Robert Kelly Interview with Pictures from Lance Monthly

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This is a Lance Monthly interview with Robert Kelly
aka Bob "Git it" Kelly about his early Rockabilly background from the early 50's in Dallas all the way
thru to his Expression Lounge Group days in the Las Vegas


Jack Ruby's Strippers tend to DJ Bob Kelly's feet after his 50 mile Kennedy fitness walk Dallas, Texas (1961)

Up Close with Robert ‘Git It’ Kelly

(Interview by Dick Stewart – Editor and Features Interviewer For Lance Monthly

Gene Vincent, Jack Ruby, and Eddie Cochran Were Major Players in the Life of this ‘50s Pioneering Rocker

Like so many of the aspiring ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll artists of the time, Robert Kelly’s sole passion in life was to become a star on the basis of his vocalizations and he feverishly wrote songs that he believed would best compliment his efforts. Well it didn’t happen, but his song-writing proficiencies did and they defined his long-time successful musical career. "I was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for the songs that I wrote back in the 1950’s," says Kelly. "I did write a few hits, but never got to sing them myself." Of course, as one would expect in such a volatile occupation, it wasn’t an easy process in obtaining that honor. Kelly certainly had his ups and downs and he experienced the-getting-screwed ordeals that were all too common during rock ‘n’ rolls’ infancy, which he discusses in frank detail. But Kelly’s remarkable accomplishments, as you will soon discover in this fascinating interview, should also earn him membership into a soon-to-be established association, the TLM’s Pioneering Rock ‘n’ roll Unsung Hero’s Hall of Fame


Lance Monthly (LM): When and where were you born?

Robert Kelly (RK): I was born in Fort Worth, Texas on Oct. 2, 1935. My Mother and Father were adagio dancers. (that’s acrobatic dancing to music for the younger folks) After about three or four months of [her] pregnancy with me, she finally had to give up being thrown across the stage and being lifted into the air doing a back bend on my Father’s out-stretched arm. So, actually, I was on stage before I was born. Guess I came by this entertainment business, naturally.


My Father C. Kelly and my Mother Eedy about June 1935

LM: Did you grow up in a town or city neighborhood or in the country?

RK: My folks lived in an apartment in Fort Worth, Texas when I was born, but soon after, we moved outside of the main town to the country—a suburb called Riverside. They bought a very small house [for] $4,000 (back then it was an enormous amount of money) [which had] one eight-by-ten-foot bedroom, ten-by-twelve-foot living room, [a] very small Kitchen, and [a] small bath. There was a screened-in back porch with canvass that you could roll up

or down to cover the screen and that was where I had my bed and toys. It was hot in the summer (no air

conditioning) and cold in the winter (no heat of any kind), but we had an open space with lots of trees behind

our house, and I spent most of my time, playing in the forest of oak trees.


Young Robert Gene in front of screened-in porch

LM: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

RK: I was an only child for the first fifteen years of my life, but then I had a sister, Karen. It was a blessing in disguise because I then had my best "fan" and supporter and it was right there in my own family. By the time she was two or three, she was crying to go on dates with me, and I would take her with me. When I would go to a drive-in movie or something, I would just let her go to sleep in the back seat and there was no problem. My Mom and Dad got a night of rest, I had my regular date, and Karen was just as happy as a lark.


My Sister Karen and I in Olney, Texas

LM: What kinds of things did you like to do for entertainment while you were a youth?

RK: All of my extended family were musical. In other words, my mother’s sisters all sang ala the Andrews Sisters, my uncles all played guitar and would sing blues and old standards, and one of their friends played all the wind instruments. So, my first instrument was the saxophone. Almost every weekend they would all get together and have what they called a "jam session"—usually at our house, even though it was way too small. But they didn't seem to care.


Family Jam Session Uncle Teedy (left) Me(Center)andUncle David tuning his guitar

with Karen directing.

LM: Did your folks saddle you with a lot of chores while you were growing up?

RK: I did a lot of things but don't remember them being called "chores," as such. I mowed the lawn, took out the trash, and had to keep my room clean and tidy. What I do remember most [is that] I was expected to make good grades in school. My Mother never finished high school and my Father only went to the eighth grade before he had to start to work to help his family make a living. So education was a definite priority for me.

My Father went to night school even after I was born to get his education, so I was pretty much brain washed into going to college. Hell, I didn't even realize that you could quit school after high school because I had been programmed into graduating from college. Needless to say, I did graduate from North Texas State with a bachelor’s degree in business, and the knowledge gave me an advantage to actually make a living in the crazy thing we call the "entertainment business" for all these many years—even without singing a hit record! I did write a few hits, but never got to sing them myself.

It was always amazing to me that there were so many great singers, musicians, and entertainers that were not working. Thanks to my Father’s business knowledge and my classes in salesmanship and marketing, I always had publicity photos, a demo tape or acetate, and anything else that I could conjure up to get me work. Sure, sometimes it was only at the Yellow Belly Drag Strip playing on the back of a flat bed truck or performing between the strippers at Jack Ruby's nightclub, but I was getting paid and honing my skills as an entertainer. This kept me working and gradually moving up, and I didn't have to get a "real job."


My First Instrument was this Saxophone.

LM: Robert, at what age did you switch to the guitar, who taught you, and do you remember your first guitar?

RK: I started playing sax at about six years old and a friend of the family taught me to play and read "treble clef" music for the sax. To this day, I still have trouble reading "bass clef," so I guess the early training is all I can rely on. I then started to play guitar at about age thirteen and two of my uncles played and sang, so they taught me all the basics.

My first guitar had only the three lower strings because my Uncle gave me one of his old guitars. I guess he wanted to see if I would really learn to play it. I was great on "Guitar Boogie" because I could play that on the only strings that I had. Needless to say, my parents then bought me an older Martin acoustic guitar from a pawn shop. There weren't many electric guitars around at the time and they couldn't have afforded one, anyway.

I played that guitar all the way through high school and it was really a pretty good guitar and sounded great for the type of music that I was doing—just accompanying myself while I sang mostly songs that I was writing. So most of my songs were written with guitar and not piano.?

LM: When did you decide to become a professional musician and how did your parents feel about your decision to do so?

RK: As long as I passed my parents’ criteria, they were always happy with any decision that I made about my career. By that, I mean my Father had a pretty rough time because he never did graduate from high school and had to get his education in night school after he was an adult. So, I was DEFINITELY going to graduate from college, and I did with pretty good grades, I might add.

After graduation, my parents gave me a hundred dollars and I went to Los Angeles, California to be a superstar. Ha! After about a year and a half, I figured out that I would have to try another route to stardom, so I went back to Dallas and tried to do a regular job, but that wasn't in the cards for me. I was playing music on weekends and then decided that I should get a job connected to music, so I got a disk jockey job at radio station WRR in Dallas.


Bob Kelly remote Radio Broadcast on WRR in Dallas, Texas

from the Cotton Bowling Palace, Midnight to 6 a.m.

This was the perfect spot for this time in my life. I could work nightclubs and weekends playing guitar and have a regular income from my DJ work—started out from midnight to 6 A.M., then a couple of years later, I moved up to the drive time: 3 P.M. to 6 P.M. I also did all the promos and commercial recordings for the station because I had experience with recording that no one else at the station [had].

LM: What was Fort Worth like in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll; that is, was it a city of opportunity for the aspiring artist with notable record labels, recording studios, promoters, venues, etc.?

RK: Not really, I was in grade school in Fort Worth [and attended] high school at Abilene, Texas (freshman and sophomore). Then I moved to Olney, Texas (for Junior and Senior Year). I did work in Fort Worth for the summers of the above years with my grandfather as a carpenter’s helper (flunky in other words).

I went to North Texas State in Denton, Texas for my college, [which] was 30 miles from Fort Worth and Dallas. This was when my music career really started [circa 1953]. I had been writing songs for a couple of years, but when I got to college, I put together a singing group [with] Neil Wood, Johnny Biggerstaff, [and] Bill Byrd as background singers. We started performing my songs at college functions and then I decided we should try to record.


Bob Kelly & The Pikes singing 1957 (Bill Byrd, left, Kelly in middle, Neil Wood, right

My first experience in music in Fort Worth was to record my songs that I had written at Clifford Herring's Recording Studio. (He later became famous for recording Bruce Channel's version of "Hey, Baby.") [A fellow by the name of] Bill Smith, who referred to himself as "Major Bill Smith," was about the only person of any consequence there at that time and he was really a double-talkin', double-dealin', low life kind of a guy. The best example of [this originated during a time when] he wanted some of my songs for his artists. So I gave him a demo acetate with the idea that he could have the publishing rights if anyone of his artists ever recorded them—but only the publishing.

I never heard from him again; but, just a couple of years ago, I ran into my long time friend Mac Curtis (we were from the same small town in Texas, Olney, but he was younger than me) at the Rockabilly Weekender here in Las Vegas. I gave Mac a copy of my CD (1954/1959 Rockabilly). About a week later, I got an e-mail from Mac and he told me that he had recorded a song called "NO" that was supposedly written by Bill Smith, but he said that it was my song "Boo" with just the title changed. All of the words and music were exactly the same. So, Bill Smith just stole my song and put his name on it so he wouldn't have to pay royalties to anyone.

I would have sued him, but by that time he was dead, so for me it was a fitting end. (Mac did send me a copy of his version called "NO" and he did a good job on it. I just wish I had known about it in 1955 instead of 2002.) My original version "Boo" is on my CD [Editor’s note: Go to the home page of for more details.]

So the actual answer was "nothing much of any importance" going on in Fort Worth [from] 1953 to 57—at least for me, there wasn't any thing of any consequence.

After thought: Mac Curtis did record my song "What You Want" (1956), [which] was released on King Records. Bob Kelly and the Pikes (my ‘50s group) sang background on it and we recorded it at the above mentioned Clifford Herring Recording Studio. So, that was my first recorded song that I wrote and also the first time I was actually on a record even if it was as a background singer.

Bill Smith had the publishing and I never got a penny from him. As a matter of fact, I never got anything from him—nothing: no statement of royalties, no phone messages—zilch!

LM: Give our readers a little more insight into your performances at Jack Ruby’s club. What kind of club was it, and assuming that you met Ruby, how would you describe his demeanor at that time? Do you think he was a fair man? In addition, what was your pay for your performances?

RK: Jack Ruby and I were not personal friends; as a matter of fact, I didn't like him at all, but I did come in contact with him on many business propositions. He was a "news hound" as people in the entertainment business call someone that is constantly trying to get free publicity in any way possible.

Probably 1955 [was] the first time I had any contact with Jack Ruby [and it was an] introduction that I will never forget. He owned a club called The Vegas Club, even though it was in Dallas and it was basically a late night club where all the "rounders," as they were called then, would hang out. The strippers, hoods, prostitutes, etc., were the usual crowd. Anyway, I was only 19 at the time, well under the 21-age limit, but a friend of mine that went to the club quite often talked me into going [there] one Saturday night at about 1:00 A.M.

When we walked into the door and started down an isle next to the bar, Jack Ruby met us coming from the opposite direction and immediately pulled out a 38 revolver from under his coat and pointed it directly at my friend and shouted very loudly, "I told you to never come in here, again, and I meant it!" Needless to say, I immediately turned my tail around and was out the door so fast that you could hear my feet burning leather all the way. My friend came out a couple of minutes later and [admitted] that he had gotten into a fight at the club the last time that he was there and had beaten up one of Jack Ruby's bartenders because the bartender had been going out with his girl friend. Jack Ruby didn't care, and yes, he always carried a gun just as he did when he shot Oswald.

- 1960 to 1962 -

The [next meeting I had with Ruby was] when I was a D.J. and I had a show from midnight to 6:00 A.M. at the Cotton Bowling Palace in Dallas. I had a talk-radio show in 1960 before it was a popular thing to do as it is today. I had a booth in-between 48 lanes of bowling, 24 on each side with a restaurant in the middle. I would play music, but when I had someone interesting to talk to, then I had a roving microphone and I would talk to people as they bowled or ate.



Bobby Rambo, Toi Rebel (stripper) Bob Kelly

at Cotton Bowling Palace in Dallas as a DJ

on WRR radio 1961

I would invite celebrities who were in Dallas on promotion tours or whatever and tell them that they could get free bowling if they would come by and let me interview them. I made one call to Jack and that was all it took. He was there about every other night. He was a bi-sexual, so he would bring the strippers from his nightclub so all the guys would come around, and then he would hit on them. Also, he knew that I would interview the strippers and he would get free publicity. There were a couple that I remember very well: "Chris Colt and her 45's," WOW! And "Toi Rebel" [see headline photo] with my friend, Bobby Rambo. (He was the guitar Player and I played bass for Scotty McKay at the time.) Later, I recorded Bobby for his first record release.

- Late 1962 -

I next [ran into] Ruby when I worked at one of his clubs (I don’t remember if it was the Carousel or the Theatre Lounge) when my group was the featured act in between the strippers. (I worked both of these clubs, but I don’t remember which one Jack Ruby owned.) It would be a stripper, then a comic, then the featured act (me), a stripper, the comic, and the featured act again. We usually did three shows like this and usually got $100.00—not each [as] there were four of us, so it was $25.00 apiece. Four guys doing rock songs for a bunch of guys that only wanted to see the strippers was a very difficult audience to entertain; but we were in "show business" . . . at least that was the way we looked at it at the time.

- 1961 or 1962 -

President Kennedy had a fitness program that he was promoting [in which] he asked everyone to walk fifty miles. So as a D.J., I proclaimed that I would not only walk fifty miles around Loop 12 in Dallas, but I would broadcast all the way. (Actually I did walk all the way, but I was only on the radio between songs and news and commercials.) When I finished the walk, there were lots of people there to greet me—and who was the first with his strippers in see-through blouses? Jack Ruby, of course.

I was not surprised when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. He was mentally disturbed as far as I was concerned—almost like a manic-depressive—high as a kite one minute and low as a mole the next, trying to cover it up with a superiority complex. My own opinion is that he thought that the majority of the people would truly love him because he had killed the man that killed President Kennedy. I'm quite sure that it was a spur of the moment thing that just snapped in him when he got close to Oswald; after all he was always in the police stations and everyone knew him. This was his way of getting lots of press.


6 a.m. Start of my 50 mile walk around loop 12 in Dallas

LM: Robert, describe your high school. How did the "cool cats" dress and style their hair (it was ducktails for us with purple, pink, and black shirts), and what was fashionable for the girls? Were customized cars with spinner hub cabs, et al, popular and was it "in" to sport them by cruising the drive-in restaurants?

RK: I went to grade school and junior high in Fort Worth, Texas, and then moved to a smaller town (Abilene, Texas) for my freshman and sophomore years of high school. [From there I moved] to an even smaller town (Olney, Texas) for my junior and senior years, so I was kind of like a big fish in a very small pond. I played football and baseball and was much better than I would have been if I was in the bigger towns, but the small town atmosphere was not to my liking. We had a No-D-Lay drive-in [at which] everyone used to hang out and have burgers and shakes, but we didn’t even have a square to drive around (we only had one main street), so it was drive to the north side of town then turn around and drive back on the same street to the south part of town. Each time, you would pass the same people that you had passed going the other way, so it wasn't what you would call exciting. Occasionally, there would be a car full of kids from a nearby town, but after they made a couple of trips, they were through and that was it.

I finally got a bunch of us together who had dates, and because we lived in a Baptist community (they wouldn't let us dance), we would all take our cars out to the small airport outside of town and turn all of our radios on to WLAC out of Nashville, [which] played all of the rhythm and blues songs from the late ‘40s and early ‘50s and dance on the concrete at the airport. This was 1952 and 1953 [and R&B songs] were considered "race records" back then because [the] artists were black: The Clovers, The Drifters, The Flamingos, etc. They wouldn't even play this kind of music on the radio stations that were in town.

I wore my hair in a ducktail [style], T-shirts with the sleeves rolled up, low-slung jeans with no cuffs (cuffs only started in the ‘70s with the Rockabilly Revival). The wearing of cuffs on jeans like some of the rockabillies do now is from the rockabilly revival of the 1970’s; they're trying to look like the ‘50s in the ‘70s, but didn't talk to anybody from the actual ‘50s. Nobody rolled up the legs of [his] pants in Texas, just like nobody wore bowling shirts (another ‘70s misnomer). Maybe our pink and black, and as you say, purple and black (I had a turquoise and black shirt, also) looked like the bowling shirts that they wear today, but they weren't bowling shirts.

[So in the ‘50s] when you dressed up you would wear black pegged pants, a pink shirt with black pockets and collar, and you had to have a skinny belt. I remember a green shiny shirt that my Mother made for my group, The Pikes, and me that had three-quarter-length sleeves and shimmered when we were on stage. We thought that our "shit didn't stink!"

I would have loved to have had a "souped-up" car, but, I had to buy my own car—a 1948 Ford 2 door—no flippers, no hot rod, but I did have it lowered by using shackles on the springs in the back. It would bump the ground with ever dip in the road but it was cool. My friends called it the Grey Lizard because it had lots of scratches on the paint. So I bought a gallon of gray paint and painted it with a paintbrush. So, of course, it had streaks in it and it did kind of look like a lizard skin instead of a real paint job.

I used to always double or triple date in that car because if it wouldn't start, then I would always have help to push it; it was of course, standard shift and we would always park on a hill, so it would be easy to get it moving. The reason it was always so hard to start might take a little explanation for some of you. In Texas, particularly in West Texas where I was, there are lots of oil wells. Each oil well had unrefined gasoline called drip gas. It had all the impurities still in it and water is one of [them]. so maybe that is why they call it drip.

Anyway, it is very easy to get this gasoline when someone is not looking, particularly if it is about one or two in the morning. (We didn't think of it as stealing; more like borrowing.) Well, it will actually work in the older cars; the only thing is that with all the impurities, you have to clean out the gas filter about every ten miles or so, and occasionally it will have water in it and it just won’t start with the starter. [So] you have to push it to get the motor moving fast enough.

My first car, an old 38 Chevrolet, got clogged up and gas was pouring out onto the motor; I could see through the holes in the floor board that the motor was on fire, so I stopped and my friend and I almost emptied a whole flower bed from a yard, taking the dirt and putting in into the motor. It was a good old car though because I just pushed it to my house, washed off the dirt, cleaned the gas filter, and it just started up and ran some more. Guess they don’t make them anymore like they did in 1938. Speaking of my 1938 Chevrolet with knee action instead of shock absorbers, let’s see if I can explain it: When you hit a bump with knee action, the front end of the car will go up and down about two to three feet. If you hit more than one bump, it will exaggerate that double. Get the picture?

Well, Olney Texas is rather boring so a couple of the guys and myself decided to take my 20-gauge shot gun out and go rabbit hunting. This was about 11:00 P.M. one night, so we went out into this plowed-up field with furrows (long rows). The Chevrolet had the big head lights on the fenders in the front, so you could actually put your leg over the headlight and lock it under the other leg; and you could ride on the front fender with the shot gun. If you saw a rabbit in the headlights then you could shoot it.

Now, that doesn't seem real sporting, you say, but, with my 38 Chev (with knee action), it was a massive success if you could just hang onto the head light and not go flying across the field. Every time the car hit a furrow, the action was not only from side to side, but also up and down—and not just occasionally; I'm talking all the time. We did a lot more laughing at the craziness than we ever did with killing of rabbits—believe me, the rabbits had a better chance of surviving than we did.

LM: Well Robert, you’re the first musician from the ‘50s with whom I shared a similar style of attire and automobile: skinny belts, no cuffs, D.A.’s, pink shirts, and lowered cars in the back with shackles. And as I previously stated, purple shirts were also "in" in the Albuquerque ‘50s, as well as taps on the heels and soles of our black patent-leather shoes. And my car was a 1947 Ford 2-door coup, lowered in the back with six-inch shackles and decorated with moon or Oldsmobile flipper hubcaps and chrome extenders for my dual exhaust pipes. I also put a backseat in my Ford and added glass-pack mufflers for that cool sound that only a V-8 engine could produce. We never thought that V-6’s sounded cool. Your comments?

RK: Sounds like we were doing pretty much the same. I had a gutted muffler instead of a glass pack—like I said, I didn't have much money back then and you could take the insides out of a muffler pretty cheap. I would have liked to have the spinner hubcaps, too, but I couldn't afford them so I painted the rims the same color as my car—like I said, gray with a paintbrush, and then it all matched—UGLY, but it matched.

Question for you: did you ever take the gearshift mechanism knob that was on the right side of the steering column and move it to the left side so you could shift gears with your left hand? (It was upside down, of course, low gear was up and up, second was down and down, and reverse was up and down, etc.) That way you could have your arm around your girl and not have to move it to shift gears. I thought it was pretty cool until my Dad saw it and told me to change it back—immediately, if not sooner. His reasoning: "A car is to get you from place to place and not a toy to be played with." This was after all, 1952. [Interviewer’s note: No I didn’t, Robert, but I had some buddies that did. I let my girl, Judi, to whom I’ve been married now for 41 years, shift for me.]

LM: When you performed at Jack Ruby’s club, describe some of the negative scenarios in reference to fights, threats, police harassment, etc., what led up to them, and how Ruby dealt with the unruliness. Did a patron or an employee of Ruby’s ever threaten you?

RK: To me it was just another of those "funky" jobs that we had back then and they all pretty much became a blur after a while. Jack Ruby always had a bouncer and ran a pretty tight ship as far as patrons staying under control, so maybe everyone in his places were afraid to cause any trouble. I don't know.

I didn't remember anything strange or unusual from performing at Jack Ruby's Carousel Lounge Strip Club, so I sent an e-mail to my long time friend and member of Expression, Jerry Brown, [who] worked the job with me and here is what [he] had to say about the job:

"I really don't remember anything bizarre happening to us in those clubs. Ruby owned the Carousel that we worked in. I remember the waitresses were very friendly, and I ended up going out with one of them the next night. I don't remember the Theatre Lounge, but I don't think Ruby owned that. He obviously owned the Vegas Club, where you had some problems you had told us [about]. Jack Ruby loved the girls and the entertainment, but I never saw him do anything out of line that concerned any of us or anyone around us . . . just a peach of a guy, wasn't he?"

The other strip club that I worked—the Theatre Lounge—must have been with Scotty McKay and his band. I was the bass player and singer with Bobby Rambo on guitar and either Paul Carney or Roger (Gougenheimer) Bland on Drums with Scotty on Piano and doing Jerry Lee Lewis-type antics for his show.

LM: Where were you and what were you doing when you learned that Ruby shot Oswald. In addition, what happened to his clubs when he went to prison?

RK: I was a disk jockey at WRR radio station in Dallas at the time. I also did all the production station promos, commercials, etc., so I was at the radio station before my regular on-air shift and someone told me that Jack Ruby had just shot Oswald. After thinking about it for a while, I really wasn't surprised.


Bob Kelly on air at radio station WRR in Dallas 1962

The day Kennedy was shot, however, was a much more interesting day for me. That day, in-between doing my production work and then my regular DJ shift, I usually gave the newsman a break and sat in the newsroom. It was in-between news reports so all I was doing was being there to answer the phone.

(Background: The radio station that I worked for was owned by the city of Dallas and because of this, we had police radio, which every other radio station had, but we also had Channel 2 radio for the police, which was only for police and internal use. No one else had this. Now back to the story.)

I was giving the newsman a break and then I heard on the Channel 2 police radio speaker that the President had been shot and they were taking him to Parkland Hospital. Panic!!! Here I am, a novice D.J. that knows more about music and recording than anything connected to the newsroom, and I have just heard the most important news in history from Channel 2 radio that I don’t know whether I am even supposed to be listening to and I don’t know what to do.

Needless to say, by the time I got the news director on the phone and he told me to get it on the air immediately. It was too late; it was already broadcast and it didn't matter where I had heard the information. Just as soon as I had the news director on the phone, the regular newsman took over and all I was good for at that time was to take phone calls from all over the world, asking about the incident and what was going on in Dallas. It's one of those experiences where adrenaline takes over and you do whatever it takes to get through the moment, sometimes without really thinking about the situation.

I was at the station all the way through my regular D.J. shift (3:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.) until well after 12 midnight and then it was about 1:00 A.M. when I finally got home. The minute I walked into my house, it all finally dawned on me that the President of the United States had just been killed! I just started sobbing uncontrollably and couldn't really believe that this had happened. I had been talking about it, on the phone to radio stations all over the world, but I wasn't listening or thinking about what I was saying—reality wasn't a part of it; just reporting breaking news. The reality hit me after I got home, and that was really painful. People always say that they remember where they were when Kennedy was shot; well, I certainly do.

LM: Describe your time in L.A. and the overall music scene during that time in that very competitive market. Why didn’t it work out and why did you think you had all of the right stuff to put you on the map? In addition, did you meet and hang with any of the other aspiring musicians who eventually became famous?

RK: I had just turned 22 on October 2, 1957 and was a graduate of North Texas State University, but couldn't get a [decent] job in California. I did finally get a job as a pirate on the Caribbean Pirate Ship at that new place that had just opened up called Disneyland. I would walk around from 4:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. and look like a pirate and answer questions; then from 10:00 P.M. to 1:00 A.M. I would mop and scrub the ship and make sure it was spick and span for the next day. This way, I could go into L.A. for music interviews and work in Anaheim late afternoons and nights.

I'd guess that 90% of all the Disneyland 3,500 employees were either struggling actors, songwriters, or singer/musicians in the 18-to-25-year-old age group. We had lots of fun times [when] the park closed. We would take the little cars and drive around the streets by reaching back and dislodging the governors on the motors; you could speed pretty fast. There were some all-night beach parties that turned out to be fairly interesting, also.


Kelly Disneyland 1957

I don't know if I was a curse on my friends or not, but it seems like most of the people that I became friends with are no longer alive. I met Eddie Cochran when we were doing demos at Imperial Records (way before he sang the bass part on my song "Git it"); he was killed in a car accident. I met and became friends with Jesse Belvin (met him through Rene’ Hall, Sam Cooks' old manager) before his "Goodnight Sweetheart" hit; he was killed in an auto accident. I wasn't really friends with Gene Vincent—mainly because of his arrogance—but I knew him and he recorded two of my songs.

To sum up my one and a half years in California, my Grandfather who I worked construction with in the summers of my fifteenth to twentieth years had a nice old expression: "Almost nearly, not quite hardly." That was exactly how it was. Lee Hazelwood liked me, but couldn't get me a record deal. Jimmie Haskell really wanted to do something for me, but couldn't because he was just a preliminary A&R man. Rene' Hall wanted to manage me, but he didn't really have much to offer, and so on and so forth. I was beating my head against the wall and not getting anywhere.

I went back to Texas to try it from another angle. I was going to have to serve my military obligation for being in the Naval Reserve while I was in college, so I went back to Texas to find out that I didn't have to serve because Korea was over and I had already served in the reserves; I could just finish out my obligation there on weekends.

LM: You indicated that you befriended Eddie Cochran and that he sang bass backup to Gene Vincent’s cover of "Git It." What is your take on his demeanor and what do you know about the depression he suffered over Buddy Holly’s tragic demise on February 3, 1959? Did you ever meet Holly?

RK: During the late 1950's, it was actually a very small group of musicians and entertainers that were trying to "make it" in rock and roll. Don't get me wrong; there were more than enough but not nearly as many as there are now. So, in this small community, just about everybody knew each other and most of the time were eager to help and assist each other. Most of the artists were pretty nice people—the only exceptions were the managers, agents, and record company executives.

I met Eddie Cochran while I was singing and arranging unrecorded songs as preliminary demos for Jimmy Haskell at Imperial Records for $8.00 per song. Eddie was really personable and [a] nice guy—but I can't say the same for his manager, Jerry Capehart. I gave them a demo of some of my songs and later I found out that they changed one of my songs (at the request of his manager) enough so they could claim [they] wrote and recorded it. However, it still sounded too close, so they changed it again and it finally became "C'mon, Everybody." My original rough demo is on my Rockabilly CD, and was called "When We Get Together." Eddie's first recording was called "Let's Get Together" and later changed to "C'mon Everybody." Both of Eddie's versions are on the Liberty Recording of Eddie Cochran's Greatest Hits.

Basically all that was left from my original was a concept and idea. That was done quite frequently in that era, so I just chalked it up to "experience" and learned to not give demos to the wrong people—no matter how influential they were.

I was only in California from June 1957 to February 1958, so the people that I met and visited while I was there were more like "acquaintances" rather than "personal friends." Eddie and I met and talked quite a few times but the recording of "Git it" was after I left California, so really, I had nothing to do with him being the bass voice on it.

Most of the rockers back then were tenors and there were only a few of us that were what I [would] call "baritones" that could sing bass; Eddie and I both were in that category, so I am certainly glad that he did such a super job on "Git it." If I were asked or consulted, I would have picked him, but no one cared enough to let me know. What I do know is that Eddie had heard my demo of "Git it" and he nailed the "idea and concept" of my song—just as Gene Vincent did on his lead singing of [it]. Gene kind of varied from the program and did not do my lyrics on "Somebody Help Me" and just made up some of his own at the recording session because he couldn't remember my lyrics. At least, he didn't ask for writing credit.

Sadly to say, I never met Buddy Holly—even though we were both from Texas—or Ritchie Valens, and I only met, briefly, the Big Bopper from rock and roll shows in Dallas. I'm sure it was a difficult time for everyone when their plane went down. I was back in Texas when the crash happened so I don't know about Eddie's possible depression. It is very depressing to me that so many of the early rockers did not make it even into their 30's. Now, I feel quite lucky and happy that I am still alive and well and still have my small recording studio [to help] keep up my "artistic" juices, even if it is recording other people and trying to pass along whatever advice and experience that I have accumulated over the past 50-some-odd years. Hell, I am still learning new things everyday with this new digital world of computers.

LM: Your Internet bio says that you recorded "Git It" and other tracks at Sellers Recording Studio in Dallas under the name of Bob Kelly and the Pikes. Was this studio considered a leading sound studio in Dallas? In addition, who encouraged you to record your music there and did you pay for the session?

RK: Sellers in Dallas and Clifford Herrings in Fort Worth were just about as good as most of the medium-scale studios.I did the "Git it" session at Sellers because I didn't have a good demo of the song and Big D Music (owned by Ed Mclemore, who was also the owner of Sportatorium and Big D Jamboree) wanted Gene Vincent to do the song. Big D paid for the session to do just the one song there.

Actually, after I got back to Dallas from my trip to California and started to work at WRR radio, I started to buy my own equipment and opened my own studio, Top Ten Recording. I found out that sometimes it is not the equipment that makes for good recordings; it is more the producer and recording engineer that really makes the difference, so I used my experience in that area to do some pretty good things: The Night Caps’ "Wine, Wine, Wine," The Continentals (most of their hits), Gene Summers (his Alta recordings), and lots of demo's for Scotty McKay, Bobby Rambo, Arthur K. Adams, Expression, and many more.

LM: You speak of Gene Vincent’s arrogance. Give our readers a straightforward take on Gene’s demeanor and a little on his background as you knew it.

RK: Sometimes you have to know the circumstances to understand the full situation. When I first met Gene Vincent, he was the headliner (already had his hit record "Be Bop a Lula") at the Big D Jamboree and I was singing with my group Bob Kelly and the Pikes in the preliminary show before the Big D Jamboree; I wasn't even on the main show, yet. You had to win the prelims a couple of times before you could get paid to be on the main show (a big whooping $15 per man). So, I met Gene, probably, three times before he even acknowledged that I was a real person and before then, he definitely didn't remember my name.

Finally, one day in Ed Mclemore's office (the owner of Big D Jamboree and then Gene Vincent’s manager), they played him my songs and he was having one of his good days, laughing and talking—really a very nice and personable fellow. He liked my demo and said he would think about doing the songs. I had heard things like that before so I didn't put much enthusiasm into the conversation. Then, months later, Ed Watts (the head of Big D Publishing) called me and said that Gene was actually going to do "Git it" and wanted me to come in to sign a publishing contract. So I did. I was just learning the music business, so I didn't have a publishing company and I signed over the publishing on "Git it" to Big D Publishing.

At the same time, Big D Music (the parent company--management, booking, publishing, and anything else that they could take money from the artist) offered me a seven-year contract. They wanted 15% for management, 10% for booking, publishing on all my songs, and offered me NOTHING. I wanted a guarantee of a recording contract within a year, a minimum of XXX dollars a week (I don't remember what I wanted, but it was probably something like one hundred a week or something just as ridiculous as that) and the main thing that was essential to me was to not pay them a commission for jobs that I got for myself (without their help). If they would give me this, I would sign with them for one year and if they met the above, then it would be a seven-year deal. Needless to say, they wouldn't go for that, so I didn't sign.

Back to Gene. Most of what I know about Gene comes after this and [a lot] of it is hearsay and some personal contact, but we were not personal friends—just "business associates." They didn't use the words "manic depressive" in those days, but as far as I know, that is pretty much what Gene was like. I know it's not good to talk about someone that is not able to defend himself, but there are many situations that occurred [that] his former band mates and anyone that was doing business with him will substantiate.

He could be the nicest and most congenial person and then the next minute explode into a tirade and do some very unusual things. For instance, Ed Watt called me to tell me that Gene was going to be on American Bandstand and do my song "Git it," so I was really excited. Back then, if you were on the Dick Clark show, then you definitely had a huge hit. Well, I waited and waited and nothing. Come to find out, Gene had taken the money that he was supposed [to use for expenses to travel to] the Bandstand Show and had gone to Mexico for a party [instead]. That cost me lots of money at a time when I surely could have used it.

Some of my very close friends—Scotty McKay, Juvy Gomez, Dude Kahn, and others tried to be in Gene's Band and couldn't put up with the inconsistency of his personality. They have all said to me that Gene could be the nicest guy and then a holy terror. If you think about it, there have been lots of "Blue Caps" over the years that Gene [employed], not only here in the U.S. but Europe, also. Gene was a very talented singer and a superb showman on stage; I just wish that he could have been able to control the demons inside, which would have let him control his drugs and drinking. [If he had] he probably would have been an even bigger success than he was. I will always be grateful to him for doing my song "Git it" and "Somebody Help Me" because those were the first two really big successes that I had. I still get BMI royalties from these song—even now, 45 years later. I say the following to friends all the time, so guess I should say it in print, now:

"Thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone in Europe for still playing ‘Git it.’ I mention Europe because most of my BMI checks are based on airplay in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, [and] Great Britain. You all have been helping me make money for over 45 years and I certainly do appreciate it.

LM: You let them have the publishing on "Git It, " but did you give up a portion of the writers’ credits?

RK: I wouldn't give up any of the writers’ credit. Maybe, it was because I had a business degree from college. But I figured that if I wrote it and they wanted to record it the way that I wrote it, I should get the credit for writing it. I did a lot of negotiating on the publishing but not on my writing. I'm sure I lost some deals with my persistence, but that’s the way I felt about my artistic abilities.

LM: Your list of sound recording credits is impressive. Did you publish any of the songs by the artists that you mentioned and receive credit for music arrangements, or were you just paid outright for the sessions by the label or promoter?

RK: By the time I started my own recording studio and doing sessions for other people, I had my own publishing company, Little Star Publishing; and yes, I did publish some of the songs. I did lots of work for The Continentals and since I wrote a few of their songs, I got the publishing on those. Even some of the other songs that I didn't write, I got the publishing, because I was instrumental in getting the songs recorded.

For the Nightcaps, I got A&R and recording engineering credits on the original album cover. (Some remakes don’t have the liner notes, so I don’t think I am mentioned. I was just paid hourly for the recording on this LP—no publishing.) At my Top Ten Recording studio in Dallas, Texas, it was mainly just an hourly rate to record. I got paid separately for arranging and producing. Sometimes I got credit and sometimes not, depending on the job.

I didn't really have a big publishing operation. I started my publishing company to use for my own songs and then later as a security measure for some of the writers and composers that were friends. There was so much theft and corruption in the music business in the 1950's that I would take someone’s songs and put [it] into my publishing company just to keep people from stealing the song or as a means to negotiate (for the writer) if someone wanted to use it. In other words, I was working for the writer to make sure that he got what he deserved. If the only way someone would record the song was to have the publishing, then I would [offer] my publishing rights, but I made sure that the writer got his fair share and didn't get screwed in the transfer. I called it the "Good Ole Boy" syndrome: I wasn't going to steal from them and I made sure that no one else did.

LM: Of all of the high-profile artists that you recorded, who were the most difficult and why?

RK:It would probably make for more interesting reading to have a lot of "smut" about a lot of people, but you will have to remember that I was in Dallas, Texas and most of the high-profile artists were just mainly kids in their late teens and we were all just getting started. So there were no prima donnas (except Gene Vincent who was already a star).

Scotty McKay was goofy in a good way, [and] Gene Summers was laid back. Mac Curtis was even tempered and from my hometown. Ronnie Dawson was just a super talented kid (about 16 at the time). Arthur K. Adams was just a struggling guitar player who sang blues songs and I traded studio time for his playing guitar or publishing of his songs because he couldn't afford to pay me.

The Continentals were really just eighteen year olds with lots of enthusiasm. The Nightcaps were local super stars with no national status. Kirby St. Romain was a one hit wonder. Bobby Rambo was a great guitar player (who later played with some of the superstars). [And there was] Ronnie Tutt, my fraternity brother and great drummer (later with Neil Diamond and Elvis).

I think I was just lucky to be around such nice artists before they reached success---and even now, most of them (those that are still alive) are still good friends of mine and they are just the same as they were back then.

Most of the problems that I know about came from New York, California, Nashville, and other high-profile recording places with artists that had egos bigger than their talent, and I didn't have to deal with that until later in the 1970's (not with my group Expression but with record producers and A&R men).

LM: The demo that you sent me of the ten 1972 live songs by Expression was excellent and certainly showed a great deal of professionalism in the performances of the songs via the employment of a very modern style of the time. What’s the history behind this group (formation, venues played, founder, demise, etc.)?

RK: From 1960 to 1964, I was doing quite well (financially) in Dallas, Texas with my Top Ten Recording Studio, Little Star Publishing, and working as a Disk Jockey at WRR radio, but I still had the urge to make a living playing music on stage—call it the "ham" in me or whatever, I was missing something.

In 1962, three guys came into my recording studio and I felt like they had something: Jerry Brown, piano player and singer (I had known through my association with Scotty McKay); Jay Ramsey, guitar player, singer, and songwriter; and Frank Cole, sax, guitar, bass and singer. I decided [to] record them and put out a record locally to see if it would do anything. [It’s titled] "Smooth Talkin' Woman" b/w "Look Away Love," Jay Ramsey writer and Little Star Publishing on Libra Records—my label).


Jerry Brown Frank Cole Jay Ramsey Bob Kelly

Expression 1963

Success locally was mediocre [and] I couldn't get a national record release. Then, I asked them if they would like to form a group [that would] include ME. They said, sure!! So, we recorded some songs [with] Jay singing lead, and Jerry, Frank, and I singing background. [With] slightly more success, I got a record leasing deal with Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records. [It’s entitled] "Thrill" b/w "Come Back Karen," published by Little Star. We got a Best Bets in Cashbox—as good as you could get at the time for a rating. Lots of airplay and sales locally, but still only moderate success nationally. It was a one-record-lease deal, so back to the drawing board.

After about a year of being together—daytime jobs and beer joints or Air Forces base gigs on the weekends—I told them that we could make a lot more money if we had a nightclub act. Well, none of them had ever seen a nightclub act, but we started to put one together on my knowledge and Jerry Brown's vocal arrangements. We were quite successful and did make lots more money. I then got a booking agent from Associated Booking Corp (ABC) to come see us and [determine] if he could do anything for us. He said that he could keep us booked, if we didn't mind a little traveling. Little to him meant all the time.

So, we decided that if he could get us three months work then we would all quit our jobs and go on the road. We did go on the road in Sept. 1964 [and] kept going for the next sixteen years!



Jerry Jay Frank Kelly

Expression 1964

The Supper Club scene in 1964 was a local band [first taking the stage and] playing and [then] the four of us (now called The Expressions) coming out [and] singing some harmonies, solos, comedy, and generally trying to entertain an audience. The next step was to get rid of the local band because we all played [instruments] and we needed to be self-contained to make more money. All we needed was a drummer, but all the drummers that we knew were not personality wise compatible with us to spend everyday and night together. The only person that we wanted was Kirby St. Romain (big hit "Summer’s Really Comin'" in 1962, but out of work in 1965).

We called Kirby and ask him if he wanted to be [our] drummer [and] he said yes, even though he didn't play drums. He sold his bass, bought a set of drums, and met us in Phoenix, Arizona at the Playboy Club. [He] played drums for two weeks and kept trying to tune them to make them sound right. Finally a drummer from the downstairs room came up to help him and he said, "No wonder your tom toms don’t sound good. You have them upside down."


Jay Kelly Jerry Kirby Frank

Expression 1966

We did all the middle U.S. and East Coast Supper Clubs until 1967 and then we got a chance to play the Sahara Tahoe Casino in Lake Tahoe [for] about twice the money that we were making everywhere else. So that was the next step. Needless to say, we wanted the Nevada Casino Circuit, and so we busted our buns to get as good as possible and it paid off.

By 1968 we were pretty much into the Las Vegas, Reno, Tahoe routine and instead of making $1,500 a week in the Mid-West, we were up to the $3,000 a week—of course, that was split five ways. You don’t get rich but it's a hell of a lot easier to be middle class and pay all your bills.

We stayed together until 1974, winning Best Small Lounge Group a couple of times and parted friends. Kirby wanted to be a stand-up comedian; Jerry Brown wanted to do a piano bar, so he wouldn't have to travel; and Jay, Frank and I continued until 1980. We still get together for a reunion of sorts about twice a year—well, except for Frank who kind of disappeared into Martha's Vineyard, all the way over to the East Coast.


Jay Kirby Frank Jerry Kelly

Expression 1971

Short Story: We were playing a club in Texas and this drunk came up to the stage and wanted me to give him one of our albums (live performance that we sold at the clubs for extra money) and he said that he had a friend that was starting a record company and would send it to him. So I gave him one. The guys were always scolding me for giving away albums, but this time it was a SCORE.

About two weeks later, I got a telegram from a guy named Nick Venet (Capitol Records A&R man that did all the Beach Boys’ recordings) and he said that he and a couple of his friends were starting a new label and he would like us to record [for] him. I called him and ask if this was a joke, but he was for real. We were headed back to Las Vegas, so he met us there and we started to record for the new label MediaArts. He wanted to use a different drummer [citing that] Kirby was okay for stage, but he wanted a pro. So I said that I had one of my frat brothers that we would like to use and he said, "NO, I have the best, Ronnie Tutt," and I said, "That’s Funny. That’s’ my fraternity brother that I wanted to use. We also used Joe Osborne on bass (another really nice laid-back, great picker).

Our first single released on MediaArts was "California Is Just Mississippi (with a Lot More Cars and a Lot More Bars)" and it [moved into] the top ten in ten major markets. We were quite sure that we had finally made it. WHOA! Wait a minute. That would be too easy. They called us to say that our song was going to be #80 with a bullet in the next [issue of] Cashbox, but when [it] came out, "Bye Bye Miss American Pie" was #80 with a bullet (also on MediaArts) and ours was not to be found anywhere. From what I could find out, MediaArts was given the number #80 slot. Because Don McCleen had sold 150,000 records in New York alone, his song was put on at the label’s request instead of ours, which had sold only 100,000 in 26 markets.

They put all the promotion men on "American Pie" and our record just kind of withered away. Not sour grapes, just the fickle way that the music business has of not exactly being equal. Sure, "American Pie" should have been #80, but ours should have been #90 or somewhere—but NOOOOO!!! Just keep playing the Lounges in Nevada.

They put all the promotion men on "American Pie" and our record just kind of withered away. Not sour grapes, just the fickle way that the music business has of not exactly being equal. Sure, "American Pie" should have been #80, but ours should have been #90 or somewhere—but NOOOOO!!! Just keep playing the Lounges in Nevada.

We had another single release with MediaArts and then United Artists bought it. When United Artists got control, instead of releasing our album, they released us instead. It was a great album, but no one ever heard it but close friends.

When the computer age came along in 1986, I got off the road and started doing a one man band, making my own tr

Submitted: January 02, 2012

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