If you are a fan of early rock ‘n’ roll (or a rock fan of any era) and you hear, Lubbock, Texas, you immediately think of Buddy Holley, who died young and whose enduring influence on the genre has been well-reorded by rock historians.
For me, though, Lubbock and rock ‘n’ roll bring to my mind the memory of the late Virgil Johnson. Mr. Johnson was a school teacher who recruited four of his students to form a doo wop group in the late 50’s. There were no other doo wop groups in west Texas, and there certainly were no other black doo wop groups.
Also working against them, in Mr Johnson’s words, was the fact that they sounded white. There were two distinct music audiences back then,” he continued, “black and white. We didn’t fit the black mold, so we never had a chance to tour.”
Virgil Johnson and his group, the Velvets, were discovered by the late (and very great) Roy Orbison and invited to Nashville to record. I love their record, “Beautiful Lana,” but their one memorable hit, still played on oldies stations is, “Tonight Could Be the Night.”
Mr. Johnson had a long, distinguished career in education. He was an English teacher, and when his doo wop group rehearsed, he insisted, “We enunciated, and we ‘pronunciated!'” He also served for many years as a Jr. High School and high school Principal in Lubbock and, after his retirement, he was a radio DJ. He undoubtedly was an important positive influence on many young lives over the years.
You have to be hardcore doo wop fan to recall Virgil Johnson, but one very memorable shining public moment, came for him a few years ago when–with every act on the bill on stage in tribute–he and the Velvets opened one of PBS’ very popular doo wop specials with a wonderful performance of “Tonight Could Be the Night.”
Yes, Buddy Holley is probably Lubbock’s most famous citizen, but when I think of that city my mind always turns to a warm-hearted educator with a great voice, Mr. Virgil Johnson. May he rest in peace!