During the first half of the 1960s, when the Beach Boys and the Beatles
were bombarding the American charts and rewriting the rules of rock,
Kansans Rodney and the Blazers were crossing the country as rock &
roll throwbacks, a raucous, wild combo that was more Little Richard
than British Invasion, and more R&B than pop. Although they didn't
manage to break out nationally, they recorded a plethora of outstanding
sides in varying styles and proved to be a very influential Midwestern
band, employing both a saxophone and a trumpet (expanded into a full
horn section later in the decade by admitted fans Chicago) and touring
as one of the first truly biracial aggregates. Bass player Rodney Lay Sr.
and drummer Bob York kicked around together in a band known as the
Off Beats throughout the last couple years of the 1950s. By 1960, with
the addition of Bob "Sir Robert" Scott on saxophone and Pete
"Peaches" Williams on guitar, they had transformed themselves into
Rodney and the Blazers, named after their habit of wearing blazers
instead of normal jackets for their stage show. It wasn't their only
idiosyncrasy in appearance -- they also dyed their hair silver and wore
sunglasses onstage. Don Downing was soon added on piano as well as
sharing lead vocals with Lay, and they were soon playing regular gigs
every Friday night at the El Rancho Opera House located between their
Coffeyville hometown and Independence, KS. That summer, they
recorded and released their first single, "Teenage Cinderella," on their
own Kampus label. It became a number one hit in several large markets
around the country, particularly in Phoenix, Syracuse, Fargo, and
Philadelphia. A Pittsburgh station even phoned Lay to tell him that the
city's most important disc jockey had predicted that Lay would be the
next Elvis. The single, however, did not have enough distribution behind
it to go national (although it was later re-released on the Dore label
without the band's consent after Johnny Tillotson's manager shopped it
around Hollywood -- the band predictably received no royalties). Rodney
and the Blazers kept very busy in 1961. They played at the Seattle
World's Fair and New York City's famed Peppermint Lounge, as well as
travelling to gigs in Arizona, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and
British Columbia. They also completed a six-week tour with Bill Haley &
the Comets that ended in Mexico City, upon which all but Lay and York
left the band. The two returned to Coffeyville and set about putting
together a new band. Over the next couple years, various members
including Gene Bongiorni, Sam Beck, Skip Knape, Chan Romero, and
Dennis Winton came and went as the band continued playing throughout
the country and in their home region. A teenage Leon Russell was a huge
fan (and perhaps borrowed his silver hair/sunglasses look from them),
always turning up in the crowd when the band played Tulsa, as was
future Bread leader David Gates. For a while the band featured a female
vocalist when Mary Taylor joined up for some Las Vegas shows. When
Jerry Lee Lewis was being blacklisted by the recording industry for
marrying his teenage cousin, Rodney and the Blazers even spent some
time touring with him. By 1964, the band was making 2,500 dollars a
night but spending it just as quickly as they made it on various
extracurricular pursuits. Still, they appeared on national television show
Star Route that summer and had begun negotiating a possible European
tour in 1965, but the band ended up breaking up soon thereafter. Lay
and York continued to work together throughout the intervening
decades, forming various bands, most notably the Wild West, which
joined Roy Clark on Hee Haw in the 1980s. ~ Stanton Swihart, All Music
Listen Rodney's
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