#393: Rock House by Buddy Knox & the Rhythm Orchids

Peak Month: July 1957
6 weeks on CKWX’s Vancouver Charts
Peak Position ~ #2
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “Rock House
“Rock House” lyrics

Buddy Wayne Knox was born in 1933 Happy, Texas, a small farm town in the Texas Panhandle a half hour south of Amarillo. During his youth he learned to play the guitar. He was the first artist of the rock era to write and perform his own number one hit song, “Party Doll”. The song earned Knox a gold record in 1957 and was certified a million seller. Knox was one of the innovators of the southwestern style of rockabilly that became known as “Tex-Mex” music.

Buddy attended Happy High School, graduating in 1950. The population of Happy, Texas, in 1956 was only 690 people. After high school, Knox attended West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas. While there, Knox met Jimmy Bowen and Don Lanier, who were also students at the college. Together, they formed a group called the Rhythm Orchids, named after their orchid colored shirts. Though they were underaged, the trio played in local clubs for beer and food. But their performances in Canyon, Texas, came to a halt when it was discovered they were minors. Luckily, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids had developed a fan base. They became the hottest local band around.

Backstage after a show at West Texas State College, with Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings, Knox had a conversation with his Bowen and Lanier. Orbison had told Knox about a recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico. It was there Roy Orbison had recorded some of his earlier songs like “Ooby Dooby.” Shortly after Knox, Bowen and Lanier got themselves to Clovis, New Mexico. They had just $60 in their pockets. For the next three days they recorded three songs that would change rock ‘n roll and their lives forever. Knox recalls, “I don’t think Norman really spotted the potential at the time. I don’t think he was really alert to what was happening in the music business as far as our type of music was concerned.”

Buddy would later look back at that recording at Norman Petty’s studio. “Looking back it’s just something that happened 40 years ago. You try to remember a moment that was so great but in time you forget some of the small details because you didn’t know that would be the one moment in time that would change your life. You have to remember a recording session was a lot different in 1956 than it is today, you had to do everything in one take.”

From that one session Buddy Knox would receive two gold records in 1957, one for “Party Doll” and the other for a song that Jimmy Bowen sang and co-wrote with Knox called “I’m Sticking With You.” “We didn’t know what we had just done,” Knox recalls, ” All we wanted to do was record our music and sell it around the college. This was just a fun trip for us.” “Party Doll” climbed to #1 in Vancouver (BC) and spent 12 weeks in the Top Ten. He had another #1 hit in Vancouver in June ’57 with “Rock Your Little Baby To Sleep”. In July ’57 Knox had another Top Ten hit on Red Robinson’s Teen Canteen chart with a track from his self-titled debut album, Buddy Knox, “Rock House”.

Rock House by Buddy Knox & the Rhythm Orchids

“Rock House” was cowritten by Roy Orbison and Harold Lloyd Jenkins. Orbison had his first hit single on the Billboard pop chart in 1956 with “Ooby Dooby”. Jenkins adapted the stage name of Conway Twitty after he cowrote “Rock House”. And in 1958, billed as Conway Twitty, he had a number one hit with “It’s Only Make Believe”.

Harold Lloyd Jenkins on September 1, 1933 in rural Friars Point, Mississippi, the boy had uncommon abilities and a penchant for helping those around him. Given his first guitar, a Sears & Roebuck acoustic, at the age of four, Harold demonstrated a musical gift. He formed his first band, the Phillips County Ramblers when he was 10 after the family had moved to Helena, Arkansas. His mother was the breadwinner and his father found spotty work as a Mississippi riverboat pilot. Harold obtained employment as a carhop and used his earnings to buy clothes and shoes for his brother and sister.

He landed a weekly radio show, and in his other passion, baseball, developed his skills to the point of playing semi-pro and being offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies after high school. Jenkins figured his destiny was decided when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. Fate intervened, however, when he was drafted by a much bigger team — the U.S. Army. While stationed in Japan, he kept both his dreams alive by forming a band and playing on the local Army baseball team. The band was called the “Cimmarons” and played at different clubs. After his release from the army it was the mid 1950s and the sudden popularity of a young man named Elvis Presley drew a still very young Harold Jenkins to Memphis. Among Conway Twitty’s other hits were “Lonely Blue Boy” and “Danny Boy”. Twitty went on to become a huge country & western star in the 1970s.

Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas in 1936. When he turned six his dad gave him a guitar. Both his dad, Orbie Lee, and uncle Charlie Orbison, taught him how to play. Though his family moved to Forth Worth for work at a munitions factory, Roy was sent to live with his grandmother due to a polio outbreak in 1944. That year he wrote his first song “A Vow of Love”. The next year he won a contest on Vernon radio station KVWC and was offered his own radio show on Saturdays. After the war his family reunited and moved to Wink, Texas, where Roy formed his first band, in 1949, called The Wink Westerners.

He had one notable minor hit with “Ooby Dooby” in 1956. But in 1960 he finally made the Top Ten in the USA with “Only The Lonely”. His follow-up single, “Blue Angel”, gave Orbison his first #1 hit in Vancouver, while peaking at #9 in the USA and #11 in the UK. Orbison had another #1 hit in April 1961 here in Vancouver and in the USA with “Running Scared”. The song debuted at #11 on CKWX and #9 on CFUN. It climbed to #1 on April 15, 1961, on CKWX topping the charts for three weeks. The songs’ production and the performance were unusual for the time, as Monument Records was willing to spend more money on production than many other record labels.

The hits kept on coming for Roy Orbison with “Love Hurts“, “Crying”, “Dream Baby”, “In Dreams”, “Candy Man” and many other Top 40 singles. Among these was “The Actress”. In 1964, Roy Orbison topped the charts in the USA and Vancouver with “Oh, Pretty Woman”. He also had a Top Ten hit with “It’s Over” in the spring of ’64. He went on to become a member of the Traveling Wilburys in the late 80s who had a modest hit with “Handle With Care“.

“Rock House” is a celebration of a place to hear music and dance called the Rock House. It’s a place you can go to in the morning, all day long and in the evening too. When you get there you’ll see a “blue light” and a “big crowd” where the “jukebox plays loud.” The place is jumping and promises “no trouble, no blues.” The invitation, far from causing anyone a heartache, is to “rock it up and have a ball.” In the songs’ lyrics the work rock (or rockin’) appears fifteen times. The track “Rock House” peaked at #2 on Red Robinson’s Teen Canteen chart on CKWX in July 1957. But as it wasn’t released as a single, it didn’t happen to chart on other record surveys across Canada or America.

In 1955 Bill Haley and His Comets had a huge hit that eventually sold 25 million records titled “Rock Around The Clock”. And in 1957 Elvis Presley had a number one hit with “Jailhouse Rock”. And in 1958 Chuck Berry landed at Top Ten hit with “Rock And Roll Music”. Orbison and Jenkins had a musical hunch that a song title that included the word “rock”, held a lot of appeal. After all, Elvis and the other rockers were elbowing more traditional pop stars like Georgia Gibbs, Julius La Rosa, Don Cherry, the Four Lads, the Chordettes, Patti PageJune Valli and others out of the top spots on the pop charts.

Not only did the songwriters of “Rock House” end up becoming big rock stars, Buddy Knox became a household name. By the time the year 1957 was over, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids had 4 million selling singles to their credit. Other hits that year included Knox’s Top Ten single, “Hula Love.” In an interview years later Buddy Knox said “I wrote “Party Doll” and “Hula Love” years before I recorded ’em … way back around 1948, when I was still just a kid.”

In the early 1960s Knox signed with Liberty Records. With this change Knox released several more mainstream pop records, featuring string arrangements and backing vocalists at the suggestion of producer Tommy “Snuff” Garrett. “Lovey Dovey” and “Ling-Ting-Tong” were the only ones that got much airplay.

Both “Lovey Dovey” and “Ling Ting Tong” were much bigger hits in Vancouver than in America, peaking in the Top Ten. The sound captured on these recordings was a distinct departure from his earlier rockabilly work for Roulette. Knox’s recordings now sounded more similar to other mainstream pop artists of the time, like Johnny Burnette (“You’re Sixteen”) and Bobby Vee (“Rubber Ball”), especially with the introduction of strings.

Buddy Knox cracked the Top Ten Vancouver (BC) in October 1961 with “Three-Eyed Man“. But elsewhere the song was not commercially successful. Knox cracked the Top 30 in July 1962 with “She’s Gone” on CFUN.

Dear Abby” was the B-side to the non-charting “Three Way Love Affair”, Knox’s fourth single in a row to miss the Billboard Hot 100. The A-side flopped everywhere. “Dear Abby” only made the Top 30 in Fresno, California, and the bottom of the WIBG Top 99 in Philadelphia. But with his popular concerts in Vancouver, in November 1962, “Dear Abby” gave Buddy Knox his best success with the disc  peaking at #16. Buddy Knox had two more singles make the Top 50 in in Vancouver (BC): “Hitchhike Back To Georgia” in 1964 and “Good Time Girl” in 1965.

Buddy Knox was never as successful as Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison. He released thirty-one singles of which only ten made the Billboard Hot 100. However, his career spanned over four decades. Knox became a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. And “Party Doll” was voted as among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Living on the road almost all his life, Buddy Knox toured nearly eleven months out of the year. If you saw a Winnebago going down the road it was probably Buddy Knox. Always admired for his kindness and desire to help someone out, Knox was known as one of the “nice guys of rock ’n roll,” a happy man from Happy, Texas.

In May 1969, Buddy Knox appeared at Langley Speedway in the Fraser Valley. Knox was called upon to pass out trophies to winners of each race. Between 1968 and the mid-70’s Knox was involved in several business ventures in Canada. Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, and Knox, teamed up and became owners of a chain of Canadian nightclubs. During this time Buddy Knox moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

During the nineties he moved to British Columbia, Canada and worked and lived with Vancouver promotor Les Vogt. They put a huge show on for Buddy’s 60th at the Ranch owned by Vogt at the time. Guests included Tommy Sands and Red Robinson.

In 1997 Buddy moved to Washington State. In February 1999, Buddy Knox died of lung cancer in his home of Bremerton, Washington, at the age of 65.

July 20, 2020
Ray McGinnis

References:
Buddy Knox bio, Buddy Knox.com.
April Stevens,” ‘Party Doll’ Performer: Knox Trdes in Life on the Road for SK,” Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, WA, October 14, 1998.
Obituary: Buddy Knox,” The Independent, UK, February 19, 1999.
John Einarson, “Rockabilly Star Put Down Manitoba Roots,” Winnipeg Free Press, August 20, 2016.
Les Vogt – The Story,” Les Vogt.info.
Steve Pond, “Roy Orbison’s Triumphs and Tragedies,” Rolling Stone, January 26, 1989.
Tony Weber, “Roy Orbison Interview,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, December 4, 1988.
conwaytwitty.com ~ Conway Twitty bio
Dennis Hevesi, “Conway Twitty, 59, Dies on Tour; Country Star Had 50 No. 1 Songs,” New York Times, June 6, 1993.
Red Robinson’s Teen Canteen Survey,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, July 27, 1957.

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