Dale Wright, Still Neat
In the mid-50s I was a teenage disc jockey on WING in Dayton, Ohio. I worked there all during school. I once met a pretty blonde girl at a swimming pool from which we were broadcasting one day, and she said she had some friends who wanted to organize a band. I thought about it and later decided to help them. I had won contests singing classical music as a boy, so singing wasn't foreign to me. One night, during the late hours when I was on the air, we were running some long religious program and I had time to think. I sat down and wrote a song called "Walk With Me", about polio, because I was to do my first telethon in Dayton the next Sunday. I was only sixteen and scared to death, so I asked the band to go on the air with me and play. That way, I thought, I wouldn't have to talk. The band agreed to do it, so we recorded the song. We went on television and the kids went crazy. They tried to rip my clothes off. Girls brought bras backstage for me to autograph. A few days later, Harry Carison of Fraternity Records in Cincinnati called and said, "Dale, I heard that you nearly caused a riot the other night." He asked me if I wanted to record the song for Fraternity, and I said, "But Mr. Carlson, it's a song about polio." Then he suggested that I change the lyrics to "Walk with me down the aisle" and I did. The record eventually came out, and the band, the Rock Its, traveled around the area with me, playing at hops and other events.
We sold 800 records at a Dayton record store in one day. That wasn't an uncommon thing in the 50s, if you had a hot record. In Lexington, Kentucky. Where I've had a radio talk show for the last 17 years, the girls tore off our clothes. They stole my shoelaces, too. Later, we decided to try a second record, a song of mine that we had cut as a dub at the station. It was called "She's Neat." I took it to Mr. Carlson and he conferred with some people. "Dale," he said, taking me into his office, "that is the worst record anybody has ever brought in here." I told him "She's Neat" was a good song, though, and he finally let us rerecord it at the old King studio in Cincinnati. Mr. Carlson hated it anyway. He waited months to release it. Then, in late 1957, I believe, he sent the records out in the mail, hoping they would somehow get ignored by the radio people with all the new Christmas records coming out. I know that sounds odd, but that's the kind of guy he was. He said he would put our record out, and he was going to keep his word, even if he disliked the record. To his surprise, though, it started hitting in St. Louis and other cities. Mr. Carison couldn't believe what was happening. Neither could my band, the Wright Guys, who by this time had joined me as a group. "The Rock Its" were replaced because they didn't want to join the musicians' union. They were really into country music, and I liked a lot of black music, especially Little Richard and Chuck Berry. I guess the sound came through, sort of a soulful rockabilly. On "She's Neat," we used an upright bass, but the bass lines recorded weakly, so Mr. Carlson took the tape to Nashville and overdubbed an electric bass with Elvis Presley's bass player. I've always regretted that decision. The sound was changed. I went on to cut fifteen records, and every one reached number one in some market. If I had had the money and proper backing I could have made it bigger, but all I had was a lot of friends with good taste and ideas. And, oh, incidentally: with my royalties from "She's Neat," I accompanied Mr. Carlson to a Cincinnati car dealership and bought the car of my dreams - a light blue Corvette (picture), like the one driven on the television show Route 66. Yes, I certainly had a good time.
Nicholasville, Kentucky; October, 1986
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