Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Not long ago, there were a couple of school bus accidents in this part of the country. One in particular happened a few weeks ago near Monterey, Kentucky.

Seeing the coverage of these events on the news reminded me of another school bus accident, one that was a far greater disaster in terms of lives lost.

Unlike these most recent mishaps, this one was a major news story that was covered by all of the national networks. I believe it was the early '60s, and it happened in Kentucky, directly south of Portsmouth, Ohio.

The reason I'm asking Mr. Music about this is because someone made a recording about the accident, which got played for awhile, especially in Kentucky and southern Ohio.

I have never met even one person who has ever heard of this song, so I'm hoping you can tell me about that as well as recap the details of the event.
—Annie Cameron, Portsmouth, Ohio

DEAR ANNIE: Since the accident inspired the recording, let's cover that first.

About 8:30 a.m. on February 28, 1958, Floyd County school bus No. 27, driven by John Alex DeRossett, was en route to Prestonburg when it suddenly came upon a tow truck working to free a pickup that had gotten stuck in the mud.

Perhaps swerving to avoid the trucks, the bus plunged into the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.

Reports indicate the impact knocked DeRossett unconscious and therefore unable to assist the children as river water gushed in through broken glass, flooding the bus and pulling it under.

In the end, the driver and 26 students — ranging in age from 8 to 17 years — drowned in the Big Sandy River. Either by swimming or otherwise reaching shore, 21 children survived the catastrophe.

The mud and the swiftness of the river complicated search and rescue operations, and it took more than two months before all the bodies were found.

Of the 16 different families affected, three lost all of their children (three or more). Four other families each lost two children.

Soon after the accident — believed to be the worst in US history involving a school bus — Cincinnati's Excellent Records (EX-400) issued “Tragedy of School Bus 27 (of Floyd C. Ky.),” by Ralph Bowman. On the B-side is an electric mandolin instrumental by Ray Lunsford, titled “Sheila.”

Interestingly, the writer of this tribute is the late Woodrow C. Burchett, a Prestonburg attorney at the time of the accident.

Though no criminal charges or lawsuits were ever filed, Burchett did conduct a court of inquiry into the events. According to at least one news account, Burchett is quoted thusly:

“People who suffer through an experience like that have to blame somebody. Sometimes, accidents just happen.” To this day, it has yet to be determined exactly who or what is to blame for the “Tragedy of School Bus 27.”

DEAR JERRY: Years ago, an album was advertised on TV that is filled with tragic love songs, such as “Patches, Tell Laura I Love Her, Endless Sleep” and “Last Kiss.”

For nearly just as long, I have been trying to locate this collection. I have found a few of the songs separately, here and there, but would like them all on one album.
—John E. DeValk, Mokena, Ill.

DEAR JOHN: I don't know if it's the one you saw advertised, but all four of the tunes you mention, plus 10 more, are currently available on the CD “Last Kiss — Songs of Teen Tragedy” (Varese Sarabande 302 066 150 2).

In playing order, here is the complete listing of tracks: “Last Kiss” (J. Frank Wilson & Cavaliers, 1964); “Teen Angel” (Mark Dinning, 1959); “Endless Sleep” (Jody Reynolds, 1958); “Tell Laura I Love Her” (Ray Peterson, 1960); “There is Something on Your Mind, Parts 1 and 2” (Bobby Marchan, 1960); “Patches” (Dickie Lee, 1962); “Leader of the Pack” (Shangri-Las, 1964); “Leader of the Laundromat” (Detergents, 1964); “Ebony Eyes” (Everly Brothers, 1961); “Rocky” (Austin Roberts, 1975); “The Pickup” (Mark Dinning, 1962); “I Want My Baby Back” (Jimmy Cross, 1964); “Goodbye Baby” (Little Caesar, 1952); “Last Kiss” (Wayne Cochran, 1964).

IZ ZAT SO? Why two versions of “Last Kiss”? Because very, very few people have ever heard the original recording of this tune by the man who also wrote it, Wayne Cochran.

Though it did not become a hit, it is interesting to hear how similar to Cochran's track the J. Frank Wilson million-seller is.

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