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J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers

J. Frank Wilson had only one hit, but it was a huge one. With his band the Cavaliers, he brought Wayne Cochran's teen-death melodrama "Last Kiss" to the upper reaches of the American pop charts in the fall of 1964. The song was the last in a long line of teen tragedies that were popular in the U.S. during the early '60s; as a matter of fact, it's a little surprising that a song this excessively melodramatic was a hit at the height of the British Invasion. Wilson might have found it surprising himself -- after all, he sort of lucked into the position of pop star in the first place.

Born in Lufkin, TX, in 1941, Wilson began his professional recording career almost by accident. Upon his discharge from the Air Force, Wilson came in contact with the Cavaliers, a rock & roll band led by guitarist Sid Holmes and featuring bassist Lewis Elliott, saxophonist Rob Zeller, and drummer Ray Smith. The Cavaliers had been around since 1955, forming in San Angelo, TX, then moving to Memphis in the early '60s, then returning to San Angelo in 1962. They continued to gig as an instrumental group around their hometown for a while, before being encouraged to add a singer. They heard about Wilson through the grapevine, and after an audition, they had him join.

Wilson helped increase the Cavaliers' audience dramatically. Soon, they were popular attractions at a number of local Texas clubs. At one of these gigs, they earned the attention of Sonley Roush. According to Wayne Janick's interview with Holmes in The Billboard Book of One Hit Wonders, Roush was a "strange man" that lived with his mother. Roush also happened to be obsessed with a song called "Last Kiss," written and recorded by a Georgia blue-eyed soul singer called Wayne Cochran. "Last Kiss" was the tragic tale of a girl who was killed on her first date with her sweetheart. Cochran based the song on a true-life tale of three teenage couples who were killed when their car struck a flatbed logging truck. He recorded the song twice, on the local Gala label and then the national King, but it went nowhere. However, Roush happened to hear it and fell in love with it.

Roush brought "Last Kiss" to the Cavaliers, asked them to learn it and play it. They did whenever he was in the audience. Roush then made a deal with a friend who owned a local studio for the band to record the song. During the recording sessions, Roush acted as producer, which irritated both Holmes and Zeller. Still, they managed to cut "Last Kiss," and then Roush peddled the song to a couple of local labels. Le Cam released it first, then Tamara. It wasn't long before it was picked up by Josie Records for national distribution.

Josie evidently knew just how to promote the record, since it became a huge, unexpected hit. During the fall of 1964, the charts were dominated by the British Invasion, particularly the Beatles, so it was quite a feat for Wilson & the Cavaliers to scale such great heights. Inevitably, such sudden fame caused problems. In particular, Wilson now believed that he was superstar. In Janick's interview, Sid Holmes says that Wilson indulged in "sex, booze, (he was) up all night." Wilson's excesses were so great that the Cavaliers left him behind after just a handful of gigs. Wilson continued to promote the record with a new group of Cavaliers and with Sonley Roush as his manager.

On route to a concert in Canton, OH, that fall, Roush fell asleep at the wheel, resulting in a head-on collision. Roush died immediately and Wilson was injured; when he performed on American Bandstand after the accident, he was in crutches. The car crash was sadly ironic, but it didn't slow Wilson. He and Jose Records assembled a new band, using the name the Cavaliers even though the Cavaliers were carrying on, now with Lewis Elliott as their leader and James Thomas as vocalist. In the studio, Wilson was supported by session musicians. The first fruits of his new efforts was "Hey Little One," a version of a Dorsey Burnette song. It stiffed -- it only reached 85, spending a mere two weeks on the charts.

As it turned out, "Hey Little One" wasn't a bump in the road. It was the end of Wilson's chart success. Although he continued to tour and record throughout the '60s, Wilson made no national impact. He continued recording into the '70s, but by that point he was essentially working day jobs. According to Holmes' interview with Janick, Wilson couldn't come to grips with his status as a one-hit wonder. He ran through eight marriages as he sank into alcoholism. Eventually, all of his fast living caught up with him -- he died October 4, 1991, a few months shy of his 50th birthday.

During all of Wilson's personal troubles, the Cavaliers soldiered on, albeit in two different incarnations. Elliott and Thomas never ceased performing under the Cavaliers name, while Holmes revived the name for 15 years, between 1972 and 1987. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Comments

I sure do love these bio's!
I never knew who sang this song!
So happy that contemporary groups like Pearl Jam are covering old songs.
Pearl jams cover of this song is one of my favorites! It's slower than this. Other than that nice song!
I was a little kid in the early '60's when the so called teen-death melodrama songs were popular and they always disturbed me. I liked Rock and Roll much better and of course the Girl Groups were great.
Anna Maria Patricia Jacqueline Elizabeth Gabriella Nicole Michelle Laura Angela Priscilla Samantha montesinos viteri
I had a drill sergeant (Sgt. Hartley) who claimed to have been the drummer for the band. Everything I had read did not list the drummer's name as Hartley. Now, after reading this, I wonder if he wasn't with one of J. Frank Wilson's bands after the original band broke up.
I like this song very much
Yall can keep your weak beets from your corny producers, there's a new king in da streets. . Your gonna get youse to- NAS
Love Love Love this song! Pearl Jam's cover is pretty cool too.
Try the Spanish version . Its actually very good and sounds exactly the same except for the language of course. If there are racists out there then dont take this sugestion. But yeah look it up...
Great song
prestonwest8 7
Not in your heart just believe that's all there is no confessing no feeling sorry just faith alone and Christ alone
7householder s
This is a great song but you don't get to Heaven by being good. You go by accepting Jesus into you heart and realizing you are a sinner.
man! if only they made more albums these guys were great!
did u know that it is true? i saw him back in the 60s on one of the shows back then... he had his leg in a cast when he preformed.
junedebra
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of you life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you've started reading so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lover's name will come on the screen in big letters. This is so scary because it actually works!
Don't read this because it actually works. You will b
Last Kiss. Sort of sounds like John Lennon's voice, eh?
err my a** u wld see himm VVV
Used to see him around town in the late 70's and 80's, sad. But this is one of the best one hit wonders.
Good song. I was on the cusp between this genre and the Beatles. Fell full into the new Beatles era but I like this tune. Kind of fun to sing. Pear Jam's sounds like a fun one off run through.
Sad but nice song..try hearing it in Spanish
pixilated1
The saxophonist is BOB Zeller. Please fix this. Thanks!
jeepxgirl20
Its a great song...I have it on 45 as well :)
I got last kiss on 45 rpm great sound, yet sad. : (
michelemania
This is such a depressing song.
elnewton
what a bummer song.
i heard it in spanish years ago!
I have Last kiss on record, very sad when you listen to it :(
i think this is pretty up beat for a song about a tragedy, lol....on the other hand Teen Angel is sad
cinemadude
Aweful, maudlin song. Hey, ever listen to the back ground singer? On her last riff, she chokes. It's hilarious! Sounds like she swallowed a fish bone.
Last Kiss brings me to tears every time I hear it..
lan.nguyen80
Hey caldwellz this song was actually a sound check at a show PJ gave; the sound guy just so happened to be recording... then they released it. I am a huge fan of everything 50's and 60's (BTW- rock and roll hasnt been the same since Buddy Holly), but do have to admit PJ did their version WAY better; tighter band, vocals, etc. all from a sound check, no doubt... Peace All.
Pearl Jam did a version of this?!? I don't think it could be better than this version
Has always been one of my favorites.
Last Kiss was B4 my time but i's 1 of my favs....
sugababii53
love last kiss
Way better than the Pearl Jam version
sassyjan
I totally agree with you Rocker/Slow
Bubblegum is cheezy, but I still like listening to it. One of those things the will just go unexplained.
prospectlahe y 1 9 5 2
LIKE IT TODAY, I LIKED IT THE FIRST TIME, THE TWO THOUSAND TIME!!!!!!
sassyjan
you are right this was a HUGE song.
love him
The first time I ever performed on stage I was 10 years old (1964). The song had just come out and I fell in love with it the first time I heard it and proceeded to do it in a talent show at my elementary school. I've been singing ever since. Thanks for giving me a start.
i always and still love this song i didn t know about mr wilsons problems but
i dont judge people i still love the song and am sorry things worked out the
way it did just wonder if things were different would he have risen to the
charts in other songs wish he could have

I have always loved this song. It is sooooooooo sad, yet enduring. Too bad about Mr. Wilson himself.
this is all time # 1 best song

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