Carl Dobkins, Jr.

Carl Dobkins Jr. is one of those rockabilly legends who won't quit, even decades after his last chart entry. From a number three hit in 1959 with "My Heart Is an Open Book," he maintained a decades-long career that delighted audiences for generations on both sides of the Atlantic. Dobkins was born into an Appalachian family that had transplanted themselves to Cincinnati in search of a better life. The family was filled with amateur musicians -- both of his parents sang, and his mother played guitar -- and at age nine Dobkins was given a ukulele by his parents. He quickly learned the instrument and moved on to the guitar, learning first the country and hillbilly songs that his family favored. While Dobkins was in high school, he started writing songs of his own and cut a demo record of two of them, which led to a meeting with disc jockey Gil Sheppard, who offered to manage Dobkins in a potential music career. Rock & roll was breaking nationally and Sheppard saw Carl Dobkins Jr. as a potential star. Thus, he became "the Teenage Rage," and began singing at local dance parties and record hops. Every record label was looking for the next Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins, and Dobkins was signed to the Cincinnati-based Fraternity Records, which released "Take Hold of My Hand" b/w "That's Why I'm Asking." It failed to chart, and he next moved to the much larger King Records for a recording session, but Sheppard sold the master to the still larger Decca Records label. Issued on Decca, "If You Don't Want My Lovin'" became a regional hit on its initial release, and did well enough to justify Decca investing more time in Dobkins. He cut his first sessions for Decca in Nashville under the aegis of Owen Bradley. The result was "My Heart Is an Open Book," Dobkins' lasting claim to immortality in the field of rockabilly. One of the better crossover records in the field, it rocked hard with a solid guitar sound and a great beat, and featured the artist backed by two of the Anita Kerr Singers. Ironically, the record took six months to take off, requiring two rounds of promotion by the label. When the smoke cleared, Dobkins was making appearances on national television behind "My Heart Is an Open Book," including Dick Clark's American Bandstand the day after his graduation from high school. He toured nationally and worked in six months of army reserve service in the infantry as well, as "My Heart Is an Open Book" soared to number three nationally in the spring of 1959, earning a gold record in its 24-week chart run. A follow-up, "Lucky Devil," reached number 25 in a 17-week run late in the year, and even "If You Don't Want My Lovin'" made it to number 67 when it was reissued nationally around the same time. Dobkins also got to number 62 the next spring with "Exclusively Yours." Carl Dobkins Jr. made all of the usual moves that a young rock & roller did in those days, going into more lyrical, romantic sounds as the public's taste for rock & roll seemed to retreat in the early '60s -- by 1961, he was even cutting versions of movie themes, such as "Pretty Little Girl in the Yellow Dress" from the western The Last Sunset, starring Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson. In all, he cut 18 singles and an LP, and remained active in the business for years, touring with Bobby Freeman, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vee, Buddy Knox, Frankie Avalon, Jan & Dean, Frankie Ford, Freddie Cannon, and Jimmy Clanton, the Drifters, and the Crickets. ~ Bruce Eder

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