In 1892 Coffeyville, Kansas became famous in western folklore when the notorious Dalton Gang tried to best the Jesse James Gang by robbing two banks at the same time in broad daylight. The gritty citizens of Coffeyville almost killed the entire gang, including Bob and Grat Dalton. The only survivor was Emmett Dalton, who was shot twenty-two times but miraculously recovered to spend fifteen years in the penitentiary.
My story begins in 1951 in that same city of Coffeyville, Kansas. I was a halfback on the state champion Coffeyville Red Ravens football team. During the next few years I finished college and started a family. I went to work fulltime and by 1955 I was Head of the Shipping Department for Jensen Brothers Oil Well Pump Jack Manufacturers. Elvis Presley had exploded that year, changing the music industry forever. I was amazed that one day he was driving a truck for $35.00 per week and the next day he was a millionaire. I figured if Elvis could do it, I could do it, so I used to walk around singing Elvis songs on the floor of the factory for our employees and they started calling me "Elvis".
In December of 1955, there was a Christmas Party at the local nightclub The Casa Del. The club had a three piece Black Jazz band and after a few beers one of my co-workers bet me $20.00 that I didn't have the nerve to sing a song with the band. Twenty dollars in 1955 was a lot of money. So I took the bet. I asked the band to play "Love Me Tender" and of course they had never heard of it. I told them I'd sing it acapella and they could fill it as best they could. I sang the song and to my surprise, I got a standing ovation. The nightclub owner asked if I had a band. I said "No." He said, "Get one and you got a job." This was my entry into show business.
I went in search of musicians, visiting all the area dives and beer joints. The going rate for local musicians was $4.00 per night. Since I had a high paying day job, I picked the three best musicians I could find and offered them $8.00 per gig. We went to work at our local nightclub as promised by the owner. Since we were the first band to play Rock 'n' Roll in the area, needless to say, we became a local sensation.
One Saturday night on the way to the club for a gig, I had the radio on and I heard a young fellow singing "Blueberry Hill" at the local movie theater talent contest. I was blown away as he sounded just like Fats Domino. That young Black man was none other than sixteen year old Big Al Downing. I hired Big Al immediately, with him covering Fats Domino and Little Richard songs and me doing Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. We added Joe Brawley on drums, and with sixteen year old guitarist Vernon Sandusky and myself doing The Everly Brothers, we could play all of the hitmakers of the day and had the hottest band in the Southwest...