Rockabilly sideman Jerry Haymes reminisces on career

Sun Records

LONGVIEW, Texas (AP) — Jerry Haymes is as rare of a gem that you could find in East Texas. He’s a music legend living right under the noses of East Texans.

A pioneer of rockabilly music, a genre popularized in the ’50s and ’60s, Haymes worked with a who’s who list of legendary musicians including Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.

Born Aug. 30, 1940, in Vernon, Texas, Haymes was a childhood friend to Orbison.

“Roy Orbison and I were born in the same hospital, delivered by the same doctor, in Vernon,” Haynes told the Longview News-Journal ( “We went to school together, although Roy was a little bit older.”

- FWBP Digital Partners -

As a child, Haymes grew up surrounded by music. His grandfather’s brother was actor and singer Dick Haymes, one of the most popular singers of the 1930s and ’40s.

When he was 10, Haymes started singing in the choir at the local Church of Christ with his mother. He soon started playing music with Orbison.

Things changed for Haymes when his family decided to move farther west when he was 13, allowing for an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I finished growing up in Clovis, New Mexico,” he recounted. “And that was a great advantage to me, because I had already been dibble-dabbling with music.”

- Advertisement -

Clovis was home to the Norman Petty Recording Studios, where Buddy Holly most notably got his big break. Other seminal artists like Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox and Waylon Jennings cut their earliest recordings in the small recording studio.

Haymes very quickly fell in with a local named Otis “Pop” Echols, who co-founded the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show in Shreveport, Louisiana. Echols also owned the Clovis radio station, KCLV, where Haymes landed a job handling miscellaneous duties.

Through working with Echols, Haymes was introduced to musician Norman Petty, who owned a local recording studio that saw success with The Crickets and Buddy Holly.

“Pop Echols introduced me to Norman Petty, and, the next thing I knew, I was all entwined with Norman Petty’s doings and playing in his studio,” Haymes recounted. “The funny thing was I was just in (high) school, and, hey, a $20 bill, I had more money than anyone else at Clovis High School.”

- Advertisement -

In 1956, when Haymes was only 16, he was asked to lay down drum and rhythm guitar work for a disc jockey by the name of Charlie Phillips. That song, “Sugartime,” eventually landed Phillips a record contract with Coral Records, and the McGuire Sisters turned the song into a pop hit with their cover that same year.

“The dern thing sold one million records,” Haymes said, chuckling. “It sold well over one million records, and I thought that thing would never quit selling.

“I was just in high school, so I really didn’t know the meaning of it. All I ever got for playing on my first million selling record was a $20 bill.”

That same year, in 1956, a student at West Texas State College (now West Texas A&M University) called him to ask if Haymes could fill-in for several concerts. That student turned out to be Buddy Knox.

Much to his father’s chagrin, Haymes accepted the offer to drum for Knox’s Rhythm Orchids band. He said, the following week, Knox called him again and asked if Haymes could record several demo tracks to be used to secure a record contract.

Haymes laid down the drums and rhythm guitar work for the track, as well as writing the second verse of what would become Knox’s first single “Party Doll,” which landed the No. 1 on the Top 100 chart for a week straight when it was released in 1957.

“A couple months later, I saw Norman Petty and he said, ‘Guess what? Buddy Knox is in New York and they are going to sign him to Roulette Records,'” Haymes recalled. “To this day, it sold over two million records, and here is what’s funny: I got paid $20.”

Haymes said, in those days, session musicians did not know a lot about royalties or publishing rights, so he never questioned how much he was paid.

“I can honestly say this,” Haymes said. “Before I was 21 years old, I had played on three million sellers and I had written one Top 10 tune for Wanda Jackson.”

Already amassing quite the career before he even graduated, Haymes was once again approached by Petty to work with “a guy from Odessa Junior College” who later turned out to be Haymes’ boyhood friend Roy Orbison.

After meeting Oribson at Petty’s recording studios, Orbison had told Haymes that he had a shot at recording with Sam Phillips and Sun Records, who famously broke Elvis Presley into the mainstream. Haymes recorded two tracks with Orbison, 1956’s “Ooby Dooby” and “Trying To Get To You,” at Petty’s recording studios in New Mexico.

The two tracks garnered the attention of Phillips, who later invited Orbison and his Teen Kings band to record. Haymes said the original Teen Kings drummer decided not to make the trip from Odessa to Memphis, so Orbison asked Haymes to officially join the band and hit the road.

Haymes said the resulting recording sessions led to Orbison landing a recording contract with Sun Records, with the label re-releasing “Ooby Dooby” and “Trying To Get To You” which peaked at No. 59 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and became Orbison’s first hit in 1959.

Haymes said he ended up recording two or three sessions with Orbison before breaking off to pursue his own solo career with Sun Records. He said he also recorded sessions with Carl Mann and Carl Perkins, the latter whom he later went on tour with.

Another notable musician that Haymes was fortunate enough to work with, he said, was Johnny Cash, filling in for Cash’s longtime drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland.

“Over in Europe, for some reason, Fluke Holland didn’t make his flight or something, so I played the first tour that Johnny did over in Europe,” Haymes said.

“I played the first tour that Johnny did in Europe, and I played a gazillion shows with Tommy Cash, his brother,” Haymes recalled, laughing. “He and I are such good friends; I love him like a brother.”

In 1959, Haymes wrote a song called “So Fine,” which was recorded and released by The Fiestas. The song became Haymes’ biggest money-maker more than 20 years later after The Oak Ridge Boys covered the song on their 1982 album “Bobbie Sue.”

Later that year, Haymes became the first artist to record the song “Cherry Pie,” which later became a hit for duo Skip & Flip.

Although originally recorded by Haymes for Sun Records, owner Sam Phillips thought the song was too vulgar for the rockabilly singer. A little more than a year later, Phillips sold the song to Skip & Flip and, within two weeks, the song peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Top 100 Charts. Haymes didn’t receive any writing credit or royalties from the song.

“I didn’t even get a $20 bill this time,” Haymes said. “After that, I never had a use for Sam Phillips.”

In 1962, Haymes was awarded Song of the Year by Juke box Operators & Coin Vendors of America for his cover of “Rose Marie,” a song taken from a musical written by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II of the same name. The song sold more than 100,000 units and was played more than 100,000 times in jukeboxes across the country.

In that time, Haymes grew into a chaplain for the Church of Christ. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in the beginning of 1960 and spent several years on active duty before transferring to the reserves.

During that time, Haymes wrote several songs for Webb Pierce and Hank Snow including “Smile of a Clown” and “What Then,” respectively. Wanda Jackson later covered “What Then” as a gospel song.

Haymes served in the Army in Europe before being deployed to serve in Vietnam to continue his work as a chaplain. He still serves as Texas Division Chaplain for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and military veterans.

He is the only chaplain to have served under three different commanders and is the longest serving chaplain on record, something he is quite proud of.

“I enjoy it very much,” he said. “I do all these veterans things, grave dedications, ceremonies. I actually spoke at the Alamo a couple years ago, and I was awarded a medal for that — for longevity.”

Haymes was always a fan of the Bible, having studied theology at Southern Methodist University. He also went to Abilene Christian University, where he attended on a music scholarship. He also attended Kilgore College after moving to East Texas.

Throughout the years, Haymes has also appeared in several motion pictures.

Throughout the 1970s, he starred as an extra in several big-budget movies including “Rio Lobo” with John Wayne, “Suppose They Gave A War And Nobody Came” with Brian Keith, Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine and “Dirty Dingus Magee” with Frank Sinatra and George Kennedy.

“I was what you call ‘atmosphere,’ ” Haymes said, noting he was uncredited for his roles. “If you don’t have people in the background, you can’t have a movie.”

Haymes also worked in theater as a pit member of the Broadway Musical Orchestra during the 1990s during the revival of “Once Upon A Mattress” starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

But alas, Haymes will be retiring next year.

The rockabilly lifer is slowing down.

His daughter, Tracy, and his significant other, Patsy, are organizing a retirement concert for Haymes, slated sometime in 2017.

“My final swan song to you is that I will be retiring next year,” he said. “My voice is getting old and crackly and I just don’t have the endurance and stamina that I used to.”

While Haymes may not have the stamina he had 60 years ago, he is planning one final tour.

After the retirement show in Longview, he’ll then travel to Montpelier, Vermont, to start a tour that will take him to Greenland, Iceland and the Canadian province Nova Scotia.

“It’ll just be me and my guitar, nothing big,” he said.

While on tour, Haymes will be doubling as a missionary for the Church of Christ.

“I’m very excited about the shows, but I am very excited about the mission work,” he said. “This is something new to me, and I hope and pray that I do a good job. I am the only Church of Christ missionary that has been a Texas state chaplain. I feel honored to have held this position for as long as I have.”

Even after his final tour, Haymes is never really going to let the music in his soul die. He is, after all, a lifer to the music that spawned rock ‘n’ roll.

“I’m sure I’ll still be doing a few nostalgic shows here and there. I’ve been doing this too long to completely quit.”


Information from: Longview News-Journal,