|A Time Gone-By - But Not Forgotten - by Roger 'Roc' LaRue
Recently my son was surfing the net and he did a search on his name Roger A. LaRue. He found some interesting stuff, but it wasn't about him it was about me. He called me at work and said "Hey Dad, did you know that you're in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame?" I said "No, I didn't". So I looked it up myself, and lo and behold, there I was along with dozens of other 50's rockabilly artists. I was surprised that I was still remembered after all these years, 45 years to be exact. I started to do more searching on my own and found out so many interesting things about rockabilly - the "rockabilly" resurgence in the 80's and the appeal of the original 50's artists in Europe, the UK and Australia. I was amazed to find out that they were still playing my original 50's recordings of "Baby Take Me Back", "Teenage Blues" and " I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine".
Since then, I have uncovered over a dozen CD's worldwide, of which my songs appear. This was quite an eye-opener, because I thought I had all but been forgotten after all these years. Since the addition of my biography on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website, I am receiving e-mails from around the world - much to my amazement and joy. So many wonderful comments from fans in the Netherlands, France, England, Australia, Canada. I'm like a kid with a new toy. I am being asked by so many now, "What was it like back then, Roc?" - "Who did you meet - or who did you do shows with?" - "How come you quit playing?" - or "Do you still play?"... While the complete story is on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website, I will attempt to reiterate here some of the highlights of my early career and what's happening now.
I was born Roger Adrian LaRue in Fall River, Massachusetts, USA. I had 4 brothers and 3 sisters. I was interested in singing at a very early age. As a matter of fact, my mother always said that when I was a toddler, I would wake them up "yodeling" in my crib. "That's the honest-to-God truth, Roger," she used to say, "You yodeled when you were a baby". During my high school years I appeared 2 nights a week on a local Country and Western program. I believe I was 16 years old at the time. Along with that radio show, I appeared 6 nights a week on WNET-TV, Providence, R.I. - all this while juggling my high school studies.
I will "fast-forward" to my arrival in New York City in the Fall of 1956. We were booked at a club called "The Wagon Wheel Lounge" on W. 45th street. My manager also managed Joey Dee of the Starlighters who appeared a couple of doors down from the Wagon Wheel. New York City was a great place to be in the mid 50's to early sixties. So much was happening with music, theater, etc. I was put under contract with RAMA records and recorded "Baby Take Me Back" b/w "Teenage Blues". Several months later they (RAMA) re-released it with "I'm Not Ashamed on the flip side. "Baby Take Me Back" took off on the regional charts - No.1 in Baltimore, Washingtion, Philly and cities along the east coast. We went on promo tours to promote the record. One of the most memorable shows was with Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran and Johnny Burnette in Baltimore at a "drive-in theater". Our stage was the roof of the concession stand. What a blast. I'll never forget meeting Carl Perkins. It was absolutely awesome, because only a year earlier, in Fall River, Mass., I was spinning his 45 on my record player singing along to "Money Honey"- not knowing that in less than a year I would actually be doing a show with him.
With the musical style changing to the more "teen idol" images like Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Dion and tight-suited singing groups, coupled with the "British Invasion" our style of music fell to the wayside as well as hundreds of careers effectively being cut short by record companies, etc. What was devasting to me, as was reported in the New York Daily News "Night Beat" section, was that I was scheduled to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, a Martha Raye TV Special, a West Coast record promo tour, a screen test in Hollywood with Universal International Studios. But it all came to a screeching halt. My managers attention turned to Joey Dee, the Fireflies, the Lollypops, and other groups he had under contract. Needless to say my band and I were extremely disappointed. We got other record contracts, such as VIP Records out of New York, and a few others. But eventually our style of music fell out of favor. They would tell us to "add a couple of saxes and a piano and come back." But that wasn't me, back then. They were leaning toward the "group-type" singers such as "Dion" and individual singers such as "Bobby Rydell", etc. I poked around Jersey for a while, doing a few gigs with Joey Dee - but the style was changing. Hindsight now tells me that I should have listened to them and added those saxes - hell, I probably could have made it work.
Eventually I went back to Massachusetts to my first love "Country Music". I played it until 1968 - did some great shows with Johnny Dollar, Elton Britt and others. But family obligations and responsiblilities were more important than the nightly ritual of smoke and booze.
One sad memory came back to me recently. It was 1964. Me and a couple of friends were in New York, and heard about this singer and band that was playing in Jersey that was very popular in the 50's. We went to see them. It was a small, dark, smoke filled bar with a small dance floor. The band came on and the lights came up. The lights struck the tired face of the originator and pioneer of Rockabilly/Rock and Roll - Bill Haley. He sounded as great as ever. But I couldn't help feeling sad and thinking - my disappointments are nothing compared to this man. He was at the top of the world - and now he was back playing "honky tonks" on the Jersey strip where he started. How could the industry forget a man like this. Bill Haley and His Comets - the greatest of them all.
"Will you be making a CD, Roc?" - I'm being asked lately. It's a thought - but I don't think there's a market to justify the expense of making a CD. However, I am looking into it and I am not ruling it out.
In closing, I would like to thank all of those who have remembered me through the years and to those DJ's who are still playing my records. And I would like to ask those who read this - that I am looking for copies of my original 45's on RAMA and HOLLAND Records.
"Baby Take Me Back/Teenage Blues" - RAMA, 1957
Thanks for bringing back all those great memories of one of the greatest era's in America's musical history.
For BlackCat Rockabilly Europe, October 2002
Roger 'Roc' LaRue Official Website:
Roger at the RaBHoF: