Typical of most young Colorado artists in the early 1960s, Denny Rockwell and Jay Cubbage were big stars locally with a smash chart record—and little interest outside of the Rocky Mountain region. As Denny & Jay, their biggest record, “H-U-R-T,” climbed as high as #2 on Denver’s 950 KIMN.
Cubbage was born and raised in Longmont. After graduating from Colorado State College of Education (now the University of Northern Colorado), he took a job at the campus music store in Greeley, where he met Denny Rockwell.
“I sang all the way through grade school, high school, and college, with the sincere desire of becoming a recording artist one day,” Cubbage said. “Denny had a small country band. With so much in common, we started singing together. We were surrounded by country music, being native Colorado young men. We were constantly compared to the Everly Brothers when we first began, and we worked to change that image to a degree. We changed our style, over-dubbing our voices as our career progressed.
“When we had been singing together for several months, we decided to record four songs with the band. I wrote three and Denny wrote the other one. We recorded four tunes in Denny’s basement, and there were giggling girls running in and out during the recording process—at one point, you can hear the screen door slam! We took the tape to Denver where echo was added to everything, and I talked a distributor from Columbia Records into sending a copy of our tapes to the A&R department. They liked our sound and wondered if we might audition for them, and we took off for California.”
Columbia didn’t hire the duo, but Cubbage and Rockwell were lured to Enith International Records.
“We wrote many country-type ballads, but nearly a year later, they still didn’t want to record anything we gave them. As a lark, we thought the dumbest thing we could do was to come up with something completely off the wall—a story about a boy who couldn’t sing or play the guitar but was dead-set on impressing his girlfriend by singing under her bedroom window. The song would include sound effects and we would purposely sing off key. They loved it. We hated it!”
After “Silly Sammy Sang Off Key” flopped, Denny & Jay moved to Fred Astaire’s AVA label.
“But we never recorded under our names,” Cubbage said. “We were contractually bound to record four sides for them, and they ‘forced’ us to sing two pieces written on November 22, 1963, the day of the assassination of President Kennedy. We thought the tunes were a terrible embarrassment—as I recall, the names of the songs were ‘We Love You JFK’ and ‘God Bless You, JFK’—but we recorded them under the name of the Patriots. The minute we heard the pieces we thought they were dreadful and bordered on being terrible. The fact that the President had just been killed hours before seemed too opportunistic. Billboard called the record a ‘turkey served up by AVA and a group calling themselves the Patriots.’”
But after a different studio session, producer Jack Lewis had Denny & Jay record two tunes he had written, “H-U-R-T” and “Two Lies.” Capitol Records liked them enough to buy out the duo’s contract with AVA. Denny & Jay became Capitol recording artists and received the up-and-coming star treatment—new clothes, publicity pictures, travel expenses and “gigs” in Denver on TV and at record stores where “H-U-R-T” was being featured.
“Denny and I were getting recognized in the Denver area, but in Hollywood no one knew who we were,” Cubbage said. “If we were off to a gig or a photo shoot, we’d have our guitars with us and we were at least ‘noticed.’ One day on Hollywood Boulevard, while on our way to Capitol, a young girl rushed up to us and enthusiastically said, `I know you! You’re…you’re…you’re Jan & Dean!’ So much for being teen idols.”
Denny & Jay did a record autograph tour as “H-U-R-T” hit #2 in Denver on July 6, 1964.
“We did a television spot and several radio spots. We were in Denver for several days before flying back to L.A. for a gig. I still have letters from young girls expressing their undying love for us—‘You guys are the coolest, and I LOVE your music!’”
“H-U-R-T” was released “with a bullet” (given to a record with upward momentum on the charts), but then the Beatles invaded America. What surely hurt Denny & Jay was that their sound was a throwback to bygone teen idols, with hair teased up high—this at a time when four mop-topped British boys were the new rage. Many established artists saw their careers tumble, and Denny & Jay, with their throwback teen-idol sound, were lost in the shuffle as well.
Due to differences of opinion and a sagging career, Denny & Jay went their separate ways in 1965. Rockwell recorded a piece for the Beatles-owned Apple Records that was never released. The youngsters from northern Colorado returned to the “real world” after getting a small taste of show business.