BOBBY POE (a.k.a. Bobby Brant)
Born Bobby Nelson Poe, 13 April 1933, Vinita, Oklahoma
The first time I encountered the name Bobby Poe was on a Collector LP that I bought in the early 1970s, called "Big Al Downing And His Friends". Side One was devoted to Big Al and Side Two to his friends, among which Bobby Poe. The track on Side 2 that really knocked me out was "Piano Nellie" by Bobby Brant. As there were no sleeve notes (Cees Klop was never fond of sharing information), I had no idea then that Bobby Brant and Bobby Poe were the same person.
Poe was born in Vinita, Oklahoma, according to most sources, or in Coffeeville (sic), Kansas, according to Terry Gordon. His father was a singing minister who accompanied himself on guitar. It was during his tenure at college in Coffeyville that Bobby formed his own band, Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats. Apart from Bobby, the group consisted of Big Al Downing on piano (the only Afro American in the band), Vernon Sandusky on guitar and Joe Brawley on drums. The idea was to cover the whole spectrum of rock n roll music : Bobby would do the "white" Elvis and Jerry Lee numbers, while Big Al, the second vocalist, would perform the "black" Fats Domino and Little Richard songs. This was a radical move at a time when segregation was still very strong in the USA.
In January of 1958, the group went into a Dallas studio for their first recording session. "Down On the Farm" and "Oh Babe" were credited to "Al Downing with the Poe-Kats" (White Rock 1111), while "Rock 'n' Roll Boogie" and "Rock and Roll Record Girl" were credited to Bobby Poe (White Rock 1112). Acuff-Rose tried to prevent the release of "Rock and Roll Record Girl", as the melody was a clear rip-off of "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy", but thanks to the influence of Jim Lowe, one of the most important deejays in Dallas, the record received the green light. Lowe (not to be confused with the "Green Door" hitmaker) was also co-owner of White Rock Records and was reponsible for signing the Poe Kats to the label.
A second White Rock session produced the above-mentioned "Piano Nellie" (Bobby's own composition), credited to "Bobby Brant and the Rhythm Rockers". This pounding rocker was first issued on White Rock 1114 in October 1958, but was soon purchased by Atlantic for release on their East West subsidiary. In spite of improved distribution, the record sold disappointlingly few copies.
Because they shared Jim Halsey as their manager, the Poe Kats became Wanda Jackson's backing band. They went on the road with her for about a year and also backed Wanda in the studio, most notably on "Let's Have A Party" and "Mean Mean Man", her two most famous rockers. Life on the road was hard in those days and by mid-1959, Poe was pretty much done as a performer. Drummer Joe Brawley had also had enough, deciding to rejoin his family's trucking business in North Carolina. Big Al Downing and Vernon Sandusky would carry on, relocating to Scranton, PA. They added Mitch Corday on drums and Johnny Dubas on bass. Poe was persuaded to come along as co-manager and producer. During the Scranton years, Big Al Downing and his group recorded for V-Tone Records and were gigging constantly. Most of Big Al's recordings from this period were jointly written by Poe, Downing and Sandusky. The best of these was "Yes I'm Loving You" (V-Tone 215), with a guitar break (by Sandusky) that I reckon to be among my all-time favourite guitar solos.
Gradually, co-manager Phil Ladd was pretty much eased out of his position, with Bobby Poe taking over completely. In 1964, the Poe family relocated to Washington, D.C., where they would stay for the next 35 years. Also in 1964, Vernon Sandusky scored a hit as the leader of the Chartbusters, whose "She's the One" (produced by Poe) rose to # 33 on the Billboard charts. Sandusky and the band wanted to split from Downing and continue exclusively as the Chartbusters. No amount of pleading from Poe could convince them that they should play it safe and continue to back Big Al. Downing felt betrayed by the band - and by Poe - and went off on his own. Bobby then threw his lot in completely with the Chartbusters. Though the group scored only one other, minor hit ("Why Doncha Be My Girl", # 92), they remained very popular in the Washington, D.C. area for the next four years.
In 1968 Sandusky found new employment as the guitarist for country singer Roy Clark, with whom he would stay for almost 20 years. As for Bobby Poe, he knew he had to do something else. He had grown weary of working with artists, whose behaviour was becoming more and more bizarre as the late 1960s progressed. Poe started his third career in music, this time by publishing the music paper "Pop Music Survey" (originally "Soul Music Survey", then "Country Music Survey"), which still exists today. In 1996, Bobby retired and turned over his publication to his son, Bobby Poe, Jr., who changed the title to "Pop Music Records". Bobby Junior's memories of his father can be found at http://popmusicrecords.blogspot.com/
CD: Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats, Eagle EAR 90114. Released 1993. 23 recordings from 1958, many previously unissued. It does not include "Piano Nellie", however. The liner notes for this CD have been reproduced at http://www.rockabilly.nl/artists/bobbypoe.htm
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