Sixteen-year-old Jeanette Clark was out on a date in Barnesville, Georgia on December 22, 1962, the Saturday before Christmas. She was with a group of friends in a '54 Chevrolet. J. L. Hancock, also sixteen, was driving the car in heavy traffic and while traveling on Highway 341, collided with a trailer truck. Jeanette, the driver and another teenager were killed, and two other teens in the car were seriously injured. Most had been students at Gordon Military College. It was a terribly gory accident and provoked an intense reaction in Barnesville.
Living about fifteen miles away in an old shack for which he was paying $20 a month rent was Wayne Cochran, a white R&B singer and composer. Wayne saw accident after accident on the busy stretch of highway on which he lived. He had written a song about all the accidents and left it unfinished, until he heard about the tragedy in Barnesville. He completed the song and dedicated it to the memory of Jeanette Clark. He called it Last Kiss.
Wayne sang the song locally and, when people liked it, he recorded it for the small Gala Records label. It caught on in Georgia, and Wayne tried to promote sales of the record the only way he knew how: he loaded a bunch of 45's in the trunk of his car and went around selling them. It was not very effective. He later recorded the song for another record label, but the owner wouldn't promote it.
A recording executive in Fort Worth, Texas, Major Bill Smith [who had produced Bruce Channel's Hey! Baby and Paul and Paula's Hey Paula] heard it. He liked the song. Major Bill Smith had a group in Fort Worth who were with his Josie label. This group, called the Cavaliers, had formed in San Angelo, Texas and consisted of Gene Croyle, Lewis Elliott, and Roland Atkins. Major Bill paired them with a twenty-two-year-old singer from Lufkin, Texas named John Frank Wilson. The record was released as Last Kiss, by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, on the Josie label. It entered the charts in September, 1964 and was a huge success.
J. Frank Wilson was born in 1941 in Lufkin, Texas and had been in the Air Force. He was in a terrible automobile accident himself in Ohio around the time that Last Kiss became a hit. Several groups of entertainers were driving in two cars from a Parksburg, W. Virginia concert to Lima, Ohio. Sonley Roush, the manager of J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, was killed in the Oct. 23, 1964 car crash. J. Frank Wilson, Gene Croyle, Bobby Wood, Jerome Graham, and Phil Trunzo were injured but survived the accident. Wilson later worked as a hospital orderly; he died in Lufkin in 1991. Major Bill Smith also died in the 90's. Wayne Cochran, who performed on Jackie Gleason's television show in Miami in the 60's, went on to become a preacher.
Last Kiss went as high as number two on the charts in 1964.
Oh, where oh where can my baby be
The Lord took her away from me
She's gone to heaven so I've got to be good
So I can see my baby when I leave ... this world
We were out on a date in my daddy's car
We hadn't driven very far
There in the road, straight ahead
A car was stalled, the engine was dead
I couldn't stop, so I swerved to the right
I'll never forget the sound that night
The cryin' tires, the bustin' glass
The painful scream that I ... heard last
When I woke up the rain was pourin' down
There were people standing all around
Something warm was runnin' in my eyes
But I found my baby somehow that night
I raised her head, and then she smiled and said
Hold me darling for a little while
I held her close, I kissed her our last kiss
I found the love that I knew I would miss
Now she's gone, even though I hold her tight
I lost my love, my life ... that night
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