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by Jerry Key

Jerry Lee Key and Larry Carlton Key were born in small towns outside of Waco, Texas in the late 1930s. Our parents, Paul L. and Leeola M. Key, moved my brother and I along with our two older sisters, Wanda and Peggy, to Salinas, California in 1940. After several years our parents moved the family to the San Francisco Bay area.

At the age of thirteen, I began learning how to play the guitar under the instruction of my uncle James Tutt, an accomplished musician. After many years of me practicing the guitar, my brother and I started singing and writing songs together.

One day a neighbor heard us practicing because we were so loud and our window was open. He came over and listened for a while. It so happened that he was an executive at K.R.O.W. Radio Station in Oakland; the largest country radio station in the Bay area. He asked if we would be interested in auditioning for a man named Black Jack Wayne, a disc jockey at K.R.O.W. Radio, band leader and promoter of music all around the Bay area.

Although we were rock 'n' roll singers, we did get an audition with Mr. Wayne. After the audition with Black Jack Wayne, he hired us to join his country band as rock 'n' roll performers. That began our career.

We would perform every Friday night at a large dance hall in Haywood, CA. Saturday at 5 pm we would sing on the One-Hour Black Jack Wayne Television Show on channel 2, San Francisco. Then at 8:30 pm every Saturday night we would sing at another large dance hall called The Dream Bowl in Napa, CA. We would open for all the top country acts of that time, such as: George Jones, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, Gordon Terry, Freddy Hart and many others.

Black Jack Wayne gave us the name The Cobra Brothers during this time. As the Cobra Brothers we had a large following of rock 'n' roll fans in the Bay area. Mr. Wayne produced our first record "Everybody's Looking" and "Night Time" on the Black Jack label. The record did well locally.

As time went on we started recording in Hollywood, CA under our name The Key Brothers. For a producer named Johnny Colona, we recorded at the United Artists Studios in Hollywood - songs included: "Lu Lu's Party" and "My Baby Doll" on Gardena Records and "Sherry Ann" and "My Jenny Lee" on Magnet Records. All "A" sides received four-star ratings in Billboard magazine with moderate success nationwide.

A few months later, we were performing at a rock 'n' rock show in Sacramento, CA. The headliner was Bill Black and his Combo. Bill Black asked us to sing with him and group that night, and the next day he asked to hear some of our recordings. After listening to our songs, Bill told us if we would come back to Memphis, TN he would record us in his studio, using his combo and that he had his own record company.

In about four months we made the trip to Memphis where Bill Black had us checked into the Peabody Hotel and that night took us on a tour of the clubs in Memphis where we saw several top singing acts.

The next day we recorded "Hey Little Girl" and "Rockin' Voices". The songs were released on Cimmaron Records. "Hey Little Girl" received a four-star rating from Billboard magazine with moderate success nationwide in sales.

During the following years, until the untimely death of Bill in 1964, we had been back and forth to Memphis by trains and bus several times to record. Then we moved to Memphis where we were recording and writing songs.

One week we made a trip to Nashville and took some of our songs to Floyd Cramer. Floyd listened to the tapes and asked if we could come back that evening and let his partner hear our songs. So that evening we went back to see Floyd and to our surprise, Grady Martin was Floyd's partner. Grady listened to our tapes, then he asked if we had written all of our songs in our career. We told him that we had. Grady then asked if we were signed with Bill Black as songwriters. We told him that we were under contract as singers only with Bill Black. Grady told Floyd to sign us up and said that we would need to move to Nashville.

So we were signed as songwriters for Cramart Publishing Co. Grady and Floyd furnished us with a nice office in their office complex, recording equipment and a salary each week to just write songs. Every day that was our job, to come up with new songs. Then in the evening, Grady and Floyd would listen and play along sometimes to what we had written.

Grady, being the greatest guitar player, and Floyd, the great piano man, made our job real interesting. I learned from Grady on the guitar and he told people how I wrote the most unique tunes he had heard.

During our time with Floyd and Grady, we wrote several songs for country artist Billy Grammer, such as: "I'll Leave the Porchlight A Burning" and "Lonesome Life" - and for rhythm and blues artist Joe Henderson with "A Woman and a Bottle of Wine" - and many others.

We would record our dubbing sessions at Bradley Studios in Nashville with Grady, Floyd, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, etc. backing us up. Through our career we have had the privilege of some fame and enjoyed a lot of good company along the way, such as: Bill Black, Grady Martin, Floyd Cramer, Black Jack Wayne, Bob Moore, The Wilburn Brothers and many others.

Original Releases

May 25, 1959
Black Jack BJ-107
As: The Cobra Brothers

March 7, 1960
Magnet 701
As: The Cobra Brothers

May 2, 1960
Gardena 203
As: The Key Brothers with
Scott Johnson Orch.

October 31, 1960
Magnet 119
As: The Key Brothers

October 2, 1961
Cimmarron 4051
As: The Key Brothers

February 15, 1962
Gil-Key 1002
As: The Key Brothers

June 6, 1962
Gambit 11072
As: The Key Brothers

December 3, 1962
Billy Grammer
Song Writers: The Key Brothers

July 7, 1963
(ABC Paramount 10786)
(Bandstand USA 1021)
Leroy Daniel
Song Writers: The Key Brothers

September 8, 1963
(Bandstand USA 1021)
Louis 6803 Records
Ray Clark
Song Writers: The Key Brothers

Posted February 2003

Rockabilly Hall of Fame