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Kissin' Cousins And Swinging Sixties Singles

The Patty Duke Show premiered on TV in September of 1963, in which the actress played the dual role of twin-like “identical” cousins. At the same time, Elvis Presley was working on Kissin’ Cousins, a movie with a similar plot twist. In order to keep a lid on expenses, Colonel Tom Parker ordered the soundtrack work to be recorded in Nashville this time, instead of Hollywood. The title track to the film would be Presley’s next single, making it to number 12 in early ‘64, as Elvis waded ankle-deep into the rising tide of what would be known as the British Invasion.

In regards to music, as 1963 waned, a song from an earlier 60’s musical, West Side Story, pretty well set the scene: “Something’s Coming.” To those who were in that period of limbo, the something in question wasn’t clearly defined; it was the cultural equivalent of the stored electrical tension on a capacitor wanting to be discharged. And like that capacitor, when the discharge finally came, along with it would be a big spark.

Before the opening salvo of the new musical revolution was fired with the appearance of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, there were already a number of local Memphis bands and smaller labels trying to achieve immortality in plastic. You’ll find a fascinating account of all these musicians and more in Ron Hall’s A History Of Garage And Frat Bands In Memphis. Here’s just a sampling from a stack of pre-Beatle era Memphis 45’s.

Years before Michael Jackson or Donny Osmond, Sun Records was producing Tony Rossini’s teenage love tunes. Tony was a 13-year-old student at Colonial Jr. High when songwriter Dan Padgett had him record some song demos. Scotty Moore got hold of them, and Rossini wound up on five Sun singles before he was scarcely old enough to drive.

Kemmons Wilson was renowned for his business insight, and on the heels of his success founding Holiday Inns, was known to plunge fearlessly into entrepreneurial endeavors. In 1961, one of his executives, D. Wayne Foster, checked in with the home office on a trip to Monroe, Louisiana, and told him about a band he found. Wilson saw an untapped opportunity, and Holiday Inn Records was born. They rushed that band, The Roller Coasters, to Nashville, where they recorded the first of six singles for the label, “Rimshot, Parts 1 and 2.” It didn’t chart, but got airplay, sometimes in trade for free hotel stays for DJ’s. Payola, of course, was illegal, but this would have been, maybe, “Stayola?”

The Le Sabres started out in 1960 as Johnny And The Rawhiders at Kingsbury High. Johnny Jackson sang lead, Laddie Hutcherson on guitar. They recorded three singles, including “Rising Mercury Twist.” Laddie would take it to the next level with his next band, The Guilloteens.

Coming out of Central High, one of the hottest bands was Flash And The Casuals. Front man David Fleischman was a naturally flamboyant performer, and the band had a sizeable following as house band at the Thunderbird Lounge.

Tommy Jay And The Escorts spent a good part of the 60’s rocking West Memphis. “Going Steady Ring” was their first single in 1963.

“At The Rock House” by Freddie Caddell And The Twirls holds the distinction of being the first record produced in the garage studio of John Fry. John partnered with MUS classmates John King and Fred Smith, yes that Fred Smith, turning their fascination with electronics into what would become world-famous Ardent Studios.

And, no chronicle of that time would be complete without tossing in perhaps the most successful local band of that era, Tommy Burk And The Counts. They recorded their signature single “Stormy Weather” at another venue which would soon be making its mark in Memphis music history, American Studio.

My heroes have always been disc jockeys. I especially admired the ones who could take the canvas of the fourteen-second intro of a teeny-bopper song and paint a masterpiece. From my youth, I strove to emulate them. I had the good fortune to walk in some of their footsteps, albeit a respectful pace behind.