One of my first exposures to real, live rock ’n’ roll music happened unexpectedly. I was riding my bicycle one afternoon near Rip Hewes Stadium when I heard loud music coming from a small duplex on the corner. Because it was on the outskirts of my paper route, I’d noticed some characters with a lot of hair hanging out there. I surmised that it must be a rock band.
The music stopped suddenly, and I did too. This wasn’t someone’s RadioShack stereo at full volume. This was the real thing — crashing cymbals, wailing guitar, bass thumps that you’d feel in your chest. I sat in front of the house and listened for a while, and made a point of riding back and forth slowly whenever I was in the neighborhood.
There was a lot going on in the local rock music scene in those days, but that was far outside the knowledge of a nerdy kid. I only knew of one band in the area — Beaverteeth — because I’d seen pictures of the long-haired bunch in the newspaper. Naturally, I assumed that’s who was playing in the duplex. I was intrigued, proudly telling anyone who’d listen that Beaverteeth was on my paper route. But anyone I’d tell was unimpressed, being largely unaware of local bands.
Still, I kept my distance, dubious of these people who looked suspiciously like the hippies we’d been warned about in the fearsome anti-drug programs we heard at Selma Street Elementary School. We were to avoid the longhaired, bell-bottomed types lest we be held down and have acid dripped on us.
One evening at supper, I mentioned hearing the music and said I thought it was Beaverteeth. My mother told me she knew a woman who worked at the neighborhood florist who had a son in the band. I figured that if my mama knew one of their mamas, it ought to be OK for me to linger around outside to listen to the jam sessions.
Last week, after the death of Charlie Daniels, I got to thinking about the music of my youth, and I remembered the duplex. I sent a message to my friend Laura asking her to have her husband, David, give me a call. David’s brother John had played guitar in Beaverteeth.
Laura and David are both knee-deep in musical heritage. Laura’s father was a bass player; her brother Jay was a professional saxophonist who played on the hit “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges. David has been a fixture in contemporary music in the area since he was a kid hanging out with his brother, who also was a legendary guitarist for the Candymen and toured with Roy Orbison before Beaverteeth. David is one of many talented musicians in that orbit, and has played in numerous, remarkable bands through the years.
If anyone was going to know who was playing in that duplex almost 50 years ago, it would be David. He rang me up, and started laughing when I posed the question.
“Well, that was me,” he said. “I lived in that duplex. I don’t know that Beaverteeth ever played there, but Wilbur would come over sometimes and we’d jam.”
Wilbur Walton Jr. was another iconic Dothan musician, having fronted the James Gang with its hit “Georgia Pines.”
Had I known it was guys just several years older, I might’ve knocked on the door. During the call, David and I fell down a deep rabbit hole, remembering stories about old friends, acquaintances, and legendary musicians, and could have gone on swapping tales for hours, but we ended the call with the idea of picking up where we left off later.
I’d almost forgotten why I touched base with him. I’d been thinking about Daniels, and about a time when I worked backstage as a day laborer helping the road crew for a show at the Dothan Civic Center. On the bill were the Charlie Daniels Band, Johnny and Edgar Winter, and Beaverteeth.
It was a Friday night in February 1978. The Civic Center was still relatively new, and there seemed to be a rock show at least once a month.
The roadie work was a coup for a teenager who liked rock music, but it was grueling work. We spent all day moving heavy amplifiers, speaker stacks and lighting rigs and taping miles of snaking cables to the floor. When it was over, we’d come back and take it all apart and pack it back up. We got to see the show for free, and we got paid in cash.
On the north side of the Civic Center, where the police station now stands, there was a row of storefronts along Troy Street ending at The World’s Smallest Block, a triangular patch at the confluence of Troy, College, Appletree, and Cherry streets. Just down from Otis Girtman’s barbershop was a nightspot, Jackie’s Lounge. Deserted in the day time, Jackie’s came alive at night, and was popular. Parking was usually plentiful, but a packed house in the Civic Center made juke joint parking practically nonexistent.
That night, just after CDB had finished, we started the breakdown before the crowd got out of the arena. When we opened the dock door to begin loading the truck, the rig was not there. Instead, a ragged Ford Pinto sat over the yellow stripes of the loading zone.
I stood around with some of the roadies, who were trying to figure out what to do. Someone said we should wait, that the driver had probably been at the show.
I motioned across the street toward Jackie’s Lounge, which was jumping.
“They’re probably over there,” I said, as a shadow fell across the Pinto’s hood.
‘Mountain of a man’
I looked behind me and on the loading dock stood a bearded mountain of a man in a broad cowboy hat and hubcap-sized belt buckle.
The giant began to speak as he stomped down the steps. I’d have sworn the ground shook.
“Well then, I tell you what,” he drawled. “Let’s just move this sumb---h.”
Daniels himself went to the front of the Pinto, reached under the bumper and lifted the little car off the ground. The rest of us flanked the vehicle like pallbearers, levitating and then crab-walking the dusty hatchback to a corner of the parking lot. The big man dropped the front end, tipped his hat, and then sauntered off to a sleek, customized motor coach, disappearing inside.
The rest of us went back to work, and within a half-hour, the bands, roadies, equipment, semis and Daniels’ magic bus were gone.
From the loading dock, I noticed two young, tipsy women dressed to the nines and sloshing liquid out of their go-cups as they stumbled through the lot, wondering loudly what happened to their #@% car.
As I watched the women hunt their car at the end of a night of fun, I thought that might be the most rock ’n’ roll thing ever.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle. E-mail him
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