Waylon in Lubbock:  Part One
By: Sky Corbin

It was the Spring of l957. I was a fresh-out-of-the-Air Force young deejay at my hometown radio station, KLVT, Levelland, Texas. One of my fellow deejays, Terry Belyeu, mentioned one day that he'd heard an apparently very young deejay on KVOW, Littlefield )about 25 miles north of our location, and he thought I'd find him interesting. I tuned in, and heard a shy-sounding, rough-reading, but somehow very appealing voice...and when I heard him singing a home-made jingle promoting the radio station, I was fascinated.  Although he was attempting to imitate Hank Snow and singing his jingle to the tune of "I'm Moving On", there was something about the voice I found strangely appealing.

Terry and I drifted up Littlefield way a few days later and visited Waylon at KVOW. The station was in a small frame house with a sheet- iron roof. The only lighting was bare, apparently 40-watt light bulbs The furnishings were past due for the junk yard. Two Mexican gentlemen were practicing in the lobby/studio for their upcoming live music program.They nodded toward the control room when we asked if we could see "Wayland" Jennings. WE introduced ourselves and got a very friendly welcome. Deejays at little stations didn't get all that much attention in those days. The control room made Terry and I feel like we were in the bigtime at OUR place of employment. KVOW was poorly lit, with antiquated, beat-up equipment, and most unforgettable of all, a crack in the corner of the building, about two feet from the operating position that you could have thrown a cat through...well, a kitten, anyway...and Waylon sat there and deejayed, read the news etc. at least 8 hours a day with the west Texas heat..and sand
blowing in. I complimented his jingles, told him my brother Ray "Slim" Corbin (later a Monument and Columbia recording artist, but at that time a deejay at KHOB, Hobbs, N. Mex.) and I played guitar and sang and we should all get together. Sounded great to him, he said. We talked for quite a while about our likes and dislikes in music and I asked if he'd be interested in moving if an opportunity came along. He indicated that he would. Said he and his wife and two kids were starving on his $50 a week salary.

He accepted our invitation to visit us at KLVT, and was amazed at how much better the facility was, in every way.   We contined our friendship with occasional visits. I had plans. When, I got an offer from KTFY, Brownfield, with a considerable pay increase and a lighter workload, I recommended Waylon for my job at KLVT. He accepted. I thought he'd be getting my fabulous KLVT salary, a whopping $75 a week, and learned much later he made the move for very little more than he was making at Littlefield. (You need to keep in mind that this was '57 and minimum wage was a dollar an hour to the best of my recollection) He, Ray and I never did all get together that year,   Didn't matter all that much. My brother
Ray and I, with our just-retired-farmer Dad's financial backing, were looking for a radio station to buy, and we finally settled for KLLL, Lubbock, Texas. When I approached Waylon about joining us as our first-hired employee, "Sky, I don't think I'm good enough for a market as big as Lubbock!" protested the future world-renowned superstar.   I responded with, "I may not be either, but we'll learn together...or starve!" That, in retrospect, now seems almost prophetic! The next couple of years were unforgettable. Country boys talking on the big town men in a battle royal for survival, then supremacy. STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT
THRILLING EPISODE, "WAYLON AT K TRIPLE L...studios atop the Great Plains Bilding in downtown Lubbock, Texas!"
    
"Sky Corbin--lover, fighter, wild horse rider and purty fair windmill man!"
(retired)
 

Waylon in Lubbock: Part Two

LETTER FROM SKY CORBIN:

In the March llth issue of Country Music Classics, I wrote about Waylon Jennings as a young deejay in l957 at KVOW, Littlefield then KLVT, Levelland (both Texas) and my hiring him to join me and my brother Ray "Slim" Corbin, at KLLL, Lubbock,Texas, which we were buying, with our Dad, H. E. Corbin--- .

FCC approval came in April, '58, and we took over at KLLL May lst. "Slim" had been a deejay for about 6 years at stations in West Texas, and at KHOB, Hobbs, N. Mex. and his experience and ability far outshined either mine or Waylon's. Like me, he was impressed with Waylon's singing and guitar
playing, and less with his deejay work. Waylon didn't read very well and was less than smooth with his "production" or "boardwork", despite having been at it off and on for about 5 years. He sounded particularly tense and rough his first weeks at KLLL, intimidated by working in a much bigger town--with competition. "Slim" and he, and Dad and he, hit it off, though, and were instant friends. Waylon had gotten to the point at Levelland that he wound up with no transporation. His old car had coughed it's last.
Still living in Levelland, with his job 30 miles away, he had a problem. ":Slim" and I had both moved to Lubbock, but Dad had not. Having retired from farming, he had time on his hands, and was interested in his investment, so he agreed to bring Waylon to work temporarily. He served as Waylon's "chaffeur" until Waylon moved to Lubbock a few weeks later, then went with him to see a banker about a car loan. Suddenly Waylon was cruising in a long, shiny, but "used-up" DeSoto convertible. It was fun while it lasted. Something less showy and more reliable would have been wiser. He was soon "afoot" again a good deal of the time, and this time, I gave him a ride home or took him to the shop to pick up his car on occasion.

Meanwhile, back at the station---Waylon's deejaying was working pretty well for us. We ran a mostly country format, but with a "Top 40" influence...lots of Country-Pop, Rockabilly and Folk and not much hard country---except for artists like George Jones and Ray Price, who though quite country, were hot. We called ourselves "The Modern Country Sound" and emphasized the difference between us and the old-line country station, KDAV, which had, about 3 years earlier, gone on the air billed as the world's very first all-country station, though they had a gospel show and an after-school rock and roll show. Mostly they played a lot of Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells and bluegrass, which, at that time, the Elvis-era, left the younger folks cold. We played Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Elvis, Don Gibson, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Brenda Lee, the Kingston Trio.... and our presentation was personality all the way.(Going too far on occasion!) KDAV also ran too many commercials.(while
our bank account showed we didn't run nearly enough!) "Slim" was a far better musician than Waylon or I, and a real expert at producing commercials and jingles. He could play guitar and sing a jingle, then over-dub vocal harmony and instrumentation VERY well, and we did a lot of jingles for the station and for advertisers. While "Slim" did most of them, Waylon did quite a few, usually imitating Johnny Cash, and I was vocalist and the writer on some. It all made for a very colorful, entertaining radio station.

Waylon's laid-back attitude, mistakes, and general goofing-off went over well with the young folks, especially the teen-age girls, who obviously heard that certain something I had recognized in his voice, and we often had a studio audience. We were located on the 20th (top) floor of the Great Plains Building, the tallest in town, with a restaurant down the hall, so we were easy to find. We must have seemed a lot like an early version of the Beverly Hillbillies come-to-town to the bankers, lawyers and accountants in the building, but the local girls liked all the deejays and many came to "see what those crazy guys look like!") We were all "married, with children", and some of us took that seriously. Some of us didn't. We also had two older deejays, "Hi-Pockets" Duncan, and "Mr. Sunshine", both 50-ish. Some of the young ladies were so deejay "star-struck" they even made eyes at THEM. I, as manager, finally had to invoke a "watch the
deejay 5 minutes, then please leave" policy. (Meanwhile, the Lubbock radio "industry insiders" were making bets we wouldn't last a year. They just didn't understand that radio was "show-biz"!)      

4th of July weekend---I was standing on Broadway in downtown Lubbock, listening to Waylon sing with a local band on a temporary bandstand in the middle of the street. We were participating in a Lubbock Downtown Merchant's Association promotion. A middle-aged gent with a friendly smile approached me with a 45 rpm record in his hand. He introduced himself as "L. O. Holley, Buddy Holly's dad", and handed me a copy of Buddy's new record. I told him we'd be glad to spin it. We listened to Waylon finish his song. Mr. Holley asked me who that was, and I told him it was Waylon Jennings, one of our deejays, He said he'd been listening to us a lot and enjoyed our programs. I said, "You know, Mr. Holly, if Buddy would be
interested in helping another West Texas boy make it, Waylon is the one I'd recommend." He told me that Buddy was, in fact, planning to begin producing other artists, and wanted to start his own record company. He told me that Buddy and the Crickets were in England but were due home in a few days. I said, "Tell him to come see us. I'd like to meet him." ("Slim" knew him, and Buddy and Waylon had met a few years back at KDAV's live show, the Sunday Afternoon Party. Buddy was one of the stars and Waylon "just a kid from Littlefield" who was occasionally allowed to sing a song.)

A few days later, about 8:00 a.m., a tall, slim, bespectacled young man came into the KLLL control room where I was doing the morning show, offered his right hand, and said "I'm Buddy Holly. Got home last night. Dad says you think Waylon has possibilities." Right to the point! As I was to find, that was Buddy's way. Maybe he somehow knew he didn't have time to fool around......(to be continued)

"Sky" Corbin Lover, fighter, wild horse rider and purty fair windmill man
(retired)

From: Sky Corbin
Chapter 3----(WAYLON/LUBBOCK '58)

On that July, l958 morning at KLLL, Lubbock, Buddy Holly and I had discussed Waylon and his potential as a recording artist no more than 5 or l0 minutes when "Hi-Pockets" Duncan, our "old-pro" Sales Manager/deejay arrived for work. Learning that Buddy Holly was present, "Hi" wasted no time coming to the control room. He was well acquainted with Buddy, having worked at KDAV earlier when Buddy and other local talent had performed on their live shows. (In fact, "Hi" had been a factor in Buddy's getting his
first record contract, which led to a Nashville session, which produced a flop album and a couple of singles for Decca. Hi had gotten Marty Robbins and HIS manager interested in helping Buddy, which resulted in the Decca contract.) Soon "Hi" invited Buddy down the hall to the "Top of the Plains" restaurant for coffee. There Buddy brought up the subject of Waylon, and "Hi" seconded my opinion of his talent and potential.

When Waylon arrived soon thereafter, he joined Buddy, Hi and my brother and partner "Slim" in the coffee shop. Waylon and Buddy soon came back down the hall to KLLL, closed the doors to the production/recording room, picked up the always-present guitar and "made some music" for each other. Buddy apparently was impressed and became Waylon's mentor on the spot, telling him about his plans to form his own record label and put in a recording studio at Lubbock.

Buddy knew Lubbock and the surrounding area was a hot-bed of talent. In addition to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, there was Sonny Curtis, singer/guitarist/songwriter who had been a member of Buddy's pre-Crickets band, was now recording for Dot Records (without success) but who would become a Cricket after Buddy's death, eventually record for Coral, Viva, Capitol and Elektra...and write some very big songs, mostly in the pop field, such as "Walk Right Back" for the Everly Brothers (and, later, Anne Murray), "More Than I Can Say" for Leo Sayers, "Love Is All Around"( theme for the Mary Tyler Moore Show), "Stranger To The Rain" for Keith Whitley...There was Terry Noland, Brunswick recording artist, who had enjoyed slight chart success, and had been on the Dick Clark TV Show, Alan Freed's big rock 'n roll concerts, and other brushes with the "big-time", there was a rockabilly group called "The Four Teens" who had a near-miss on Challenge Records (lead singer Jimmy Peters would later record for Banner,
Columbia, Decca and other labels as a country artist, with several near-misses) my brother "Slim", who would, a decade later, (as RAY Corbin) record for Monument, then Columbia before his untimely death at Phoenix in l97l. A local Top 40 deejay, Don Bowman, who would soon join us at country KLLL, (where I taught him his first guitar chords) in the late 60's, become an RCA records country comic and a songwriter, have a fairly successful career..(and help Waylon get an A & M, then eventually get signed by RCA.) The list goes on and on...(Billy Walker from Ralls, Jimmy Dean from Plainview, Don Williams from Floydada, Tanya Tucker from Seminole all made it big, but had little or no relationship with the Lubbock music scene.)

The areas' production of "stars" must have been the result of something in the west Texas water...or the motivation to "get out of the cotton-patch", as Waylon would say in later years. Buddy Holly was an exception. He believed Lubbock could be a major music industry location, using mostly area talent, and HE liked his home town.

In retrospect, since Buddy was"in love", and about to be married, in just weeks, to Maria Elena Santiago, a New York music publishing company receptionist, his passion and planning for the music business at that particular time seems to hint...again...that he somehow felt he had no time to waste. He did "waste" quite a bit of time at KLLL though, before and after his August l5th wedding, making frequent trips back to Lubbock after he and his bride set up housekeeping in Greenwich Village, NYC. . We...Waylon, Buddy, "Slim" and I..drank coffee together frequently, went bowling at least once or twice during that summer, and Buddy told us "insider" show-biz stories about people he'd worked with, including some of the wildest, nuttiest characters who ever drew breath, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis...and country's George Jones. Waylon was enthralled, and obviously anticipating his "shot" at it. Buddy, while still enthused about
Waylon's prospects, was beginning to have some apprehensions...or at least, to see some problems.

(Next---same time, same website--- World-famous Buddy Holly sings (for free) at Morris Fruit and Vegetable Market and on KLLL...and Waylon records a REAL record at Clovis, New Mexico..with real professionals!)

"Sky" Corbin---Lover, fighter, wild horse rider and purty durn fair
windmill man (retired)

                                    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

(PART 4) BUDDY HOLLY CREATES 'THE NEW WAYLON JENNINGS'---Lubbock, l958

Buddy Holly seemed a little uncomfortable that day in the Fall of l958 when he appeared in my office door and said he wanted to talk with me about Waylon.

He believed in Waylon's talent and potential, and believed he COULD look "good". He was certainly more handsome than Buddy (or me)! But, as Buddy said, "He just doesn't dress well...or get his hair cut right." I had to agree. I was no fashion-conscious "Adolph Menjou" myself, but all of us at KLLL felt a little embarrassed at times by Waylon's appearance..and his sometimes wearing the same shirt all week. As I explained to Buddy, this was because he didn't make a lot of money, and he and his wife, Maxine,
didn't know how to handle what he DID make. He'd get paid on Friday, they'd enjoy a big weekend, and he was broke and bumming cigarettes on Monday. Buddy explained something I already knew....that a professional entertainer had to look like "SOMEBODY". Image was half the battle. By the summer of '58 when I first met him, Buddy dressed like a well-to-do college boy or young executive, and had a flattering hair cut, and those famous heavy, black horn-rimmed glasses. I remember telling others that you could
see Buddy a block away and know he was "somebody". "Don and Phil (Everly) showed me and Jerry and Joe B. (the Crickets) how to dress," Buddy told me. (The necessity of a neat, well-groomed appearance in the rock and roll arena would become optional a couple of years hence when the Rolling Stones and
other "scroungy" rock and rollers would came along and rock-and roll wood become ROCK! and looking unkempt and "wiped-out" would be "in".)

Buddy had split with Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin (the Crickets) and was forming a new band. Allison and Mauldin were to retain the Crickets name and find a new lead vocalist and guitarist. Buddy had contracted for a mid-January to mid-February tour through the Midwest and wanted to take Waylon along as his bass player and back-up singer...if he could be "shaped up a little". I said, "Well, Buddy, you'll just have to sit him down and explain all this to him...and, I suppose, spring for a wardrobe and take him
to a good barber. I'm sure he doesn't have the money".   "I don't want to hurt his feelings," Buddy said. "Just talk to him in a nice...but business-like way", I advised. "He respects you, and has his hopes up.
He'll be all right with it. You're gonna be his boss and mentor after all! And you ARE Buddy Holly!". Buddy grinned and said, "Well, we'll give it a whirl! Can I have him when he gets off the air at 3:00?" I readily agreed.

It must have been about two hours later when Buddy appeared in my office door again with a big grin on his face. He said, "Sky, are you ready?" "Ready for what?", I asked. Buddy said, "Tah-dah!!!!", stepped aside with a flourish and there stood....was THAT Waylon??? He looked like Waylon's rich city cousin (if he'd had one). A razor-cut haircut that looked plumb Hollywood, a fine-looking sports jacket, spiffy slacks, shiny new stylish shoes..he was strutting like a game rooster. He looked like "Somebody"! "Have you ever been out to Brown's Varsity Shop across the street from Texas Tech?," Waylon asked me. "Man, I didn't know that was Johnny Mack Brown's brother's store! Damn if he don't look and talk just like him!" The Johnny Mack Brown he referred to was the cowboy movie star (and All-American Alabama football hero back in the '20's)...and his brother, known around town as "Coach" Brown was indeed the proprietor of the upscale men's store which catered to the college crowd...especially the athletes...and he often did some "coaching" while he was "decorating" the Red Raiders football team in their "off-duty" attire..

Buddy had decided to produce a record session on Waylon at Norman Petty's Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. He would also cut a couple of sides on himself...and he wanted the famed "Yakety-Sax" man, King Curtis playing saxophone. Curtis, a black rock and roll musician from "back east" accepted the gig'' and caught a commercial flight to Lubbock where he, Buddy and Waylon climbed into a small private plane with a hired pilot (or perhaps Buddy"s pilot brother, Larry) and flew to Clovis. Buddy, a life-long
country music fan, wanted Waylon to record the old Cajun country classic "Jole Blon" with Curtis's funky sax substituted for the Cajun fiddle.

(Next time---more on the Clovis session---Waylon and Buddy's departure for
New York...and tragedy)
. .
'SKY' CORBIN (Lover, fighter, wild horse rider and purty durn fair windmill
man) (ret.)

 (WAYLON AT LUBBOCK '58)   Part 5

The day of Waylon Jennings' first recording session, in September '58 at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico, was historic in more ways than one. Not only was it Buddy Holly's final Clovis session, and the beginning of Waylon's professional recording career, but, coincidentally, later that day, or perhaps that night, Charlie Phillips recorded the first version of his composition, "Sugartime". Charlie's record was a moderate success, but The McGuire Sisters later made the song a classic. "Old-pro" bass player George Atwood performed on Waylon's songs, Phillips' numbers, and two songs which Buddy Holly recorded himself (in addition to producing and playing guitar on Waylon's sides) and, as mentioned earlier, King Curtis, the world's hottest rock and roll sax player was on hand, all the way from NooYawk City!

According to Waylon, Norman was obviously not happy about Buddy getting into producing, and was not helpful or encouraging to Waylon. "I felt like an illegitimate child at a family reunion!" he said. (in those approximate words) Petty's attitude was, to some extent, understandable, He was the one with the money, know-how and reputation invested in the studio, the one who had produced and recorded hits on Buddy Holly and the Crickets after Nashville was unable to do so. In addition to Buddy and the Crickets, The Norman Petty Trio, an easy-listening instrumental act, had recorded some hits of their own, most notably "Almost Paradise" and "Mood Indigo". Things were happening, and now, after only a year or so, his biggest act, Buddy Holly, was producing records himself and planning to open his own studio in
Lubbock, drawing basically from the same pool of West Texas and eastern New Mexico talent. (Buddy's next session would be in New York with Dick Jacobs producing and leading the orchestra).   .

When Buddy played the demo tape of Waylon's "Jole Blon" and the "flip" side, a thing called "When Sin Stops" (Love Begins") for us at KLLL, my brother "Slim" and I were not impressed, thrilled or optimistic. Producing a hit record is not as easy as the layman might assume. A talented artist recording a fine song can come up with a bomb...or a poor-to-mediocre artist singing garbage can come up with a smash. (Haven't we all heard plenty of those?!) Recording, in 1958, was still mostly one-track. The countless
re-dubs and re-mixes done today were not practical...or even possible. When we had heard the tapes, all we could say was something like "Well, it's different. The radio stations and the public will have the say-so when it's released." Actually, Buddy's own performances during this record session also failed to produce anything notable. As we "cowboys" say, "Some days it just don't pay to saddle up!"

One morning during this period, the last weeks of '58, Buddy accompanied Waylon and fellow deejay Hi-Pockets Duncan to Morris Fruit and Vegetable Market, a modest grocery store in east Lubbock. Hi and Waylon made the visit every Tuesday morning to tell the radio audience about the current food specials. Hi emceed and did the advertising while Waylon, accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar, would sing a couple of songs...or more if time permitted on the 15 minute program. On this "momentous occasion", Buddy Holly, internationally known recording star, sang a song and harmonized with Waylon on the bluegrass favorite "Salty Dog Blues" When the program was over, Morris shook Buddy's hand and thanked him for coming out. Hi said, "Morris, Buddy gets at least a thousand bucks anytime he sings even one song. I suppose you'd take a check, wouldn't you, Buddy?" According to Hi, Morris turned pale, then red, and sputtered, "My God, Hi-Pockets, you should have checked with me first! You know I can't afford a lick like that!" Fortunately, the ensuing laughter made Morris realize he'd "been had"...though not financially. Buddy settled for a soda pop.

Waylon continued to deejay at KLLL while waiting for his job with Buddy to begin. Trying desperately to learn to play the new electric bass Buddy had presented him with, Waylon discovered that the four strings on a bass were the same as the strings on a guitar, and he was making some progress. Buddy and his wife, Maria Elena, were spending the holidays in Lubbock with Buddy's family. One morning (while I was doing my deejay show) Buddy, Waylon and Slim were in the production room nearby. Buddy was demonstrating some excellent new songs he had just written, or was still working on. "Help me with this one," he said. and began strumming and singing, "You're the one...and I wantcha to know..." Between the three of them, they rapidly knocked off a pretty nice little song, putting it on tape with Waylon and Slim accompanying Buddy and the guitar with some rather ragged goof-off hand-clapping for extra rhythm. After one quick run-through so they could remember the song. Buddy laid down the guitar and the three left for the coffee shop down the hall. Somehow the tape wound up in my desk for safekeeping, and was almost forgotten, even by me, until Buddy's Dad asked me about two years later if there was anything at the station that Buddy had recorded.   I'm glad I saved that tape "for sentimental reasons." Unfortunately, another tape made that month disappeared. It featured Buddy, Waylon, Sonny Curtis and Ray "Slim" Corbin having a great time singing harmony, and, as I recall, each taking a solo on "Salty Dog Blues"...a favorite of the young Lubbock musicians at the time. That would be something to hear now 44 years later! (Only Sonny survives of that fearsome foursome.)

On New Years Day, I was doing some paperwork in my office. The station was deserted except for me and the deejay who was on the air. Buddy and Waylon came in. Waylon wanted to pick up his guitar and a few other personal effects. He, presumably, had wound up his deejay days at KLLL, though there was a tacit understanding that he might be rehired if the music thing didn't work out...or he might do some fill-in when he wasn't on tour. On the way out, they came to my office door. (And I remember as if it were last month) "Well, 'Sky', we're off!", Buddy said, with a wave. I responded with my usual "brilliant wit", "Of course you're OFF! You're musicians, aren't you?" Buddy said, "You've got a point there!" I told Buddy, "Take care of our boy." Buddy's response (ironically) was, "Hunh! HE may have to take care of ME! See you about the middle of February. We gotta go make some money!"

That was the last time I'd see Buddy, but certainly not Waylon. HE'D be back...
Next episode---"THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED"...how it was in Lubbock...and
Littlefield....and Morris Fruit and Vegetable Market...


"Sky" Corbin---Lover, fighter, wild horse rider and purty durn fair windmill
man (ret.)

 

Continue to Waylon in Lubbock:  Chapters 6 through 10