This note about the memorial service held yesterday in Woodruff, S.C. for Johnny Cox came to me from Debbie Cox Sloan and Jill Cox Parris via email today (March 30, 2009). A second service will be held in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. next Sunday (April 5, 2009) at the Pavilion. 11:30 a.m. A celebration of Johnny’s life will follow immediately afterward at the O.D. Beach Club, which is located at the O.D. Beach Resort & Hotel.
As a follow up, we wanted to share with you some highlights from Johnny’s memorial service yesterday, and ask that you pass along the family’s heartfelt thanks.
We held a memorial service yesterday (Sunday) in our family’s hometown, Woodruff, in honor of Johnny. We were overwhelmed with the outpouring by his friends. As Johnny watched from heaven, we know he was thrilled to see over 200 people there (some from the Myrtle Beach area) to honor the pieces of their lives and places in their hearts that Johnny filled. We are sure he was thrilled to see “standing room only!”.
His mother, children, grandchildren, sisters, niece, nephews, and their families were touched by the presence of so many. The service was led by Johnny’s life-long friend, Chaplain Tom Casey, formerly of Woodruff, who shared childhood and school-time memories of Johnny. Johnny’s daughter, Lee Cox Wise, and son, Scott Cox, also lovingly delivered beautiful memories of tribute to Johnny as a father and grandfather. Johnny’s sister, Debbie Cox Sloan, presented a loving tribute of childhood memories on behalf of his mother, Elizabeth Cox, sister, Jill Cox Parris, and herself. A written tribute, composed by Kay Murphy Cox Miller, appeared in the program.
The chapel was beautifully adorned with several flower arrangements, lovingly appreciated by the family, although in lieu of flowers, the family has/had asked that memorial contributions in memory of Johnny Cox be made to the American Cancer Society, 154 Milestone Way, Greenville, SC 29615. Over 50 large framed photographs of Johnny were displayed for all who attended to enjoy. A beautiful brass saxophone, shared by Steve Craig, singer of the Out-of Towners Band, stood at the alter below a touching photograph of Johnny playing his own beloved saxophone.
Beautiful music was presented by the Out-of-Towners Band, after the members reminisced about Johnny. Also a special part of the service included Johnny’s own recorded music. All of Johnny’s grandchildren sang an angelic rendition of “Jesus Loves Me”. Johnny and the angels were definitely beaming from heaven!
The family is so grateful for the presence of extended family, childhood friends and classmates from the Woodruff High School Class of 1962, and the MANY musicians who attended the service. Three large rows were reserved, as a place of honor, for the seating of musicians who had performed with Johnny. The rows would not hold all who were there! Among the many seated on these rows were the Out-of Towners Band, members of the Barons (the group Johnny and his father performed with for many years), as well as 6 former members/members of the Swingin’ Medallions with some of their family members. At one point in the service, Medallion founder and music icon, John McElrath, lovingly expressed his affection for Johnny.
We know that Johnny lives on, not only in the music he played, but more importantly in the hearts and lives of those who loved him. His too early passing leaves an ache in our hearts, but his presence lives on with us forever.
Thank you all for sharing in this beautiful celebration of Johnny’s life.
Devil In the Rhythm (2008)
I’ve never seen the Delta Generators onstage, but their debut CD, Devil In the Rhythm, makes me lust for a live performance. Right from track one, “Hand Me Down Blues,” I knew I was in for a wild ride of rockin’ funk-edged blues, and is it ever fun!
The nine-track CD is chock full of sharply written lyrics (all penned by vocalist and harpman, Craig Rawding), and that’s just the beginning. Guitarist Charlie O’Neal brings a Mississippi style to the table and leaves me wanting more (Guitar enthusiasts, take note; there’s some serious slide going on here). Brother Rick O’Neal, on bass guitar, has a background in funk and soul, and you can hear it in the rhythm section. According to the website, two drummers are featured on the CD – current drummer John Armstrong and former stick man John Perkins. Fine drummers, both.
Rawding’s vocals cut to the heart of each song. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite. I love the attitude of the opener, where he’s telling some guy to quit coming around with the same old problems, I got my own; title track “Devil In the Rhythm” boasts smart, smart lyrics and is a good old-fashioned romp in the past; “Straw Dog Strut,” which was inspired by Elmore James, and does him justice, I might add, showcases the band at its best.
It’s easy to see why this Worcester, Mass. group won top honors in the 2008 Boston Blues Challenge and went on to be a finalist in this year’s International Blues Competition (IBC).
At this writing, Delta Generators isn’t even two years old, and they’re already working on their next CD, with an ETA of September 2009. I’m already impatient for it, and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get me to one of their upcoming live gigs. ASAP!
I received this from Johnny’s sisters and they have given me permission to post it here.
Memories of Our Brother, Johnny- by Jill Cox Parris and Debbie Cox Sloan
Many people only knew the musician, Johnny Cox, a member of The Jays, The Sparkletones, The Barons, The Swingin’ Medallions, Sassy, Rhythm Brothers, Griff & Johnny, The Out-of-Towners Band, and many more. We would like to honor his memory and introduce you to more about him as a son and a brother- the Johnny we knew and loved.
Johnny’s mother lovingly called him “Junebug” and she called him this throughout his life and reminded him (and us) many times that his favorite book was still “The Pokey Little Puppy.” In the first grade, he was asked to be the director of the 1st grade musical group in the school program, but had to relinquish the title of Director and play the cymbals instead because he was the only one who could “feel the beat” and play the cymbals at the right time. He loved playing midget football and idolized his daddy who was the coach of his team. “Johnny Rex”, the apple of his grandmother’s eye and the apple of many of his aunts’ and uncles’ eyes, would put on his “Davy Crockett” coonskin cap, and go “hunting” behind his home with his Daisy BeeBee rifle, accompanied by his beloved dog Rags. He would take his little sister to Sunday school with him and try to make her comfortable by sitting in her class with her until he could “sneak out” to his own class. Johnny’s first “normal” job was behind the soda fountain at Stinson’s drug store, where he made the best cherry cokes in Woodruff. He spent his first paycheck on a jacket with a fur-lined hood for his little sister, but in the next moment would send her screaming as he terrorized her by chasing her as he pretended he was “Frankenstein”. By the way, speaking of scared, the movie that always terrified him was “The House of Wax” starring Vincent Price.
At 13, he cut his first record with the Barons. It was called “Jaywalk”, a song he wrote and played on his saxophone. He was recruited by a band called the “Sparkletones”. The group had a hit called “Black Slacks” and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Johnny toured with them in Canada, playing sax, at the age of 14. Upon his return home, his 6-year old sister kissed his hand over and over because it was the hand that shook the hands of Ricky Nelson, Fabian, and Paul Anka!!! However, if the truth is known, his sister adored him much more than those other stars and grieved every time he went away!! He loved getting his mother to hum or sing a song to him, and then he would play it back to her on his sax…….Always amazing her!
He loved taking pictures of his sisters with his black and white film camera……..posing his little sister like Zorro or a dead cowboy, and taking pictures of his baby sister because he said “She looks like a baby model.” He taught his little sister to shag and loved bouncing his baby sister on his knees.
Johnny had many girlfriends, or those who wanted to be his girlfriend. His aloofness (which was really shyness) seemed to make him a good catch…but there were a few (Janet, Jean, Nancy, Martha, Becky, and Kay) who really captured his interest and attention. Back then, he did not like the fact that he wore glasses, so he would wear prescription sunglasses at night. When he was asked why….he would say, “Because the street lights hurt my eyes!” Johnny was the lead in the school play, and his little sister practiced his lines with him diligently. He drove a school bus, was in the Beta Club, and was voted Best Looking AND Most Talented out of his senior class……a fact he never let his family forget. He talked of taking his dates home ON Saturday nights in time to get back up to the “Wenoka” to watch “the Fugitive” on TV with his friends! On a couple of occasions, we witnessed a few of his buddies making fun of him on Sunday afternoon because he always took a Sunday afternoon ride or picnics with all of us and then went back home with us to watch Bonanza together as a family. He said it didn’t matter, because that was what he wanted to do. Daddy liked “Pa”, Lorne Green…Mama liked Brother Adam, Johnny and Debbie liked Little Joe, and Jill liked “Hoss Cartwright”….that was our favorite show.
As a Furman student, he wanted his mother to see how he had arranged his dorm room. Before he would let her in, he turned on the lamp beside his bed and started a jazz record by Dave Brubeck on his record player. This prompted his roommate to say, “Johnny, you would think you were bringing Marilyn Monroe in to see your room”, to which Johnny replied, “No, I just want Mama to like it”…he loved his mother deeply. Johnny came home on weekends to teach the 13-year old boys in Sunday school. One Sunday, as the family got ready for church together, his baby sister could not find her Sunday black patent leather shoes….so someone had to stay home with her….it was Johnny, who then promptly fell back asleep while his baby sister rode “round and round” him on her tricycle, trying to wake him! He also orchestrated a Christmas Eve service at home, directing his family members to read the Christmas Story from the Bible, and to kneel around the Christmas tree together to hold hands and pray.
Years later, when his baby sister yearned to drive the family car, Johnny took the opportunity to teach her all he knew about driving. Johnny was 29, and Jill was 13. Nearly 10 years had passed since Johnny had lived at home with the rest of the family, but he still had a big brother’s heart. Not surprisingly, he managed to get the family car and his baby sister home safely. After only 30 minutes, Johnny was sitting in the passenger seat while baby sister drove as they rolled up in the driveway. Our parents were not surprised at all….. that was typical “Brother Johnny.”
We were always proud of Johnny and the fact that he was a great musician. We’ve always held a soft spot in our hearts for musicians, since both our Dad and brother played music. You know, most “normal” families back when we were growing up had formal living rooms where the mothers kept the nicest furniture in the house… you know, the room where children were not allowed to play? Well, our home’s living room was filled with guitar amps, a Hammond organ, a Farfisa keyboard, a saxophone stand, and drums. Our family’s house is where our Dad and brother’s band rehearsed many times. While we rode bicycles up and down the street outdoors, or did homework in the adjoining room, we could hear the sounds of our Daddy and Johnny playing their songs, laughing and talking with their band mates. That was what occupied our mother’s living room (it takes a special breed also to be a musician’s wife)! We can’t help but smile when we remember the smells and sounds of laughter, leather guitar cases, cigarette smoke, and chord progressions being discussed and shouted out above the tunes. Over and over again, they would play, until the song was perfect. Looking back now, we laugh about how we never realized this wasn’t “ordinary.” We never stopped to think that other living rooms in Woodruff were not filled with bulky music gear, microphones, and long, black, winding cables plugged into amplifiers. It all seemed normal to us then, and we never thought otherwise….. until now.
A very early memory of our brother is of him performing at the American Legion Hut in Woodruff with a group of teenage boys. He was playing his beloved saxophone, of course, and we were in the crowd watching the band and swaying to the music as he played the song, “Last Night”. His baby sister was 3, his little sister was 11, and Johnny was 19 at the time. At one point he came down from the stage area and began to hold our hands, dancing with us and laughing. We also were privileged to be with him and see him play the last time he performed on his beloved sax in December, 2008…..a memory we will cherish forever. We now realize with the passing of our brother (and our Daddy 3 years ago), that their presence in our lives made our family’s life as extraordinary and un- typical as you might imagine. Looking back on these memories, we wouldn’t have had our lives any other way!
By the way, no one will ever play “Danny Boy” as good as our big brother did!
Music lovers throughout the Carolinas are reeling from the loss of saxophone player Johnny Cox, who died in Charleston, S.C. last Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2009. Musically and personally Johnny threw a bright light from the upstate of South Carolina to the Grand Strand. Well-known for his time with the Swingin’ Medallions, he’s also played with the Out of Towners, Greg Moseley & the Carolina Players, Griff and just about every band that passes through. It was a year ago this week that I sat down with Johnny and blues guitarist Michael Stallings, at Deckerz Saloon in North Myrtle Beach.
What struck me then … and what I remember now … is his smiling face as he spoke about his career and his early days in music. “My daddy really kept me in line,” Johnny said. “At 13 I was wanting to teach these other guys how to play their instruments. Imagine, I was trying to tell the guitar player how to play ‘Rebel Rouser!’
“I learned some respect with the Swingin’ Medallions, too. One of the best lessons we ever learned, in fact . . . We were playing Augusta, Ga. with Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces. I must have been 22 or 23. This old station wagon with an old U-Haul trailer pulls up and this bunch of ‘old 60-ish guys’ get out and introduced themselves. It was Bobby Moore and his group. “We took one look at them and said to each other, ‘We’re going to smoke ‘em.’
“Well, we didn’t smoke ‘em. (One guy was playin’ a Birdland guitar.) They smoked us! We learned respect.”
The more I talk to people about Johnny, the more I realize that these early lessons stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Saxophone player and vocalist Tony Kennedy, formerly with the Rickey Godfrey Band and now playing with the Out of Towners and Freshwater – knew Johnny through his family. “Johnny was my wife’s second cousin.. He was just a great human being. It’s a sad note to see him go.”
Susan and Donny Trexler have also been close friends, “It’s hard to accept that we won’t see Johnny come in the door of the club where we’re playing and start unpacking his sax. What a joy when he joined us to blow that horn! We will both miss his smiling face and sweet sax.” says Susan, and Donny adds, “We’ve known Johnny since he was with the Medallions and he’s always been such a true, honest, and great friend. Never pretentious, just down home good people.”
Singer songwriter Calabash Flash echoed that, “Johnny was such a humble guy. Babs and I met him ten or 12 years ago, and he never even mentioned that he had been in the Swingin’ Medallions. He was just a regular guy … never bragging… just happy to play.”
I’ve been talking and reminiscing with a lot of folks about Johnny, and every last one of them talks about Johnny’s positive attitude.
Rickey Godfrey was in his teens when he first met Johnny. “I remember Johnny Cox as always having a positive attitude, and a compulsive love for the music. Years ago, Johnny used to play with Alan Pearson, a great drummer, who was later in my band, Garfeel Ruff, during the 1970s. Wherever Johnny went he always carried his saxophone with him, he loved sitting in and jamming with everybody. It was always a great time.”
Guitarist Randy Humble goes way back with Johnny. In fact, he and Johnny were both members of the Rhythm Brothers AND Griff’s Clyde Miller Blues Band (named for Griff’s two black labs, Clyde and Miller). “I love Johnny,” says Randy. “He’s down to earth, a good person and a super friend, a super person.”
Singer Pam Russell from Shaggie Maggie adds to the accolades, “The thing about Johnny is, he was always out there in the scene, lovin’ life, playin’ music. The first time I met him, we were playing in some little spot in High Point. Johnny showed up with his sax, ‘Hey, can I sit in?’ That was Johnny.”
When I talked to Michael Stallings he reminded me of the stories he and Johnny first told me at Deckerz. “I still remember the exact first night I met Johnny,” he said. “I was playing at the Bushes in Greensboro, maybe ‘92 or ‘93, and of course Johnny wanted to sit in. Well I heard him play and didn’t want him to leave! In fact I invited him to join up with us that same night. Eventually, we started working together some.” Next he told me a story about a three-day marathon recording session in Griff’s “little deathtrap studio” that had me laughing out loud.
Hack Bartley has known Johnny Cox since the late 60s. “We joined the Medallions at almost the same time,” he says, “In fact, it’s just 42 years ago to the week that we met, I think. Johnny was a great musician, a great friend and a great team player. From the beginning, he was my musical mentor. I took all my sax playing cues from Johnny. I mean, I was 13 when I got my first horn. When Johnny was 13, he was already touring.
“Another thing about Johnny,” Hack continued, “is that he always made sure everyone got their turn in the spotlight. He’d step in to play, but he always knew when to step back, too. Very generous. If you ask me to say something about Johnny Cox, it’s that he was always positive … it was always, ‘let’s get out on stage and have some fun!’” Hack laughed at this point in the conversation, but it wasn’t a happy laugh. “This is a sad time,” he commented, “It’s a sad time for music lovers.”
Founder of the Medallions John McElrath feels much the same. “Johnny was one of my favorite people in the whole world, and as a musician, he was a perfectionist … always practicing … always playing.”
Johnny Cox affected everyone he met. From Internet deejay Bill Swanke, better known as Willie C, comes, “Johnnie was a friend to all, and everyone loved him.He loved the music and loved playing his sax with anyone and everyone for the love and fun of playing the music. He will be truly missed by all. The great band in Heaven now has another player.”
Sea-Cruz keyboard player Dino Fair added, “Beach music has lost one of its true icons. Not only was he a great musician, he was a good friend and one of the last good guys.” Fellow saxophonist Butch Barnes calls him “one of the most giving musicians in the business.”
Two of his best buddies are blues musician Griff and 94.9 The Surf deejay Billy Smith. Both wanted to talk about him, but clearly were having a tough time. “Johnny and I could sort of read each other’s mind,” Griff said. “You know, he could improvise as well as anyone I’ve ever known. He was a great musician and a great friend. … We were just on the same page.”
“I just loved to be around him,” Billy Smith told me, “And I can’t believe I’m not going to see him again. Johnny I would get together for a cocktail (we called it a cup of coffee) and sit and reminisce every day. We’d talk about movies, about music, about everything… He was so talented … so good … God bless him, at the Christmas Eve show, right around the time he was diagnosed [with cancer] and I pushed him to play ‘Silent Night’ and it was hard for him. That was a sad moment, sad for me to remember.” He adds, simply, “I loved him.”
It might be Susan Trexler, who summed up Johnny Cox the best. “He was happy. Johnny was a happy guy who lived every day as if it were his last.”
I hadn’t intended to call Linda Cox, Johnny’s wife of 15 years. I didn’t want to intrude, but when she heard I was writing this piece, she wanted to say a few words.“Please thank people for me … for all their worrying. Everyone misses Johnny, I know.
“It’s hard, but I’ll be all right. I’ve got my little business to run and I’ve got lots of friends to help take care of me.
Linda went on to tell me, “I met Johnny 20 years ago at Big E’s in High Point. We’ve been there for each other… supporting each other. He was my best friend … and the love of my life. I know how sad everyone is.”
A memorial service is tentatively set for11:30 a.m. on April 5 at the Pavilion in North Myrtle Beach with Rev. Beaver. A celebration of Johnny’s life will follow immediately next door at the O.D. Beach Club located inside the O.D. Resort. Sure hope they’ll be jammin’, ’cause I know Johnny will show up to sit in.
If you have a Johnny Cox story you’d like to add, feel free to leave a comment. If it’s too long for a comment, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll either add it to this or another post. Thanks for stoppin’ by!
My Long Awaited Interview With Don Wise
[Note: this interview took place in December, 2008. An edited version of this was published in my Beach Newz column that runs in both Coast Magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, the two independent fortnightly papers in Myrtle Beach, S.C.]
The first time I heard Don Wise play saxophone was with the Nashville-based Rickey Godfrey Band at Nightclub 2001 in Myrtle Beach. I became an instant fan, and I’m not alone. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Rickey Godfrey says, “When you hear a couple notes from his sax, you immediately know it’s him playing. Don is a technically skilled player, but he emphasizes ‘feel’ over ‘technique.’ He sounds like one of those guys from the 50s, Sam “The Man” Taylor and Fat Head Newman – in terms on tone. But his style is uniquely Don Wise.” I wanted to know about his time with Delbert McClinton, his propensity for old WWII horns and his plans for the future.
DarielB: You played sax with Delbert McClinton for 22 years. Can you tell me how it began?
DON WISE: In the Summer of 1985 I was in a recording studio in Lubbock, Texas, with a band named Radio Zebra from Germany. We were rehearsing and recording almost daily at this time and I got a phone call at the studio. The voice, without saying who it was, asked what I would be doing in September. I said, “It’s June now and I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, why?”
It was the then bass player for Delbert. Someone had told him [Delbert] about a sax player in West Texas and he was calling to see if I was available.
Here is the storied part: I was sent cassette tapes of about 50 songs to learn. With no rehearsal under my belt, I received a plane ticket to be in Houston to play on the 25th of September. I wrote out scads of horn parts and even on the plane to Houston had headphones on and sheets of music manuscript spread all around to make sure I had it down.
At the gig, having never met any of the Delbert band, I was introducing myself and trying to get a feel for what the first four or five songs were going to be. (Delbert didn’t get to the club until about 15 minutes before show-time!) All the band guys were saying, “Well, Delbert will just start calling songs.”
“Surely he’s gonna start with something he usually opens with?”
“Nah, something different every night.”
I set up a makeshift music stand with all these sketched parts and suddenly realized that he doesn’t even do the songs any more that I’d spent months committing to memory.
Maybe 80% of the songs I’d learned we have NEVER played with Delbert!
Of the other 20%, and since they didn’t send a list of the songs on the tapes, I would write down a title that cued it for me. So, the first line became the title “It’s 3 O’Clock in the Morning,” but is actually “Back To Louisiana”! I had the titles wrong, so even when he called a song I had learned, I kept asking, “How does that one go?”
To reverse any goodwill I may have brought with me, the makeshift music stand with the 75 pages of circles and arrows got knocked into the crowd about 20 seconds into Delbert’s first song!
I guess he liked my playing because I didn’t miss a show for 17 years and only then because I was caught in a blizzard in the mountains of Tennessee.
DarielB: What was touring like for you?
DON WISE: In the beginning we would go out across the country for or five weeks at a time. The last few years the money was a lot better and we played less, which is what most of us aspire to.
It seemed that no matter where we played the audiences were super and excited that Delbert and the band were there! We could play in a rural area in Finland and 8,000 people would show up singing the lyrics in English along with him.
DarielB: Why did you leave the band?
It was a total of 51 years since I started playing in clubs in Westerly, Rhode Island and I had been with Delbert’s band for the past 22 + years. It was the perfect place for a honking tenor sax guy like me to be, but over the course of time the music changed…leaning a different direction than we played before. Ultimately, it became too much like ditch digging. The hardest part wasn’t the playing. It was the getting in the car to drive three hours to Nashville to get on the tour bus and ride 12 hours to Texas or Kansas or Connecticut to play two hours and go home.
For several years I was feeling a bit frayed around the edges and THIS year I simply decided it was time to vacuum the dust and cobwebs accumulating between my ears and breathe some fresh clean air that wasn’t already breathed twice!
DarielB: Are you playing any gigs with Delbert now?
DON WISE: I have not played any with Delbert since leaving in July , but I am going on the Sandy Beaches Cruise [January 2009] as a guest with my lovely wife Pamela. If all goes well I will be honking a few notes during the week on the cruise!
DarielB: With Delbert, did you have artistic control over your parts?
DON WISE: Most of the time we were a two-horn section of trumpet and tenor, and it is indeed fortunate when you and your section partner can read each other’s phrasing intentions before they’re played.
Some of the horn parts were already a part of the musical fabric when I came on. I had freedom to be creative enough with my parts on a nightly basis to keep it interesting. Some songs have horn parts that HAVE to be played very much the same as when I played them in 1985 for the first time. Other songs can be experimented with some and still not lose the feel or intent. I like to think I was able to interpret the Delbert music as well as anybody out there and was consistent to his genres over those 22-1/2 years.
DarielB: You produced at least one of Delbert’s CDs, didn’t you?
DON WISE: I was producer on Live from Austin (Alligator Records) mainly because I absolutely wanted to have control over what those horns sounded like on the final release.
My solos, of course, but mainly the glorious horn section that played on that Austin City Limits show! Horn sections had been used as dull-witted background for a long long time (from when everybody realized they could play a guitar and turn a knob to be LOUD!).
I wanted it to sound like those great late 40s R&B records with their pure section horn sound. I still think, for overall quality of music, it’s Delbert’s best recording! [Editor’s note: This CD earned Delbert McClinton his first Grammy nomination. Four of Don’s solos from this project were later included in the recording produced for the John Laughter book, “Contemporary Saxophone.”]
DarielB: When and how did you learn to play? What instruments?
DON WISE: I started clarinet lessons when I was nine because I aced some type of tonality test early on (probably more because the band director needed warm bodies). My mother always liked saxophone music, so the decision was made and I liked it.
DarielB: You seem to always play tenor sax? Is there a reason for that? Do you not care for alto and soprano sax sounds?
DON WISE: I am not a big fan of soprano sax, though I have one. I started playing alto after clarinet and still like to play it. I recorded “America the Beautiful” on my first CD playing alto and tenor, and I’m on various recordings playing all three saxes over the years including flute as well. I played tenor exclusively with Delbert because it fit his music better than the other saxes.
DarielB: Rickey Godfrey told me you have an interest in older saxophones, and that you own a sax with thicker metal in it from the World War II era. What are the differences between newer saxes and older models like yours?
DON WISE: Most musicians are interested in trying out new instruments and for a long time I did just that.I’ve bought several different makes of horn that sounded great in the store, only to find it didn’t speak the way it should when we were in high gear on stage. I kept going back to the horn I bought in 1964 from a guitar player in New England. I gave him $55 for it and it’s the horn I still rely on to make my life enjoyable! It’s called “The Martin” and it was made in 1951 from left-over brass howitzer shell casings from WWII.
In California a few years back, BB King’s drummer, hearing me getting ready to go to the stage, said I was the loudest tenor player he’d ever heard without a mic. I always took that as a compliment to my horn! I have a “The Martin” alto, too.
A few years ago I found and bought another “The Martin” tenor made in 1947 and silver plated. Heavier, bigger bore and so consequently it can wear me out. But what a sound. I believe the quality of the metal was better on the older horns. The mechanism on newer horns may be easier to get around on, but the sound coming out the of the bell has to resonate through a lot of things, including the reed, mouthpiece, pads, the type and thickness of metal in the horn and even the resonance in your own head.
DarielB: Who has inspired you – musically?
DON WISE: For sax inspiration there were several that stand out because of the raw energy AND facility on their horn. I was there with my ear to the radio when sax was the centerpiece. I spent long hours working loooooooong tones because I was going for that big, fat, rattle-the-roof sound that I liked to hear.
Red Prysock, Sam “The Man” Taylor and Sil Austin were early on favorites and later King Curtis. He played on all the Coaster hits and later with Aretha Franklin. I liked Jr. Walker somewhat but none of them had the intensity of Red Prysock for sound AND fury! Red Prysock was from Greensboro, North Carolina.
Illinois Jacquet was more a big band swing guy from Texas and I think the players I named earlier developed their style from him and brought it into the jump-blues/r&b era.
DarielB: Any best-loved gigs? Delbert or otherwise?
DON WISE: I’d pick the best-loved one this way. When my kids were little and I would come in from playing late at a club, they knew the rule was “Don’t anyone wake me in the morning until at least noon!”… and I always tacked on, “unless Ray Charles is on the phone!”
In 1997 he finally called and I played on national TV and got the solo on “Let the Good Times Roll.” [The video of this performance can be seen on Don’s MySpace page: www.MySpace. com/donwisemusic.]
DarielB: Anyone special you’d like to work with?
DON WISE: If I had to pick just one, there’s a fantastic band out of Austin, Texas, named Mingo Fishtrap that I’ve played a few times with on the Delbert cruise and they’re as rockin’ as any band I’ve heard in my life. Original songs, powerful horn section, super vocals AND at the beginning of their careers!
DarielB: Are you doing any songwriting now? If so, do you write just for yourself or other artists, too?
DON WISE: As far as song writing I think the ability to say the same old story but in a unique way is what separates the great song writers from the lesser talents. I still don’t consider myself a songwriter by any stretch but I think my songs are unique by virtue of using the language differently. I think that came from being around Delbert for all those years. I have bits and pieces and half-finished songs, plus a few songs that are ready to record. I occasionally have written with the singer in mind, for instance “Deeper Shade of Blue” for Teresa James.
I don’t like the sound of my own voice when I hear it recorded and until “You Don’t Have to Be Lonely,” I wouldn’t let my voice (other than the few comedy type things like “Hold the Mayo”) be put on my own CDs. Everybody, including Delbert, told me my voice was perfect on that song (“You Don’t Have to Be Lonely”) but I still regret letting Don Wise sing it.
DarielB: You seem to have a lot of fans in Norway. How did that come about?
DON WISE: I’m not exactly sure why the fans of Norway like my music. I will say that Norwegians and Europeans in general are very good listeners. By that I mean that when you’ve played a good solo, it is reflected in the response you get back from them immediately.
Or if the band has had one of those one in 500, “This is the best we’ve sounded in a long time!” the Norwegians are right there with you!
It cuts both ways also, when you’re having a mediocre night, you know that THEY feel that, too.
Have you ever tried to play a song that you liked for somebody and they talked all the way through it? They are the opposite of THAT…. and it’s more than the over-simplification that their applause is getting you over the hump, they truly are knowledgeable, indepth, music-loving listeners.
DarielB: You and I have spoken about concept CDs in the past, in particular Genuine Snake . . .
DON WISE: My first CD was like a shotgun approach. Musically In Wise Hands is all over the place. Sure, they’re all good songs, but musically scattered because I had so many ideas and I wanted to get them all out.
PLUS I thought I was just going to make ONE CD. I’d better give it everything I’ve got! It was given a great response by DJs especially in the Beach market, so I thought I’d do another, On the Verge of Survival.
More positive reinforcement from DJs, dancers etc. so by then I was geared up to make the best record of my playing, EVER!
The third CD was Genuine Snake!
From one end to the other … the photos … the poem under the disc…the SHAPE of the poem under the CD, Teresa James singing “Deeper Shade of Blue” was in answer to “Big” Joe Maher singing the song that precedes it named, “Lots of Flame (but no heat)”… In fact every song was part of the story told in order. “Genuine Snake”” referred to the shoes as well as the depiction of evil in a relationship.
It, too, got fantastic reviews and write-ups, but not one reviewer or listener has mentioned any intent other than the individual songs.
And to prove it was a mistake to get so deep, it has been the CD that sold the least for me.
For my fourth CD, Swingin’ Up A Storm, I wanted to put all the best dance music from my previous CDs plus four new songs that I wanted to do on one CD.
DarielB: Are you working on a new CD now? In the future?
DON WISE: I keep getting the urge to get started, but the enormous work, time, not to mention the money that goes into the making of a good CD has kept me from going beyond having good ideas for songs!
We’re in a time where anybody with $900 can buy enough equipment to put a CD out so the world is flooded with mediocrity.
DarielB: Are you gigging now? Any plans to come to the beach?
DON WISE: I’ve turned down way more than I’ve taken just because I have really liked sitting still, with no obligation to anybody except my wife Pamela and our rescued Pit Bull, Gigi.
After Winter I may be ready to play some with Rickey Godfrey or maybe just go over and visit my friend Paul Craver. I’ve made a few good friends over at the beach because Terry White from Charlotte liked my CDs right away and more or less grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and made me go around to radio stations and talk about Don Wise.
I probably owe any attention I’ve gotten to he and his wife Judy!
DarielB: I remember a piece by you in the old Beach Reporter about DJs putting together their own homemade compilations and selling them. Is this still a problem? Can you talk to me about industry piracy in general?
DON WISE: [Take a big deep breath here!] Beyonce, Britney or 50Cent making in excess of 150 million dollars a year through appearances and endorsements are not overly concerned about this. Here we’re talking about the artists that play the dances and clubs and are basically supporting families and trying to stay afloat. Perhaps one-third of their income may come from selling CDs at the shows and dances. We’re talking about the musicians and artists in the trenches here. Some of them are your friends and neighbors perhaps.
Even though most digital downloads are about 99 cents per song, if someone wants 20 songs all from different artists that would cost $20. So they may give the list to an unscrupulous DJ (who may have been given CDs by the artist in exchange for playing it) who then burns the songs to disc from HIS collection of freebees and pockets the $20!
1. Stealing music is the same as stealing anything else. It’s illegal and the consequences are real – for you and for the music. 2. Stealing music betrays the songwriters and recording artists who create it. 3. Stealing music stifles the careers of new artists and up-and-coming bands, not to mention individual career musicians wanting to record. We’re not all headliners making big bucks at the concerts. 4. The problem is that since no one is watching while the songs are pirated, then the perception is that there’s no crime.
Now, thanks to technology, anyone can get whatever whenever…I said it would change the quality of the music and it has. No musician at the level we’re speaking of here is going to risk what it costs to make a premium CD, knowing that it’ll be impossible to recoup the investment. Can’t afford to use real horns? Let’s use synth horns or synth strings or synth Hammond organ…Studio time’s expensive so instead of re-singing the background vocals and changing it, let’s just loop the one we did earlier over and over.
When anyone tries to make a quality CD using A-Team players in an upscale recording studio, the money goes out in rivers. Everything is on a cash basis and not just studio time is expensive.
Later, when you’re trying to sell the results, whether it’s from the stage at Fat Harold’s during SOS [Society of Stranders annual gatherings of Carolina beach music artists, shag dancers and fans] or through a distributor via digital download, the money comes back to you in droplets!
There are still, I imagine, innocents out there that don’t realize mass downloading is hurting anything or anybody. However, there are those who DO know that what they’re doing amounts to thievery and don’t particularly CARE that those band guys have families to take care of.
Can anything be done to stop it? I doubt it. People still rob banks don’t they?
The average person would regard going into a store and pocketing a tangible piece of physical property as something essentially different from copy piracy.
Most players and writers I’ve talked to at the beach DO know that just like leaving your weed whacker in the front yard too long, if you put out a new CD some low-life will come by sooner or later and throw it in the back of his pick-up.
Here’s a true story that pretty well sums it up for me: I was having lunch with some friends, one of whom, was a private airplane pilot for a large company. We were having a spirited conversation about free downloading of songs, the pilot not seeing any wrong in copying whole albums to have AND share with his friends. And, of course, me trying to tell him how it hurts musicians and creativity in general. We reached an impasse and the conversation changed to other topics. Later in the meal he was reminded of the time when driving somewhere he saw a man roll down his car window and throw an empty drinking cup out on the highway. The pilot followed the litterer for several miles honking and yelling at him.
I said, “So you’re telling me that it really upset you that someone littered, but when no can see you, it’s o.k. to steal music?”
A man making probably in excess of $100,000 a year, making CDs to share with his cohorts.
DarielB: You seem to enjoy MySpace i.e. changing your status, mood, default photo. Is MySpace keeping you in touch with people who love your music?
DON WISE: A friend of mine named Robert Eriksen in Norway convinced me to use MySpace to get a little more attention for the projects I was doing, but I thought it would take up too much of my time, which the computer already does.
He offered to do it for me, because he loves music. As it turns out, I do enjoy putting up new pics and finding “friends’ that are either truly friends or people that have music interests similar to mine.
They don’t have to be an actual acquaintance for me though quite a few of my MySpace friends are actual friends of mine. If I get a request to add someone just looking to add numbers to their tally, then I will probably deny them.
Finding tribute sites to past originators like Albert Collins or Wynonie Harris is an honor for me to put up as MySpace friends and now that they’re gone, it’s a great way to keep these names alive. It seems the true innovators hardly make it into any “History of Music” or Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Without the contributions of the Red Prysocks, Louis Jordans, Earl Bostics and Wynonie Harrises of the music world, Rock N Roll couldn’t have been conceived.
To learn more about Don Wise or to hear his music (and legally download it), visit his website, www.donwise.com . And be sure to check out his MySpace page: www.myspace.com/donwisemusic. As far as I know, he isn’t Twittering yet, but it’s just a matter of time.
Willie Nelson blew it.
Since I normally direct my marketing tips to musicians and bands who are still on their way up, you may wonder why I’m talking about Willie. The fact is he just missed a great opportunity to connect with his fans. And my point applies to a band or musician at any point in their career – even Willie Nelson.
Willie performed last night at House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. This morning I get on Twitter and I notice a tweet from Willie (I’m following him):
Day off today. Reminds me.. Have you gotten your copy of Naked Willie? #nakedwillie
Instead of thanking his North and South Carolina fans for coming to the show, Willie wants to know if you’ve bought his newest CD. Keep in mind here that his fans shelled out $45 during a difficult economic time to STAND UP all night and listen to him. Folks seated in the pews upstairs ponied up $103.
Here’s what he could have said instead (in under 140 characters each):
• Thanks to all the MB fans who came out to HOB last night. We had a blast!
•Shout-out to Jamey Johnson, who played with us at HOB in North Myrtle Beach last night. Great job, thanks
• To the pretty lady throwing roses on the stage at HOB in Myrtle Bch – HUGE thank you from the band
• Played HOB, North Myrtle Bch last night. Thanks for great response to #nakedwillie (no I didn’t streak, that’s the new album!)
Anyway, you get the idea.
Please, please, please … give your fans the props they deserve. If you’re already a household name and a national star, your fans helped make that happen. If you’re just beginning, there’s no time like the present to develop good habits. And this isn’t just the polite thing to do. It’s a smart business move.
A word of caution here. Be genuine. Don’t say things you don’t mean. If you think your opening act wasn’t up to snuff, don’t lie about it. Choose your words carefully, but don’t lie. Or say something else. If you hated the venue, say something nice about the fans instead.
If you’re going to use a social network like Twitter.com, which I totally recommend (See Ten Reasons Why Musicians Should Be On Twitter, darielb.wordpress.com –Music & Marketing March 12, 2009), don’t leave it for your minions to do. If you just don’t have the energy or time to twitter your own tweets, at least keep tabs on it and make sure they represent you in an acceptable manner.
BTW, I haven’t heard Naked Willie yet, but Willie and the Wheel, featuring Willie Nelson with Western group Asleep At the Wheel (Bixmeaux Productions/ February 3, 2009) is super!
Oh Lonesome Me Records
Daddy At the Women’s Club
Genre: Roots Rock
Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, who are the backbone of Daddy, may be flying under the radar of the mainstream public, but alternative and roots fans know them well. Kimbrough was the 2005 American Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year. Womack has twice won the Nashville Scene Best Song Award.
Back in the eighties, Kimbrough was the frontman for Will & the Bushmen. About the same time, Womack was part of Government Cheese. They would go on to earn kudos as the post-punk Bis-quits. Together they bring cynicism, humor and needle-sharp song lyrics together with guitar mastery and rockin’ licks. This 14-track CD was recorded live in Frankfort, Ky. and the energy is through the roof. Daddy ranges from a gospel sound on “Glory Be” to the NPR humor of “I Miss Ronald Reagan” to full-on rock ‘n’ roll with “Nightmare.” Also playing on the CD are Dave Jacques on bass, John Deaderick on keyboard (who also handles engineer chores) and drummer Paul Griffiths.
Blues Lights For Yours and Mine
Label: Soundview Records
It’s hard to pigeonhole this CD. It’s both contemporary and traditional; kinda funky and kinda country. Whatever, it is, it’s the blues and I like it. The 11-track disc features a mix of covers and originals. The opening track is a fast paced original tune titled “Basement With the Blue Light.”
Right out of the gate, the musician hits us with a voice you’re either going to love or hate. Coen’s gravelly voice is ideal for “Jack of Diamonds” and the original “Accelerated Woman.” My favorite track is probably “Mambo Jumbo,” another original by Coen.
The Charleston musician is a regular on the blues circuit. In fact, he’s playing at the Lowcountry Blues Bash going on in Charleston as this goes to press. He’s also one of the contributors to “The Blues,” Martin Scorsese’s PBS television series.
The CD was mixed and recorded by Chris Wimberley at Nightsound Studio in Carrboro, N.C. in Dec. 2007. Davis Coen handles guitar and vocals; drummer is Joe Izzo; Trevor Coen plays electric bass and piano; Adrian Duke also plays piano; Ben Palmer is on doghouse bass; and Lance Ashley is playing organ.
I was lucky enough to catch the raw vocals and saxophone of Pat Pepin live at the 2008 National Women In Blues Festival in Wilmington, N.C. last Sept. She blew the roof off the room. Pepin is the daughter of a trucker; she grew up in Maine, one of five kids in a small home with no running water. Her music swells with the hardship and humor of her life.
The 13-track CD includes five originals and eight covers, including a somewhat subdued version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” penned by Ellington Jordan and Billy Foster and still associated with Etta James. She does a super job with the E. G. Kight-Richard Fleming tune, “A Woman Can Tell.” Originals “Year of the Blues” and “Personal Ad Blues” showcase her ever-present sense of humor. Guitar work by Steve Jones and piano/organ by Bob Colwell.
In a cyber nutshell, Twitter is a social networking tool. And, since I know some of you are going to ask me what exactly is social networking, a social network is a broad group of websites that lets you connect with other people over the Internet.
Twitter, when compared to MySpace and Facebook, is still pretty simple. It got its name by “comparing the short spurts of information exchange to the chirping of birds,” according to computer.howstuffworks.com. You simply post a message of 140 characters or less. It’s immediately accessible to the millions of Twitter members. To make it a bit more manageable though, Twitterers, or tweeps, choose to “follow” each other, and those chosen “tweets” are what appear on your home page.
I’m not saying Twitter replaces your blog or your MySpace page, but I think every band, every musician can benefit from joining Twitter. And engaging.
1. Twitter can help you reach new fans. Music lovers are everywhere – working in offices, in college, on vacation, at home, in cities, in small towns, at their in-laws, at the coffee shop, at the dentist or next door. Twitter puts you right in front of them.
2. Twitter can help you develop relationships with your existing fans as well as new ones. Answer a fan question in thirty seconds. Post a thought about a new song you’re writing. Share a video of another artist who inspires you. Make a connection with someone so they care about what you’re doing.
3. Twitter can help put your name out there. Music lovers on Twitter tend to follow other music lovers. It’s a great way to introduce yourself and let people know about your new CD or a great performance review. If you write a blog, tweet your subject matter and include a link. If you’ve come across a list you love of 20 CDs You’d Want On a Desert Island, tweet the link. As more people follow you, your name will be in front of all their followers … and some of them will be curious enough to follow you.
4. Twitter can help you learn something new every day (while you’re making new contacts). Twitter is full of people willing to share information, and you’ll find a lot of it to be really helpful. For instance, another musician may have come across a particularly insightful blog on new ways to market your band. He tweets the link. You then go to the blog and leave a comment, asking the author a question. Then author responds; you thank the other musician. Now you’ve got the start of two new relationships. And you’ve learned some valuable new skills.
5. Twitter can put you in touch with other musicians, producers, labels, venues and other industry folk. Some of these may be names you know. Others will be brand new. All represent the chance to make a connection. Just remember, you shouldn’t just be looking to take away. You want to bring something meaningful to the table.
6. On Twitter, others toot your horn for you. Or tweet it, rather. You’ll find people to be very generous in this respect. Once you’ve connected with people, they’ll retweet your posts, send people to your website and encourage their own followers to follow you. It’s like having a massive street team.
7. With Twitter, you have immediate one-on-one contact with people– important for announcements, feedback AND troubleshooting. This is maybe Twitter’s greatest strength and its largest challenge. I personally LOVE Twitter as a resource for weirdly interesting factoids.It’s like a crazy RSS feed, but I believe its greatest attribute for musicians is this one-on-one connection. Music is such an emotional facet of our lives. If you, as a musician, reach out and touch me … through your music and also through your messages, I develop a vested interest in your music, your career, your success.
8. Being limited to 140 characters means you can tweet without spending too much time. Okay, I have to admit, I DO spend a fair amount of time of Twitter, but when I’m pressed, like when I’m on deadline for this column, I can still check in, tweet something and be finished in a couple minutes. My point is, this is doable. It’s not a huge commitment of time and research. You can make time for this.
9. If you don’t have a computer handy, you can tweet from your mobile phone. So when you’re hanging in the band bus before the show, take a couple minutes to check in with your tweeps. Tell the gig’s about to start. Or let them know about the guitar wizard who stopped by to say hey and is going to sit in for a set.
10. Twitter is free, it’s easy, and it takes about five minutes to set up. Really, five minutes. You choose a user name, a password. Be sure you include a photo, your band website or MySpace page AND don’t leave the bio space blank.Don’t worry, it’s very short. You’d be surprised at how many people read this. Hope to see you on Twitter. I’m @darielb. Follow me!
References for this article include: computer.howstuffworks.com; nealwiser.wordpress.com; millercaton.com;arielpublicity.com.
This piece was published in Beach Newz, a music column in Coast Magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, issue March 12 – March 26, 2009.
Ted Bell is one of the deejays for 94.9The Surf in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. He’s on the air from 10 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, and then hosts the All Request Beach Music Café from noon until 2 p.m.
Ted, who knew he wanted to be a radio deejay when he was 11 years old, has been working in radio since about 1962, and when I stopped by to see him at the station a couple of weeks ago, he told me some great stories.
Born in Lynchburg, Va., Ted’s family moved to S.C. when his dad was transferred there for his job at Sunbeam.While still in high school, he began working for WORG in Orangeburg. One Saturday, while he was running the Redskins ball game, in walks Ben E. King. That’s right Ben E. King, who had just released “Stand By Me” the year before.
How cool is that!?
“The station was down off the square, just near the college,” Ted tells me, “We had a lot of drop bys. Gladys Knight & the Pips stopped in to see me, too, during that time. It was a great opportunity for me to talk with some artists I really respected.”
After high school, Ted served two years in Viet Nam, where he was wounded in the Tet Offensive and received the Purple Heart for his injuries. Soon afterward, Ted found himself in Charleston, S.C. “You know I worked with Billy Smith before I came to the Surf,” Ted goes on to say. “We worked the midday show at WTMA. I was promoted to operations manager at WTMA-FM, and Billy then took over my slot.”
Where else did he work, I wanted to know. “Well, I spent some time in L.A.,” Ted said. “This was the late 70s. I worked at KNOB, an easy listening station actually located out in Anaheim. I met a lot of great people there … Jermaine Jackson and all the brothers … Casey Casem … I got to know the announcers. I met Danny Davis, head of Motown. Heading east again, Ted moved to Albermarle, N.C. in 1980. “At WABZ, which is now owned by Bill Norman [owner of WNMB-AM radio in North Myrtle Beach].I did a lot of interviews for the Saturday Night Music Machine show that ran from 6 p.m. to midnight – Neil Sedaka, who talked a lot about Carole King; Johnny Mathis, who told Ted all about gourmet cooking; Debbie Reynolds; Freddie Cannon; George Burns, around the time of the Wish I Was 18 Again recording. I had his home phone number and called him up. Just like that.
“Jim Wilkie, who had a show called Night Train on WWOD, 1390-AM back in Lynchburg, had been my mentor. He was a nice man, always taking time with me. Nowadays, he’s in Norfolk, Va. Anyway, after I left Albermarle and moved to Blowing Rock (WVIO) I had the chance to do a Night Train Remembered sort of syndicated show. I got to interview him.In fact, the show went to Lynchburg. It was a great time.”
Ted, who also handles production for the Surf, is still interviewing some of the great R&B and soul singers. When Ted and I spoke, he was in the process of scheduling Lloyd Price for an interview/guest deejay spot. “Yeah, Lloyd is going to be on the phone with me, acting as a co-deejay. I’m in contact with quite a few people I’ve interviewed over the years.”
Soul singer Barbara Lewis, known for “My Heart Went Do Dat Da,” “Puppy Love” and “My Mama Told Me” recently called in during Ted’s show. It was her 66th birthday. Ted was able to put her in touch with some Surf listeners located in Hawaii who were also great Barbara Lewis fans. Mel Carter (“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”), who was honored in 2007 at the Carolina Beach Music Awards, also stays in close touch with Ted, as does Archie Bell.
When the Coasters and the Platters come to town to perform at the Alabama Theatre, Ted Bell does the opening. He’ll be talking to Little Richard about his upcoming show at the Alabama next fall, too.
Ted Bell has been married to wife, Lynn, for 20 years. One of her favorite musicians is Greg Allman, so when the rocker came to the local House of Blues, Ted interviewed him, too.
“I love what I’m doing. I love mainstream beach music. I play a lot of popular hits from the 50s and 60s, with beach music mixed in – Willie T, the Four Tops, Ben E. King, the Drifters … On the request show from noon to 1 pm., I go with older requests. People can call in their requests to email@example.com or call the request line at 843-445-9494.
“The Grahams [Surf owners Harvey and Celine Graham] have given me a wonderful chance here. I love it,” Ted beams.
It’s contagious. I beam back. How lucky am I to spend so much time talking to folks like Ted Bell?
This piece was published in Beach Newz, a music column in Coast Magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, issue March 12 – March 26, 2009, page 24.