I love it when I can listen to good music and just forget about the world for a while!
Music is really important to me. I’ve always been into music – and these days, now that I’m semi-retired, I’m leaning on it more and more. The other day, somebody asked me how it became such an important part of my life. I don’t know, but I’m guessing if you were to ask a musician, or other people like me who just love to listen, they would probably tell you it’s something you feel, as well as hear. It’s hard to explain. You either get it or you don’t.
When I was a kid growing up in a small town, I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of music except what I heard in my own house. And what I heard there was mostly bluegrass and country. It’s all my father cared about, and therefore, all that was on… to the exclusion of all other genres. He didn’t like it if I tried to play anything else. I got sick of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, banjos and fiddles. Occasionally, he would listen to Johnny Cash, and I always liked him. (I guess even then, I figured out that Johnny was sort of an outlaw… a rebel… and I liked his deep voice. And when I saw him on TV, he seemed to have a cool attitude.) Mostly, though, it was the bluegrass stuff, and everything else was off-limits, when Dad was around.
Random thought: At some point in my childhood, I remember standing on stage all alone singing “The Wanderer” by Dion. I think I may have been around twelve at the time. (Guess I must not have been very shy in front of an auditorium crowd!)
Anyway, when my father wasn’t around, my Mom would sometimes break out a little Fats Domino or Elvis music. Maybe play some Sam Cooke songs or something from Little Richard. I recall, also, that she liked Roy Orbison and Bo Diddley. I love all those artists to this day… especially Sam Cooke.
At my mother’s insistence, I started taking piano lessons when I was about eight. I did that for four years, and it was okay, but I hated practicing every afternoon, when I could be outside playing baseball, football or basketball, instead, with my friends. I played all three — whatever was in season. Finally, she allowed me to quit piano and concentrate on sports, which is all I wanted to do. I was too young and dumb, I guess, to make the obvious connection between my piano lessons and the music I had grown to love by Fats Domino and Little Richard, who both pounded away on the keyboard. Eventually, I forgot everything I knew about playing piano, and years later, regretted it. I could have used those skills when the guys in high school were trying to get a rock band going! We never had a keyboard player, and all I could do was sing a little and play the tambourine, which didn’t require a lot of skill.
In 1964, I was in ninth grade, and that’s when The Beatles came along! The first song that comes to mind from those days was “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” And the flip side of the record was “I Saw Her Standing There.” What a bargain! I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, just like everybody else around my age, and from that day on, I was changed. I had a friend, Jimmy Adcox, who was one of the first to get an album entitled “With The Beatles,” and I remember going to his house a couple of times after school to listen to it, until I could save up enough money to get my own copy.
I loved just about everything the Beatles did, and then I really got into the Rolling Stones, Animals, Dave Clark Five, Zombies and all the other British Invasion acts. There was something new and exciting coming out every day back then, and my interest in music exploded. Of course, I also gained a new appreciation for all those talented rhythm and blues artists in America, because their music served as an inspiration for all the English performers. I’m so glad that happened because so many African-Americans, particularly blues artists, got a whole bunch of exposure. They were right here all the time, and we just didn’t fully appreciate them. I have more than made up for it since then, though, I can promise you that!
My last couple of years in high school, I was really into the Beatles and the Stones, but also was obsessed with Motown groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops. I always thought those sounds coming out of the Motor City were so smooth and polished, and the harmonies were amazing! The Tempts were my favorites, but they were all great. There was some great music from Memphis, and Alabama, too, primarily STAX artists like Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Booker T & the MG’s, and my all-time #1 favorite, Otis Redding. The sounds that came out of those STAX recording studios were somehow more raw and passionate. About that same time there were other prominent soul artists, like Wilson Pickett, the Impressions and Aretha Franklin. I loved them all, and still do.
I hung out with other guys who were really into music, too. Mostly the soul stuff, and a lot of that is classified as beach music. In my opinion, a lot of it is one and the same. We were always singing – harmonizing, if you will – and that was so much fun. My best friend in those days was Jim Maples, and I did most of my singing with him. He had an amazing voice, much better than mine, and he actually went on to sing lead in some bands later on.
We were in choir together, where we sang bass, but what we loved most of all was singing those songs by the soul groups. We found other guys who loved it just as much, like Bill Wallace and Jimmy Welch. I’m telling you, those were the days! In the summer, we would get away to the beach as often as we could, and our music was always playing there, which just increased my obsession with it. I was never much of a dancer, so shagging to the tunes was never my thing, but I was crazy about what I was hearing! By that time, I had really started getting into a lot more rock stuff, too, even some of the psychedelic music out there, but my love of Motown and STAX has never diminished.
After high school, I got hired to do odd jobs at a local textile mill, along with a couple of other college-age guys… Larry O’Brien and Ken Erby. They were fans of the same music I loved, so that only served to deepen my affection for it. In fact, during the two summers we worked there together, we met a guy who actually looked like one of the Temptations. So much so that Larry and I started calling him “David Ruffin.”
Then I went to Sandhills Community College in Southern Pines, and during my second year, got my very first radio job back in Rockingham. Bill Futterer, who was in my high school graduating class, was the afternoon disk jockey at WAYN, which his father owned. His show was from 4:00 in the afternoon until sign off at sundown, and it was called “Platter Chatter.” Billy played almost exclusively Beach Music and his show was really popular. I think he had decided to take a year off after high school before heading away to college at Carolina. When he went to Chapel Hill in 1968, that left his slot open at the station and I applied for it. I had no experience at all, except for doing some PA announcing for a local semi-pro baseball team, but for some reason, they decided to hire me! I will forever be grateful to Bill, Mr. Futterer, and Jimmy Smith, who ended up doing the morning show on that station for even longer than I did years later at WCHL. He was a local legend, and I really learned a lot from him. I would commute to school in Southern Pines, and then race back to Rockingham to do my show, starting at 4. The music was the same. All soul and beach music, and I loved it! There was a nightclub called The Coachman & 4 in Bennettsville, South Carolina, which wasn’t too far away, and we all went there a lot. That place had some amazing acts, and I had been trying to catch as many as I could, although I was always limited by an acute lack of money to buy tickets! Now, I had this radio job, which meant I could get in for free, and had the chance to interview some of the famous artists who performed there, including Jerry Butler, Eddie Floyd, and Billy Scott, just to name a few. Unfortunately, I have none of those old recordings now. I would give anything if I had had the good sense to save them!
While I was still at Sandhills, Jim Maples transferred there. We used to sing in the student lounge, and had a lot of people convinced that we were Don & Juan, who had recorded a great song a few years earlier called “What’s Your Name.” If anybody questioned us, we would just sing a verse to try and convince them. We also hooked up with three other guys at Sandhills who loved to sing as much as we did. And they were better than we were. I wish I could remember their names, but it’s been too long. The bass singer’s name was Dennis, and he looked and had a voice like Melvin Franklin of The Temptations. We did some Tempts’ songs, but mostly tunes by The Impressions. We would sometimes practice in the men’s room at the student lounge, and when we came out, the hallway would be packed with people who came to listen! We even entered a school talent show, and sang “I’m So Proud.” We should have won because our lead singer sounded like Curtis Mayfield. I swear. I hope Jim and I were able to hold up our end of the bargain. That lead singer, by the way, had a yellow Nehru jacket that he let me borrow for a few weeks. I wore it a lot, and I thought it was cool! You probably don’t know what a Nehru jacket looks like; I guess you have to be of a certain age!
It was the following year when my tastes in music really started to broaden. That’s when I went to Appalachian State and started listening to a lot of rock and roll, and was surrounded by a lot of West Coast “hippie music.” I’ll talk about that in my next column!
Chapelboro.com does not charge subscription fees. You can support local journalism and our mission to serve the community. Contribute today – every single dollar matters.