#143: Storm Clouds by Buddy Knox
Buddy Wayne Knox was born in 1933, in 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”.
Knox had a few more Top 40 hits in Vancouver (BC) in the late ’50s: “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself”, “I Ain’t Sharin’ Sharon” and “Storm Clouds”.
“Storm Clouds” was written by Johnny Duncan. The song was a track from the 1958 self-titled Buddy Knox album, whose hit single was “Hula Love”. Duncan was born in 1932 in the Windrock coal-mining camp overlooking the town of Oliver Springs, Tennessee. In his teens his family moved to Texas where he learned guitar and mandolin, and played in a hillbilly trio. He served in the US Air Force, and in 1952 was garrisoned in Cambridgeshire, England, where he met and married a local girl, Betty, in 1953. When performing for American servicemen at Bushey, Hertfordshire, in 1956, he was seen by Dickie Bishop, banjoist in Chris Barber’s Dixieland jazz band. Barber was looking for a new vocalist to replace Lonnie Donegan, who had started a solo career. Duncan took over the role for several months before leaving Barber’s band in early 1957. Duncan then formed a new band, the Blue Grass Boys.
Their recording of “Last Train to San Fernando” climbed to #2 on the British singles chart in 1957. The song was liked by the Quarrymen – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison went to see Johnny Duncan in concert. Duncan briefly became a star in Britain, touring with Wee Willie Harris, Cliff Richard, and Marvin Rainwater. Duncan also appearing regularly on BBC radio and the TV show Six-Five Special. Duncan had two other entries in the Top 30 of the British Singles Chart in 1957, with “Blue, Blue Heartaches” and “Footprints in the Snow”. As skiffle faded, Duncan’s career waned and he eventually moved to Australia, where he died in 2000 at the age of 67.
“Storm Clouds” offers a lyrically brief metaphor for emotions and the weather, including “Rain, wash away my pain.” There are no verses besides a chorus.
“Storm Clouds” peaked at #1 in Vancouver, #3 in Tulsa (OK), #10 in Ottawa (ON), and Fort Dodge (IA), #12 in Seattle, and #13 in Duluth (MN).
In the early 1960s Knox left Roulette Records and signed with the Liberty label. 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” was his first release with Liberty.
Knox followed up “Lovey Dovey” with “Ling-Ting-Tong”, another cover of a doo-wop group from the mid-50s – this time the Five Keys. Buddy Knox’s new 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. On September 22, 1980, Buddy Knox appeared in concert at The Cave in Vancouver.
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 11, 2022
Buddy Knox bio, Buddy Knox.com.
April Stevens,” ‘Party Doll’ Performer: Knox Trades 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.
Dr. Michael J. Breus, “Rocked To Sleep — Not Just For Babies Anymore: The Study Suggests that Rocking Does Indeed Have an Effect on our Ability to Fall Asleep — as Well as on the Quality of the Sleep Itself,” Huffington Post, July 6, 2011.
Robert Greenfield, The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun, (Simon & Schuster, 2016).
“Les Vogt – The Story,” Les Vogt.info.
John Pilgrim, “Johnny Duncan: Tennessee hillbilly singer who helped pave the way for Britain’s rock revolution,” Guardian, July 20, 2000.
“The FUN-Tastic Fifty at the Fair!,” C-FUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 27, 1960.
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