By David Stevens
Clovis remembers Norman Petty as a musical genius, creating rags-to-riches stories at his humble studio on West Seventh Street.
Some in the music industry, however, have portrayed Petty as a greedy thief who took advantage of the raw talent he helped refine.
Frank Blanas, a Modesto, Calif., school teacher who never met Petty, is hoping to clear up some financial musical myths with his new book, “The King of Clovis.”
Blanas, in a telephone interview last week, said he spent parts of 20 years researching Petty’s life and believes the producer’s hometown supporters are closer to right.
“Vi Petty felt her husband was pretty vilified by the media, in books and film, but I found the trail of money did not lead to Norman,” he said. “The money evaporated before it got back to him.”
Blanas’ book will not resolve the debate — a Rollercoaster Records review describes it as a biography “written from the perspective of Norman Petty” — but its 500-plus pages are loaded with historical photos and hundreds of anecdotes chronicling the innovative producer’s contributions to rock and roll.
Blanas reports Petty was still a student at Marshall Junior High when he secured a job at KICA radio.
“While working for station manager Charlie Alsup, Norman found himself pushed into the role of station announcer,” Blanas wrote.
“Jimmy Self, Norman’s longtime friend and resident of Clovis, noted that the young musician’s first DJ job came by chance. ‘There was a disc jockey who worked at KICA. Well, he was drunk. One day, Norman was over there, and the ol’ boy just walked away from the mic — just left his post.’
“Immediately, Alsup, who could not afford a second of dead air, thrust the announcements into Norman’s hands and told the young performer to read them. Petty read the commercial announcements with great poise and proceeded to complete the intoxicated employee’s shift.”
Much of the book is devoted to interaction between Petty, who died in 1984, and the musicians he helped make into rock legends. Blanas doesn’t attempt to avoid disputes that developed between them, but often highlights them and tries to provide balance.
In one chapter he reports Buddy Holly paid musicians from wads of cash kept in his wife Maria Elena’s purse, which included a gun, and questions whether Holly always paid band members what they were owed. In another, he reports “Holly and his wife had a legitimate argument that Petty’s management had failed to promote the young rock star’s career adequately.”
In the epilogue, Blanas sums up allegations that Petty was a fraud.
“Fraud is based upon intent,” he writes, “and Norman’s business practices were always built around teamwork, not deception. He drove royalty rates higher so everyone could share in the profits; it was a ‘win or lose together’ mentality that made hit records and, in theory, should have been successful for all involved. But Norman never foresaw an industry of record bootlegging, freebie promo abuse, plugging payola and slush funds.”
David Stevens is the Clovis News Journal editor. Contact him at: