Robin Luke is best remembered for his one big hit, "Susie Darlin'" in 1958, a song that embodied the most gently innocent side of rock & roll. His career actually lasted into the early '60s, however, and encompassed dozens of songs. He was one of the most popular of the romantic rockers of the late '50s, at his best as a balladeer in the mold of Ricky Nelson or the Everly Brothers, although he was also able to rock out on occasion and did a good cover of the ominous Marty Wilde number "Bad Boy," itself a tribute to Gene Vincent's style. Robin Luke was a member of rock & roll's second wave, young enough to have been a fan of rock & roll and R&B before he dreamed of a recording career of his own.
Luke's father was a worker and later an executive for Douglas Aircraft, and while he was born in Los Angeles, the demands of the elder Luke's job had the family relocating every few years, first to Georgia and later, when Robin was 11, to Hawaii. It was there that he took up the guitar and the ukulele.
He was appearing as an amateur performer at Punahou High School when he was spotted by a local impresario, who helped Luke hook up with Bob Bertram, a producer whose clients included singing cowboy Eddie Dean. Bertram owned several labels, including Lariat, whose artists included Joe Maphis, Polynesian (which released hula records aimed at the tourist trade, ) and Bertram International, which recorded rock & roll.
Luke was recorded by Bertram International in early May 1958 doing two originals, "Living's Loving You" and "Susie Darlin'," the latter title referring to Luke's younger sister. "Susie Darlin'" was issued in the spring of 1958 and did very well locally in Hawaii. Luckily for all concerned, it was also heard by Art Freeman, a distributor for Dot Records, who brought the single to the attention of his employers. The powers-that-were at Dot picked the record up for distribution on the mainland; Luke was already a headliner in Hawaii, closing shows on bills with the likes of the Everly Brothers and Sam Cooke, but the national release of "Susie Darlin'" resulted in his doing a quick tour of the United States and appearing on American Bandstand. As the single climbed the charts, he was brought back for more shows, in the company of the Kalin Twins, who were enjoying their first flush of success with "When" at the time. He appeared on more national television shows, including The Perry Como Show, and also became friends with a number of other neophyte music stars, including Buddy Holly and Ricky Nelson; Holly even taught him the chords to "Peggy Sue" backstage before an appearance on the same bill.
Luke sounded a good deal like Nelson, and also like Holly in his softer moments; as a balladeer, he could almost have been an Anglo counterpart to Ritchie Valens. He had a gentle, romantic voice that also managed to be sexy and vulnerable, and made him a major heartthrob and teen idol.
The follow-up to "Susie Darlin," "Chicka-Chicka-Honey," was released before Luke had graduated from high school in 1959. He moved to Los Angeles to attend Pepperdine University, and began recording directly for Dot Records, backed by the likes of Glen Campbell and the Champs. In the fall of 1959, he was rushed into the studio to record a cover of a fast-breaking British single, "Bad Boy," which was tearing up the English charts in a version by Marty Wilde.
Luke remained popular on the concert stage and was well taken care of by Dot Records president Randy Woods, but it wasn't his intention to continue as a singer. After finishing his undergraduate work in 1962, Luke pursued a graduate degree in business administration that ultimately brought him into the academic world and took him out of music permanently. He left singing behind after the mid-'60s, choosing instead the life of a faculty member and the chance to savor the memories he had of his five years as a teen idol. ~ Bruce Eder