In the December 1997 issue of American Music Magazine, we had the pleasure of telling the story of Bobby Wayne, the rockabilly originator from Spokane, Washington State. One of Bobby's best friends, who resides in the same city, is singer/songwriter Don Weise, whose career also stretches back to the days of the rockin' fifties. Don has kindly consented to tell his story for the first time and so it is with unconcealed pride, we relate the saga of one of the guys who was/is so important to the music we all cherish - rock 'n' roll.
Don was born on February 28, 1936 in the town of Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and was one of seven children. Many of the family have a musical bent with two of his brothers being singers/guitarists and indeed one of his nieces is currently based in Nashville writing songs with Roy Orbison's son. However due to the advent of World War II, the family gradually moved to Twin Falls, Idaho in 1942. It was not long before the allure of music started to hit Don and indeed come the tender age of ten, he commenced composing songs. Moreover when he was twelve years old, he acquired his first guitar and was soon a "pickin' and a grinin". Four years later he was leading his own four piece acoustic band, The String Kings.I was on rhythm guitar, Jim Hogan on lead guitar, Cliff Bole was also on guitar and Dusty on upright dog-house bass and we played country, pop, blue-grass and a little blues at dances held on Friday and Saturday nights in music halls, at barn dances and in school gymnasiums. Jim Hogan played Chet Atkins style real well. Come eighteen years of age, Don packed his bags and relocated along with brother John to Reno, Nevada where he continued his musical education on the nevada night club circuit for two years.
My brother John and I moved to Reno to play as a duo. We met a guitar picker by the name of Billy from Tennessee who played nice lead guitar and so we formed a trio. Billy played with us for about three months. However, Jim hogan played a lot with John and I in Nevada and together we played the Nevada circuit for around eighteen months. Jim got married and moved back to Twin Falls and then my brother John took a day job in Reno which left myself working as a solo.
Weise became especially involved in song-writing, audiences and other artists really appreciating his ability. Towards the end of this period, Don was booked as a single into a residency at the Mystery Lounge, of Ely, Nevada and this was around the time that the music of Presley, Little Richard and other rockers started to make their first impact. This turned the head of our boy and set him off in the direction of this "new" music with the result that both his performances and his song writing became rock 'n' roll and rockabilly orientated. He was billed as Don Weise, The Wild Man.I would jump higher than Elvis, scream louder than Little Richard and shimmy 'n' shake all over the place. The crowds would go crazy and I'd think to myself "wow! This is really something". I would be soaking wet with perspiration from the top of my head down to my shoes from exerting all that energy. Many in the audience would be similarly wet. Many of the other entertainers from adjacent night clubs would drop by to see this wild man going crazy with unbelievable energy. I can recall that Hank Thompson and some of the members of his band came around to see and hear my show. Bud Issacs also visited, he was a steel guitar player and was the first to record the "string puller sound". Bud was on the Webb Pierce recording of "There Stands The Glass" and remembered when he played on that, he was also on another 74 songs in the same week! But also recorded an album for RCA Victor titled "Man Of Steel" which contained the great instrumental "Bud's Bounce".
At the end of his two years on this circuit, Don met a kind old black gentleman by the name of Taps who was a great solo tap dancer. He told Weise that he was going home to Los Angeles, that he thought that Don could make good in the City of Angels and that Weise was welcome to go to L.A. with him. The pair set off.
We arrived in L.A. around 3:00 a.m. in the morning and I got a hotel room on the corner of Pico and Fieroa. Taps told me that he would call back around noon time which he did and explained much of the ins and outs of the wheeling and dealing in L.A. Taps then left me to go to the Palomino club where he appeared when not on the road. The Palomino closed it's doors just a little while back. That afternoon I caught a bus to Hollywood and was intending to find Hollywood Music Row. Across from where I was sitting on the bus was a young black man with a stack of music on his lap. I enquired as to where he was going and he replied "Specialty Records". I said "That's Where I Am going also" and so I followed him to the office of Specialty records located at 8708 Sunset Boulevard. When there they auditioned my newly found friend first and I waited nervously in an upstairs room. After about a quarter of an hour, I was summoned to the audition room and that was where I met Art Rupe and Robert "Bumps" Blackwell for the first time. There was just the three of us in the room.
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 a lot and that they would sign me to a contract immediately. However, they were going immediately to New Orleans to record Little Richard and wold be back around ten days time. Art paid me a retainer fee to hold me until they returned.
This was in March 1956 and as Don had only just turned 20 years of age and was thus still a minor, the contract had to be signed by his mother. Weise was so elated with the turn of events that he wanted to catch up with Taps and thank him and so he headed off to the Palomino Club. When he arrived there that night, Taps suggested that he might like to get up on the stage and perform some of his songs. This was music to his ears and after giving a great rockin' delivery, the manager came over to Don and told him that he thought he was great and enquired if he would like to perform three shows a night at the club.
This was great, I had a recording contract and a job, both secured on my first day in L.A. What more could a young man ask for? I was at the Palomino for about ten weeks doing three fifteen minute shows six nights per week and in that period I was backed up by three different bands. Each band played two nights a week and I was backed by all three bands, each of which consisted of five to six members. 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 hard core rockabilly. Those guys would frequently appear on Cliffie Stone's "Hometown Jamboree", plus "Town Hall Party" and Riverside Rancho Jamboree. Most of the stars of these shows, especially "Town Hall Party" and Riverside Rancho Jamboree. Most of the stars of these shows, especially "town Hall Party", would be booked into the Palomino as guest artists or they would stop by, say hi and get up and do 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 also met some of the actors from the old Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies.
I would have been there longer but they found out 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 the "Riverside Rancho Jamboree", Tex William's radio show, the "Town Hall Party", Cliffie Stone's "Home Town Jamboree" and the "Rocket To Stardom" show.
Art Rupe received the signed contract back from Don's mother and he and Weise sat down to discuss details. It was agreed that Don would record four singles and one album per year for five years plus that he would sign an exclusive song-writing contract for Rupe's publishing company Venice Music. To Don, it was a dream come true.
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 my royalties for the sale of my song "Poor boy Paul" - I still get royalties. He also gave me money to live on while I was in Hollywood and he got me into the Musicians Union so that I could work and do shows.
It was also around this time that Weise first met Bobby Wayne and the pair formed a friendship which lasts to this very day. At the time, Bobby was attempting to secure a contract with Capitol Records. Both Don and Bobby concur that they together wrote in excess of a hundred songs within the first few weeks of their linking up. Back at Specialty, Don and Bumps worked almost daily on new songs plus rehearsing and arranging new songs for Don's upcoming recording sessions, the first of which took place on September 10, 1956. Bumps was on piano and Don on guitar. Don recalls on such afternoon in the summer of 1956 when Rupe visited the practice room.
Art and Bumps started to discuss the new movie starring Jayne Mansfield titled "The Girl Can't Help It" and in which Little Richard was of course going to appear. Rupe asked me if I would like a part in the movie and I replied, "Sure, I Guess So". I must not have acted too excited about it as Art never mentioned the subject again. If I had only known what a classic it would become later, I would certainly have shown more enthusiasm. I feel like I really missed out by not being a part of rock 'n' roll history by not getting a part in the film.
Bumps Blackwell became Don's best friend in Hollywood and the pair often got together and "chewed the cud". One of the things that they talked about was Bumps Seattle based travelling band in the forties which included both Quincy Jones and Ray Charles as members. Don also enlightened us that the rather square sounding backing vocalists on Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" which was produced by Bumps for Keen Records after Blackwell had left Specialty in 1957 were none other than members of Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians (famous for "Battle Hymn Of The Republic"). Sadly, there was to be only one recording session for Specialty. Don had gone home for Christmas in 1956 and come 1957 was playing the Garden City night club area of Boise Idaho.
Whilst I was waiting for my records to be released, I had met a pretty little girl in Boise and we got married. Early in 1958, we went back to Hollywood to see Art Rupee but Art and Bumps had parted company.
Bumps was replaced at Specialty by Sonny Bono of later Sonny & Cher fame. Bono also had a solo release under the name of Don Christy on Specialty 672 with "Wearing Black/One Little Answer".
Art introduced me to Sony Bono and said "maybe Sonny understands your style of music better than Bumps". So Sonny and I worked on my songs for a couple of months but really nothing was happening. I think Bono was more interested in promoting his recording career than he was in promoting me.
Weise wrote and recorded in excess of a hundred songs as demos for Venice Music and some of the titles are:
Poor Boy PaulWeise also appeared on several Los Angeles television shows and one such appearance he vividly remembers:
Had A Talk With My Heart
A Woman For A Finger, A Dog For A Toe
Excuse Me Baby I Ain't Ever Gonna Do That Again
Mary Was Having A Ball
Party All Alone Accusing Eyes
Shine Little Star
A So Good Woman
Rockin' Down Right
A New Love On Her Mind
I Really Should Forget
One of my greatest thrills was when I appeared on the "Town Hall Party" in 1958. I had arrived about an hour prior to show time and the show's's producer, and my good friend, Leon Silby (Quincy Snodgrass, guitarist, comic and also the bass player on Jonny Bond orignal Hot Rod Lincoln) told me he had booked Gene Vincent that evening. Both Gene and Leon were from Virginia. I was called out to do my show and as I finished, Gene followed me on-stage. I stood in the wings and watched Gene's show and what a performance he put on! When he came off-stage, I shook his hand and said "Great Show, Gene". He replied, "I Really Liked Your Show, Don". Gene was backed by the house band although he may have had a guitar player with him. Also on the show were Johnny Bond, Tex Ritter, Collins Kids, Gordon Terry, Joe & Rose Maphis, Merle Travis plus Quincy Snodgrass.
When Bobby Wayne and I were writing songs in the fifties, Bobby started to sing "Be Bob A Lula". I told Bobby about doing the show with Gene and that's when Bobby and I wrote "Rock 'n' Boppin' Baby" and "Bop Bop Baby Be Bop". We attempted to contact Gene to see if he wanted to record these songs but were unsuccessful. Don also recalled Gene Davis who has cut some great rockers and country:
Yes, I remember Gene Davis. He billed himself as Gene Davis and The Hollywood Hillbillies. In the early sixties, he was on a television show in L.A. called "Star Route" along with Glen Campbell and others. The show was emceed by the great western movie star Rod Cameron. 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 was going to release his records.
He said send me everything you have recorded but he didn't say anything about the recordings I had already done 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. These were "Jungle Bop". "Lanky Bones", "Never Again" and a second recording of "Poor Boy Paul". Rupe sent back a song-writers contract on "Poor boy Paul". He said it would be a big hit and that they were making 500 single sided 45's as publishers demos and that he was sending them to recording artists all over the world. One was the French rock 'n' roll star Johnny Halliday. We took "Jungle Bop" and "Never Again" from the KGEM recordings and had a few hundred 45s pressed to promote our band in the region. They were on the KGEM label but were not published or numbered. Despite this, the aforementioned "Jungle Bop" developed into a regional juke box hit. Actually 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 1962 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 was a suburb of Boise and was a stretch about two miles long and consisted of wall to wall night-clubs. In 1962, lead guitarist Kenny was drafted into the military and the band broke 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 more of their movies. However, due to a disagreement over publishing rights, the contract was nullified. Bobby was recording for the Seattle based Jerden Records at the time and was really scoring with some big records. As a result, Don started to tour with Wayne and the pair appeared on many shows.
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 Rob erts and the band. Dennis was the other half of the recording group The Hummingbirds, along with Bobby.
Bobby helped Don obtain a recording contract with Jerden Records and he had two releases on the label. These were the 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) - the last mentioned being under the name of Don Robbins.
Although I recorded 50 or 60 songs in the SRC studios, I was never on their label. All the songs I did for Jerden Records were recorded at SRC Studios, Spokane plus many of my publisher demos were cut there. Many of the songs that I wrote for and 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) - this song was co-composed by Bobby and myself. All my Jerden recordings, with the exception of "Poor Boy Paul", were produced by Bobby Wayne - indeed as were all of the Dennis Roberts recordings on Jerden and Sims.
1964 saw Little Richard record Don's song "Poor Boy Paul" which, when released in November 1970, with the 1955 recording of "Wonderin'" on Specialty 699 became an international hit. The German songstress Lisa Fitz also cut "Poor Boy Paul" under the title of "Gedachtnisschwund". The same year (1964) saw Don return to Nevada, but this time Las Vegas and was playing the club circuit in that city when he met up with noted steel guitarist Curly Chalker. As a result the two joined forces in the recording studio for several sessions and one particularly successful song that emanated was the Don Weise song "Let Me Hang Around" which was coupled with "Dry Farm Land" (Lamp Light 1001).
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 Las Vegas and cut three songs. I released two of the songs on a 45 on the Lamp Light Records which was the only release on the label. This disc became very 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. Curly played on all of the early Lefty Frizell hits and was only seventeen when he started out with Lefty. A few years back, I heard that Curly had suffered a stroke, was confined to a wheelchair and had moved back to Nashville.
Weise played the Vegas circuit, with a few side trips to Boise, Phoenix and Los Angeles, up to 1968 appearing with the Curly Chalker Band plus the Charlie Walker outfit.
One of the greatest people I met at the time was a guitar player by the name of Sherill Millette who grew up with Waylon Jennings. He taught Waylon a lot of his string puller licks which Waylon still uses to this day. In 1969 or 1970, Sherill wrote four songs that were recorded for Elvis Presley including "My Little Friend" which was the other side of "Cold Kentucky Rain". Another guy who I met in Los Angeles was Bobby Austin and we played together in Vegas. Bobby wrote "Apartment Number Nine" and "Try A Little Kindness".
The year of 1968 saw a permanent move to Spokane, Washington and Don obtained plenty of work backing up many of the artists appearing in the region plus making appearances in his own right. Naturally he kept right on composing. One club that Weise played, with another local country singer by the name of Earle Moe, 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. Weise made contact with his old friend Bumps Blackwell who agreed to produce the session. Ten songs were cut at a studio located in the Eastern Washington College but only two tracks by Don were issued on a single ("Honky Tonk Hall Of Fame/Is It Really Real". Chelan CSL 1503.)
We recorded ten songs for an album along with Earle Moe, my son DJ and myself. DJ did the recitation on one of the songs which was titled "Jimmy's Prayer" which was coupled with "Love Is Like The Roses" and released on a 45 by Earle Moe (Chelan 1502). Bumps returned to Hollywood after producing the cuts and the four sides were released on the Chelan label out of Hollywood. I don't know what happened between Roy and Bumps and I don't know what happened to the other six sides recorded - I guess that they died with Bumps.
Sadly this was to be the last ever session produced by Robert Bumps Blackwell who shortly thereafter was to contract a fatal dose of pneumonia and died in Whittier, California. Back in 1972, Don deemed that he needed to settle down a bit.I felt like my kids needed to get roots, like going to school in the same place and growing up with the same friends. So I started up an upholstery business doing bar and restaurant furniture - it became very successful. Whenever Bobby Wayne was in town, he would stay with us and help pull staples in the shop. I had song titles that I would think up while I was working. I would have them printed all over the walls. In 1984, we turned the upholstery shop into a restaurant and bar, we now have the reputation for the best chicken in Spokane.
Today, Don and Bobby Wayne are back writing, performing and recording numerous songs that they have written over the years. Between them they have recorded over seventy tracks of original songs, some of which were re-written, some were remastered and some left remaining as they were originally recorded. In the last two years, the duo have written forty new songs. Don is happy and active in the music and bar business in the Spokane area and plays 'n' picks regularly plus makes the occasional visit to the recording studio. In 1996, he had a CD of his recordings and songs issued in 1996 entitled "Poor Boy Paul" (this contains the 1962 version of the title track) and currently is in the process of completing his new CD "Hot Rod Surfin Jungle Boppin Rock 'n' Rollin Boogie songs" titled "We thank him fo his time and patience during the preparation of this article and take our hats off to one of the rock 'n' roll originals.However, the final word has to be that of his friend Bobby Wayne:
Don Weise and myself have been friends for over forty years. We have written hundreds of songs together. We have played hundreds of shows together. Don Weise was there in the beginning. One of the first original rock 'n' roll and rockabilly recording artists in the world. Don Weise and myself have just recently been inducted into the world-wide Rockabilly Hall Of Fame. You can look us up on the Internet if you like at www.rockabillyhall.com - Tony Wilkinson, March 1998
DONE WEISE DISCOGRAPHY
K Gem - Jungle Bop/Poor Boy Paul - 1959
Jerden? - Poor Boy Paul/Walkin' Up A Rainbow - 1963
Jerden? - Big Dan/My Home Town - 1963
Lamp Light 1001/1002 - Let Me Hang Around/Dry Land Farm - 1964
Don Weise Music 501/502 - Reaching For A Rainbow/A Long Long Time - ?
Chelan CSL-1503 - Honky Tonk Hall Of Fame/Is It Really Real - 1976
"Poor Boy Paul" 1996
Poor Boy Paul/Walkin'Up A Rainbow/Big Ole
Heartache/Let Me Hang Around/Never Again/
Clam Down/Mean Ole Poor Boy Blues/Dry Land
Farm/Poor Boy's Gold/Sing And Sing
"Hot Rod Surfin Jungle Boppin Rock 'n' Rollin Boogie Songs" - 1998
Shut UP & Sit Down/Going To California/Jungle Bop/
Main Street USA/Good Morning Sunshine; So Good Woman/
The Hillbilly Cat/Let Me Hang Around/ Is It Really Real/
Poor Boy Paul (*vocal by Dale Lewis)/Honky Tonk Hall Of Fame/
Let's Sing A Song About Mama
CASSETTE ONLY RELEASES (No Label)
"High Five" - 1993
Mobile Bay/You've Still Got These Arms/John Dear Letter/
Guess What I Still Do/Star Studded Nights
(No Label) "Merry Christmas From Spokane" - ?
Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer (all other tracks by local Spokane artists)
Un-Issued Spitfire Label Recordings Rocking Down Right/Had A Talk With My Heart/
Room 22/Call Me collect/Heartaches, Headaches/
Along, Long Time/Give Me A Reason