Walt Benton

The Diplomats

(The Whole Story)

 Back in the 50’s, Rock ‘n Roll was just a baby. Breaking ground with the new sound was exciting and catching on everywhere. Around the Atlanta area, artists such as Joe South, Jerry Reed, Ray Stevens and many others were beginning to emerge.  Among them was my dad’s first band: 

 Th' Grabbers

 Th' Grabbers - That's my dad on the far left....

The Grabbers  @ McKee's Beat

During this time, local radio WAKA's Bob McKee was producing a live weekend show for teens in a huge warehouse on Ivey Street known as “McKee’s Beat”. 

Many bands were featured there and the show was broadcast live on WAKE.  When Bob took the stage to introduce dad’s band the first time, he paused to ask “What’s y’alls name?”  Being newly formed, dad replied that they didn’t have one yet. Bob didn’t skip a beat.  “Here they are - Atlanta’s own - Th’ Grabbers!!”  (Bob later told dad that “Grabber" was a slang term for the F-word used by some black area teens) - but it was too late by then and the name stuck (for a while). 

1 amp, 1 guitar, 1 cord then play....

The Grabbers  @ McKee's Beat

Walt Benton 


 The Diplomats

 By the fall of 1958, military and marriage had taken their toll – and the Grabbers were no more.  But another young and promising group was continuing to gain popularity, featuring a tall, dashing front man named Walt Benton and his band, The Diplomats.  With Jimmy Atkins (nephew of Chet) on rhythm guitar, dad looked like the perfect fit for their vacant lead guitar spot – and he took it.  20th Century Fox Records soon signed the group – and Walt Benton and The Diplomats immediately started recording in the late Bill Lowery’s NRC studios located in the old Brookhaven section of Atlanta.  What followed were recordings on the Fox label –  as well as Lowery’s own Scottie label, singles playing on radio – and a promotional tour throughout the southeast.

Bob McKee (far right) introducing Walt Benton & The Diplomats to the crowd gathered at a venue in Atlanta that became known as the famous McKee's Beat.

Jimmy Atkins - Walt Benton - Bill Leys

Right - 

Just a clip from the local newspaper about the band's upcoming shows. 

Left - 

Think of being a teenager with a hot band during the birthing of rock 'n roll and getting signed to 20th Century Fox and putting out your first album and getting played on the radio and going on tour....

What a special time.  I'm proud of  my dad for getting the opportunity.




Far right is pianist Coleman Moore.  He was blind and had a great sense of humor about everything, including his blindness.

Both Jimmy and Bill worked at Dekalb Musician's Supply in Decatur, Ga.

The second paragraph was a big deal.  To be asked back for a second show is quite the honor.

A frequent visitor to the shop was Jerry Reed, who always had some new lick to show everybody.  When Jerry traded his Gretsch, Jimmy got word and rushed down to buy it quick.

The Paramount Theater in Montgomery, AL (Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts) was a big venue at the time as well as being live on the radio with your shows.  Good stuff.


          Walt Benton & The Diplomats enjoyed the sweet smell of success until things fell apart in 1960.  The Diplomats were no longer, and without a backing band, Walt was a front man with no band to front.  Later attempts to put something together with other musicians and calling it Walt Benton & The "      " just didn't appeal to the fans of the original band.  Walt Benton and The "Fill In The Blanks" was over.......  Or was it?

In the mid-1970's parts of Europe were enjoying the exciting sounds of the 50's rock sound.  Benton took it upon himself to sell the rights to all "his" music to a German Recording company.  They put together all of the music on one album and produced it under their "Bison Bop" label.  None of the other musicians were consulted about this, especially where royalties from sales and air play were concerned.     

My dad was graced with a courtesy phone call by Benton to inform him of what he had done.  He sent my dad a "complementary" copy of the album.  How much were the songs sold for, and what royalties from sales and air play are pending and due?  Nobody knows.  Benton went into the real estate business and years later passed away.  Some former band members are still playing today.

As stated earlier, the band having Walt Benton, Tommy Norris, Bill Leys, Jimmy Atkins and Coleman Moore was by far the best band Walt sang with.  They were the most popular and most successful.  Well, apparently the German Recording Co. new of this as well and implemented this knowledge into the marketing of the album, however no pictures of that line-up were used.

With the birthing of rock 'n roll came a new age of catchy tunes, sock-hops and an ever-evolving way of recording the music.  It seemed that every upcoming decade built on the previous.

The first rock legends were made in the 50's, but other potential legends were in the works as well. Guitar heroes like Chet Atkins and Les Paul would be laying the ground work for future legends like Jerry Reed, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. 

To be a part of this musical movement was truely a magical time.  It went hand-in-hand with the cars, fashion and the American spirit.

I often think of the many stories my dad would tell me when I was a kid while he was plucking around on an old acoustic. 

.....Thanks dad.

Several years ago WUGA's Rob Holmes took interest in Walt Benton & The Diplomats and was trying to put something of a reunion type concert together to no avail.