The Incredible, Convoluted Story
Behind This Classic #1 Hit
It has been said that a great song transcends all time barriers. This has certainly been the case with the rock and roll classic teen tragedy tuneLAST KISS, a hit in the '60's, the '70's and the '90's.
The song was written by WAYNE COCHRAN, a legendary bar-circuit R&B lounge singer who tore up his audiences everywhere he performed in the 1960's and early '70's. Despite this recognition (and a tremendous following), he never had a hit record of his own and, despite three different recording attempts for three different record labels, was never even able to hit the charts with his own composition, LAST KISS ... yet watched it climb up the charts for J. FRANK WILSON AND THE CAVALIERS in the 1960's, WEDNESDAY in the 1970's and PEARL JAM in the 1990's.
Blue-eyed soul singer COCHRAN first recorded LAST KISS in 1961 for the Gala label. (It was released again a year later on Galico Records.) He then re-recorded it in 1964 when THE CAVALIERS' version started to take off, this time for the KING label. (Ironically, in 1973, when WEDNESDAY's version started to climb the charts, VIRGO RECORDS quickly re-released the J. FRANK WILSON 1964-hit version, too, trying to cash-in on the song's new-found audience and success!) Originally, the J. FRANK WILSON single was released in 1964 on the tiny Le Cam record label (an alternate take) just before it was re-recorded for Josie (the #1 hit we all know and love), which was then re-issued by Virgo (who, by the '70's, owned all the Josie masters). In between, the even-smaller Tamara label re-issued the Le Cam alternate take version! And in 1969, a re-worked version (released as LAST KISS '69) hit the shelves on the Charay label. (How's THAT for overkill?!?!?!? Have we lost you yet?!?!?) I'd LOVE to hear a version of the 1969 remake!!!
The legend goes that COCHRAN read about a fatal car accident in Barnesville, GA, involving a young girl named Jeanette Clark. In fact, on this particular stretch of Highway 341, where COCHRAN lived at the time, he witnessed MANY accidents ... and had already started to write a song about a tragic collision. This specific accident, however, inspired him to finally finish the song. The small local Gala Record label picked up the track and COCHRAN loaded copies in the trunk of his car, selling them at personal appearances, hoping the record would catch on. Despite sounding a LOT like what would eventually become the J. FRANK WILSON version, it didn't.
However, legendary record executive MAJOR BILL SMITH (from Ft. Worth, TX) heard the song and believed it could be a hit. (We've covered MAJOR BILL before in FORGOTTEN HITS ... by this time, he had already produced #1 records for BRUCE CHANNEL with HEY BABY and for PAUL & PAULA with HEY PAULA.)
SMITH was working with a local San Angelo, Texas group called THE CAVALIERS. He called in lead vocalist JOHN FRANK WILSON from Lufkin, TX, and they cut the track for Le Cam Records. Feeling he could get a better recording, SMITH then took the band to Josie Records and had them re-record the song. The rest, as they say, is history. The new version went all the way to #1 on the National Charts.
FACT OR FICTION DEPT: While first researching this special LAST KISS series back in 2002, we happened to come across this little tidbit on a LAST KISS posting board:
MR. COCHRAN DIDN'T WRITE LAST KISS ... THIS SONG WAS WRITTEN BY A YOUNG ARTIST NAMED CHUCK DOWNS .... HE PLAYED DRUMS FOR THE CHAMPS .... HE WROTE THAT SONG, BECAUSE HIS GIRLFRIEND WAS KILLED IN THE CAR WRECK MENTIONED IN THE SONG ... CHUCK SPORTS THE TERRIBLE SCARS OF THAT NIGHT .... THE SONG WAS A TRIBUTE TO HIS LADY .... BEING NEW TO THE BUSINESS, CHUCK ALLOWED MR. COCHRAN TO REVIEW THE MUSIC, AND HE COPYWRITED IT OUT FROM UNDER MR. DOWNS ..... CHUCK TRIED FOR YEARS TO GET SOMETHING DONE THROUGH THE COURTS, TO NO AVAIL .... NOT ONLY DID CHUCK LOSE HIS GIRL, BUT HE LOST THE TRIBUTE AS WELL TO PEOPLE WHO COULDN'T CARE LESS ABOUT WHO REALLY DID THE WORK .... I KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE, BECAUSE I'VE SEEN THE ORIGIONAL SHEET MUSIC DONE IN PENCIL WITH ALL THE ERASING YOU'LD EXPECT TO FIND ..... CHUCK STILL WRITES, AND IS CURRENTLY LIVING IN MISSOURI ..... JUST GOES TO SHOW YOU HOW CUT THROAT THAT INDUSTRY IS .......
WAYNE COCHRAN has always received the credit for writing this classic tune of teenage tragedy. If CHUCK DOWNS REALLY wrote this song and was REALLY a member of THE CHAMPS (and we cannot find ANY such listing in any of our reference books to this effect, but THE CHAMPS changed personnel SO many times over the years that anything's possible ... you may remember a special series we did on THE CHAMPS, stating that the band is probably more famous for who was NOT in the band at the time of their hit recordings than for anything else ... some of the various band members who passed through their lineup over the years include JIM SEALS and DASH CROFTS as well as GLEN CAMPBELL), then it would seem to us that with as much attention as THE CHAMPS have received over the past 45 years, MR. DOWNS would have had some legal grounds (and notoriety and therefore, some publicity surrounding him) to prove this claim. In the meantime, we'll let the record stand, showing WAYNE COCHRAN as the writer. (P.S. In all the years since thisarticle first ran, I've never seen ANYnew evidence to support the CHUCK DOWNS story and COCHRAN's name remains on the songwriting credit.)
MORE ON WAYNE:WAYNE COCHRAN may be one of the most famous musical performers to never have had a hit record. It didn't seem that a weekend went by here in Chicago in the mid-to-late '60's where WAYNE COCHRAN AND THE C-C RIDERS weren't playing at some big club or show lounge here in the Windy City. It sounds like their greatest audiences were in Georgia and Florida (where JACKIE GLEASON used to actually have him perform on his television program from time to time.)
For any discrepancies that may exist regarding WAYNE COCHRAN's involvement with the writing of the song THE LAST KISS, there is NO denying the fact that J. FRANK WILSON AND THE CAVALIERS had the monster hit recorded version. However, depending on which reference book you happen to check, you CAN come up with entirely different lists of the band member roster for this San Angelo, Texas outfit.
JOEL WHITBURN's TOP POP SINGLES book, circa 1993(as well as the "official online biography page" for THE CAVALIERS) lists PHIL TRUNZO, JERRY GRAHAM, BOBBY WOODS and GEORGE CROYLE as the key members of the band at the time of this landmark recording. THE BILLBOARD BOOK OF ONE-HIT WONDERS changes CROYLE's first name to GENE. THE BILLBOARD BOOK OF #2 HITS cites SID HOLMES, LEWIS ELLIOTT, JOHN MAYBERRY, ROLAND ATKINSON, GENE CROYLE and MIKE HODGES as the make-up of THE CAVALIERS. In WHITBURN's 2006 revision, the band members have been updated to include SID HOLMES, LEWIS ELLIOTT and RAY SMITH!!!The only point that everyone seems to agree on is that JOHN FRANK WILSON (J. FRANK) joined the band as lead singer after a stint in the Air Force.
Taken under the wing of SONLEY ROUSH, they received a recording opportunity that resulted in the song being issued on Le Cam Records in early 1964. It was apparently THIS record that MAJOR BILL SMITH heard and at this point, he stepped in to secure them a better deal with Josie Records, where they re-recorded LAST KISS. By then, inner-termoil between band members was already forcing a change of personnel. In fact, at one point, even J. FRANK WILSON was ousted and replaced by new lead vocalist JOHN MAYBERRY!
The original HIT version of LAST KISS went all the way to #1 on the Cash Box Chart in the Fall of 1964. Modeled after other successful teen tragedy songs of the early rock era like TEEN ANGEL, PATCHES, TELL LAURA I LOVE HER, ENDLESS SLEEP and EBONY EYES, it piqued an interest in the young listeners of the day and became a HUGE hit (if not the prototype for other teenage tragedies to follow ... just a year later, DICKEY LEE was back on the charts with the haunting LAURIE, one of our very first featured FORGOTTEN HITS and, to this day, an oft-requested favorite.) Of all the aforementioned tunes, LAST KISS seems to be the one with "legs," crossing over from generation to generation, and still appealing to the youth of the day. (Witness the top of the charts showing by PEARL JAM's resurrection of this tune just a few years ago.)
NOTE: All of this CAVALIERS personnel informationbecame a lotmore relevant when this series waslater accompanied byour exclusive interview with ARNIE KARR, who performed as the musical directorwith the then-current incarnation of this legendary band. Apparently, not a single original member is on board and there has been some controversy of late as to just who owns the rights to the CAVALIERS' name!
ISN'T IT IRONIC DEPT: J. FRANK WILSON and SONLEY ROUSH were both injured in a serious car accident together a few years after LAST KISS rode its way up to the top of the charts. (Some reports state that ROUSH was killed in the accident.) WILSON died in 1991 after a long illness.
Take a gander at theJ. FRANK WILSON AND THE CAVALIERS picture posted on the site from 1962 ... and pay particular attention tothe band member listing!!!
The following information is from the official WEST TEXAS MUSIC HALL OF FAME Website ... jeez, you'd think that an organization like that could spell and punctuate better!!! (LOL) ... which also includes a copy of the contract submitted by TOMD above ... as well as a few more cool vintage pics:
J. Frank was born December 11, 1941 in Lufkin, TX. In 1962 J. Frank Wilson, After Being Discharged From Goodfellow Air Force Base, Auditioned For The San Angelo Based Group "The Cavaliers" (Sid Holmes-Lewis Elliott-Bob Zeller-Ray Smith). J. Frank Would Then Be Discovered By Independent Record Producer Sonley Roush Who Had Booked The Band At The Blue Note Club (3rd and Birdwell St) In Big Spring, Texas In 1962. After Signing A 3 Year Manager's Contract With Sid Holmes, In 1963, Frank Took A Leave Of Absents. In 1964 J. Frank Was Re-Instated As The Lead Singer For The Cavaliers Replacing John Maberry. The Cavaliers, J. Frank Wilson, Buddy Croyle, Lewis Elliott, Roland Atkinson, Jim Wynne And A Girl Who Sang In Church (Gwen Coleman) Went About The Business Of Copying Wayne Cochran's Record In Ron Newdoll's Studio In San Angelo. With J. Frank In Top Form The Record (First Released On Tamara 761 & Le Cam 722) On Josie Started Moving Up The Billboard Charts. It Wasn't Long After This That Contract Disputes, Law Suits, And Greedy Un-Scrupulous Promoters Began Taking Their Toll. After Touring With The Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars The Cavaliers Quit On The Road Returning Back To San Angelo. A Short Time Later Sonley Roush (Road Mgr.) Died In A Car Crash While Touring With J. Frank, Murry Kellum (Long Tall Texan), Travis Wammack (Scratchy), Jerry Graham (Bass), Phil Trunzo (Drums) And Buddy Croyle (Guitar/Sax). The Song, Last Kiss, Had Been Based On An Actual Event That Took The Lives Of 3 Teens In Georgia. A Short Time After The Wreck J. Frank Appeared On American Bandstand, With His Leg In A Cast. He Lip-Synced "Last Kiss" And Introduced His New Follow-Up Single "Six Boys" Produced By Major Bill Smith Of Ft.Worth With Studio Musicians. This New Record Reached #98 In Cashbox Before Disappearing Into The Sunset. Another Follow-Up "Hey, Little One" Eased Into The Top 100 At #85. J. Frank Would Continue As A Single Act Traveling With Jerry Lee, The Righteous Brothers, The Animals, And Other Top Acts Until He Burned Out. Sadly, He Spent The Rest Of His Life Chasing Rainbows, Recording Song After Song, But Would Never Find The Pot Of Gold. In 1973 Wednesday, A Canadian Group, Took Their Turn At "Last Kiss" And They Ended Up With A #34 Hit Selling 200,000 Copies. During This Time (1973) J. Frank's Version Received Airplay On Radio Stations In San Antonio Bringing The Song Back In The Top 100. Then In 1980 Promoter Bett Winsett Got KONO Radio In San Antonio To Play His Version Again Giving Frank More False Hopes. J. Frank Wilson Was Totally Un-Prepaired For The Over-Night Success. He Had Poor Follow-Up Singles, A Rushed-Up Album Release & Went On An Ill-Advised Road Tour...Never Fully Recovering. In 1999 Rock Band Pearl Jam Records "Last Kiss".Reaching #2. In The Year 2000 VH-1 Fans Voted Last Kiss #3 In The All-Time Top 10 Cover Songs Plus The Song Received A BMI 2 Million Air-Play Award. After Returning Home From The Road In 1964 "The Cavaliers" Re-Organized. Wayne Cochran Lives In Miami. J. Frank Died on October 4, 1991 as a result of Alcohol Abuse.
J. Frank Wilson Ballinger, Texas Jr/Sr Prom 1962.
Sid Holmes and J. Frank Wilson 1964
Sid Holmes and His Cavaliers (Featuring Frank Wilson on Vocals) ...
The 1962 Line-Up included Sid Holmes (on Guitar), Lewis Elliott (on Bass), Jim Wynn (on Sax), J. Frank Wilson (on Vocals andPiano)and Johnny Will Hunter (on Drums)
Grady Clark, Johnny Hunter, Lewis Elliott, Sid Holmes and Airman J. Frank Wilson, Goodfellow AFB picnic 1962
88 Keys Club San Angelo in 1964:Buddy Croyle, Billy Wooten, J. Frank Wilson and Jimmy Wheeler
THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
(A FORGOTTEN HITS RECAP):
Based on ALL of the information that we've digested while researching this series here are ALL of the facts ... as near as we can determine. THE CAVALIERS were formed in the mid-to-late '50's (1956?) as a doo-wop outfit, with three original members: SID HOLMES, ALTON BAIRD (who named the band) and CARROLL SMITH. After his discharge from the Air Force in 1962, lead vocalist (JOHN) J. FRANK WILSON was brought on board. (A photo above shows the band performing as "SID HOLMES AND HIS CAVALIERS featuring FRANK WILSON on vocals.) Sometime in 1963, the opportunity presented itself for the band to record a cover version of WAYNE COCHRAN's LAST KISS. (Either manager SONLEY ROUSH or producer MAJOR BILL SMITH bought a copy of COCHRAN's version out of the trunk of his car ... or heard it on the radio ... and decided that THE CAVALIERS ... with WILSON's better vocal ability ... would be PERFECT to record this tune.) Shortly thereafter, this four-piece band (which apparently really had about THIRTY-FIVE members, all of whom now claim to have been involved with the original recording) went into RON NEWDOLL's recording studio to cut a new version of LAST KISS. (As near as we can determine, the ACTUAL participants on that recording were J. FRANK WILSON, LEWIS ELLIOTT, ROLAND ATKINSON, GENE "BUDDY" CROYLE, JIM WYNNE, sitting in on piano,and GWEN COLEMAN (the only one of three scheduled background female vocalists who actually showed up for the session ... and, in some cases, referred to as ATKINSON's ex-wife!) Band-founder SID HOLMES may or may not have been involved (most likely not) ... so much for your four-piece band. (This scenario would also disprove the "studio musicians" theory.) Using the COCHRAN record as a recording "template," THE CAVALIERS produced a near-identical version. ROUSH then sold the master to both TAMARA RECORDS and MAJOR BILL SMITH, who released a version on his own LE CAM RECORDS (eventually selling that master ... or re-recording it) ... for JOSIE RECORDS ... and THIS is the version that caught on nationally, eventually topping the charts in 1964. Producer SONLEY ROUSH was killed in a car accident which also involved and injured J. FRANK WILSON, helping to fuel the record's success. After the record ran its course, THE CAVALIERS went through a number of personnel changes but never again found chart success, making LAST KISS one of the biggest One Hit Wonders ever. (Other CAVALIERS mentioned during the course of our research for this series were PHIL TRUNZO, JERRY GRAHAM, BOBBY WOODS, JOHNNY HUNTER, GRADY CLARK, JOHN MAYBERRY, MIKE HODGES, RAY SMITH, BOB ZELLER, CHARLES USERY, CALVIN BELL, RON MILLER, BILLY WOOTEN, JIMMY WHEELER, all of the surviving MUNCHKINS from the THE WIZARD OF OZ film and the ENTIRE DALLAS COWBOYS Football Team, 1962-1968! And this doesn't include the LEO LUCAS / ARNIE KARR version of the band performing in 2002 when this article first appeared in Forgotten Hits!) As we told you during the course of this article, the song became a hit all over again for WEDNESDAY in the '70's and PEARL JAM in the '90's. WILSON apparently drank himself to death after many years of lack-luster success. Meanwhile, SEVERAL bands claiming to be THE CAVALIERS (many without a single original or even latter-day member ... and, apparently, one with a guy actually posing as J. FRANK WILSON ... and cashing checks received under that name, years after WILSON had died!!!) ... continued to perform and dupe the public over the years. It also seems that anyone ever associated with the band in any capacity has milked the publicity cow to the hilt. Our interviews with ARNIE KARR back in 2002 allowed him to explain his own burden of trying to carry on the name of THE CAVALIERS under seemingly false pretenses. Shortly thereafter,theartists associated with "The Cavaliers"'s name beganperforming under the name of GOLDEN GROUP MEMORIES ... a far more historically ACCURATE description of who they really were. It'd be great to somehow get to the bottom of all of this and write the definitive LAST KISS / J. FRANK WILSON AND THE CAVALIERS Story ... but I'm afraid SO many mis-truths have been spoken now over the years ... and so many of the key people involved are now gone ... that this would be impossible to do. Hopefully, however, it still made for some pretty interesting reading.
Copyright Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits, 1998 - 2017 ... All rights reserved