|The Strikes, You guys are going to strike out|
The Strikes began life as a honky-tonk trio of students at Denton's North Texas State College in January 1955. Willie Jacobs (lead vocal), Kenneth Ewing Scott (rhythm guitar and tenor) and Paul Kunz (bass singer) sang at frat parties and campus stage shows. Jacobs, born in Grandview, Texas in 1934, and Kunz (pronounced 'Koonz') played rhythm guitar too but not on record. Prior to rock 'n' roll and the arrival of Elvis, they listened to hillbilly; Hank Williams was probably Jacobs' biggest influence.
In 1956, the original trio was joined by Albert Branden Cornelius (lead guitar), Don Alexander (bass) and Walter Paschal Parsons (drums). The six-strong unit were called the Strikes from the off; a college buddy had laughed and used a baseball expression: "You guys are probably going to strike out". North Texas State was a musical melting pot at the time. Other students included Roy Orbison, who brought a rockabilly influence to the Strikes' jam sessions, Wade Moore and Dick Penner, writers of Ooby Dooby, and Pat Boone with whom the Strikes also shared the campus stage.
At some point in 56, the Strikes hooked up with Joe Leonard, owner of radio KGAF and Lin Records in Gainesville, Texas. They rehearsed at the radio station and then headed for Cliff Herring's studio in Fort Worth. It was there, as far as Willie Jacobs can recall, that the Strikes recorded all the tracks which have surfaced to date. In September 56, the group accompanied Andy Starr on the second of Starr's sessions to be sold to MGM. Willie Jacobs, who wrote "Give Me A Woman" and "No Room For Your Kind", sang in the chorus. Don Alexander penned the remaining two songs "Round And Round" and "One More Time" and A.B. Cornelius galvanized the session with his deft contributions on guitar. Jacobs thought the Strikes recorded for Joe Leonard before they backed up Andy Starr, but Leonard notes that their first session took place in November 1956 and their first record, "If You Can't Rock Me" b/w "Baby I'm Sorry" (Lin 5006), didn't emerge on Imperial until March 1957.
A second single, "Rockin'" b/w "I Don't Want To Cry Over You", was issued three months later. "My Poor Heart" saw the light of day on "Imperial Rockabillies - Volume 3" in 1980 and Record Mart issued an alternative take of "If You Can't Rock Me". Only "I Do", an overripe ballad, remains unissued. Even allowing for the fact that "Baby I'm Sorry" was cloned from the Clovers' "Little Mama", these records provide some of the most nimble and innovative sounds in rockabilly, proof that the music's best moments were not exclusively confined to singers and musicians from Tennessee. The main singers, Jacobs, Scott and Kunz, were billed as the Three Pelves and their unison vocals have a swinging, infectious, footloose spirit. A.B. Cornelius supplies a number of truly cleansing breaks and the whole band communicates a passionate sense of fun.
Their career lasted only 18 months. In September 1957, Willie Jacobs was drafted into the Army and the band split up. Kunz became a schools administrator, Scott sold hospital supplies, Parsons joined the Navy (reaching the rank of Commander before he retired) and Alexander became a news anchorman on Texas TV. Albert Cornelius opened a tire store. "He was a great fan of Carl Perkins and still is", Jacobs affirmed. "A.B. would go into a near trance with a guitar".
Willie Jacobs pursued a career in journalism and at one point he was the Sherman Democrat's top news reporter. He's spent the last twenty years in the insurance business. He opted for royalties on the songs he wrote and enjoyed the big pay off when Ricky Nelson included "If You Can't Rock Me" on his chart-topping debut album. Nelson's version also nipped the Hot 100 in 1963. (Ignore, incidentally, those Nelson biographies which attribute the song's authorship to bluesman Little Walter Jacobs). Nelson recorded Kenneth Scott's "Baby I'm Sorry" as well, but Scott was less fortunate having sold his rights for a one-off payment of $500...
Bear Family Records