The Boy’s in OUR Band….a fictional account, based on a real incident. The names have been changed to protect the innocent….and the guilty.
It’s the 1966-1967 school year, and I’m a High School junior. My best friend Bebo Sears and I were headed back to his house out in the country, about eight miles North of Welcome Hill. Along the way, there was a popular little eating joint known as the “Riverside Barbeque.” It was appropriately named, as the murky, slow flowing Chattooga was right across the road. The Riverside, was affectionately known as Dub’s. They probably had the best Barbeque I can ever remember putting in my mouth. They also bootlegged beer, since our county was dry back then. They didn’t care what age you were, since they were already breaking one law, what did it matter to them if you were only sixteen or seventeen years old. Maybe it’s what made the Barbeque taste so good.
Bebo and I were in hog heaven, as his sister had let him borrow her car. We decided we were hungry so we stopped by Dub’s for a sandwich and a beer. We got our goodies, and Bebo kicked it into high gear up the little hilly, curvy road toward his house. We rounded one steep corner with him doing about 60 miles an hour, and there was a car coming the other way over on our side of the road. Bebo did a one-handed-emergency-avoidance-maneuver (he had a beer in the other hand) which took his sister’s new Buick up the side of a twelve foot dirt bank. The car did a 360 degree turn, and came back down onto the pavement headed in exactly the right direction. Besides kicking up a little dust, you would have never known anything had happened. There wasn’t a scratch anywhere on the car, or on us.
“Sheeiiit,” Bebo stated calmly.
I never said a word, I just took another bite out of my sandwich, and continued to chew, out of reflex…
“What do think about THAT little bit of driving?” Said Bebo in a bragging tone.
I never said a word, I just took a huge swallow of Black Label, and sat perfectly still, like a rabbit that’s just seen the barrel of a twelve gauge shotgun poke through the weeds.
About ten minutes passed before my vocal cords became “unparalyzed” from the sheer fright they had just been given. In that time I had mentally asked God to forgive me for all the things I should have asked him to forgive me for during the three second period of time we were up on that dirt bank.
“We’ve got to find something else to occupy our time, before we get killed,” I managed to wheeze out.
“Let’s start a band.” I suggested
Two weeks later I talked my Dad into letting me trade my scroll side Kay dreadnaught acoustical guitar in on a cheapie Bass guitar. This was one of the biggest mistakes of my musical life, as I have wished a million times I had that guitar back. But…I did what I did.
Bebo bought an electric six string, and we recruited Bill West, and Peewee Jones as keyboard player and drummer. Thus began “AT’S US.” In my mind this was being done mainly in the interest of self-preservation on my part, in order to keep Bebo out from behind the wheel of a car as much as possible, and to keep me from becoming an automobile fatality due to his wild-ass driving. Our first rehearsal was not a pretty sight nor sound.
Bebo and his family had just moved down to Frogtown, as the farm they had been living on when he and I just about died in an auto accident, had been too far away from the mill (where his Mom worked) and the school. This suited Bebo and me, as it was just a two-minute walk, or a thirty-second drive from my house to his. Not enough mileage to work up any significant speed.
We gathered our equipment and went into the bedroom to begin rehearsal.
I had been playing the guitar for several years, and although I never was a virtuoso or anything, I was adequate. I could pick out the chords to popular songs pretty easily, and knew quite a few songs on which I wanted us to work. The problem was I had never played a bass guitar before, Bebo had only been playing for a couple of months, Peewee had just bought a drum set the week before, and Bill had only acquired his keyboard the night before our first practice.
“Let’s try Twist and Shout,” I suggested.
Nobody did anything.
“How do we start?” Asked Peewee
“Let’s go on four,” I speculated. “One, two, three, and four….”
Bebo had his amp volume on par with his car speed… turned up to the maximum, and when he hit his version of the opening of “Twist and Shout,” the brick dust started coming out of the cracks in the ceiling where the chimney was connected. His Daddy’s two beagle dogs started howling at the top of their lungs. I felt like a B-52 bomber had just landed on my head, and shattered my eardrums.
“You might want to turn the volume down a little,” I screamed
About an hour later, after the police had left from investigating the disturbing the peace complaint from Bebo’s neighbors, we resumed our rehearsal with the volume cranked down to a one on all of our amps, and with Pewee’s drums padded. With about three hours practice a night for the next two months we gradually developed a repertoire that included enough songs to start our playing career.
Bebo’s cousin owned a skating rink at a place called, “Pigeon Mt. Lake,” and after a phone call or two, we were booked to play a weekend engagement there. I was as nervous as a porcupine in a room full of balloons when we arrived. Bebo, Bill and Peewee had drunk most of a six pack of beer each, and were not feeling any pain.
Unfortunately, or fortunaely depending on your point of view, I was not a good drinker. I had the tendency to get really bad vertigo after about three beers, and was prone to spend the balance of the night sitting on somebody’s bathroom floor, clutching a toilet to keep the room from spinning, and up-chucking occasionally. I was therefore appointed lead singer, and designated driver.
Things went O.K. for the first three or four songs. The crowd was really getting into the music, dancing and having a good time. We noticed that a small group of nice looking girls was getting closer and closer to the stage. They were all dancing by themselves and making eyes at the boys in the band.
I had just launched into our version of the Beatle’s song, “I’m Down,” when I noticed we no longer had a rhythm guitarist. Next we lost the keyboard sound. I thought something had happened to our power supply. When the drums stopped playing, I looked out into the glare of the spotlight and saw Bebo, Bill, and Peewee wildly dancing with the girls. Luckily, we had picked up a lead guitar player named Jimbo Black, who was more interested in making music than being on the make, who continued to back me up as I sang.
“Play a slow song next, Birdbrain,” (my nickname) yelled Bebo from the crowd, seemingly unaware of the fact that he had switched from band to fan.
“Get your ass back up here you dummy,” I countered “or you guys get to walk back to Trion.”
They relented, and we finished our set without further incident. After that, we played at mostly local affairs around town, and the guys always made a point to wait until after we had finished before plying their romantic skills on the unsuspecting female population.
We covered (played familiar tunes which had already been recorded and made popular by other bands) all sixty’s tunes, and as Rock bands of that time go, we weren’t half bad. A lot of the bigger towns had numerous, and I mean NUMEROUS, Rock bands back then. It was just the in thing to do, since music was such a big part of everyone’s life in the sixties. Groups were the rage because of the tremendous popularity of the Beatles, Stones, Animals, etc.
In our small town, our band was one of only about three going at that time, and we were the best of the three. We thought we had the gig for the senior prom sewn up.
We were already planning what type of equipment we were going to spend the money on. It turns out we had counted our chickens before they hatched. Or maybe we had counted too much on the girls that were on the committee to select the band to play at the prom. Some of them apparently still held grudges against us for various reasons, not the least of which was the smug attitude of a couple of our band members, and the fact that one of them had just broken up with one of the committee’s best friends.
Enter a band from just across the mountain from us known as “Wildfire.”
Wildfire was not any better musically than we were at that time, and they were a cover band just like we were. Add that to the fact that they were from out of town, and we were just a little upset at the fact they had gotten our gig.
We were mollified by the explanation from the committee that since a couple of our members WERE Seniors, they didn’t think it would be right that we would not get to enjoy the dance, if we were providing the music. We accepted their patronage. Wildfire came to play at the old gym in the upper floor of the “Y,” and it turns out that they had really been practicing. They were a lot better than when we had previously heard them, and our band ended up really enjoying the prom, since we got to dance, and appreciate the music, instead of working.
Years later, this little group from Ft. Payne, Alabama went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and started playing there. They had stuck together, and stuck with their dream of making a living making music. It was many years after our band had played our final note, and I had broken my last guitar string. We had been long forgotten by everyone other than a couple of really fanatic fans, or good friends.
In the meantime, “Wildfire” had been practicing their act, and getting better and better. Finally, after an incredible amount of hard work, they landed a recording contract with a major label, and cut their first major album. They also changed their name to reflect their pride in being from a great Southern state. ALABAMA, was born.
I didn’t even know for a long time. It was at one of our class reunions, and someone was playing, “Feels So Right,” for everyone to slow dance to, when
“Corky” Vineyard said: “Did you know that this is the band that played at our Senior Prom?”
I had never made the connection, and it floored me to find out. What might have been if me and the other guys in “At’s Us,” had been a little more dedicated to our dream? What might have been…….? As Robert Frost might say, I guess that’s one of those “roads not taken.”
Anyway, can you Country music fans picture Randy Owens with long hair, singing “Mustang Sally?” Well, as I recall, he sounded pretty good.