(By Tony Wilkinson)
Spokane, Washington State is the now home town for Don Weise, a guy whose career stretches
way back into the fifties and who is one heck of a genuine person, a man whom I am proud to
call a friend.
Don was born on 28 February 1936 in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and was one of seven children.
Two of his brothers are singers and guitarists and one of his nieces has been based in
Nashville co-writing songs with the son of Roy Orbison. At the advent of World War 11,
the family relocated to Twin Falls, Idaho in 1942. At the tender age of ten, Don started
to compose songs and when he was twelve, he acquired his first guitar and was soon 'a
pickin' and a grinnin'.
He formed his first band when he was sixteen, a four piece acoustic outfit by the name of
The String Kings. Lead guitarist was Jim Hogan, who played in a Chet Atkins style, along
with Cliff Bole and Don on rhythm guitars and Dusty on upright doghouse bass. They played
country, pop, bluegrass and a little blues on Friday and Saturday nights in music halls,
at barn dances and in school gymnasiums. In 1954, Don along with his bother John relocated
to Reno, Nevada and they, along with Jim Hogan, became a fixture on the Nevada circuit
for the next two years. Eventually the trio split up and Don went out as a solo. He
was booked into the Mystery Lounge, Ely, Nevada at the time when the music of Presley,
Little Richard and other rockers started to make their first real impact. This turned
his head and set him off in the direction of this 'new music' with the result that
both his performances and song writing became rock 'n' roll and rockabilly orientated.
He was billed as Don Weise, The Wild Man.
As Don says: I would jump higher than Elvis, scream louder than Little
Richard and shimmy 'n' shake all over the place. I would be soaking wet with
perspiration from the top of my head down to my shoes from exerting all that energy.
Many of the entertainers from adjacent nightclubs would drop by to see this wild man
going crazy with unbelievable energy.
Come March 1956, Don met a guy by the name of Taps who was a great solo tap dancer.
The pair set of for Los Angeles. They arrived around 3.00 am in the morning and Don
checked into a hotel whilst Taps set off for the Palomino Club where he appeared when
in the area. The next afternoon, Don set off by bus for Hollywood Music Row and started
to talk to a young black man who advised that he was heading for Specialty Records.
Don went along with him. His new friend was auditioned first and then, after about a
quarter of an hour, Don was summoned to the audition room where he met Art Rupe and
Robert 'Bumps' Blackwell for the first time:
I picked up my guitar and sang nine or ten of my own up-tempo songs in a crazy way.
Both Art and Bumps said that they liked my music and that they would sign me to a contract
immediately. However they were just about to set off to New Orleans for a Little Richard
recoding session and would be back in around ten days Art paid me a retainer fee to
hold me until they returned.
Don was still technically a minor and so the contract had to be signed by his mother.
Elated by the turn of events, Don wanted to thank Tap for suggesting that he came to the
City Of angles and accordingly headed off to the Palomino Club. Taps suggested that he
might like to get up on the stage and sing some of his songs. After giving a great rockin'
delivery, the manager came over to Don and offered him a three fifteen minute shows six
night a week engagement. Weise was there for ten weeks and in that period was backed up
by three different bands:
Each band played two nights a week, and I was backed by all three bands.
They were the Eddie Clietro Band, Mel Ryan Band and the Gene O'Quinn Band. Gene had
recorded for Capitol and had a pretty good hit with 'Too Hot To Handle'. These
guys were good and could play any style of music but were really country whilst my show
was hardcore rockabilly. Those guys would frequently appear on Cliffie Stone's 'Hometown
Jamboree' or 'Town Hall Party and 'Riverside Rancho Jamboree'. Most of the stars of these
shows, especially the Town Hall party would be booked into the Palomino as guest artists
or they would drop by to say hi and get up and sing a few songs. That's where I met Tex
Williams, Skeets McDonald, Freddie Hart, Joe Maphis, Quincy Snodgrass, Tex Ritter and the
great Lefty Frizell.
I would have been at the Palomino longer but they found out that I was under
age and so I had to leave. After the Palomino, I played the Blue Room in the Valley
and some other clubs in L.A. I also made guest appearances on 'Riverside Rancho Jamboree',
Tex William's radio show, 'Town Hall Party', 'Hometown Jamboree' and the 'Rocket
To Stardom' show.
Art Rupe received the signed contract back from Don's mother and it was agreed that Don
would record four singles and one album for five years plus sign an exclusive songwriting
contract with Rupe's Venice Music:
To me, Art Rupe was a very nice man and treated me well. I had heard, however,
that he didn't pay Little Richard well for his recordings but he paid me royalties on
sales of my song 'Poor Boy Paul'- I still get royalties. He also gave me money to live
on whilst I was in Hollywood and he got me into the Musicians Union so that I could
work and do shows.
It was around this time that Weise first met Bobby Wayne and the pair formed a friendship
that lasts to this very day. At the time, Bobby was attempting to secure a contract with Capitol
Records. Back at Specialty, Don and Bumps worked on new songs plus rehearsing and arranging
for the first of Don's recording sessions that took place on 10 September 1956.
It was during one such practice session that Rupe visited and started to discuss the
forthcoming movie 'The Girl Can't Help It in which Little Richard was booked to appear.
Rupe offered a part in the movie to Don but who falsely gave the impression that he was
not too excited by replying 'Sure, I Guess So' and so the subject was not raised again.
This is a source of eternal regret to Weise as he feels he could have been a part of rock
'n' roll history.
Sadly, there was to be only the one recording session for Specialty. Don had gone home
for Christmas in 1956 and come 1957 was playing Garden City nightclub area of Boise, Idaho.
Whilst he was waiting for his record to be released, he met a pretty girl and had got
married. Early in 1958, Don and his wife returned to Hollywood but Art Rupe and Bumps
Blackwell had parted company. Sonny Bono, who had a solo release under the name of Don
Christy on Specialty #672 with 'Wearing Black/One Little Answer', replaced Bumps
at Specialty. Art introduced Don to Sonny and the pair worked on Weise's songs for a
couple of months but nothing really happened. Whilst at Specialty, Don wrote and
recorded in excess of a hundred songs as demos for Venice Music.
Don also appeared on several Los Angeles television shows and he well recalls an appearance
on 'Town Hall Party' that also included Gene Vincent in the line up of stars as well as Don's
good friend Quincy Snodgrass (Leon Selvy) and The Collins Kids and Gordon Terry. Don also
recalled Gene Davis who has cut some great rockers and country. Davis billed himself as
Gene Davis and The Hollywood Hillbillies. In the early sixties, he was on a television
show in L.A. titled 'Star Route' along with Gen Campbell and others. The show was emceed by
Rod Cameron, the western movies star.
Come 1959, Don found himself back in Boise Idaho playing music on the Garden City Strip as
part of a group by the name of The Echos. Weise called Rupe and asked Art if he going to
release his records:
He said send me everything you have recorded but he didn't say anything about the
recordings that I had done already at his studio in Hollywood. Anyway as a result,
the Echo's and myself went to the KGEM Radio Recording Studio and recorded four songs,
'Jungle Bop', 'Lanky Bones', Never Again' and a second version of 'Poor Boy Paul'.
Rupe sent back a song-writers contract on 'Poor Boy Paul' and said that it would be
a big hit and that they were making 500 single sided 45's as publishers demos
and that he was sending tem to recording artists all over the world.
We took 'Jungle Bop' and 'Never Again' from the KGEM recordings and had a few hundred 45's
pressed to promote our band in the region. They were on the KGEM label but were not
published or numbered. Despite this, 'Jungle Bop' developed into a regional jukebox hit.
Actually, I have recorded 'Poor Boy Paul' three times now. The first was in 1956 and that
with The Echos in 1959 was the second version. I cut it again in 1963 for Jerden Records
with Neil Livingston on steel guitar. Neil was also on Charlie Ryan's original
recording of 'Hot Rod Lincoln and did all the sound effects on that disc such as
the rods knocking, police siren etc.
Apart from Don on rhythm guitar, The Echos consisted of Kenny Smith on lead guitar,
Al Nelson on bass and Barry on drums. The band played the Garden City Strip between
1959 and 1963. The strip is a suburb of Boise and was a stretch about two miles
long and consisted of wall-to-wall nightclubs. In late 1962, Kenny was drafted into
the military and the band broke up shortly thereafter.
In 1963, Don and Bobby Wayne linked up again and re-commenced writing songs together.
One of their successes was 'Run Appaloosa Run' which was featured in the award winning Walt
Disney movie of the same title. The pair of songwriters had a contract with Walt
Disney Productions to write the title and/or theme songs for five or more movies.
However due to disagreement over publishing rights, the contract was nullified.
Wayne was recording for the Seattle based Jerden Records at the time and was scoring
with some big records. As a result, Don started to tour with Bobby: I had my own
spot on the Bobby Wayne Road Shows.
I would open the shows for Bobby and would do
the first twenty minutes or so. We would normally have someone do stand-up comedy
plus Dennis Roberts and the band. Dennis was the other half of the recording group
The Hummingbirds, along with Bobby.
Wayne helped Don obtain a recording contract with Jerden Records and he had two releases
on the label. These were the aforementioned third recording of 'Poor Boy Paul coupled
with 'Walkin' Up A Rainbow (Jerden #45JD 83/84) and 'Big Dan/My Home Town' (Jerden #45JD 89/90)
although the last mentioned was released under the name of Don Robbins. Don laid down some
fifty or sixty songs at the SRC Studio in Spokane. Many of the songs that he wrote for
or with Bobby Wayne were recorded at SRC including the flip-side of the Harold Horn
recording of 'Miss Ann' which was titled 'Dew B. Dewey (Jerden 750).
1964 saw the Little Richard version of 'Poor Boy Paul', coupled with the 1955 recording
of 'Wonderin' released on Specialty 699 and this became an international hit.
The German singer Lisa Fritz also cut 'Poor Boy Paul' under the title of 'Gedachtnisschwund'.
The same year (1964) saw Don returning to Nevada but this time Las Vegas and commenced playing
the club circuit in that city. He linked up with noted steel guitarist Curly Chalker, who had
played on many Lefty Frizell recordings, and again entered into the recording studio:
When I moved from Spokane to Las Vegas in 1964, I needed a new record to get me
going. I had just met Curly Chalker and his band and so we went into the Universal
Studio in Vegas and cut three songs. I released two of these, 'Let Me Hang Around'
and 'Dry Farm Land' on Lamp Light (#1001), the only release on the label. This disc
became popular in Vegas and on the Nevada circuit. The Universal studio was located
by the railroad tracks and we had to stop recording every time a train would pass.
Weise played the Vegas circuit, with a few side trips to Poise, Phoenix and Los
Angeles up to 1968 with the Curly Chalker Band plus the Charlie Walker outfit.
However it was now time for a permanent move back to Spokane where Don obtained
plenty of work backing up many artists appearing in the region plus appearances
in his own right. Of course, he kept song writing. One club that Weise played,
along with local country singer Earle Now, was owned by local businessman Roy Wilkes
who, in 1976, suggested that Don and Earle should visit a recording studio and offered
to finance the deal. Don made contact with his old friend Bumps Blackwell who
agreed to produce the session. Ten songs were laid down in a studio based in
the Eastern Washington College but only two tracks by Don, 'Honky Tonk Fall
Of Fame/Is it Really Real' were issued as a single on Chelan CSL 1503. There was
also a single, 'Jimmy's Prayer/Love Is Like The Roses', by Earle Moe issued from the
sessions on Chelan CSL 1502. The topside contains a recitation by D J, one of Don's sons.
Bumps Blackwell had returned to Hollywood after producing the sessions and it is a mystery
as to what happened to the other six sides recorded. Sadly this was to be the last
session produced by Bumps as he died shortly afterwards after contracting pneumonia.
Come 1972, Don decided that he needed to settle down a bit and provide a firm base for his
family. Accordingly he established a successful upholstery business making bar and
restaurant furniture. This was turned in 1984 into a restaurant and bar and has
become a landmark in Spokane with the reputation for serving the best chicken in
the city (something that I can personally endorse). However with the passing of the years,
Don and his buddy Bobby Wayne have continued to compose songs and record. In 1996, Don
issued a CD of his compositions on Rainbow Records entitled 'Poor Boy Paul' and this
was followed up in 1998 with the album 'Hot Rod Surfin' Jungle Boppin' Rock 'n' Rollin
Boogie songs' on Spitfire Records. There is talk of a further CD by Don; he has the
tracks ready to go. He has also headlined at one of the Hemsby rock 'n' roll weekenders
in England along with Bobby Wayne.
Mrs. Wilkinson, daughter Colinda and I visited with Don and his family a few years back in
Spokane and the hospitality shown was mind blowing and for which we remain eternally grateful.
There was also a jam session of local musicians at Don's bar one night, and I can confirm
that there is a wealth of talent in Spokane, especially the lovely Charlie Ryan.
Don played an amazing version of 'Goodnight My Love', as an instrumental in 'Sleep
Walk' style, that night. Treasured memories.
Rainbow Records -'Poor Boy Paul' (1996)
Spitfire Records - 'Hot Rod Surfin' Jungle Boppin' Rock 'n' Rollin Boogie' (1998)
Posted, August, 2004
©2004 Rockabilly Hall of Fame ®