Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hotty Toddy

Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty
Who in the Hell are we?
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
Ole Miss, By Damn.

Just writing the words gives me a queasy feeling. They echo in my childhood memory from the many football games my father took me to between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Memphis State Tigers. We hated everything about them; how they came to town with their Confederate flags and pep band playing "Dixie" and took over the Peabody Hotel and turned it into a scene from the Old South with annual drunken arrogance. But we hated that damned southern aristocratic cheer most of all. Even before the Coliseum, back when the games were played in Crump Stadium, when the Ole Miss side started up the "Hotty Toddy" cheer, the stadium thundered with boos and the Memphis crowd shouted back, "Go to Hell Ole Miss, Go to Hell," which was considered somewhat scandalous for the time. Mississippi, and it's University, were the last bastions of white supremacy and the plantation mentality. I grew up hating Ole Miss.

In my sophomore year at Christian Brothers High School, I was sitting in a history class, staring out the window at South Parkway in awe as an endless convoy of military vehicles, heavy trucks and tanks, and Federal troops with U.S. Marshals caravaned South in front of the school on the avenue that became old Highway 51 into Mississippi. It was October of 1962, and the resistance of Gov. Ross Barnett to the integration of Ole Miss by James Meredith had touched off deadly riots on campus. President Kennedy had assembled a massive number of troops, which were passing before my eyes on the way to Oxford, when I felt a hard blow to my forehead. The Brother had hit me with a fast-thrown eraser and admonished me to pay attention to my history lesson.

That was an ugly time at Ole Miss. People died and numerous U.S. Marshals were injured by gunfire coming from the angry mob of segregationists. I had some knowledge of the state, travelling with my father on his sales trips when I was a child and performing throughout the Delta when I was a teenager. Although the high school kids seemed more interested in music, sports, and fashion than segregation, the older generation, and by only a few years, seemed to seethe with racial hatred and the potential for violence. At one Delta dance in 1965, a group of greasers at a diner yelled at us, "Where you Beatle boys from?" Thinking I could disarm anyone, I shouted cheerfully, "Memphis," to which the greasers responded, "Well, get your goddam asses back up there then," and we retreated in a hail of rocks and full cans of beer. They were just rednecks who wanted to fight. The same kind that nearly burned down Ole Miss in 1962.

I had no intention of playing at Ole Miss again until I met Holmes Pettey in 1972. Holmes was the scion of an old Mississippi plantation family and booked entertainment as a student at Ole Miss. He heard me play acoustic solo at the old Looking Glass in Overton Square and insisted that I play for his fraternity, SAE. I couldn't imagine that an Ole Miss fraternity, famous for their drunken Bacchanalias, could possibly want to hear me sing protest songs, but Holmes convinced me to come. I drove a VW Minivan full of hippies for moral support to Oxford and set up in the living room of the frat house.
Randy and friends at Ole Miss, 1972 (Melody above Randy holding beer mug w/ head back)
My friends and I could not have been treated better, and found a new generation of Mississippians who were eager to put Ole Miss' racial history behind them and join the rest of the nation in the Twentieth Century. I sang Dylan's "Oxford Town" in a frat house in Oxford, something I might have been beaten up for only a few years before. In short order, my friend Holmes had me opening for the Allman Brothers in the Oxford Coliseum, and pretty much fed me for a couple of years by continuing to book me throughout the state.

It's taken a long time for the stars and bars to disappear and the band to stop playing "Dixie" at athletic events, but under Chancellor Robert Khayat's leadership, even the die-hards came to realize that the Old South symbols were counter-productive for the University and needed to go. The success of that campaign was on full display as Ole Miss applied its finest spit and polish to the campus in preparation as host for the opening Presidential Debate. Just seeing the diversity of the student body that gathered in the Grove for spirited political rallies proves that the University has come a very long way. And it was not lost on some that the school that erupted in violence over the admission of a black student 46 years ago, would now host the first debate that included an African-American candidate for President of the United States.

Ole Miss may always be The Rebels, but the national attention focused on the campus last week was entirely positive. I realize that the significance of football is dwarfed by the pressing issues of our time, but for the unranked Rebels to travel to Gainesville the day after the debate and upset the Florida Gators by one point must have seemed like a sign from the Lord to Ole Miss fans. I will own up to rooting for the Rebels for the first time in my life, just because I know folks like Holmes Pettey and the other alumni, along with the students, faculty and debate organizers, will be walking on air all this week, if not all year. So, before we return our attention to the looming economic abyss, it's worth mentioning that during the vicious 60s, Ole Miss saw a bloody weekend that this nation will never forget. Now, 46 years later, Ole Miss had a weekend that school supporters, students, and officials, can always remember with deserved pride. I never thought I'd say it, but "Well done, Ole Miss." Now, if you could only change that goddamned cheer.


Anonymous said...


Sputnik57 said...

Thank you Billy Wicks for commenting on the blog. If anyone should know about fightin' rednecks, it's certainly you. Best wishes to the champ and colleague of the ORIGINAL Sputnik.
Warm Regards,

Anonymous said...

Maynard G. Krebbs reminds you that you can not see South Parkway from the old CBHS. You were looking at East Parkway. And, oh yes, I love you. I'll be happy to proof read for you too.
Just the facts man, nothin but the facts.

Anonymous said...

Great story and one with a great irony. A teacher throws an eraser at you for not paying attention to your history lessons as you stare out the window at history unfolding before your eyes. Who Knew?

Father Farken said...

How great is this Sputnik? Commentary from the living legend The Great Billy Wicks! The greatest wrestling matches ever were between Billy Wicks & Sputnik Monroe. We were kids then & Billy is alive & kicking & posting on the BAH! What an honor. And what a great blog! I can hear you now singing "Oxford Town! Oxford Town!"... right after singing Carl Perkens' "Boppen' The Blues!" You were part of that change that came to Mississippi. And it is always the little things like deputies Billy Wicks & Clard Baker riding partners down South that brings authentic change in this world. And yes it was great to have the debate at Old Miss. It was a fantastic debate between two exceptional men. After the debate I knew why John Kerry had asked McCain to be his running mate for the last election & Obama was as smooth as ever. Like Sputnik Monroe vs. Billy Wicks I can't wait for the next match! Forget about throwing erasers...I want to see folding chairs flying! There will be blood! The Peace of the Lord! Fr. Farken

Anonymous said...

I would like to make one clarification. I went to Ole Miss from '64 to'70 (I dropped out a couple of years to do the hippie thing). The ancient stereotype of Ole Miss as rabidly racist because of the James Meredith incident has always bothered me, because all of the turmoil was caused by off campus rednecks and not by anyone associated with the university. During my whole tenure at Ole Miss I never heard a single disparaging remark about blacks. Social causes and politics were not a big issues on campus back in those days. Partying is what consumed most folks, at least that was true of fraternity row. By the '69-'70 school year there were quite a few black students at Ole Miss. In the spring there was a protest march participated in by blacks and some of the campus hippies during which the American flag was burned. The large crowd of non-participants (of which I was a part) that was watching said and did nothing. The stereotypers would have thought that the protesters would have been set upon and that blood would have flowed. Think about it. They burned the American flag at Ole Miss and absolutely nothing was said or done to oppose it. Those who watched this childish and meaningless display simply walked away. I'll bet that would have really irked the Ole Miss haters to see such a benign reaction on the part of such murderous racists. But, back then, nobody wanted to hear any good news about Ole Miss. I was always stupfied to hear what a backward, racist place Ole Miss was supposed to be over the years when I was there and saw no evidence of it. Finally the record is being set straight, but if the truth had been known and told, it could have been set straight as far back as 1964. This goes to show that liberals are as guilty as conservatives when it comes to the evil of stereotyping and prejudice.

Rocky said...

Sometimes it's just a pleasure to read the passionate prose that flows so easily from those stubby fingers. It's truly a joy for me to see the colors and hear the sounds of your memories, old man. You've been a gifted writer for a long time....more than that, you are an authentic and reliable historian. Hat is off.

Anonymous said...

What Ludor said about East Parkway South; and I thought it was Bellevue Blvd./Elvis Presley that turns into 51 S., not Airways or Lamar.

Billy Wicks sported blonde hair on TV wrestling, didn't he? Was it peroxided?

tom said...

I like your blog. It's now on my sidebar.

Tom Lowe
Editor, Jackson Progressive

john said...

Hola, Randy.

This is one of your best ever, if not your very best.

I am so very proud of Ole Miss and Oxford. If I could afford to live anywhere in the world, and I have been to many places, it would be Oxford. Watching the rise in positive publicity for Ole Miss during the reign of Khayat absolutely thrills me, as did USA Today's coverage of Oxford...."small town ways, city chic." I think the writer covered it beautifully, and I think you covered the dark days of Ole Miss up to and thru Ole Miss today right on target. Robert Khayat deserves so much credit for the changes in Ole Miss, as do Mayor Howorth and all the residents of the small city which everyone absolutely loves.

Continued success from a friend of many many years,


Ole Miss, Class of '55.

Hotty Toddy! The only place we disagree.

skip said...

It amazes me how you can remember the good ole days with such clarity,and relay it back so it brings back fond memories. When you say Holmes Petty I get a warm feeling in my heart to know I was and still am a part of HISTORY!! The times you and I played at Ole Miss were some of the best ,if not,the scariest in our musical expeditions. All Hail Randy, Holmes, and of course MeMaw!!!!! Skeetro

The Watcher said...

I recently read your blog from Nov. 12, 2005 on some hippie website. You seem to have implied that all of hippiedom was about left wing politics and fighting for social causes. There were many factions under a fairly broad umbrella. There were the down and out nihilistic stoners, the natural living, New Age spiritualists, the flower children, and the radical politicos to name some of the largest of the factions. I guess the faction that one was a part of colored his/her perception of the whole phenomenon, but it sure seemed to me that the largest faction was the spiritual one which was sympathetic to most of the political and social causes, but remained a scrupulous distance from such worldly pursuits. No big deal, but you seem to have implied that the only authentic hippies of the day were the rabidly political ones. But then, like I said each person's experience of those days was colored by the arena he/she was involved in. No biggie, just thought that I would clarify the issue, especially for those readers who may be too young to know that there was more to what went on than Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, the SDS, the Weathermen, et al. I for one started as more of a Memphis-style Merry Prankster and then morphed big time into the spiritual faction where I remain to this day. My experience was more of a Kumbaya, Brother Son-Sister Moon thing than a days of rage kind of a thing

Sireen said...

As some of y'all know...my dear mother was the great lady wrestler The Black Pantheress! talking about a Hotty Toddy! She personally cured Ole Miss Coach Johnny Vaught of any unnecessary racism. She told me that Billy Wicks was a natural blond & that she always wanted to "run her cotton picking fingers through his curly hair"...being the hard headed woman that she was & he being the soft hearted man. Well she wouldn't be able to now since he is bald as an 8-ball with all that wavy hair on his very manly Grizzly Adams face. As the song goes "what a man...what a man...what a man..." Memphis misses Mr. Billy Wicks! Yours Truly! SIREEN

Anonymous said...

Thanks for inviting me to the Ole Miss SAE Gig, it was "smok'in", at least it wasn't a "bust". Having posed for the picture, I never got an 8x10 glossy. Fork it over.

Anonymous said...

I'm so greatful to have been a small part of those days,what fun we had. You can just imagine how wierd seeing these old picturs of me and Randy is to my children.I tired to tell them I was a hippie,now they know. Those were some fun days and I'm so glad Randy has such a great memory cause I'm not sure I would have believed I was there had I not seen it myself.Must have been something in the air. Peace out,Muddy

Mr. Natural said...

Would that be Larry Mendelsohn standing next to the guy in the orange tanktop? Yes, those were the days and we'll never see their like again. I can still see Randy in my mind's eye on stage at Lafayette's encouraging everyone to drink up and just get crazy. Freewheelin' days indeed. Every day was a new adventure in seeing whatever new was coming down the hippie turnpike. It was really a very rich culture. A couple of years ago I bought a cd that contains all of the issues of the San Francisco Oracle just to have some of the old culture and its outlandishness. That picture is a good reminder of the spirit of the times. Randy, why don't you offer autographed copies of it for sale.

Bill said...

senior willie

Wed Oct 1 2008 21:04
i am a country liberal who began coming to the campus as a little boy to visit my grandmother. was in mississippi every moment of the sixties. on some occasions i actually stood in public for justice (though mostly was a passionate moderate somewhat to my shame).
there has never been a time when i did not long for "the land of cotton". to me the song is primal. i hear it with a combination of fierceness, joy and unbearable sadness that takes my breath away.

there has also been something "in me" that knows sometimes we have to put away experiences that break the hearts of others. those become the occasions when "less is more". when we "stand aside" in order to be hospitable and welcoming. so i honor that too.

thank god for all of us.

as my grandmother used to cheer - hottie toddy!


Anonymous said...

in 1968 or so, bob dylan played the ellis auditorium in memphis. being a rabid fan, i got tickets on the third row center. it was the concert when he did folk in the first half of the show and rock in the second half.

we got there early and were thrilled shitless to be there. three seats immediately in front of us were empty right up to the beginning of the show. just as the show started, 3 folks came sliding down the row into their seats.

one was an old lady in her 70's dressed like an old lady from that era should have been dressed. another was a woman in her 40's maybe, in a black dress and a plethora of rhinestones, garnets and perfume. her escort was dressed in a black suit with a narrow black tie and pointy toed shoes. his bleached hair was combed back and solidly affixed with spray net.

i looked at woody and said "do you know who that is?" he shrugged. "sputnik monroe" i said. he shrugged again.

not only did sputnik know all the words to all the songs, his MOTHER knew all the words to all the songs.

as the concert went on, we became friends, talking about dylan, the songs we loved, how we got turned on to him, the usual concert jive. sorry to say i got no pix of the occasion, but it was a cool experience.

Father Farken said...

I appreciate The Watcher bringing up the Spiritual element of Hippiedom. However my faith development grew from two people mentioned throughout the comments on this blog: Billy Wicks & Sputnik Monroe. Mr.Wicks taught me a lot about Messianic hope. Every time he got into that ring it was like a passion play. We Memphians knew that he crawled into that ring in our behalf to break the oppressive powers of all that was evil. Even in defeat Wicks brought hope because we knew that he would rise up from the jaws of death to make right all that was wrong. Good would prevail.
Sputnik Monroe taught me a lot about myself. Many a Sunday Sputnik & his chick would slide (not in the front row as at the Dylan concert)but sneak in the back pews of Our Lady Of Sorrows Catholic Church for mass. He would kneel all slumped over with head down but with his eyes wide open stairing into heaven. All you could see was the whites of his eyes. It was as if his eyes were gulping in all the grace & mercy that he could possibly take in. I saw something that I thought I would never see in Sputnic Monroe....I saw humility! I thought if the baddest man on the planet depended on G*d...then a little hoodlum from Frayser like me needed G*d as well. After mass my dad welcomed sputnik to mass and told him that the Baptist called the members at Our Lady... The Sorry Mothers! Sputnik said,"I MUST BE AT THE RIGHT CHURCH! The Peace Of the Lord!Fr.Farken

Anonymous said...

America no longer has the character that it taks to sustain a civilization. We are witnessing the death of America.