Ducktails, Drive-ins, and Broken Hearts

An Unsweetened Look at '50s Music

By Hank Davis

Subjects: Music, Popular Culture, General Interest
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438492681, 362 pages, June 2023

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Part I: Hitmakers and Bold-Faced Names

1. Carl Perkins Meets Elvis in a High School Parking Lot
with Shawn Pitts

2. LaVern Baker: Play It Fair

3. Frankie Laine: Bringing Passion to Pop

4. Ella Johnson: Since I Fell for You

5. Charlie Rich: Before the Fox Was Silver

6. Betty Johnson: No More Singing for Her Supper

7. Rosco Gordon: Just a Little Bit

8. Ella Mae Morse: So Much, So Soon

Part II: One-Hit Wonders, Wannabees, and Supporting Characters

9. Chuck Miller: Fryers, Broilers, and the House of Blue Lights

10. Huelyn Duvall: Close but No Cigar

11. Eddy Bell: His Alter Ego Became a Star

12. Sherry Crane: A Parakeet Visits 706 Union Avenue

13. Ben Hewitt: The Best Known Unknown

14. Joey Riesenberg: The Scrapyard Drummer

15. Troy Shondell: The Early Years of a One-Hit Wonder

16. Carl Mann: That “Mona Lisa” Boy

Part III: Chasing the Story

17. How Elvis and the Jones Brothers Ended Up in the Memphis Landfill

18. Hannah Fay and Jeannie Greene: Searching for Missing Singers

19. Allerton and Alton: Black, White, and Bluegrass

20. Donna Dameron Loses Her Gig in an Iowa Cornfield

21. The Kirby Sisters: Envy Wrapped in Red Velvet

22. “Unchained Melody”: The Pre-Ghost Story

23. Chuck Berry and Other Passengers on the Hellbound Train

24. Delia’s Not Gone: The Musical Legacy of the Late Delia Green
with Paula Cimba

Part IV: Doo Wop Stories

25. A Brief Introduction to Doo Wop

26. The Paragons Meet the Turbans

27. The Channels: The Closer You Look

28. God or Girlfriend?: The Prisonaires Create a Very Confusing Love Song

29. Going Steady with the Pearls

30. The Six Teens Meet the Cleftones

Part V: The Bigger Picture

31. The First Rock ’n’ Roll Record and Other Creation Myths

32. Politically Incorrect Music in the 1950s
with Scott Parker

33. “Sugartime” and Other Subtle Sexual Content in ’50s Music

34. Looking under the Covers
with Scott Parker

35. The Dozen Most Influential Records of the 1950s

36. Instrumental Hit Records: No Words Were Necessary
with Scott Parker

37. Ancestors of the Chipmunks

38. The Bobbys: An Antidote to All That Rockin’

About the Author

An unflinching look at the triumphs and tragedies of '50s rock and roll, from the biggest stars, like Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins, to those who barely grabbed the spotlight.


They all tried, but few singers and musicians from the 1950s became stars. Yet many of them had stories to tell that were far more interesting than the ones you already know. Author Hank Davis was bitten by the music bug as a teenager. By the time he entered college in 1959, he was no stranger to New York's recording studios and had a few 45s of his own on the market.

Spanning a 45 year career in music journalism, Davis has spent time backstage, in motel rooms, and on tour buses to uncover stories that rarely made the official annals of pop music history. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews and new research, Ducktails, Drive-Ins, and Broken Hearts offers a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the winners and losers during rock 'n' roll's formative era.

How did a decade as uptight and puritanical as the '50s produce so much cringe-worthy, politically incorrect music? What was it like to see a pale cover version of your latest record climb the charts while yours sat unplayed by mainstream radio stations? How did precious Elvis tapes end up in a Memphis landfill? And who was that thirteen-year-old girl who made a five-dollar vanity record at Sun just two years after Elvis had—and ended up singing backup on "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto?" This book is a must-read for all fans of '50s music.

In the words of Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Records founder, Sam Phillips, "Hank Davis is one of the few guys who really gets it."

Hank Davis is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada. He has produced and annotated many boxed reissue sets for Bear Family Records and other European record companies, including the award-winning Sun Blues Box and the critically acclaimed Memphis Belles: The Women of Sun Records.


"A captivating and surprising overview of the 1950s music scene." — Library Journal

"…[a] great new book." — Now Dig This

"Music archeologist Hank Davis's investigative reporting style makes for an amazing journey through the early days of rock and roll A sides, flip sides and rarities. He and his team unravel music mysteries and deliver an entertaining education.” — Warren Kurtz, Goldmine magazine

"These cameos and lengthier portraits transport you inside the hearts and minds of those who made '50s music in a way that no formal history of the era ever could. Hank Davis's elegant, conversational prose brings us the people, their music, and the industry that gave them hope, if only fleetingly in some cases. In his hands, the decade comes vividly alive." — Colin Escott, author of Hank Williams: The Biography, and coauthor (with Peter Guralnick) of The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll: The Illustrated Story of Sun Records

"My thanks and appreciation to Hank Davis for writing about Sun Records and me. I am flattered and grateful to him for presenting it the way he did."—Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, Memphis, Tennessee

“In addition to extremely good writing and lots of memorable stories, this book offers some of the sharpest insights into ‘50s music I've seen anywhere.” — Richard Weize, founder of Bear Family Records and eleven-time Grammy Award nominee

"No matter what your perception of '50s music, be prepared to have it challenged. If you are just discovering it, you will find a complex history going way deeper than Happy Days imagery. If you are a grizzled veteran, you will learn something in these pages and maybe unlearn some previous assumptions. Either way, you can't miss with this book." — Lorne VanSinclair, syndicated writer, broadcaster, Backbeat Radio

"I love the book. At last, I can sleep soundly knowing what happened to Sherry Crane." — Dave Samuelson