Memories Wrapped in Blue Velvet

Russ & Ray owners of The Shack in Bellingham,  ’50s photo

Music is a powerful force. We all know that sometimes an old tune will trigger a memory of a past event. On occasion the tune leaves a more lasting impression than the event itself. Here’s such a story.

Late fifties and early sixties, I used to pal around with grade school friends. On Saturdays we went to the Bellingham Public Library. Part of the experience was stopping at The Shack Drive-In on Cornwall Ave. across from Bellingham High School. A burger was 19 cents so, as long as I had 50 cents in my pocket, I was good to go.

The Shack was there for a long time (later called Russ’). It endured through my high school days. My wife recalls being in a speech class at Bellingham High. One kid, for his “demonstration” speech, went across the street and got a “beefy.” Up in front of the class, he wadded it up like a child might do with a piece of angel food cake and downed it in a gulp or two. The title of the demo was “how to eat a burger in less than a minute,” or something like that. There is no record of the letter grade he was awarded for his stellar effort. It is fortunate he didn’t choke. I don’t think anyone knew the Heimlich maneuver back then.

The Shack had a small indoor dining area, but it was mainly a mystery to me. I always grabbed my burger and fries in a bag and rode off on my bike. That changed one rainy day when a friend’s mom drove us to the library and then treated us to indoor dining at The Shack. The Shack was a cool drive-in for teens and kids. Russ, the owner, promoted with KPUG. This 1959 ad predates the station’s format change to Top 40 music full-time. That happened in 1962. But, by the late 1950s, KPUG was hosting weekend record request shows, where the deejay would play pop songs. The Shack was one of the sponsors.

Once we were settled inside The Shack, I saw a big jukebox in the corner. I guess it was loaded with the popular hits of the day. My dad liked Hawaiian instrumentals and Lawrence Welk’s show, and my mom favored exclusively Broadway show tunes and that is what I heard at home. So I was not a connoisseur of the hits, they were lost on me. However, my friend wanted to play one song on the jukebox. It is good he didn’t have higher aspirations, because he had only one coin. After much thought and indecision, he chose “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton. I know now it was a giant in 1963 — #1 for weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. “Blue Velvet” probably had even more staying power after David Lynch’s unsettling movie of the same name was released in 1986. Speaking of staying power, as I write this in Feb. 2021, Bobby Vinton is still with us and he lives in Florida.

Looking back on that day nearly sixty years ago, I find it strange that I remember listening to Bobby Vinton sing — an artist I’d never heard of prior to that day — yet I can’t identify my friend and his mom. I have a guess who they were, strictly through the process of elimination. I had undoubtedly been exposed to other background noise from restaurant jukeboxes, but that is the first song I was aware of hearing on a jukebox. This story gives insight into how radio advertising jingles are supposed to work. Whether you appreciate them or not, some of them won’t fade away in your head.

Another interesting phenomenon I have discovered recently is that some jukeboxes have the ability to take a person back in time. There is no need to insert a coin, we will give you a free play. Just click on the start arrow on the classic Seeburg jukebox below and images of Bobby Vinton will soon be dancing in your head. (Click 2x on the start button, first time to get to Vimeo and second time to start the video once you’re on Vimeo.)


Story Credit: Wes Gannaway and Kent Holsather for photos of The Shack from “Drive-Ins, Drive-Ups and Drive-Thrus”

Click on the names below to read about these broadcasters who were popular in Bellingham and Whatcom County, including nearby Canadian legend Red Robinson:

Danny Holiday (KPUG)
Dick Stark (KENY & KPUG) 
Kirk Wilde (KPUG)
Gary Shannon (KPUG)
Mike Forney (KPUG)
Jay Hamilton (KPUG & KBFW)
Bob O’Neil & Marc Taylor (KPUG)

John Christopher Kowsky (KPUG)
Haines Faye & Rogan Jones (KVOS & KGMI)
Tom Haveman (KENY & KVOS)
Red Robinson (Vancouver B.C.

Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with QZVX.COM in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions. View other articles by Steven Smith
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28 thoughts on “Memories Wrapped in Blue Velvet

  1. Steven ~ What a wonderful memory, and superbly told, about an event in your life that could have been, under most circumstances, insignificant if it hadn’t been for Bobby Vinton. I really can’t say I recall the first tune I heard on a jukebox. •• I was, however, a radio deejay by the time “Blue Velvet” became a hit. I eventually began to feel that Bobby Vinton had an affinity for songs with the word “Blue” in their title. Both “Velvet” & “Blue On Blue” were #1 hits for him. Plus, he also recorded a great version of “Red Roses For A Blue Lady”.
    Tony Bennett had the original hit of “Blue Velvet” in 1951 & then a really fine R&B group, The Clovers, had a hit with it in 1955.
    A kinda interesting side note … Bernie Wayne (nee: Bernard Weitzner) the songwriter, along with Lee Morris (Maurice Zeserson), who wrote “Blue Velvet” also wrote “There She Is (Miss America)” that emcee Burt Parks used to sing at all the Miss America Pageants!

  2. Jay….you had to bring up Burt Parks, had not though about him in a long time. Some of the artists of the era did the same song over, with changed lyrics…like Bob Kuban following The Cheater with, I think it was, The Teaser. In the case of Vinton, he just made sure the word BLUE was in his records. I was never a big fan, most of his big stuff was before I was listening to the radio, but later I noticed his catalog was pretty blue, although he was too happy sounding to be singing the blues,

    1. My favorite version of Blue Velvet, was done by an ad-hoc group of background singers, who called themselves “The Statues”The lead singer is a guy named Buzz Cason–he was from the Mid-West, and rumor is that he was still touring in local, small clubs in that part of the country…interestingly, the group of studio singers included the original “Bass” singer for the Jordanaires…anyway, the lead singer had a hit record of his own , called “Look for a Star”…but he used a different name for that tune!…the record i refer to was played, briefly on KJR, but did not really make a serious dent nationwide…it was one of those wonders that bubbled just below the top 100…I think the harmony is just right on this favorite of mine–it has that 1960 “sound” going for it, just a sweet ballad that I enjoyed doing the slow dances with the Junior High girlies at the sock hops, after school!…I went to Golden Oldies record store about 20 years ago, and actually bought a 45 of this tune..I treasure it!

      1. I always forget to check Google!…a little more about this Buzz Cason guy…he is still alive….and is credited with starting Nashville’s first Rock and Roll Band, in the late 50s…He used a fake name, “Garry Miles” on his single hit record, Look for a Star (1960)…he ev entually went into record production, and started his own recording studio in the late 60s…he knew a lot of famous performers-even Elvis–and has written quite a few hit records…a few years ago, he wrote an autobiography on his many years in the business.

        1. I definitely purchased that Statues version!…it has such a haunting, semi-do-wop flavor to it…I believe it was released just after The Bobby Vinton classic–which I also like–, what was interesting to me, was in finding out that Mr. Cason changed his name to Garry Miles when he released his very own single, “Look for a Star”, which charted well in late 1960…I can only guess that the Statues recording came first, earlier in that year….also, the Statues were simply a temporary backing group of singers, who found themselves with a charitable producer in the studio, who allowed them to record something on their own, if they could do it in a half-hour of tape-time remaining!…for such a spontaneous effort, they did just great…of course, the fact that the bass singer had been a founding member of the Jordanaires was also a revelation…I only found out about that after perusing through an old book that had little-known information on the many one-hit wonder-type of tunes that were rather common back in that era….as for Golden Oldies, that store was located along N.45th street, sort of in the Wallingford District of Seattle. I bought that 45 from none other than Peter Blecha himself, who as we now know, is considered to be perhaps the number one “expert” on the history of NW Rock…My purchase had to have been made in the late 80s…I keep forgetting how old I am!

            1. Cool Ad!…yeah, I dropped a few bucks at my local Golden Oldies, over the years….they would consistently search for the semi-obscure 45s I wanted…like Underwater(by The Frogmen), Jupiter C (Pat and the Starfires), and even All This Love( DeBarge)….I had to pay around $10 or so for the records–it was worth it!

  3. Dick do you know what happened to Paul Scott? Back in ’64, Dave Hebert and I spent some time with him while he was on the air at KAYO.

    1. Brian, I’d forgotten about Paul. As I remember, he was the first all-night man after they went country. I never heard of him before or after his KAYO tenure.

      One anecdote about him: the KAYO tower had a neon sign with big letters top to bottom K A Y O that would light steady, shut off, then come on a letter at a time (like the Bill Pierre F O R D sign in little old Lake City). Anyway, there was a contest, “Who rustled the K from Kountry KAYO?” and the K on the sign was disconnected. Paul Scott cut and spliced the K out of all the KAYO jingles. When Bashful Bobby played one, he would often thank Paul on the air for his fine editing.

    1. Thank you Mavis!…I had not realized that my favorite version, by The Statues, predated by three years the monster hit by Vinton…I am sure that the lead singer of The Statues-Buzz Cason-must have been chagrinned, to see Bobby really take that tune to the top of the charts…I guess the more “Doo-Wop” sound of the Statues version made it seem a little too stale by 1960…Buzz had the looks, and the voice, to compete with Vinton, but somehow his future as a crooner did not work out.

  4. Mavis,
    Thanks for the links. I can see where the Vinton version had more teen appeal than Tony. The Statues was good too. Interesting the one guy wrote Everlasting Love. That was one of my favorites along with What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.

    1. The obvious winners in this “Blue Velvet” saga are, 1st, our friend Steven and the boyhood memories that the tune evokes for him … and, of course, Bernie Wayne and his song writing partner (in this case) Lee Morris who clearly profited regally from songwriters’ royalties garnered by the gazillion cover recordings of “Blue Velvet” … to say nothing of the profits received for its inclusion in several motion picture soundtracks and from BMI radio airplay. Mr. Wayne probably made a dandy living just from this one song.
      Bernie wrote “Velvet”, inspired by his own splendid personal memory. In 1951, while staying at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, he attended a party at the hotel where he continually caught sight of a female guest, dressed in blue velvet, with whom he would have a memorable holiday romance.
      Bernie wrote, or co-wrote, many songs, but none achieving the status of “Blue Velvet”.
      Here are a few samples:
      ∆ • From 1952 – “Vanessa” ~ Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra
      ∆ • Dinah Shore ~ “Laughing On The Outside (Crying On The Inside)”
      ∆ • Nat King Cole ~ “I Don’t Want To See Tomorrow”
      ∆ • The Crew Cuts (of “Sh-boom” fame) ~ “Do Me Good Da Baby”

      1. Jay…can you imagine how much was made simply in licensing it to the quirky movie of the same name. I still remember Dennis Hopper snorting dope quite regularly. I know there is a scene in In The Heat of The Night where they wanted to use Red Riding Hood by bvb Sam the Sham. The fees asked for Riding Hoid were so steep instead they had Quincy Jones compose another tune. In the realm of music and the significance in the movie Blue Velvet has to surpass Riding Hood.

        1. Steve ~ As mentioned previously, “Blue Velvet” was featured in a number of movie soundtracks … beyond just the bizarre 1986 David Lynch movie. Vinton’s version was also in the 1963 Kenneth Anger experimental film “Scorpio Rising” … Tony Bennett’s version was used in the Peter Bogdanovich 1971 film “The Last Picture Show” and in the 1980 Martin Scorsese movie, starring Robert De Niro, “Raging Bull”.
          •• For the heck of it, here are a few more Bernie Wayne songs … a little on the more peculiar side of things:
          ∆ • Louis Prima ~ “I Beeped When I Should Have Bopped” (1949 – Mercury Records)

          ∆ • Johnny “Mr. Bass Man” Cymbal ~ “Dum Dum Dee Dum” ( charted #83 – 1963)

          ∆ • Joe Dowell ~ “Little Red Rented Rowboat” (#23 – ’62)

          Dowell, of the 1961 #1 hit ~ “Wooden Heart” fame.

  5. The day we saw Paul, he was working a Saturday afternoon shift. While we were visiting, he did a thing he would do with some records. If he really liked it, he would play a song and as he talked over the end, he would fade the song out and take the tone arm and and place it back on the middle of the song. Then as he brought the tune up he would say excitedly “E-N-C-O-R-E”.

  6. Memories of the Drive In, and throwing a baseball around with Kent, who you mentioned, Ron Otis and Dave Diehl.. Played Little League with all of them. Wonder if it was Ron and his Mom who took you there? Ron’s Dad had built a drop-down electric train set of the Milwaukee Road in their garage, so it was always a treat to be invited over. The Milwaukee had tracks running around the downtown streets of Bellingham back then.

  7. I was 6. My older sister was 14. She use to dance with her pillow while the 45 hummed this beautiful music out. I still remember how much I loved watching her twirl and sing. What a great memory I needed to wake up. Thanks.

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