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Was the "LAST KISS" a real story?

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#1 noodle

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 11:15 AM

"Last Kiss", a maudlin “splatter platter” reminiscent of 1959’s “Teen Angel,” is a song released by Wayne Cochran in 1961. Contrary to what most believe, it is not based on a real story. He was initially inspired to write "Last Kiss" after having lived near a dangerous highway where several accidents had occurred yearly. Knowing that "tragedy songs" were big hits and selling lots of records, he got together with Joe Carpenter (guitar), Bobby Rakestraw (bass), and Jerry Reppert (drums) from Thomaston, Georgia, United States, to help him come up with a "teen tragedy" type song. When the labels for the 45s by Gala Records were printed, the names of co-writers Joe Carpenter, Randall Hoyal and Bobby McGlon were left off. Cochran evidently never asked Gala to change the label, to include the other names; to this day Cochran is the only one credited with writing "Last Kiss".

The auto accident that is supposed to be behind the song happened in Barnesville, Georgia, on December 22, 1962, a Saturday before Christmas. 16-year-old Jeanette Clark, who was on a date with J.L. Hancock, also 16 and a friend of them called Wayne Cooper got killed while traveling on U.S. Route 341, in rural Barnesville, Georgia. The car, a 1954 Chevrolet, driven by Hancock , hit a tractor trailer carrying a load of logs. Two other teens in the car were seriously injured, but survived. However, this tragedy could not be the source of the song, as it had been recorded in the summer of 1961, more than a year earlier. Ironically, Wayne Cochran lived on Georgia State Route 19/41, when he wrote "Last Kiss", only 15 miles away from the crash site and actually he re-recorded "Last Kiss", for release on King Records, in 1962, dedicating it to Clark, a fact which probably explains association of the song with the tragic crash.

The song is about a teen who borrows his father's car to take his beloved sweetheart out on a romantic date on a rainy night. Coming upon a stalled car in the road, the singer swerves to the right to avoid it, losing control and crashing violently in the process. When he regains consciousness cradles his girlfriend lovingly in his arms, she regains partial consciousness, smiling and asking the singer to "hold me, darling, just a little while." The singer then gives his sweetheart what would be their "last romantic kiss" as she fades into death and enters the afterlife. In the song's chorus, the singer vows to be a good boy so that he may reunite with his dear sweetheart when his time comes, believing she has made it into Heaven.

Cochran subsequently re-recorded his song for the King label in 1963 but the record failed to do well on the charts. Cochran loaded 45s in the trunk of his car, taking them along to gigs, to sell to fans, although it didn't help much. Over the course of the four versions, Cochran expanded his (and his co-writers') concept of the song, seeking a wider audience. Cochran would later go on to Miami, where he found moderate success playing nightclubs, with his band, CC Ryders. Jackie Gleason had Cochran on his television show several times. Cochran went into the ministry, in later years; he doesn't talk about his rock and roll years anymore.

Even if the song didn't do well on charts, it got kept getting airplay on a radio station in Odessa, Texas and came to the attention of Sonley Roush, a record promoter from Texas, eking out a living, looking for the next big thing. Though Roush didn’t much care for the song, teens clearly loved the melodrama of death—week after week, it won the Odessa station’s popularity contest for new releases, so he decided to booked around West Texas, "The Cavaliers of San Angelo" and singer J. Frank Wilson whose voice was perfect for the pleading vocals, calling the new group "J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers". The single was released in August, 1964, when they made the record that would bring them lasting fame. At first it was released locally, on Le Cam Records, then on Tamara Records becoming a local hit. Eventually released on Josie Records the record became a nation-wide hit in the Fall of 1964.

Released on September 5, 1964, it spent 15 weeks on the charts, reaching number 2 on November 7, spending 15 weeks on the charts, held out of the top spot by "Baby Love", the 2nd Supremes' number 1 of 1964, which spent 4 weeks in the top spot. "Last Kiss" would spend 8 weeks in the top ten; the record selling over one million copies, earned the band a gold record. Roush took a reconstituted version of the band, J. Frank Wilson, Gene Croyle, Bobby Wood, Jerome Graham, and Phil Trunzo, on a brutal promotional tour, in support of the record.

On a concert trip to Ohio, the band had just left Parksburg, West Virginia, heading to Lima, Ohio, for a performance at the Candy Cane Club. At about 5:15 a.m., Roush apparently fell asleep at the wheel. The car drifted across the centerline and rammed head-on into a trailer truck. Roush was killed instantly, but Wilson, sitting in the front seat, and Bobby Wood (vocalist / piano) from Memphis, sitting in the back, suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs and a broken ankle. They went on with the tour, though, taking only a week off. People still remember Wilson coming out on the stage on crutches to sing "Last Kiss" and "Hey, Little One". The second accident had an effect on record sales, nevertheless, pushing the song to number 2 (it had stalled at number 3) on the national charts.

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