More Than Just Movies
An Interview with Rodney Lay
A goal of the Midland Foundation is to develop an event center where many types of activities can be held and allow more than just the showing of movies. This is not a unique concept, however, as the Midland was built and designed for both movies and live productions.
In 1960, Rodney and the Blazers, a local rock and roll band, played a concert at the Midland. According to a news clipping from the Coffeyville Journal, there were so many attending the concert it took over an hour to get everyone inside the theater.
Rodney Lay, lead vocalist, remembers the concert well. “It was 1960, and Rodney and the Blazers were beginning to get noticed,” said Lay. “D. A. Willbern, Jr., was our manager at the time, and he had many ideas and was responsible for our look.”
Band members Lay, Bob York, Bob Scott, Pete Williams and Don Downing took Willbern’s advice and began dressing in fancy blazers, spraying their hair silver and wearing wraparound sunglasses. When they started the band they bought their clothes at Litwin’s in downtown Coffeyville. After some success, they began ordering them from New York. “We had clothes in many different colors and changed after each set. It made for long nights,” said Lay, “but it helped us gain popularity.”
Rather than just standing on the stage Willbern also suggested the band add some dance step choreography to their performances. This would get the people toe tapping and dancing at concerts. Lay remembers those attending the Midland concert were up and dancing in the aisles and at the front of the theater.
Rodney and the Blazers most popular song, Teenage Cinderella, was played and proved to be the fan favorite. Additional music that night featured songs by Little Richard and Chuck Barry and many others from the top 40 rock and roll chart.
Continuing to gain in popularity, the band began touring and playing in Hollywood. After several years, the desire to spend more time at home led Lay to disband in 1966 and return to Coffeyville where he worked for Robert Pratt as a disc jockey at KGGF.
Music and performing remained in Lay’s soul, and in 1972 he worked with Jim Halsey and began a band to tour with Freddy Fender. Fast forward two years and Halsey asked Lay if he wanted to play back up for Roy Clark at the Oklahoma City State Fair. “That performance went so well I ended up with a job with Roy for 20 years, the last 13 working on Hee Haw,” said Lay. Throughout those years, Lay worked with Clark as lead vocalist, band manager and business manager as they toured the world.
His memories, however, of the Midland remain strong. His sister, Sue, worked at the Midland; and he and his family frequently attended movies there. Lay recalls Pearl always dressing like a movie star, and they would enjoy sharing stories about Hollywood. His fondest memory, however, is Pearl in the ticket booth window. “That is Coffeyville,” he said.
Rodney Lay hasn’t given up playing and entertaining. In 2018, he and several others from Hee Haw began touring as the Cornfield Cousins. The pandemic cancelled 2020 dates, but they have begun scheduling some dates for 2021.
Once the Midland Theater Event Center is complete, perhaps the Cornfield Cousins will be one of the first events scheduled. After all, plans for the Midland are for it to be more than just movies.