When my high school chum Joella Ewing and I were teens in the mid-to-late 1950s, rock and roll was a part of our identity. We were studious types – not roadies — but even so, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ricky Nelson and Jerry Fuller were a big part of our shared history.
Rock and roll insisted itself into every part of our lives and emotions. We laughed, we loved, we cried. We swooned when Elvis Presley married Priscilla; we mourned when Texas born Buddy Holly and J. P. Richardson, Jr. (The Big Bopper) died in a plane crash. We were shocked – shocked, I tell you – when Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin.
All of this came flooding back to us recently when Joella viewed Roy Orbison’s Black and White concert on OPB, and recalled a 1956 incident. She had made friends with teen Nancy Nichols, neighbor to her aunt and uncle in Garland. Nichols was dating the young man who wrote Roy Orbison’s first hit, “Ooby Dooby,” and invited Joella to an evening with her, her date, and other musical teens. Joella mused, “Wouldn’t it be something if Roy were among them.”
In 1957, Ricky Nelson began a music career, leveraging his national exposure in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” a TV sit-com built around his own family. Advertised as the new Elvis, Nelson came to Ft. Worth on a press tour in 1958. I interviewed him for the Arlington Citizen-Journal and wrote a prickly review after he kept us waiting 3 hours.
My cousin Jerry Fuller of Ft. Worth had come from a talented family as well, first singing with his brother Bill, then cutting his own 45 single. Joella remembers the two of us calling all the radio stations in the DFW metroplex, encouraging them to play Jerry’s record.
A few years later, cousin Jerry relocated to California where he made his big musical impact as a songwriter. His 1961 song, “Travelin’ Man” became a huge hit for (of all people) Ricky Nelson! Jerry went on to write 23 of Nelson’s songs and eventually became a music producer of his own, discovering Gary Puckett and the Union Gap in the late 1960s.
— Jonnie Martin