50s Sock Hoppin’ & Royal Crown Pomade

Royal Crown Pomade, every greaser's best friend.

Some Facebook friends are giving some thought to reliving the 50s and 60s with a “sock hop” at the Greenfield Recreation Center (the old Armory). Their discussing it brought back memories of just such a thing in the 70s. Some group or organization rented the Armory and hired WLW DJ, Jockey Joe Kelly, to spin the hits.

This became a big deal and everyone, mostly the chicks, was all over them self trying to figure out what they still owned from the 50s they could still fit into. For me and my friends the options were pretty easy. A pair of jeans, pegged (tapered) at the ankles with the bottoms rolled into very thin cuffs. A white t-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve and the other sleeve rolled into a thin cuff. A Zippo cigarette lighter in your jeans pocket and the hair slicked back into a “duck tail” with a slight “waterfall” of hair falling to the eye level. I capped the look with a silver Saint Christopher medal on a thin chain and a Spidel ID bracelet an aunt had given me as a high school graduation present. Needless to say, I was lookin’ too cool for the room!

The big problem, though, was keeping the ducks in place when the hair dried. Out of the past came a mental picture of something my uncle Johnny Boswell had sold to his black customers at his grocery in South Carolina, Royal Crown Pomade. It came in a paper tube with a tin lid and looked like Vaseline but much thicker. Blacks in 1950s South Carolina used it to straighten their hair. A little dab of this stuff would certainly keep the ducks in place even if a hurricane named Sam the Sham came ripping through town the evening of the dance.

The classic duck tail.

So, I sent a kid to an uptown drug store to see if they stocked Royal Crown Pomade. Back he came with a small paper carton and we all scooped out a couple of fingers worth and began rubbing it into the mops of hair we’d been growing for a couple of months in preparation for the big dance. Just as I knew it would, the ducks were locked in place.

The dance went great, everyone had a big time, the hairdo held up under the heat and sweat of dancing. The Royal Crown Pomade had done its job. But, none of us had anticipated what we would face come the next morning. How to get the damned stuff off the pillow and pillow case you had slept with that night, and even more important, how to get the goo out of your hair before having to show up at work come Monday.

During the day, Sunday, I washed my hair multiple times with shampoo, Formula 409, Spic ‘n Span, and every other household chemical I could find under the kitchen sink. Nothing really worked and by mid-afternoon I still had a thick residue in my hair.

Considering this stuff looked like petroleum jelly and petroleum came from oil, I decided that maybe it was going to take petroleum to strip it out. So, I walked up to Price’s Sohio Station and purchased a pint bottle of kerosene. Back home I washed my hair with kerosene several times followed with even more wash cycles using shampoo and finally, the vast bulk of the Royal Crown Pomade was gone. For at least a week, however, I could still feel an oil slick when running fingers through my hair. The pillow and pillow case didn’t fare as well, they needed tossed.

A friend who had also slicked up with RCP was in an auto accident after the dance and broke his neck. He ended up in a Columbus hospital for several weeks and wasn’t able to wash his hair. When finally discharged he was given a bill for a new pillow and several new pillow cases.

Lesson learned and advice given. If my friends do successfully put together a Sock Hop and you’re planning on attending in costume, hold off on the greaser look and check out the Ivy-League style that was also popular during the golden age of rock ‘n roll. You’ll get a lot more rest the following day.

Footnote: If you were a fan of WLW in the 70s you  may also remember Jim LaBarbara, The Music Professor.

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