The story behind ‘Real Wild Child’
The fascinating story of a classic 1958 song that starts with Buddy Holly and was subsequently covered by a host of surprising artists.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed doing some deep dives into songs that for one reason or another I find interesting. Previously, I’ve written about These Foolish Things which was covered by Bryan Ferry, Ghost Town by The Specials, All The Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople and most recently, Still Of The Night by Whitesnake. What I really like is going down the rabbit hole of a song and exploring the story behind it and the people involved in creating it: the writers, the musicians and the producers.
It was time to do another one, but I couldn’t find something that piqued my interest. Having just marked the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, by posting my art remix of a remarkable and rarely seen photo of him, I thought about looking at one of his songs. However, there’s little that hasn’t already been written about them. That being said, the story of Buddy Holly has always appealed to me and I remember reading biographies about him and going to see the West End musical Buddy many years ago.
Around the anniversary of his fatal plane crash — the so-called day the music died — I was listening to as many podcasts as I could find about Buddy and his songs, when I heard a snippet of one that whilst unfamiliar to me, reminded me of something else. The phrasing sounded an awful lot like Marc Bolan, but this was a song from 1958. The artist was called Ivan, someone I’d never heard of, and if I remembered right, Buddy Holly played on the song.
And with that, curiosity got the better of me and before I knew it I was googling ‘Ivan’ and ‘Buddy Holly’ to see what it I could find. The result of that search started me on a new journey, down a new rabbit hole as I pursued the story behind Real Wild Child by Ivan.
Ivan, it turns out, was the middle name of Jerry Allison, the drummer of the original Crickets, Buddy Holly’s backing band. So the first question was, who was Jerry Allison?
Born 31 August 1939, in Hillsboro, Texas, Allison moved to Lubbock when he was ten. Both he and Buddy Holly, (at that time Charles Hardin Holley) went to Lubbock High and both performed together from their high school days and for most of Buddy’s short career.
The original Crickets, split from Buddy shortly before he went out on the infamous Winter Tour that saw him recruit a new backing band that included Waylon Jennings on bass. Prior to that, Jerry was a lot more than just Buddy’s drummer. He was responsible for changing the name of one of Holly’s most famous compositions from Cindy Lou to Peggy Sue, as that was the name of his childhood sweetheart, and the girl he would eventually marry. What’s more, he co-wrote another Buddy Holly classic, That’ll Be The Day.
So, how did he come to record a song under the name of Ivan? One can only surmise that for contractual reasons he couldn’t release it under his own name or that of The Crickets. Like most of Buddy Holly’s hits it was produced by Norman Petty at his recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico and featured Buddy Holly on lead guitar and backing vocals, Crickets bassist Joe Mauldin, and Bo Clark on drums so J.I. could concentrate on his singing. Two versions of the song were recorded on 12th September 1958.
Here’s what he later had to say about the recording:
“We did a tour in Australia in the early part of ’58, the early part. There was a fellow there named Johnny O’Keefe, and he had a number one record at the time, which was Wild Child. I think he called it Wild One. So we learned it during that period. We got to be good friends.”
With a redo of Oh You Beautiful Doll as the B-side, Petty shipped Real Wild Child off to Coral, and that autumn Ivan had a #68 pop seller. However, his run as a front man was short-lived — there was only one follow-up, the lame novelty track Frankie Frankenstein, written by Jack Huddle, Jim Robinson, and Norman Petty.
“Ooh, Frankie Frankenstein, that’s a pretty bad tune!” Allison would later recount. Another O’Keefe tune, That’ll Be Alright, was on the B-side.
Exactly why Allison took lead vocals on the song rather than Holly remains a mystery. “We cut it, with me singing sort of for a joke, just cause we liked the song.”
Back in the 50’s it was common practice for artists to record songs and then tout them to various labels for national release.
It should also be noted that Buddy Holly was very prolific, writing and recording many songs in a very short time. It wasn’t unusual for Holly to complete two songs in one day. The vast majority of them being recorded in Clovis.
As well as owning the studio and producing the records, Norman Petty was ostensibly the manager of both Buddy Holly and of The Crickets. Interestingly, none of their songs were originally released under the moniker Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
Real Wild Child was penned by O’Keefe along with Johnny Greenan and Dave Owens, two members of his band the Dee Jays. Released on 5 July 1958 as Wild One, it was an immediate hit and made O’Keefe the first Australian rock’n’roller to reach the national charts.
Jerry Allison accompanied Buddy Holly when he went on a five-date, six-concert tour of Australia that took place from January 30th to February 5th, 1958. It was to be Holly’s only visit down under. As well as Paul Anka and Jerry Lee Lewis, opening the shows was local act Johnny O’Keefe and The Dee Jays.
Wild One is driven by a pounding Jerry Lee Lewis-style rhythm, with guitarist Lou Casch playing a simple but perky riff. It also featured a chugging saxophone.
Back in 2015, I interviewed Welsh singer songwriter Judith Owen. Something she said then has always remained with me: “Great songs are like great bones, you can hang whatever you want on them.” What she meant was when you have a great song, you can do whatever you want to it, you can slow it down, speed it up, even give it an entirely different treatment and it will still hold up.
I think that is the enduring appeal of Real Wild Child. It has great bones. It’s somewhat ironic then that to my ears, Johnny O’Keefe’s own recording is probably the worst version of the song. The Ivan cover improves on it quite a bit in terms of vocals and instrumentation, although like the original it comes across as a little bit weak.
Well I’m just outa school, like I’m real real cool, gotta dance like a fool, got the message that I gotta be a wild one, ooh yeah I’m a wild one
Gotta break it loose, gonna keep ’em movin’ wild, gonna keep a swingin’ baby I’m a real wild child
Gonna meet all my friends, gonna have ourself a ball, gonna tell my friends Gonna tell them all that I’m a wild one, ooh yeah I’m a wild one
Gotta break it loose, gonna keep ’em movin’ wild, gonna keep a swingin’ baby I’m a real wild child, I’m a real wild one. An’ I like a wild fun in a world gone crazy, everything seems hazy, I’m a wild one, ooh yeah I’m a wild one
Gotta break it loose, gonna keep ’em movin’ wild, gonna keep a swingin’ baby I’m a real wild child, I’m a wild one, I’m a wild one, I’m a wild one. Oh baby I’m a wild one
Gotta break it loose, gonna keep ’em movin’ wild, gonna keep a swingin’ baby I’m a real wild child
After Holly’s death in 1959, Allison continued his musical career. He retained control of the band’s name and has toured and recorded with a group as the Crickets. The members of the group have changed over time, but the most consistent members have been the bassist Joe B. Mauldin, who was in the Crickets with Holly, and the guitarist and singer Sonny Curtis, who played with Holly before the Crickets were formed in 1957 and rejoined shortly after Holly’s death. Others who were in the band at one time or another include Glen Hardin, who was also a member of Elvis Presley’s live band; Albert Lee, who was also once a member of Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band; and several lead vocalists, including Earl Sinks, David Box and Jerry Naylor.
In 2007, Allison was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, as a member of the Crickets. In 2012, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Crickets by a special committee, aimed at correcting the mistake of not including the Crickets when Buddy Holly was first inducted in 1986. With the death of Crickets bassist Joe Mauldin in 2015, he is the sole surviving member of the Crickets from their late-1950s heyday.
In 2013 the house JI grew up in where he and Buddy wrote That’ll Be The Day, was uprooted and put on a low-loader before being re-sited at the Buddy Holly Museum on Cricket’s Avenue in Lubbock.
A little bit of trivia for you: Jerry’s father, James Delbert Allison, was also known as Buddy!
Now 80, Jerry lives on a 350 acre farm in Lyles, Tennessee, some 45 miles outside of Nashville.
Peggy Sue Gerron
After she and Jerry divorced in 1964, Peggy Sue returned to California — where she’d been born. She back to college and became a dental assistant, remarried and raised two children. Together with her new husband they opened a plumbing company and Peggy Sue became the first licensed woman plumber in California.
In 1995, she returned to Lubbock to care for her ailing mother. In later years, she became a devoted ham radio enthusiast and in 2008 published a memoir, Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?
Peggy Sue died in 2018 at the University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. She was 78.
19 January 1935–6 October 1978
By 1960 he had become the most popular and successful singer in Australia and a major TV star.
He died in 1978 from a drug overdose. He was just 43 years old.
In 1988, Johnny O’Keefe was posthumously inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
In 1994, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney recognised O’Keefe’s contributions in a major exhibition of Australia’s rock and pop history titled Real Wild Child.
In 1998, Australia Post issued a special stamp edition celebrating the early years of Australian rock’n’roll; the first stamp in the series commemorated O’Keefe’s rise to stardom in 1958.
Johnny O’Keefe’s life story and career also inspired the stage musical, Shout! The Legend of The Wild One, featuring music made famous by O’Keefe and other hits of the 1950s.
A portrait of O’Keefe by Australian artist Ivan Durrant, titled A Little Bit Louder Now, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.
On 10 June 2004, a 5-metre tall bronze titled The Wild One, created in memory of O’Keefe by sculptor Dr. Alex Sandor Kolozsy, was unveiled at the Coolangatta/Tweed Heads, Twin Towns Services Club.
Petty served as Buddy Holly’s producer and also as his first manager until late 1958. Many of Holly’s best songs were produced at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico in his short recording career, which lasted just 18 months, between 1957 and 1958.
After Holly’s death, Petty was put in charge of overdubbing unfinished Holly recordings by request of the Holley family (Buddy’s parents).
In 1960, Petty purchased the Mesa Theater on Main Street in Clovis. In 1963, he launched the FM radio station KTQM starting as an easy-listening station, later switching to country-and-western music, and then in 1968 to top-40 rock. The country genre had local appeal, so he applied for a new station license and started KWKA 680 AM in 1971, airing country-and-western music. Petty ran both stations until 1979. The stations were sold by Curry County Broadcasting to Zia Broadcasting in 2010.
Norman Petty died in Lubbock, Texas, in August 1984, of leukemia. He was 57. The King of Clovis, a book about Petty by Frank Blanas, was published in 2014.
The youngest of four children, Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holley was born September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. His parents had relocated to Lubbock because the local Texas Technical College (now Texas Tech University) provided opportunities for employment.
Within 18 months of his first hit, That’ll Be the Day, which charted on the Billboard Top 40 list in 1957, Holly released seven other songs that made the Billboard Top 40.
He died in a plane crash in Iowa on 3 February 1959 along with Ritchie Havens and the Big Bopper.
Real Wild Child has been covered by numerous artists.
Arguably the most iconic version is by Iggy Pop who released it in November 1986. The song was produced by David Bowie at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. Surprisingly, this only reached No 68 on the American Billboard singles chart.
My favourite version however is by Christopher Otcasek (the son of the Cars’ Ric Ocasek) It was used on the soundtrack for the 1990 movie Pretty Woman starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.
Perhaps the most unexpected artist to cover it was Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud.
One of the most unusual versions is this one by Friday Pilots Club from 2019.
And the most recent is this live performance by Novak from New Year’s Eve 2022.
Other artists who covered Real Wild Child include Everlife, Glamour Camp, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Marcus Nimbler, Marshall Crenshaw, Brian Setzer, Status Quo, Wakefield and Jet and Kim Wilde.
About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. On the writing side, he has also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs and has written a biography of Robert Palmer. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians.