Monthly Archives: June 2017

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Seventeen

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began with dance bands in the Midwest during the 1930s and became a recording manufacturing exec and record producer at King Records.
(Author’s Note: Chapters written in italics are from Neely’s personal memoirs and do not always agree with outside sources.)
Meanwhile, I was still working for Allied, living in New Jersey. There was a daily Smoke Rise commuter bus to Manhattan leaving at seven each morning and returning at 6 p.m. If I had to go to my Manhattan office in the Port Authority building on 39th Street first, I took No. 507 to No. 17 in Hackensack New Jersey and then to No. 3 in Union City and the Lincoln Tunnel. If I went to the plant first, I got on No. 17 near Lindhurst, then to the Lincoln Tunnel terminal. Going home at night I reversed the procedure.
On many nights, when I couldn’t get home, I stayed at a small hotel on 54th and Broadway. The King Records office was across the street. For all commuters to Manhattan, from wherever, such a complicated procedure was the way it was if you did not live in town. Doing too many jobs was wearing me out. Mr. Broadhead gave me a choice, Allied’s vice president of sales stationed in Manhattan or manager of the new Allied pressing plant in Jersey. I chose sales.
Syd was getting more and more ill. He and Zella were spending much of their time in their condominium in North Miami Beach. I was at King’s in Cincinnati on a regular basis. All the staff and employees treated me like one of them. Allied’s government prime production contract was terminating soon in 1957. It was time for me to move on. I wanted to be a producer.
ZIV/World offered me a contract to produce “I Led Three Lives” and the World Transcription Library. I would be based in New York.
I talked to Syd at least two or three times a week. I was in Manhattan and called Syd in Cincinnati about 10 in the morning.
“Syd, just wanted you to be the first to know. I am leaving Allied to join ZIV/World as a producer tomorrow.”
There was a long silence on the phone.
“Hal, you promised me that if you ever left Allied you would come to work for me.”
“I didn’t remember it that way.”
Syd hung up on me. About seven that night I received a call.
“Hal, can you come and see me? I’m at the Sheraton.” Syd always stayed there when in Manhattan. For Syd, he was being nice and polite.
I had no idea what he wanted to talk about. Syd was like a second Dad to me so of course I would go see him. “Yes, I’ll be there.”
I walked into his room. Sitting with him was Dr. Richard Nathan, Sid’s younger brother from Miami Beach. I was greeted warmly. I’d always been like family. We talked and talked. They wanted to know why I had decided to leave Allied after almost ten years. It soon became evident to me that they were serious about working something out for me to come to King. We got down to the nitty-gritty. I now sensed the ZIV/World may not be what I really wanted. This could be as good or better a deal for me.
“Hal, just what is it you want in the near future?” Richard asked. “You’re not getting any younger.”
Boy, I knew that. This might be my chance. “My own record company someday.”
There it was on the table. We talked and talked some more.
“Hal, we will give you a 10-year contract deal and whatever else you want,” Syd told me. “You will run King. Richard and I have talked it over. We will also give you a first refusal option, no time limit, to buy all the King music and publishing assets, but not my personal property, for $1,676,000.”
It was almost sun-up, time for breakfast. Syd was very, very ill. They gave me everything I asked for. We shook hands. I wrote it up, in my hand, a simple contractual sale agreement on a blank page in a notebook I always carried in my briefcase. We had it notarized in the morning in the Sheraton office. Richard went back to Miami Beach, and Syd stayed in Manhattan a few days with me. I called ZIV and Mr. Broadhead in Hollywood. The plan was that I would join King as vice president and chief operating officer and be a member of the board on January 1, 1958.
I would sell my house in Smoke Rise as soon as possible and King would move my family to Cincinnati. In the interim I would work out of and live in Syd’s brownstone building on 54th Street and Broadway for free. It was across from Al and Dick’s Café, a local music industry hangout. I would be on King’s payroll and help Allied until they replaced me. Mary, our son, and I packed up and moved everything in a moving van to Cincinnati. King furnished me with a new Buick station wagon.
We first moved into a temporary apartment. Mary wanted a house. Jack Kelly, a true Kentucky gentleman of the old school and chief financial officer of King, assisted us in the move. Kelly had helped Syd in his buy-out of the House of the Blind pressing plant in Louisville. We decided on a beautiful small rural residential community, Terrace Park. Mary picked out a house under construction on a dead-end side street. I would be about 30 minutes from the King plant. The house had two stories, a full den and storage room in the basement, a nice front hall entrance, large living room and a dining room with fireplace, and yard. The first thing Mary did was add a big screened porch off the dining room just like the house in Smoke Rise.
We felt we were home, joining the Terrace Park country club and the local Presbyterian Church. Our neighbor was a doctor who became our doctor. We made a host of new friends. At work I was in charge, but Syd was still the boss.

Buddies For Life

The handsome young man–freshly manicured, shaved and coiffed, probably a recent customer at an expensive spray tan establishment—smiled into the television camera.
“Hi, I used to be a drug addict but now I’m not. I tried that old twelve-step program, but who wants to sit around a bunch of unattractive street people? I know I don’t. My arrest record wasn’t looking good–drug possession, lewd and lascivious behavior and driving under the influence. Daddy bought—I mean, hired—a former heavyweight boxer to follow me everywhere I go. He even sleeps in the same bed with me. And, man, is he a light sleeper! Say hello to everyone, Butch.”
A large, bald man with a mustache and dressed in a black suit to cover his massive muscles leaned into the camera.
“If I even look like I want to pop a pill, stick a needle in my arm or puff on a weed, Butch reminds me–in his own special way–that I really don’t want to do that. Show ‘em what you do, Butch.”
Butch stepped behind the handsome young man and placed his claw-like hands on his shoulders.
“Gee, I’d like to smoke some pot,” the handsome young man said.
Butch closed his thick fingers slowly, tightly, until the young man screamed in agony and collapsed to his knees.
“On the other hand,” he said through the tears, “I don’t want any pot at all.”
Butch released his grip, stepped back and folded his arms across his chest. Pretty boy stood and moved his shoulders back and forth to relieve the pain.
“Thanks, Butch, I needed that. Would you believe I haven’t had a relapse since Butch came into my life? So if you want to get the monkey off your back, replace it with a gorilla.”
Butch grunted, growled and scrunched up his face.
“I mean, replace it with your new best friend for life. Daddy was so pleased he started a new company and put me in charge. We call it Buddies for Life. Just give us a call at Buddies for Life to set up an appointment so you can get your own Butch. And I know what you’re thinking. Gosh, isn’t that awful expensive? It’s cheaper than you think, especially when you consider the alternatives, like death by overdose at age twenty-five. And if you have a really good sob story, Daddy might cut the price for you, or even give you a freebie. He’s always on the look-out for some good tax write-offs.”
The young man smiled and waved into the camera as a disembodied voice spoke rapidly, “Services might entail serious injuries over an extended period of time. Check with your doctor and/or psychiatrist before starting this regimen. Side effects can include loss of girlfriend, social invitations, sense of well-being, extreme aversion to pain and taking showers.”
“So call Buddies for Life today. It can be the beginning of a new life for you! Be like me. Get high on life, not—no! no! Butch! You didn’t let me finish! I said get high on life and not drugs! Stop it, Butch! Stop it!”

Toby Chapter Twenty-Five

Previously in the book: West Texas farm boy Harley Sadler brought entertainment to farmers on the High Plains during the 1920s and 30s, sharing his good fortune with those who needed a helping hand. He lost his show during the Depression, and his daughter Gloria died in the 1940s. He and his wife Billie settled into a frugal existence in their retirement years.
The years passed swiftly now for Harley and Billie. Their theatrical engagements became fewer and fewer apart. Being away from the spotlight did not bother Billie much. If she could not look her best at all times she did not want to be seen at all. Harley, on the other hand, drew energy from the laughter and the applause. His body required it as much as he needed food and water.
No one wanted to pay Harley to perform but he gladly put on a free show to benefit a hospital, school or orphanage. Most of the time he brought his Toby costumes and make up kit. A crick in his hip hampered a smooth exit from his car, and he limped up the stairs. When the lights came up, however he skipped lightly around the stage, sang a silly ditty in full voice, every lyric distinctly delivered. Harley bowed graciously to strong applause. He accepted a large cardboard check for one hundred dollars, in his name to whatever charity the show supported. Then he limped back to his car and went home.
Needless to say, his friends and neighbors continued to elect him to the Legislature which only convened for six months every two years. The salary barely paid for his living expenses when he was in Austin. He relished every time he took the floor to promote his newest cause. Walking down the pink granite steps of the Capitol would take an hour because tourists always wanted to have their photos taken with him.
Back home in Sweetwater, he enjoyed strolling the downtown streets on a busy Saturday afternoon with Billie, wearing her finest attire, on his arm. Of course, if a derelict in a nearby alley caught his eyes, Harley walked to him, pulling out his wallet. Billie skillfully guided him back to a waiting fan. They no longer had the money to be as generous as they used to be.
Their lovely home had been a refuge from the realities of living in a world that was slowly forgetting them. Then the Sweetwater city council passed a zoning variance which allowed a funeral home to be built down the street from the Sadlers. Rumor had it that the mayor’s brother-in-law was behind the deal, and he made a bunch of money from it. No matter. It was law now, and before Harley and Billie realized it, funeral processions were a regular occurrence. They stared out the front picture window and shook their heads.
“It’s as if God is mocking me,” Billie said through tears.
“It’s not God’s fault, dear.” He patted her shoulder.
She pulled away and wiped her nose. “I know.” Billie smiled ruefully. “I have to blame somebody.”
“I tried to stop it but I guess legislators don’t have much pull in matters like this.”
“I know you tried.” She sighed looking out at the cortege. “It’s the third one this week.”
Perhaps it was just as well they could not afford the maintenance on a big house. At least they did not have to see the hearses every day. Billie consoled Harley when they moved into their one-bedroom apartment. She did not have to spend so much time cleaning. Eventually, by 1954, finances degenerated to the point she had to take a job as a clerk at Woolworth’s. She used to buy knickknacks there all the time between big shopping sprees to Dallas.
As she stood behind the counter she considered herself in the large mirror on the wall. Older, yes, a little worn around the edges but she could see the remnants of her glory days as a theater beauty. And her posture was still good, a positive indication of internal dignity.
“Mrs. Sadler?”
The mature woman’s voice shook Billie from her self-revelry. When she turned back to the counter, she froze. Before her stood a grown-up Louise Bright. This was the child who looked up to her and wanted to be like her. Now Billie was just another old woman working as a clerk to pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment. She forced a smile on her face.
“Why, Louise Bright, how nice to see you.”
“I’m married now.” She smiled. “Mrs. George Sorenson. I have—two children.”
“How wonderful for you.” Billie knew that she also could have been a grandmother of two if Gloria had only lived. She told herself not to think such thoughts. They always made her sad and made it easier to for her to drink again. Her eyes went down to the counter. “Will this be all?”
Louise handed her a tin of headache powders. “Yes. My husband and I are traveling and he came down with a headache so we just stopped by.”
“This is a good product,” she interrupted, rushing through the conversation, afraid she would break down in tears. “I’ve had the worst toothache lately and haven’t been had the time to go to a dentist so I’ve been using these powders.”
“Mom and Dad retired to Florida,” Louise said. “How is Mr. Sadler?”
“He’s a state senator.” Billie took the opportunity to brag some. “He’s active in the oil association even though he’s really not in the oil business anymore. Not since we—lost—quite a bit back in forty-eight.”
“Does he do any shows?” Louise asked.
“He does benefits all the time.”
She smiled. “How wonderful. He always loved to put on a show.”
“That will be fifty-nine centers.” Billie wanted the encounter to end.
Louise handed her a dollar and said as she always did to all clerks without thinking to whom she said it, “Keep the change.” She suddenly looked stricken, realizing what she had done.
Billie stiffened, quickly made change and handed it to Louise. “No. Please.” Her tone was soft, desperate.
Fumbling with the coins, Louise took a moment to put them in her purse and snap it shut. She grabbed the bag with the headache powder tin, keeping her eyes down. “Well, I hope to see you again. Sometime. Take care.”
“Yes.” Billie wore a tight smile. “Good seeing you again.”
Louise left quickly. Billie watched her disappear out the door and down the street. Turning back to look in the mirror, she saw pain etched across her face. Her posture slumped as she felt the last of her dignity seeping away.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fifteen

War Secretary Stanton placed President and Mrs. Lincoln under guard in the White House basement and placed lookalikes upstairs so he could control how the war was conducted. Assigned to look over the Lincolns was Pvt. Adam Christy who was smitten at first sight of nurse Jessie Home.
When the two women drew closer, Adam stepped up and said, “Excuse me, are you Miss Cordie Zook?”
“Oh my goodness.” Her eyes widened in apprehension. “Has something happened to Gabby?” She looked in desperation at the tall young woman with red hair. “I was afraid this was going to happen. I should have never let—”
“No, ma’am; your brother is all right. He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s fine.”
“Then where is he?” Cordie’s large, liquid blue eyes searched Adam’s face intently. “Why isn’t he here?”
“He’s in the White House—” Adam stopped abruptly. “Um, he’s in the White House, and he’s fine, but he can’t come home. Right now, at least.”
“I don’t understand,” Cordie said.
The tall young woman with the red hair stepped forward and smiled confidently at Adam as she observed his uniform. “I hate to tell ye, Private, but you’re not makin’ yourself very clear at all.” She spoke with a distinct Scottish brogue. “Perhaps it’d be better if ye introduced yourself and explain how ye have all this wonderful knowledge of comin’s and goin’s at the president’s house?”
This woman was the most beautiful and intriguing female Adam had ever seen. It took him several seconds to find his voice.
“I’m Private Adam Christy, personal adjutant to President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln has ordered Mr. Gabby Zook to remain in the White House for an indeterminate amount of time—for security reasons.”
“For security reasons?” The young woman almost broke into laughter.
Cordie shook her head in bewilderment. “What does indeterminate mean?”
“It means he doesn’t know when your brother will come home.” The young woman put her arm around Cordie’s shoulders. “Isn’t that the truth, Private Christy?”
“Yes, miss,” he said. “It is.”
“But Gabby needs me,” Cordie replied, shaking her head. She looked at Adam. “You seen my brother, ain’t you?”
He nodded.
“Then you know. Gabby needs me. He can’t take care of himself. You know. You’ve seen him. I can’t—he needs me…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes went from Adam to the young woman.
“He’s fine, Miss Zook. We’re taking care of him,” he said. “I mean, I’m taking care of him. I mean, he’s being taken care of. You don’t have to worry.”
“But I have to worry about Gabby,” Cordie insisted. “On mama’s deathbed she made me promise to always worry about Gabby.”
“You don’t have to worry,” he repeated, trying to comfort her.
“Gabby was the smart one when we was young,” she continued, ignoring Adam. “He was like Uncle Sammy. He went to West Point. Then something happened.” Cordie shook her head. “Then he needed me. Nobody ever needed me as much as Gabby.”
“Now, I’m sure this nice young man will be very happy to meet us here every evenin’ to let ye know how brother Gabby is doin’.” She hugged Cordie. “Won’t ye be pleased to do just that, Private Christy?” She looked Adam squarely in the eyes.
“I don’t know.” He shuffled his feet and looked down. “I might be busy.” Finding his gumption, Adam turned up his face and returned her gaze. “After all, I am President Lincoln’s aide.”
“Really?” She laughed and tossed her head. “Ye can’t take a few minutes of your busy day for a dear sweet lady concerned about her beloved brother?”
“Please.” Cordie impulsively grabbed his hands and squeezed. “I must know how Gabby is. I won’t be able to sleep at night if I don’t know how he’s doing. I don’t think he could sleep at night, if he didn’t know I knew how he was doing.”
“Surely a handsome young man like yourself couldn’t ignore such a plea.” She touched his pocked cheek.
“Not handsome.” Adam mumbled, pulling his head back.
“Such a lovely head.” Not to be deterred, the young woman reached and touched his thick, red hair. “Ye must be of me blood. Scottish blood. No man is more handsome than a highlander.”
“Pa has red hair.” He shook his head to rid it of her soft, warm caress. “I really don’t know where mother’s folks came from.”
“These bother ye, don’t they?” She gently put her fingertips on the larger pock marks on his cheeks. “They shouldn’t, ye know. If ye didn’t have them, ye would be altogether too pretty. The scars make ye manly, ever so attractive for a lass like me.”
Adam opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out at first, so choked with emotion at the warm touch of her palm. His eyes went from Cordie, whose face was contorted with worry, to the Scottish girl and her sweet smile.
“Will you come with her? Each day?”
“But of course, Private Christy.” She hugged Cordie again. “Miss Dorothea Dix would have it no other way.”
“Who?” Adam wrinkled his brow.
“Miss Dorothea Dix,” she repeated. “Superintendent of Women Nurses. Faith, I thought everyone in Washington knew of the great pious lady of healing.”
“I’m new to the city.” Adam could not keep his eyes away from her.
“So you’ll meet us here each evening with news from Gabby?” Cordie ventured a smile.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt anything.” Adam caught his breath and added, “But don’t tell anyone.”
“Who, pray tell, would care to know what two unattached ladies do on their way home from a day of honest labor at Armory Square Hospital?” The girl laughed.
“That Miss Nix,” Adam said.
“No, Dix. Dorothea Dix.” She corrected him with an impish grin. “And, no, she won’t ask. She may think she wants to know the comin’s and goin’s of all the nurses under her command, but she knows better now about tellin’ me how to live me life.”
“Don’t boast too much, dear.” Cordie touched her arm. “Miss Dix is a mighty important person. I’d not risk your words getting back to her.”
“And what if they did?” She looked at Adam again. “Ye wouldn’t tell her, would ye, Private Christy?”
“Oh no,” he said. “I don’t want her to know anything about me.”
“Don’t worry. I know how to handle her.” She held her head high. “The first day I saw her at Armory Square Hospital, I knew all about her. An elderly lady, fragile, with a thin neck but a huge bun of hair pulled so tight she must have an eternal headache. And there she sat on the edge of an injured boy’s cot, readin’ the Holy Scriptures. Faith, if there weren’t tears in both their eyes. I suppose it was because he felt he didn’t have long to live, with both legs chopped off at the knees. I walked up to her and said I was fresh off the boat from Scotland where I had tended to me mother as she died of pneumonia. I wanted to volunteer as a nurse.
“Now, when those blue-gray eyes looked me over, she smiled and said, ‘No, thank ye, dear, we won’t be needin’ ye.’ Well, I put my hands on my hips and said, ‘Now, ma’am, I’ve heard nothin’ but how the Union needs nurses.’ She pursed her lips a bit as she closed the Bible, stood, and looked me in the face. ‘I don’t want these young men’s hearts broken along with their bodies. I can’t take a chance on a pretty young woman.’”
She paused to smile ironically.
“I wasn’t about to let that stop me. So I said, ‘Is it pretty I am, Miss Dix?’ And she said in a voice that sounded like it didn’t want to pick a fight but was ready to stand tough, she said, ‘Of course, me dear, ye are pretty, young, and, from what I have observed in the last few moments, ye are on the cusp of flirtatiousness which definitely is dangerous to weakened young men.’ Then I asked her, ‘If ye had your way—and evidently ye do—no pretty girls will work at Armory Square Hospital?’ Without blinkin’ her blue-gray eyes, she simply said yes.”
Adam merely smiled, completely infatuated.
“I said, ‘Then ye must leave this hospital, Miss Dix, post haste.’ Her little mouth opened, and a bigger sound than I’d have expected exploded from her thin lips. ‘I beg your pardon!?’ Without a word I walked past her and sat on the edge of the cot of the poor unfortunate lad to whom she had just been readin’. He had drifted off to sleep apparently, but at the touch of my hand on his shoulder his eyes opened. ‘Who’s the most beautiful woman ye have seen today?’ I asked him.”
“He said you, didn’t he?” Adam said.
“Ye don’t know men as well as I do, Private Christy,” she replied. “I knew he’d look up and smile at Miss Dix and say, ‘She is.’ I told her, ‘Miss Dix, to these men your kindness, gentleness, your unconditional love, make ye beautiful, and, therefore, according to your rules, an extreme threat to the fragile emotional health of our soldiers.’ For a wee moment I thought I may have overstepped me bounds, but then Miss Dix smiled and said, ‘Ye may start tomorrow.’”
“I don’t understand.” Adam shook his head.
“Private Christy, beauty is not here,” she said, touching his cheek, “but here.” Her hand moved to his chest.
“If we can’t see Gabby,” Cordie said as she tugged at the girl’s sleeve, “we better go. It’s getting late.”
“I’ll tell your brother I talked to you and everything is all right,” Adam said, trying to be soothing. “And I’ll meet you here this same time tomorrow.”
“He’ll need a quilt.” Cordie nodded as she turned to leave. “Tell Gabby I’m making him a quilt.”
“Good.” The girl put her arm around Cordie. “Then it’s all settled.” She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “See ye tomorrow. And don’t be late. Miss Cordie gets mighty frightful to be out after dusk, even with a chaperone.”
“I promise.” After a pause, Adam jumped and waved his hand at the receding figures. “What’s your name?”
“Jessie Home. Ye know what they say. There’s no place like home.”
Adam continued waving as they disappeared into the dark, one hand touching his face where her fingers had caressed his pock-marked cheek.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Sixteen

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely toured with big bands and transitioned to the record manufacturing business, eventually meeting King Records Syd Nathan and future soul star James Brown. He played a role in Brown’s first big hit but he continued his rise with Allied Recording while James Brown struggled after his initial success, “Please, Please, Please.”
After the success of “Please, Please, Please,” Hal Neely continued his steady rise with Allied Record Company, moving his family from the West Coast to New Jersey where he could commute into downtown New York to the main headquarters. A May 1, 1956, Billboard Magazine article reported that Neely was now national sales manager of both Allied and American Sound, a joint venture of Allied and Bart Manufacturing. He was temporarily assigned to the takeover of Urania Records to complete the necessary planning and change.
James Brown’s career, however, did not move along as smoothly. His next productions from the King studio did not receive the same enthusiastic response as his first hit. In June 1956, “I Don’t Know” and “I Feel That Old Feeling Coming On” seemed to get lost in the aftermath of the “Please” hurricane. A month later King released “No, No, No” and “Hold My Baby’s Hand” to the same lukewarm reception. Another commercial failure in October with “Just Won’t Do Right” and “Let’s Make It” only justified Syd Nathan’s original opinion of James Brown and the Flames. In his autobiography, Brown said he felt he was competing with himself.
Brown’s cure for the record doldrums was to take the group back on the road, playing his old hometown of Augusta, Ga., and then up north to Richmond, Virginia, and back down to Florida, getting gigs in Jacksonville, Bradenton, and Miami. Their next lucky break came when they played the same club as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Ballard was so impressed with their act that he called his booking agent in New York City, Ben Bart of Universal Attractions. Bart began in the music business during the 1940s, founding his own agency, Universal Attractions, in 1949. He represented the majority of the hot rhythm and blues acts of the 1950s, including Dinah Washington and Billy Eckstine. Bart saw in Brown a raw talent with unfettered energy and a potential to be open to instruction.1
Bobby Byrd described the relationship in these terms: “Ben and Syd Nathan and King’s lawyer, Jack Pearl, are all inter related in some way either through blood or marriage, so it was like if you recorded for King you are automatically booked by Universal Attractions. When we first went up to Cincinnati to record ‘Please, Please’ I’m sure we signed all three contracts at the same time, for recording, publishing and booking. Of course, we didn’t know nothing about contracts back then. We all just signed on the dotted line.”2
Universal Attractions opened doors for Brown and the Flames with more bookings in the North. As is often the case after an initial success, cracks began to show in the team that was James Brown and the Flames. Bobby Byrd, who had been Brown’s close friend ever since the Toccoa days, found out that Brantley was paying James Brown more money, even though every member of the group had agreed from the beginning that income would be divided equally.3
The next crack happened when Bart wanted to change the billing from the Famous Flames to James Brown and the Famous Flames. The flame, so to speak, went out. Bobby Byrd went back to Toccoa to be a darkroom assistant. Most of the others, including Johnny Terry whom Brown had met in prison, continued to work in the music business. The close bond Brown had developed with Byrd withstood the business disappointments. In coming years Byrd would rehearse Brown’s bands, rewrite and co-write many of Brown’s most famous tunes even though he did not receive credit on some of them.4
In late 1957 Little Richard announced he was leaving rock ‘n roll to devote his life to Christian ministry.5 This allowed Brown not only to pick up some of Richard’s bookings but also his band members, including Fats Gonder who was with Richard the night he first heard Brown. The new gigs prompted Nathan to give Brown another chance in the King studio. The results were “That Dood It,” released in February 1958, and “Begging, Begging” in May. Both flopped, and, according to Browns autobiography, Nathan declared, “James Brown is all through, washed up. He’ll never record for me again.”
After that, Brown went back on the road with his new members of the Famous Flames and developed a new song called “Try Me.” Bobby Byrd said Brown had gotten the lyrics for “Try Me” from someone—nobody writing music history knows his name–in Hollandale, Florida. “It was something like the way we got ‘Please, Please’, an adaptation from something else.” Byrd explained, “This boy was singing the song around and he gave James the lyric. But it was originally more complicated. We went back and did it again in New York, simplified it structurally but made it smoother and more sophisticated sounding musically. I wasn’t on the original demo but I was a part of the issued recording, singing and helping with the lyrical adaptation.”6
According to Brown biographer Geoff Brown, “‘Try Me’ is a heartfelt plea for love and if Brown did rein in his vocal then the restraint has worked to the benefit of the lyric because the understatement gives his singing a vulnerable quality that is at the center of the record’s success. Self-pity is kept at bay by the energy yearning in his voice.”7
That was not the reaction of Syd Nathan when he first heard it. “I’m not spending my money on that garbage,” Nathan said, according to Brown’s autobiography. Brown and Brantley personally financed the demonstration record of “Try Me” and took it back to Nathan but to no avail. “It doesn’t make sense,” the King executive said. “I don’t want it.” Not deterred, Brown paid for copies of the record to be pressed and took them around to disc jockeys who knew him. When the song got airtime, orders started coming in to King Records. Nathan tried to ignore them at first but when they reached 20,000 he gave in and called Brown to bring back the master recording.
“Oh, you don’t want that tape, Mr. Nathan,” Brown recalled saying in his autobiography. “It’s just a demo, a little something I paid for myself.” He knew he was on the rebound when he was able to force Syd Nathan into paying for a new recording of “Try Me” with top-of-the-line production values. King released it in October, 1958 with maximum marketing effort. Nathan even tried to get the song played on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. “He turned it down flat,” Byrd said about Clark. The record still reached No. 1 in the rhythm and blues charts.8
1The Life of James Brown, 53.
2Ibid. 54.
3Say It Loud, 28.
4The One, 81
5 Ibid., 83.
6The Life of James Brown, 51.
7Ibid. 52.
8Ibid. 53.

Breaking Out

A zit.
But what did I expect?
From one lousy chocolate bar to the tip of my nose.
What was I thinking when I ate that candy? Chocolate always caused me to break out. Maybe I bought it in celebration of Mary Lou Finklebean’s agreeing to go to the prom with me. I had been building up my courage to ask her out from the beginning of the school year. First I grabbed the desk right in front of her in English class and found every reason in the world to turn around at the first of class to say something.
“Did you think the homework was hard?”
“Boy, that was a downpour this morning. I see you didn’t get wet at all.”
“I thought your solo in the music program last night was swell.”
Mary Lou had a fair porcelain complexion and naturally pink lips. Her eyes were an unusually dark shade of blue, and her hair was almost black. And dimples. Very deep and got even deeper when she smiled. Which was almost all the time. And her little nose was like a button which crinkled.
Unlike my nose which was a huge honker with the most disgusting angry red pimple at the very tip. It was about to produce a stark white center and then, watch out.
Maybe I bought the chocolate candy because I was nervous. I always ate chocolate when I was nervous. This was going to be my first dance and my first date with Mary Lou. I knew she could dance. She danced in school shows all the time. Mary Lou Finklebean could do everything well and smile and crinkle her cute little button nose all at the same time. I had to learn how to dance from my father. For one thing, he insisted on leading, and he was six foot four and almost 250 pounds. Mary Lou was five foot two and as light as a feather. No wonder I was nervous.
Why was I crazy enough in the first place to ask her to the prom? I had never taken a wrong step in my entire life. Never volunteered to do anything so I couldn’t mess things up. I never raised my hand in class, so I couldn’t answer a question wrong. And I never, ever tried out for any sports team, so I couldn’t drop the ball in front of the whole school. I had been very careful to be safe. Why did I have to get brave the last month of my senior year in high school?
Because Mary Lou Finklebean was cute and entrancing. I forgot to fade into the crowd. But why did she say yes? I couldn’t have been the only guy who wanted to take her to the prom. Maybe Mary Lou had a secret, vicious mean streak in her. She said yes, knowing I would get nervous and go out to buy a chocolate bar the afternoon before the prom. Then she could laugh at me in the middle of the gym floor, pointing at the bulbous pimple on the tip of my nose, embarrassing me into running out of the building and into a busy street. Run over by a rusty car which would pop my zit all over my rented tuxedo.
Despite all my fears I drove to her house, got out, straightened my tuxedo and went to the door to knock. Mary Lou Finklebean opened the door and smiled her glorious smile and crinkled her adorable button nose.
Which had a zit on the tip of it.
I didn’t know whether to fall in love or run away.

Toby Chapter Twenty- Four

West Texas farmboy Harley Sadler traveled the High Plains starring as comic sidekick in melodrama tent shows. He married Billie and made keep on his promise to her family that he would have his own show one day. He made farmers laugh and helped them out during the 1920s and 1930s. His daughter Gloria died, and he retired, only to make one more try with a traveling tent show.

Harley’s brow knitted, his dreams centered on his opening a large Bible and trying to find the Book of Job. No matter how hard he looked he could not find it. He had to find an answer somewhere about why good men had to suffer. He told himself he did not mind the suffering if he only knew why it had to happen. The Book of Job must have the answer somewhere only if he could find the right chapter and verse. Eventually his eyes began to blur, unable to read the words on the pages. He felt a hand on his shoulder, rousing him from the nightmare. He was back at the showgrounds. Harley eased himself from the pickup cab, walked around to shake Mitch’s hand.
“You know, Harley—Mr. Sadler—there’s no rush on paying. Everyone knows you’re good for it.”
Harley grinned. “Don’t worry about it, Mitch. I’ll get a check to you by the end of the week. The show is going great guns. Money’s coming in faster than we can count it.”
“Sure, sure, no problem at all.” Mitch started the engine of his truck and drove off.
Standing there watching the truck disappear on the horizon, Harley felt the last bit of energy drain from his body. He had invested the all of the money he and Billie had put aside for their retirement, and now it was gone. What they would live on for the rest of their lives, he wondered. Harley had no idea.
Joe came up and grabbed his elbow, leading him back to the tent. “Harley, it’s gone too far.”
Sighing, he asked, “Can this wait, Joe?”
“No, it can’t” Joe replied firmly.
Harley stopped. If one more thing went wrong he did not know if he would be able to handle it. “All right. What is it?”
“I looked in the books this morning and found out we’re in the red.”
“What?” He did not have the energy to become angry.
“That was my reaction,” Joe continued grimly. “We’ve been on the road a month and filling the house every night, and we’re losing money.”
“What does Billie say?”
Joe paused a moment. His eyes strayed to the ground. “Harley, Billie’s the problem. When I looked closer, I saw the figures were in all the wrong columns. It’s her drinking. She’s making too many mistakes.”
“I’ll talk to her.” Harley turned to leave.
“No,” Joe announced. “I’m bringing in my own man.”
“I’ll tell her.”
“Now I think Billie’s a fine lady,” he continued using a conciliatory tone, “when she’s sober. And—and I don’t care if she stays on with the show playing roles but—“
“I think you’ve made yourself quite clear,” Harley cut him off with an icy stare.
The tour dragged on two more months. Billie seemed relieved when Harley informed her she would not be keeping books any more. Harley was not subtle in his increased supervision of her purses and coat pockets, anywhere she could stash a pint of whiskey.
Little girls in the arms of their parents drew Harley to them. He smiled and waved at them. Mothers and fathers handed their children over to him so they could get a picture of the great Harley Sadler with their little ones. Billie, on the other hand, kept her distance from girls with golden curls. She found her moment of satisfaction when she was decked out in her fanciest dress and sparkling jewelry. Admiring older ladies circled her and giggled in admiration.
Finally the tent came down for the last time. Crew and actors briskly packed trucks and cars. Harley and Billie walked to their sedan carrying their suitcases of costumes and makeup kits. As Billie loaded her bags, Harley shook hands with Joe.
“Well, we had some rough times there,” Joe said, “but I think we made out pretty well. Made some money.”
“I’m glad,” Harley replied. “It’s been a pleasure working with you, Joe.”
“We worked out all the kinks this season. Next year will run much smoother.”
“Next?” he questioned as an eyebrow went up.
“Sure. Never stop when you’ve got a winning hand, and, buddy, we’re a winning hand.”
Harley shook his head. “Thanks, but this tour has taught me I’m too old for this.”
“Too old?” Joe questioned amiably. “Why, the people love you. Toby is ageless.”
“Toby may be ageless, but I’m not,” he chuckled.
Joe looked down and kicked at the dirt. “Harley, I hope you’re still not upset about, well, having to replace Billie on the books—“
“Oh no,” he interrupted magnanimously, “we did the right thing. I have no ill feelings toward you. In fact, you can use my name on the tour. I can’t go out for months at a time.” He glanced at Billie. “I can’t take her out for months at a time.”
“I thought maybe going on tour again might take her mind off Gloria—but Gloria will never leave her—leave us.”
Joe shook his hand. “I enjoyed it.”
“I did too.” Harley looked over at the tents being folded away. “Yep, I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Cancer Chronicles

Janet in shadows

Scan_20170620 (2)

Here are photos of us before we met. I think the picture of Janet was taken at her first job after college graduation. She was the public relations officer for an educational cooperative in southwestern Virginia. The picture of me was taken in college. As you can see, I had a drinking problem back then.
Actually, I didn’t have a problem drinking from public water fountains, but I had a friend who was a photojournalism major who liked to talk people into doing silly things in front of a camera. This one is not so bad. He talked another guy into lifting his shirt and contemplating his bellybutton. And, believe me, that person really should have kept his shirt down. A young woman in the journalism department told me it was beneath the dignity of the student newspaper editor to do anything that frivolous. I hated to tell her, but there was no dignity in being the editor of the student newspaper in east Texas. It was a part-time job that paid my tuition for one semester.
I never asked Janet what was going on when her photo was taken—it was a Polaroid—at her job. I don’t know if somebody was testing out the new office camera or if it was for a bulletin board with pictures of all the employees. Talking about a job with dignity, that was her job. The organization, Dilenowisco, pooled the resources of five school districts to get things done that would have been too expensive for any individual district. They were Dickenson, Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the town of Norton. I listed them not so you would know exactly which groups were involved but to show that after forty-five years I still remembered the details from Janet’s job.
When I look at her what I notice now is how delicately thin her arms were and the innately sad shadow across her face. Here we were, half a continent away from each other. I was so desperate to please anyone that I stuck my face in a water fountain and she—to me, at least—looked so lonely.
For forty-four and a half years I hope I was able to keep her from feeling sad and lonely, especially in those last terrible days when her cancer spread to her brain. The last day she was coherent Janet begged me to get her out of that hospital room because the woman in the next bed insisted on watching the television news station with all the “bloviators.” A nurse gave her a sedative and soon the bloviators didn’t upset her. When she was transferred to Hospice Janet seemed to be sleeping but when she heard my voice she grabbed my hand. On my last visit I didn’t know if she could hear me, but I whispered to her to get her rest because soon she would be busy as my guardian angel.
I didn’t know when the impulse would come over me to stick my face in a water fountain again, and I needed her to watch over me.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Fourteen

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton placed President and Mrs. Lincoln under guard in the White House basement. Stanton replaced Lincoln with a lookalike he had found in prison and groomed him to impersonate the president. Pvt. Adam Christy was placed in charge of the Lincolns.
Dusk fell over Lafayette Square as Private Adam Christy stopped at the Executive Mansion door to tell the Washington policeman, dressed as a doorman in a frock coat and baggy trousers, that he would be right back after meeting someone for a moment in the park. The guard narrowed his eyes.
“And who are you?”
“Didn’t Mr. Stanton tell you? I’m the president’s new adjutant.” Adam cleared his throat. “And who are you?”
“John Parker.”
John Parker…it struck a chord with Adam, who remembered Stanton telling him to be wary of a certain guard at the front door who tended to stay drunk. The metropolitan police had brought him up on charges of going to whorehouses, being drunk, and sleeping on duty.
“The president’s last adjutant was a lieutenant,” the guard said after carefully eyeing the single stripe on Adam’s rumpled blue sleeve.
“Um, I’m from Mr. Stanton’s hometown,” Adam whispered as he looked down.
“Oh. So that’s how it is.” A grunt gurgled from Parker’s lips.
“Yes.” Adam glanced across Pennsylvania Avenue into Lafayette Square to see if Gabby’s sister Cordie was there. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Of course, boss,” Parker said, his voice tinged with irony and his breath reeked of whiskey.
As Adam walked down the steps, across the driveway, and into the street, he felt the back of his neck burn, though he kept telling himself there was no shame in taking advantage of a family acquaintance to get a leg up, as his father would say. How else would a young man from a small town on the banks of the Ohio River find himself in the center of his nation’s government? Steubenville’s only link to political importance was in its name, homage to Baron Von Steuben who had trained General George Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, turning them into a viable fighting force. The Prussian native was well rewarded with land and money, but he spent his remaining years in New York, not in the back country of Ohio. So Steubenville itself was known for its manufacture of plates and cups and bolts of cloth, not its political influence. Therefore, when young Adam Christy announced as a child that he wanted to be a general, his father laughed. To be a general, his father explained as he stroked Adam’s red hair, he would have to go to West Point; and to go to West Point, he needed to be appointed by a congressman. And congressmen only came to Steubenville once every two years before an election. Perhaps one day he could be a sergeant, he had tried to encourage himself. Then his father burst through the door on a bright day in June of 1862, grinning broadly.
“Boy, you might make general after all,” he said, grabbing Adam’s shoulders.
“What do you mean, Pa?” Adam’s heartbeat quickened.
“I saw something in the newspaper back at the first of the year,” the elder Christy began. “I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to get your hopes up.” He paused, smiling, to catch his breath. “You know how I’ve always said it’s not what you know but who you know, and my problem was that I never knew anybody. Well, what I saw in the newspaper let me realize I finally know somebody.”
“Who, Pa, who?”
“Well, I used to laugh and tell how I caught this fellow at the graveyard digging up your aunt. He’d taken a shine to her and wanted to make sure she was dead. But I caught him. I laughed at him and told everybody in town so they laughed at him until he finally got his back up. He blustered up to me, but dog-tailed it real fast when I said, ‘Yeah, so what? What are you going to do about it?’”
“Pa, what does that have to do with—”
“Just this. That fellow is now secretary of war for Abraham Lincoln.”
“But wouldn’t he hate your guts?” Adam frowned.
“Son, he’s a grown man,” his father said. “Grown men don’t hold grudges. Only boys do that.”
“So you wrote him about me?” Adam smiled.
“Sure did. Took a few months for a reply, but I got it today.” His father squeezed his shoulder. “He said for you to get on the next train headed for Washington. He has a special duty for you, and if you do a good job, he promised a commission.”
The next few weeks went by quickly for Adam, who mounted the train in Steubenville, crossed the Ohio River, passed Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania countryside, entered Maryland, and stepped off the train into the different world of Washington, D.C. A nameless man in a rumpled blue uniform met him at the station and took him to an induction center where he was sworn in as a member of the Army of the Potomac, but instead of being led away to one of the training camps around the capital, Adam was taken to the War Department, where he met Edwin Stanton and his destiny.
Nothing wrong with using connections to receive a special assignment, he told himself as he looked back at the Executive Mansion from Lafayette Park. The guard at the door was only jealous. Then he looked up at the statues around him. A smile found its way to his lips as his eyes adjusted to the failing light to recognize a monument to General Frederick William Von Steuben, his hometown’s namesake. A portent of good fortune. Now that he had put his personal doubts behind him for the moment, Adam’s attention focused on his promise to Gabby Zook to tell his sister Cordie that he would not be coming home with her for some time. Looking around, Adam could see that few elderly women walked in the park at twilight, so spotting Gabby’s sister would be no problem. After a few minutes of shifting from one foot to another, however, he worried he had been wrong, until two female figures appeared far down Pennsylvania Avenue. One was short and had rounded shoulders. That one must be Cordie Zook. But he did not know who the second person might be, a tall, straight silhouette with a quick gait and lively waving of hands and bobbing of her head during conversation. He smiled, wondering what the young woman was saying. Adam already liked her.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Fifteen

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely played in big bands, served in the Army during World War II and entered the record business in the late 1940s. He met controversial producer Syd Nathan and budding blues sensation James Brown.
All the stories about the recording session of James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please” were as equally diverse as those surrounding his demonstration tape. Most of the major players agreed that it took place at King Records in Cincinnati the first part of 1956. In Neely’s memoirs he insists that James Brown and his group showed up without an appointment in March. That was not how Brown recalled it in his autobiography.
Brown said the Flames were working in a club in Tampa, Florida, several weeks after the signing. Since so much time had passed they had just about decided Ralph Bass had changed his mind about the contract with King Records. Then they received a phone call from their manager, Clint Brantley, telling them to go to Cincinnati immediately. Brown’s assertion matched with an interview in which Ralph Bass said he called the group to come to King Records and told them he would put them up in a hotel.1
Upon the arrival of Brown and the Flames in Cincinnati, they were supposed to check into the hotel Bass had selected for them, which Brown described in his autobiography as a “fleabag.” Instead, the Flames went straight to King Records studio and slept in their car. According to one account, Neely came to work on a cold morning to find an old Ford station wagon in the parking lot with a bull fiddle tied to the top. Inside were six or seven sleeping men. He woke them up and discovered they were there for a recording session. Neely told them Nathan would not be in the office until noon and referred them to the Manse Hotel where black musicians stayed when they were in Cincinnati.2
Neely emphasized in his memoirs, however, that because Brown had shown up without an appointment, there was no studio space available on that date. Even though still working for Allied Records, Neely came to Cincinnati from time to time to produce records independently. On this particular day Neely was in the studio with Earl Bostic, an old friend. In his autobiography Brown concurred that Bostic was at King Records that day.
Earl Bostic and Hal Neely went back together to the old big-band days in Hollywood during the 1940s. Born in Oklahoma in 1913, Bostic attended Loyola University in New Orleans. By the late 1930s he was playing his saxophone for major bands in New York, arranging music for Luis Prima, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton and others. When he met Hal Neely in the 1940s Bostic had gone from jazz to playing standard tunes in a rhythm and blues style. The black musician began recording for King Records in 1949.
When James Brown sat in on the recording session in early 1956 Earl Bostic was one of the top rhythm and blues performers in the country. While accounts do not specifically say what Bostic was recording that particular day, discographies reveal that Bostic did record “I Love You Truly” and “’Cause You’re My Lover” during that time period.3
“We were supposed to record the next day, but when we showed up we found out Hank Ballard and the Midnighters had come in unexpectedly,” Brown continued in his autobiography. “Everybody at the studio was tied up in a big meeting with them, so our session was postponed until the following day.”
Ballard was another big star for King Records, making both money and controversy with his 1954 hits “Work With Me, Annie” and “Annie Had A Baby”. He was born John Henry Kendricks in 1927 in Detroit, Michigan, and was considered one of the first rock ‘n roll artists.
Neely, in his memoirs, kept calling Brown’s group the Royals, but that was the name of Ballard’s group in 1953 when it was signed to King Records. The group changed its name to the Midnighters in 1954.4
A major event in the relationship between Ballard and Neely came with Ballard’s big hit “The Twist.” Neely had gotten Ballard scheduled to perform the song on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, but Ballard disappeared after a show in New Orleans with a female fan and did not appear at Clark’s studio in Philadelphia. A janitor named Leonard Pendergrast said he could sing the song, and, after a few quick rehearsals, was introduced to the national audience as Chubby Checker and sang “The Twist.” He later made his own recording of the song which became the version known today. Clark subsequently told Neely no one from King Records would ever perform on American Bandstand again.5 When James Brown hit his peak, he did appear on American Bandstand even though he was with King Records.
When Brown arrived at King Records the day following Ballard’s session, he said in his autobiography, “Little Willie John had come in to record, and our session was put off again. Little Willie John was just a shade over five feet tall, and he looked really sharp. Later on he came to mean a lot to me, but when I met him that day, I was thinking more about whether my own session would ever come to pass.”
Little Willie John was another money-making talent for King Records. He was born in 1937 in Arkansas.6 After his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, he formed a gospel singing group with some of his siblings, and it wasn’t long before he came to the attention of big-time musician Johnny Otis and King A&R man Henry Glover who brought him to Nathan in 1955. Glover alleged to have signed him and had him in a studio three hours later recording “All Around The World” which within a month had gone to No. 5 on Billboard’s rhythm and blues chart.7
Glover said about John, “He was a really, truly great singer. The blues came so natural to him that he was just a master at that and no one living in that day could touch him. He could perform some of the greatest blues gymnastics and voice gyrations that you could ever dream of a person having.”8
In his memoirs Hal Neely claimed to be at the meeting in New York on June 27 when Willie John first met Henry Glover. Neely also said he was the one who arranged for John to meet Glover in the first place.
The day Willie John bumped James Brown and the Flames at the studio, he was probably recording either “Need Your Love So Bad” or “Fever.” John’s original version of “Fever” earned a gold record; however, the song became an even bigger hit for Peggy Lee in 1958.9
Brown and the Flames finally got their recording session. About 20 people crowded into the studio. In his autobiography Brown said he could see through the glass into the control booth where Ralph Bass, Syd Nathan and musical director Gene Redd were discussing the project. Brown didn’t like the idea of having a musical director but went along with it anyway. The first song Brown and the Flames went into was “Please, Please, Please” but Nathan quickly erupted with one of his infamous outbursts.
“Stop the tape! Stop the tape! This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever heard in my life! Nobody wants to hear this crap. All he’s doing is stuttering, just sang one damn word over and over,” Nathan screamed, according to Brown’s autobiography. “That it doesn’t sound right to my ears. What’s going on here?”
The Flames did not get any support from musical director Redd who shrugged and told Nathan he didn’t understand it either.10
Philip Paul, a drummer for King who was there that day, said, “Myself, and the other musicians said, ‘What was that?’” He remembered one of the studio guys saying, “If that’s the music to come…”
“We all cracked up,” Paul said. “These guys were really good musicians, and when they hear all the hollering and screaming, we all said, ‘What is this garbage?’”11
“I sent you out to bring back some talent, and this is what I hear,” Brown’s autobiography quoted Nathan as blustering. “The demo was awful, and this is worse. I don’t know why I have you working here. Nobody wants to hear that noise.”
But Ralph Bass came to their defense. “It’s a good song, Syd. Give them a chance.”
“A good song? It’s a stupid song. It’s got only one word in it. I’ve heard enough,” Nathan yelled before leaving the room, according to Brown’s memoir.
Hank Ballard, who was at the King studio that day, said, “Ralph Bass was a Russian Jew but he had black ears! Syd Nathan couldn’t hear a hit if you put it in his lap.”12
As far as Brown and the Flames were concerned, according to his autobiography, the recording session was a fiasco. They thought the only money they would ever see out of this project was the $150 apiece Nathan paid them for the recording session. Later they got a bill from King Records for the hotel, studio time, tapes, long-distance phone calls and even the food they ate. Back in Georgia, the members of the group returned to their old day jobs. Brown worked at a plastics factory; others to jobs as nursing home attendants.
According to Neely’s memoirs, he came back to Cincinnati on business for Allied, just in time to witness another epic fight between Syd Nathan and James Brown and the Flames.
“Hal, throw them out, unless you want to work something out and take them on,” Nathan said.
Neely then took the group into an office where he wrote a contract. The three-year agreement contained an option for King to renew for another three years. Neely would get a producer’s royalty of 3%. Neely said he called Clint Brantley in Macon to ask him to be the group’s manager. He also claimed to have changed the group’s name from the Royals to the Flames. (Other sources say the group was never known as the Royals.) Then, according to Neely’s memoirs, the group recorded “Please, Please, Please” with Neely as the producer and Eddie Smith as the engineer. Nathan liked it, Neely said.
Back in Georgia, Brown was busy with his factory job and going back and forth between his wife in Toccoa and his girlfriend in Macon. “Anyway, we carried on doing our little thing locally,” band member Byrd said. “But we had no idea the record was selling. See, we didn’t hear it on the radio.” Billboard Magazine first listed “Please, Please, Please” as a “territorial tip” at the end of March and then listed it as a “Buy O’ The Week” the first week of April. Billboard called it “a sleeper to watch. Atlanta and Cincinnati for two weeks have reported very strong activity.” By April 21, 1956, it joined the rhythm and blues charts, going to No. 6 and staying in the top 20 for 19 weeks. “And we certainly didn’t know nothing about no Billboard nowhere,” Byrd said. “Charts? What’s that? We were so down. We didn’t realize that – what we had been doing was getting out behind it and working the record.”13
“Now the aftermath of the story is that Syd never discussed how great this record was and what a great job I had done,” Bass said in an interview.14 “He could never do that. But I was in the studio there one day, waiting for someone to do a session. Syd came in blustering with some other cat who was evidently not in the record business. I could hear it all because of Syd’s loud voice. Syd said to the guy, ‘You know why we’re so successful in here at King Records? Because we don’t do things like anybody else. I’m gonna show you what I’m talking about.’ And with that, he went to the record player and put on a copy of ‘Please, Please, Please.’”15
Everyone, it seemed, had his own spin in the record industry.

1King of the Queen City, 90.
2The One, 74.
3Marion, J.C., Hurricane Blues: Earl Bostic.
4Nite, Norm, Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock ‘n’ Roll (The Golden Years) Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974.
5Buddy Winsett Interview, July 2012.
6 Whitall, Susan, Fever Little Willie John A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul, Titan Books, London, 20.
7 Ibid., 58.
8 Ibid., 56.
9 Ibid., 73.
10The One, 75.
11 Ibid.
12 Sullivan, James, The Hardest Working Man, How James Brown Saved the Soul of America, Gotham Books, New York City, 2008, 64.
13The Life of James Brown, 42.
14King of the Queen City, 91.
15 Ibid.