Here’s an obscure one that isn’t in Teen Beat Mayhem, though it certainly deserves to be. I didn’t know anything about the group, called simply, The Four, but then I found their photo in Ron Hall’s The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook, 1960-1975.
The band were:
George Parks – guitar Greg McCarley – guitar Paul Crider – bass Larry Rains – drums
“Now Is the Time” is a good mid-tempo song with harmonies and Beatles-type changes. It was written by George Parks.
“Lonely Surfer Boy” is an original by Paul Crider and Greg McCarley.
SoN 15101/15102 indicates it was mastered by Sound of Nashville, while the ZTSB 99962-A / 99963-A in the deadwax indicates it was pressed at the Columbia Records plant in Nashville. I’m not sure the date on this one but early 1965 seems about right.
Both songs were published by Lonzo & Oscar Music, BMI and produced by Jack Logan, who was A&R director of Nugget Records of Goodlettsville, Tennessee which also seemed to own the Clark label.
In late 2013 two acetate surfaced of a group called “The 4” from Sam Phillips Recording of Memphis, “69” / “I Gotta Go” and “When Ever Your Down” (sic) / “Midnight Hour”.
“69” opens with one of the most intense screams ever committed to vinyl, and it is now on the shortlist for Back From the Grave vol 9! it was backed with an uptempo pop number “I Gotta Go”. It’s such a different sound that I thought it must be a different group, but both songs were written by George Parks. I haven’t heard “When Ever Your Down” yet, but it was written by Greg McCarley.
The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook notes The Four “cut three singles, all in Nashville in the late ’60’s. After they broke up, Greg McCarley released two singles on the local Klondike label as ‘Beau Sybin.’ George Parks had a release on Epic that he cut in New York and was also a staff writer at Stax.”
A late ’60s release by the Four on the Nashville North label is likely by another group. “Good Thing Going” (B. Carlton, H. Adams, D. Johnson) / “Cy’s Been Drinking Cider” was produced by Vern Terry and Len Shafitz, out of Massillon, Ohio, just west of Canton. Teen Beat Mayhem lists that band as from Elyria, Ohio. They cut a later 45 on Epic as the Sunny Four “Why Not (Be My Baby) / “Goodie Goodie Ice Cream Man”.
The Clark label had two other garage releases that I know of. On Clark CR-235 is the Ebb TIdes “Little Women” (by Donald Kyre, Michael Wheeler, Michael Whited, and Waldron), which sounds something like the Beatles “You Can’t Do That”. The Ebb Tides came from Columbus, Ohio. Their Clark 45 may have come about as part of a deal to do a summer tour of the Ohio Valley area. The flip is “What I Say”, by Gene McKay & the Ebb Tides. McKay was another singer on the tour and though the Ebb Tides backed him on the cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”, they did not otherwise work together.
The Ebb Tides had a second 45, the spooky novelty “Seance” (Benny Van, M. Wheeler) b/w a mystical spoken vocal, “Spirits Ride the Wind” (Benny Van) that I really like. This 45 was produced by Rudy Varju on Jar 106 from early 1967. Benny Van of the Ebb Tides became J.D. Blackfoot.
The other is the Jades “You Have to Walk” / “Island of Love”, both written by Paul Helms and released on Clark CR-262 from May of ’67. That group was from Herrin, Illinois, a small city southeast of St. Louis and almost 200 miles northwest of Nashville, but the publishing is also Lonzo & Oscar, and the label states that it was produced and distributed by Nugget Sound Studios, Goodlettsville.
Other songs on the Clark label seem to be country, such as CR-266, Charlie Haggard’s “Throw Me Out the Door”.
Lonzo & Oscar were Johnny and Rollin Sullivan, whose family had started the Nugget Record company in Tampa, Florida in 1959, but Lonzo & Oscar Music Publishing had a Nashville base from the start. They bought or built Nugget Sound Studios in Goodlettsville, just north of Nashville. Most releases they recorded are on the Nugget label, and most are country.
History of the Nugget label from 45-sleeves.com. Thank you to Buckeye Beat for the info on the Ebb Tides 45.
If anyone makes a youtube video of “Now Is the Time”, please send me the link and I’ll include it here instead of the soundfile.
Here’s an unknown group with a great rocking b-side “Someone Like You”, featuring swirling organ, a couple good shouts, decent guitar solo and a solid rhythm section.The top side “Two of a Kind” is an odd choice – a long dramatic introduction leads to a slow weeper sung by (I think) a different vocalist than the flip.
Frederick Prue wrote both songs, and the labels credit Johnny Baylor Production. I don’t know where this band came from, but some publishing info points to Memphis, Tennessee as a possibility.
There were most certainly not the Volcanoes who do “Sympathize” / “Listen to the Clouds” on Sound Inc (and picked up by Sparton in Canada), two songs written by Ron Allan Neilson & Harry Olsen and produced by Getz-Powers. I believe that group was from Michigan, but would like to know more about either one of these ‘Volcanoes’.
James sent links to his copy, a red-label stock copy with a different logo at top, and oddly, a second vocal track on “Someone Like You”. I’ve added his label scan below.
The Night Mist came from Newport, Tennessee, east of Knoxville. A tremendous distortion sound distinguishes the psychedelic “Last Night”. The drummer pounds the toms throughout and the lead solo is cutting. Very few people have heard the flip side, the slow and dense ”Janie” which has more good fuzz and some wah as well. A promising solo gets cut by the fade out. Both sides were written by Michael McMahan.
Mike Markesich tells me it was released in December 1967, much earlier than I thought.
The Night Mist recorded at Vibrant Studios, which I thought was in either Cosby, TN, south of Newport, or Crosby, TN, half an hour north of Newport on the Dixie Highway (Rte 32, Interstate 25E) along Cherokee Lake, but Terry Ottinger says the studio was in Newport.
I had very little info on the Night Mist until I heard from bassist Terry Ottinger, who sent me the photos included here. As it turns out, the Night Mist were originally known as the Shags:
This 1965 photo [above] shows the original members of the Shags practicing in the basement of Terry’s home in Newport, Tennessee. Derry James on the sax and vocal, Terry Ottinger playing bass and vocal and Mike McMahan playing rhythm & lead guitar and singing lead.
The Shags of Newport, Tennessee started with original members:
Derry James (sax, lead vocals, drums) Terry Ottinger (bass and vocal) Mike McMahan (lead singer and guitar) Frankie Gorman (drums and vocal)
Later Bobby Burgess (lead guitar and vocal) and Jerry Burgess (keyboard and vocal) became members.
We played school proms, parties, dances, fairs, clubs and shows from 1965 through 1968. Competing twice, 1966 and 1967 for the Tennessee State Championship, the Battle of the Bands finals held in Oakridge, Tennessee.
Our managers were Gene “Wompo” Laymen; Frank Gorman Sr. and Dennis Burgess; Clinton Francis; and our last managers, Matt Osborne and Jack Brockwell, for both the Shags and Night Mist.
The Night Mist members were as follows (“M-F-T Record”):
Mike McMahan (lead singer and lead guitar) Frankie Gorman (drums and vocal) Terry Ottinger (bass guitar and vocal)
Lonnie Lee and the Big Beats, circa late 1960 from left: Dale Roark (bass), Lonnie Lee Edens (guitar), Jerry Woods (drums), and Archie Barnes (guitar) “I had just turned 17 when this picture was taken. I believe Archie was 14! It was taken at the Starlite club in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.” – Dale Roark
Dale Roark of the Escapades sent these songs and recollections of his start in music in the town of Bartlesville, forty miles north of Tulsa:
These recordings chronicle three musicians from Bartlesville, Oklahoma from 1961 until 1966.
The area around Tulsa in the late 50’s and early 60’s was a hotbed of musicians. David Gates (later ‘Bread’), Johnny Cale (later J.J. Cale), Tommy Crook (local guitar legend that stayed put), Leon Russell plus traveling Arkansas bands such a Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (later ‘The Band’), Charlie Daniels and the Jaguars (yes, that Charlie Daniels), and the McClellan brothers (The Five Emcees) out of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, all put their mark on the local music community. The Paradise Club in particular was a venue where musicians would casually approach the bandstand with “hey man, can I sit in?”. It was always fun but occasionally Tommy Crook, Roy Clark, or some of the other professionals would just blow you away. Any musician could request and it was understood that you would let them. It was competitive but also an inspiration.
Dale Roark (bass), Archie Barnes (guitar), and Denny “Zoot” Freeman (drums) formed a group called The Ravens in late 1959 and played local YMCA and high-school gigs for about a year. I was a high school junior. Archie and Denny were both in the 8th grade. A year later we joined up with Lonnie Lee Edens and formed Lonnie Lee and the Big Beats. We played the local night-clubs and did pretty well for a bunch of high schoolers.
During my senior year Dale Smith, my high school choir director, approached the group about backing him up on an original song he had written. As you will see, he had a beautiful Perry Como-type voice. He rented time a Tulsa TV station studio and me, Archie, and Denny plus Richie Dickerson (9th grade – piano) backed him up. When you listen to Archie’s solos, keep in mind that he was in the 9th grade! Let’s Fall In Love (Mr. Smith’s original) and Canadian Sunset Twist were the result.
I went off to Oklahoma State University and wasn’t active in music my freshman year but right before the end of the winter semester I was approached by Kent Washburn to join the “Shadow Lake 8” for the summer gig in Noel, Missouri. The band had been a staple at OSU for years with graduating members being replaced by new, younger talent. They also needed a guitarist so I introduced him to Archie and his mother agreed to let the young sixteen year old join the band. The drummer quit the first week there and Denny was contacted and drove out the next day.
The band at that point consisted of:
Kent Washburn – Tenor Sax and Band Leader Amos Ming – Alto and Baritone Sax plus flute Terry Mead – Trumpet and Valve Trombone Bing Vasser – Trumpet Bill Schooler – Piano Archie Barnes – Guitar Denny Freeman – Drums Dale Roark – Electric Bass
During the winter of 1963, Kent’s younger brother, Gary, replaced the piano player with his brand new Hammond B-3 organ and the dynamics of the group started to change. A demo tape was made at the Tulsa University ballroom. Single mike, no mixing, direct to tape and later cut as a demo. It is 45 years old and has a lot of pops and scratches so I only included a couple of snippets to help contrast with later recordings.The last 30 seconds of “Splankie” show Denny’s mastery of big band jazz. The last two minutes of “From the Heart” (a Ray Charles number from his “Genius Plus Soul = Jazz” album) show off Archie and Denny’s 10th grade musician skills. Denny was a huge jazz fan and his talents are present in his kicks and comping abilities. Archie shows a sophistication that few rock and roll musicians could conceive at such a young age. It also allows comparison between Gary’s “All Skate” tone to the later recordings as he finally mastered the tone controls of his B-3. He was also in high-school at the time.
That next summer we played at Rockaway Beach, Missouri. It is a resort town of about a hundred people just a few miles from Branson. It predated the Branson we know now and was the “in” place for college kids from Kansas City, Springfield, Memphis, Saint Louis etc. to go. The club was huge by that day’s standard and probably held a couple of thousand people. The group tightened up quite a bit but I quit the following fall for personal reasons. I was replaced by Bill Hieronymus and the following summer they toured the Florida night club circuit as “The Jades”.
I believe it is the only released record the Shadow Lake 8 / Jades ever cut. These two sides were made after I left the band. “South Parkway” was a major street in Tulsa at the time so that’s what they called the first cut. I am pretty sure that was Amos speaking “g’wan to South Parkway” at the start and Archie counting then Kent speaking on “Power”.
Kent gave me a copy and I took it into Stax records and played it for Steve Cropper the very week I moved to Memphis but Steve wasn’t interested in either the record or the group because of their own in-house musicians. I lost my copy somewhere between Memphis and a half dozen other places over the past 45 years.
I don’t hear any trumpets so I guess it is:
Kent – Tenor Sax Amos – up front and center on Baritone Sax Gary – Organ and Piano Archie – Guitar Bill – Bass Zoot (Denny) – Drums
Maybe one of the guys can acknowledge or correct me. Archie’s solos are typical of Tulsa area guitarists at that time . . . speed, speed, speed . . . It wasn’t the most melodic but the dancers loved it!
Both songs by M. Kent Washburn. Rite Pressing #12877/12878 which dates it to 1964.
The band pretty much stayed together for several more years. I had moved to Memphis and was the leader of a group called The Escapades. We were under contract with Sun records and Kent contacted me during the summer of 1966 about cutting a record at Sun. The following four Jades tunes were the result:
Rainbow Riot – A Bill Doggett tune the band used as their theme song High Heel Sneakers – Kent and Archie doing the vocals I Got a Woman – Gary Washburn rockin’ on his B-3 including the bass pedals Come and Take Me Baby – An original with Archie Barnes vocal and local Memphis back up singers
Bing Vasser had left the band prior to this but the rest of the musicians were together. I substituted on bass for Bill who couldn’t make the session. The group stayed together a little while longer but then went their separate ways. To the best of my recollection, with some help from Bing Vasser:
Amos Ming– became an accountant in Nashville with Brenda Lee as one of his clientsKent Washburn – moved to the West Coast and became a Christian Record Producer
Gary Washburn – became a music professor at the University of Hawaii
Bing Vasser – obtained a Masters degree in music from Tulsa University and taught music in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He then returned to Tulsa University to graduate with a Masters degree in mathematics and music computation. His computer music programs were used to produce synthesized music in one of the early computer music conferences held in Tulsa featuring Aaron Copeland.
Dale Roark – formed The Escapades in Memphis, was drafted into the Army, then earned a degree in Computer Science and had a 30 year high-tech career. He now lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah within 1 mile of his 4 children and 6 grandchildren.
Terry Mead – joined Brenda Lee’s back-up band then moved to Nashville for a successful music career. He played on the live TV show “Nashville Now” for several years until ill health caused his retirement. Terry died May 13, 2007.
Archie Barnes – joined Brenda Lee’s back-up band then moved to Toronto
Denny (Zoot) Freeman – joined Brenda Lee’s back-up band then moved to California. He passed away in 2000.
Bill Hieronymus – went back to school and earned a degree in geophysics from the University of Houston. He became a consultant with several major oil companies and was well respected for his analytical expertise. He was also cited by Downbeat Magazine as one of the premier jazz bass players in America. He died on Thanksgiving day, 2008.
Dale Roark, April 2009 (Original Text) Bing Vasser, (Update and corrections)
Dale and Ken Washburn have created their own website for the Shadow Lake 8 at ShadowLake8.com with more information and photographs.
The Kenetics 45 is one of my very favorites in all garageland. The band may have been from Martin, Tennesee, three hours drive west of Nashville near the Kentucky and Missouri borders.
Buddy Deason wrote both the songs featured here, but I don’t know any other members’ names.
“Put Your Loving on Me” starts out with a simple riff then moves to barre chords over sustained organ notes and drum rolls, then launches into a catchy progression for the chorus where the band chants “Baby, baby put your loving on me.” When the verse starts the band lays off every other repetition while the lead singer hiccups his pleas to this chick. Otherwise the verse and chorus are identical. No bridge, just a simple solo break and it’s back to the chorus and verse pattern again. The instruments are finely balanced and there’s a nice echo applied to the vocals that blends with the organ.
“Jo Ann” is a throwback to an earlier era. The band tries hard to make the song work, but it falls flat compared to the top side.
Nashville was a custom label of Starday, based out of Madison, just outside Music City. The 45 was pressed at the nearby Columbia Records plant indicated by the dead wax “ZTSB-128084/5” in 1967.
After publishing an article on the Rogue Show last month, drummer Ellis Starkey suggested I feature his wife Jean Callaway’s story. Jean has written a fascinating history about leading her own bands and playing with Charlie Louvin, Tot Randolph (veteran of Howlin’ Wolf’s early Memphis band), and the Tennessee Hot Pants.
My name is Jean Callaway and I started playing guitar in 1964 at age sixteen shortly after the Beatles emerged on the scene. I’d played music all my life, starting at age two and a half on a ukulele. Later, I played a little bit of piano and organ, but never considered music as a career until the Beatles awakened my senses to good melodies, beats, and lyrics. Hearing the Beatles was all it took for me to become obsessed with making music. I started writing songs along with learning to play a lot of the latest tunes I was hearing on the radio. I began playing electric bass in 1967, inspired by Paul McCartney, and by the following year I’d already turned pro.
I’d like to share with you a few stories about my group, the Jean Callaway Band, in my own words. We played in 1968, 1969, and 1970, booking in and around Nashville, Tennessee, so you might as well know that we mixed a little country music in with our rock ‘n roll stuff.
We got started just jamming at each other’s houses and sitting in with other bands at various clubs around town. Eventually, when four or five of us got serious about playing together, we gathered at my dad’s house and practiced in his living room, putting together enough songs to take up four or five sets. It took only a few practice sessions to get it together since each member was already a professional musician.
There were very few female musicians around, other than singers and piano players at that time. I, being a bass player and guitar player was a rare commodity. I formed my band in 1968 and we played mostly weekends since I was attending college at Middle Tennessee State University during the week.
I managed to land a regular gig at a country club in Old Hickory, just outside Nashville. We played Friday and Saturday nights starting at 9:00 and playing until 1:00. I also played bass for the country singer, Charlie Louvin on the Grand Ole Opry Friday and Saturday nights on his early shows, then rushed out to Old Hickory for my gig at the country club.
The Jean Callaway Band was just about the most unusual group in town in that we didn’t always have the same musicians from week to week. You see, I used a lot of different country music pickers who might have been in town for extended periods of time. They would be tired of playing country music and while they were not on their regular job, wanted to play something different, so different is what we were. We played everything from “Whiter Shade Of Pale” (if we had a keyboard player) to Elvis, Joe South, and Roy Orbison.
I had Marty Robbins’ drummer, Eddie Fox for quite a while when Marty was recovering from heart surgery. Then there was Eddie’s brother, Jimmy Fox who played guitar with us while his boss, country singer, Jean Sheppard was on maternity leave. I switched over to guitar when Ronnie Blackwell, a bass player and singer who worked for Grand Ole Opry Star, Porter Wagoner played with us. Finally, I got a regular group together: Bob Taylor on drums, Bob Browning on lead guitar, Sherman Dodd, rhythm guitar, and me on bass. All four of us sang, giving the group a variety of voices.
One story that will always stay with me was when I got a call from a booking agent asking me if our group would be available to back rock ‘n roll singer, Mark Denning who had the major smash hit, “Teen Angel”. At first, I thought the guy was joking, but he told me he was serious, that Mark’s band had quit and that he needed a band the following night. The agent said he knew I always kept good pickers who could play just about anything, and that’s why he called me. I was told that the venue was in Springfield, Tennessee, just outside Nashville and was given the address.
After passing the information on to the rest of the guys in the band, I made arrangements, for another band to take our place at the country club. That afternoon, Mark Denning, himself, called me to confirm we would be there. I told him we would, but my car happened to be in the shop and that I’d planned to ride with one of the other guys. Mark said, “You don’t have to do that, I’ll come by and pick you up.” Thinking how cool it was that a star of his status was picking me up at my house, I agreed to it.
He showed up in a Volkswagon Beetle. I was then faced with the dilemma of where my bass amp was gonna go. However, by some miracle we managed to squeeze it into the trunk in front. My bass in its long case barely fit in the back seat. That was just the beginning of the problems that lay ahead. I could tell Mark wasn’t exactly sober. In fact he was more than a little impaired, he was wired and drunk at the same time. He took out of my driveway like some wild man. The DUI laws weren’t enforced in those days like today, so all his crazy driving went unnoticed by the police. About halfway there he stopped at a liquor store and bought a pint of whiskey, offering me some. I declined.
A deep rutted dirt road, with tall brush on each side led to a place located in the middle of nowhere. The parking lot was unpaved decorated with beer bottles scattered about. A half lit red neon sign that read DEEP SOUTH CLUB blinked off and on at random, making loud sizzling noises. It was more than deep-south, it was deep in the weeds. There were weeds waist high all around the club and it looked like one of those beer joints where you had to shoot your way inside. The rest of the band was already there and set up. One of the guys said, “What in the world have you gotten us into?” Shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders, I asked him to help me get my amp out of Mark’s VW. After we were outside, I told him all about the terrifying ride just getting there.
There were only a few of people there, counting the help, so I figured no one advertised Mark Denning’s appearance. I got tuned up and Mark, somehow, got his guitar in tune and he opened with “Teen Angel”. The few who were there applauded, then he stumbled through another song. Before the end of the first set, Mark found a folding chair, sat down, (because he was too drunk to stand) and sang another song. During that number, he just passed out. By then, I’d figured out why his band quit. The rest of us sang and played, the remainder of the set when at break time, the boys in the band wanted to go home. We were told we had to finish out the night if we were going to get paid, so play we did with ole Mark slumped over in a chair right there under the lights.
My daddy showed up for the last set to see the great Mark Denning. He couldn’t believe his eyes, Mark asleep on stage. I was so glad to see my daddy, I jumped off the stage and gave him a big hug. I knew I had a ride back home with one of the other guys, but to see my daddy’s smiling face was like a miracle. The Deep South Club was down right creepy–straight out of a horror movie. My dad said, “Something just told me to come out here and check on you.” …and I’m glad he did.
Another story: The summer of 1968 when school was out I began playing more gigs with now Country Music Hall of Fame member, Charlie Louvin of the Louvin Brothers. When I was playing country music with Charlie, I found another bass player to fill in for me in my band when I was away. However, I was still the band leader and was always there whenever I didn’t have an obligation with Charlie. My twentieth birthday was in September and Charlie and his wife, Betty threw me a birthday party at George Jones’ Possum Holler Club on Broadway in Nashville. Charlie’s band was there as well as my own since it took place on a Sunday night when all of us were off. I wasn’t old enough to be in that club, much less, playing in them. However, I always kept a fake ID handy. That night, when they brought out my birthday cake, it had twenty-one flaming candles and written on it was “Happy 21st Birthday to Jean”. We all had a laugh over that one because everyone at my party knew I was actually celebrating my twentieth birthday.
When classes resumed in the fall, I had to quit Charlie’s band because he had several road dates coming up, and school took priority. My band still played weekends. We even had a few weekend gigs at a club in Memphis on Highway 51, now known as Elvis Presley Blvd. In fact it was just down the street from Graceland. I enjoyed Memphis and the enthusiastic crowds we had. Here is a picture of me wearing a mini skirt when we played there. Not long ago, I showed it to my four year old grandson and he wanted to know what happened to my pants.
Back at the country club, I got to noticing the parking lot would be full and I’d have to search for a parking place when I’d arrive there for the gig. Look at all these people here to see us, I’d say to myself. I always tried to get there a little early so there’d be plenty of time to set up. Once inside, there would be only a couple of people at the bar and maybe one or two tables occupied. Taking note of the fact that this was the case every night we played, finally, one night my daddy showed up and I said to him, “Where in the world is everybody? The parking lot is full of cars, but hardly anybody is here.”
Daddy answered, “Jean, hold your voice down. Don’t you know there’s gambling going on in the back room?”
“What!” I said surprised. “I didn’t know they gambled here.”
“Well, now you know, but don’t say anything about it.”
I guess at nineteen or twenty, I was just young and naive. When nine o’clock rolled around and the music started, most of those people made their presence known by filing into the bar area, ordering a beer, filling up the dance floor, or grabbing a table. Boy, did I feel like a fool!
We continued to play until 1970 when it just got harder and harder to stay together due to changes in plans for all of us. I had to devote more time to school and studio work while the other guys pursued other music jobs. Unfortunately, with all the recording studios in Nashville, we never got around to making a record. In 1972 I joined another group from Nashville, Tot Randolph and the All Stars. We played some Top Forty music, old easy listening standards, a little jazz, blues, and just a few country songs…But that’s the next story.
Tot Randolph and the All Stars and Meeting Nashville Celebrities
It was May, 1972 that I was finishing up my senior year of college with just the summer semester to go. I got a call from Chuck, a guy I knew who worked at a local music store. He said that the band playing at the Hearth in Madison, Tennessee (actually a part of Nashville) was looking for a bass player, since the one they had couldn’t seem to stay sober. I asked him just what kind of music they played and he said just about every kind except hard rock. That evening, I wasn’t playing anywhere, so I decided to go down there and check them out to see if I was qualified before I actually auditioned and maybe made a fool of myself.
The Hearth was just about the fanciest restaurant and bar in Nashville at that time. The band was in the bar area which was down a red velvet staircase on a lower floor. Red plush carpet covered the floor and shiny gold flocked paper adorned the walls. One complete wall was made of rock which housed a giant fireplace, hence the name, “Hearth”.
The stage was nestled in one corner and was just big enough for a piano and a drum kit. Two other musicians had to squeeze in where they could. There was a sax player/singer, piano, drums, and bass. They played a lot of easy listening stuff and I noticed that on some songs they were reading music. I don’t read a note so I figured I was S.O.L. As I continued to listen, I assessed that perhaps I could jump in there and play a lot of it by ear, by charts, or at least write it down in my own version of music. I loved that sax. In fact, I’d never before played in a band where there were horns. The sax player was a good singer, too. He did a lot of Nat King Cole songs and could sound just like him. The band was all black with exception of the piano player. The bass player was excellent and I couldn’t believe they were going to fire him.
I stayed for another set and continued to listen, liking their music more and more. I figured I could learn a whole lot from those guys–that is if they’d have me.I never introduced myself that night, but called them next day and they set up an audition.
I felt that I needed to be honest and let them know right from the beginning that I didn’t read any music. I didn’t want to waste their time nor mine if reading music was a requirement. Tot, the sax player and band leader said it shouldn’t be a problem, that he wanted to hear me play. We played a few and I seemed to be able to fit right in. They hired me on the spot and I was to report to work that evening. The gig was a six nights a week with Sundays off.
I found out later that the guy I was replacing was D. Ford Bailey, Jr. His father was the famous blues harmonica player who starred on the Grand Ole Opry during the 1920s and 1930s. DeFord Bailey, Sr. was the only black entertainer on the Opry. I’d heard stories about him that when the Grand Ole Opry took their show on the road, DeFord had to be smuggled in the hotels since blacks weren’t allowed in the white establishments in those days.
Once in a while during the time I played there, D. Ford Jr. would come in and I’d ask him to sit in and play as long as it was all right with Tot. Tot explained to me that D. Ford was a good musician, but he just wasn’t dependable and would get drunk too often. I always thought D. Ford was nice and I certainly enjoyed watching him play. I could tell he’d learned on an upright bass fiddle because he held the electric bass just like an old dog house bass, with the neck straight up.
Tot had recorded “Blues Train” for Sun Records in 1953 [It went unreleased at the time – ed.]. When I was working for him I had no idea he’d done all that. He never mentioned a word about it. In fact, at that time he was the music director for the band at Robertson County High School in Springfield, TN near Nashville.
We had a number of celebrities frequent the Hearth, including Bobby Hebb who wrote and recorded the 1966 pop hit song, “Sunny”. He drove a 1949 gold colored Rolls Royce that looked like new. Each time Bobby came in, he got up with us and sang “Sunny” for everybody and never failed to elicit a big hand.
The mayor of Nashville, Beverly Briley and his wife came in a lot and Mayor Briley always asked me to dance with him to the jukebox when we were on break. He was a head shorter than I was when I wore platform shoes, but it didn’t seem to bother either one of us a bit.
The country/pop singer, Jerry Wallace dropped in and sang with us a time or two, also.
One evening, we got word that country singer Merle Haggard was upstairs in the restaurant eating but planned to come downstairs to the bar and sit in with the band later. As the night wore on, we kept looking for Merle to come down those velvet stairs. He never showed. I finally asked the club owner what happened to him and her answer was: “I had to kick the sorry son-of-a-bitch outta here. He was drunk and knocked a big vase of flowers off of one our tables, then asked me how much he owed us for it. I told him to get out and to never come back.”
So much for some of those rowdy country singers.
A couple of months after I joined the group, Tot hired a trumpet/flugelhorn player, Ben Jones. Ben was a music major at Tennessee State University and was the BEST horn player I’d ever seen or heard. We now had a sax and trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. Can you believe…no guitar. But, we really didn’t need one. The sound we had was just right. Once we tried out a guitar player and it just seemed to clutter up things. Tot and Ben played harmony parts that could put chills on a person. The stage was so small that Ben had to stand on the floor beside the rest of us, but he didn’t seem to care. One night, we were in between songs and a rotund bald gentleman ambled in the door resembling Alfred Hitchcock. I was thinking to myself, boy that man sure looks like Alfred Hitchcock. It was if Ben read my mind because he started playing the theme song to the “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” all by himself. I couldn’t control my laughter, and looked over at Ben and said, “I think you just read my mind.”
Tot and the rest of the guys looked at us like we were both crazy. That Hitchcock-looking man came back on several occasions and each time Ben would play that theme song.
We played only four sets which allowed us to get off at 1:00 AM. I had several friends who worked with bands in downtown Nashville in the world famous Printers’ Alley. Oftentimes I’d go down there and visit and sit in with some of them after I got finished at the Hearth. One particular place I went had been called, the Western Room, the Black Poodle, The Hugh X. Lewis Country Club, and a few other names I can’t remember right off hand. Anyway, I believe it was the Western Room at that time. The house band there was the Nashville Kats. I’d dated one of the pickers in that group for a while so all the guys knew me, plus their girl singer, Dianne Sherrill was a good friend of mine. About any time, one or more celebrities could be seen there drinking, partying, or jamming with the band. I walked in one night and Dianne was standing beside the bar while the band was playing. (It wasn’t time for her to do her part of the show yet.) The first thing I heard was this fantastic guitar player. He was kind of slumped over the guitar and was wearing a cowboy hat, so his face couldn’t be seen. Right away I knew it wasn’t the Nashville Kats’ regular guitar player on account of the style was so different. I asked Dianne, “Who is that playing that knocked out guitar?”
Dianne answered, “That’s Willie Nelson. He just wanted to come in here and jam. He hasn’t even sung one song.” Willie was wearing white slip on tennis shoes, powder blue brushed denim jeans and a matching golf shirt–not at all the attire everyone is now used to seeing him in. That was 1972, before he had the “outlaw” look. What a thrill it was to see Willie in person just having fun and not in his regular stage persona.
Waylon Jennings hung out there a lot, too. Dianne introduced me to him and we talked a while and drank a beer as I asked him a bunch of questions about his band and his music. That particular night he was complaining about all the alimony he was having to pay out. Then, already married to Jesse Colter, he, referring to all his previous marriages, said, “Hell, my alimony payments look like the national debt.” Well, I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him.
Sometimes, after hours, a few of us would head down to the nearest all night restaurant, either the Pancake House or Shoney’s for breakfast. Other times, we’d go to somebody’s house and pick all night. I don’t know how we did that back then. I couldn’t stay up that long, now.
Then there was a time when I stopped by and the band got me up to sing and pick a little bass. The Johnny Rodriguez song, “Pass Me By (if you’re only passing through)” was on the country charts. I’d learned it and decided to sing it that night. Just as I was about half way into the song, Johnny Rodriguez walked in. I didn’t know whether to quit right then or finish the song. My past experience told me to go ahead and finish the song. Ole Johnny was looking right at me, and I thought that song would never come to an end. However, he gave me a big hand. At a loss for words, I said, “If I’d have known you were coming in here, I’d have picked another song.”
Back at the Hearth, it was a Saturday night and we had a packed house. I’d previously made plans to meet up with my friends downtown after I got off. Well this is one night I’ll never forget. Just as we were about to finish the last set, the club owner, (I won’t mention her name) came up to the stage and asked us to play an extra set which put us getting off at 2:00 AM instead of our usual 1:00 AM. This lady had a hot temper…remember her encounter with Merle Haggard. Anyway, as I said, I had already made plans to go to a party, so I asked her how much extra we would be paid if we stayed the extra hour. That old hussy exploded on me. She grabbed me by the arm and jerked me off the stage, in front of the whole crowd, unplugging my bass at the same time. There was a loud pop and hum started as the cord came loose.
“You’re fired!! Get outta here. How dare you to ask how much extra you’ll make!” she shouted.
I said, “Okay, I’ll go. I was looking for a job when I found this one!”
I went on to the party downtown and had a good time.
Before noon the next day, that lady’s husband called me and hired me back, saying his wife had acted in haste. I continued to work there several more months after that.
One of the disadvantages of working at the Hearth was the frigid temperature inside the place. It must’ve been below sixty degrees. To me it felt more like thirty. I could swear I saw my breath one night while singing. When I asked why it was so cold, one of the bartenders explained that people could hold more liquor if the room was cold. I thought that was ridiculous. It made me want hot chocolate or coffee. The club owners wouldn’t allow me to wear pants. I was required to wear a skirt or a long dress/skirt. I started wearing a long skirt, turtle neck sweater, and jacket, and I was still cold–especially my hands. I began wearing thermal underwear to keep my body warm. Then there was the business of keeping my hands warm. Finding an Army surplus store where they sold hunting gear, I bought one of those hand warmers that looked like a oversized Zippo cigarette lighter. My plan was to warm my hands between songs. I mean, my fingers were so numb that I couldn’t feel the strings on my bass. That hand warmer didn’t seem to be enough, so I bought a nice pair of ladies’ white dress gloves. That was the solution, and my fingers could slide all over that bass neck wearing those gloves, allowing me to play smoother. It wasn’t long before I was known all over Nashville as “The Glove Wearing Girl Bass Player”.
The following October, some sales reps from Kustom Electronics came in. At break-time they offered to buy me a drink and invited me to sit at their table. It was obvious that they’d been to some other places before coming in to see us. They were more than generous with their compliments regarding my musicianship and I just fluffed it off thinking they were after something else, if you know what I mean.
Before the break was over the head sales rep told me that they wanted to furnish me with a new Kustom bass amp.
“What? You must be kidding!” I gasped all surprised.
He said that it’d be good advertising; “The Glove Wearing Girl Bass Player” to be seen playing one of their amps. I thought to myself: Right…Now I knew they must’ve been after something else. However, we swapped business cards just in case they were serious and it wasn’t all “drunk talk”.
Three or four months went by and I never heard a word more about it. In fact, I told all my friends about the incident and we all had a good laugh. Then, the following spring, I get a call from some freight company telling me where I could pick up my new Kustom amp. I just couldn’t believe it! They’d actually kept their word. After picking it up and bringing it home, I searched old purses and coat pockets for the Kustom rep’s business card. At last I unearthed it under some rings and bracelets in my jewelry box. I wanted to call and thank them for such a wonderful gift. Luck was with me and I got hold of one of the men I’d met that night at the Hearth. He told me that I was the only person they’d given one of their amps to who wasn’t a known celebrity.
And you know that the funny thing is, I had been saving up to buy an amp just like that one. I felt like the richest person in the world. I still have that amp today and use it in my recording studio from time to time.
I worked at the Hearth until spring of 1973. I learned more about music from Tot and those guys than any band I’d played with before or after that. I never got bored, because we were always learning new material and the type of music we played, necessitating rehearsed arrangements, presented a constant challenge.
After eleven months working with the All Stars I got an offer I couldn’t refuse, playing with an all girl band, Barbara Allen and the Tennessee Hot Pants. It required touring on the road six to eight weeks at a time, but I was able to double my salary. Since I’d already graduated from college, I decided why not. I was ready for a whole new set of adventures.
Before going into my story about the Tennessee Hot Pants, I’d like to go back in time and tell you a little bit about working for Charlie Louvin. [Note: these stories and all those I’ve written so far, are excerpts taken from my book, which is a work in progress, Music Notes…Odyssey of a Lady Musician.]
Charlie is the kind of guy with a personality that people either love or hate. I’ve always liked Charlie and got along with him well during the short time I worked for him. He has a sarcastic kind of wit about him that is not understood by everybody. At times he could come across almost to the point as being insulting. Me, I always thought of him as funny.
I began working for him in February of 1968. He didn’t have a regular road band at the time, so playing behind him Friday and Saturday nights on the Grand Ole Opry fit in perfectly with my college schedule. When he did have a road gig, he took only a guitar player along with him.
I got acquainted with Charlie backstage at the Opry and at times, ran into him at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium where the Opry was held at that time.
Ronnie Blackwell, Charlie’s former bass player and close friend of mine had gone to work for the famed bluegrass group, The Osborne Brothers. As an extra note, Ronnie played on the first recording of “Rocky Top”. He had been teaching me to play electric bass. (Seen in the picture is Ronnie and me and I’m playing his old hot rod Harmony bass.) I’m sad to say that Ronnie passed away in 1978 as a result of a heart attack at age thirty eight. However, his face can be seen on one of Charlie Louvin’s latest CD covers, playing that same Harmony bass.
When I mentioned to Charlie that I was learning to play electric bass he told me that as soon as I learned all his songs that he’d hire me to play with him on the Opry, weekends. It wasn’t long before I’d learned his stuff and approached him, telling him I was ready to play. We went into one of the dressing rooms at the Ryman which doubled as practice rooms and I auditioned. He said I had the job and to call him as soon as I was a member in good standing of the Musicians Union, Local 257.
That first night he introduced me as his new bass player who was going to college at Middle Tennessee State University. He started singing the Louvin Brothers’ hit song, “When I Stop Dreaming” motioning me toward the microphone to sing the harmony parts along with his lead. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t know I was going to be singing. When I opened my mouth, nothing came out. We were in the second chorus before I was able to utter a sound. Later I found out that Charlie was known to pull “fast ones” on his musicians.
His song, “Will You Visit Me On Sundays” was on the charts at that time and I expected him to go straight into that one rather than “When I Stop Dreaming”. I discovered that Charlie might say what song we would be doing before we hit the stage and then change his mind at the last minute. I never knew if he was just playing a practical joke or wanted to keep the rest of us in line.
One night he announced to us he would be doing his song, “See The Big Man Cry” but instead, launched into the old Gene Autry song, “That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine”. I wondered what in the world he was playing, ’cause I’d never heard of that song. I did my best to fall in with it but didn’t have the slightest idea where it was going.
Another joke of his was un-tuning our instruments during a song. He’d walk up to one of us during a ride and twist one or more of the tuning keys on our guitar/bass, laughing the whole time. Then it was up to us to get back in tune while playing the song. Now, that was hard. One time I spied him heading for my bass keys. Just before he got a hand on one, I stated, “If you touch my bass I’m gonna push the DOWN button on your elevator shoes!”
Charlie just laughed and walked off in the other direction. Maybe I should’ve mentioned that Charlie is a little guy, maybe five foot four, and that’d be stretching it, so my comment regarding his elevator shoes seemed appropriate.
We did two shows a night, and early one and a late show. Between shows, we’d either go over to Tootsie’s and drink a beer or two, or go to a movie, depending on how much time we had. A block up the street were several movie theaters, and sometimes Charlie, his wife Betty, the guitar player, the drummer and I marched up the block and saw a movie. Other times, we strolled across Broadway to Linebaugh’s, a little restaurant, which is no longer there, and grabbed a hamburger. All of this was before I had my band. Once I got my group together, I could only play the first show before I had to rush off to my other gig. Charlie used an Opry staff bass player for the second show.
There’s another funny story I want to tell you about when I worked for Charlie: One night I arrived at the Opry and went straight to the dressing room where Charlie and the band were tuning up. I found a place on a countertop to set my bass case, opened it up, took out my bass and began tuning. Charlie had stepped out for a minute and Bill Monroe came in. I didn’t know it at the time, but Bill Monroe was and is known as the Father of Bluegrass Music. I didn’t think of him as important or anything–he was just some old man who played a mandolin. He pointed at my case and said, “Who does this belong to?”
“It’s mine,” I answered.
“Well, move it. That’s my spot.” he stated in an arrogant tone.
“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.
“Get it out of the way. That’s where I put my case.”
I moved mine to a corner on the floor. He put his case in place of mine, took out his mandolin and left the room. When Charlie came back in I told him all about what had just happened. Charlie said, “Well, you should have told that old cranky codger that if he had a certain spot for his case that he should’ve had his name written on it.”
“I’ll do that next time,” I declared. But I never put my case there again. Some of the other guys said that it was a known fact Bill Monroe put his case in the same spot each time and nobody questioned it. I thought that was ridiculous but cooperated just the same.
Today among his fans, Charlie is associated with bluegrass music on account of the days when he performed with his brother, Ira. Ira played a mandolin, Charlie played an acoustic guitar and they sang close harmony. During the time I worked with Charlie, he did not want to be associated with bluegrass music. Bluegrass music was not as popular as it is today by no means. In fact, it was considered the music of hicks and hill folk, whereas country music was thought of as more uptown. People were always telling him how much they enjoyed his bluegrass music. Each time he’d abruptly correct them saying, “I don’t and never have played bluegrass, I’ve never had a banjo in my band. The music I play is country.” His criterion for being bluegrass was having a banjo in the group. I always found that to be funny, because the Louvin Brothers as an act was about as bluegrass as one could get. With the new found popularity of bluegrass music today, I believe Charlie isn’t quite as eager to make those contradictions as he was at one time.
I’d like to say that my time as Charlie Louvin’s bass player was most enjoyable. The camaraderie I had with Charlie, the other musicians and Opry members is invaluable. The Louvin Brothers have since been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and I’m proud to say that I once worked for Charlie.
The Tennessee Hot Pants
One evening while I was at the Hearth, a gentleman came in, introducing himself as Jean Shepard’s booking agent. Jean was a friend of mine and I had heard her speak of this person. He said another agent had told him that an all girl band was looking for a drummer and went on to say that he’d heard that I also played drums. Well, I’m here to tell you I was just barely a drummer, but I took down the name and number of that agent and called her the next day just to check it out. That band, I won’t call their name, just happened to be there when I showed up at the agent’s office.
The agent,( I’ll call her Sally) introduced me to them and right away I’m thinking, whoa, I don’t think so. You see, they were a lesbian band and I wanted no part of that. I eased out of that situation and told them the truth–that it was a mistake that I really wasn’t a drummer. I didn’t lie because, although I’d played a little bit of drums, even had my own set, drums weren’t my main thing. I thanked them for their time and left. However, I did notice a picture of another all girl band hanging on the wall of Sally’s office that didn’t have the same “look” as the group I’d just met. Printed on the photo was the name, “Barbara Allen and The Tennessee Hot Pants” The next day I called Sally back and told her that bass was actually my primary instrument and asked her about the band I saw in the picture. Her answer was, “What a coincidence, they just so happened to be looking for a bass player. In fact, Barbara, the leader told me that as soon as she found a replacement, she was going to fire the one they have because she stays drunk all the time.”
I laughed to myself, it seemed I was always replacing drunk bass players.
Sally said that they played country music with a rock edge. I told her that was just what I liked.
She said that she’d have Barbara call me. A week or so later, I got a call from Barbara; we set up an audition and I had the job. I told her that I needed to give Tot and the guys two weeks notice and she said that was no problem since they were off for the next three weeks.
Our first gig was in Boston, about a thirty hour drive from Nashville. The day before we left town, Barbara came by and picked up my bass and my new Kustom amp to pack with the rest of the equipment. She was driving a 1963 Cadillac pulling a U-Haul. The muffler was belching loud noises and the tires hadn’t seen any tread in quite awhile. I asked her, “Is there room in that car for all of us?”
“Oh sure,” she replied. “We’ll be picking up the drummer in Boston. That’s where she’s from.” I was wondering if that car could even make the trip and once we picked up the other girl would there be enough room?
I must tell you, I am a stickler for punctuality. The next day Barbara was to pick me up at 10:00 AM to embark on our trip and I was ready and waiting. I waited and waited. Noon rolled around and still, no Barbara. I called her number and got no answer. I called Sally and she told me that Barbara sometimes ran late for appointments and not to worry, she’d eventually show up. Before long, it was two o’clock and I still hadn’t heard from her. By that time I was getting worried about my bass and amp she had in that U-Haul. My imagination began to take flight and I thought she may have stolen my stuff. By 2:30 I decided to run to the store and get a six pack of beer, leaving a note on the door that I’d be right back. By 4:30 I’d consumed three out of the six beers, and was reaching into the fridge for a fourth when she finally showed up. I was disgusted and a little tipsy so I didn’t care what I said to her. “Just what in the hell took you so long? I’ve been waiting since ten o’clock!”
“Oh, I had to pack and run a few errands.” was her nonchalant answer.
Can you believe that was the only explanation she could give me. I almost told her to go on without me, but thought better of it.
She had Donna, the guitar player with her and Donna didn’t open her mouth. I grabbed my bags and the three beers I had left and we lit out. They didn’t talk much at first. I think they were a bit worried about my drinking all that beer. I didn’t drink but one more because they’d begun to get hot. I put the two unopened cans I had left in my purse. Finally, after we were a couple of hundred miles out of town, and I had pretty well sobered up, Barbara and Donna broke out laughing.
“Hey, what are y’all laughing about?” I asked as I leaned over the back seat looking toward the front.
“We were hoping that we didn’t have us another drunken bass player.” said Barbara between gasps of laughter.
“Well I can assure you, I don’t stay drunk. I just got tired of waiting all day for you to show up.” I replied.
Donna said, “There’s one thing you’ll have to understand about Barbara: she’s late for everything except our gigs and then she’s barely on time.”
“Well, okay. Now I know.” I answered.
I found that to be true more than a time or two. There were many occasions when we had to dress for the gig while traveling down the road, then unload all our equipment after we arrived, plus set up. We got to where we could set up within ten minutes. We had one of those Shure Vocalmaster PA sets that had two six foot columns. There were times I trotted into the club we were playing carrying a column in each hand like a couple of suitcases. Those things were heavy, but a schedule of one nighters will soon get a person in shape.
It was a surprise, but we did make it to Boston without any car trouble or flat tires. We had a week’s sit-down job at The Hillbilly Ranch downtown. Consequently, we got to stay in a motel for a week. Barbara said the club owner was furnishing our room. When we arrived I met Kathy Burkly, our drummer and she was the best drummer I’d ever seen up to that point. She was barely eighteen and had just that week graduated from high school. After finishing up in Boston we headed for a weekender in Rhode Island. Barbara, Kathy and I took turns driving; Donna didn’t drive but helped the rest of us stay awake on the long hauls. I had, and still do have trouble with my vision in that I have no depth perception, plus I don’t see well at night. I didn’t say anything to the rest of them about it since I wanted to do my part. We were on our way south coming out of New England. It was my turn to drive. That tour was the first time I’d ever driven a car while pulling a trailer. (And it was the last…I haven’t done it since.) Anyway, I was approaching the outskirts of New York City. Here I was fighting all that fast traffic pulling that U-Haul. I didn’t know it at that moment, but I was scaring the crap out of the other three girls. Barbara told me that as soon as there was an exit, to pull off and let her drive.
I breathed a sigh of relief. My hands were sweaty, and my heart was pounding. Yes! I was thrilled to no end that my turn at the wheel was over. I must’ve scared them pretty bad because that was my last time I drove as long as I traveled with them. Barbara said, “Okay, Jean we about shit our pants while you were driving. From now on Kathy and I will handle the driving and you and Donna will take turns riding “shotgun”. That was all right with me, however, it was sometimes harder to stay awake when not concentrating on the road, after a long night of playing, tearing down, and loading up all that equipment.
That tour lasted about three weeks. While we were off, Barbara sold her Cadillac and bought a twenty-eight foot motor home. That thing rode like a buckboard, but at least we could get up and walk around some. It had a shower and bathroom, but the drums stayed stacked in the shower and we weren’t allowed to do “number two” in the toilet. After acquiring the motor home, Barbara decided we no longer had to get a motel, that we could just live in that vehicle. She said it’d save her a lot of money. Well, I’m here to tell you, that was when I got real disenchanted with that job. I hated living like “circus people”. There was no place to take a shower or wash our hair. We either parked at the club or at a shopping center parking lot. I got to going into the ladies room during the day at the clubs where we were booked and shampooing my hair. Standing up at those nasty sinks, I washed my body all and shaved my legs. One time I even washed my hair at a Walmart in Rhode Island. (the first Walmart I’d ever seen) The odd thing was, not having a place to bathe didn’t seem to bother the other three girls. They just ran a pan of water out of the holding tank of the motor home, sponged off and sprayed cologne and deodorant on themselves. They thought I was weird for complaining. In fact, they dubbed me as “Jean, Miss Hygiene”. Sometimes we got lucky and the club furnished rooms. That’s when I’d take a long shower every day while we were there and relish each minute of it. And you know what, to this very day, each evening when I step into the shower I think about how lucky I am to have a place to wash up.
I can tell you that we had a lot of strange experiences while on the road. This one was no different. It was late September and the weather in New England was starting to get chilly. The colorful foliage was like postcards I’d seen. Farmers had vegetable stands on the side of the road and we stopped and bought some fresh tomatoes and some Macintosh apples. We had a one nighter at a place in Vermont called Frye’s Barn. It was in the afternoon and the sun was already starting to move lower in the sky. Winding through the steep White Mountains Barbara kept searching for the address. We couldn’t understand where in the world it could be. There was no town nearby and all that was visible were farms and country houses. Accustomed to seeing some kind of sign denoting the venue, we kept looking and saw nothing. After circling around and backtracking we spotted an address matching the one Barbara had written on our contract. “This just can’t be it,” I said. “I don’t see anything but an old barn. There’s no club here.”
“Well, I’m pulling in here anyway.” Barbara said. “Maybe somebody around here can give us some directions if this isn’t the place.”
The motor home wobbled it’s way up a winding driveway to the top of a steep hill where it’d leveled off. There was a what looked like a two story dairy barn. Cows were walking around every which direction, un-tethered and not fenced in. Barbara got out and went inside to ask questions. She wasn’t gone but a couple of minutes, when she was back opening the door to our traveling house, “This is it!”
“You must be kidding! Where is the club?” we were all asking.
Barbara pointed to the second floor of the dairy barn, “Up those steps in that barn.”
“Naw, it can’t be…” I was saying in disbelief.
“Yeah it is. All right, let’s get to unloading.” Barbara directed.
I was still in pure shock. Who would come see us out in the middle of nowhere and cows milling around everywhere?
We proceeded to unload our equipment and I remember like it was yesterday rolling my new Kustom amp with its shiny chrome wheels through cow manure and it getting clogged in the wheels. Then we had to carry all that stuff up a set of narrow rickety wooden stairs to the second floor.
Once we were inside, I noticed the place had wooden plank floors and the stage was elevated at the far end of the building. There were a few picnic tables scattered about and wooden benches lined the wall. At the other end was a bar made out of the same wood planks as everything else was and a snack bar to the opposite side of the main door. Alcohol wasn’t served there, because we were told it was a family place. I kept wondering if anyone would show up in such a remote area.
That evening I was in for a big surprise. I don’t know where they came from, but the place was packed. It looked as if we’d gone back in time. The women all had long hair and were dressed in floor length pioneer dresses and wearing leather combat-style boots. Most of the men were wearing bib overalls and slouchy hats. The children were dressed the same way. What a weird place, I thought to myself.
Starting our first set we did our own up-beat rendition of “Proud Mary” and the dance floor filled up. As the night progressed I got to noticing some of the men going outside, then coming back in. We figured out they were going out to their cars for a snort since the place didn’t serve alcohol.
Around the third set, a man dressed in a beige trench coat approached the front of the stage. We were playing an up-tempo number and Donna motioned for me to look at the guy standing out front. There he was with all his manhood hanging out and bouncing to the beat…and this was supposed to be a family place. Barbara turned around from her keyboard and told us to keep playing that she was going after the manager. Before the song ended, the manager had quietly escorted the flasher out of the building.
Later that night after we’d finished and were back on the road we all had a big laugh about the flasher saying things like, “We should’ve left him alone. Wonder what he would’ve done to the beat of a slow one?”
Those laughs we had made some of the not-so-pleasant events of the road more worthwhile.
The Military Bases
We played a number of Air Force and Naval bases up through New England, and every place we went we got an unbelievable reception for us to be virtually “nobodies”.
We were at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth NH and they furnished us with a PA so we didn’t have to unload ours. This was one of those huge Voice of the Theatre PAs with treble horns at the top of each cabinet. Before show time we did a sound check, and I began singing into the mic. The sound was incredible! I couldn’t believe it was actually me I was hearing. Back in those days few bands had monitors so it was indeed a surprise for one to hear one’s self. There was no one in the club when we did our sound check, but that night when we walked onto the stage the place was packed to overflowing. They were screaming, whistling, and applauding so loud that we could hardly hear ourselves, even with those big speakers. I could only imagine what the Beatles experienced. I can say… that was fun.
We played at Groton Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. That was where I acquired the name, “Imajean”
We had just gotten back on stage after a break, when one of those Navy boys approached me and asked me my name. The jukebox was still blaring so the guy couldn’t hear me very well. I answered saying, “I’m Jean.”
He said, “Imajean. Well good to meet you Imajean. You shore are purty!”
The rest of the night he was calling me Imajean.
“Hey Imajean, do you know certain such a song.”
That was all it took for me to be kidded by the rest of the band…they all called me Imajean from then on when they were kidding about something.
The next day we were invited to have lunch on a real submarine. We had to make our way through a small hole at the top of the vessel and climb down a steep ladder. For drinks, we were served green Kool-Aid, which they called bug juice. They explained that carbonated beverages were not allowed–something about the carbonation under water. We toured the ship and there were places we were not allowed to see because they were considered “classified”. We never left the dock, but I never dreamed I’d be on a submarine.
Of all the experiences I had playing military bases, this was the most memorable. We had to get a bunch of inoculations before going over seas, then had to have special work permits. We didn’t need a passport since we were working for a military base. The plan was that we were to fly to Greenland out of McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey on a cargo plane. It just so happened that the time we were to leave that there were none available so a DC-9 jet was chartered to transport us to Greenland. We were the only ones on the plane other than the pilot, co-pilot and a steward. I happened to mention to the co-pilot that I’d never seen the inside of a jet cockpit and he invited me to sit in front in the steward’s seat between the pilot and himself. Never have I seen so many lights and buttons. The view was magnificent and scary all at the same time. We landed in Goose Bay for refueling and I took my place back in the passenger cabin.
As we were about to land in Thule, looking out my window I could see icebergs floating on the ocean below. There was a majestic rocky mountain straight ahead of us, and it looked like were headed right into the side of it. I held my breath and soon we were on the other side approaching the landing strip.
As soon as we landed we were outfitted with government issued parkas and briefed on how to handle the severe weather conditions, rules and regulations, such as no men allowed in our barracks, when and where we were to have our meals, etc. We happened to be there in December, during their dark season. When I say dark season, I mean it was night time twenty-four hours a day the whole three weeks we were there. Although the temperature stayed between forty and sixty below, it felt more like twenty above anywhere else, because of the extremely low humidity. Even though there was hard packed snow on the ground, we were told that it did not snow there. The snow we saw had been delivered by wind. The whole base was situated on a polar ice cap.
It was strange to be going to lunch at noon when it looked like midnight. Arctic foxes hung around the mess hall and we fed them scraps from our meals. I found out their dark season lasted six months out of the year, then it was daylight all the time for the other six months.
We were told that some of the service men there hadn’t seen a woman in over a year except for some of the entertainers who came and went. Therefore, each of us had to be assigned a body guard. The body guards were Danish civilians and traveled with us every place we went on the base. Trouble was, we needed more body guards to protect us from the body guards we already had. Those guys had, as the old saying goes, “Roman hands and Russian fingers”. My protector kept trying to get me to go off somewhere and have sex with him and I just laughed it off brushing away his hands at the same time.
Being in an all girl band was definitely a novelty. Each place we showed up the crowds were a bit rowdy and loud. However, that was nothing next to the reception we received when we opened our show in Thule Greenland. There were whistles, cat calls, applause, stomping, whooping and hollering. The stage was a large auditorium size and there was a space backstage for us to stay during our breaks. After our first set, I knew what that backstage area was for. What happened next came as a surprise. As soon as we stepped off that stage, hands came from all directions and my butt felt like I’d landed into a bed of lobsters. After escaping all the pinchers, I hurried back to the stage, body guard in tow, and ran behind the curtain. It wasn’t long before Barbara and the rest followed.
“What was that, a feeding frenzy?” I asked.
“Oh that happens to all women who come here.” the body guard answered in broken English.
From that night until the last night we played there, all our breaks were taken backstage. The body guards brought us our drinks.
I found out that we were only five hundred miles south of the north pole. We were taken on a tour of the Air Force base and were told that it was actually a missile tracking station. Our tour started with us being shown the various buildings around the base and then we were taken under ground. There was a whole city below, with streets and everything. We saw rooms with giant screens showing maps of the world and strategic locations of the various military bases all over the world. It was my understanding that they were equipped to intercept any enemy missile coming in the direction of the United States. Like when we toured the submarine, we were shown some things while others were classified information.
With all that said, I really did enjoy our time in Greenland. We each had our own room and I got to take a shower daily. Plus, we were in one spot and didn’t have any long trips between gigs. I loved those sit-down jobs.
We returned to Greenland twice more while I traveled with the Hot Pants, each time during the night season. When back in the USA it was always good to see the sunshine again.
Fairs and Carnivals
The following spring we played several fairs and carnivals. One in particular I remember was in upstate New York, a town called Addison. The weather was just right, not too hot and we were outside. There were at least two or three thousand people at the show. After we finished several people came up for autographs. We weren’t famous so I had trouble understanding why anyone would want our autograph. I signed everything from casts, to bare backs, programs, to pictures. All those folks were friendly saying they wanted us to come back to their fair the following year.
We appeared at the Dallastown Fair in Pennsylvania in an amphitheater. We got ourselves ready for our performance back stage and when it was time for us to come out, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was during the day so we could see everything well. There were people as far as the eye could see. In the distance the faces turned into little dots. I’d never before seen that many people in one place. We started our first number and suddenly I forgot how to play. My bass felt like something strange hanging around my neck. Barbara turned around and looked at me wondering why I wasn’t playing. I was purely dumbfounded. That was the worst case of stage fright I’d ever experienced. Before the song was over, however, I was back to playing. It didn’t seem to bother the other band members at all. I guess I didn’t expect to see that many eyes watching us.
That spring and summer we played a whole circuit of fairs all the way from New York, to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. The fair food we feasted on was delicious and I loved the reaction of all the crowds.
The Places We Played
We traveled to places as far west as Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and as far north as Maine and Canada. I always wanted to go down south toward Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, but our agent only had contacts in the north.
I had my Fender Precision bass stolen right off the stage in Detroit. Donna’s guitar wasn’t touched. We were playing at the Crazy Horse Saloon which was part of a motel in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. We got our instruments tuned up before the show, then left for about thirty or forty minutes to get a bite to eat. When we got back, my bass was gone. Nobody in the bar saw a thing. Anyway for the rest of the night I played tambourine. On the remainder of the tour, I rented a bass from a music stores until we got back home. I just happened to have my old Fender Mustang bass at home which I used until I could order another like the one I had.
Some of the other places we played were the Harvard Lounge in Concord NH, Kevin’s Korner in Boston, the Ridge Runner Club in Milus, Massachusetts, then on north to the Bear’s Den located near an Indian reservation in Ontario, Canada. That place was one of the nicest, plush dinner clubs we’d played until just after midnight when those Indians got full of “fire water” and all the fighting started. There were glasses and beer bottles flying every which way. Barbara said for us to keep playing during all that commotion so I stooped down behind my amp to dodge all the flying debris. At quitting time that place looked like a tornado had swept through. The club owner said that happened every Saturday night. We worked a week at the Strand Lounge in Moncton, New Brunswick and then on to Prince Edward Island in Canada where we had to catch a ferry to get there. We were booked in the club where Anne Murray got her start.
Then traveling west again, we were back in Detroit at Gordon’s Lounge where we were asked to play while the strippers did their thing. Barbara told the club manager no, that weren’t hired to back strippers, that there was nothing in our contract saying we had to do so. We were just about to start tearing down our equipment and walk out of there when the manager agreed for us to stay and not have to supply the music for the strippers. When we took our break the strippers took the stage and performed to the music of the jukebox. On about our third set I did the song, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. After the first chorus and the ride I decided to do something crazy on the second chorus. I turned around and told Kathy to go into a strip tease beat on the next chorus. As the chorus started I was singing “When tears come down, like falling rain…” and Kathy was playing that strip tease beat. I started kicking my legs up in the air one at a time to the rhythm, and the crowd went wild. You might say I was making fun of those strippers. Loud yells and whistles came from the audience telling me to “take it off” (of course I didn’t). I thought Barbara, Donna, and Kathy would bust a gut laughing. I had to do that song two more times like that before we finished for the night.
From then on, that was our new arrangement for “Your Cheatin’ Heart”…straight through to the second chorus, then the strip beat. Everywhere we played, thereafter, that song got a rousing applause.
I could tell you a lot more stories about my time with the Tennessee Hot Pants, but it would take up too much space. The last place I worked with them was the New Plaza Motel in Brewer, Maine. I’d like to interject, that I recently read that my favorite author, Stephen King was living in Brewer at that same time before he was famous, and I often wonder if he ever came in to see us. We were there for two weeks on two or three different occasions…Just a thought. Ha. I keep looking for us in one of his books.
Anyway, I left the Hot Pants in February of 1974 to pursue other endeavors. I was fed up with living like a vagabond. Upon returning to Nashville I played with various bands from time to time, but ultimately quit the music business altogether.
Scratching The Music Itch
I couldn’t stay away from music forever, so in 1989 I taught myself how to be a recording engineer. I ordered books, subscribed to publications giving recording tips to their readers, and took a mail-order course on the subject. Having my garage converted into a studio, by 1990 after borrowing money from the bank to buy all the necessary equipment and outboard gear I had my own commercial business. At the same time, I worked a day job as a quality control chemist, doing what I was trained for in college. Nights and weekends I worked the studio.
In 1996 I met my husband, Ellis Starkey who was a musician and writer. We got together and co-wrote some songs and fell in love. He always says that music is like a drug addiction. Once hooked, you can never kick the habit. Ellis, whom I call Butch, and I have now put out four comedy/music CDs, and have submitted over thirty-five individual projects to a major record company. Our act is called “Butch and Jean”. After all these years, we are still scratching that music itch, trying to get “something going”.
In these stories I’ve told you, some are about music directly and some are not…but the ones that are not were all made possible because of the music.
Well here I’ve come full circle. It all started with a garage band and now I’m back in the garage with my studio. From a garage band to a garage studio.
l-r: Tom Minga, Dale Roark, Ronny Williamson, Ron Gorden and Bennie Kisner.
The Escapades were among the dozens of working teen bands in Memphis in the mid-’60s. Vocalist Tommy Minga had been part of the Jesters, who cut “Cadillac Man” for Sun Records. Though Minga was the primary songwriter for the Jesters and is given songwriting credit for “Cadillac Man”, the song was actually written by Jesters guitarist Teddy Paige. Paige disliked Minga’s vocal arrangement on an early take of the song and forced Minga out of the band soon after the session. Jim Dickinson was brought in to play piano and sing on the released version.
Within a couple months of leaving the Jesters in late 1965, Minga formed a new version of the Escapades with Bennie Kisner guitar, Ron Gorden keyboards, Dale Roark (not Rourke as has been listed before) bass and Ronny Williamson drums.
They released their first 45, “I Tell No Lies”, on the local Arbet label in January of 1966. The band moves seamlessly from verse to chorus, with swirling organ playing from Gorden and solid bass playing from Roark propelling the rhythm for Tom Minga’s strong vocal. Bennie Kisner provides a neat sitar-like solo on his Rickenbacker.
“She’s the Kind” is a little slower in tempo, and reminds me of the Zombies, Minga at times sounding very much like Colin Blunstone. Ronnie Gorden and Ron Williamson wrote “I Tell No Lies”, while Minga, Gorden and Roark wrote “She’s the Kind”.
This record was picked up by the XL label, but it’s unfortunate that Verve didn’t re-release it when they signed the band soon after its release, as “I Tell No Lies” should have had some chance at chart action.
Despite Kisner’s hard riffing fuzz sound, their second 45 doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first. Released on Verve in May of 1966, it failed to ignite the charts and the band was dropped.
The flip, “I Try So Hard” may be the band’s most ordinary composition, but Bennie Kisner’s interesting guitar picking is a highlight, and sounds great with headphones. Both sides are credited to the entire band, and produced by Stan Kesler.
The draft broke up the group in 1967. Ron Gorden joined the Bar-Kays and later worked as an artist for Stax.
Keyboard player Ron Gorden contacted me with the photos you see here and his story about the band:
Our first release “I Tell No Lies” was on a small independent label in Memphis. As it had success regionally, we were signed by Verve Records, a subsidiary of MGM Records, through Phillips Recording Studio (Sam Phillips of Sun Records/Elvis, Jerry Lee, etc. fame) with Stan Kessler producing us. For some reason the decision was made to not release I Tell No Lies nationally on Verve, but to record another song. So “Mad, Mad, Mad” was the result. I agree with you that it is unfortunate that “I Tell No Lies” did not have a chance to go further. I see it sell on E-Bay these days for as much as $350 for a 45rpm. I wish I had stashed a case of them!
The band wasn’t actually dropped by the label. We split up due to the draft, as you said on your site. Williamson, Roark, and Minga all entered the service. I continued in music for several years, ending with the Bar-Kays (1968-1970) before going to work for Stax Records where I eventually became Advertising Manager. During my tenure there, I was directly responsible for coordinating the development of more than 130 album covers and the trade and consumer advertising that accompanied those products. We did great work and won numerous awards including a “Grammy Award” nomination for package design (“Isaac Hayes Live at Sahara Tahoe”).
Benny Kisner died sometime in the late Seventies. Tom Minga died in approximately 2000. Williamson now lives in North Mississippi and does not play drums anymore. I am in Northwest Arkansas, where I own an insurance agency. I do not play professionally any more, but sometimes play in church.
Thank you to Ron Gorden for the photos and story on the band. The Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men: the Sun Masters includes Minga’s vocal take of the Jesters’ “Cadillac Man” along with some great Minga originals and an unreleased Escapades track, “What You Know About Love”. I highly recommended it.
The Ravin’ Blue recorded two 45s in Nashville for producer Jack Clement and the Monument label.
Lead guitarist Bob Bernard wrote their best side, “It’s Not Real” and co-wrote “Love” with band members Art Christopher and Larry Nix. Art Christopher Jr. wrote the top side of their second record, the more pop-flavored “Colors” which was backed with “In My Sorrow”.
Neither record seems to have done very well, though their first received a release in Germany, France and Italy, and “Colors” also had a German release with a rare picture sleeve of the band.
I hadn’t been able to find out much about the group until I heard from Charlie Davis, drummer of the Cavaliers of Mississippi, who wrote to me:
I played drums on the session with The Ravin’ Blue…. “Love” and “It’s Not Real”. They were all attending Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS and were called The Knights from Starkville. We also had Jo Frank and the Knights from Leland, MS: “Can’t Find a Way”.
The Viet Nam war was raging about this time and The Knights drummer was drafted. We [the Cavaliers] were playing a gig which [Knights bassist] Jimmy Johnson had heard about and was looking for talent (for the manager of The Gentrys out of Memphis). He phoned me afterwards and asked if I would do the session. I had just completed my sophomore year of high school.
We laid down the instrumental tracks at a studio in Memphis, TN named Sonic Studios owned by Roland Janes, where Travis Womack cut the instrumental “Scratchy”. And yes it was produced by Jack Clement from Nashville. They also changed their name to The Ravin’ Blue. The vocals were added at Sun/Phillips studio the following Monday but I had returned to school. So, later on Jimmy Johnson mailed me one copy which I lost and never heard the songs again until I made contact through a friend that knew Bob Bernard about six years ago.
That was the only session or time that I was hired but Jimmy Johnson did phone me a few months later to join the group and to be on the TV show Hullabaloo but I was already in a rock ‘n’ roll group and still in high school. I don’t know if they were ever on that TV show..
sleeve for ’60s Italian release
sleeve for ’60s French release
Rare German sleeve for “Colors” that shows the only photo of the band I’ve ever seen Does anyone have this sleeve or the photo in better quality?