By Bob Uphues
Gregg Gall thought he knew Joy Klang pretty well. After all he had known her for more than 30 years and she had worked for him at his Brookfield flower shop. Her husband, Swede, made deliveries for the business as well.
Little did Gall know that Klang was, in a former life, a one-time teenage pop star named Joy Layne, who toured the country and entertained in night clubs, hotels and at USO shows until she was 40 years old.
On Tuesday, Aug. 20, Gall will host a tribute night for "Joy Layne" at his own night spot, the Blue Water Lounge at 9016 31st St. in Brookfield starting at 7 p.m. There is no cover charge, and a pot luck dinner will be available.
"I never had an idea who she really was," said Gall. "She's like an onion; you keep peeling and find more and more out."
The Joy Layne Tribute Night will, of course, feature Joy herself. She'll be signing autographs while the bar's sound system cranks out favorites from the 1950s — including Joy's own recordings, which friends have been corralling on eBay for the past month.
When Klang learned that Gall was planning the event, she said at first she was a bit reluctant.
"I was shocked," she said. "I was embarrassed. I don't like a lot of attention on me, though I enjoyed it when I was a young lady. I've come around to it now."
Joy was just a 15-year-old sophomore at Lyons Township High School when her big break came. According to a 2007 article that appeared in the Landmark by local historian Chris Stach, the teenager wowed Art Talmadge, the head of A&R with Mercury Records in Chicago in January 1957.
That meeting led just a couple of weeks later to a recording session that produced her first, and biggest hit, "Your Wild Heart," which reached No. 20 on the Billboard Top 100.
Mercury Records suggested she change her name from Joy Nagl to Joy Layne, a slight variation of her middle name, Lynne. In a matter of weeks, Joy's life would change dramatically from a kid on Maple Avenue in Brookfield to a pop star.
By the end of that month, Joy was making TV appearances in Detroit and in Windsor, Canada, and appeared before a crowd of more than a 1,000 teens in Buffalo. After an appearance in Baltimore, Joy was back in LaGrange at Pearson's Music and Art Shop, for an appearance that drew her classmates at LTHS. She had gone from being the shy, petite girl who kept to herself to a celebrity.
"Suddenly they were all there, supporting me, wanting autographs and all that," Joy told Chris Stach in 2007. "And I'm thinking, 'You've seen me every day, and you've hurt me so much by ignoring me. Now, suddenly you're here.' So I was kind of overwhelmed by all that, but it was exciting."
The entire year of 1957 was a whirlwind of personal appearances, including a guest spot on Vic Damone's TV show that July.
"I was so young. I was so excited and in awe," said Klang of her appearance with the well-known crooner, whose wife at the time, Italian actress Pier Angeli, she remembers as being especially nice to her. "It was like being thrown to the lions."
Klang continued to record into the early 1960s with Mercury and on two other, smaller labels. But even after her final recordings, she continued to perform throughout the country. She remembers the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs as a mainstay on her tour circuit. She married Dick "Swede" Klang in 1965, but kept performing, she says, until she was about 40 years old.
But even after retiring from showbiz, Joy has remained constantly on the go. She worked for many years for General Motors in Broadview and then taught preschool for 21 years at Kensington School in LaGrange, in addition to helping out Gall at the flower shop.
These days, she spends her weekends helping out Kim Chmura, who runs AllClear Estate Sales. Chmura says Klang would always joke that they needed to look for her old records when combing through clients' homes.
Klang and Chmura met through Gall, whose bar hosts the Thirsty Runners Club, for recreational runners and walkers every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Chmura said she knew Klang had done some sort of recording in the past, but had no idea it was for a major label and had found national success.
"I was astounded," said Chmura, who bought some of the records on eBay and found a YouTube recording of "Your Wild Heart."
"I got to hear her voice, and it was great," said Chmura.
Klang also dedicates time to St. Barbara Church, where she is a longtime parishioner and member of their Resurrection and Sunday choirs. It's the only venue where she now sings publicly, Klang said.
"God gave me this voice," she said. "I might as well use it."