This week,
Sonny West
will be Walking Tall

Courtesy: Abilene Reporter-News
September 11, 2016

An Abilene resident since 2000, West will be inducted Thursday into the West Texas Walk of Fame in Lubbock, no small honor. Think Mac Davis, Waylon Jennings, Delbert McClinton, Tanya Tucker and even Hoss Cartwright himself, Dan Blocker. It's a startling deep who's who list of folks hailing from a 150-mile radius of Lubbock.

Never heard of Sonny West? You've heard his music.

Back in the 1950s, this aspiring musician born near Shallowater wrote a couple of tunes that have stood the test of time: "Oh Boy" and "Rave On."

Both were recorded by Buddy Holly, the first Walk of Fame honoree and the inspiration for these awards.

"Oh Boy" reached No. 10 on the U.S. charts and No. 3 in Britain in 1958.

Also hitting in 1958 was "Rave On," which got to only No. 37 in the U.S. but to No. 5 in the U.K.

"Rave On" had people's attention before Buddy made it his own. In the Feb. 17, 1958, edition of Billboard magazine, Atlantic took out a quarter-page ad that featured Sonny's photo and the headline Out of Texas, a bright new star." "The B-side was "Call on Cupid."

Forty-six years later, Rolling Stone raved about "Rave On," ranking it No. 154 among its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."

Joining Joe Sonny West as inductees will be accordion whiz Ponty Bone (Joe Ely, Squeezetones), The Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmy Dale Gilmore) and opera singer Terry Cook.

There are more than 90 honorees in this longtime recognition project by Civic Lubbock Inc. The Walk of Fame is located in the Buddy Holly Center.

"It is a big deal. A big honor for me," West said last week, during a lunch at Bogie's. Joining us for sandwiches was perhaps West's No. 1 fan, local music historian Joe Specht. Joe will be introducing Sonny at the induction ceremony.

"Way overdue," Joe said.

West was part of a Levelland-based band that played the Big D Jamboree, the Bamboo Club in Lubbock and on "Sunday Party," a radio show on KDAV, where Sonny first met Buddy Holly.

Who knew that a few months ahead, Sonny's song "All My Love" would catch ears and become Buddy's follow-up single, retitled "Oh Boy," to his No. 1 smash "That'll Be the Day."

Sonny said fans were "crazy for the sound" that became Holly's trademark.

He teamed again with Bill Tilghman to write "Rave On," which Sonny recorded in November 1957.

Recording label owner Norman Petty offered it to Buddy, who recorded it in New York City in January 1958 and hit the charts with it that May.

Buddy, looking for the songs that would amplify his energetic sound — country meets what some were calling "bop," took a shine to them. They are among a list classics that spanned just 18 months and inspired artists and groups, including the Beatles.

This Sonny West-Buddy Holly thing was going places.

With sadness, Sonny remembers Buddy, both as a groundbreaking artist and because, well, who knows how many other collaborations they might have had. Buddy died Feb. 3, 1959, in a plane crash with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. He was 23.

Sonny has come to terms with his career. Call it almost-famous. The breaks (aka fame and fortune) maybe didn't fall his way but there remains great appreciation for Sonny. Why else would he be inducted this week?

"I didn't hit the big time because I didn't have many connections," he said. "I put all my eggs in one basket and they got broke."

But it started with such promise.

Sonny recorded "Rock-Ola Ruby," with "Sweet Rockin' Baby" on the flip side, for Petty's Nor-Va-Jak label in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1956. Petty soon would be recording Buddy there.

Back then, Sonny said you could cut a record on an acetate disc for $20 to $25.

"It was poor quality," he said. But you had a record.

Joe said music fans in the know call this Sonny West recording "the best double-sided rockabilly disc of all time." Rockabilly became a sort of bridge between country and what would be called rock 'n' roll.

The 45 rpm record, of which Joe has a repro (bootleg), IDs the artist as Sonee West, an odd misspelling and yet another twist in the artist's life. Joe said an original copy was going for $2,500 on eBay not long ago.

Another classic is Sonny's version of "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," a song written back then by another Texan, Freddy Fender, who had a national top-10 hit when he brought it back decades later.

Sonny now is 79. Last week, Buddy Holly fans gathered in Lubbock to observe what would've been his 80th birthday. Time marches on for the musical pioneers who still are living, and honoring them is only right.

When Sonny pulls out one of the guitars he made himself and starts singing, it's the 1950s all over again. Abilenians have been treated to his music before — he played at downtown events several times.

For years, he'd venture to Europe, where American roots-style music is treasured. Fans there were thrilled to see and hear original artists perform their hit songs.

His music in 2002 was compiled into a retrospective called "Sweet Rockin' Rock-Ola Ruby" by Roller coaster Records in the U.K., and he recorded "Big City Woman" with rockabilly musicians in Spain in 2010. He continued to perform from Lubbock to across Europe until recently.

Sonny otherwise didn't venture far most of his life, living in Texas, New Mexico and, lastly, Arizona. His wife, Dottie, chose to move here to get a job in the health care field and to be close to Lubbock.

Sonny 60 years ago was on the cusp but, as it often happens in entertainment, he stayed there.

"I'm sort of a footnote in rock 'n' roll history, but I wouldn't even be a footnote if I hadn't had the drive and ambition," West in 2008 told the music magazine Now Dig This.