Two Plainviewans wrote the
top-selling single of 1964


(Originally Published In The June 25, 1995 Edition of the Plainview, TX Daily Herald)

Viewers of two major movies in the past few months have heard the top-selling song of 1963.

They may even have silently sung along with the sound track.

But most didn't know they were hearing a song written by two people who lived in Plainview at the time.

"Sugar Shack," written in late 1962 by Keith McCormack and his aunt, Fay Voss, has shown up in the Academy Award-winning "Forrest Gump" and in the current release, "Congo."

It also was played in another recent release called "Dog Fight" and showed up several years ago in "Mermaid," starring Cher.

McCormack, 54, now lives in Ash Grove, Mo. and still dabbles in the music business. Mrs. Voss died three years ago.

"I'm sort of living off 'Sugar Shack,'" McCormack said in a telephone conversation last week. "It's gotten popular again."

He continues to be paid royalties from several song-writers associations. The use of his song - recorded by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs - in the movies and, subsequently, on video releases, means more money for McCormack.

He also receives royalties from fees paid by radio stations, clubs playing records, karaoke bars, etc.. "I figure 'Sugar Shack' has made about a half a million dollars over the past 30 years. I usually get a check for $500 or $600 a month but it's been a lot better in the past couple of years and could be real good for the next year or two."

He also wrote or was part of recording a couple of other chart makers but never really hit the "big time" other than with "Sugar Shack."

Through his teen and young adult years, he was part of several bands, eventually winding up under the tutelage of Norman Petty in Clovis, who also handled the late buddy Holly of Lubbock.

Born in Dalhart, McCormack attended schools here starting in the third grade and graduated from Plainview High in 1959.

In the mid-1950's, he and neighborhood friends Aubrey de Cordova and Richard Stephens all took guitar lessons and wound up "picking together in my uncle's back yard."

His uncle was Johnny Voss, a meat salesman who later operated several cares here. Voss also enjoyed playing the guitar.

Charles Jay Edmiston joined the trio as a drummer and was replaced by Don Allen when he went to military school.

"We actually cut our first record as The Rock 'N Rollers in Amaraillo in 1956 with Charles Jay as the drummer, " McCormack recalled.

"After Don joined us, my mother (Glynn Thames, who died in 1987) saved up enough money for a master tape at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis. By this time, Jimmy Torres had joined us so we had three guitars, a bass and drums and were calling ourselves the Leen Teens.

"Norman sold our recordings to Imperial which had Ricky Nelson and Fats Domino under contract, but they didn't sell very well," he recounted.

McCormack and his mother were writing most of the group's material and "we kept going to Norman's studio every 2-3 months for a couple of years because he was our manager, so it didn't cost us anything.

"On the way to Clovis one time, I got real hoarse and knew I couldn't sing so Norman had an instrumental he had written and wanted us to record.

"Two or three month later we got a letter from Norman who was in New York and he said he was going to change our name to the String-A-Longs and he had sold us to Warwick Records.

Warwick had bought "Wheels," one of the songs recorded a couple of months earlier in Clovis.

Coincidentally, the person pressing the records reversed the labels and the song originally intended as "Wheels" got the other recording's name and vice-versa.

Nevertheless, "Wheels" was a big hit. "Our version alone sold 7 million copies worldwide and we didn't get a dime because Warwick went bankrupt," said McCormack. "That kind of thing happened a lot back then."

"You still hear that song on the oldies stations (an Amarillo furniture company, used it for years with all its commercials)."

The String-A-Longs went on several promotional tours into the Midwest and even into Canada, including a stint with Anita Bryant.

They also cut an album called "Pick A Hit" which was among the top 50 sellers for a while in 1961. It's being re-released in a 25-song CD by Ace records in Great Britain which specializes in re-releases.

"But we weren't getting paid much and we were kind of disgusted. If this was what being stars was all about, we didn't want it," McCormack said with a laugh.

The group did play as an opening act for a Plainviewman who did make it big - Jimmy Dean - at the old City Auditorium about 1961 and stole the show that night.

"Aubrey wanted to finish college and Richard wanted to sell real estate in Colorado but I still wanted to do music," said McCormack.

A quick trip to California and the reestablishment of the String-A-Longs with other musicians to play clubs, dances and concerts for a year in Corpus Christi preceded a parting of the ways with Petty as the group's manager.

However, McCormack continued to write songs on his own and with a friend, Juanita Jordan, and Mrs. Voss.

Recalling the writing of "Sugar Shack." McCormack said, "I kind of wrote the song and ad-libbed it straight through one night in late 1962 in Faye's living room. But I couldn't remember what you called those tight pants girls wore at the time (leotards) so I asked my aunt and we kind finished the song together.

"Actually, I though 'Sugar Shack' was kind of silly and it was quite a while before I even did it for my mother."

Unbeknownst to McCormack, Gilmer and the Fireballs recorded "Sugar Shack" while McCormack was in California.

"It was all kind of one big family over at Clovis and Jimmy Gilmer who was from Amarillo and the Fireballs, who lived in Raton, N.M., already had a couple of instrumental hits with 'Torquay' and 'Bulldog.'

"I firmly believe there has to be the right chemistry for a hit and, listening to 'Sugar Shack,' everything was right that night, I guess."

On the Dot label, "Sugar Shack" sold 1,340,000 singles in the first six months of 1963, the only song to sell more than 1 million that year.

"'Hey Paula' by Paul and Paula sold a million but was ctually released in October of 1962 and 'Dominique' by The Singing Nun was supposed to have sold a million but only sold about 500,000, " McCormack explained.

On the momentum of the hit, McCormack and his mother wrote "Daisy Petal Picking" that made it to the top 20 and "Cinnamon Cindy," writeen by Mrs. Jordan and McCormack got to the top 50.

Unfortunately, this was about the time The Beatles hit America and completely captivated the music scene.

McCormack later got a writing break with Jimmy Bowen ("Sticking With You"), who also had started out in Clovis along with Buddy Know ("Party Doll") when they were both students at West Texas State University.

Bowen, who went on to be a producer, had turned down "Sugar Shack" but remembered McCormack and asked him to write for the Reprise label which included Frank and Nancy Sinatra and Dean Martin.

"They were supposed to be reiewing my material, but again this was about the time the Beatles hit," said McCormack.

In 1964, he and Mrs. Jordan wrote a song called "Beatles, You Bug Me" which he recorded with his brother, Terry, Mrs. Jordan and her son Kenny.

"Dot got it pressed and distributed nationwide in a couple of days. It was hot for about three days and then died on the vine," McCormack said.

He and Mrs. Jordan wrote "Spring Has Sprung" and "Stumbling Stone" which were released by Dot and another song, "Mary Ann Thomas," showed promise but never went anywhere.

McCormack took Gilmer's place when Gilmer quit the Fireballs in 1968 and he sang with the group for six years.

While touring with the Fireballs, McCormack settled in Springfield, Mo. about 25 years ago and now lives with his wife, the former Dorinda Goodwin of Plainview, and son Malley, 32, in Ash Grove.

He quit playing clubs in the area in 1991.

"I still write songs and Mally and I have an 8-track studio," said McCormack.

Thinking again about "Sugar Shack," McCormack recalled with a laugh: "We wrote that song in three or four minutes. It was an accident and I wish to hell I could have another one."

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