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The Bop Cats
The Official Website of The Bop Cats
, Tulsa, OK
The Bop Cats History
As Published in the Tulsa World Nov.9, 1990
By John Wooley
World Staff Writer
For music historian-radio personality John Henry, the roots of The Bop Cats “go back to at least 1980,” when he and a few others, including current radio newsman Alan Lambert, started jamming for fun.
For Jill Riley, his sister, the roots go back even farther – to a youth that included plenty of music.
“Our family’s real close, and we used to play Monopoly and cards and sing old-fashioned rock‘n’roll,” she said. “You can imagine what it was like for me as a kid, being raised with John Henry.
It was probably a little like being in The Bop Cats, which has been Tulsa’s most successful rock’n’roll revival group for years. From almost the beginning, there was a family feeling to the band, a feeling that continues to this day.
“Alan Lambert, a red-headed drummer named John Allen, and Ted Lane started the jam session stuff, and as time went by, people quit and new people joined,” explained Henry, who plays guitar and fronts the band. “I’d met Bill Snow at a Ted Lane session, and he came in to play bass. And then my brother-in-law, David Riley (Jill’s husband), joined as a drummer. So it was actually Bill, David and me that were the beginnings of The Bop Cats.
After a few rehearsals, the Bop Kittens came in to sing with us. That was my sister Jill, and my cousins Gwen Richardson and Sue Ann Cline. They came in on a Sunday afternoon rehearsal, and they did so well that we added them right away. The Bop Kittens have been a real popular part of the show from the beginning.”
The group’s three–man road crew includes George Nicely, who has been a member of Little Richard’s road crew, Greg Raw and Bob Bachtell.
“Actually,” said David Riley with a grin, “it’s not that we’re doing so well now we can afford a road crew; it’s that we’re getting too old to carry the equipment in and out ourselves.”
As Henry noted, the makeup of the band has changed from time to time, although he, Jill and David have remained constant. The current lineup – including Larry Bell on keyboards and vocals, Larry York on bass and vocals, Keith Cooper on saxophone and vocals, and Don Price on guitar and vocals – has been relatively stable in recent years.
The group’s makeup is now reversed from the early days, when there were five family members and three other musicians. Now, there are three family members and five other musicians.
Still, the members agree, that feeling of family is what continues to help keep the band together.
“Family is a big reason this group is successful,” Jill said. We’re brother, sister, husband, wife – and the people we’ve taken on since then are like family. Rehearsals are just as much fun as performances.”
“The most important part is family,” agreed David Riley. “And in addition, it’s a very democratic group. We’ve never had a leader who says, "This is the way it’s going to be.' We’ve had prima donnas, but they don’t last in this band. It’s built with people who have the talent to be road musicians but didn’t want to leave their families.
“At first, Jill and I figured we’d give it a year. Then another year. And finally, we decided to just keep doing it. We’ve given up trying to predict how long we’re going to go; we’ll do it as long as we’re physically able. The show itself has been quite popular, too. In their years of knocking out big-beat oldies, The Bop Cats have either backed or opened for such rock’n’roll acts as Bo Diddley, Del Shannon, Fabian, Rick Nelson, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Bobby Vee, Gary US Bonds, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Marvelettes, The Diamonds, and The Mamas and Pappas. And they’ve played on bandstands as far away as Colorado, Kansas City and Dallas, even though they’re not interested in wandering too far from home.
“We’ll do about 75 dates this year, mostly on the road,” said Henry. “Our rule is that we’ll go anywhere we can go and still get back on a weekend. We all have regular jobs, and it works out best that way.”
The newest member of the group is singer Jeris Ford, who came in as a Bop Kitten when Gwyn left last year. (The other cousin, Sue Ann, left in 1984.) As Jeris Ross, a Nashville-based singer, she had well over a dozen singles hit the national country music charts, including Top 10 country versions of “Brand New Key” and “Old-Fashioned Love Song.”
“I retired in ’83, and stayed that way until Jill found me,” said Ford, who lives with her husband Craig in Broken Arrow. “I hadn’t done any singing except for church choir and PTA things. I wanted to be a mommy. Now I can still be a mommy and sing with these guys, and they’re not a local-yokel band. They’ve got their own road crew, they do costuming, and do show stuff, so I’m real lucky. I got in a band where everybody’s my age, where we work with name acts, and it relieves any home-sickness I have for the business.”.
“Most people do other things with their husbands and wives to get time together,” Riley added. “But Jill and I are able to do this together. This is our bowling league.”
The Bop Cats 1993-Present
In 1991, Keith Cooper left the band to pursue other musical opportunities and we replaced him with Tulsa sax veteran, Bobby Brown. In 1993, David & Jill Riley left the band due to a transfer by David’s employer to San Diego, CA. Former short time Bop Kitten, Lori Williams, was Jill’s replacement and longtime Tulsa drummer, Richard Coffey, replaced David. For the next 11 years The Bop Cats continued to perform at festivals and private affairs around Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.
The 1993 Bop Cat lineup was:
Rockin John Henry (RJH), MC, Guitar, Bass Singer; Don Price, Guitar & Vocals; Larry Bell, Keyboards & Vocals; Larry York, Bass & Vocals; Bobby Brown, Sax & Vocals; Richard Coffey, Drums; Jeris Ford & Lori Williams, Bop Kittens;
On August 10, 2004, Bop Cat founder John Henry, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. It was a day the music died for most of us but we continued to play out previously booked engagements in 2005 without a replacement for John. You can’t replace a man like RJH with that golden bass voice and never-ending knowledge of music history. Lorri left the band to go full time with another group she’d been playing with for a few years when not Bop Catting. Keyboardist/Vocalist, Cheryl Clay, replaced Lorri as the newest Bop Kitten and The Bop Cats continue to entertain at private events and festivals playing the greatest hits of all time in true Bop Cat tradition and in the memory of our founder, Rockin John Henry and the entire Henry family.
The Bop Cats current lineup is as follows:
Don Price, Guitar & Vocals; Larry Bell, Keyboards & Vocals; Larry York, Bass & Vocals; Bobby Brown, Sax & Vocals; Richard Coffey, Drums; Jeris Ford & Cheryl Clay, Bop Kittens; Mike Tuttle & Neil Tuttle, Road Crew;