Kathy & Jim Zee from the Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Kathy Zee was born Kathleen Ann Zaleski in Lawrenceville on June 12, 1946. By the age of four, she was already playing the mandolin (it was probably the only instrument that she could wrap her little hands around) and was primed to hit the stage like her big brother Jimmy.
He was all of twelve and singing at various shows. Jimmy was performing at a benefit concert for the Leukemia Foundation at a local high school gym, and let his lil' sis join him. She sang the Sophie Tucker chestnut "Some Of These Days," and as a result the "Harmony Wildcats," consisting of Kathy and Jimmy, were born.
The act played record hops, shows, and talent contests. Kathy sang and Jimmy played guitar and did back-up vocals; he was a veteran trouper who had won several talent shows, including the Wilkens Amateur Hour.
They regularly appeared on Pittsburgh-area radio and television broadcasts like the Eva Jackson and Virginia O'Donnell shows before graduating to the national Ted Mack Amateur Hour.
In 1958, manager Elmer Willett signed Kathy to a solo contract, and sent her to a voice coach. That must have turned the trick; he wrangled a deal with New York's Laurie records, a Dot subsidiary, which released her first record "Buzzin" in the US.
Although Jimmy wasn't on the record credits (He did have his own record in 1957, under the credit of Mike and Jim called "Dungaree Cutie" b/w "Baby Don't Knock", released on Josie #825 as both a 45 and 78), he played guitar and sang the backing vocals for "Buzzin'" (Laurie 3020), which cracked the U.S. Top 40 and was a huge local hit.
A few months before the USA release of "Buzzin'," it was issued in Germany on the Polydor label (66901), and was #1 in Hamburg (OK, Nummer Eins for Teutonic sticklers) for three straight weeks, and Kathy Zee is still popular overseas.
"I know my records are being played in the Netherlands and in Germany," she wrote. "There is a DJ over there named Giel Aarts who I do some liners for every now and then. And I have a fan club over in the Netherlands headed by Nol Voorst."
The wax was backed with an up tempo B side called "Crackerjack," which got some play, too. It was pretty heady stuff for a thirteen year old from Lawrenceville.
Kathy and Jimmy toured all over the east coast, and locally they did the hop circuit (they were particular favorites of those hosted by DJ Stan Wall). Willett decided to release the next song on his own label.
"Santa Claus Rock and Roll" b/w the ballad "Your Name, Your Name" (Willett 45-121) was credited to Kathy and Jimmy Zee, with Dick Glaser and the Glaser Brothers doing the back up vocals.
But the disk didn't have the legs of its predecessor. It again did well regionally, but the strictly local Willett label couldn't promote the vinyl outside the area. Their brief fling with rock fame came crashing to a halt.
The duo continued performing in the Pittsburgh area and remained a part of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour tour. But when Kathy graduated from Divine Providence Academy in 1964 at the age of 17, she and Jimmy were ready for greener pastures. They took Horace Greeley's old advice to heart and went west.
Kathy and Jimmy headed to Hollywood and were signed by the Johnny Robinson agency, big time talent reps, and started working right away.
The pair were booked at places like the Sands Hotel in San Diego, and spent several years performing in the southwest. They later become part of a club act in Reno named the Al Bello Revue. The show played at the Primadonna Club for over a year then moved to the Mapes Hotel, where the revue performed for another year.
Kathy was getting offers to join other groups, and when the Bello gig came to an end, the siblings split. Jimmy remained part of the Reno lounge scene while Kathy joined Abby Neal and the Ranch Girls as a rhythm guitar player and singer. They toured across the country until Neal had a heart attack and the group broke up.
She worked for a short time with a local group, the Tony Austin Trio that gigged in the Reno/Tahoe area and then moved on to a group called the Diplomats.
Zee became the featured singer and played bass. The Diplomats were actually the Sunshine Boys, a noted gospel group made up of Ace Richman, Jerry Wallace, Eddie Wallace and Woody Woodruff.
When they came to California, they changed their name to the Diplomats to play the clubs in Vegas, Reno and Tahoe. They also toured heavily, and after a couple of years, Kathy finally had her fill of buses and suitcases. She retired at age 27 to raise her family.
Now Kathy (Zaleski) Davis lives in Amador county, on seven acres about an hour from Sacramento, and sings in the choir at her local church. She has two children, five grandchildren, and makes and sells her hand crafted jewelry under the Kathy Davis line. She plans to start a Kathy Zee line in 2011. She also plans to offer autographed pictures, with the proceeds going to local charities like the womens' shelter and animal rescue society.
Jimmy, married with one son, is retired and has a home in Carson City.
They do periodically get together for a living room reunion gig, as Kathy wrote "When I do see him, which is about once a year, we get our guitars out and have a little jam session, and it sure does bring back the good ole times. We can still harmonize."
And no doubt reminiscence about the long strange trip from Lawrenceville to the left coast.
Kathy Zee - "Buzzin'" 1958