ROCKABILLY HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE #200
SINGER AND WRITER OF “CINDY LOU” 1963
NEW SONG “TIDDLYWINK” ON GERMAN ROCKABILLY GROUP BLACK RAVEN’S 2008 ALBUM ON CD/ VINYL
MY FIRST BAND WAS THE TORKAYS, I
WAS THE LEAD SINGER AND SONGWRITER,
AND RECORDED MY ROCKABILLY SONG “CINDY LOU (AH HA WHO)”
AS KEITH O’CONNER ON STACY RECORDS FEB. 1963
I had always liked music and liked to sing since I was very young. When I was in about the 4th grade, I sang “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” accapello from the bleachers at a school Christmas performance, in the dark with the light only on me. It was well received and I was asked to sing at local churches, as I had a very good tenor voice for my age they tell me. Later I sang in the church and school choirs. I enjoyed the attention, and music was a driving interest the rest of my life.
The only relative that was an influence was my Grandma Dora Martin, who was not a blood relative. She was a natural born honky tonk piano player, who took eight lessons, and played professionally in a local band the Starlighters around my birthplace of Peru, Indiana. “Dime Stores” used to hire pianists to play the sheet music they sold, as it was relatively very expensive back then. A highlight of her life was when she played something for Bing Crosby at the Woolworth’s store. My dad Ed Murphy played a little bit of harmonica, and that probably was floating around in my head too. I took up the coronet in the school band, but it bothered my ears and I dropped it. I did not come from an affluent family, and after that my parents weren’t ready to buy a guitar that I vowed I would learn to play. I saved my allowance and bought a $25 red and white Harmony flat top in Wabash, Indiana, that had a strip of aluminum cabinet trim to divide the colors on the front. The strings were hard to press down, so I guess it was good exercise.
When I was a sophomore we moved to Sweetser, Indiana in Grant County, the area famous for actor James Dean and Jim Davis of Garfield fame. I began to take lessons at Butler’s music store from an old vaudeville performer and a wonderful man, Art Oliver. Later Sy Cantrell, a local barber by trade, became my teacher. I only played rhythm guitar, and never became a virtuoso, just good enough to play in my bands, and to use it for my song writing. I think I am too analytical, and my mind wants to think about what I am playing, so my mind-hand coordination does not allow me to be a top guitarist. I joke that I play as good as Mick Jagger – yes he does play guitar, or fakes it real well. But I have never complained, because I think that some of those same mind skills help me to be a better writer.
Later, my interest in music only got stronger because of the female factor. As I heard Indiana’s rock role model John Mellencamp explaining why he learned to play guitar and got into music: “ask any guy why he learned to play guitar and get into a band, and they’ll tell you it was to attract the girls, and if they don’t, they’re lying”. It has been my observation that he is mostly right on that.
Music is still a mystery to me, and I am fascinated that babies are born with music and natural rhythm inside of them. My grandsons have bopped to the music since they were a few months old. No one has ever been able to explain the reason for this phenomenon to me. Or similarly, why do all humans find various combinations of sounds pleasing, and others not? The best explanation I have found is Brian Wilson’s belief that “music is God’s voice”, and that “music serves a higher, healing purpose.” I also believe Brian is a musical genius.
The Torkays were together from 1961 through 1963, though it seemed much longer, as it was a defining point of my life. It was started by lead guitarist Jim Aguilar when he advertised in the Marion, Indiana newspaper for a lead guitar player. Before that time I had made a demo tape with my friend John Houser, who sang a dance song I had written called “The Bug”. We auditioned it around 1960 at the local record label Claudra, who had a local hit with the band The Jiants. After I called Jim in response to the ad, we met at Venable’s café in Sweetser, Indiana on Monday, January 30, 1961, the beginning of my career. I sheepishly admitted to Jim that I was not a lead player, only rhythm at best, and really I was a singer. He said maybe he could play lead if he had to, and so he did, plus sang lead on a few songs. He came up with the name “The Tor-Kays” from the Fireball’s record “Torquay”, which I believe was our lead-off theme song. Back then, most local bands had an instrumental that they would play to start off the set. We later dropped the hyphen when we recorded, and it became “The Torkays”. Only once did it cause a problem, when someone had mistakenly listed us on the Bennetts Catholic High School in Marion marquee as “The Tur-kays”. It is surprising at the number of recording artists I have since found on small labels using the name Torquays or Torkays.
Our first paying gig was Saturday, April 22nd, 1961 at the Van Buren, Indiana Conservation Club. It was a party to celebrate the 15th birthday of Brenda Rock who I did not know. Her older brother Bill hired us to perform; we were paid $100 total, and got the better part of the deal, considering our talent at the time. Brenda did not particularly like me at first, but a year or so later reluctantly went on a double date so my lead player Jim could date his girlfriend Connie. Brenda said she first thought that I was too quiet and boring off stage, but when she got to know the real me, I won her over, and with a name like “Rock”, I couldn’t resist, and she became my wife on June 17, 1967, and we are still married.
Jim had a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Cherry Sunburst guitar. He told me his previous player had bought a matching one, serial number 0-1485, and I proceeded to buy it from the other musician, Terry Farr. Wish I still had it, as they are worth unbelievable amounts. Guitar Center told me they set the record at $410,000 but most sell “only” in the $200k range. When I got out of music I traded it to my second band, The Daze, lead player John Asher for a little Epiphone 6-string which I still have. At the time the Les Pauls’ were not that popular, as they were heavy. That’s one reason they are so rare today, I think less than 2,000 were made 1958-1960. Plus, I remember them costing about $325 new, a lot of money back then, especially when I was earning 65¢ an hour at Custer’s Last Stand drive-in.
Gibson had an amplifier division, which made an amp with reverb, but not sold for guitars. The salesman at the local music store Butler’s, Wayne Stroup, was also the musician’s union local rep. He sold Jim this accordion amp, and it was the first with reverb or any kind of special effects that I had seen. It was called a Maestro made by Gibson. It looked like a triangle with the front flattened out and was tweed. I think it also had tremolo on it, and we both played through it. Later Gibson made a separate spring reverb box to run a guitar through, and I still have that.
In the beginning, Jim and I were the only ones in the band that became The Torkays on Stacy Records. The first version of the band also included Phil Kelch, the other lead singer (deceased) and Mike Herring who played bongos and sang background and most importantly had a wonderful grandmother Florence who let us practice at her house. Later that first year, Mike dropped out and was replaced by drummer Rocky Hall, and singer Frank Aguilar, brother of Jim. For a very short time, singer Bob McVay (deceased) joined us. He later became one of the early and best Elvis impersonators. Nearly all the performances by the Torkays were in Grant County or surrounding counties. Mostly we played local high schools or adult clubs like the American Legion, Eagles, Moose, and VFW. There was a neat little place we played often on a second floor in Peru, Indiana, my birthplace, called Mom and Pops Danceland.
One memorable evening was when we played either the Eagles or the American Legion in Fairmount. During the break a man came up and asked if I could join him at a table, that Adeline Nall liked my singing and wanted to meet me. Well, I sat down with this elderly lady having no idea who she was. Later she became semi-famous, as she was James Dean’s high school drama coach and had a profound influence on him, and I guess all Dean fans knew that. I asked her questions about the actor, and she said that yes, she thought he was extremely gifted and would succeed. I admit it was (and is) an ego booster to think that the person who thought Dean had talent, thought I did too! Many of us in entertainment constantly need our confidence reinforced – and I always kept the little Adeline Nall comment tucked in the back of my mind when I needed it.
One of the most popular places was the local Paramount movie theater. On Saturday nights they started having what they called “Jam Sessions” before the movie, and they were very successful. They would have 3 bands come in and play, and we did get paid. Most of the “rock” bands were older and were mostly carry over from country and western. They were much better than the Torkays, but we did audition and the theater barely hired us, taking a chance. We all put the word out and we packed the front rows with our friends, and their enthusiasm spread to the whole theater. We had Jim’s sister-in-law make us some beautiful baby blue satin jackets. The first night Jim had us all stand with our backs to the audience as the curtain was raised. We stood that way for half of the first song, and when all the kids were screaming loudly, (which was good, because you couldn’t hear us too well) we turned around. No doubt the old pros in the other bands had a bit of resentment and were scratching their heads. Jim was a brilliant promoter and didn’t even realize it – and neither did I at the time.
Playing the jam sessions led to a key event in my life. It sounds like a poorly written script, but it is true. The week before we played one of the jam sessions, a girl who was an acquaintance had been at home very ill for a couple of weeks. A group of us were at a local hangout restaurant, and decided we should visit her. So 5 or six of us hopped into Jim’s car and went to see her. Afterwards, we returned to the restaurant and we each went home. In the car sitting beside me and someone else in the backseat was a female high school classmate. Remember I said this sounds like a poor script? Well I was on stage singing a hit song of the day, “I’ve Had It” by the Bell Notes, and I looked down in the second or third row and saw my girlfriend at the time, Sue Payne, shaking her head yes, and looking rather serious. After the show we always went to the lobby and strutted around, signed autographs and playing the star. Sue wore my high school ring, all wrapped in white angora, There in the lobby with our “fans” all around she took off the ring and threw it at me! I had to crawl around on the floor and retrieve it, not having any idea what was going on. Turns out the classmate who was in the car that went to visit the ill friend, was sitting in the row in front of Sue and was bragging to her friend that she had dated me the week before! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the classmate on the side with a horrified look on her face. I pleaded with her to tell Sue the real story, but I guess she wanted to save face with her friends, and said “what are you trying to do – make me out a liar?”. The classmate was a real sweet and quiet girl in all other respects, but another life lesson learned about not knowing what people might do when backed into a corner. I remember every word – some things you just don’t forget.
I was real bummed out, as I really liked Sue. I didn’t feel like singing for three weeks, and Jim was concerned about the band. He tried to tell Sue the real story, but she said that he would just lie for me (which he would have). For Jim to date and take his girlfriend Connie to Elwood where we were playing at the Moose lodge, he needed me along to double date. That is when I agreed to just put someone in the back seat along for the ride, and that was Brenda, my wife. Sue went on to marry Mike Herring, who was in the band for a short while at the very beginning, and was a teddy bear of a guy and very nice. The four of us got together last year, and all these years Sue did not know the real story. I think of that fateful life-changing event every time I hear Garth Brook’s song “(Thank God for) Unanswered Prayers”. We are both still married so I guess it worked out well for everyone that my prayers at the time were not answered.
I remember playing at my Oak Hill High School Sock Hop after a basketball game in 1961, which was cool and changed my wallflower image around school overnight. I had competed in the boy’s ensemble and mixed ensemble choir competitions at the state level and we won gold. However, I also got my only “F” in high school in choir! I worked part time at the local drive-in, Custer’s Last Stand, and had to miss practice or get fired. I missed practice and Miss Snider gave me an “F” even though I was good enough to help win the gold. I remember my mom appealing to Principal Jones who agreed it was unfair, but couldn’t change it. That was a good life lesson though. It motivated me to “show ‘em”, and if I had everything easy I’m not so sure how driven I would have been to succeed. It also taught me to have empathy for those who aren’t born with a silver spoon but are trying. This is not a patriotic statement, but it really is true that in the USA you can accomplish about anything you set your mind to if you have enough perseverance. So it was especially gratifying to play at my school, and to later hear myself on the radio – which was one of the biggest thrills of my life. I have heard many famous artists say the same thing – there is nothing like that first time driving down the road and hearing your voice coming out of the radio. You just have to smile at the thought that the kid who got an “F” in choir was the only recording artist to come out of Oak Hill! Sometimes life IS fair.
After the Torkays broke up I recorded rock music under the name Keith Murphy and the Daze on the King label in the US, and on the Polydor label in the UK. That release was “Slightly Reminiscent of Her” and “Dirty Ol’ Sam”. The Torkays did not play a role in the Daze other than building my personal music foundation, as they were two completely separate groups, with me being the only commonality. The four Stacy sides were recorded at one session. The Torkays was the name of the band, and I was the lead singer, but never billed separately. Going into the session we thought both the records would be released as “The Torkays”. Jim and I were co-writers on all four songs. Usually Jim would come up with an idea and start the song and I would complete it and wrap up the loose ends. On the country song “I Don’t Like It”, I wrote a chorus for it, but Stacy did not want it to be too good to take attention from “Karate” by the Torkays, so they just had it keep repeating the same tune. Jim had wanted to pitch the tune to Johnny Cash, but Stacy wanted it for a safe “B” side that no one would play. I think “Cindy Lou” might have been a mistake from Stacy’s viewpoint, as they wanted radio to play “Little Loved One”. I believe they thought it was a throw away “B” side song and did not realize it was so good until after it was recorded and hearing the pros at the studio all liking it.
The four sides we recorded were: Stacy 958 “Little Loved One” backed with “(Ah Ha Who?) Cindy Lou!” recorded in February 1963, and released in March. I remember that they asked Jim to call them, and he and I pulled up to a drive up pay phone along the By-Pass in Marion. John Dolan of Stacy told Jim “We are releasing the record with Keith’s name on it. And oh, by the way, we are changing Keith’s name to Keith O’Conner “. “Cindy Lou” is considered by some to be among the last songs of the original rockabilly era, as less than a year later the Beatles would explode on to the scene and change everything. It was also unusual in that it was rare for an organ to be on a rockabilly recording.
The second record was “Karate” backed with “I Don’t like It (But What Can I Do?)” by the Torkays, Stacy 960, released around May 1963. Karate’s claim to fame is that it is the first known rock song that has words and a title dealing with a martial art. I also remember I had to change the word “died” in the song to “cried” at the session, as Stacy did not want to risk not getting it on radio. Shortly after the release, all support for the records was dropped as the label was occupied with their biggest hit Stacy 962, Al Casey’s “Surfin’ Hootenanny” which peaked at #48 in July, 1963. As far as I know, “Karate” was a hit only in Pittsburg.
The final version of the Torkays at the time we made the record, was Jim Aguilar, Frank Aguilar, me, and a recent drummer, Richie Niverson (deceased). Jim was the oldest member of the band, and the driving force to get us gigs and a record contract. Let me provide a little history. We wanted to “make a record” as most bands did. But unlike most of the bands in the area who were waiting to be discovered, we made a tape of some of our cover songs, and Jim and I went to Nashville and Memphis to try to get a record contract. We were so naïve, that we didn’t know we needed original material! We made a little 3 inch tape of cover songs on a cheap tape recorder. I remember we auditioned for Sun in Memphis, where they listened but politely turned us down. The other one I remember was the impressive walnut-paneled office of Decca in Nashville. It was managed by a businessman in a suit. He put our little tape on this sophisticated recorder, and strange sounds came out of it. We had not bothered to erase the other side of the tape, and his fancy machine would only play the complete tape, including the other side backwards! He acted disgusted, said “I can’t play this thing” and tossed the tape back at us. We quickly left the room, and if we had tails, they would have been tucked between our legs.
The Tennessee trip taught us that we needed to become songwriters. So Jim and I went back to Indiana and started writing to see who could come up with songs. We co-wrote the songs by usually one of us bringing in a song, and the other one taking it and adding to it. The next trip was to Chicago. After a few rejections, we walked into Stacy Records. It was part of a large manufacturing company, Gaylord Industries, and Jim’s dad had invented “bobby pins” and other hair accessories. Jim Gaylord started the record company because he wanted to record his own singing, and it was in existence from 1959 through 1964. Jim Gaylord was tight when it came to money, but completely honest and fair. He actually produced the first retractable hardtop auto, the Gaylord. I remember when we left the Nashville recording studio, he calculated the mileage Jim’s 56 Mercury would get, the number of miles home, the price of gas, and that is exactly the amount he gave us to get back home!
Jim and I walked in to the Stacy offices in Chicago late in 1962, and were able to play our tape for the manager, John Dolan. The song that got us the contract was “Little Loved One”, a teen tragedy ballad about a marriage, and the girl is killed in a car wreck on the way home from the honeymoon. Dolan listened and kept shaking his head side to side, and saying “it’s so bad it’s good”. In fact a few radio stations were reluctant to play it because it was “too morbid”. When I sang it in public I discovered the power of music, as girls would cry. I remember one aunt who would cry every time it was played. I also remember an aunt that tried to talk to me about forgetting this rock and roll thing and to prepare for a real job. This was before I got the contract. Afterwards her kids were getting my autograph to take to school, and she was telling me “I always knew you would make it”. Another life lesson; you get a lot more support after you accomplish something, than before. The contract was agreed to late in 1962, the year I graduated from Oak Hill high school. It was signed at my parent’s home on Thursday, January 17, 1963, with all the other parents present since we were underage. John Dolan took a train down from Chicago to meet with us. I still have his letter thanking my parents for using their home.
We recorded the two-hour session in Nashville, I believe in the Columbia Studio. I recall that I did no more than two or three takes for each song. Many of the Nashville greats they called the “A” team were on the record, including a Nashville drummer who replaced our drummer after a couple of tries, despite our protests. Their credits really are too numerous to mention, but I would like to list all who were on the record:
· Cliff Parman – Arranger and conductor, with many credits including Roy Orbison, Connie Francis, Bobby Vinton, and he wrote “Pretend”. I also remember that they introduced me to Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves, who recorded on the Lenox label either right before me or right after, with Parman as the arranger.
· Gordon Stoker – Background vocalist, known as the leader of the Jordanaires who backed Elvis on record and in films for many years.
· Kelso Herston – Guitar and banjo, on numerous records including Jerry Lee Lewis, and was the musical director for the hit TV Show “Hee Haw”.
· Jerry Kennedy – Guitar, perhaps Bass, Also CMA Hall of Fame producer and record executive. He played the guitar licks on such classics as “Pretty Woman”, Harper Valley PTA”, “Stand By Your Man”, and was on Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” album and Elvis and Ringo recordings.
· Hargus “Pig” Robbins – Two time CMA instrumentalist of the year and Hall of Fame member, his credits include nearly every country music star, as well as Bob Dylan, Paul Anka, John Denver, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Neil Young with whom he toured. “Pig” was blind and I remember the band running through a song, and the second time he would join in and nail it!
· Willie Ackerman – Drums, played on numerous Nashville recordings such as Willie Nelson and George Jones, and was the “Hee Haw” TV drummer.
· Priscilla Ann Hubbard – Background vocalist, on many records including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
· Margie Singleton – Background vocalist and duet on “I Don’t Like It”, she had hit records on her own and as a duet partner with George Jones and Faron Young. She joined the Grand Ole Opry the same year of my record. I remember she chewed gum like crazy all the time she recorded. On the duet she had a part that answered me with a highly echoed “Baby”. Back then they used an actual echo chamber. It was a free-standing cylinder beside me and she stood inside, with a square hole cut out so she could see me.
· This “A” team was often on the same records. According to Billboard magazine, the song “Walk On By” by Leroy Van Dyke was the number one hit song in country chart history. Artists on that record that were on mine included Robbins, Kennedy, Herston, Singleton and Ackerman.
Members of the Torkays who were on the records were Jim Aguilar on rhythm guitar playing his 1960 Les Paul, Frank Aguilar on background vocals, including talking lead-offs on Cindy Lou and Karate, and me on lead vocals of course.
You might be able to imagine the pressure I felt, as a barely 18 year old in the presence of the “A” team and all the session money riding on it! The day we were to record, I was standing on the balcony of the Holiday Inn in the cold weather, when John Dolan came out with a horrified look, whipped his scarf off and put it around me, and yelled something to the effect that that I couldn’t catch a cold, they had money invested in me, and I had to be able to sing. I do distinctly remember all the musicians treating me nice and putting me at ease, particularly Margie Singleton and Gordon Stoker. I also remember that Kelso was practically reclining laying back in a chair when he played the leads on the banjo and the guitar on “Karate”, and wondering how he could play like that.
The central US east of the Mississippi, and the northeast was playing “Little Loved One”, which landed us the contract and was supposed to be the “A” side. In April 1963 it was in the top 10 on the WABY Albany, New York list, and number 16 on the WISH list in Indianapolis. I appeared on TV in Lafayette, Muncie and Indy and did promo work there. Meanwhile the South was playing “Cindy Lou”. Jim Aguilar and I made a promotional tour to New Orleans, where I was on TV with the Champs of “Tequila” and “Limbo Rock” fame, and the record was a “Pick Hit” on Jim Russell’s “Louisiana and Mississippi Official Top Forty” list. I lip-synced the records whenever I was on TV as the band could not duplicate the record. “Cindy Lou” was especially difficult, as it starts with my talking part “Hey, we got a new girl in our school today!” and Frank replying “Yeah man, what’s her name?”, so there was no cue to go by.
Jim drove his 56 Mercury from Indiana to New Orleans. On the way we stopped in Memphis to see Graceland. The guard, a cousin of Elvis, saw our Torkays sign on our back window, and took us up to the front door to take pictures! He had a pink and white stripped Jeep that was in an Elvis movie. Elvis was away filming “Girls, Girls, and Girls”. The New Orleans promo trip was impressive to this 18 year old. We stayed in the Prince Conti Hotel, which was just vacated by Judy Garland, and we were guests at the premier of the movie “How the West Was Won”. I think it was the first time I had eaten real fancy food too. I still remember going to the Baby Grand club and watching the fabulous Esquerita (Eskew Reeder) perform the best version of “Green Door” that I have ever heard. I was under age, but I got to go in – my first taste of the perks of being a celebrity for my 15 minutes of fame.
The split play hurt the record, and this was the reason they often paired a good song with a bad one in those days. In addition to owning Stacy records – really a rich man’s hobby, Jim Gaylord owned Gayla hair products which was an advertiser on American Bandstand, and he had dinner with Dick Clark. Clark said he would have me on if I could crack the top ten in at least three markets. I think they were strict because of the payola scandals about that time. Stacy said I made it in two; close but no cigar. I had heard that Columbia had offered $25,000 for our contract, but I don’t know if it was true. It could have been, as Gaylord, being rich, couldn’t be enticed by money. He even built his own automobile company that made an expensive sports car – The Gaylord.
I got to know Jim again in the last few years of his life, and do think he was a mechanical genius, with several patents to his name. I liked him a lot.
Oh, in case some future historian gets confused by the names, I should add that Stacy thought both records would hit and they wanted to own two acts. To make sure no one caught on, they changed our songwriter credits on The Torkays record to Angus (Aguilar) and O’Neil (Murphy). “Karate”, was a novelty rocker and the first time a vocal had used martial arts as a theme. The other side was a country flavored song, “I Don’t Like It”, in which Kelso Herston played banjo. It was unusual to put a rocker and a country song on the same 45 back then.
As the record was hitting the charts, I was about to get drafted. Neither I, nor Stacy who had invested a lot in us, were keen on my going to Viet Nam. I enrolled in the closest college, Marion (now Indiana Wesleyan University) and got a deferment. It meant that I had to practice with the band, play gigs, and still study enough not to flunk out. This was to be the routine the rest of my career through 1968, when I was sent up for my physical, but did not pass due to a congenital hearing problem, as I am practically deaf in my right ear. I have never complained that Viet Nam might have cut short my career. Jim’s cousin Joey Guerro, a happy and funny guy with a smile always on his face, helped us carry our equipment. He was drafted and died in Viet Nam. That puts things in the proper perspective. Losing a career was nothing at all.
After the lack of support from Stacy due to Al Casey’s well-deserved success, and the understandable disappointment of the band members that the company had headlined my name, the band kind of lost interest and broke up at the end of 1963. Jim and I threw a band together for New Year performances the next couple of years, and that was about it. I don’t believe the other Torkays were with any full time bands after that. If you have ever seen the Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do” about a band called the Wonders who come from a small town and have one hit and break up – I so identified with that movie. Anyone who has ever played in a local band and had a record should see that movie.
In the late 80’s as I was researching the Stacy label, I got in touch with Gaylord at his gated home in Phoenix. I recalled to Jim that he was the first millionaire I ever met at the time we did the Nashville sessions, and he laughed. I recalled how tight he was with money when we made the record and he corrected me and said he was frugal, but did not disagree. He was a sweet man, and one of the smartest people I have met. We remained friends until his death in 1995 from the effects of muscular dystrophy. He wanted me to have his white 1976 convertible VW Beetle he bought new and preserved. Due to estate issues his wife Bonnie had to sell it to me, but at a very low price. Since I probably know as much about Stacy records as anyone on the planet, in the 90’s I was asked to do the liner notes for an Al Casey reissue CD by Ace Records of England. I also assisted with the notes for an Al Casey vinyl album reissue by Sundazed records a few years ago.
Jim and Frank Aguilar are still alive and well in Marion, Indiana. I see them occasionally and we are still friends. Jim was best man at my wedding in 1967.
Looking back, since half of the band was Aguilar’s, we were probably one of the first somewhat “Hispanic” rock bands in the Midwest! The word “Hispanic” was not in use at that time, it was just “Mexican”. At the time none of us ever thought about it, we were just all musicians and friends. The same way that Ritchie Valens was my favorite singer and I didn’t even know he was Mexican American. He was an influence on me, as I sang Donna and people would tell me I sounded like him.
I recently talked to Frank and he reminded me of the time when we got a police escort out of town. It seemed a group of boys were causing problems as we wrapped up our gig. It was likely a combination of jealousy of the girls liking us, and the fact we had two “Mexicans” in our band, and since I was with them, that meant that I was no better than they were. Now the ironic part, is that Jim and Frank were completely American and did not speak Spanish – I was the one who took Spanish in school and could speak more than they could! Well, we drove out of town and the police escort ended, and we stopped at a diner, when a car pulled up and someone broke our antennae off. We decided we weren’t that hungry after all.
In 2002 I was inductee number 200 into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame on the strength of “Cindy Lou” which is collected worldwide, as I have heard from collectors in Sweden, Germany, Holland, the UK, and just last month from Austria. I felt that Jim and Frank Aguilar also should be inducted, as Jim was the driving force that got us on record and requested the Hall to include them. Bob Timmers and the Hall were very nice and made an exception and listed them as inductees 200A. I guess all of us Rockabilly people owe Bob a debt of gratitude to get the Hall going and give this genre of music the attention it deserves. It is a true American art form. The Rockabilly Hall and I discovered each other when I was looking for my old Stacy Records label mates Al Casey and Hank Davis and came across the Hall when I googled their names!
After the Torkays broke up, I concentrated on staying in college, as Viet Nam got uglier and friends were dying. For a couple of years I kind of coached and loosely managed some other local bands who were friends of mine, such as the Noblemen. I also hung out at an Indianapolis studio operated by a guy who wanted to be my manager, Jan Hutchins. He had produced Ral Donner’s early hits, and had something to do with “Stay” by Maurice Williams. He met me at the most popular local teen venue, the Indiana Roof in Indy. His artist, Rick Fortune, appeared with me. Rick had a great record on the Ran-Dee label called “Sand In My Hair”, and “Running Wild”. When Jan found I had no manager, and we had secured the record contract on our own, he was all over me to sign me up. I never did, but I did visit his recording studio and sing some background. One song, that he gave me the rights to, in exchange for my studio work, was written by Huff and Linton who wrote the hit “Easier Said Than Done”. They gave Jan the song in return for studio time he had given them. The song was “With Soul Now”, I sang lead and it was supposed to be released on the Ran-Dee label out of Chicago but never was. I do have it on tape. The best record to come out of there was the great version of “In The Still of The Night” by the Reflections on his Tigre label. I finally got tired of waiting for him to record me, and pursued getting another band, which became Keith Murphy and the Daze on King records out of Cincinnati. Louie Innis, old time country singer and writer, was manager of King and got us on the label.
Jim and Frank Aguilar are doing well. Jim never married, and Frank is married to his high school sweetheart Mary Pickens, have children and grandchildren, and they live in Marion, IN.
I have retired from a management position at M&M Mars, where I helped start Skittles and Starburst in Waco, TX before transferring to the home office in New Jersey. I now do part time market research consulting with my own company Lollipop Research (www.lollipopresearch.com). After graduating from Marion College, I attended night school for seven years and got an MBA in business from Indiana University. I am still happily married to that girl that we played for at her 15th birthday party – Brenda Rock Murphy. We have two daughters: a teacher in Amarillo, TX and an artist in Kansas City, MO. Five grandsons Jake, Max, Ty, Alex, and Brad and one granddaughter Ellie. Maybe we will get another rocker out of the bunch! And yes, I still love rock and roll.
Ironically, these days my wife is now the “famous” one in the family. She is known as the “Candy Queen” and she and her candy and cake sculptures have been on national television, such as Rosie O’Donnell, The View, Martha, and many others. You can see her creations and the celebs and a couple of pictures of me at www.brendamurphy.com.
I’m glad that the Hall asked me for my biography and I thank you for getting me motivated to put it down on paper. Just the other day I was telling my wife that I was one degree separated from Elvis, as Gordon Stoker sang on my record. She said I need to get it down on paper, as she did not know most of the history. It was one of the best periods of my life, and I realized it at the time – it was just too much of a fun way to earn a living to last!
Posted September, 2008 - Rockabilly Hall of Fame