March 31, 1998
by Gary James
They are affectionately referred to as the "Sweetheart of the 60's." We are talking of course about Ray (Paul) Hildebrand and Jill (Paula) Jackson, Paul and Paula.
It was a song called "Hey Paula" that brought fame to the duo. Released in late 1962, the song occupied the Number One position on the charts for 3 weeks in February, 1963. Paul and Paula toured the world behind that song and met a lot of famous and soon to be famous people along the way. Paul and Paula still perform today and have released the best of their material on a CD titled "Paul and Paula Forever" (Spreckle Music, P.O. Box 9358, Shawnee Mission, Kansas 66201).
We spoke with Ray (Paul) Hildebrand about a more innocent time in the history of pop music.
Q: Ray, why do you think Paul and Paula, the duo, and "Hey Paula," the song,
were such a success?
A: It was the only thing of its kind at the time. I think one of the things "Hey Paula" had was it was like a couple dating right over the air. They were singing back and forth to each other. You had your Steve and Edy's, but it was not in the teenage pizza and peanut butter songs. I think it was different. I don't think there was anything like it and I don't mean melody-wise. There's just four chords in the whole song, and that riff has been done a thousand times. You can go from the late 50's to the middle 60's, and come up with about 30 hits that all have the same chord progression. (Laughs) I think the idea of a boy singing back to a girl, and the name Paul and Paula had a ring to it. It was marketable. It was cute. It kind of rolled off your tongue.
Q: That song was first released in December '62 and went to the Top Ten in
A: Actually it was first played on a radio station in November 1962, KFJZ in Fort Worth, Texas. As a matter of fact, it was in the very basement of that building that we recorded it!
Q: Did your manager, Major Bill Smith, discover you?
A: Well, we kind of discovered him.
Q: O.K. where did the three of you meet?
A: She and I had this little, local radio program down in Brownwood, Texas in my senior year of college. We did all those little songs in our 15 minute radio program every Sunday afternoon. I had this little song I'd been playing around with, and I called it Paul and Paula. I showed it to her, and she didn't particularly like it, but her mother did. (Laughs) So, the d.j. who managed the radio station took the song off of our radio show and started playing it on the air, during drive time with all the other hits. The kids started calling in asking for that song. He (the d.j.) said I think you ought to record that. I had a friend that I played basketball with, that said I know a guy who had a hit record and goes to our church, Major Bill Smith. He's a producer. One day, the mother picked us up, and we took off down there, and we found them. As fate would have it, the guy that was supposed to record that day with Major Bill Smith in Fort Worth did not show up, and there we stood. He said, "What do you have?" and we went in and recorded it, monaural, and the rest is history.
Q: Before you hit with "Hey Paula," you and Paula were a performing duo?
A: As Jill and Ray.
Q: How did that work? Did you play guitar?
A: Yes. I played guitar, and I had been singing previously with another group of guys and girls. We called ourselves The Prisoners. We did college stuff, churches. And then she and I started doing that together. The group broke-up. That was really her idea. She was the one that asked me to come and be with her. The record company named us after the song.
Q: Where did that song take you?
A: We did everything that was available then. We weren't on Ed Sullivan. I'm not sure why. We did "To Tell The Truth," radio and tv programs, and traveled all over the world and did a lot of stuff with Dick Clark.
Q: How did Phillips Records promote "Hey Paula"?
A: Well, see the major who was the producer, put out a local record, and he pushed it hard for 2 or 3 months before it started breaking out on his label in Atlanta, Georgia. It started getting played. People started calling in. Phillips people looked around and saw something that was promising. They'd been playing it in Texas and Atlanta. They called in and made a deal with the major, and he signed a deal with them. They took it off his local label La Cam Records and put it on Phillips, and Bingo!
Q: What was the follow-up to that song?
A: "Young Lovers." It went to Number Six in the nation. It was a real good follow-up. It was actually prettier and better than "Hey Paula."
Q: And that led to...
A: More tours. More of the same. They wanted us to become a nightclub act. That was the only thing you did then. I didn't particularly want to, and that's part of my story. After they started training us and getting some people who wanted us to go big time with RCA Records, I got confused. I didn't know what to do, and I just left. (Laughs) I just took off one time and just became a missing person for a while.
Q: What happened to Paula? Did she find someone to take your place?
A: When I took off, it was on a Dick Clark tour. It was a 3 week tour. About a week and a half into it, I kind of flipped out. These people wanted us to go to Philadelphia at the end of the tour and start a new life. I wasn't gutsy enough to say no, or wait a while, I'm not ready. They had all the big numbers and painted all the big pictures. In my heart, I just felt I couldn't do that, that way. And so, I just took off. She stayed on the tour and finished the tour. Dick (Clark) sang, "Hey, Paula" with her. He'll never forget that.
Q: He was your stand in?
A: Yeah. I'm not sure of how much of the other stuff he did, but, maybe it was just "Hey, Paula." But, she finished the tour and was angry at me, as well she should be. I was so immature at the time. But, I went up to Oregon with some friends and hauled hay for her a while, which I'd done the year before. I came back and sort of took it on the chin and went back and started working for old Major Bill. That might have been a mistake, but it was the best I had at the time.
Q: So, you weren't ready for the success when it happened?
A: Absolutely not. I was a very immature young man.
Q: You were born in Joshua, Texas. What kind of place was that?
A: It was the typical little town, like most all over the country. There was a little gas station. A little grocery store. We were better than some places. We had a cafe. It was just this super small town. It was a wonderful place to grow up. It was like Tom Sawyer. That kind of an existence.
Q: You had your photo taken with Patsy Cline. Did you know her?
A: No. I only met her one evening. Would you believe that? That picture was taken backstage at the Grand Ole' Opry. She is a legend, you know.
Q: What were you doing at the Opry?
A: We were just visiting.
Q: You also had your picture taken with a then young and upcoming band known
as The Beatles. How did that happen?
A: That picture was taken at a BBC Radio program. We were doing an interview thing. At that time, we were Number One in England. They were on the program that day as local artists. They didn't have time for both of us, so they bumped them and took us because they wouldn't have another shot at us. So, we bumped The Beatles off this radio program. They stuck around and wanted our autographs, and they got in the picture with us. (Laughs)
Q: Did you know by looking at them that this was the future of rock 'n roll?
A: Heck, no. As a matter of fact, Gerry and the Pacemakers were much bigger than them at the time.
Q: In 1982, according to Rolling Stones' Encyclopedia of Rock, you and Paula re-
united, but the song you recorded, "Any Way You Want Me," didn't do anything. Is that true?
A: We continued to record songs for many, many years. Major Bill would send a track up, and I'd put my voice on it, and he'd send it out to L.A. and she'd put her voice on it. That was his marketing, that we'd gotten back together. We were never apart. We just went our separate ways because we had different lives. She was on the coast, and I was here in Kansas. We didn't really get back together as far as singing until about 7 or 8 years ago.
Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.