We’re going to talk about a surprising achievement of an unassuming, hard-working, sometimes shy, handsome young man that was raised in Wilbarger County and graduated from Harrold Schools. Part of his career was teaching history classes at Burkburnett High School. And what a teacher he was! How do I know this? I was one of his students. This young man also possessed one of the finest singing voices I have ever heard. His talking voice was equally quite nice, I might add, for I had opportunities to listen to him talk to audiences hundreds of times and hear individuals tell him that they loved his singing, but could just as well listen to him talk all night long. He also helped build a church in Burkburnett, not just spiritually, but by hard physical work and by substantial financial contributions. This church truly was his home. He could also sell a car to someone in the middle of a boat race! He simply loved the car business.
This young man was Richard Cook. He was somewhat a jack of all trades, but I want to focus on one thing Richard did that very few people have done, whether here in North Texas or around the world. Richard had a song go to number one in our nation. That’s right. Top of the charts.
Here’s a technical breakdown of that hit record: The song was called Peanuts and was written by a T. Cook that was no relation to Richard. The group was Rick and The Keens, Richard being the lead singer and leader. The Keens at the time of the recording were John Bland, Max Ray Evans, Hugh Alexander, and on piano, Rick’s sister, Glenda Cook (I hope my information is correct here-I researched and found what I think to be pretty accurate). Other members over the years included Harold Green, Stevie Slusher, Jerry Bob Tuck, Bobby Peters, Richard Cook, Phillip Casillas, Ward Yorston, Billy Musgrove, and myself. There were many others and I apologize for not including everyone.
The year was 1961 and the record label was Mercury, a major label. The song had originally been released by a group called Little Joe and The Thrillers in 1957, but Rick gave the song a new life. It quickly went to number one in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago and spread across our country and stayed in the Top 100 for sixteen weeks. That’s four months!! It also garnered an invite to be on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. As the dust cleared, Richard’s popularity set him up for many years of performing in our area as well as points as far away as Montgomery, Alabama, and Tucson, Arizona, and dozens of venues so far to the north of Texas that I shiver to mention them. I don’t know how many times I travelled to these far away places with Rick and The Keens, but I do know it was always fun to hear him sing, and yes, tell stories with that wonderful voice of his.
Not bad for a young boy from a North Texas farming community that never had visions of stardom or self-promotion. Rick simply loved being diversified in his career and trying new directions when opportunities came up. To Rick’s benefit, he was quite successful at every direction he took.
We lost Rick in 2008. I know many folks in this area remember this unique man among us and recall going to see him perform. He was special. He made an impact on my life that I have happily carried for fifty years. I must have meant something to him as well. When I moved back from Los Angeles to our area, I arrived at 1:00 A. M. on a cold December morning on a Saturday and at about eleven that morning there was Richard at my door, welcoming me home. As Richard was laid to rest seven years ago, I stayed at the graveyard in Burkburnett after friends and family had left and put the first shovel load of earth on Richard’s coffin. It was my turn to welcome him home.