BY ANDY TAYLOR
Montgomery County Chronicle
A rock n’ roll band that had its roots in Montgomery County in the late 1950s will be enshrined into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame on Saturday night, March 7, during a ceremony in Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.
The group to be inducted into the hall is Bobby Poe and the Poe-Kats — a four-man band that was among the originators of the “rockabilly” sound synonymous with people like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
However, Saturday night’s ceremony will be devoid of the band’s leader. Bobby Poe, who formed the Poe-Kat band in 1957 in Coffeyville, is now facing a new battle: throat cancer.
Retired and living in Grove, Okla., the 74-year-old veteran of the music scene is a victim of second-hand smoke. His gravelly, gurgling voice is an entire galaxy away from the smooth baritone who belted out hits like “Rock And Roll Record Girl” in the group’s heyday of the late 1950s.
He says he never smoked a cigarette during his years as a rock n’ roller. He didn’t need to, he said. Those countless days and nights spent in dance halls, honkytonks, and private clubs turned into months and years. And, the endless cycle of performing in smoke-filled concert halls forced Poe to inhale everyone else’s cigarette smoke.
It wasn’t one of those things Poe and the rest of the band thought about at that time. After all, the atmosphere in most bars and concert halls of the 1950s and ’60s was a fog of stale beer vapors and cigarette ashes.
Never did rock n’ rollers like Bobby Poe realize that those noxious fumes they inhaled while crooning into a microphone would someday be a ticket to mortality.
“I’m fighting my own battle,” said Poe. “The doctors say that want to take out my voice box. I told them we’re going to fight this with chemotherapy. I can’t give up my voice box. That’s how I’ve made a living ever since I started the Poe-Kats back in Coffeyville.”
Poe says he is saddened that he cannot make Saturday’s hall induction ceremony. “I can’t talk much, and I can’t sing,” he said, his voice breaking. “I’m afraid I would be an embarrassment.”
But an embarrassment is not what the board of directors of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame thought when they named Bobby Poe and the Poe-Kats to be among the Kansas-bred musicians to be enshrined into the hall for 2009. Instead, they chose music groups whose style of music opened new doors and new genres.
That’s what happened clear back in 1956 when Poe, who was working in the shipping department for Jensen Brothers, won a $20 bet from a co-worker after Poe climbed onto the stage of the old Casa Del dance club in South Coffeyville and improvised “Love Me Tender” with a three-piece, all-black jazz band.
So impressed was the Casa Del’s owner with Poe’s quick performance that the shipper-turned-crooner was encouraged to form his own band.
And, those words of encouragement were all Poe needed to enter the music scene.
Poe, who played football at Coffeyville Junior College in the early 1950s, went through Coffeyville’s bars and dance halls to locate prospective band members. Along the way, he picked up several top-notch balladeers, including “Big Al” Downing, a Lenapah, Okla., native who, at the young age of 16, had a set of mature vocal pipes that allowed him to sing everything from Little Richard to Fats Domino. A teenage guitartist named Vernon Sandusky from Mound Valley joined the group after getting his start in bars and dance halls in Coffeyville. Percussion was handled by Joe Brawley.
Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats played weekend gigs, clubs and dance halls throughout southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma where they played upon the mixture of rock n’ roll, country, western swing, and rhythm and blues to form the trademark rockabilly sound.
In 1957, Poe got a call from Jim Halsey, an Independence native who became a country music manager for musician Hank Thompson. Aware of the group’s rockabilly sound, Halsey was seeking a backup band for young music diva Wanda Jackson, whose blend of rock n’ roll and honky tonk blues made her the new Queen of Rockabilly. Bobby Poe and the Poe-Kats were immediately signed to perform as Jackson’s band, traveling all over the United States.
“Traveling with Wanda Jackson was a pretty big deal for a kid from the sticks,” said Sandusky, who now lives near Edna. “We went all over the country with Wanda. We made a pretty big jump — from the Casa Del in South Coffeyville to playing on stage with Wanda Jackson in California.”
Jackson, an Oklahoma native, was doing more than rubbing elbows with rock n’ roll’s elite. She also was known to have had an intimate relationship with Elvis Presley, who persuaded Jackson to record her trademark rockabilly music with the Poe-Kat band as background musicians. Her big hit was “Let’s Have a Party,” which, in 1958, put Bobby Poe and the Poe-Kats on the road toward the Big Time.
However, by late 1958, Bobby Poe and the Poe-Kats were going in different directions. Big Al Downing went on his own road into country music. Sandusky started a group called The Chartbusters which had Poe as its manager and co-producer. Ironically, The Chartbusters were considered a big hit during the British Invasion era of rock n’ roll. The group had a chart-soaring hit — “She’s The One” — that was a top 40 climber in 1964 and got the group ample airtime on AM radio across the nation. “She’s The One” was recorded for a whopping $45 in a Washington, D.C., studio . . . but that album sold more than 1 million singles — putting the Poe-led band in the same level of stardom as Elvis and the Beatles.
The group even performed on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” where they temporarily stole the spotlight from other British Invasion groups, such as the Rolling Stones.
However, when the British music wave was over, the Chartbusters were relegated to AM radio’s dust bin. Sandusky went on to become a guitarist for country music star Roy Clark. Poe went on to manage other groups and also entered the world of publishing as the originator of “Bobby Poe’s Pop Music Survey.” Those surveys evolved into an annual convention of country and pop music celebrities, who wined, dined and played golf in benefit tournaments. Those Poe-led conventions and annual parties were a must-go for musicians and celebrities in the music industry before Poe finally retired in 1994.
“I was tired of publishing magazines, and I saw that internet was coming into the scene,” he said. “So, I decided to get out of the business and retire. That’s when I moved to Grove.
“It was a lot of fun — being a band leader and manager all those years. If I had to do it all over again, I don’t know if I would do anything differently . . . other than tell people to put out their cigarettes.”
Ironically, Saturday night’s hall of fame induction also will include the enshrinement of Jim Halsey, the Independence native who signed Bobby Poe and the Poe-Kats to their first big deal as Wanda Jackson’s backup group in 1958. Halsey will be inducted into the hall for his 50-plus years as a country music manager. During his career, Halsey has led such performers as Roy Clark, The Judds, Reba McEntire, Clint Black, James Brown, Roy Orbison and more. Halsey also continues his 35-year management relationship with the Oak Ridge Boys. In his later career, Halsey has put his work into education by establishing a music and entertainment business program at Oklahoma City University.
Also to be honored at the event or inducted into the music hall will be Lee McBee, Lawrence; Danny Cox, Kansas City; The Dinks, Beloit; Shooting Star, Kansas City; Billy Spears, Lawrence; The Young Raiders, Lawrence; and The Serfs, Lawrence/Wichita. Another inductee into the hall of fame will be The Sensational Showmen, which had its roots in the Parsons and Pittsburg areas.
The Kansas Music Hall of Fame was established in 2004 to honor performers and others who have made significant contributions to the state’s musical history.
For more information, go to www.ksmusichalloffame.org.
The Cherryvale High School women’s basketball team will travel to the class 3A state tournament next week following the Lady Chargers’ 59-50 win over the Frontenac Raider in the finals of the class 3A sub-state tournament in Southeast-Cherokee on Saturday night.
Cherryvale (18-5) is the fourth seed in the eight-team state tournament and will play Jayhawk-Linn (18-5), the fifth seed team, in an 8:15 p.m., game on Wednesday, March 11, at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. Should Cherryvale win its opening round game, then the Lady Chargers are guaranteed two more games, including the semi-finals on Friday and the championship or consolation game (depending on outcome of the semi-final round) on Saturday.
In other first-round games of the state tournament, Southwestern Heights (22-1) will play Hillsboro (14-9); Rock Creek (21-1) will play Riley County (17-6), and Wichita Collegiate (21-2) will play Beloit (18-5). All first-round games of the state tournament will be played on Wednesday.
More details about the Lady Chargers’ appearance at the state tournament will be posted on this website on Monday.
In other basketball games, the Cherryvale High School men’s basketball team saw its season come to a close with a 71-48 loss to the Galena Bulldogs in the class 3A sub-state finale on Saturday night. More details about the Chargers’ season will be printed in the March 12 edition of the Montgomery County Chronicle.
The Cherryvale FFA Alumni Association is seeking local members and volunteers to assist the organization in a national effort to preserve a rural Cherryvale barn.
A 100-year-old barn at the Gary Cotterill farm, 4929 County Road 5200, will be targeted for renovation beginning on Friday morning, March 6. Activity will continue throughout that weekend with the “reviving celebration” to be held at noon Sunday, March 8.
The National FFA Alumni Organization and Campebll Soup Company are joining forces to preserve five stately barns across the nation. Among the five barns chosen for the renovation project was the one located on the Cotterill farm. Other barn renovation projects are located in Reddick, Ill.; Molalla, Ore.; Corfu, N.Y.; and Nashville, Tenn.
Campbell Soup Company is pledging $250,000 toward the national barn project with labor and other resources to be provided by local FFA Alumni chapters.
The Cherryvale High School FFA Chapter along with FFA alumni will be assisting with the project. Any other interested volunteers are encouraged to call Sam Atherton at (620) 332-3037 or Lucy Whitehead at (765) 479-2713.
BY ANDY TAYLOR
Montgomery County Chronicle
CANEY — Kevin McIntosh still can’t shake it from his memory.
Even 20 years later, it still bounces around like a spastic balloon deflating in mid-air.
When he walks into a high school gymnasium on a frosty winter night, his mind wanders back to the biggest game in the history of Caney Valley High School basketball.
When he sits through a close basketball game — be it elementary kids, junior high or high school — McIntosh will look around in hopes that an empty jersey will be laying around. He’ll be glad to jump into the threads and replay a pivotal moment in his life.
And, when he talks about the events surrounding the 1988-89 basketball season, this former Bullpup basketball player still shakes his head and wonders what might have been.
“We came so close . . . but just fell one game short,” said McIntosh, a Caney resident.
He then stares and thinks back to “the” game.
The result still feels like a punch in the gut.
Riverton 80, Caney Valley 68.
The final of the class 4A sub-state men’s basketball tournament.
Saturday, March 4, 1989.
The greatest season.
The toughest loss.
• • • •
For two consecutive seasons (1987 and 1988), the Caney Valley High School men’s basketball team was on course to competing in the class 4A state basketball tournament.
However, the Riverton High School men’s basketball team dashed each of those state tournament plans by beating Caney Valley in the class 4A sub-state tournaments in each of those two campaigns.
Such state tournament journeys have been rare in Caney. It has happened only twice: in 1960 and 1965. And, when Riverton ruined Caney Valley’s state tournament dreams, it felt like a momentary black eye. . . only to be followed by the familiar refrain, “We’ll try again next year.”
So, by the time the 1988-89 season rolled around (and the 1987 and 1988 season closers against Riverton were a far-away memory), attitudes were high in the Bullpup kingdom that Caney Valley would finally punch a ticket to the state’s biggest dance.
Those Bullpup fans didn’t just rely on good vibes and high hopes; they staked their claim on a talented Caney Valley team.
That “next year” team was finally on the Bullpup hardwoods.
Caney Valley’s head coach was Andy Metsker, a veteran skipper who had taken a team from Valley Falls, Kan., to a state tournament prior to his arrival in Caney Valley for the 1982-83 season. He came close to taking the Bullpups to several state tournament berths, only to fall in the finals of sub-state tournaments in 1985, 1987 and 1988.
Metsker knew he had a good thing at the start of the 1988-89 campaign. Three Bullpup seniors led the squad that included a batch of talented juniors and hungry sophomores. The seniors included much-decorated point guard Dean Campbell, post player and scoring machine Kevin McIntosh, and ultra-versatile guard/forward Shane Bowman. Added to the mix were salty juniors Bron Williams and J.D. Stephney while juniors Brian Allen, Sean McIntosh and Kevin Clark came off the bench. Among the sophomores on that squad were Mark Frye, Travis Freidline, Dustin Frank and Derek Messner.
Caney Valley opened the season with several victories and a championship trophy from the Caney Pre-Season Tournament, where the Bullpups defeated Labette County, 55-52, in that tournament finale. By the time the Neodesha Mid-Season Invitational Tournament arrived in mid-January, the Bullpups had a 9-0 resume, which was a big deal in Caney Valley but still did not garner any respect among state basketball pollsters.
That all changed at the Neodesha tournament when Caney Valley shocked Burlington, which was ranked fifth in class 3A, 76-65, to win the tournament championship.
Eyebrows were starting to raise. Pollsters started paying attention to the little school in the corner of Montgomery County. And, the bleachers at Caney Valley High School started to get more crowded with every home game.
Over the course of the next five games, Caney Valley went on a scoring explosion, putting 91 on the scoreboard against Columbus, 99 against Fredonia and 95 against Cherryvale.
More fans filled the bleachers. Pollsters started talking about Caney Valley in the same paragraphs as the state’s other top 4A teams. And, all eyes were focused on an upcoming class 4A sub-state tournament to be held on the Bullpups’ own hardwoods.
While Caney Valley looked invincible, they did survive a late-season hiccup. It occurred in the final regular season game when Caney Valley hosted Oswego. The Indians battled back from a 14-point deficit to command a two-point lead with 1:24 left on the clock. Forced to foul, Caney Valley was able to keep the game tight until McIntosh took a pass from Campbell with one second left on the clock to record a 55-54 victory and preserve Caney Valley’s first-ever perfect season: 20-0.
“That was one of the more memorable games of that season,” said Metsker, who left Caney Valley in 1990 and is now a principal at Pleasant Ridge High School in Easton, Kan. “It was memorable not just because we won but because we didn’t play well in the second half. And, that was right before we were to host the sub-state tournament. So, we didn’t pick a good time to let down our guard. But, the guys proved to me that they wanted the victory. They got it.”
Caney Valley entered the class 4A sub-state tournament as the number one seed, a perfect 20-0 record, and ranked fourth in class 4A. Right behind them in the tournament pairings was Riverton, which was seeded second and had an impressive record with only three losses.
The Bullpups devoured Fredonia in the opening round, 77-30, and then cruised past Circle-Towanda, 81-68, to advance the Bullpups to the tournament championship. Ironically, that win over the Thunderbirds gave Metsker his 100th career victory.
When it was clear that Riverton and Caney Valley would meet for a third consecutive year in a sub-state tournament, the eyes of eastern Kansas would focus on the crowded CVHS Gymnasium that cold night: March 4, 1989.
“I knew it was going to be a crowded gym when people started calling me immediately after the Circle-Towanda game,” said Metsker. “They wanted to know when they should start arriving in the gym just to get a seat. People were driving from all over to see that game against Riverton. I know of people who drove from Wichita and Emporia to see the game. If I only knew how far others drove to see it, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Metsker had some motivational tactics up his sleeve prior to the game. The coach had several graduates return to the Caney Valley lockerroom for a pre-game talk. Among the two grads was David Draper, a standout point guard who graduated from CVHS in 1985 and who had helped the Hutchinson Community College basketball team win the NJCAA national title in the 1987 season.
And, what did Draper use as chalkboard fodder?
Newspaper clippings from the 1985, 1987 and 1988 sub-state tournaments, showing how close Caney Valley came to earning state tournament berths before falling in defeat.
The other veteran player was Andy Allen, a senior on the 1987-88 team. Allen spent most of his senior season recuperating from a life-saving kidney transplant surgery. And, it was Allen who told the 1988-89 Bullpups about the heartache he and others had felt when denied a trip to state tournaments in previous seasons.
Win this game not just for yourselves but for all of the other Bullpups who have waited so eagerly to compete at the state level, Allen told the team.
With the newspaper clippings, the appearance of a national-caliber juco player, and the philosophical words from an organ transplant recipient, who could not help but to believe that destiny was fully in the hands of the Caney Valley Bullpups.
The team had a pre-game prayer, then opened the double doors leading to the raucous CVHS Gymnasium.
Bowman remembers the atmosphere when the Bullpups took to the hardwoods for pre-game warm-ups.
“I had butterflys in my stomach,” he said. “The gymnasium was totally packed. Every seat was taken in the bleachers. The upstairs bleachers were totally filled, too. You couldn’t even hear yourself talk to the other players because it was so loud.”
And, in examining pictures taken during that game, the crowd conditions spilled over onto the staircases that led to the second-floor mezzanine. Those stairwells also were filled, leaving only a standing-room crowd to see that game.
“When John Heady made the pre-game introductions, we couldn’t hear him because it was so loud in that gym,” said Campbell, now an assistant basketball coach at Lonoke, Ark., which won the Arkansas state title in 2008. “We had to look at Heady, and he would point back to us whenever it was our time to be introduced. And, when we got back to the huddle, it was hard to even hear Coach Metsker.”
Caney Valley opened the sub-state championship game on fire with a 7-0 scoring drive in the first six minutes of the first period.
The Caney Valley faithful — along with the converts they picked up along the season — were going nuts.
“I still get chills thinking about that first period,” said Campbell.
However, Riverton would flex its own muscle, rebounding from that deficit to command a 13-12 lead with two minutes to play in the first half.
Caney Valley would rebound to command a 23-20 lead before the Rams rallied prior to the halftime buzzer. The Rams’ 27-point drive in the second period would put the visitors on top of the scoreboard.
And, the Rams would never look back for the rest of the game.
Caney Valley tried desperately to record a heroic comeback in the second half but failed to generate enough points, even though point guard Campbell finished the contest with a game-high 33 points.
Free throws doomed Caney Valley while Riverton iced most of their charity shots.
What else went wrong?
“Whenever I think back to that game, I wished I would have dished the ball off to McIntosh more in the second half,” said Campbell. “We simply didn’t get the ball to Kevin enough. And, all of these years later, it still hurts me to think about it.”
Late in the game, Riverton made their shots; Caney Valley did not. And, when the final seconds ticked down, it was obvious that the basketball gods would once again jilt the Bullpups.
Said McIntosh, “I felt like I had let down so many people after that game. Even 20 years later, I still take responsibility for missing some of those shots in that game. It was just an incredibly emotional experience for myself, Coach Metsker and the rest of the team.”
Metsker said the emotions extended far beyond that silent Bullpup lockerroom, where sobs broke the eerie silence.
“Even after the season was over, I was getting letters from fans I didn’t even know to congratulate me and the team but also to extend a shoulder after that loss. The show of support from the Caney community was enormous. I have never felt anything quite like that.”
Campbell, McIntosh and Bowman would leave the Caney Valley courts that night only 12 points shy of going to a state tournament. Caney Valley — the little school that got zero respect for most of the season — had just compiled its greatest season in school history . . . only to leave it with one haunting defeat in the loss column.
Do the three seniors from that team still think about that game?
Each and every day, said Campbell.
“I would have loved to be in a position to tell my kids that I played in a state tournament while in high school,” said Campbell. “I still think about it. But, in my position as a basketball coach, I deal with losses and victories every day, all year round. Anybody who is a competitor knows that losing tough games is impossible to shake off.”
Bowman said he, too, thinks about that night in March 1989.
“We had such a great season, and our team was filled with true team players,” he said. “We had a good chemistry because we were not a bunch of individuals. We had a good season because everyone on the team knew his role.”
McIntosh still recollects every play, every move, and every squeaky shoe rubber from that night.
“I know in my own role as a basketball coach of kids’ teams that I think back to that game and that season,” he said. “When I encounter a situation, I think back to how Coach Metsker would have handled it. While that loss was tough to swallow, in the long run, it made me a better person.”
Metsker said it still is unnerving to realize that had Caney Valley won that sub-state championship, the Bullpup cagers would have entered the class 4A state tournament in Salina, Kan., as the number one seed.
“I honestly don’t even remember who played in that state tournament that season,” said Metsker. “After losing that game to Riverton, I kind of forgot about the state tournament.”
Metsker has another reason to remember that 22-1 season. He was going through a personal crisis of his own: a divorce from his wife.
“Standing there in that lockerroom after that loss and fight back tears was the toughest thing for me to do. I felt devastated,” said Metsker. “But, we had an awful lot of guys who gave a lot of themselves, which made the season worthwhile. Those kids helped me through a rough spell in my own life.”
Campbell also remembers the personal battles being waged in Metsker’s own life.
“Coach was going through a tough time, but I think that is what made us draw closer as a team,” he said.
Bowman also remembers that Metsker served as a role model for he and others on the team, including those players who had faced similar personal traumas in their own families.
“He took me under his wing,” said Bowman. “I was a better person because of the way Metsker made us into a team.”
Even McIntosh says that the days, hours and weeks of bitter practices — which included Metsker’s trademark rages and boisterous rants — made him a better player.
“He kicked me out of the gymnasium more times than I care to think about,” he said. “I remember getting kicked out of practice because he was so mad at me. So, I went to the lockerroom and started to get dressed and go home. A few minutes later, Metsker storms into the lockerroom, sees that I’m in my street clothes, and goes off on me even more. But, that’s what I needed in my life. If I didn’t have someone like Coach to bust my butt at each practice, I would have easily strayed away.”
When Metsker met with his players following that loss, he tried to be philosophical about dealing with athletic disappointments.
“If this is the worst thing that has ever happened to you, then you are living a pretty good life,” he told his players.
And, because Metsker believed that actions spoke louder than words, he had his teary-eyed players return to the Caney Valley gymnasium and thank the loyal Bullpup fans for providing support during the 1988-89 season.
“To tell you the truth, I was fighting back tears, and that was the only thing I could do to keep the guys from seeing me cry,” he said. “So, I had them go back into the gym. But, I’m glad we did that. It showed that our kids cared not only for the sport but also for the fans.”
McIntosh sums it up, “Each year at this time, I think about that season. And, when it comes to a sub-state tournament, I hear about it a lot. What went wrong that year? I don’t look at it as what went wrong. We lost one game — and a big game at that. But, we did a lot of right things, too.”
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