Feature Column
Exclusive to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame






Column 8 - published March 5, 1998

KAY WHEELER:
THE QUEEN OF THE ROCK' n BOP!

(The photos are used by permission of Kay Wheeler from her Collection Archives.)



About a 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 ROCK!"

RONNY: How then did you get professionally involved in R'n'R and when?
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".

RONNY: How 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 Heaven perhaps?
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 dancing.

RONNY: Tell us about some of the highlights of your career.
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.

RONNY: In addition to Carroll, Vincent, Presley please tell us a bit about some of the other Rhythm & Blues, Country & Western and Rockabilly artists with whom you worked?
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.



RONNY: 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! Wow!

RONNY: What did you think of Elvis, his music, his character, his personality?
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 Flash!"

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!



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 also!!
Thank you for this coolest interview!
Any last words for all your fans, Kay?
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,
Kay Wheeler
E-mail Kay ROCKNBOP2@AOL.COM



Always Rollin' The Rock,
Rockin' Ronny Weiser,
The Rockabilly Rebel Westerner from Las Vegas, Nevada,
The Wild Wild West

E-Mail Ronny at Rollin' Rock






RONNY'S ARCHIVES

Col. # 7 - 2/98 - 10 ROLLIN' ROCK CDs
Col. # 6 - 1/98 - SAM COOKE
Col. # 5 - 12/97 - LAS VEGAS IS A 1950's TOWN
Col. # 4 - 11/97 - GOD BLESS TEXAS
Col. # 3 - 10/97 - FATS DOMINO
Col. # 2 - 9/97 - RAB DISCUSSION GROUP
Col. # 1 - 8/97 - 25 YEARS OF ROLLIN' ROCK RECORDS


E-Mail Ronny

ROCKIN' RONNY WEISER - On-site Rockabilly HOF web page




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