(L-R) Jim Torres, Richard Stephens, Don Allen, Aubrey de Cordova, Keith McCormack
From Plainview, Texas came "The Patio Kids" consisting of Richard Stephens (lead guitar), Keith McCormack (rhythm guitar) and Aubrey de Cordova (bass). Keith was lucky enough to have an uncle who was a meat packer and who set up demonstrations for his product where they could play their music for all the sandwiches they could eat.
Amplifiers were eventually purchased Charles Edmiston was added on drums. During these first few months of 1957 they quickly grew up and in a quest to be considered "cool" changed their name to "The Rock 'n' Rollers" and added another guitarist, Jimmy Torres.
Their first recordings were made at an Amarillo radio station and pressed up by the Ven label. Keith handled the vocals and the disc sold well locally. Keith's mother was very supportive of her son's venture and saved up enough for a master tape to be cut at the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis some 90 miles away. Don Allen replaced Charles on the drumstool and the group went through another change of name to "The Leen Teens". The studio sessions lasted a full three hours and they cut two songs "So Shy" and "Dreams About You" but waited a further two months before Petty contacted them with offers of a contract and management. Petty arranged for Imperial Records to release the disc but it bombed. However, the group continued to record every few months down at Clovis over the next three years, but Petty found difficulties in placing the masters.
Meanwhile the group played locally, amassing plenty of publicity and copy in the Plainview Herald. During 1960 the group was booked for another recording session, when Keith's voice become troublesome. Instead of wasting the trip Petty offered them an instrumental he'd written named "Wheels" and both lead guitarists had their own melody arranged which they called "Tell The World". Ironically the track Petty had written had already been rejected by Petty's regular instrumental combo, the Fireballs. Several months later the group received a letter explaining they were forthwith to be known as "The String-A-Longs" as Petty believed the record companies would prefer it to the more juvenile sounding "Leen Teens". The group hated it but had no choice in the matter. At a later business meeting, Petty explained that Warwick Records, a subsidiary of Seven Arts, wanted to release the two instrumental tracks but Petty was reticent to give them the chance as they had a reputation for not coming up with the cash afterwards.
However the group took the chance and the disc appeared on Warwick 603 at the end of that year. When sales of both sides took off, the label split it into two separate singles, "Wheels" b/w "Am I Asking Too Much" using the existing catalogue number and "Tell The World" b/w "For My Angel" on Warwick 606.
Warwick affiliated label, Seven Arts, also released both sides of Warwick 606, credited to Mickey Boyd (aka Keith McCormack) and The Plain Viewers. However it was the subtle Tex Mex rhythms and cardboard box drums that charmed "Wheels" into the national charts, peaking at number 3 in the USA, and staying around for three months.
In England, "Wheels" hovered in the middle regions of the Top 30 finally peaking at number 11 in the NME (another chart placed its peak at number 8). It was their only UK hit and worldwide sales reached around seven million ! UK cover versions came from both the obligatory Embassy release, credited to the fictional character Bud Ashton, and Joe Loss remodeled it into a cha cha, becoming a dancehall favorite for many years to come. In the US, orchestra leader Billy Vaughn recorded a quick cover and took the German sales, but it couldn't capture the simplistic charm that had attracted buyers in the UK and US. By April, the follow up "Brass Buttons" had peaked at number 35 on the Billboard charts and its successor "Should I" gave them their last taste of fame, hitting the number 42 slot.
Over the next four years the group released a further ten singles and two albums in the USA and six singles, three EPs and one album in the UK. The UK album wasn't released until April 1963 and didn't even include their million seller. The deal with Warwick only lasted until the beginning of 1962 when financial problems hit the label. One of their best two-siders had been the Fireballs-inspired "Mina Bird" coupled with Petty's ringing guitar opus "Scottie".
The group was doing some tedious tours around the USA and receiving very little financial reward. Petty turned down offers of TV work and overseas shows for reasons the band could never discover. When they tried to get a settlement from Warwick, the label filed for bankruptcy. The final Warwick 45 "Theme For Twisters", a cash-in on the dance craze, was none other than the album track "Red River Twist". Their unique sound was created by the special arrangements they developed around their extra guitarist.
After the collapse of Warwick the group refused to tour and Petty signed them to Dot. Dot released a fine Torres original in the shape of "Twist Watch". Other quality singles followed such as the driving rhythm on "Spinnin' My Wheels" which has particular melody connection with their original hit. Also the Latin-flavored "Replica" and its gorgeous remake of Cookie & the Cupcakes' classic on the flipside, "Mathilda". Their Dot album (which was released in the UK by London) took two thirds of the original Warwick album and added a couple of singles and a standard mood piece, the minor keyed "Summertime". In 1964 they reissued "Mina Bird" as "Myna Bird" and coupled it with Willie Dixon's "My Babe" on which drummer Don Allen was allowed to put away the cardboard boxes and play for real !
In 1965 after one further 45 "Caravan", the releases stopped. However Petty released two singles during 1965 as The Dundeeville Players (the first had a UK issue via Stateside) including three String-A-Longs tracks, "Wheels", "Replica" and "Sunday". The Players were not, as was often suspected, the String-A-Longs but a studio group comprising Wes Dakus and two of his Rebels plus George Tomsco on guitar and Petty's wife Vi on piano.
In 1968 Keith replaced Jimmy Gilmer in the Fireballs as lead vocalist for the next 6 years. He'd already written them hits in the shape of "Sugar Shack" and "Daisy Petal Pickin" so was justly qualified. The 1969 Atco recordings credited to the String-A-Longs, were actually made by the Fireballs and it has often been suggested that the Fireballs and the String-A-Longs were one and the same group. There was also a one-single called "Mary Ann Thomas" credited to the New String-A-Longs for the Ohn-J label. Keith recorded vocals as Bryan Keith and "Sad Sad Song / Mean Woman" and was released in April 1963 but it sank without trace.
Richard Stephens pulled out of the music business shortly after the collapse of Warwick and has been in real estate in Colorado ever since. Aubrey de Cordova finished college around the same time and found success with a San Angelo telephone company. Jimmy Torres, whose guitar played through his Magnatone amp was the group's focal point, continued to play throughout the sixties and is in Oregon. Don Allen was made to play cardboard boxes on those early sessions against his wishes and after the group split he went into the building trade, he lives in Plainview, TX.
Read about Keith McCormack & his story of "Sugar Shack" in this Texas Online article