Formation of the Allman Brothers Band
With the Hour Glass having recently split up, word around the Comic Book Club was that Duane and Gregg Allman were back in Jacksonville. Here, they would join former Bitter Ind members Scott Boyer, David Brown, and Butch Trucks, to comprise the latest version of the 31st of February.
To my knowledge the term “super group” had not yet been established, yet here was a situation where it certainly should apply. But while the possible merger seemed a perfect match talent-wise, the styles of music represented by the two sides couldn’t have been more diverse. The Allmans were heavily steeped in the blues, while the 31st of February were strictly folk- rock. How was that going to work out? Actually, it would never come to fruition. Immediately following recording sessions in Miami, to produce demos for a possible new record deal, word had it that Gregg had departed again for California.
It was around Christmas, 1968, when former Hour Glass bassist, Pete Carr, also returned to the Comic Book, with his new band, “My Back Yard.” Pete had been playing guitar long before playing bass for the Hour Glass, and was now back on guitar for this latest, Alabama-based project. This too was a good band, as I recall, but after only two nights they were gone, never to be heard from again. Pete would eventually end up back in Muscle Shoals, as lead guitarist of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, amassing a long list of credits as a musician, engineer and producer.
The next time I saw Duane Allman was at one of the Be-Ins in Jacksonville. I believe it was at Sunland Center, prior to the jam sessions being moved to Greenfield Stables. He was jamming with the Second Coming, who had originated in Sarasota and become a fixture in North Florida as the house band at The Scene nightclub (formerly The Forum). Also jamming with Duane and the others that day was 31st of February drummer, Butch Trucks.
The Second Coming lineup at the time included, Dickey Betts, Dale Betts, Berry Oakley, Reese Wynans and drummer John Meeks. I asked Duane where Gregg was and what was going on with the two of them. He told me that the Hour Glass were still under contract to Liberty Records; that Gregg had gone back to California to honor the contract, and the rest of the Hour Glass had returned to session work in Muscle Shoals. He said the record company was “…holding Gregg hostage,” so to speak, and “…trying to make a pretty boy pop star out of him,” but Gregg was getting pretty sick of it all. He said he hoped to have Gregg back with him very soon, because he was in the process of putting a new band together. As we wrapped up our conversation, he strapped on his sunburst Stratocaster, which I now noticed had a scorpion painted in the corner of the pickguard. He walked out, plugged into two Fender Twin Reverbs, (with a “Y” cord), and performed the Hendrix arrangement of “Hey Joe.” I was blown away when Duane actually sang the song. As I recall, Duane only sang when he had to, backup harmonies and the like. He was keenly aware that singing was never his calling. Once Gregg returned, few would realize that Duane ever sang at all.
One Percent – Lynyrd Skynyrd
By 1969, the ONE PERCENT were appearing regularly at FOREST INN, along with BLACK BEAR ANGEL, SWEET ROOSTER, FAMILY PORTRAIT, and later, the KING JAMES VERSION. Still, the bands all managed to maintain a regular schedule of one-nighters in and around the North Florida area. It was also around this time that One Percent decided to change their name to LYNYRD SKYNYRD. Almost immediately, other things began to change for the band.
They recorded a single, “Need All My Friends,” which garnered a fair amount of airplay on local radio, and were able to parlay that into live television appearances. They began writing more songs, better songs; these to be added to an already impressive list of covers they were currently performing. Dean Kilpartick had appointed himself the band’s unofficial wardrobe coordinator, which helped provide for the band a more professional stage image. But what was most impressive of all was the band’s ability to demonstrate significant improvement with seemingly every performance.
Black Bear Angel
Having been gradually lured away from Comic Book management by drummer extraordinaire and new manager, Jimmy McCormick, the Male Bachs were now playing less at the club, while One Percent were now playing there more often. Jimmy’s idea of suddenly changing our name to Mel Box Enterprise seemed trendy and refreshing at the time, but after having been booked solid for better than two years as the Male Bachs, this turned out to be the first step toward our eventual demise. After a few months under Jimmy, the band completely disbanded. It ended with us selling our PA system and lights to One Percent, and me trying to put another band together.
This time I would start with Calvin Bell on lead guitar, Skip Veahman on rhythm guitar and my original drummer from the Mods, James Rice. I had met Skip at Forrest High School, which I now attended, along with Allen Collins, James, and David Knight. Loved Ones lead singer, Jimmy Dougherty, also attended Forrest by this time, though we had not officially met. Once again, it was James who had brought Skip to my attention, saying he was “…only a rhythm player – but he can sing real good.”
Though I had played with both Calvin and James in different bands before, there no longer seemed to be any chemistry between us. Skip never showed any enthusiasm, and rarely had anything to say. His silence drove Calvin crazy, just as James’ drumming was driving me. Not that it was bad, but after playing with Mike Kinnamon for so long, the rhythm section sounded thin, and lacked any kind of feel, or groove. In a nutshell, the band just sucked.
Meanwhile, Kinnamon had gone into the band management and promotions field with former Luv Birds keyboardist, Buddy Hodges. I hate to say we were stuck with James at the time, but that’s pretty much how things were. Besides being my friend, James was the one who had initially pushed me into the whole band thing to begin with, but by this time I was way beyond any of that loyalty-friendship bullshit.
On the day after Christmas, 1968, Bill Fletcher and I, along with friends, Rick Dollar and Gary Kersey, set out for Miami Pop Festival in my ’59 Rambler Wagon. It was close to 6 A.M. the following morning when we had a front wheel fall off the car at Deerfield Beach, Florida, costing us most of the day and about half the total cash we had put together for the trip. But what the hell? We had our tickets, some Beanie Weenies, canned tamales and a Coleman stove, and had planned to camp out in the Everglades anyway.
We pitched a tent along Alligator Alley and drove into Gulf Stream Park in Hallandale each of the three days for the event. When we returned to our tent each night, we pulled the front of the car right up to the side of the tent, flashing the high beams and blowing the horn until we were reasonably sure that the accommodations were free of wildlife, including any reptiles which may have taken up residence during our absence.
It was at Miami Pop that I partook in the experimentation of various mind-altering drugs for the first time, while ingesting the non-stop music of virtually every musical act on the planet. While all the artists we saw and heard would be impossible to list, The Amboy Dukes, Procol Harum, Steppenwolf, and, oddly enough, The Turtles were among my favorites. This was also the site where renowned blues harpist, “Coconut” Harley Lamoureux was first discovered by his now famous coconut. According to Harley, it was the coconut that initiated their first conversation, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A short time after returning from Miami, I learned from Skip that David Knight had been fired by One Percent, and that he may be interested in joining our band. This was good news on a couple of levels. I had long been impressed with Dave’s talent, and had actually worked with him on occasion, when I sat in at the Comic Book on weeknights when Ronnie stayed at home, resting his throat for the weekend. I believed Dave would be a tremendous asset to the band, not only musically, but because he was Skip’s closest friend. Who else stood a better chance of bringing Skip out of his shell?
Dave Knight joined the band a few weeks later, right about the same time that Calvin stopped showing up for practice. Now I had a hell of a keyboard player, a rhythm guitarist who could sing, and a drummer who I wasn’t sure I could continue working with. Still, the problem with Skip persisted. He seemed to enjoy playing with us, and was even beginning to show interest in playing lead, but remained impossible to engage in any conversation once the music stopped.
Sometime around the middle of March, the Second Coming and The Load played at Jacksonville Beach Coliseum. Here, Duane Allman, Jamoe, and Butch Trucks would join Second Coming members Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley and Reese Wynans on stage for a “Super Jam” at the show’s end; sort of a preview of what would soon become the Allman Brothers Band.
While I did not see this with my own eyes, the account I was given was that, just prior to the big jam, our drummer, James, suddenly appeared at stage right, dripping wet, having previously visited the backstage showers. He staggered around the stage a bit, screaming to the audience as he stumbled into the musicians, mic stands, and various pieces of equipment. He then ran the entire length of the stage, flapping his arms as if attempting to take flight, eventually leaping off the front of the stage and crashing into the unsuspecting audience below. By the time James landed, he was surrounded by Jacksonville Beach Police, who promptly drug his psychedelic ass off to the jailhouse, located in front of the coliseum.
With James unable to make rehearsal the following day, Skip, Dave and I went riding around, smoking blonde hash while searching for a new drummer. We were on our way downtown to check out the music store bulletin boards, when somebody wondered aloud who might be playing at the “be-in,” which was now a pretty regular weekend occurrence at Forest Inn.
When we arrived at the old club we came upon some former members of the Loved Ones, who had recently left to form their own three piece band, “Flesh & Blood.” I had always thought singer, Jimmy Dougherty, who was now also playing drums for the band, one of the best singers around. Jimmy’s voice was sort of a cross between Burton Cummings and Rod Evans, which to me was the perfect combination for a rock singer. The guitarist, Robert Andrews, was another one I had admired for some time. He was fast, clean, and extremely tasteful, like a younger, left-handed version of Jeff Beck. Robert played with a combination of power and finesse, and as though it was all he was ever meant to do.
The longer we hung around, the better these guys sounded, playing mostly Yardbirds, Paul Butterfield and Youngbloods covers. I remember Jimmy had a cinderblock supporting one side of his bass drum, where the spur had broken through the shell of the drum. It was an old Japanese set, red sparkle, but man, did that kick drum sound good. Their music and their delivery was moody, and dark, even in the daylight of the outdoors. It was the blues, and I was knocked out by it, as were Skip and Dave.
When they finished playing we all shared some hash, exchanged pleasantries and discussed what was going on in general with our respective bands. We had just finished helping them pack up their gear when Dave abruptly throws out, “So! You guys wanna start a band, or what?” We had all been thinking it, but had not expected anyone to suddenly come right out with it, least of all Dave. This was pretty unusual, as bands typically held their cards close to the vest. What was really weird here though, was that Jimmy had responded to Dave’s question just as suddenly as Dave had asked it.
“Well, yeah! I guess we should do that!” Jimmy answered, as Robert looked on with the same puzzled look that Skip and I were giving Dave. Though some minor arrangements for rehearsing would first have to be worked out, it was pretty much decided then and there that this would be the plan going forward.
We had started the morning out with not much of a band, followed by the arrival of more bad news. A couple hours later, we had the best singer in town, the best guitarist in town, and our singer, within a short period of time, would also be one of the better drummers. I was amazed at the miracles a couple of hits of good hash could produce.
From the moment Robert and Jimmy entered the picture, Skip Veahman began coming to life. Now he definitely wanted to play lead, along with Robert. He ditched his old Hofner hollow body in favor of a vintage Stratocaster, and within a month had picked up a second Strat. His energy level hit the ceiling, and we couldn’t get him to shut up.
The first time we rehearsed was in my mom’s living room, on Mount Vernon Drive; where, prior to the band, no human had ever set foot. We had all agreed previously that there would be no “commercial” music, and that we would select only the best songs we could find to cover. Furthermore, instead of attempting to duplicate the sound of those we covered, we would pretty much steal their material and make it our own. Additionally, we agreed that we would not have a name that began with word “the.”
Skip, Dave and I had already selected and gone to work on some songs from the Fever Tree album Another Time, Another Place. But Jimmy Dougherty brought an abrupt end to the whole Fever Tree thing one afternoon, when he handed me the Led Zeppelin album, saying, “Here, man. Y’all need to listen to some of this shit.” Once Skip and I saw Jimmy Page on the back cover, we were all over it. For the next several hours, the only communication we shared was in the form of single words, like “Wow!,” “Ma-a-a-n!” and “Da-a-a-yum!”
Within a week or two, my mom had had all she could stand, so we moved just a few doors down, to the home of my old friend, Tommy George. Tommy’s parents both worked in local bars, where the hours dictated a nocturnal lifestyle which rarely saw them back home before 3 A.M. Better still, they both loved live music and generously offered us their double car garage in which to rehearse. We were still without a name for the band at this time.
One afternoon we were all sitting around Dave Knight’s living room, waiting for his mom to feed us, when Dave came across an encyclopedia photo of a place called Angel Falls, in Venezuela. Beside the falls stood a large black bear and the caption beneath the photo read, “Black Bear at Angel Falls.” Because we weren’t looking for anything with any real meaning, but something that sounded cool, when Dave passed the book around to the rest of us, we all agreed that “Black Bear Angel” sounded like a good name for the band.
Kathy Johns and I were still dating at this time, so Kathy began making sure everybody she came into contact with knew all about “Black Bear Angel.” We couldn’t have changed the name now if we wanted to. One night at the end of rehearsal we lifted the garage door to find high school girls from both Lee and Forrest, including Kathy and her friends, sitting in their cars and basically camped in the driveway, where they could listen to us practice. Besides being good for the ego, this was actually the start of a ready-made audience which would begin showing up pretty much wherever we played.
David Griffin helped me to get a job at Marvin Kay’s Musicenter at Main and Duval around this time. I took an apartment in Riverside shortly thereafter. Here the band would meet after rehearsals each night to listen to albums, searching out the best material we could find. We were now getting into a lot of different groups, some of which I had never heard before, like Free, Gunn, and Spooky Tooth.
David Griffin, now my supervisor at Kay’s, took an immediate interest in the new band. The first gig he booked for us was a “Battle of the Bands” at Regency Square Mall. We played in the parking lot of the huge shopping complex on a Friday evening, winning the first round of the competition for a new Marshall PA System. We never returned for the second round, however, reasoning that Marshall products were built for natural distortion, and this wasn’t a quality we desired for our sound system. This had actually been some bullshit we came up with to convince David to pull us out of the contest. The truth was, we had all decided we were too damn good to be playing in some hot-ass parking lot. The Camelots, with guitarist Don Barnes, would eventually win the competition and the Marshall PA system.
The lineups of Black Bear Angel and One Percent included five members each, all current and former students of Forrest and Lee high schools. But that, and a mutual love for the band Free, was where any similarities between the two bands ended. One Percent was pretty much a dictatorship, while BBA was a majority rules democracy. One Percent was well disciplined, whereas BBA certainly was not. One Percent was Cream, Creedence Clearwater and Illinois Speed Press, while Black Bear was Spirit, Spooky Tooth and Humble Pie. One Percent had also been around for almost three years prior to the formation of Black Bear Angel.
The two groups couldn’t have been more different, while, individually, we were all very much alike. We were all good friends who thrived on competition, and we all immediately embraced the rivalry that would see both bands through significant growth and changes over the next few years.
Shortly after David Griffin became involved with Black Bear Angel, he booked studio time for both us and One Percent at Norm Vincent Studios in Jacksonville. It was here that BBA made the first of what would become a pattern of idiotic decisions concerning our branding and direction.
Instead of seizing the perfect opportunity to get some of our originals on tape, we wasted this valuable time putting together a collection of covers. The fact was, we had been together such a short time, that we were simply not prepared to record our own music as yet. While we had the songs, mostly written by Jimmy, they weren’t polished enough to put on tape. At least, that was the consensus. I personally believe that we were just arrogant enough at the time to believe that opportunities such as this would continue to come around for us. Our collective thinking was that we would simply catch up the next time one came around.
One Percent, on the other hand, had no such issue. They would use the opportunity to their full advantage, getting a single out of the deal, which they were able to parlay into ridiculous exposure over the next year, including local TV. “Need All My Friends” was released locally on Shade Tree Records shortly thereafter. The B side, “Michelle,” was a song Ronnie had written as a tribute to his first daughter, Tammy Michelle. I remember Ronnie’s performance, his first ever in a recording studio, as being very impressive, particularly on “Michelle.” There was a noticeable Robert Plant influence present in his delivery, though Ronnie never would admit to it.
Meanwhile, Black Bear Angel were reaping some benefit from the cover tapes, due largely to the efforts of David Griffin and his many contacts who apparently liked what they heard. We began opening shows for larger acts, including the Tropics, the Gentry’s and the Blues Image in the larger venues, while regular dates included much the same as everyone else was playing– the Sugar Bowl, the Comic Book Club, the Rathskeller, the Lighthouse, and the Pier at Jacksonville Beach, to name a few.
Another great band featured at Forest Inn, as well as the many other club venues of North Florida and South Georgia was SWEET ROOSTER, which included three future 38 Special members and a future Skynyrd/Journey Producer. (L-R Ken Lyons; Bill Pelkey; Donnie Van Zant; Jeff Carlisi, and Kevin Elson)
King James Version
In January, 1970, a communication was dispatched to members of Black Bear Angel, Lynyrd Skynyrd and several other bands, announcing a “presentation and meeting of great importance” to be held the following week at Forest Inn. When we arrived at the mid-week meeting the stage was set up with a very impressive backline of Fender Dual Showman amplifiers, a Hammond organ and a double-bass Slingerland drum kit, suggesting that, in addition to the meeting, we were all in for some entertainment.
Along with each of the members of Skynyrd, Black Bear Angel and Sweet Rooster, were some old friends we had not seen for some time, including guitarist/singer Dru Lombar, a pioneer and mainstay of the Jacksonville band scene, and Leon “Thumper” Wilkeson, whom I had not seen since the day in Paulus Music, some 18 months earlier.
Once we dispensed with the hugs and other pleasantries that typically accompany such a reunion, Dru and Leon took the stage, along with keyboardist Buzzy De Loach and drummer Scotty Van Winkle.
Another guy, someone we did not know, then walked up onto the stage to introduce the band.
“Ladies and gentlemen! Direct from the Miami Rock Festival, where they performed before a crowd of 200,000, the King James Version!”
KJV began with an original composition, “The Train,” which featured Leon kicking it off on his Gibson EB-O bass. The band was actually damn good, as were their songs, but what I couldn’t look away from was the way Leon was handling the bass. He really had taken up the instrument, and was playing the hell out of it, Christian Rock or not.
After about a half hour performance, the stranger now took the floor, addressing all of us in attendance. James Silverman was a tall, articulate man with a silver tongue. While I can’t recall his exact words, the heart of his message was that he had had a “vision.” He had been sent by God, to take us all away from our dreary existence, to a higher level; one of peace, tranquility and perpetual prosperity through God, and, of course, him.
Silverman’s vision had been of a “family” of rock musicians, to work under the umbrella of his Sacrana Rock Productions. Rather than us continuing to work under multiple promoters and agencies, “Brother Jim” would now take on all of these responsibilities, renting out venues in various towns and cities, and self-promoting shows where we would travel to perform. Of course, he would take the purse from each show and, after deducting his own cut and expenses, pay the bands equal shares of what was left.
On the surface, this sounded like a great plan. Playing more out of town, traveling to different places together, sharing our combined equipment, and dealing with one single promoter all seemed very practical, as well as appealing. After all, this was a man of God. According to Brother Jim, we no longer had to worry about being shafted by anyone.
I believe it was Sweet Rooster who played Forest Inn the following weekend, with a grand event planned for that Sunday afternoon, where all the bands would perform on the same stage. This was to be Silverman’s introduction of the entire “Sacrana Rock Family” to the public.
That Sunday we showed up just as Sweet Rooster was finishing up their set. Because we were playing elsewhere that night we had arranged to follow Sweet Rooster, using their equipment, so we could be on our way immediately afterwards. Skynyrd would follow us, then King James would close.
The parking lot of the Inn was packed when we arrived, as was the room when we got inside. The scent of peppermint and hot apple cider hung in the air, combined with that of the small gas heaters, strategically installed throughout the old building. The atmosphere could not have been better for a good old rock concert on a lazy, winter afternoon. But there was something missing. Conspicuously absent were Lynyrd Skynyrd.
I made a quick call to L.J.’s house to ask where they were, to which L.J. replied: “Wicker says we ain’t playin’ for that sombitch. Says he’s full of shit and we ain’t having nothing to do with him.”
As I walked to the stage I stopped to pass the information along to Red, the club owner, and to
Silverman, who gave me the impression that he was already aware that there would be no Skynyrd, yet he had shared this information with no one.
James Silverman devoted the following weeks primarily to traveling through South Georgia and North Florida, renting armories and auditoriums in the smaller towns, then designing, ordering and circulating posters to promote the upcoming shows. At times there might be two acts on a show, sometimes three, depending on the size of the town and projected turnout.
Silverman’s latest dream soon included the Gulf Life tower, the tallest building in Jacksonville at the time. In this particular vision he saw Sacrana illuminated across the top of the tower. Jim thought big, and put a great deal of effort into making sure everyone thought like he did. I’ll give him that. But it was already pretty clear that his plan was to use Black Bear Angel and the others to better promote King James Version. This was fine with us, so long as we were getting paid.
One Sacrana event I recall began one bright, cool Saturday morning in February, when we all headed up to Jesup, Georgia. The show was Black Bear Angel and King James Version at the Municipal Auditorium there, with a group called Celestial Probe opening the show. For some reason, probably the hash we were smoking, we decided it would be cool to arrive in Dave Knight’s recently acquired 1958 Peugeot 403 Limousine.
After a most enjoyable ride up U.S. 1, we arrived in Jesup about two and a half hours later, very relaxed and mellow, due largely to the passing of the pipe much of the way there. We were cruising around the downtown business district, in search of the auditorium, when suddenly we were no longer moving. Piling out of the car, we began to push it into an empty parking lot, so as not to block the main drag.
Just across the street was the local barber shop, where two older gentlemen were playing checkers on the sidewalk out front. Once they caught sight of the five of us, however, the game was abruptly halted, as one of the men hurried inside, apparently to alert the other patrons. As we stood around, somewhat amused at the fact that none of us knew shit about cars, we spotted the sheriff, now turning the corner. The sheriff eased onto the main drag, cruising at about 10 mph, as he and his deputy waved to the growing crowd, now gathered outside the barber shop. He had just glanced over in our direction, still wearing an immense smile, when his expression suddenly switched to one of confusion and horror.
Slamming on his brakes, he literally brought the patrol car to a screeching halt, activating the rooftop red light as he leapt from the car. He was now approaching at a sprint. Quickly sizing up the situation, he turned his attention to Dave Knight: “What in the hell are you boys doing here?”
It was much like a scene from Easy Rider, without the choppers.
“Well…. we uh … we broke down, man!” Dave stammered.
“Bu …but…you…you can’t break down here! This here’s our brand new Chamber of Commerce building!” the sheriff shouted, with a perfectly southern drawl. “You’re right smack in the center of town, son! What in God’s name do you think people are gonna think, when they come driving through town and see a bunch of longhairs standing in front of our brand new Chamber of Commerce building? … Son, we just had the dedication yesterday!”
The man didn’t really seem like a bad guy, just highly distraught with the situation. Because he had referred to us as longhairs, rather than “hippies,” I was immediately disarmed and tried to empathize with his position. Calling upon my finest Mayberry decorum, I attempted to diffuse the situation.
“Ah, Sir? … We are a rock band from Jacksonville, here to perform at your auditorium tonight. Please believe that we would much rather have broken down in that parking lot over there, rather than here, in front of your new Chamber of Commerce building.”
The cop studied my eyes for a moment.
“Well, what’s wrong with it, anyway?” he asked.
“We seem to have lost the clutch.” I replied.
“Luther!” he shouted, summoning his deputy. “Get over here and see what kind of car this is!”
As Luther climbed from the patrol car, we realized the man was dressed in the uniform of a Standard Oil service station attendant. It really was Mayberry. Standing right before our very eyes were Andy and Gomer. Now we’re trying desperately to avoid eye contact with each other, as a strong case of the giggles was imminent.
“That’s one them European jobs, Sheriff.” Luther allowed. “French, I believe. There’s an old boy in Baxley that works on ‘em, but nobody around here.” Luther stopped to scratch his head before continuing. “But now, if it’s just the clutch, I can probably get her going. We just need to get her around to the station.”
Like a knight in shining armor, our very own Bill Fletcher suddenly appeared in the distance, his van now approaching the adjacent railroad tracks.
Luckily, he and Gary Kersey had finished unloading our gear at the auditorium, leaving plenty of room in the van to transport the five of us to the gig. After dropping us off, Bill, who could repair anything, would return to deal with Luther and the Peugeot.
The show that night was performed before a very strange audience, as anticipated. The girls seemed to like us, but found our music impossible to dance to, much of the content being covers they’d never heard and originals. The guys just stared, mouths agape, as if we were some kind of aliens with evil intent. Under the circumstances, we considered the show a moderate success, receiving polite applause after each song.
Once we finished our set, Skip and I jumped in the car with our girlfriends, who had driven up from Jacksonville. We couldn’t get back to the big city soon enough. What we didn’t know until the following morning, was that a very unpleasant surprise awaited King James Version, along with our own Bill and Gary, when the show concluded and it came time to load the gear.
When they went out to back in the trucks, it was discovered that all the tires had been slashed on the van belonging to KJV. As the guys gathered around to assess the damage, voices began to echo throughout the large park surrounding the auditorium. From behind tall pines, the threats were delivered in stereotypical redneck dialect.
“You boys ain’t goin’ nowhere this evenin’ – ya bunch a goddamned Commies!” “I’ll take that little pussy there with the curly hair!”; “We got somethin’ for y’all out here, you freaks!”; “Y’all shouldn’t ‘a never come around here!”
As the band and other KJV staff members began exiting the building, the locals began moving out from behind the pines, armed with baseball bats, chains and two-by-fours, now attempting to surround their intended victims.
Before any serious injuries could be inflicted, the sheriff arrived with reinforcements, seemingly in the nick of time. The local Standard station was re-opened, for the purpose of selling perhaps more tires than had been sold all week, and, after a couple of hours, the Sacrana Rock Family was on the road again.
While Black Bear Angel, King James Version and the others continued to work for Silverman, Skynyrd was working basically the same circuit on their own; playing smaller towns and, occasionally, Forest Inn. Meanwhile, the members of BBA were getting a clearer picture of what King James Silverman was all about.
It began immediately after Jesup. We were informed that we would not be getting paid, due to the unforeseen expense of replacing all the tires on the van belonging to KJV. A week or so later our pay was again withheld for similar reasons after playing the National Guard Armory in St. Augustine, Florida. A few weeks later, at Gould Auditorium, in Jekyll Island, Georgia, Leon graciously offered to let me try out his new Hagstrom bass during our set. Unfortunately, I broke a string on the first song and switched back to playing my own Fender. I apologized to Leon and assured him I would make good on the broken string, but he insisted it was no big deal, the strings being factory flat wounds, which needed replacing anyway. By the time we closed the show, James Silverman was nowhere to be found, and again, we had not been paid.
The following morning I drove over to Silverman’s apartment on Osceola Street in Riverside, to get our money. After banging on his door for several minutes, Silverman finally opened the door wearing a bathrobe. I pushed the door shut behind us and followed him up the stairs, where he got right back to the comfort of his bed. I began explaining very calmly that I had come for our money. In short, he told me that he didn’t owe us any money. The account he offered was, because I had broken the string on Leon’s bass, he would just “…call it even.”
I responded with something like, “’Even’, my ass!” arguing that a whole set of bass strings costs just a little over twenty bucks. His response to that was that twenty bucks was all we had coming to us, due to more unforeseen expenses.
At this point I was becoming very frustrated. I began looking around the room for something to throw, something to at least get him up out of the bed. I looked over toward his dresser, where I saw a roll of bills, held together by a thick rubber band. I picked up the cash and removed one twenty, placing it back on the dresser.
“Here!” I said. “I’m leaving $20.00 for a new set of bass strings. I’m taking the rest with me.” With that, I walked casually back down the stairs, got into my car and left, very surprised that he had not come after me. Of course, now he had an excuse for not paying anyone, including King James Version.
The story I heard going around during the next few days, was that I had busted into the apartment while he was sleeping and made off with all the money from the show. While none of that was true, I did go to his apartment and did leave with some money. But, as luck would have it, the twenty dollar bill I had left behind was the only one of its kind. The rest of the roll was mostly singles and five dollar bills, totaling about a hundred bucks. No way had the take from that show been only $120.00.
Shortly after our banishment from the Sacrana Rock Family, David Griffin was again booking BBA, Skynyrd, and now King James Version. James Silverman was still around, though his managerial role was now exclusive to KJV.
All three bands were doing more of their own music than covers these days, though the majority of their audiences rarely knew the difference. Skynyrd were actually playing a lot of Illinois Speed Press material, which their supporters often credited to them, as the styles were very similar and the songs blended nicely with what they were writing. The same was true of Black Bear Angel. While much of what we played was our own, our covers also were sometimes credited to us. This was not by design, as neither band ever implied the music was of their own creation, but typifies the loyalty and devotion of the respective fan bases, always willing to heap an abundance of credit, where deserved or not.
I recall several occasions when Robert, Skip and I would sit around Forest Inn, listening to Skynyrd, either before or after playing our own set. One night we would be praising Gary’s progress as a guitarist, then a week or two later it would be Allen who stole our attention. Ronnie’s initial hope, and prophecy, of the two steadily challenging and feeding off of each other to contribute to the success as a band, seemed to be coming to fruition. And while I’ll always maintain that BBA was the better band at this time, Skynyrd continued to improve with every show they played, and Allen and Gary were the ones making this progress so difficult to ignore.
Dean Kilpatrick was now designing stage clothes for the guys, Allen in particular. It was Dean’s talent, and his creations that produced for Skynyrd a more professional stage image to go along with the better overall performances. Dean’s work sometimes extended beyond Skynyrd. During the time that we were next door neighbors, Dean would sometimes catch me going out the door, on my way to play. “Ewww! You’re not seriously going to wear that, are you?!” he would scream. “Get in here!” Most times I would oblige him, to be shown his latest assortment of bell bottoms and ruffled shirts to select from. What was really weird was that Dean’s clothes usually fit like a glove, though I easily outweighed him by forty pounds.
On April 26, 1970, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Bear Angel, King James Version and Sweet Rooster, along with former Second Coming drummer, John Meeks and a few other locals played a benefit concert to raise bail money for our old buddy, “Coconut” Harley Lamoureux, who had recently fallen out of favor with the local authorities.
I don’t recall how much was actually raised, but the day was indeed a special one at Forest Inn. Some of the faithful had recently gotten into the habit of parking their cars in front of the club, then listening from their cars to avoid paying the price of admission. But on this day everyone seemed more than happy to pay the $1.50 donation to support Harley’s cause. The room was packed shoulder to shoulder and each band played as if there were no tomorrow.
Sweet Rooster started the show off, delivering an excellent set of carefully selected covers. The younger band was tight and loud, and the crowd was responsive from the opening notes.
Black Bear Angel followed, beginning our set with “Walk on the Water,” by Blodwyn Pig. I remember having a tremendous bass sound that day, combined with the perfect high end click that only a Fender Jazz Bass could deliver. Funny how you never forget those few times in life when something sounds absolutely perfect. With the persistent pounding of my mighty ax, I had all those before me nailed to the rear wall.
Man, it was loud. Skip, Robert, and Dave were all cutting glaring stares in my direction, begging the question, “What the fuck are you doing?” But I couldn’t be stopped. I was mad with the power only a bass player possesses. I glanced over at Thumper, who was spurring me on. As the set progressed, I continued to bring the thunder. It was just one of those days.
Following the benefit for Harley, David Griffin had an even bigger event scheduled for the following weekend. Griffin had talked Marvin Kay, along with several of his larger musical equipment vendors and manufacturers, into co-sponsoring a battle of the bands, to determine the area’s top musical talent. The event would be held on the first of May, a Friday night, practically guaranteeing a sellout show at the Jacksonville Beach Coliseum. The grand prize winner would get a half-ass endorsement deal, where Marvin Kay’s Musicenter would provide all new Sunn and Slingerland gear, to be used whenever and wherever the winning band performed over the next calendar year.
There were to be a dozen bands altogether, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Bear Angel and King James Version, though Skynyrd would pull out of the contest, choosing instead at the last minute to take a paying gig in Woodbine, Georgia.
Black Bear Angel had initially been scheduled to play last, until KJV manager James Silverman began screaming that his guys should close, because they had played a pop festival, something Black Bear Angel had never done. Because the absurdity of his logic didn’t seem worth arguing about, BBA gladly obliged.
Two things about this night have always stuck in my mind. One, it was one of the few times I could recall that we were about to go on stage perfectly straight. I don’t believe any of us had a buzz of any kind that night, and it occurred to me that maybe we should be just a wee bit nervous. The other thing I remember is, this was one of those magical performances, where everything worked. Nothing could go wrong if it wanted to. It was like the band was on automatic pilot.
As we took the stage, the entire audience jumped to their feet, where they would remain throughout the performance. Starting off with Spooky Tooth’s “Waitin’ for the Wind,” Jimmy Dougherty’s driving 4/4 beat reverberated loudly off the coliseum walls, taking immediate control of the enthusiastic audience.
Flash bulbs exploded as a small army of photographers took shots for the trade magazines and the local newspaper, while Dougherty’s commanding voice penetrated the air over the noise of the crowd. We could actually hear what we were playing for a change, and what we heard was sounding pretty damn good. It was already clear to me that King James Version would have a hard time following us with any success.
Along with the manufacturers’ reps, Marvin Kay, and whoever else had performed before us, James Silverman was blown away, now standing offstage with his mouth hanging open. He had gambled and now realized he had made a huge mistake. When we were done, so were most of those in attendance. They were completely spent, as were we. Even David Griffin, who rarely complimented anyone, could barely contain his excitement.
As we were walking off stage I overheard a Slingerland rep, already approaching Jimmy Dougherty with the offer of a straight up drum endorsement. In typical Jimmy fashion, he kept walking, saying, “Thanks man, but I think I’ll stick with my Rodgers. Your hardware sucks.”
By the time King James Version went on, there was hardly anyone left to play for. It was sad, because Jacksonville Beach was, and always had been, Dru Lombar’s own back yard. But no one seemed to be aware that King James was even Dru’s band. That much was evident by the fact that no one had stuck around. He deserved much better than this, and Silverman knew it.
Black Bear Angel had won the competition and the equipment deal. King James would move their operation back to Orlando within weeks of the battle. Though we didn’t hear much of KJV again, Dru and Scotty would eventually return to Jacksonville, as would Thumper.
Alan Walden co-founded Capricorn Records in 1967, along with his brother, Phil Walden, and Frank Fenter. By 1970 he resigned from Capricorn to form Hustlers, Inc., a management and publishing company that was looking for more rock talent in the South; bands from the same fishing hole, so to speak, from which brother Phil had earlier landed the Allman Brothers Band.
Walden dispatched his associate Pat Armstrong to evaluate then assemble select bands at various locations throughout the South. Walden would then come in to review each band for himself. I read somewhere that Walden listened to nearly two hundred bands during this process, though the list of invitations in the Jacksonville area was pretty short. The venue for the auditions in Jacksonville was an old abandoned warehouse complex on Old St. Augustine Road. Among the invitees were Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Bear Angel, Mynd Garden (Dave Hlubek’s band), and an all-black R&B band who graciously allowed us to borrow their equipment. There may have been others that I either didn’t see or cannot recall.
The auditions lasted about 20 minutes per band, and ran from 10 A.M. until dark that Saturday. The plan had been for us to play after Skynyrd, using their equipment, for some reason. Once BBA was done, Skynyrd would load their gear and head to St. Augustine, where they were scheduled to perform that night. But while our Dave and Skip watched Skynyrd’s audition, Robert, Jimmy, and I were driving around, looking for the address we had, which was “St. Augustine Road,” rather than “Old St Augustine Road.”
Robert Andrews: The more lost we became, the more dope we smoked. When we finally arrived, Skip and Dave were furious, and were quick to point out that Skynyrd had “…blown Walden away.” They waited around as long as they could for us before finally loading up their gear and heading out. An all-black soul band was playing when we walked in. We had no choice but to use their amps to perform. Between having to play through the solid state equipment, and hating each other at that particular moment, we sucked worse than at any time since we’d been together. I remember Pat Armstrong kept leaning toward Alan, saying, “This is not the same band I saw! This isn’t the same band!”
My own recollection is very much the same, though mine lacks some of the finer details. What I do know is that three quarters of Black Bear Angel didn’t show up until very late in the afternoon, we were stoned out of our minds, and we played like it. Worse yet, I didn’t really care. My own feeling about Alan Walden, and particularly Pat Armstrong, was pretty much the same as what Ronnie had felt about James Silverman and Sacrana. This would turn out to be a fatal miscalculation on my part.
But the truth is, it wouldn’t have mattered if Ed Sullivan himself had been sitting at the table at the front of that room. We would have sucked anyway, because, somewhere along the way we had obviously lost our edge. Here was yet another example of the differences between Black Bear Angel and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd was always hungry, while BBA never was. As it turned out, Walden had been looking for a single act. He selected the one led by Ronnie Van Zant, and as a direct result of that decision, Skynyrd would now begin pulling away from the rest of the pack, leaving Black Bear Angel and all the rest in their dust.
The next appearance of any significance for BBA was at the Jacksonville Beach Coliseum, opening for the Blues Image. I was in favor of cancelling, due largely to the way we had recently performed, which I attributed to a lack of fresh material, a generally shitty outlook, and a shortage of much needed rehearsal time.
The consensus of the rest of the band, however, was that we were simply in a slump, and the gig was the perfect fix to bring us out of it. Taking on what would have routinely been more of a Jimmy Dougherty attitude, I proceeded to bash the character of the band for its arrogance, overconfidence, and lethargic approach to everything we did. At the end of a long and heated discussion on the subject, I quit.
A couple of weeks later, Dru Lumbar (with whom I had started a new band, Cornbread Davis), and I went to see BBA at the Beach Coliseum. Replacing me on bass was Larry Moment, a big, black guy who played fairly decent bass. In fact, the whole band sounded good when they started the show with a new Spooky Tooth cover, “The Wrong Time.” A song or two later though, it was more of the same tired shit.
Cornbread Davis only lasted for about two months, ending with the departure of Hammond organist Jim Glines. I took drummer Renaldo Stefanelli with me and went back to BBA, while Dru and the other drummer, Scotty Van Winkle, formed their new band, Magi.
Now with two drummers, and Dave Knight having acquired a new Moog synthesizer, the sound of Black Bear Angel was becoming a bit more refined. Unfortunately, our attitude as a group never did.
The problem was, we had reached a point where we preferred sitting around listening to each other rave about how good we had once been. What we should have been talking about was how to get back to kicking ass on a regular basis, but nobody wanted to hear that. That would be an admission that we needed to work harder. Maybe as a group we cared more than I recall, but simply lacked the commitment to get off our asses and fix it. It wasn’t talent that we lacked, and it damn sure wasn’t opportunity. For some of the guys it was more a question of, “Is this really what I want to do with my life?”
While Black Bear Angel followed the inevitable path to self-destruction, Lynyrd Skynyrd was becoming more and more conscientious of their sound. Soundman Kevin Elson was now experimenting with mixing the band through their house PA at certain venues, an endeavor even some of the regional headline acts were yet to adopt.
The band would purchase a couple of EV Eliminator ll speaker enclosures, a couple of A7’s, a Sunn Concert Controller console, and a multi-channel snake. Kevin was now able to run the guitars and drums through the house system, giving the band that complete concert sound. Now he was separating the highs from the lows and the men from the boys. One of the few drawbacks of such a commitment was that any mistakes made on stage would now be glaring ones. But Skynyrd’s work ethic was such that they rarely made any of those.
By February, Lynyrd Skynyrd were spending more time around Gainesville, playing the University of Florida Auditorium, the student union, and a very popular spot for concerts and beer, the Rathskeller. I woke up one Friday morning at L.J.’s house, where Bob, the only one of the band without a day job, was preparing to haul the band’s gear down to the student union to set up. Since I didn’t have a day gig either, and nowhere to play that night, I went along for the ride in their recently-purchased Ford van.
Skynyrd played that night along with another very popular Gainesville band called RGF, which supposedly stood for either Real Good Friends, or Real Good Fuck, depending on where they were playing. RGF played the first set, and were very good. They were loud, yet clean, with two pretty good guitar players, great vocals, and a seemingly endless song list. I remember being very impressed with the bass player’s sound. He was playing through an Acoustic 360 rig, and had that John Paul Jones “Whole Lotta Love” thing going on that was just rock solid.
The rest of Skynyrd arrived while RGF was still playing. As I watched for the guys’ reaction to what RGF were doing on stage, which was playing their asses off, I suppose I expected them to at least flinch, or cringe, or something. They didn’t. Not one of them. When Skynyrd came on, playing mostly their own material, RGF was pretty much an afterthought. Those beat-up old Marshalls were still doing the job.
Afterwards, we all went over to the Rathskeller to drink some beer, and were surprised to find Blackfoot playing there. This was like an old high school/Comic Book Club/Westside boys’ club reunion, all wrapped into one. Blackfoot was doing a lot of James Gang stuff at the time, and playing it very well. Rickey was playing a Flying V, and singing his natural ass off. I honestly don’t remember leaving the Rat that night, but I certainly remember all of us having a good time.
The Last Summer
In April, 1971, Allen and Kathy’s first daughter, Amie, was born, while Skynyrd was hard at work writing more songs. There was now talk of their traveling to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to begin recording. This was the grand prize for the favorable impression they had made upon Alan Walden during the Jacksonville auditions.
Jimmy Dougherty and I had been practicing at his house on Lakeland Street in the Marietta section of town. It was just the two of us, trying to create the world’s tightest rhythm section. This was something we did often, but had never before isolated ourselves from the rest of the band. I don’t recall what we might have been rebelling against at that point, if anything at all, but for some reason we just didn’t want to be around the whole BBA thing.
At one point we actually took jobs as night watchmen at the historic Kingsley Plantation, just for the isolation factor. That lasted about two nights. Housed in what were once slave quarters, there was no room for the drums. Besides that, the place seemed downright haunted to me. As soon as the sun went down you could hear voices coming from across the fields, which continued all through the night. It sounded like a hundred people talking at once, and what scared hell out of me was that you couldn’t make out a single word any of them were saying.
One morning, back in Marietta, Jimmy asked, “Hey, you want to jam around with this Jim DeVito guy?” I didn’t know Jim at the time, but I knew he was the bass player who had replaced Berry Oakley in the Second Coming. I said something like, “Nah. I don’t think we really need two bass players.”
“No, man! He’s playing guitar now and he’s in town.” Jimmy laughed.
“What the hell.” I said. “Twelve-bar blues? Sounds like fun to me!”
A few hours later, DeVito drives up, pulling a trailer behind an old Chrysler New Yorker station wagon. After unloading two homemade 4X12 speaker enclosures and a Plush 2000 power head, Jim plugged up his Les Paul/SG Standard and hit a few power chords. So far so good.
We jammed around on “Jailhouse Rock” and a couple of blues progressions, finding De Vito’s sound and attack of the guitar to be a breath of fresh air. I loved this guy. He wasn’t the best I’d ever heard, but he was damn sure the loudest. The next thing I knew, it was late at night and the three of us were headed south on I-95, to find work in Orlando.
We reached Orlando about two in the morning and crashed at the home of a family who were good friends of DeVito. We practiced there for a couple of days, during which time the Orange County Sheriff’s Department showed up no less than a half dozen times. The matriarch of the family was firmly in our corner, greeting the deputies with pure hell each time they appeared, but we decided it best to move along.
Cruising along A1A in Riviera Beach that Saturday night, we came upon a club called House of Peace, where we pulled over in the parking lane and shut down the car. While the band played away to a packed house inside, there was still a long line of people waiting to get in. This was exactly the place we were looking for.
Jim and I climbed out of the New Yorker and made our way to the front of the line, where we asked to speak to the manager. Kim was a good looking guy with long blond hair. He was a little short, a little stocky, and a Viet Nam vet, and was as nice a guy as you’d want to meet. Within seconds of introducing ourselves, I was lying to this man like I never thought myself capable. I didn’t stop until he had agreed to allow us the use his club to rehearse in throughout the week. In exchange, we had agreed to play the following weekend at no charge.
I told Kim that we’d been together for about a year, and that we had a set list of about 40 songs, from the Stones and Steve Miller to Jeff Beck and Free. Jimmy Dougherty had joined the conversation by now and informed the man that we were called “Sacred Cow.” This was news to me and De Vito. The fact was, we had been together for about three hours prior to leaving Jacksonville. We knew how to start “Jailhouse Rock” and “Space Cowboy,” but had no ending for either, and we had never even discussed what to call the band.
After leaving the club we drove to a mobile home community, the home of another former bandmate of Jim’s, Chris, who had assured us that it would be fine to crash with him for a few days while we sought other accommodations. When we awoke the following morning, on the floor of a spare bedroom, the temperature must have been a hundred degrees, and it was abundantly clear that Chris had failed to mention anything of the arrangement to his wife. She was now voicing her objections at the top of her lungs from the front of the trailer, as the baby in the next room attempted in vain to out-scream the mom. We were on our way again.
Later that day we checked into a small motel room in West Palm Beach, where we paid up through the week. After purchasing a bag of TV dinners, a couple of cans of boiled peanuts, some honey buns and Chek colas, we were dead broke. On the bright side, providing everything went according to plan, we would have money again in just two short weeks.
I suppose the jig was up the first night Kim heard us rehearse. It was pretty obvious we had never played together, though nothing was ever said. By the time Friday rolled around we had about 20 songs that sounded like we knew what we were doing.
Because another band was scheduled to audition that Friday night, it was possible for us to get through the first night with the limited material we had. Of course there were some twelve-bar blues mixed in, to complement our repertoire of Stones and Free covers.
Jimmy Dougherty was one of the best and worst band mates I ever worked with. He was funny, intelligent, articulate and tremendously talented; one of the better drummers with whom I ever played, a brilliant song writer, and, without question, one of area’s best singers. Jimmy was, at most times, the driving force behind the bands in which we worked together, including Black Bear Angel, but only temporarily. He could also be the most destructive, depending on which role suited him at any given moment. His sense of humor was without limitation, and he was known to take a situation to the extreme with every opportunity.
Living primarily on roasted peanuts, tuna pot pies, and an occasional burger from the Royal Castle, Sacred Cow enjoyed a short but sweet existence playing the clubs of South Florida. Once school started back up, however,work was suddenly difficult to find. Reluctantly, we all decided to head back to Jacksonville, where we hoped to find a place to rehearse, and somewhere to play, in that order.
The first place we landed, of course, was at Skynyrd’s “Mandarin House,” where Larry Junstrom now lived and where the band was rehearsing at the time we left town. When we arrived at the old house there was no sign of Skynyrd. The band was now recording in Muscle Shoals, yet L.J. had remained behind. When L.J. told me that Skynyrd had unceremoniously “let him go,” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Even stranger was the fact that he wasn’t even given a reason why; only that Ronnie was ready to make a change. Yeah, we had been away for a while, but it was hard to believe something as extraordinary as this could have taken place without our even hearing about it. L.J. had always been one hell of a bass player, and half the solid foundation that had driven this band for almost five years. He said he now needed to make some money, so he was headed down to Miami, where finding work would be less difficult, but that we were welcome to use the house in his absence.
Shortly after Sacred Cow began rehearsing in Jacksonville, DeVito came up with this idea about going up north, where we could play the hotel bar circuit. The work was steady, as was the money, but there were some weird requirements that first had to be agreed upon, like wearing tuxedos and short haired wigs, and being told what songs to play.
I had no problem with playing commercial tunes for a while, in fact, in small doses that could be fun. I was even willing to wear the tuxedo. But there wasn’t a chance in hell I was about to put on a short-haired wig ever again!
They couldn’t have hatched a better scheme to get rid of me. Dougherty, however, was always up for anything that involved travel.
All I remember about joining Alice Marr was being there on the second floor of the Comic Book Club where they were rehearsing, and my somehow having my gear with me. I must have been invited by someone, as I never would have been crazy enough to just show up.
I had known Donnie Van Zant for some time, from his former bands, the Sons of Satin, Standard Productions, and Sweet Rooster, as well as his being Ronnie’s younger brother. I sort of knew Don Barnes, as he was a friend of my brother, who had always held Don in the highest regard. Don had also loaned me a speaker cabinet at a time when I was in desperate need. I didn’t know drummer Bill Pelkey, but I knew for a fact that he could beat hell out of some drums. Bill was like a cross between John Bonham and Simon Kirke. I had seen and heard a lot of him when he was with Sweet Rooster and loved the way he played.
Then there was Billy Powell. I’d met Billy before, while he was hanging around with Dean Kilpatrick and Kevin Elson, doing roadie work for Skynyrd. I had heard he was a phenomenal pianist, but I wondered how a guy reared on classical music could possibly adapt to working with a rock band. As I’m standing there wondering how all this is supposed to work, I noticed Barnes still had the same 3X15 cabinet, with a white, Kustom G200 head. I’m thinking, ‘Solid State? Well that’s gotta sound like shit …..”
About that time Barnes rips off the opening chords to “The Stealer.” Nobody flinched, as the deafening power chords rattled the building, Pelkey, striking his loose hi-hat, keeping tempo. I knew this song. Playing with Jimmy Dougherty required being prepared for a Paul Rodgers song to break out at any moment. When the bass and drums fell in together it was as though we’d done it all before, tight, powerful, and rock steady. I don’t recall what Billy was playing through, but his piano was distorted just enough to sound more like a symphony of angry guitars than the Wurlitzer that it was. This was enough to take a man’s breath away. This was fuckin’ awesome!
Suddenly I was working with what was probably the most cohesive unit of musicians I had ever worked with. Everyone in Alice Marr seemed to have this attack mentality about the way he approached his music, and his instrument. Even Billy Powell, classical background and all, seemed right at home, banging away at his keyboard with the finesse of a lumberjack. This band had so much energy, power and overall talent, it was difficult to perform without a big ass grin coming to the face from time to time.
The only problem Alice Marr would ever have was actually working. Because we were all perfectionists, and because perfect takes a long damn time, we turned down more jobs than we ever played. But when we did play, we played what we liked, and how we liked to play it, as opposed to what was preferred by most club owners. Covering the songs of Free, Uriah Heap, Humble Pie and Deep Purple, this usually meant playing loud.
In the beginning I would ride to and from rehearsals with Billy, as the two of us seemed to have a lot in common. Besides music, we both loved drinking Budweiser, smoking weed, and chasing chicks, all to the sounds of either Deep Purple in Rock or Fireball blasting from the kick- ass cassette player of Billy’s Mercury Comet Caliente. After each practice, we’d each pick up two quarts of beer and drive until we either reached our destination or ran out of gas. After being pulled over a couple of times by the law, it was decided that we weren’t very good influences on each other, at which time I began riding with Donnie, in his MG Midget.
Contrary to popular belief, Donnie never was much of a drinker. But he was always a lot of fun to be around, laughing, joking around, and finding humor in practically every situation we encountered. The two of us also kept an eye out for the girls.
One cold, winter night following rehearsal, we were cruising through Five Points, the hip part of the Riverside area of Jacksonville. Being underage at the time, I asked Donnie to stop by the Riverside Lounge, one of the few places where I knew I could purchase beer or liquor without being carded.
Standing at the front counter, paying for a quart of premixed screwdrivers, I spotted this blonde, driving a ’66 Canary yellow Corvette, cruising at about fifteen mph, past the lounge.
I hastily completed the transaction and headed back to Donnie’s car, where by this time the blonde was circling for a second time. “Donnie! Did you see the bitch in the yellow ‘Vette?” “Hell yeah I saw her!” Donnie confirmed, while starting up the car. By the time we got backed out into Park Street, she was coming back around for the third time, now pulling up directly behind us.
As soon as we were past the (five-point) intersection, I told Donnie to pull to the side of the road, just to see what she might do. To our surprise, she pulled right along beside us and stopped. “Hey!” she said, with the high-pitched voice of a stereotypical Hollywood blonde. She was very attractive, but had this bygone look about her, as if she was from out of some old movie, maybe from the late ‘50’s. With teased up hair, long, fake eyelashes and a yellow, V-neck sweater, she looked totally out of place, but attractive all the same.
“Uh … Hey!” I replied. “We’re just headed right over here to Murray Hill, to have a couple of drinks. Care to join us?” I had been on quite a streak lately, just arrogant enough to believe the line was good enough to work.
“Okay!” She hollered. “You guys lead the way!”
Neither Donnie nor I could believe it. All the way to my apartment, I kept asking Donnie, “Is she still back there?” To which Donnie replied, “Yeah, she’s still there. But I still ain’t believing she went for that line!”
When we finally arrived at the apartment, Donnie and I both remained in the car, waiting to check out the rest of the Corvette lady as she climbed out of hers. First one high heel and then the other, she stood up beside the car, revealing that she was not only attractive, but long legged to boot, and fine. Now neither of us could exit the MG quick enough, falling all over each other, to escort the lady up the stairs.
I was in the kitchen, making cocktails, while Donnie showed the lady into the living room. When I finally entered with the drinks, she was sitting on the sofa, telling Donnie all about the jets in her carburetor. This was never even going to reach that awkward stage, where we would have to figure out which one would hit on her. In the living room light I realized she was much older than we had thought her to be, and considerably more weird. I had no interest in her, and it was obvious that Donnie didn’t either. Neither of us had ever encountered a woman who talked non-stop of carburetor jets, and Holley rebuild kits. Before long she had completely disassembled the entire motor, in her mind, as we tried our damndest to follow along. After a couple of drinks, we were able to politely show her to the door.
“Bye-bye now. Good luck with the jets and shit!”
Because it had gotten so late, and cold as hell in the MG, Donnie decided to spend the night in my spare bedroom. After a couple more screwdrivers, I went to bed as well.
A few hours later, I was awakened from a dead sleep by Donnie, whispering loudly from the other room. “Larry! … Larry! … Don’t turn on the light! … Larry! You smell that? … Don’t turn on the light, man! … Don’t turn on the light!”
The clock said it was five in the morning. But, more alarmingly, I didn’t just recognize the smell Donnie was referring to, I could actually see the vaporous colors rising up before the light of the clock radio. The entire apartment was filled with gas.
Donnie and I bumped into each other in the hallway, then stumbled out through the kitchen door, eventually making our way to the perceived safety of the great outdoors. As soon as I could breathe, I ran downstairs to shut off the gas from the tank on the ground floor, just below the window where Donnie had been sleeping. Someone had actually cut off the gas supply, causing the flame to go out in the heater, and then turned the gas back on, wide open.
Apparently, whoever it was had made just enough noise in the process to wake Donnie up. Someone had actually attempted to kill one or both of us.
We never could figure out whether it had something to do with the mysterious Corvette lady, or if maybe it was about one of the girls I was seeing at the time. As I said earlier, I had been on quite a roll, but had no idea I had pissed anyone off enough to want me dead.
Alice Marr, after being evicted from several properties around town, began rehearsing in an old abandoned building that had been an auto parts warehouse. It was a two-story, block building in the Oceanway area of North Jacksonville, just south of the Duval-Nassau County line, off U.S. 17. It was actually closer to Georgia than to any of our homes. As I recall, it was Donnie and Don who had discovered the place one Thursday afternoon, while driving around in search of seclusion from the rest of the outside world.
In all our minds, the single most important feature of a good practice house was isolation, and this place definitely provided that. The big old building seemed perfect, standing alone in a clearing, way back off the highway. Because of its solitude, and the silhouette it cast against the evening sky, we affectionately referred to it as The Alamo.
Inside was row after row of tall shelving, where an inventory of carburetors, mufflers, and tires once existed. Now they were full of 50-pound bags of fertilizer for the surrounding golf course, most of which had been ripped apart by hungry wildlife and rodents, leaving horse manure covering the downstairs floors.
Early Saturday morning, Lacy Van Zant arrived with a station wagon full of plywood and two-by-fours to secure the openings where once had been windows and doors. Lacy was always very supportive of the musical endeavors of his boys, and when there was work to be done, he was the first one there, and hell to keep up with. He was also a shrewd individual, and was key in deciding how we might secure the building so as to outsmart any potential thieves. After all, besides a couple of beat up cars, all any of us had was our band gear. I didn’t even have a car.
It was decided that all windows would be secured by double sheets of ¾” plywood, as would the front entrance, supported by two-by-fours. The front door would be built out to about 12 inches thick, and hinged to swing inward, with a steel bedframe mounted to the back of the door. The frame was chained to the concrete walls at each side, to prevent entrance, even in the event of someone attempting to axe their way inside, or setting fire to the door.
One of the upstairs side windows was selected to be our way of entry, which would be accessed by a drain pipe that ran up the north side of the building. This particular window, which appeared to be as secure as all the rest, would be on a hinge, which would open with a slight push by whoever’s turn it was to shimmy up the drain pipe. The same person would then go down the stairs (in the dark), locate the fuse box to turn on the power, then remove the chains, the steel bed frame and finally unlock the front door to let the rest of the band inside. Opening the front door from the outside would be impossible, short of completely tearing out the front of the concrete building.
Lacy selected the upstairs to measure and cut the wood, as it was dry, had a cool breeze flowing through where the windows once were, and was relatively free of the smell of horseshit. As soon as we finished hauling the last sheets of plywood up the narrow stairs, Lacy said, “Pull that chalk line out across there and hold her tight, Larry Steele!”
I did as I was told, suddenly very thankful that my own dad had been so insistent on my knowing all I could about tools, weapons, and whatever else might be useful throughout my life. One thing you didn’t ever want to say to Lacy was, “No.” Another was “I can’t.” To Lacy, there were certain basic things that every boy and man should know. If you didn’t, you could find yourself on a list upon which you didn’t want to be.
Once Lacy popped the chalk line, I turned to head back down the stairs to shovel more manure, only to hear, “Now grab that skill saw and give me a clean cut across here, Larry Steele.”
Nervously, I picked up the saw, trying to recall all of the skill saw etiquette my dad had taught me years prior. Somehow I made the clean cut that Lacy had demanded. He was pleased, so much so that I was now the full time operator of the saw. A fifth of Cutty Sark later, all the cuts had been made to near perfection. I hated scotch, especially cheap scotch, but again, you just couldn’t say no to Lacy.
We finished up early that Saturday night, as a couple of us wanted to see Uriah Heep and Cactus at Sam Wolfson Baseball Park. It was now late February, and too cold to work any later.
By Monday night, we had moved into the Alamo and begun rehearsals. All went well for several days, as we gradually became more comfortable with our new and foreign surroundings.
We were working out the Uriah Heep song, “Gypsy,” and were definitely in a groove on this particular night. It was tight and it was loud. Bill Pelkey was a bass player’s delight, with the heaviest foot I ever had the pleasure of keeping up with. Between the tight rhythm section, Billy Powell’s screaming electric piano and Barnes’s heavy power chords, a B3 wasn’t necessary, as was evidenced by what was about to happen.
By the time we ended the song, everybody was grinning. We would have probably been high-fiving each other, had it not been 1972, or had there not been so much space between us in the large room. Suddenly, the silence was broken. It was the sound we’d all hoped to never hear,
a pounding at the back door. It was loud and persistent. We all stood in silence, with a hundred negative thoughts running through our heads. Oh Shit! – They know we’re here! – Thieves at the door! – They must have come up through the woods! – Thieves! – Cops? – No! Thieves!
Because the rear door was a heavy, wooden, sliding type, which was chained shut and very difficult to open, someone yelled, “Go to the front!” I think it was Billy who opened the front door and first began talking to what sounded like a couple of music lovers who had happened along. They were having trouble believing we were not Uriah Heep, having seen the band in town, just days earlier. When I joined Billy at the door they introduced themselves as Billy Chester, Dennis Thomas, (who was a dead ringer for Bob Seger), and Chipper Parks. They explained that they were doing acid, and had walked from the other side of the golf course, following the sound of the music. They told us they lived in a trailer on the back side of the course and invited us to stop by for food and “refreshments,” once we were done with rehearsal. All in all they seemed like nice enough guys. Still it was all very unsettling, as we had already made our minds up that whomever we encountered at this place, that weren’t cops, had to be after our precious gear.
When they left we were all silent for a few minutes, collecting our thoughts about what had just taken place. Pelkey was first to sound off. “Man, did you see the way that one motherfucker was eyeing my tubs?”
Then me, taking the counterpoint. “Well, they were eyeing everything else too. But they were tripping, man. What do you expect? Besides, it don’t matter what they want. Fact is, they can’t get in this motherfucker.”
Barnes was next to speak. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m taking my shit home tonight!”
Eventually we settled on driving around the golf course in search of the trailer they had described. One had mentioned there was a yellow Formula Trans Am parked out front. We figured if we could locate where they lived and if anything did happen, we would at least know where to go to get our gear back.
The next night we were relieved to find everything intact. We were rehearsing as usual with great energy and at our usual high decibel level. Just like the night before, we had just finished a song when there came a knock, this time at the front door. Again Billy Powell went to the door.
Billy: “Who is it?”
B.C.: “It’s B.C.”
B.C.: “You know…B.C…..and Dennis…from last night! We thought we’d bring some refreshments to y’all!”
They were immediately granted entrance.
Over the next few months, there weren’t many nights or days that B.C. and Dennis didn’t show up at the Alamo. Over time, friendships developed, as did the trust. We had also gone to B.C.’s trailer on a couple of occasions to partake in refreshments, along with massive doses of the music of the Allman Brothers Band and Derek & The Dominoes, both of which were great, though a bit too mellow for our liking.
After being at The Alamo for a few months, we had begun to feel much more comfortable, more at ease about our equipment residing there when we weren’t. In B.C. and Dennis we had gained a strong sense of security, knowing someone was there to keep an eye on the place in our absence. In time we learned that B.C.’s wife, the former Stella Tuten, was the granddaughter of one of the founders of a major life insurance company. She was an heiress, for God’s sake! Hell, they didn’t need anything we had to offer. Least of all did Stella, who would eventually become Billy Powell’s first wife.