Was the Camaro’s radio on that night?

Little mysteries are fascinating. Especially little mysteries about old cars fished out of water after many years missing.

That happened here last summer. A guy went to a blues club one cold Saturday night in March 1979 and someone stole his baby blue 1975 Plymouth Valiant. They found it at the bottom of the Fox River 33 years later.

It happened again earlier this month near Elk City, Oklahoma, a small town on old Route 66 roughly halfway between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas.

Police divers were testing sonar — just as dredging crews were using sonar here — when they came across a 1969 Chevy Camaro about 12 feet down in Foss Lake. They came across two cars, actually. The other was a 1952 Chevrolet. Each car had three bodies in it.

On Nov. 20, 1970, a Friday night, Jimmy Williams and his pal Thomas Rios hopped in Williams’ car, the Camaro. They drove from Sayre, the next town west of Elk City, up to Hammon, the next town north, to pick up Jimmy’s girlfriend, Leah Johnson. Then they went back to Sayre, to a bowling alley. Then they headed to a football game in Elk City. Or maybe they went hunting.

They were never seen again.

Turns out, Jimmy Williams drove into Foss Lake. It was an accident. He might have gotten lost. He might have been driving too fast. The Camaro hit the water so hard that the drive shaft was knocked off. The fuel pump was broken off, as was part of the motor mount.

That blue Camaro was Jimmy’s pride and joy. He’d had it six days.

Jimmy was 16. Leah, his girlfriend, was 18. Thomas, his pal, was 18.

Lots of questions linger, most of them heart-wrenching, especially for the families. Mine is a more innocent question. Trivial, perhaps.

Three kids riding around on a Friday night. Not too many years later, that was us, in central Wisconsin. Were they listening to the radio, as we were? What would have been on the radio on that last Friday night before Thanksgiving in 1970?

That poses another little mystery.

Most of the songs on the Top 40 chart from WHB, 710 AM in Kansas City, issued earlier that Friday in November 1970, are familiar. Save for one, the one sitting just outside the Top 10 that week. Perhaps they heard it in Oklahoma.

“Holy Man,” by Diane Kolby.

It’s a gospel-rock single I don’t recall ever hearing. It appears to have been only a regional hit. In September and October 1970, it spent six weeks in the Top 40s at KADI in St. Louis and KDWB in the Twin Cities. Then it spent nine weeks in the Top 40 in Kansas City. It didn’t catch on anywhere else, reaching only No. 67 on the Billboard chart.

Diane Kolby was an east Texas singer who wrote and cut that single, then an LP, then abruptly quit the music business. It wasn’t compatible with her Christian beliefs. The comments in this 2008 post at a blog called Michael’s Mixed Media Playroom offer those clues.

She’s apparently still around, in her late 60s now, and living near Austin, Texas. According to a niece: “Her last name is spelled Kolbe. The record company made her change it to be phonetic. And she is an absolute hoot to be around. She is always, joking, singing and praising her Lord.”

One more note: Kolby’s producers were the late Scott and Vivian Holtzman, a husband and wife also from east Texas. If you’re into obscure late-’60s psych, dig this: The Holtzmans also produced and wrote most of the songs for Fever Tree, a Houston band, including this memorable single from the summer of 1968.

“San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native).”

Which I have heard.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.


Filed under September 2013, Sounds

6 responses to “Was the Camaro’s radio on that night?

  1. I heard this once or twice on KDWB back then. I remember wondering who it was and then never hearing it again. And then forgetting about it. And after forty-some years, you’ve solved the mystery. And it feels like I heard it yesterday. Thanks, Jeff!

  2. jb

    Fascinating post, although I’m a little skeeved out now. A borderline-erotic love song to Jesus? OK then. Although the part where she sings to him, “You’re the one who knows when I will die” is not so much erotic as it’s just creepy.

  3. I was very good friends with Scott and Vivian for most of my adult life. What I was told was that Diane was recording a follow up album in the same studio complex as Janis when she O.D.’d. Janis’ band member were very upset and told Diane that that is what happens to “chicks” in the music industry. According to Scott, she went to the airport that day and flew back to Texas. End of career, end of story.

    • Hi Christopher
      I’ve tried to find more information about the Holtzmans. I wish I’d known them, too. What a dynamic collection in Fever Tree’s first album! …especially “The Rain Song,” “Unlock My Door” and “The Sun Also Rises.”
      I saw and heard them at The Buffalo Party Convention outside of Eatonville, WA. a few decades back…awesomeness.
      …hauntingly and forever on my best of all time list.
      Be well

  4. l g

    I live in Brisbane, Australia. In 1970 I was 11 years old, but I remember this song. I have also heard a version by Allison Durban, but Diane Kolby’s is the one I remember. It’s a great song!

  5. Kent

    While he might well have been listening to Diane Kolby’s “Holy Man” on his radio, Jimmy Williams was almost certainly not listening to WHB 710. You can hear KC’s 710 (which is now KCMO as it and WHB swapped facilities in 1997) in Tulsa, but KGNC dominates 710 Oklahoma City and west.

    Assuming he was a rock-n-roller, if you can find what WHB’s sister station in OKC, KOMA 1520, was playing, that was probably his soundtrack. KOMA beamed its signal west and northwest after dark and was popular as far away as Phoenix. If he liked the hits of the day, he was almost surely tuned to KOMA, at least for a brief period most evenings. Country music, however, has always been big around Elk City, and, even though the audience has always had an older median age than pop/rock, it’s ingrained into the culture of that area starting early in childhood.

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