First, the answer to the obvious question.
No, Ray Hildebrand said, they don’t tire of singing their international 1960s pop music sensation “Hey Paula!” over and over.
“Anytime God gives you a direct shot, and that’s what it was, a direct shot, it’s just a blessing,” Hildebrand told an audience gathered at Howard Payne University Friday night. “Why us? I don’t know.”
“Paul and Paula” — Hildebrand and Jill Jackson Landon — sang songs and reminisced about their college years, their time in the international spotlight in the early 1960s and the homesickness that prompted them to stop touring and break up the act.
The two became forever known as Paul and Paula after he wrote “Hey Paula!” a half-century ago at the request of Russell Berry, a teammate on the Howard Payne basketball team. Hildebrand said he thought a song would impress his girlfriend, named Paula. The composer tried to work the name Russell into the lyrics, but couldn’t devise a satisfactory rhyme. Inspired by the Annette Funicello tune “Tall Paul,” what was to become a hit song was born.
The song went No. 1 in the nation, but did it succeed for Hildebrand’s teammate?
“It worked,” Berry exclaimed from the second row, seated with his wife, Paula.
“How many people does it take to make a hit?” Hildebrand asked rhetorically. He pointed to the Berrys. He applauded Landon’s mother, who was so impressed with Hildebrand’s song, she drove them to Fort Worth to record it. He mentioned a classmate who made the suggestion that his song be a dialogue between the man and woman. And Hildebrand also found providence in the fact that another artist failed to show up for his recording session that day. “Paul and Paula” had arrived at the studio unannounced, and Landon’s mother announced to the promoter that they were there to record a tune that was going to sell a million copies. Hungry for such a hit, and with backup band members sitting idle, the studio took a chance.
Between songs by each singer separately and others together, Hildebrand entertained with a musical illustration of how a long list of pop songs — including “Hey Paula!” — utilize the same chord progression — ranging from “Hey Baby” to “Donna” to “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” and “26 Miles (Santa Catalina).”
“So my song is like a lot of other songs,” Hildebrand said. “But my song went to No. 1. That’s saying something.”
The duo also sang their versions of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “It Takes Two,” the tune with which they typically open their concerts.
Hildebrand lives in Kansas, and Landon lives in California, but the two continue to perform together nationwide, and often “Hey Paula!” is the only song the promoter wants them to sing.
The gold records awarded “Paul and Paula” were donated to the university in a short ceremony prior to the concert on the second floor of the Mabee Center, and HPU President Dr. Bill Ellis presented each with a Dr. Charles Stewart painting of Old Main. Hildebrand also donated stacks of copies of his book about their time in the international spotlight to HPU. After the show, the two signed autographs on photos, those books and — for at least two fans — 45 rpm records brought from their homes.
Landon was joined for the visit to the Howard Payne campus by her husband, Marv. Hildebrand’s wife, Judy, who he met while at Howard Payne, died in 1999, he said.
“We have had such a wonderful, wonderful day,” Landon said before the two sang their signature song. “It’s so nice to come home.”