out to record songs like "Slipping And Sliding" and "Summertime Blues". The Poe Kat actually encouraged the developing "dual identity", figuring he might end up representing two hit acts.

The Chartbusters SingleIn April of 1964, Vernon and company went into the studio for the first time under the name of The Chartbusters. They added Vince Gideon on rhythm guitar, because at that time they were becoming strangely influenced by some young upstarts from Liverpool, England named The Beatles. At that session they recorded what was supposed to be their debut single, "Slippin' Thru Your Fingers". Having a little studio time left over, they recorded a song bass player Johnny Dubas had been working on entitled "She's The One" as the B-side.

The Poe Kat sent the recording to 25 labels, all of whom passed on it. The next label he tried to cultivate was Mutual Records out of Philadelphia. Mutual released the single, but almost all radio DJ's seemed to feel "She's The One" should be the A-side. Joey Reynolds at WKBW in Buffalo felt that way and jumped on "She's The One". He literally played the track over and over back-to-back one evening and the single took off.

Also at this time Big Al was approached by Columbia Records and was signed to a record deal. The Poe Kat was pretty much on top of the world, figuring he now had his two top acts. But "She's The One" became so big so quick that Vernon and the band wanted to split from Big Al and continue on exclusively as The Chartbusters. No amount of pleading from my dad could convince them that they should play it safe and continue to back Big Al. Big Al felt betrayed by the band - and my dad - and went off on his own. My dad then threw his lot in completely with The Chartbusters.

Big Al went on to become a #1 Country music artist. He has remained a performing musician continuously since his days with The Poe Kats. I'm pleased to report that about 20 years ago Big Al, Vernon Sandusky and my dad all became friends again. They would speak to each other a couple of times a year and that tradition remains to this day...

13. The Golden Hour Of The Chartbusters

The ChartbustersWith a Billboard Top 40 hit working for them, The Chartbusters were one of the few new American bands getting radio attention during the early days of the British Invasion. Immediately in demand all over the country, Vernon and the group made television appearances on shows such as "American Bandstand" to go along with their suddenly plentiful gigs. They opened for the biggest stars of the day, including The Animals, Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers, Chuck Berry, Herman's Hermits, The Lovin' Spoonful, Peter and Gordon, The Four Seasons and The Beach Boys, among many, many others.

During this time Mitch Corday shifted to the business side for the band and Chib Holmes was brought in as drummer. The Poe Kat and Mitch made a good team and in that capacity booked The Beach Boys for the first time into Washington, D.C., a market they continuously did well in. Also during this time The Poe Kat developed long lasting connections to the area radio community, including Harv Moore "The Boy Next Door", Jack Alix "J.A. The DJ", "Tiger" Bob Raleigh and Barry Richards "The Boss With The Hot Sauce".

It was also a golden time for me. The Summer of 1964 while The Chartbusters were climbing the charts, I had just completed 6th grade and was getting ready to enter Junior High School. I hadn't been into music much before that, but as soon as The Beatles hit, I became a lifelong fanatic. Not being able to buy much with my meager allowance, the radio became my gateway to a world of undreamed excitement. My friends with more disposable income began collecting singles like crazy and every time we'd get together there would be some tunes going on in someone's basement. I went to bed almost every night with a transistor radio next to my ear.

Pop Music Survey OfficeMy dad and Mitch soon established themselves in the hippest part of Washington, D.C., which was Georgetown. They set up business at the corner of 28th and M Street and my dad kept his office there until 1980 or so. The building is shown here and is now the restaurant Zed's Ethiopian Cuisine.

The Chartbusters were also a fixture in Georgetown, appearing at The Round Table and later The Crazy Horse, among many others. Mitch and The Poe Kat soon began to expand their stable of artists (for booking and/or management) under the name of Paramount Artists. Early clients included The Kalin Twins, Willie and The Hand Jives, The Jumping Jax and The British Walkers, with The Shangri-La's coming on board later...

14. Junior Gets An Early Shot At Picking The Hits

Why SingleThroughout the Summer of 1964 and into the Fall, The Chartbusters were making a name for themselves with their debut single, "She's The One". The single made it to the top of the charts in many markets, peaking at #33 on the national Billboard Hot 100 Chart. But as the single finally began to fade, it was time to ready a follow up. In those days singles followed each other pretty quickly, with 3 or 4 months being most singles' average lifetime.

Figuring that I was the age of the typical music fan, my dad came to me and played both sides of the band's new single. First he played the side everyone was leaning towards, a Big Al Downing composition entitled "Stop The Music". Then he played the other side, a tune written by lead vocalist/lead guitarist Vernon Sandusky called "Why (Doncha Be My Girl)". I immediately chose "Why". I loved the harmonies and the brisk pace of the song and I was thrilled to have a hand in the selection of the next A-side.

"Why (Doncha Be My Girl)" just barely made the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #92. A few places around the country really supported the follow up, but The Poe Kat felt that instead of going forward, the band was going backward. Still, everyone was in high spirits and The Chartbusters continued to be a prime concert draw.

I thought the band's third single, "You're Breaking My Heart", was one of their best. It reminded me a lot of The Searchers. But it failed to do much and it marked The Chartbusters' last single for Mutual Records.

New Orleans SingleThe band's next single was on Crusader Records. My dad wanted to convey some of the excitement of The Chartbusters' live performances, so they did a remake of one of the band's concert staples, "New Orleans". My dad overdubbed live crowd noises to the track - a pretty progressive idea at the time (even though thoroughly misleading) - and it did create an aura of excitement. That single had pockets of big support, but peaked at #134 on the Billboard Top 200 Singles Chart...

15. Hey, Mr. Spaceman

Towards the end of 1965, The Chartbusters were ready to release their next single after "New Orleans". The doorman at one of the clubs the band played had written a song he felt would go over great. The doorman's name was Paul Tate and the song he had written was entitled "Kick Wheeler". The Chartbusters decided to record it as their next Crusader single. It was a cool motorcycle song and Paul was pretty cool himself, always dressing in white suits and driving a Corvette. "Kick Wheeler" was in the tradition of "Dead Man's Curve" and "Leader Of The Pack", but failed to dent the charts.

Several years later, there was a hardcore street person always stumbling around Georgetown that everyone called Sky King or Spaceman or perhaps even worse. He had long, matted hair and was constantly muttering to himself while picking imaginary and/or real bugs from his beard and hair. One day as my dad and I were walking down M Street, Spaceman approached us and spoke, kind of startling me. But what he said freaked me out even more. He asked my dad, "Do you remember that song I wrote for you?" It turned out that Spaceman was Paul Tate! I asked my dad how he became that way and my dad replied that while many people thought it was drugs, it was more likely a bad crash in his 'Vette that had resulted in the extensive brain damage to Paul. I found it so sad that even profoundly out of his mind, Paul still had some tenuous links to his previous existence - but no way of ever getting back to it...

16. The Sun Never Sets On British Quartets

The British Walkers...Even if, as in the case of The British Walkers, they weren't actually British. The British Walkers were, however, a kickass combination of The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks fronted by a tall, lanky hellraiser named Bobby Howard (shown to the left with the acoustic guitar). The Poe Kat and Mitch Corday guided the local D.C. group's career from 1964 until they broke up in 1968. Their debut single was a remarkably polished effort on Try Records entitled "I Found You" and was co-written/co-produced by Bobby Howard and lead guitarist Roy Buchanan. Roy had started the song years before as a love song to his wife.

The British WalkersRoy Buchanan (pictured here second from the left) went on to become a Washington, D.C. area legend. He was greatly renowned for his blues guitar prowess and the story goes that he was asked to replace Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones. Roy wasn't in The British Walkers for long and my dad relates the saga of how several times when Roy couldn't be found for a gig, he would run by his house only to find that Roy was locked up in the closet. Tragically, later in his career Roy hung himself in his jail cell after being arrested for public intoxication - at least, that is the "official" version of Roy's death. Serious bruises to Roy's head were never explained and it's been documented that Roy had been beaten about the head by the local police before. In any event, by the time of his death, Roy's stature as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time was firmly established.

The British WalkersAnother prominent member of The British Walkers was John Hall (shown front and center in the picture by George Shuba to the left), who joined the band briefly in 1967 towards the end of their career. John soon gained fame and fortune by co-writing the song "Half Moon" (with his then wife Johanna Schier) for Janis Joplin. A guiding force behind the "No Nukes" concert in the 1970's, John later was the leader of the highly successful group Orleans and has had an extended solo career. John continues to tour to this day...or at least he did. John was elected Congressman for New York's 19th district in 2006 and assumed office in January of 2007!

The British WalkersAs for Bobby Howard, he became upset when he found out that my dad and Mitch had trademarked the name The British Walkers. He didn't like the idea that if he quit the band, the name would go on. So he did quit the band in 1967 and the name did go on, with John Hall, The Willett Brothers (vocalists Tom and Charlie Willett), and many others, going in and out of the band. Mitch Corday even went to England to recruit a couple of actual Brits for the group, but it wasn't the same and everyone had to admit that the group's days were numbered.

Charlie HamptonIn 1966, before the inevitable demise of the band, Bobby Howard recorded a "solo" single with the current crop of British Walkers at the time (Jimmy Carter/guitar, Jack Brooks/bass and Steve Lacey/drums) backing him. That single eventually attained cult status in the UK. Under the name of MR. DYNAMITE, Bobby and the band recorded "Sh'Mon", a track that could very easily be mistaken for a Soul music workout by James Brown. The late, great Jazz musician and Howard Theater Band Leader Charlie Hampton (shown here) did the song's arranging and conducting - the horns on the track (especially the saxophone) bear his unmistakable stamp.

Shmon"Sh'Mon" was released by Sue Records in the UK and commands a premium price by collectors. In the U.S., "Sh'Mon" was the one and only release on Soultime Records, a label my dad started for the occasion. The Poe Kat relates the humorous tale back then of how he took the single over to his good friend Barry Richards, asking him NOT to mention that the single was by Bobby Howard, so as to keep the illusion alive that Mr. Dynamite was a funky new phenomenon. As my dad started to drive away from Barry's radio station, his delight in hearing Barry play the new song on his car radio turned extremely sour when Barry announced that everyone had just heard the new single by...BOBBY HOWARD! In later years my dad was able to laugh about the whole episode and it's worth noting that Barry remained one of his oldest and dearest friends.

I Found You SingleIn their short lifetime, The British Walkers recorded some fantastic singles. These included the aforementioned "I Found You" b/w "Diddley Daddy", a remake of "The Girl Can't Help It" b/w "Lonely Lover's Prayer", the Stones-like harmonica rocker "Watch Yourself" (co-written by Bobby Howard and Link Wray) b/w "Bad Lightnin'" and their highest charting single, the incendiary "Shake" b/w "That Was Yesterday".

The Willett BrothersOriginally written and recorded by Sam Cooke, "Shake" featured new vocalists Tom and Charlie Willett (pictured here, who performed together as The Willett Brothers and were previously in the local D.C. band The Newports) tearing up the vocals. B-side "That Was Yesterday" was written by Frank Dillon and Vernon Sandusky of The Chartbusters and was a great track on its own. The Poe Kat, Vernon Sandusky and Mitch Corday produced "Shake". The Chartbusters were the backing band on the track, with Jack Brooks of The British Walkers adding fuzz bass and Larry Kidwell of local D.C. band Lawrence and The Arabians adding keyboards.

Shake Single"Shake" was released on the Cameo Parkway label and was on its way to becoming a bona-fide hit, getting huge Major Market airplay at radio stations such as WMCA in New York and WRKO in Boston, as well as hitting the Top 10 at WPGC locally. In fact, as the single climbed the charts, the British Walker shoe company was going to offer the band big bucks if the single entered the national Top 40. But then two things happened. Otis Redding released a great version of "Shake" sparking a cover battle, and the new owner of Cameo Parkway pulled the plug on the entire label, killing the shoe deal with it.

The new owner was Allen Klein and when he bought the label there was talk his clients The Rolling Stones would record for Cameo Parkway. That rumour drove the stock price way up and a tidy profit was made. But in effect, the label was shut down for good, only to be resurrected in 1969 (without any of the Cameo Parkway artist roster) as ABKCO Records. Between its start in 1957 and its ignominious end in 1967, Cameo Parkway had placed 134 songs in the Billboard Top 100, including hits by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, ? And The Mysterians and The Ohio Express. Making for a nice sense of closure, in the Spring of 2005 Allen Klein finally made peace with many of the label's artists and released an extensive box-set of the hits of the Cameo Parkway era...

17. You Never Forget Your First Time

The AnimalsAnd I never forgot MY first time. That is, the first time I went to a concert. I was 13 and it was the opening day of a five day event that went from April 9th through April 13th, 1966. The Poe Kat and Mitch Corday had put together a week of music at the D.C. Armory that they billed as "The National Teen Show". Each day featured some fantastic stars of the era - such as The Animals, The Four Seasons, The Lovin' Spoonful, Peter and Gordon and Dino, Desi and Billy - along with my dad and Mitch's stable of artists, which included The Chartbusters, The British Walkers, Willie and The Hand Jives and The Jumping Jax. The great local D.C. band The Hangmen were also given a spot on the bill.

So, in any event, my dad informed me that my sister Teresa Kay and I could go to one of the shows and bring some friends. We were unbelievably excited. But we couldn't go to ALL of the shows. We could only go to one. My dad, even at that relatively early stage, wanted to keep my sister and me away from bad influences, so he thought Dino, Desi and Billy would be appropriate, since they were not much older than us.

I already liked Dino, Desi and Billy's music and the trio got a lot of instant press due to Dino being the son of the legendary Dean Martin and Desi being the son of the equally legendary Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. After the concert my sister and I collected everything they put out for the next few years. We got to go backstage and meet them, which was a marvelous experience and great practice for my later Pop Music Survey days. Shown here is a picture from backstage at "The National Teen Show" (L-R me, Dino Martin, my sister Teresa Kay and an unknown member of The Jumping Jax).

Backstage at Dino Desi and BillyI always thought Dino, Desi and Billy made some fabulous music, including their first couple of singles "I'm A Fool" and "Not The Lovin' Kind", as well as my favorite song of their's, "I Hope She's There Tonight". I was at the perfect age to enjoy their bright and sunny music and because of that, over the years I've learned that music is very personal and subjective and that I should never judge other people's tastes - no matter how different they are from my own. I wish that philosophy also worked the other way around because MY friends are always making fun of MY taste in music.

As a sidenote, Dino was killed in a plane crash in 1987, while flying for the California National Guard. My dad always said how terrible it must be to lose a son and that it led to Dean Martin's rapid decline in health. These days Dino's younger brother Ricci keeps his music alive, occasionally touring with Dino's old bandmates as Ricci, Desi and Billy. I am also happy to note that the original guitarist for the band, Billy Hinche, has made himself an impressive career as a musician, most notably with The Beach Boys...

18. Give A Kid The Gift Of Music

Gene Gary PoeLater, in the Summer of 1966, my dad's brother Gene Gary Poe and my dad's mother came to visit us in Bethesda, Maryland where we lived. Gary - shown here in his uniform - had just gotten out of the army after being stationed in Germany (he later did a tour of duty in Korea in the 1970's). He was 10 years younger than my dad and he had also gotten bitten by the music bug, playing bass in some bands with his army buddies while over in Germany. Gary also had great taste in music and a pretty comprehensive collection of singles from the era.

The KinksWhen Uncle Gary came to visit, he gave me some of the singles he had collected in Germany. One was "All Day And All Of The Night" by The Kinks, on the Pye record label. I played that single over and over and I also made a lifesize cardboard guitar to jump around with. One day during his visit we took a bus to downtown Bethesda, had lunch and went record shopping. He bought The Kinks' new single "Sunny Afternoon", which just seemed to make the day perfect. Many's the happy hour I've spent with The Kinks music since then and hearing "Sunny Afternoon" always transports me back to that simpler time and place...

19. The Great Lost Chartbusters Album

The ChartbustersDuring this time, The Chartbusters continued their regimen of touring and recording. After "Kick Wheeler" failed to get much attention, the group released "One Bird In The Hand" b/w "Maybe". "One Bird In The Hand" did much better for the group, and was somewhat of a novelty tune. It could easily have been taken for a song by The Newbeats of "Bread And Butter" fame, with it's falsetto vocals and lively beat.

"One Bird In The Hand" was written by Frank Dillon, who had just joined the band on vocals and guitar. Frank is second from the left in the picture shown above. Since Frank remembers it like it was yesterday, we'll let him take over the story about the single in his own words: "At the recording session, after laying down down the instrumental tracks, we were ready to do the first vocal run through so that Ed Greene, the engineer and studio owner, could do a sound level check. I was in a goofy mood so instead of singing it in a natural voice as I wrote it and intended it to be sung, I sang it in falsetto as a joke. After the take we all laughed and I said, 'OK. Let's do it the right way.' Your dad said, 'Wait a minute. I want to hear that back.' It was decided that THAT was the one we were going with. I was embarrassed, chagrined and everything else. I made mistakes and blew lines, even though I wrote it. The advance copies were sent to the top radio stations and trades - Billboard, Cashbox, Music World, etc. It was getting a lot of play and was 'Pick Of The Week' in those trades. Unfortunately, Crusader Records failed to send it to the distributors, so you couldn't buy it. By the time your dad and Mitch figured it all out and got us away from Crusader and on Bell Records, it was too late. That, truly, is a classic example of bad timing on a hit that never was. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Thanks for keeping us alive."

One Bird SingleSo, since "One Bird In The Hand" HAD generated some trade attention and radio action, the band was quickly picked up by Bell Records. The Chartbusters first single for Bell was now a double A-side effort, with the aforementioned "One Bird In The Hand" on one side and the new song "Leavin' You" on the other. The new Bell single encouraged label and manager alike, even though the opportunity to have a hit with "One Bird In The Hand" had been squandered. However, the feeling was that if the band delivered a strong follow up, it would be time to put an album together...

20. Summer's Gone

The ChartbustersIt was now 1967. A lot was riding on The Chartbusters next single for Bell Records. For the first time, the band's lyrics were more socially relevant and, musically, the band was one of the tightest around. So everyone had high hopes for "Glass Houses" b/w "Dance, Dance". If the single was a hit, an album would surely follow.

But in 1967 the music scene was changing at an exponential rate. The Chartbusters were never ones to experiment much in the studio, although some of their singles such as "Kick Wheeler" and "New Orleans" had contained overdubbed effects. Most of the material being considered for The Chartbusters album were melodic ballads with titles like "Summer Sweethearts" and "She's My Love" along with a classic remake or two such as "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing". Not only was the music not progressive, it was almost defiantly geared towards idyllic recollections of the Summers of 1965 and 1966.

In the end, it didn't really matter that the band preferred not to take part in the coming psychedelic era. While "Glass Houses" and "Dance, Dance" were some of the band's finest work, they didn't catch the public's attention and that spelled the end of the band. The Chartbusters continued to soldier on as the house band at The Crazy Horse in Georgetown, but by 1969 it was all over. Years later Tom Hanks would be quoted in People Magazine as saying The Chartbusters were one of the inspirations for his film "That Thing You Do!"...

21. San Francisco East

The WhoAs 1967 progressed, the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. became a hippie mecca. During the Summer of Love, I had just finished Junior High School and was poised to take on High School. On many Saturdays, I remember my friends and I would take the bus to Georgetown and then just wander around all day. The shops were filled with loud music, psychedelic posters, black lights and all the trappings of the times. On the weekend, the entire Georgetown area was wall-to-wall people, out to sightsee and groove.

Once High School started for me, I began a part-time after school job at Davis Library and had more disposable income. Most of it was spent on music I would purchase at Korvette's, G.E.M. or Record Town in the Wildwood Shopping Center. The new single I remember playing the most around that time was "Pictures Of Lily" by The Who. At that time I still wasn't buying many albums. Two years later, the first concert I would go to on my own with my friends would be The Who at Georgetown University on November 2nd, 1969.

Nils LofgrenIn any event, back to September of 1967. I now considered myself an authority on music, so it was with a bit of a superior attitude that I decided to attend a talent show one day at my school. Most of the talent that day was forgettable, but I was primarily interested in seeing a band called The Crystal Mesh, which was supposed to be the best band in school.

When The Crystal Mesh started playing the old chestnut "Summertime", I wasn't impressed. Then they launched into Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" and the hairs literally stood up on the back of my neck! Their lead guitarist was unbelievable! The sound he created was a roaring wall of energy and feedback. I came to find that his name was Nils Lofgren and he was a year ahead of me at Walter Johnson High School. Nils wasn't in the The Crystal Mesh for long, opting to form his own group called Grin, which was signed by Spindizzy/Epic Records. I remember seeing Grin many times back in those days and they were always incredible. Later, after solo albums on A&M, Nils gained even greater fame and fortune as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band...

22. The Winds Of Change

During 1968, The Poe Kat, Vernon Sandusky and Mitch Corday all went their separate ways. The trio had been good friends for many years now, but each wanted to pursue a different direction in the music business.

Sun Records LogoVernon went back to Kansas and joined up with an old friend named Rodney Lay. In the early 1960's, Rodney had his own band called Rodney and The Blazers and then in the 1970's recorded Country music as a solo artist on Capitol Records with Buck Owens producing. In 1969 Vernon joined one of Rodney's evolving versions of Rodney Lay and The Wild West, a Rockabilly outfit that recorded some great music for Shelby Singleton at Sun Records in the late 1970's.

Mitch pursued his ambition of being a music producer. He and my father would still run into each other, but less and less as time went by, since my dad was an early bird and Mitch was a night owl.

Cellar DoorAs for my dad, he knew he had to do something else. He had grown weary of working with artists, who's behavior was becoming more and more bizarre as the late 1960's progressed. Jack Boyle, a bartender at a hip music venue known as The Cellar Door, wanted to start a concert promotion business with my dad, but my dad blew him off in no uncertain terms. My dad absolutely did not want to deal with musicians at all. The days of trying to round up Roy Buchanan for a gig - only to find him locked in the closet at home - were too fresh in my dad's mind. Jack Boyle never forgot the slight, even though Jack got the last laugh by founding one of the largest concert promotion companies in the world, Cellar Door Productions...

23. Do You Like Good Music, That Sweet Soul Music

As 1968 began, The Poe Kat was at a crossroads. He was burned out on performing, producing, managing and working with musicians in any way, shape or form. But he did want to remain in "the show business", as he called it.

After a bit of pondering, The Poe Kat felt there was an opening in the "tip sheet" business. Tip sheets basically reported what radio stations were playing and also listed new releases. Bill Gavin's Gavin Report in San Francisco was a prominent tip sheet - one of only a couple at the time - and my dad noticed they were a little light on reporting R&B, or Soul Music. So The Poe Kat decided to publish a tip sheet devoted exclusively to Soul Music. He hired DeDe Dabney, respected Music Director of WDAS in Philadelphia, as Editor.

The GeorgetownerThe Poe Kat's good friend Dave Roffman, long time Publisher (now Editor) of The Georgetowner newspaper, lent a hand with many of the layout aspects of the new publication. At the time, The Georgetowner's offices were in the same building and just down the hall from my dad's.

Soul Music Survey very quickly took off and had widespread industry support. One of the most amazing results of starting Soul Music Survey was that all of the record labels put the new magazine on their mailing lists. All of a sudden I was getting virtually every new single and almost every new album made at the time, after my dad had finished with them, of course. I couldn't believe my incredible good fortune! It was a teenager's dream come true.

But it was 1968. Just as Soul Music Survey got established, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Washington, D. C. erupted in flames just blocks from the Soul Music Survey offices. The worst was yet to come. As the long hot Summer of 1968 progressed, racial tensions flared everywhere and my dad came under the scrutiny of the Black "Mafia". All across the country, white men that exploited Black music for profit were targeted. The Black "Mafia" came to my dad's office in an effort to intimidate him. The deal was that he was to pay them $25,000.00 a week for protection, or he would be out of business. To get their point across, they "de-pantsed" him - or pulled his pants down on the spot. As mob intimidation goes, it was pretty painless, but it was very humiliating. He decided to let the mob put him out of business and DeDe Dabney took Soul Music Survey to New York City. It ceased publication in less than 6 months.

The Poe Kat got off very lucky compared to what shortly awaited Mitch Corday. Mitch was getting pretty big bucks for producing artists, but one day he crossed the wrong people. When Mitch failed to deliver on a mob related project (who knows which kind of mob), he was "kneecapped" - a couple of brutes broke his legs with tire irons. Mitch was in the hospital for quite some time, scared to death that his attackers would come after him while he was recovering. When he did recover, he left the area immediately, never to return. Every once in a while, Mitch would call me or my dad over the following years. He would always ask if anyone was trying to find him. For our own sakes, we didn't want to know where he was, and gratefully no one ever asked us. After almost 35 years of looking over his shoulder, Mitch died in 2003...

24. Hee Haw Y'All

Hee HawAfter the Soul Music Survey debacle, The Poe Kat looked for another genre of music to get involved with. Country Music seemed perfect. So Country Music Survey was started. The Poe Kat wanted to enter the arena with a bang, so a Country Music Survey Seminar was planned, with Cashbox Country Music Editor Tom McEntee coming on board to head this new venture and be Editor of Country Music Survey. The Country Music Survey Seminar was held in Nashville and Wesley Rose, CEO of Acuff-Rose, was the Keynote Speaker. Don Gibson and Tex Ritter performed.

The Seminar was a great success, but Country Music Survey wasn't. My dad hadn't taken into account that there were only about 600 Country music radio stations in 1968 and that record company budgets for Country promotion were a pittance. As a little bit of trivia however, the Nashville and radio communities liked the Country Music Seminar so much that they decided to keep it. Tom McEntee then founded Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc. in 1969 and established The Country Radio Seminar the same year. CRS 38 was held in March of 2007, so the Seminar is rapidly approaching a 40 year landmark.

In the mid-1970's, Vernon Sandusky and Rodney Lay got an invitation to join Country Music Hall of Famer Roy Clark's band. It was the perfect gig for Vernon and Rodney and they stayed with Roy for over 20 years (while still performing in Rodney Lay and The Wild West). They were also featured in the house band during Roy's many years on "Hee Haw"...

25. The Third Time's The Charm

Pop Music SurveyThe Poe Kat was now batting zero. Soul Music Survey and Country Music Survey turned into blind alleys. But the Ol' Poe Kat figured he would give it one more shot. What about a Pop Music Survey? All record label budgets were heavily geared towards Pop Music promotion, so this should be the way to go. Bill Gavin was on the West Coast, Kal Rudman in Philly had made the move to Friday Morning Quarterback, and that was more or less it in terms of direct competition. The field was nowhere near as crowded as it would come to be 25 years down the road.

The story now begins to take a million amazing twists and turns. But unfortunately - or is it luckily - The Poe Kat is reluctant to continue the story too much past this point. So be it...

26. Epilogue: R.I.P. Big Al Downing

Big Al DowningI got an e-mail on July 5th, 2005 that said Big Al Downing had passed away. My whole family was very sad to hear the news. Just the week before we had gotten word from Vernon Sandusky that Big Al was gravely ill. My mom, dad and I sent him a get well soon card, which probably got there too late.

This is from Big Al's website, "We regret to inform you that on July 4th, 2005 at approx. 6:45pm, Country Music legend and Rockabilly Hall of Famer, Big Al Downing, passed away from complications stemming from Leukemia. Please keep his family in your prayers. Big Al's music and warm personality shall surely live on forever!"

Vernon and my dad went to the memorial service for Big Al, held in Coffeyville, Kansas on the following Sunday. Both were asked to speak at the service and they were proud to relate some of their experiences from so long ago to Big Al's family and friends...

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