JUNE 22, 2017
“WOO-HOO” (WRITERS: THE ROCK-A-TEENS [ACTUAL], GEORGE McGRAW [CREDITED])
ARTIST: THE ROCK-A-TEENS
RELEASED 1959 ON 7” 45 AND ON WOO-HOO LP
One could argue that “Woo-Hoo,” by the Rock-A-Teens, is the quintessential 1950s’ rock and roll record.
“Woo-Hoo” cares not for the troubles of the world. “Woo-Hoo” just wants a good time on Saturday night, dancing with its best girl to a really good combo and maybe sneaking out the back of the dance hall for a quick nip of White Lightning when the musicians are on break. “Woo-Hoo” will risk getting home late, knowing full well it might lose car privileges.
“Woo-Hoo” is willing to be grounded for a good necking session.
“Woo-Hoo” is a clattery, ringing, rockabilly-ish basher with a strong attack, a basic chord progression, no lyrics (except the title), a classic drum break, and a few great screams. Amateurish it is, but also a lot of fun. It’s the garage rock—or, if you will, the punk rock—of the 1950s.
The six guys that created this record came from Richmond, Virginia. After playing enough shows to build a following, The Rock-A-Teens auditioned for a small local record company, Doran, owned by George McGraw. The impresario signed up the band and pressed up its raw composition, “Woo-Hoo,” in summer 1959.
The record started to sell locally. Soon, a guitarist named Arthur Smith threatened legal action against the band, claiming that “Woo-Hoo” was too similar to his “Guitar Boogie,” a popular 12-bar blues recorded in 1948. While both songs use acoustic guitar and are in the key of E, the similarity is hardly actionable,. given that Smith's tune was hardly original in the first place.
According to a bio of the Rock-a-Teens on the www.rockabilly.nl site, George McGraw now saw a big opportunity. When Smith brought his argument to Doran Records, McGraw convinced the six adolescents in the Rock-a-Teens to sell him the song’s copyright for a few hundred bucks so that they wouldn’t be sued. (“I’ll take care of it, okay boys?”) With copyright in hand, he let local distributors know that the record was now for sale to the highest bidder.
I’m assuming, though no one’s saying, that McGraw at this point paid Arthur Smith a nice sum to go away.
With “Woo Hoo” a regional hit, McGraw was sitting pretty. According to the September 9, 1959 Cash Box, several labels bid on the hot record. Roulette Records, a mob-connected New York label which issued records by serious jazz musicians as well as pop artists like the Playmates, bought the master of “Woo-Hoo.” No price was given but it was, according to the company, the most it had ever paid for a previously recorded master.
Roulette immediately rushed the record out, working its pressing plants over a weekend to get tens of thousands of copies of “Woo-Hoo” into distributors’ hands.
Cleveland teenagers were the first to latch on to this re-release. Other markets soon followed—Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles—and “Woo-Hoo” found its way onto the national charts by the end of the month. It charted in all regions of the U.S. and in Canada as well.
“Woo-Hoo” became a certified national hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard chart and #18 in Cashbox. It fell short of super-smash status, however, despite Roulette’s connections, aggressive print run, and promotion. It only reached #1 in one market: Minneapolis.
Trying to make the most of their investment, Roulette brought Rock-a-Teens up to New York to record an album, but neither it, nor their follow-up single, garnered sales or airplay. The Rock-a-Teens soon broke up.
I don't know if, 60 years later, anyone is still around to confirm this…but I assume at some point that the group realized that everyone—their crooked record producer, the record company, the record distributors—was making money off their efforts but them. Certainly they got ripped off, shucked, and screwed.
But “Woo Hoo” is one good record. And it’s not getting its hair cut.