Those two cats with the thousand dollar Jimmy Carter smiles strummin' their way to infamy on their
platter's front cover are Ron Volz and Ron Wernsman, kingpins supreme of the legendary Rockin' R's
rock 'n' roll group. Now it's important when sizin' up these hombres' whole wazoo to flip back over
to the other side of this cardboard and dig their surroundings, 'cause it was in those environs - the
Wernsman family basement way out in Peoria, Illinois suburb of Metamora - that the R's first lit
their fuse in late 1957 with their special brand of subterranean swing.
"Mr. Wernsman was just the greatest guy," sez Volz. "Five nights a week he let every kid in
town down to his basement for a party. Packed every night. We had a lotta tuff gangs in town and
they'd come by, too. All Mr. Wernsman asked was that they check their weapons at the door - "GUNS AND
KNIVES UNDER THE FLOWERPOTS, FELLAS!' There was virtually nobody playin' rock & roll in town, so Ron
& I got things goin' with our guitars." With sprite fingered Volz pickin' leads over Wernsman's
rhythm, they became the Rockin' R's when they grabbed Ted Minar offa Mr. W's basement couch to pound
the skins. The trio blasted the hits of the day (leanin' heavy on Berry, Vincent, Little Richard &
the Everlys) to the lucky legions in that finely wallpapered basement.
Outta these cellar bashes come the earliest recordings on their LP - a roarin' version
(well, half a
version) of "Whole Lotta Shakin'" taped at an R's party and a handfulla rehearsal swingers like the
Sparkletones-styled shuffler "Gonna Snatch Me A Satellite" (actually a wise retitling of the
Couplings' hokey pop toon "Young Doves Calling") and a boffo step onna gas kicker of "You Send Me."
As word of these beat wild teens spread through town, the combo picked up a lotta work at hops &
parties. Local wheeler dealer Steve Clark interested the trio in waxin' for the newly hatched Tempus
label and promptly trotted the threesome into yet another Peoria storm cellar (do you detect a
pattern developing here?) to cut their coolest original "Crazy Baby."
But it was while the Rockin'
R's were warmin' up with some non-vocal racket that Tempus hit paydirt. "The weird thing," sez Volz,
"is we just started horsin' around while he was settin' up. He taped a little bit, called it 'The
Beat' and it became the biggest hit we had!"
To whoop up the act a bit, the Rockin' R's took on a forth member, local sax boy Rick Bressick. Now
Bressick was no threat to Lee Allen but he helped plant an important seed in the combo's collective
noggin, namely that a sax would help 'em compete with a lotta the tuff fuller combos that were THE
deal in '58. This short lived ineup made several appearances on the Paul Beard Show, a local
TV variety program hosted by car dealer Beard, whose hackneyed approach to rock & roll makes Steve
Allen seem like the Mad Daddy. In addition to their own TV spots, some of which are paraded on the
platter, the band reluctantly backed a horrid hometown chickadee Judy Noll, the Linda McCartney of
Meanwhile, back in the charts, "The Beat" spread like crazy locally, goin' on to top many midwest hit
parades and ultimately made a national holler with strong placing in both Billboard & Cashbox,
earnin' the boys the surefire girl-getter, namely a spot on American Bandstand. Six months
after "The Beat" charted, the Rockin' R's pumped out "Heat"/"Nameless", another strong two-sider for
Tempus, sportin' a marked upswing in the sound thanks in no small part to Bressick's replacement on
sax, Art Bill. The R's literally yanked Bill right offa the stage of a strip joint called the Clover
Club and this, the group's most durable lineup, toured purdy much non-stop, landin' dream gigs with
their idols Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent amongst others. Sez Volz, "After the first record hit,
everything started happening real fast. We were so young and willin' to do anything on stage - climb
on equipment, climb on each other, hang from the celling, anything! Our whole outlook got outta hand
but man, we loved it!"
Instead of lettin' the guys follow the cool path they were rockin' out, Tempus tried to market Volz
as a teen idol. After a couple poppy sides it was agreed this brainstorm wasn't doin' anyone a whole
lotta good and the Rockin' R's duly bounced back with the scorchin' "Mustang," jumblin' the looseness
of "The Beat" with the ballsy drive of "Nameless." It was a fantastic disc but Tempus steadily
became untracked with a string of non-R's money dran flops and the label went kaput. It seemed the
guys wre starin' some long green inna face by steppin' up to the big time Vee Jay label but the
effortless cellar swing that was the Rockin' R's trademark suffered in the process, what with rigid
studio confines, reshuffled personnel (Wernsman even conceded and switched to the taboo bass) and
just plain weariness. The Rockin' R's ultimately crapped out in "62, plumb outta gas accordig to Volz.
That's purdy much the musical end in the proverbial nutshell, but there's a whole lot more to the
Rockin' R's tale (like the time Wernsman put his ass thru a jukebox and they hada tape his bloody
cheeks together to finish a show!) which Bob Paton & Steve Rager spilled out in fine detail in
KICKS#6 (available from us here at Norton Records). So now after alla those moons their LP is the very
first collection of toons by (as goofball MC Paul Beard intoned) "the rock & rollers from Metamora," a
little ruff but plenty wingding worthy (guns & knives under the flowerpots, of course). So get with
the Rockin' R's, muchachos, and go CRAZY BABY!!
Posted May, 2005
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