In the past six weeks, Edmond Internet sensation Greyson Chance, 12, has earned innumerable comparisons to similarly floppy-haired YouTube discovery Justin Bieber, now 16.
Siblings Lorrie and Larry Collins performed in the 1950s as the Collins Kids, becoming the first youngsters to play rock n roll. Photo is from the Larry Collins Collection on loan to Oklahoma History Center.
For the rest of his young music career — who knows how long it might last — Greyson will be linked to pop star Lady Gaga, whose hit “Paparazzi” he covered in the YouTube video that got him discovered, and Ellen DeGeneres, the talk-show host and “American Idol” judge who started a record label just to sign him.
He also can be connected to such diverse performers as rockabilly pioneers the Collins Kids, pop stars Hanson and heavy metal rockers Crooked X, although those ties might not be so obvious outside his home state.
Greyson has joined the proud tradition of Oklahoma music stars who have skyrocketed to fame before they were old enough to drive a car, attend the prom or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie. It’s a tradition dating back to the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll.
“In the ’50s, rock ‘n’ roll was … targeted towards young people because, for the first time in the history of the world, young people had disposable income from the post-World War II prosperity,” said Jeff Moore, co-curator of Oklahoma History Center’s “Another Hot Oklahoma Night: A Rock & Roll Exhibit.”
Naturally, youngsters with money burning holes in their pockets gravitated toward rollicking music made by kids like them. And the first kids to rock were the sibling duo the Collins Kids, Tahlequah-born Lorrie and her two-years-younger, Tulsa-born brother, Larry.
Western swing musician Leon McAuliffe discovered Lorrie’s singing talent when the 8-year-old won a Tulsa talent show. For his part, Larry was 7 when he got his first guitar as a Christmas gift. As he jumped around playing souped-up country music, the grown-ups laughed.
So, the boy took his guitar out back and shot it with a BB gun. Very rock ‘n’ roll.
“He is way more influential in rock ‘n’ roll guitar than he is given credit for, because he’s the first kid playing rock ‘n’ roll. … In fact, he’s doing it in ’53, which is almost before rock ‘n’ roll is credited with really being a genre,” Moore said. “He’s doing these Chuck Berry moves before Chuck Berry.”
Larry didn’t do too much damage to his guitar, though he soon upgraded to a double-neck. From 1956-59, the Collins Kids were rockabilly regulars on ABC’s “Town Hall Party.” They penned their rock songs “Hot Rod,” “Whistlebait” and “Mercy,” and after Lorrie left the duo to start a family, Larry carried on as a songwriter.
Credit Oklahoma’s young rockers: Many not only sing but also play their own instruments and write their material. Case in point: Hanson.
“People dog ‘MMMBop,’ which was written on that keyboard,” Moore said, pointing to an instrument in the exhibit. “But the thing about it is, it was written on that keyboard. They wrote it.”
Isaac Hanson was 16, Taylor, 13, and Zac, 11, in 1997 when they became breakout stars with the bubble-gummy “MMMBop.” Moore points out that the Tulsa brothers were even bigger than current sizzling trio the Jonas Brothers. Hanson scored a No. 1 hit in more than 30 countries, without the Disney Channel backing afforded the Jonases.
Although their white-hot popularity cooled, Hanson has continued writing and making music. The band is experiencing a resurgence with the Motown bounce of “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” the first single from their new album, “Shout It Out,” due out Tuesday.
Coweta-based rockers Crooked X were just 14 when they zipped from suburban Tulsa obscurity to opening for Kiss, Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper. In 2007, the quartet won second place on a CBS talent contest, which led to a 2009 major-label debut album, MTV special and two “Rock Band” tracks. They wrote all 10 songs on their self-titled album.
During his second visit to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last week, Greyson continued the tradition, performing his original piano-and-voice ballad “Broken Hearts.”
Moore was impressed with the state’s latest rocker youth. “I like his sound. He’s not mimicking everybody else,” he said.
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