At one time, I thought that Buddy Knox’s 1957 chart-topping “Party Doll” was reminiscent of something Elvis might perform. But my opinion changed through the years, and I eventually decided that Knox was probably a little more like his fellow West Texas native Buddy Holly. In addition to sharing a similar background, both wrote a lot of the music they performed — music that evolved from country to rock and roll. Additionally, both were solo stars who started with a small group, and they even worked with the same producer.
However, their careers took wildly different turns after the early days. As we all know, Buddy Holly died in a fiery plane crash in 1959 and became an iconic figure in music. Buddy Knox continued to perform sporadically and with varying degrees of success until his death from natural causes in 1999, and remains largely unappreciated.
Buddy Wayne Knox grew up in West Texas, and having a mother who was part of a gospel singing group meant that music was part of his life from an early age. However, as he reached his early teens during the post-war years, Buddy gravitated to country music. He began to play guitar and sing, and even after graduating from high school and enrolling in college, he continued to perform in area groups.
By the time he graduated from college in the early Fifties, he’d earned a business degree but had also become determined to try to make it in music. After teaming up with a couple of guys he’d played with before — guitarists Jimmy Bowen and Donny Lanier — and buying some flashy purple shirts, a new trio calling itself the Rhythm Orchids was born.
Eventually adding drummer Don Mills — later replaced by Dave Alldred — the group slowly began transitioning from pure country to a more modern sound. Following the advice of Roy Orbison, they then began working at their own expense with producer Norman Petty at his New Mexico studio. The guys recorded two of Knox’s songs; “Party Doll,” featuring Knox himself, and “I’m Stickin’ With You,” with Bowen on lead vocal.
The Rhythm Orchids self-issued the record but had limited success, and they eventually signed with the professionals at Roulette Records, who decided to separate the original record into one for each of the lead singers. Each did an additional song for the ‘B’ side, and both records soon went out into national distribution. Bowen’s did very well and eventually climbed into best-seller territory, but Knox’s “Party Doll,” now backed by “My Baby’s Gone,” shot to the top of the charts.
Bowen and Knox continued to make records separately, but even though both did well it was Knox who made the biggest splash. Although he never topped the charts again, he had million-sellers with songs like “Rock Your Little Baby to Sleep” and “Hula Love.” Over the next few years he did well with songs like “Swingin’ Daddy” and “Somebody Touched Me,” but his last highly-charted song was 1961’s “Lovey Dovey.”
Like many of the early stars, he continued to perform from time to time through the years, trying different styles and different record companies, but with limited success and more than his share of disputes. However, he did have that business degree to fall back on, and was often involved in ventures in his adopted home of Canada, until his death in 1999.