Biography / Administrative History
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Troyce Key papers
Dates: circa 1920s-1997 (b. 1958-1992)
Collection number: MS 83
5 linear feet
(11 boxes + 1 oversized box)
African American Museum & Library at Oakland (Oakland, Calif.)
Abstract: The Troyce Key papers include correspondence, photographs, financial records, flyers, publicity material, and publications
documenting the musical career of blues musician and nightclub owner Troyce Key. The papers are organized in to four series:
Eli Mile High Records, Eli’s Mile High Club & Restaurant records, photographs, and assorted material.
Languages represented in the collection:
No access restrictions. Collection is open to the public.
Materials are for use in-library only, non-circulating.
Permission to publish from the Troyce Key Papers must be obtained from the African American Museum & Library at Oakland.
Troyce Key papers, MS 83, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.
Processed by Sean Heyliger, 11/14/2013.
Biography / Administrative History
Blues musician and night club owner Troyce Key (1937-1992) was born on September 7, 1937 in Jordon Plantation, Louisiana to
Verdell and Lula May Key. The child of white sharecroppers, his father at one time worked on the railroad while the family
lived in a box-car. In 1938, the Key family decided to move to Oregon but ran out of gasoline and money in Bakersfield, California.
The family worked as migrant workers picking cotton and grapes and settled near Fresno, California where Troyce Key attended
various schools. His father played the guitar and harmonica and often sang at local house parties. Troyce Key began playing
guitar as a teenager and moved to Mississippi and absorbed the country music and blues playing of local recording artists
as well as those from Texas. In Mississippi he contracted tuberculosis, having a lung and some ribs removed. While recuperating
at a sanatorium in the Sierras, he listened to donated rhythm and blues recordings played by staff for the benefit of the
patients, becoming hooked on the music and buying a guitar. Key befriended teenage patient R.C. Gardner, and the pair tried
to copy the songs that were played. Discharged in 1956, Key and R.C. began gigging around Fresno, playing R & B and Elvis
Presley-influenced music. They guested on Al Radka’s House Party, a local T.V. program. Female viewer fans wrote admiring
letters of Key's Elvis impersonations. Other fans called Key the “mad coon.” By 1958 he was traveling to the Bay Area to perform
at rock & roll dances with a group called the Campus Kings.
In 1958, he traveled to Hollywood with a demo tape and signed a record contract with Warner Brothers Records in 1958, being
the first rock & roll artist to sign with Warner's. That year, Key released four singles-“Drown In My Tears,” “Baby Please
Don’t Go,” “Most of All,” and “She’s Sumpin’ Else,” - with Eddie Cochran on guitar, Howard Roberts on rhythm guitar, and Eddie
Palmer on drums. Warner Brothers sent Key on a promotion tour and he toured the country performing on various teen dance television
programs and in 1959 appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. “Drown In My Tears” made the regional charts on African
American stations in New York City, Fresno, Tulsa and Dallas-Fort Worth. By the third issuing Key felt he was on the way out
with Warner and then decided to move fully towards a blues sound.
After returning to Fresno, he formed the band The Rhythm Rockers with J.J. Malone, C.A. Carr, Charles Banks, and Calvin Peele.
Although Key was quite a celebrity in the Fresno region, white clubs were reluctant to hire an African American band with
a white performer. Shortly after C.A. Carr left the Rhythm Rockers in 1966 to join James Brown's band, Key quit to find work
tending a bar in Los Angeles. He moved to Oakland in 1970, gigging and touring frequently in venues throughout California
during the 1970s with the Rhythm Rockers (sometimes performing as the Over The Hill Blues Band), releasing two albums on
the Red Lightnin' label –
I've Gotta a New Car (1980) and
Younger than Yesterday (1982). In 1979, Key purchased Eli’s Mile High Club upon the death of the club’s founder Eli Thornton from remaining owner
Alberta Thornton. Known as the ‘West Coast Home of the Blues,’ Eli’s Mile High Club attracted notable blues and R&B performers
throughout the 1970s-1980s and was awarded the Bay Area Blues Society’s Blues Night Club of the Year award in 1991. In 1986,
Key founded Eli Mile High Records, a blues record label which released J.J. Malone’s
Bottom Line Blues (1989) and Eddie Ray’s
Blues At Midnight (1985). He continued to perform as part of Eli's Mile High Club house band J.J. Malone Blues Band with Troyce Key. Troyce
Key died of leukemia on November 9, 1992 in Oakland, California.
Scope and Content of Collection
The Troyce Key papers include correspondence, photographs, financial records, flyers, publicity material, vhs tapes, and publications
documenting the musical career of blues musician and nightclub owner Troyce Key. The papers are organized in to five series:
Eli Mile High Records, Eli’s Mile High Club & Restaurant records, photographs, vhs tapes and assorted material. Eli’s Mile
High Records include musician record contracts, business cards, brochures, correspondence with radio stations and fans, radio
playlists for various blues radio stations, and publicity material related to albums by Eddie Ray and J.J. Malone released
under the label in the 1980s.
The Eli’s Mile High Club & Restaurant records includes administrative and financial records related to the operation of the
night club, publicity kits and flyers of various performers, performance calendar, newspaper clippings, records documenting
the establishment of the Troyce Key Scholarship Fund, and the Bay Area Blues Society’s Blues Night Club of the Year award.
The bulk of the collection are 608 slides and photographs of the Key family and Key’s career as a blues musician. The photographs
are organized into four subseries: Music, Key family photographs, Troyce Key funeral service, and assorted. Photographs documenting
Key’s music career include photographs sorted by Eli's Mile High Club, performances, festivals, television appearances, publicity
stills, and assorted. Family photographs include portraits and family photographs of the Key family in Louisiana, Fresno,
California, and Oakland, California in the 1930s-1980s.
Series I. Eli Mile High Records
Series II. Eli’s Mile High Club & Restaurant
Series III. Photographs
Series IV. VHS tapes
Series V. Assorted
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Eli’s Mile High Club (Oakland, Calif.).
Blues (Music)--California--San Francisco Bay Area.
Oakland (Calif.) -- Social life and customs.
Banks (Charles) Papers, African American Museum & Library at Oakland
Malone (J.J.) Audiovisual Collection, African American Museum & Library at Oakland