Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Long Live Rock n' Roll

I rediscovered something last week that I hadn't realized I had lost; the redemptive power of music, and particularly, playing music. I was asked to participate in a reunion of musicians that were popular in the "garage band" era of the mid-60s. I had been asked to take part in similar gatherings in the past and respectfully declined, but this time I was asked by Larry Raspberry as part of a free outreach for his local church, Heartsong Church, who's motto is "The Church That Rocks." I have known Larry since we were both 11 year old students of the same guitar teacher, Lyn Vernon. Our teenage competition between the Gentrys and the Radiants and Larry's formation of the Highsteppers and his unequaled live performances made me a fan as well as a friend. So even though I couldn't field a team for the event from a combination of my founding partners being out of town and the loss of four band members in the last 15 years, I agreed to represent the Radiants even before I heard the stellar line-up.

Of news to a particular generation of Memphians that will befuddle everyone else were the announced reunions of Flash and the Casuals/Board of Directors and the first full performance since 1967 of Tommy Burk and the Counts. These are the bands that provided the music for our precious memories before an unpopular war forced the end to our innocence. My eagerness grew when I heard the musicians who were coming in from out of town were dear friends from a half dozen different combinations of acoustic trios to electric bands that I worked with over the last 40 years. Raspberry organized the event from Los Angeles while the church provided the hall, sound, multi-media screens, and house band; Wing and a Prayer, consisting of perennial premier players Dave Smith, Gene Nunez, Freddie Kirksey, and Greg Lundy. I was given an hour to rehearse the afternoon before Rosh Hashanah.

I spoke with Flash,(David Fleischman), about my reluctance to participate in any actual proselytizing for the church, especially on the Jewish New Year, but we were both assured that it was a free show with no strings attached, and besides; George Klein had agreed to MC the event now called "Talent Party Time Travel," for the popular TV show of the 60s that regularly featured local bands. I selected my songs to sing, the band charted them up, we ran through them twice at most and said, "See you at the gig."

It rained hard the day of the show, yet there were still more than 200 people there for the 6:00 PM start. First up was Eddie Harrison, former leader of the Short Kuts, one of the most popular club bands of the era. I first worked with Eddie in 1963, when I was a sophomore at segregated Christian Brothers High School, and Eddie was a sophomore at integrated Christian Brothers College. I've always believed he was one of Memphis' most electrifying singers and I love to sing with him. Unfortunately, I had to follow him because he was booked at a wedding, but we arranged to sing some harmonies to some old Soul favorites and Eddie left to a standing ovation while I stayed in place onstage.

I have not played with an electric band in at least nine years, and had to bring my electric guitar out from under the bed to do it. But there's something about strapping on a Fender Stratocaster and standing with musicians that you admire and in whom you have confidence that is thrilling and empowering. Their professionalism allowed me to concentrate on staying on pitch and the variety of our songs, from original, to the Kinks and the Rascals before an attentive and appreciative audience caused me to remember why I started playing music in the first place; because it was just so damn much fun. My thirty minutes flew by. I had a ball.

Raspberry was up next playing a variety of material including the Gentry's "Keep On Dancin'," which I hadn't heard him sing in 30 years and brought the audience to their feet. It wasn't exactly like one amazing gig I saw him perform with the Highsteppers at the High Cotton Club in the mid-seventies when his combination Southern Preacher-Carny Barker non-stop patter and the bands' continual driving music caused several male patrons to spontaneously rise from their seats, grab their wooden chairs, and smash them over the tables. I saw Larry cause a clubful of people to destroy the furniture. Of course, there was whiskey involved then. The people at the church were just there for the music, but Larry reached them just the same. He was accompanied on keyboard by fabled Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, who also sang his Sun Record from 1965 with the Jesters, "Cadillac Man."

The Flash and the Casuals/Board of Directors reunion was sentimental to me because of old friendships with members of that band. Original drummer John McNulty played; Mark Tidwell came from Nashville to play guitar, and Flash even called up Charlie Fineberg to sing back-up reaching all the way back to 1962. Flash is still a magnetic showman and received his standing "O" for a moving version of "St. James Infirmary Blues." Along with slides and film of a mop-topped Flash on Talent Party in 1966 with George and the WHBQuties projected on either side of the band, the audience seemed transported to that time and responded in kind.

Anyone who did not grow up going to dances featuring Tommy Burk and the Counts can't totally appreciate how heartwarming it felt to see them onstage again. When Flash was a guest on my former radio program, we deemed Tommy Burk, "The Godfather of the Garage." The skinny kid with the prominent Adam's apple is now Professor Tom Burk of Christian Brothers University's Department of Germanic Language. And the rest of the Counts, from Thomas Boggs and Mike Stoker of the Huey's Corporation; to Wayne Thompson, John Greer, and Steve O'Keefe, are all professional men who gave up music long ago. Yet, when they began playing and got into their second song, you could see a spring in their step that the audience's response only encouraged, and by the time they played their signature song, the huge Memphis hit garage band version of "Stormy Weather," the crowd was again on their feet.

Interstate 55 completed the show and continued to play for a jam for all the participants, who were reluctant to leave. The audience's kindness to me personally, left me buzzing for a week afterward. The flurry of e-mails exchanged between all the musicians and singers was universally positive and we agreed to consider the possibility of doing it again. I told Larry that we may well do it again, but we'll have a hard time matching the joy of that night. And for me, the most uplifting part was that money took no part in the equation. I understand that musicians have to sell what they play, but for this one occasion, we did it as a favor to a friend and his good work. And I learned that all Christians are not, by definition, Conservatives. And that there are progressive churches that encourage free expression and the use of music as praise, much like some of the more contemporary efforts of the Reform Jewish movement. And most importantly, I was reminded of that basic tenant of all religions; that the most rewarding work you can do is that which you do for others without expectation of reward. At Heartsong Church, the applause was sweet; the chance to see old friends and musicians and watch them entertain their appreciative audience one more time was sweeter. I was uplifted, invigorated, and proud to be included, and am now prepared to re-enter the fray. Thank you, friends. I think I remember now.
Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feelin is there, body and soul

Chuck Berry, "School Days"

13 comments:

ghg said...

I could see your reluctant joy peering it's head out from under those heavy wool blanketst that keep you warm against the cold cold world and, my oh my, look at how squinty those eyes get when the chest-stomach smile that is always there waiting to be summoned comes shining. It does me so good to feel that joy from you. Remembering singing behind you and boppin touches one of the deepest parts of me. Transported to a time that truly existed for us, I am moved by how truly lucky we were. RJ, live long. The best is yet to come.

Anonymous said...

Trust me, it wasn't just the "players" that had a ball, the "groupies" loved it too.Thanks Randy,Larry , Flash,Tommy ,and all the boys that brought so much back to us girls!! We will always be raidiently happy and high steppin' to your music. Let's have more.Chop

Anonymous said...

Now you're coming back to life. Back to a time when life was a ball, because we weren't burdened by the cares of this world. You're right...music is a tonic for the soul. We old timers need to experience a re-birth of the kind of music that touched us so back in the 60's and 70's. If you get back on stage, I'll be there every time. Go for it. I have told you before that you need to birth a new movement of old hippies...a return to a more joyous way of life and what better vehicle than music. It's a better conduit for spiritual uplift and change than politics, that's for sure.

Dick Paris said...

I am so sorry I wasn't able to get to Memphis to see this reunion. the minute I heard it about it I started talking about it, and got almost the same feeling thinking back about all the nights I spent listening to the various bands and people you mentioned. That sweet feeling came back again reading your description of the performnces. I hope someone at least made a tape.

I really hope there is another reunion, and that I can get back to Mempho to enjoy it.

The religious stuff aside (even remembering the first time I heard Larry Rasberry was at the T Walker Lewis - do remember the girl they called the "snake?"), it is the music that brought our generation together. Maybe it will happen again.

Thanks again for bringing back the memories.

davethedog said...

I appreciate the mention of "rock and roll" music. But the Republicans are still a lying pack of homosexual pedophiles. FOLEY doesn't use bookmarks when he reads because he likes his "pages" bent over. HASTERT held on to this info to try and keep the congressional seat and was he lying then or is he lying NOW.

LO, this be the day of Judgement! I shall smite these evil Republicans. They are perverted child-molesters and anyone who defends them is not only a pedophile, but a TRAITOR, as well.

Final Message- Like it OR Lump it. It's still Rock and Roll to ME! Boogie Chilluns!

Randy sez......... said...

Hold your fire, Dave. That blog is in the works.

Denton said...

Heartsong was honored to have the talent Larry assembled perform during Blues & BBQ, our fall festival. You guys obviously touched a nerve. I don't know who had a better time, the audience or the performers. Our "official" count was over 600! Thanks to all who made this possible.

Jay Spell said...

I just "read" your account of the Heartsong gig, and can not express how really glad I am it happened--glad for audience and You. Randy, if I know anything about You, it is that you do truly know and love the music, especially Rock&Roll, and I equally know you are talented in performing and writing. There was one part of the blog I didn't like. The guitar under the bed nine or so years? That just ain't right. That speaks of confidence, or the lack of it, not ability. So anything that kindles or instills confidence in you about the music and your performing, I'm ALL ABOUT that. I have not forgotten you calling me and us getting to play back in '70 and '71. And besides enjoying us playing, you truly loved and knew the music!! There are plenty of fine players out there who enjoy the PERFORMING. They enjoy playing their instruments and being onstage and being seen onstage and admired for it. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I would never think or say vanity should automatically be discouraged and/or dismissed. But truly loving and knowing the music itself is a separate thing, and I know you know what I'm talking about. And I also know that does apply to you. And that's real special for me. I don't put it down as a mark against anyone if they aren't there. But it's something special when it is. And how many of the players you mentioned (and didn't mention) Are that? Again, that isn't damning them, but still there. And I'm like that blogger who hopes it was recorded. Do you know? I would love hearing it. I will call Raspberry.
Also wonderful about Fleischmann playing!! And I hope I have his phone number here but not sure. Could you send me that or his email? And I would love sending this email to John Scott, although I hope he already knows all about it, and maybe was there. Did you see him?
I have always regretted not living in Memphis earlier, and have always wished I had been a part of the '60s or '50s scene there. When you can I would love hearing more about the show and everyone who played. In fact, you apologized in your blog for its length. It was far too short for me.
If you want to post any or all this to your publig blog, please feel free. Only reason I didn't was just wanting to send it directly to you. Always love hearing from you and about you, personally direct or via a blog.--Brian Wilson Pickett

Steve said...

I still experience the magic every weekend. I kept playing. You should give it a try.
Steve

Anonymous said...

I remember Randy when he was 12 years old and Larry Raspberry (and Jimmy Hart) when he was in high school. I went to the dances at the T. Walker Lewis YMCA all the time. The "Snake Lady" was a girl named Patty Anderson and she knew how to make the male hormones rage. Those were the beginning of the days that eventually morphed in to the psychedelic 60's. The party lasted till the mid-80's. Hard on your health, but a lot of fun. Today's culture (especially the music) pales in comparison. Parenthetically, you freaks seem to thrive on the macabre world of politics...must be some form of masochism. What part of 'IT ALL SUCKS' don't you understand. Both parties are dragging us into the same hell. They just use different styles. You seem to think that the Democratic version of bogusness is preferable to the Republican form of bogusness. Forget it, turn up the music, and focus on more profitable things.

Anonymous said...

it was truly spectacular!! what a great concert and a great step back
in time!!! what really amazed me was that age has even improved so many
of the performances i saw. i was also so struck by the way that church
has focused on the close link between spirituality and music. the sound
was great because of that focus--the construction of the church (with
the acoustic tiles behind the performers) really maximized the quality
of the sound.
i sure hope y'all will do it again. next time i'll be on time, so i
won't miss some of my favorite acts

Anonymous said...

I'm living in Florida now and didn't even know about the show. I was googling Tommy Burk and the Counts and came across this great set of blog/comments. Ironically, las night we were talking about that girl from Treadwell, Patti Anderson.
What great memories of fabulous Memphis bands, places and parties.

Beverly Hill said...

Hi this is Jimmy Jett...ie Beverly Hill of the original WHBQuties...Please let us know when you all get together again...Linda Rose, CA, Sally, Gail and I still see each other once a year...In case you didn't know Connie died...We would love to see you all EMail us at Bhillsbean@aol.com..Love, the Cuties