Getting a number-one pop hit was easy for West Texans Ray Hildebrand (Joshua, TX) and Jill Jackson (Camry, TX). Mission accomplished with their first single. But the old saying, "you don't appreciate what you don't work hard for," applies here.
"Hey Paula" aced Billboard's pop survey and made the Top Ten on most R&B charts, prompting Motown Records to team Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells to cash in on the fad. After pairing Gaye with Kim Weston, Motown processed the Paul & Paula paradigm successfully by pairing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
Hildebrand and Jackson were students at Howard Payne College when a Brownwood, TX, DJ called for entertainers to volunteer to benefit the American Cancer Society. They volunteered and sang "Hey Paula," a song Hildebrand wrote. It went over so well that everybody encouraged them to make a record.
Major Bill Smith's LeCam label in Fort Worth, TX, had just scored a major hit with Bruce Channel, so they drove there late in 1962 hoping for an unscheduled audition. Wrong day. Smith was busy recording that Saturday, but they hung around anyway. Opportunity knocked when Amos Milburn Jr. didn't show and Smith had five musicians sitting around exchanging snaps at five dollars each. Not wanting to blow the money, he asked Hildebrand and Jackson to sing their song. After a brief audition, Smith took them in the studio. The rest is history.
Smith offered "Hey Paula" to Vee Jay Records but Ewart Abner turned it down. So he released it on LeCam, as by Jill & Ray. (Abner realized his error and paired Jerry Butler and Betty Everett after "Hey Paula" exploded.) The hot seller caught the attention of Mercury Records' Shelby Singleton. Mercury reissued it on its Phillips subsidiary. But not before Singleton renamed them Paul & Paula, pointing out that two people name Jill & Ray singing the lyrics "Hey, hey Paula" and "Hey, hey Paul" didn't make sense. They resented -- everybody in West Texas knew them as Jill & Ray -- but later acquiesced.
"Hey Paula" sold nearly two-million copies early in 1963. They followed with "Young Lovers" and "First Quarrel." A couple of albums, including one of Christmas songs, followed. "Hey Paula" originally ran more than six minutes. But Smith said it was too long, and Hildebrand used the cut parts to create "Young Lovers."
Everything seemed like a fantastic dream, but by 1965 Hildebrand had second thoughts. He didn't like the traveling. Plus, he wanted to complete his college education. (His parents were schoolteachers.) The final straw came when he left Jackson in a lurch on a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour and Clark had to fill in.
Jill Jackson married their manager and continued as a solo artist. They later divorced and she married an attorney. She resides in San Fernando Valley, CA. She wanted the duo to continue and often asked Hildebrand to reconsider, to no avail. They reunited for a party in Brownwood in the '80s, but that's as far as it went. Hildebrand worked behind the scenes as a songwriter/producer, then left the business for a while.
He returned to music in 1983 as one half of the Christian music male duo, Land & Hildebrand, who remained together into the new millennium. Hildebrand has also worked on the national staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He lives in Overland, KS. Hildebrand and Jackson, as Paul & Paula, are members of the West Texas Music Hall of Fame. ~ Andrew Hamilton