Special to the Star-Bulletin
Robin Luke holds the records that made him a
teen idol in the late '50s, beginning with "Susie Darlin'."
a teen idol
Whatever happenedBy Rod Ohira
to Robin Luke? He found
happiness in academia
In May 1958, in the bedroom in a downtown apartment, Punahou senior Robin Luke recorded "Susie Darlin'," backing up his own vocals with guitar and ukulele while someone else provided percussion using a cardboard LP cover, two pens and a stick.
The song became a national Top 10 hit.
A few years later, Luke simply disappeared from the charts, leaving a generation of radio listeners wondering what happened to him.
"I've had a marvelous life and there are no regrets," says the 55-year-old Luke, who today is head of Southwest Missouri State University's department of marketing and quantitative analysis.
But for one night, he'll have a chance to relive his musical past.
Luke will perform at the "Two Million Dollar Party" oldies concert Oct. 18 at Blaisdell Arena, along with a host of past hit-makers.
Luke accepted promoter Tom Moffatt's invitation to perform in Hawaii for the first time since the early '60s, in spite of a family tragedy. On May 29, his wife Linda was killed in an auto accident.
"We were married 28 years and my life will be different without her," said
Luke, who has two children -- Tiffany, 24, a senior in college, and Robert III, 17, a high school senior.
Star-Bulletin file photo
Robin Luke's fans gather around his mother and sister
-- the "Susie" of his hit song -- to see the latest photos
of the singer in 1959.
Luke was 16 when he became a national teen idol whose contemporaries included Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Richie Valens, Frankie Avalon, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers.
"My dad used to say it was better than being an idle teen," Luke said. "He also told me when it all began not to allow my hat size to increase."
There was no chance of that happening, says Dick Ednie, Luke's best friend who played "bucket bass" when they performed together at parties and variety shows.
"Robin never wanted fame and glory," said Ednie, now manager of Bank of Hawaii's Honokaa branch on the Big Island. "He was more secure in academics than rock shows. Music was always a fun thing for him."
Luke's parents -- Robert Sr., a former service representative for Douglas Aircraft, and Patricia -- came to Hawaii in 1953 and lived in Aina Haina for 11 years. Luke began taking guitar lessons at age 6, but in spite of his music success, his parents wanted their only son to go to college.
"My parents made me promise that I'd get a college education," Luke said. "'Susie Darlin' ' provided enough money so I never had to work while going to school and college provided the start for what I do today."
While attending Pepperdine University, where he earned two degrees in psychology and chemistry/biology, Luke pursued his music career part-time.
"When I was in grad school, I had to give up the business and get legit," Luke said. "I couldn't do both."
He went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He also has master's degrees in business and public administration.
"I've always had a love to learn," said Luke, who started marketing departments from scratch at Old Dominion, the University of the Virgin Islands and Southwest Missouri State.
Luke also is an accomplished sailor. In 1979, he represented the Virgin Islands in the Pan American Games and was invited to try out for the 1984 Olympic team.
Luke enjoys singing oldies and does some club dates on weekends.
"It never ceases to amaze me how the oldies have persevered all these years," Luke said. "I get calls continuously from collectors asking for autographs and information."
"Susie Darlin' " was first recorded locally on Bob Bertram's International label.
A mint-condition International original of "Susie Darlin' " sold for $1,100 at a July auction in Newport Beach, Calif., says Gordon Wrubel of "Good Rockin' Tonight."
"It was a super-rare first-issue of a song that would be a Top 10 winner, and the minimum bid was $800," Wrubel said. "Since then, we found another copy, but it's not as nice."
The extended-play "Susie Darlin'," which includes three other songs, is now worth $1,000, says Wrubel.
Star-Bulletin file photo
Robin Luke with his records in 1959.
Luke was introduced to Bertram by Kimo McVay, who tried unsuccessfully to get his brother to sign the young singer for York Records.
"I had come home in 1957 to christen my son Mark, and my niece, Kinau Wilder, kept talking up this kid at her school to me," McVay said. "So I finally went up to Punahou and had him sing for me in the basement of Dillingham Hall."
Bertram recorded "Susie Darlin" and the bluesy "Living's Loving You" in a "studio," which Luke recalls was a downtown apartment with the bathroom serving as an echo chamber.
Luke played the guitar and ukulele; Bertram tapped out percussion on the record album cover and provided the unique "clicking sound" in the background by hitting two pens with a stick, Luke said.
In a July 1992 story in "Now Dig This," written by John Stafford, Luke noted, "It took many, many takes to finish that record because the tape recorder we used was an Ampex two-track machine that when you overdubbed, you could not go back to the original track.
"You had committed yourself so any possible mistake you made caused you to go back and start all over again," he added. "I can remember that several times, after we put a few tracks down on top of each other -- I think it was called a 'dub-on-dub' machine -- we would be getting along quite well and the ambulance would come racing out of the hospital with its sirens wailing and we'd have to start all over again."
Luke credits Moffatt and Ron Jacobs of K-POI radio with making "Susie Darlin' " a hit in Hawaii by playing it two to three times an hour.
Art Freeman, the Cleveland distributor for Dot Records, heard "Susie Darlin' " on the radio while honeymooning in Hawaii with his wife Dorothy. Freeman took a copy of the record to Dot President Randy Wood, who then signed Luke.
Dot purchased the master for distribution on the mainland and as Luke started his senior year at Punahou, "Susie Darlin' " had climbed to No. 7 on the national pop chart.
During the summer, Luke appeared on Dick Clark's Saturday night television show, "American Bandstand," and the "Perry Como Show."
Tops of the popsOther musical artists with Hawaii ties who have had national Top 10 pop hits:
The Kingston Trio: Comprising Punahou graduates Dave Guard and Bob Shane along with Nick Reynolds, reached No. 1 in 1958 with "Tom Dooley"
Martin Denny: "Quiet Village" in 1959
Arthur Lyman: "Yellow Bird" in 1961
Yvonne Elliman: A Roosevelt grad, "If I Can't Have You," in 1978
Bette Midler: A Radford grad, "Wind Beneath My Wings" in 1989
Glenn Medeiros: Kauai native, "Nothing's Going to Change My Love for You" in 1987
It was at one of Clark's Saturday shows that Luke met Buddy Holly.
"Buddy and I were backstage for hours," Luke said in Stafford's story. "It's hard to explain, but when you're with someone who has been such an influence in your life and all of a sudden you're sitting in a room alone with him and he's showing you the chord structure to 'Peggy Sue' and how he came to play it, it becomes a real special moment."
Luke became a headline act for the "Show of Stars" concerts at the Civic Auditorium, which brought top pop performers to Hawaii.
"The glory days of rock 'n' roll did many things for me and opened doors for me that would have been unapproachable," Luke said.
"Susie Darlin' " was written at the beach, Luke says. "It was originally called 'All Night Long' but when we changed the title, I used my sister's name to keep me out of trouble with any girlfriends," Luke said.
His sister, Susie Robison, lives in Columbia, Mo., with her husband and two children, and works for the state, Luke said.
Luke is seriously considering touring next summer.
"I ran into Jan and Dean recently and my jaw dropped when they told me what they were making," Luke said. "But the reality is that my profession is still academics, so I could only tour during the summer."
Two Million Dollar PartyFeaturing: Freddie Cannon, The Marvelettes, Mitch Ryder, Ray Peterson, Martha and the Vandellas, Sonny Geraci, Lou Christie and Robin Luke.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Place: Blaisdell Arena
Tickets: $25 and $35, available at Blaisdell box office and Connection outlets. Charge by phone, 545-4000 or (800) 833-3388