Rock And Roll

 

The lights go down and nothing is visible except clouds of smoke wafting gently throughout the auditorium. The crowd begins to stir. As I squint at the stage, about 20 yards from Jimmy Page’s colossal stack of amps which are humming and crackling, four shadowy figures make their way to their respective stations. The collective murmur broadens into an ascending roar.

And now John Bonham picks up his drumsticks and begins to rattle the cymbals. The blinding stage lights now burst forth like the dawn of creation. Robert Plant, with long flowing golden locks and bare midriff, stands like a golden god in the stage’s center and, collectively, Led Zeppelin drops the hammer on a song appropriately entitled… Rock ‘N Roll.

“It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled…”

Mobile, Alabama March of 1973. I can see it. I can feel it. And yes, I can smell it. To recall this moment never ceases to give me chill bumps and/or bring tears to my eyes.

January of 1973 saw me return to Auburn University and make another failed attempt to succeed academically at that great institution of higher learning. “Higher” learning it was but not in a scholarly fashion. But in Rock ‘N Roll 101 I was passing with flying colors and ready to push on to it’s grad school.

I found myself back in Monroeville, AL with a second strike against me. I had always hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to be a DJ. That wish had come true at WMFC AM, 1360 on your radio dial.

My mother was friends to the owner of the station as she had worked for him when he was the owner of the Wilcox Progressive Era in my hometown of Camden. She called him to see if there was an opening at WMFC and, lo and behold, there was one ! I went in to interview with the station manager and was hired. Later in the year that would prove much to his chagrin.

I had to be at the station at 5:15 AM to cut on the amps at 5:20. We went on the air at 6:00.

We came on with a “good morning” and went promptly into thirty minutes of gospel music. UGH !!! That was followed by a Church of Christ preacher. Whew ! At 7:00 we went to news, sports and weather and then into music at 7:10.

The Monday morning after the Sunday Led Zeppelin concert I thought it would be a GREAT idea to open up with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll.” Oops !!! The powers-that-be were not as enthused about my choice of music as I was. There would be no Led Zeppelin at 7:10 AM. I shrugged it off and opened with Wet Willie’s “Shout Bamalama” on Tuesday morning.

A meeting was called later in the week to come up with, in my opinion, a very narrow format of what to play and when to play it. That was all well and good for early morning radio, according to my reasoning but surely in the afternoon, when school was out and teenagers comprised a healthy portion of the audience, a dose of rock and roll would be a good thing.

Well it depends on how one looks at things, how one goes about it and how one arranges the hour beginning at 3:00 PM.

I would play ALL of the commercials for that hour, one after the other, until I was done with that annoyance. I would then proclaim, “This is Bird LeCroy with solid rock until four o’clock.” And after a few days of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull and the like, I was moved to MORNINGS ONLY with Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Patti Page. Sigh…

This is the point where I need to re-inject my disclaimer from last week’s blog not advocating recreational drug use.

My thinking was one needs help getting up in the morning to be on a job before sunrise and one also needs assistance “coming down” in the afternoon and evening after such a “stimulating” day. Old Black Molly and her antithesis, Miss RORER 714, became all too prevalent in my daily activities.

But, as essential as I felt these “helpers” were to my routine, one always needs to add “a hint of color” (nod to Nathan Lane in “The Birdcage”) to the rigors of everyday life.

Without going into detail the Summer of ’73 was very much a psychedelic season. Insert “Purple Haze” or “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” firmly HERE !

We now take you to early fall of 1973 and the Monroe County Tigers are going against Evergreen over in Conecuh County. I had been relieved of my morning duties on this particular Friday and I was to play spots every time the football game went back to the studio.

Simple enough ! As there would be no one else at the station but me, I invited a handful of friends (where are you Sam Yarbrough ?) to join me at my lonely outpost. And, of course, the evening would not be complete without a few “tall boys” and other party favors.

So we’re just having a great time playing 45’s on the turntables through the station’s speakers as Sam sat at the board and punched in the spots. Hey ! He had previously been employed there ! He knew what to do !

At about this time, as I was draining a PBR and pumping my fist to Foghat’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, I heard a “rap tap tapping” on the window in the studio. It was Bill Sky, one of WMFC’s account managers.

Long story short… the station’s owner, it’s manager and Mr. Sky showed up shortly after I had convinced my running mates that they needed to depart the premises PROMPTLY.

This, of course, was before Donald Trump’s, The Apprentice. But, alas, the result of the festive evening gone sour would be the same….
“You’re fired !!!”

One Toke Over The Line

 

First of all a disclaimer. I do not advocate the use of psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide, cannabis or any other mind altering/expanding substance. That being said…

I love Auburn. Anybody that knows me would surely reply “DUH” or some other equally inane term if you or I told them that. But after spending the fall of 1970 and the winter and spring of 1971 as a student at API, ole AU released me gently into the night. It seems they didn’t like my study habits. So long Terry Beasley, who was in my Math 100 class, and so long to all my rowdy (and not so rowdy) friends on the Plains. I’ll be back a few times this fall. War Eagle!

In spite of not developing academic discipline at Auburn I had begun to cultivate another habit in that spring of of 1971. It was the use of cannabis sativa, mary jane, marijuana… “the assassin of youth”, as she was labeled in the movie “Reefer Madness.”

An aside… if you want to watch a truly hilarious propaganda film then check it out.

As mentioned in the “See Me, Feel Me” blog, I truly wanted to be a part of that hippie scene and I was becoming an “A” student in that course. Yay ! Success !

Back to Auburn for a moment… The second time I partook of the evil weed in early 1971, a friend of mine who had procured the joint, and I had become ravenously hungry. I learned that this was called “the munchies.” So munch we did.

We wound up at the Burger King on Gay Street which has remained in the same location to this day. We could not contain our giggling as we entered the overly well-lit establishment and made our way to the line to place our order. Somehow we came up with said order. Both of us decided on a hamburger, french fries and a coke (it didn’t matter what soft drink you wanted back then you just called it a “co-cola”).

The cashier twice repeated, “burger, fry, coke… burger,fry, coke” in a slightly effeminate voice. Uh oh ! Peals of laughter burst forth from the both of us. And for the rest of the night we would blurt out, “burger, fry, coke… burger, fry, coke” and we  laughed each time as though it were the funniest thing we had EVER heard.

It turns out that was not enough to satisfy our hunger though. We went back to the Delta Chi house, on Glenn Street and diagonally across the street from my house, and made our way to the room of an older fraternity brother. We were pledges. He worked at a deli in town but he was gone for the weekend. We opened his mini fridge and found… A SACKFUL OF AN ASSORTMENT OF SANDWICHES AND COOKIES ! The Cookie Monster himself could not have made more ecstatic sounds than Frank and I did that night while DEVOURING those delicacies. Gobble gobble, yum yum… COOKIE !!!!

But I digress. The spring of 1971 soon gave way to summer and a job with Great American Homes in Camden. My best friend, Hal Huggins, along with Johnny “Stick” Dunham, Ronald McGraw, Scott Beasley and others were part of the crews who insulated houses, dug foundations and picked up yards when the houses were complete. This was neither mine nor Hal’s calling but, it turns out, it was for Stick.

It was during this summer and the coming fall that I began to hone my skills as an habitual user of the herb. It was also a time when the world of rock ‘n roll and, in particular hard rock and psychedelic music, took this “Bird” in flight. Tom Kimmel became a musical mentor for me and helped open the doors to a wide range of sounds. Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, the Allman Brothers Band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and the Moody Blues were but a small few of the great bands that were to become a soundtrack for that time in our lives.

Ok… not being able to return to Auburn I wound up at, what was then, Patrick Henry Junior College in Monroeville, AL. That fall of ’71 became the winter and spring of ’72 which morphed into the fall of ’72. During those four quarters havoc was wreaked at Oak Arms Apartments there in the Hub City. All of my friends there were not hip to weed in those days and, therefore, those of us who did partake found ourselves in various trailers, travel alls and secret hideaways to indulge in our “source of enlightenment.” I won’t name names (Mike Jellison, Terry Sims and Ed Starkie) but many of you know who you are and you are having a really good laugh right now.

Also I know you remember something of those hazy days, and I know that you remember them as fondly as I do. “IBJWE” was a phrase we coined and that acronym stood for “Iron Butterfly Jamming With Edward.” You had to have been there.

In the next episode our anti-hero makes a not so triumphant return to Lee County, AL…

See Me, Feel Me

See Me, Feel Me

We now leap back in time to September of 1970. My daddy and I are headed down College Street in The Loveliest Village of the Plains and we pass the Baptist Student Union. He stays to me, “That’s a good place for you to hang out.” I snickered to myself and thought “That’s not gonna happen.”

We turn on to Glenn Street and make our way toward 332 West Glenn where I would set up shop for the next six months. The Peak House, as it is known today, is a two story brick home. The Peaks lived downstairs and there were three rooms and a bath upstairs. I lived in the room on the right facing Glenn Street. David Hardy, another story for another day, lived across the hall from me and Alvin Baggett lived in the back room on David’s side of the house. We share the small bathroom. We had no air conditioner and no television. There was a community fridge.

Well now here I am, a freshman at Auburn, both excited and a bit apprehensive about what the future may hold for me. Classes had yet to start and daddy insisted that I go to a reception for all incoming freshman at the the President’s mansion. Dr. Harry Philpot was the president of Auburn at the time. I decide that I didn’t have anything better to do so I went.

The lush green lawn in the rear of the house was bustling with young innocents like myself. There was a line to shake President Philpot’s hand and I walked through and shook his hand. We exchanged pleasantries and I got some refreshments, finished them and proceeded on my way.

I hadn’t run into a soul I knew, but about that time Donnie Chancey and Nan Woddail (Nan Woddail-Smith) appeared. Donnie and Nan were high school sweethearts and fellow graduates on Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. We were also good friends.

Donnie had received an athletic scholarship to play football for the Tigers and, therefore, he was a hero of mine. Nan was a lovely cheerleader, in high school, and a dear sweet friend. We had a brief chat. This was a Sunday afternoon and Auburn had a game with Southern Miss the following Saturday. After a round of “War Eagles” we went our separate ways.

Now it is Saturday September 19th and time for my first football game as an AU student. I am predictably excited. Another friend and graduate of Wilcox County High, Cindy Miller, has arranged a date for me with a young lady named Kathy Hartzog.

I was getting ready to go to the game when I heard something outside, I looked out the window and my family’s Ford Galaxy had pulled up into the yard. It was Daddy and a friend of his and they just stopped by to speak to me before the game. I was not unhappy to see them but I was nervous about the black Michelob mug that I had perched on my dresser. The mug had already been christened earlier in the week.

We had a very short conversation, daddy and friend took off for Cliff Hare Stadium and I completed my preparation for the contest. I had selected tan slacks, a navy blue shirt and a white tie as my wardrobe for the day. I slapped on some Hai Karate cologne and took off for the dorm where Kathy was living.

As we approached the stadium we could hear the band playing and the buzz of the crowd. I was about to come unglued. WAR EAGLE !!! Kathy and I made our way toward the 50 yard line in the student section looking for a place to sit. The student section was general admission and it cost us all of one dollar to get in at that time.

I heard someone yell, “Bird !” And it was John Clyde Riggs who was also from Camden. John Clyde was a couple of years older than me and I appreciated him calling me up there to sit with him and his fraternity brothers. He was an Alpha Gamma Rho as were many many people from Camden over the years.

It turned out to be a great, albeit swelteringly hot, afternoon at the game. Auburn won 33-14 on the strength of two touchdown passes from Pat Sullivan to Terry Beasley. Sullivan hit Dick Schmalz, I had two classes with his sister Beth, for the Tiger’s first touchdown. Sullivan scored a TD on an eight-yard keeper and backup QB Tommy Traylor scored the final points on a one-yard sneak.

It was a workman’s effort from the home team that day. A non-conference victory was secured and we were 1-0. A stern test was in the offing the following Saturday. Auburn was to take on the Tennessee Volunteers in Birmingham’s Legion Field. John Clyde mentioned to me that Auburn had done more practicing for Tennessee in fall camp than they had for Southern Miss. He also invited us to their band party later that night.

I asked Kathy if she wanted to accompany me to the party and she gladly accepted the invite.

I showed up early for the event and went to John Clyde’s room. I told him I had no beer and no way of getting any as alcohol sales were, and are not to this day, permitted on campus. He gave me the keys to his Chevy and I ran out to The Tiger, an over-the-counter a beer sales joint at the time, and purchased a six pack of Schlitz Draught in the bottle.

I picked up Kathy, we walked around the corner to the fraternity house and we spent a couple of hours dancing to tunes from a pretty good live band. I remember songs like “Shout” and “Louie Louie”. I polished off the last bottle Schlitz, she didn’t want any, glanced at my watch and declared it was time to go.

Kathy had to be back at the dorm by 11 pm. That was perfect ! The midnight show at the Village Theater that night was Woodstock: 3 days of Peace and Music. I had purchased the soundtrack to the movie earlier that summer while attending freshman orientation and I LOVED IT !!!

The movie was actually to start at 11:15 pm so I had to hustle back up Thatch Street down to Gay Street. I hurriedly purchased some popcorn and literally ran toward the auditorium. I was so frazzled that I spilled about half of my popcorn before I made it to my seat. Whew !

The lights go down, the curtain opens and the film begins to the sounds of Canned Heat and their song ‘Going Up The Country.’ I am mesmerized at the enormity of the event, the sea of unshaven hippies and their equally unshaven girlfriends teeming toward to entry gates to Max Yasgur’s farm in New Bethel, New York. WOW MAN !!! FAR OUT !!!

As the movie progresses I am pulled deeply into the event as though I was there. Nun’s flashing peace signs, joint after joint being smoked OPENLY and the most heavenly music to ever grace my ears blaring through the speakers. People were dancing, some naked, and frolicking and spinning and swimming and I had now wanted SO to have been there.

We eventually arrive at the time for The Who to take the stage. I remembered it well from the soundtrack. I can’t wait to hear Summertime Blues (which I didn’t know had been done first by Eddie Cochran in the 50’s).

Well Roger Daltry, dressed in his white fringe shirt, is throwing his microphone high into the air and Pete Townsend is doing windmills on his guitar and I am sitting there mouth agape. I have never in my life seen anything remotely like this in my young life.

“We’re not gonna take it (da dunt da da da dunt dunt)…We’re not gonna take it (da dunt da da da dunt dunt)… We’re not gonna take it, never have and never will. We’re not gonna take it (the music slows down considerably) we forsake you, gonna rape you, let’s forget you better stilllllllllll…”

And then… “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me… See me, feel mehehe, TOUCH ME, heeeeaaaallllllll MEEEEEEEEE (the music and oh I hope you know the tune)… Listening to you I get the music, gazing at you I get the heat, following you I climb the mountain, I get excitement at you feet !!!!!!! Right behind you I see the millions… ”

It is at this time that I have, what I now recall, my first epiphany. I am at one with the music and my soul has been moved… DEEPLY. I want to dance with those hippies ! I want to smoke what they’re smoking ! I want to make love like they are making love. I WANT TO BE A HIPPIE !!!!! YESSSSSSS !!!!!! Here I am ! SEND ME !!!!

Be careful what you pray for. At that point my life changed and I would never be the same. And neither would those who had the good or ill fortune to be around me from that point on. As my friend Rick Carter wrote, “It’s all about the music and it ALWAYS sets you free.”

In our next blog… the thick plottens. (A ninth grade girl, who is from Thomaston and her first name ends in an “E”, is living at Edwards Air Force base in California and she has also been touched by the same song near the very same time).

The Grace in Your Eyes

The grace in your eyes,

The beauty in your touch,

Grants me the peace

To go on in a world

That is such

A place so seemingly devoid

Of purpose and of truth

And tempts me to

Loosen my grip

On all that is holy and pure

But the grace in your eyes,

The beauty in your touch,

Grants me the peace

To go on in a world

That is such 

A place now seemingly filled

With hope, joy and love.

 

Does Ft. Worth Ever Cross Your Mind ?

 

Fast forward to the dogs days of the summer of 1977. Melodye with an E & me were married (another story for a another time) July 17th. Now here it is August and we’re moving to Ft. Worth, TX. I spent the fall of 1976 as a seminary student in Ft. Worth at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a male roommate, Kenny Alford (yet another story for yet another day) but I missed my bride-to-be badly. I came home that December of ’76 not to return to Ft. Worth until Smelly, one of numerous nicknames I had for Mel, and I were betrothed.

Now it is time for us to make the journey on I-20 west to Cowtown and the great state of Texas. The small U-Haul trailer is loaded with our meager possessions and hitched to the Pinto wagon with the faux wood paneling.

I remember that last hot August night (a nod to Neil Diamond and one of my favorite albums) in lower Alabama. It was humid enough to suffocate a possum. That is if the possum in question hadn’t been run over by a car. I watched as Smelly stood with her hands on her hips mulling over how she might rearrange some items in the U-Haul. My heart was filled with joy and I could feel the love in my eyes. Let’s bust Tejas wide open !

Now it is less than 24 hours later. It is rush hour in Dallas and we are almost out of gas. Mel is driving, for some reason, and she is terrified. I didn’t want to bypass Dallas. I wanted to SEE the Big D. I was excited to be in the Metroplex with the one to whom I was cleaving.

We somehow made it through Irving and Arlington and all the points in between Dallas and Ft. Worth. We have managed the mixmaster, a conglomeration of merging freeways there, and we are breezing down I-35 south to Seminary Drive. A friend of ours who sang at our wedding, Julie Warren Cook, said to call when we got near and she would direct us to her parents place at the Seminary.

Julie’s dad was the dean of students and her mama was the administrative assistant to the president of the school who, at that time, was Dr. Robert Naylor. We arrive at the Barker’s abode to a house full of people and food. The Texas Rangers are on TV and in a battle for first place in their division and all the males in attendance have gathered in a bedroom to cheer on the locals.

Later in the evening it is time for us to go to our very humble home. It is a one bedroom apartment, located at 1800-D J.T. Luther Drive, complete with vinyl sofa and matching chair, a tiny kitchen and a small bedroom and bath. Hey ! The rent was $150 a month and that INCLUDED utilities ! Turn the AC down baby ! We are going to live in comfort from this oppressive Texas heat !

The following evening we were invited to the Barretts, Jo Ellen & Steve, for dinner. We are so happy to be reunited with our dear friends and share in the joy of the call that has brought both families here.

When we arrive at Jo & Steve’s we exchange hugs & greetings. Then Steve drops a bombshell on us… Elvis is dead. We are stunned. My mind races back to my childhood in Camden, AL. I remember a handsome young man from Memphis, via Tupelo, and the 45 RPM records of his that I nearly wore out… Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Hard Headed Woman and the birth of rock ‘n roll.

Speaking of rock ‘n roll…

Grace

Now awake with bleary eyes,

Stiff neck, aching hip

And a sense of doubt and

Confusion.

Walk outside to rainy skies,

Brisk winds, cold ground

And the chill of earth’s

Intrusion.

And then, as if on cue

A bird’s tune

Dances lightly

On the moist

Canvas

Of God’s imagination

And

Once again…

Grace