Born Buddy Wayne Knox, 20 July 1933, Happy, Texas
Buddy Knox was the first artist of the rock 'n' roll era to write his own number one song. Though Elvis Presley was listed as co-writer on "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't Be Cruel", he didn't actually participate in writing either song.
Knox was born on a wheat farm near a small Texas town called Happy (population in 2012 : 678). He grew up listening to country music and taught himself to play guitar. He gained a degree in accountancy and business administration before deciding on a career in music. While he was in college at West Texas State in Dumas, Knox teamed up with fellow students Jimmy Bowen, who played double bass, and guitarist Donny Lanier. They formed a group, The Serenaders, later renamed The Orchids. They worked dances around Dumas and Amarillo and held down a regular gig on KDDD in Dumas.
After seeing Elvis perform in Amarillo, the trio decided that this was the kind of music they wanted to play. At Roy Orbison's advice, they went to Norman Petty's Studio in Clovis, New Mexico, just across the Texas border, with $60 in their pockets. They recorded two songs that Knox and Bowen had written together, "Party Doll" (featuring Knox on vocal) and "I'm Sticking With You" (featuring Bowen on vocal). The record was first issued on the Triple D label (named after KDDD) in December 1956 and enjoyed some local success. Donny Lanier's sister worked in New York and she gave a copy of the disc to Phil Kahl, a partner in a new label, Roulette Records. Kahl brought the group to New York, bought the masters, recorded two more songs and astutely released "Party Doll" and "I'm Sticking With You" on separate singles. Both became million sellers in the spring of 1957, with "Party Doll" going all the way to # 1 and Bowen's record peaking at # 14. Three cover versions of "Party Doll" also charted (Steve Lawrence # 5, Roy Brown # 89, Wingy Manone # 56). The folks at Roulette changed the band's name to The Rhythm Orchids. By then the line-up had been augmented with drummer Dave Alldred.
Kahl became the manager of The Rhythm Orchids and sent them on the road. By the time Knox recorded a follow-up single, "Rock Your Little Baby To Sleep" (a # 17 hit), he had been inducted into the US Army and was credited on the label as "Lieutenant Buddy Knox with the Rhythm Orchids". The army stint meant the cancellation of a proposed trip to the London Palladium, and generally cost Buddy dearly in loss of revenue from lucrative live dates that had been lined up as a result of his recording success. But Knox's tour of duty was relatively short (six months) and by September 1957 he was back in the Top 10 with the self-composed "Hula Love" (# 9), which was actually derived from a 1911 song, "My Hula Hula Love". It was one of two songs Buddy performed in the 1957 movie "Jamboree". "Party Doll" and "Hula Love" epitomized Knox's style, which could be called light pop rockabilly. His music was a far cry from the barely contained passion of, say, Gene Vincent, but it was melodic and bright and sung with a clear diction that was almost completely without a regional accent. Some people call his music "Tex-Mex", but there never was a large Hispanic ("Mex") influence in the sound of Knox and co.
Roulette recorded Buddy in both Clovis and New York. After "Hula Love" there were five further national chart entries on Roulette (the biggest of which was "Somebody Touched Me" at # 22), but payment of royalties was a bone of contention and unlike other 50's rockers, Buddy Knox was no mug on the financial front, having qualified in accountancy!
So at the end of his three-year term with Roulette, Knox (now without the Rhythm Orchids), signed with a different label. He moved to Los Angeles and joined Liberty Records, where he was placed under the supervision of Snuff Garrett, who favoured string-laden productions. His first Liberty 45, a revival of the 1954 Clovers hit "Lovey Dovey", went to # 25 in early 1961, and the follow-up, "Ling Ting Tong" (another R&B hit from the mid-50s) reached # 65. It was Buddy's last chart entry, which doesn't mean that his Liberty recordings were below par. Actually, most of them were quite good, with a special mention for "She's Gone", a minor hit in the UK in 1962. After the Liberty contract ran out in 1964, Knox was reunited with Jimmy Bowen, who had become a successful producer at Reprise Records. In 1968 Buddy moved to Nashville and to United Artists, where he had some regional success with the Sonny Curtis composition "Gypsy Man". Unlike some of his colleagues from the early days, Knox was unable to sustain a career in country music.
In 1970 he relocated to Canada, near Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he lived for twenty years, before moving to British Columbia where he spent the last nine years of his life. He got involved in local nightclubs and a couple of small record labels and he'd spend up to 50 weeks a year touring the world with his music. On February 5, 1999, Buddy was told he had inoperable lung cancer and just nine days later he was dead. His music retains a timeless quality and will always be with us.
More info :
Discography / sessionography :
Acknowledgements : Adam Komorowski, Roger Dopson, Colin Escott, Fred Bronson.
Dik, March 2013
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