BLUES FOR THE
Pollock © 2003
Author Dan Pollock © 2003
I was about to embark on a journey that would forever change my life and my way of thinking, when I formed lifelong bonds with some wonderful musicians and men who are, in my opinion, the best players and truest friends that I've ever known. Throughout this chapter, I will be discussing at length, the talents and my relationships and experiences with "my dawgs", Frank McCrary, Sonny Davis, Carl Jackson, , Lloyd Jones, Horace "Pap" Rice, Ted Walton, E. W. Wainwright Jr., Everett "EJ" Turner, Pat Greene and Fred Wesley among others. What follows are my observations of them and their personalities, including descriptions of events that I experienced with them or was witness to over the years, especially during my tenure in the south.
It was just about written in stone in my mind that I'd have to travel some distance to get into the music I coveted so and needed to satisfy my soul. I would just have to put my musical desires on the back burner until I got acclimated. Whenever I did venture off post it was for errands such as dry cleaning or a movie and just about everywhere I went, all I saw mostly were what looked like rednecks to me, although I really wasn't sure what a redneck was. I kept seeing these Dixie flags everywhere too. That flag was on their baseball caps, hanging at city hall and on the front of peoples cars, where in California, the front license plate would be. It was everywhere. At first, I didn't care too much for the food off post either. I had breakfast in Hunstsville one time while going down town to run some errands and I went in to the first open restaurant I saw and ordered ham and two eggs over easy, hash browns, wheat toast and a cup of coffee. They never heard of hash browns and after my meal arrived, I had to call the waitress back over and ask her what this pile of crap was that looked and tasted like Cream of Wheat with a bunch of sand in it? "Why, those is grits, honey". Funny how later, I would love eating just about every part of a pig, including chittlins on occasion, not to mention the greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread and peach cobbler that would go with it but I never went back to grits.
Another thing I never got used to in the south were the cockroaches! They were everywhere, including the brand new billets that I lived in on post. When I would get back to the barracks after a gig or a party late in the evening, the walls would literally come alive when I switched on the light. I would jump up out of my skin from a sound sleep everytime they would crawl over me at night which made it difficult to get much rest.
Now that I was in the south, I wasn't staying on post just because I didn't think my kind of music would be found downtown. I only had to venture there once to get the feeling that something was woefully wrong with the general populace in Huntsville and they were very different from the people in Southern California that I was used to. "Y'all come back and see us now ya hear". It was 1964 and "The Twilight Zone" was still cranking out episodes on the tube and after a few hours of being among Huntsville's citizenry, I'll swear I saw Rod Serling leaning against a building smoking a cigarette! I started thinking about what Del had told me in that noisy club back in Oxnard. I was scared to go off post. Whenever some of the guys from my unit would go clubbing downtown, the next day, I'd grill them about the bands they heard and to describe the music the bands played. That was a feeble effort because these guys weren't going down there to check out any music. They were down there to party, get drunk and hopefully get lucky and wake up the next morning in the pleasures of a woman. One guy did remember a song he liked by one of the bands. He was from Newport Beach and some band played "Pipeline" a surf hit of the period. "It was right on, dude"!
Horace "Pap" Rice, a great drummer and a great guy was playing in the band too that night. When I first saw him he seemed very accessible to me and when they took their first break, I went over to him and struck up a conversation. He went back to the bar with me to where I had been sitting and I began telling him how I felt about the music in the region and how frustrated I was in not being able to get back in the alley with a guitar. I also told him how surprised I was to hear his group and that I was really enjoying it. He wanted me to sit in and embarrassed, I told him I didn't have an instrument yet. He keeps telling me that I've got it all wrong and you can't judge a book by looking at the cover and all that. When he asked me where I was from, I wanted to tell him I was from Missouri. Show me Brother! But I told him about California and The Mixtures and how I'd just come from South Korea and the Special Services Division. He didn't have to talk very hard to convince me into going down to the Elks after he finished his gig so I could hear some guys around town play at an after hours jam session.
When his gig was over, I helped him pack his drums and we headed off post toward town in his car. I was really anxious to see if this scene lived up to his vivid description. We exchanged small talk on the way about our love for music and certain artists we admired and I was a little surprised at how much I liked Pap from the get go. Still do, very much and we phone each other on occasion. Mention tennis to him and you can put the phone down and go make a sandwich and come back, sit down and pick up the phone again and Pap is still talkin' tennis. He and Frank both are tennis freaks!
We arrived at the Elks and went in and I notice first off that there's quite a few people in there, all black and I'm standing there "looking white". Several of the patrons are talking in low tones and glancing in my direction when Pap says, "oh by the way, you're the first white guy to ever come in here". Lordy lord! Luckily we got a table that wasn't too far from the bandstand and sat down. Several people came over to the table and greeted Pap and were very cordial to me. I was feeling more at ease and I hadn't been around a scene like this since my Cadillac Mama days and my excitement was escalating. No more hiding from my old man. Could it be that I had found a home? This place certainly looked like it had that down in the alley quality I was hoping to find. We had arrived during the intermission between the last regular set and the start of the jam session and through the crowd, I could see the band slowly easing back on stage to kick it off until the early, early hours.
Finally they all get up onstage and Pap is pointing them out to me and telling me who they are. Pap points to a stocky, kind of light skinned brother with a shaved head going over to the bass who seemed to be very jovial and from what I could hear from my vantage point, had a mild stutter. "That's Sonny Davis", Pap tells me. Another guy with an Afro and a goatee wearing black, horned rim glasses picked up a tenor sax and he was so skinny and frail that I thought if he ever got a gig in Chicago, the "hawk" would eat him alive and you'd never find him. Pap says, "That's Carl Jackson". This dark skinned brother that was of average build but buffed out some, was milling around on stage but hadn't gone to an instrument yet. This man had sun glasses on that were so dark, I didn't think he could find his instrument up there if he had a kleig light. I asked Pap, "isn't that Al Green"? "Naw, that's Ted Walton the drummer". The guy heading over to the piano walked a little bent over and sort of held his arms extended a little but not swinging them, kind of like Groucho Marx but not as pronounced. He would talk to each of the guys on stage for a little bit then he would go back and forth to them again, as if he had forgotten to tell them something. He seemed nervous too and I said to myself that he must be the leader. Pap points to him and says, "that's Lloyd Jones....it's his band". I was right. But the guy that interested me the most was this tall, lanky, really good looking brother with close cut hair and a goatee and he appeared very self assured and at least he looked like he could play. A group of people, mostly female, were standing at the front of the stage and talking to him while he was picking up his alto and they'd talk and laugh, shake hands or hug, move on and then somebody else would come over and the process would repeat itself. Several people came by and talked to him that way and his popularity was obvious but it was holding up the show. I was getting impatient with this crap because I wanted them to kick it off and I was chomping at the bit! When they finally kicked in, I had no idea that I was about to hear, in my opinion, the best horn player to ever take a breath. "That's Frank McCrary....wait til you hear him", Pap told me. Despite the fact that Frank was a no show to pick me up at the Atlanta airport when I came back from Sam and The Goodtimers, Frank is a man I love just like a brother. To this day, we talk at length on the phone at least once a week, email each other contantly and visit whenever we can for one of those sessions, embellishing our experiences together.
When the blues set finally started, I was getting real excited and very apprehensive about getting up there. They were playing a lot of songs I knew already, including, Bobby Bland's version of T-Bone Walker's, "Stormy Monday" with Lloyd Jones on piano and doing the vocal. I had almost all of Wayne Bennet's nuances in the song and I wanted to do that one first but they called it as the first slow tune of the set. I'll just have to convince them to repeat it when I get up there. It seemed like they took forever to call me up and when they finally did, I asked them to repeat Stormy Monday and they complied. I brought Lloyd in just like Bennet did for Bland and when I retarded the introduction on the D augmented chord and hung on the last note for Lloyd to start the first verse, "they call it stormy Monday but Tuesday's just as bad", Lloyd turned to me and said, "you're hired" and I was allowed to finish the set with them. I thought Lloyd was kidding but after the gig, he sat at our table for the longest, telling me about gigs that were coming up and how my guitar would really fill the void. He was serious and I was about as happy as a punk in San Quentin, listening to him praise my playing. This time I was hired in a black band because I could play, not because I just happened to own an instrument.
Without Sonny, I doubt very seriously that I would have survived some of the situations I found myself in. Sonny was from East St. Louis and was as street smart as they come and somehow, picked up on any danger that I had a large talent for getting into. He was my brother, my protector and my friend! He turned me on to some organ group that was from his area of the country, featuring some famous deejay nicknamed, "The Spider", whose album we would listen to constantly.
Sonny could just about play it all and I immediately took to him. He saved me from many a skirmish with not only the police but people that wanted to do me great bodily harm and I will never forget him. He was a legend for the excuses he would come up with for being late to a gig or for trying to throw everybody out of his house when his trim was woefully lacking. He was such a great guy, I had difficulty understanding why he had so much trouble in securing women. He was always looking out for me and shared my love for the blues and any type of music that had tight arrangements, no matter if it was something out of World War Two and was rather boring compared to what we were trying to put down or something that was current, coming up on the charts. Whenever anyone saw Sonny on the move, they usually saw me right by his side.
I liked playing at the Elks too but I loved playing at "Bigger 'N Seay's"! This was where the real blues was played and it was a lot rowdier than the Elks and the sisters there would always shout to you when you were getting down, yelling things like, "go on Danny, play that guitar, baby"! The Elks was more conservative than that, plus this club would bring in a headliner about every other week like Little Milton, Johnny Taylor and The Impressions with Curtis Mayfield. When we opened for Little Milton the first time at Bigger 'N Seays', we did a great set and I was on fire that night. Milton was one of my idols and although I knew I was going to get my ass kicked big time that night, I just said forget it, I'm going for it. When Little Milton came out and started playing, all the sisters in the joint started yelling at Milton, "Bring Danny back.....bring that white boy back, baby"! It was embarrasing but a white guy playing blues like that in that era in that part of the country was just about unheard of and a real novelty. Milton was serious when he asked me to join his review and he probably saw dollar signs that I didn't see. Uncle Sam had me by the balls until February 18, 1966 and I had to politely decline but it was woth a pot of gold to have been invited.
I look back on it now and I realize that I may have missed out on a lot of money by not capitalizing on this, not to mention the missed opportunity to go on the road with Little Milton Campbell but now it was too late to do anything about it.
The name of the club was officially called "Upstairs" but everybody referred to it as "Bigger 'N Seay's", the nickname of the owner. The vernacular was difficult to learn down there too at first. For instance, the guy that owned this club was called, "Bigger 'N Seay" and his brother was called, "Littler "N Seay". Seay was their surname and "Bigger" was a larger man than his younger brother so he was, "Littler". There are many examples of this that I could describe but I think you get the picture. I eventually got used to it enough that I could figure it out for myself after awhile, instead of asking all the time. It's kind of like trying to figure out personalized license plates on a car. It can be a lot of fun.
I used to love to play a concert or dance at Alabama A&M College too. After I played my first gig there, I would usually be found begging on bended knees in front of Lloyd to get us another gig there. It's a full blown university now but back then it was just a small, community college with some of the most beautiful black ladies in the student body you've ever seen.
I had been in the band a few weeks and Ted Walton and I weren't getting along too well. I think he resented the fact that I was hired instead of a couple of other guitar players in the area. I was having trouble dealing with it and Ted was getting a little more gruff with me each time I would come around. I was new and I didn't want to invoke the ire of anyone in the band and for the first few months I was with them, I was very careful about what I said and did. I got the bright idea of going to Jack with my problem and seek his advice about the matter. We were on a break at the Elks Club and I asked Jack if he would step outside into the parking lot with me so we could discuss what I perceived to be a big problem in my association with Ted. He agreed to help and we went outside and as we walked out into the parking lot, my frustrations came forth almost in a diatribe. He listened to me intently while stroking his goatee with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand while folding his left arm across his body to support it. He looked me straight in the eye, seemingly hanging on my every syllable. After about five minutes of going on about how could I improve my relations with Ted and other general acceptance matters in Alabama, I asked him, "so what should I do, Jack"? He pondered this for a few moments with his hands now in his pockets and he was lightly kicking little pieces of gravel in the parking with his shoe while alternating his feet. Then he suddenly stops with the gravel and turns to me with this omnipotent look on his face and says, "I think you should just get your stuff and get out"! I stood there in shock not knowing what to say and that was his goal. Once he realized I was had and fell for his little trick, he turns and bends over giggling like only Jack could giggle.
With the passage of time Ted and I seemed to mend our fences and we started to get into a groove together. I think he realized after our initial encounter, that I had some talent and I was contributing to the band's overall sound. Ted was probably the best blues shuffle drummer that I ever played with. He was what we call, "in the pocket" and most importantly, he knew what not to play. A lot of drummers will take blues gigs because they need the money but really aren't in to the music itself and with that attitude they start adding things to the mix that don't belong. They get bored with it after a few tunes and they start to emulate Buddy Rich or Louis Bellson or somebody. For a drummer that's not into the blues and doesn't have it in his heart is going to have a very long night on a gig. A real blues drummer loves the music and takes in the overall picture and is always that steady back bone supporting the singers and soloists, constantly keeping the groove of the song going. A drummer cannot overplay in blues and has to keep it "in the pocket" for it to be right. At least, that's the way it was done where I came from. That's why I loved playing with Ted so much because he was the epitome of what a blues drummer is all about. He could kick ass on Memphis Soul too and he always pulled something extra out of me! I was totally disappointed when Ted left the group and his departure had nothing to do with music. He and Sonny had a personal conflict, that was later mended, about some woman. Don't get me wrong, E. W. Wainwright is a monster drummer, still is and I loved playing with Wain and learning from him but I still wanted that "Alabama Shuffle" and Wain just couldn't play it like Ted.
When I first joined the group, I thought Carl "Jack" Jackson was the sanest of the band members. Over time I found out that wasn't always the case and he would go to great lengths for his practical jokes. I'll testify to his little tricks as my experiences in the High Five's and the south unfold in some of the following chapters and I relish the memories I have of the time I spent with him there and in California. When we left the south and came to California, Jack came with us but I don't think his heart was in it and it wasn't long before he went back to Alabama and hooked up with his old pal from Mobile, Fred Wesley. They formed a group in Huntsville called "The Mastersound", with Sonny on bass and Burley Marshall on guitar. Jack got caught up in the draft during that time and had to enter the US Army and he was sent to Germany, marrying a German woman he met over there. Thank God he went to Europe and not to Viet Nam.
When his hitch was up, he came out to California again and spent about a month with me and my family in Ventura. He was trying to find a regular job, something decent with benefits and a retirement plan that would help him bring his wife to the United States. I was working for the Sheriff's Department then and I shopped him around to people and places I knew, all the while telling him that a Civil Service position would be the best bet for him, so he applied with the County of Ventura. Nothing ever came of it, probably because I was the one recommending him or maybe it was because he was black. Of all the people that worked for the Sheriff then, there wasn't one African American employee during my entire nine year stint there.
He ended up an expatriate, living in Germany with his wife and family and Fred Wesley would see him when he would tour with James Brown or Maceo or his own group. I talked to Jack several times on the phone and then the phone was disconnected. Fred told me that the last time he saw Jack, he was living in a pretty scary area of Berlin that was once part of East Germany and had taken to drinking heavily and on his next tour, he went to see Jack but he had disappeared. We lost track of him and I sincerely hope that he is well. I can still remember him in Chattanooga, trying to conceal a bottle of "Old Taylor"his beverage of choice, sneaking a sip when the coast was clear and then having to painfully give it up when we caught him at it.
As I said, when Wainwright joined the group, we were immediately revamping our format to include more jazz tunes. We had already been doing some jazz as R&B that were for the dancers like "Watermelon Man" and "Song For My Father", tunes that I think have been in just about everybody's repetoire at one time or another. I wasn't a trained musician like Frank and Jack and later, Fred and Everett. So making the transition to jazz was, for me, a rather frightening experience. There was no keyboard player after Lloyd left the group to rely on once we crossed over and Lloyd left the group mostly for reasons of raising his family and not really wanting to pursue a jazz career. Lloyd would only come around occasionally after that to sit in with us.
Now here I am alone, trying to comp these chord changes that I was totally unprepared to play. I really had no business playing with them anymore once we crossed over into jazz because to put it mildly, musically I was in way over my head. I was first and foremost, a blues player. I never aspired to play jazz. Never could play it to any degree and still don't. I just couldn't bear the thought of leaving all of these guys and going out into the Alabama music scene and try to find my place without them. Why they convinced me to stick it out is beyond me. All I ever did was hold them back once we were no longer "The High Five's" and became "The Jazz Pioneers" when Wain took over the leadership of the band and Everett Turner was added on trumpet and a beautiful woman named Pat Greene became our vocalist.
Pat Greene was a tall woman, well, taller than I was, dark skinned and lovely and had a great personality but beyond being good looking with a bouyant persona, the girl could sing and I mean sing! Of course I wanted to tap her the minute I met her but her nose was open for Frank, so forget it chump. She was very serious about her love for him and everybody knew it, including Frank but he didn't have the same feelings about her as she did for him and it caused more than a few problems at times. In fact, every band I've ever been in that had a female in it, there were problems, some of them big time.
Pat and I became very close in a platonic way, like a brother and sister so to speak. She would confide in me, mostly about Frank and suddenly I found myself in the dubious position of being her confidant and then trying to negotiate a deal with Frank to pay more attention to her. Frank was banging her all right but because their feelings for each other weren't mutual, she was usually in my arms crying for the most part. Don't get me wrong, Frank was never mean to her and always treated her with respect and she knew the rules from the get go but she just didn't want to accept them. When we would travel anywhere and had to obtain a few rooms for the band, Pat and I usually ended up in the same room and in bed together as a matter of economy. Of course, I tried every trick in the book including taking advantage of her relationship with Frank to get in her pants to no avail and gave up in frustration after a few tries but I still remained her confidant for her insecurities, again, usually concerning Mr. Frank McCrary.
She had a voice that sounded like a cross between Nancy Wilson and Gloria Lynn and she had a jazz feel that paralleled any of the jazz vocalists that were well known and she added a lot of elan to the group. The only thing that bothered me when she came into the band was that her song list was loaded with intricate chords changes and arrangements and as I said, not being a jazz player, it was very difficult for me. Instead of memorizing the chord changes to her songs, which I never could do for some reason, I would have to rely on written music, a "lead sheet" that I would strategically hide from the audience so I would appear like I knew what I was doing. She did renditions of old standards, particularly, "Save Your Love For Me", "You Don't Know What Love Is", "Soul Serenade" and "The Masquerade Is Over" that would knock the audience's socks off, including ours, which was very difficult because we all wore sandals, our fashion statement of the time. She always amazed me how she would do the songs a little differently each time and I would constantly have to be on my toes when she would go off the lead sheet and would force me to improvise. My saving grace was Frank, who had perfect pitch and knew just about every chord ever invented. He was another one that would stand behind and just to the side of me and he would discreetly whisper the chords in my ear, allowing me to come off like I was a real pro at jazz and improvisation.
Pat was from Huntsville and began singing with the band occasionally before I got there but I didn't meet her until later, when she came back from Howard University in Washington D.C. When the band was moving to Atlanta after my discharge and return to California, they were stopped by police in some rural Georgia town on their way and I was told she got into an argument with the cops and pulled a knife on them. When I returned to rejoin the group in Atlanta, she was with us there for most of the ride but eventually left when she finally realized that her relationship with Frank wasn't going anywhere. As a result of that and some other problems she had, I was told that she had an emotional breakdown. I talked to her about ten years ago on the phone and when I reminded her of how we used to share the same bed, she adamantly denied it, whether we were screwing each other or not. She'll always have a place in my heart for her friendship, sheer talent, and her ability to overcome her problems as she seemed to be much better during that phone conversation and I sincerely hope that she is doing fine now.
When I had been in the band for a while and was settling in, we were at a rehearsal at Sonny's ranch house and Jack told us that he had just talked on the phone with a partner of his back in Mobile and learned that a trombone player from there had been drafted and just arrived at the Arsenal to report to report for duty at the 55th Army Band. His name was Fred Wesley Jr. but most everybody knew him as "Hawg Jaws". Because I was stationed on the same post, I was commissioned to contact Fred and invite him over to a rehearsal to meet the band. Jack and Fred didn't know each other too well because Jack was a few years younger but Jack sure knew his reputation. At the rehearsal, Jack kept going on and on about how good this guy was. I said, "let's not get too excited about a trombone player....at most, he's going to play parts and if he can cut the head arrangements, I see no problem". But Jack seemed to think that this guy could walk on water and went on and on about Fred's solo abilities. I was very skeptical because where I came from, if a trombone player was in a blues or R&B band, which was rare, they played parts and rarely took solos, if at all. On the other hand, if it was a jazz group then yes, the trombone player would be an intregal part of the band and could solo all they want. We still weren't playing too much jazz before Fred came around, other than the Sunday afternoon jazz jam session that I wasn't much a part of initially. Once E. W. Wainwright arrived and Fred and later, Everett Turner came around, the whole timbre of the band changed and we rapidly crossed over to a jazz format. All of the great blues, soul and R&B tunes that I dearly loved, were being replaced with tunes by Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and the rest of the Blue Note roster and eventually with original songs by Frank, Everett and Wain. But everybody seemed to agree with Jack, so I wasn't about to not go along and I agreed to over and see Fred and extend the invitation.
I had a car now, a beautiful white over red, 1959 Ford Thunderbird to cruise in style in. I picked Fred up for his first meeting with the band and took him over to Sonny's for a rehearsal. We exchanged small talk along the way and found that we had a few mutual friends in the business. Fred had been with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue before he entered the service and I knew some of the guys Fred had played with when I was coming up in L.A. After Fred met the guys and reconnected with Jack, we set up to play a few tunes. Everything that Jack had said about him was true and Fred fell right in with the band like he'd been there all along. I couldn't believe the solos he took on some straight ahead R&B and soul tunes, not to mention the blues and I had never heard a trombone played like that before. There's something to be said about the talented musicians that come out of Mobile, well, with the exception of Del Franklin that is. Maybe Fred could walk on water.
Fred also stated in his book, "Hit Me Fred" that he was never really a member of this band and only came around to sit in. I don't remember it that way. I distinctly recall Wain divvying up the money at several gigs on many occasions and whether sitting in or not, Fred was always in the equation. I never heard of a player sitting in and getting paid, so he was a member of the band in my eyes. If you still insist that you were just sitting in Fred, then I want my money back!
Fred has stated in his book, "Hit Me Fred" that playing fast was never his forte. Well, I have to contradict that statement. It might not be his forte but he was certainly capable of playing very fast and I found that out in a hurry. Ray Charles put out an album on Atlantic, called "Ray Charles Presents David "Fathead" Newman" featuring his long time tenor player. We already did a tune from that album called, "Hard Times" that featured Frank, usually kicking Fathead's ass on alto. We decided that we wanted to do another tune from the album entitled, "Bill For Bennie", named after Ray's baritone sax player at the time, Bennie Crawford. When we premiered the song at Shaw's Amvets in Chattanooga, Fred was with us. The tune was already in a fast tempo on the album but Wain and Frank decided that we were going to play the song as fast as we could, faster than "Young Rabbits" by the Jazz Crusaders. This was a straight ahead be-bob tune with a real quick head and I couldn't believe that Fred was not only keeping up with it on slide trombone but he never missed a note! To this day, that feat still astounds me. I could hardly keep up with it just playing the blues changes underneath. Like I said, I was in over my head.
Eccleston Wendell Wainwright, Jr. Now there's a name for you! His personality matched the audaciousness of his name too. He still is one of the premier jazz drummers playing today and he would always amaze me with his abilities as a musician and leader and his tenacity to wear you down and agree to his way of doing things no matter how long it took. People close to him call him "Wain", so that's the way it will be here.
He would spend hours with me, reading Omar Khayam's "Rubayiat" and would dwell on portions of the book about the potter who goes to bed at night after he closes his shop and all of the pottery pieces on the shelves would begin to talk about each other. He would go on about how the ones with makers flaws would be singled out by the perfect pieces for those flaws and the discrimination and prejudice of it was obvious. How "the bird of time is ever on the wing" and the lesson of that chapter was how time is short and to make the best of the time you have here in this life. It was marvelous and I have a copy of that book that I still read from time to time. Wain also taught me a lot about Astrology too, something that I still believe in to a point.
Somehow, he ended up in Huntsville and Sonny actually discovered him walking down a country road, trying to carry a sparse set of drums. Wain was also a Licensed Vocational Nurse and Sonny's parents gave him a job in their old folks nursing facility. He came down to the next jam session we had at the Elks and I could see the writing on the wall the first time I met him. He was a jazz drummer, an exceptional one and Frank, Jack, Fred and Everett wanted to play jazz, so Lloyd, Ted and I were in the minority and Wain quickly moved in and Lloyd and Ted left the group. Not wanting to play jazz, I almost gave up the ghost too but remained.
He could play R&B and blues as well but he was first and foremost a jazz drummer. When we would do tunes like Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" or "Watermelon Man" and Horace Silver's "Song For My Father", the tunes took on a new feel and I noticed how Frank and Jack's playing improved, as if their playing needed improving because they were already monsters! He pushed a lot out of Fred and Everett too and especially Sonny and me. Sonny and I would cringe when Lee Morgan's "Side Winder" was called because Wain would put this synchopation in it, like only he could do and Sonny and I would have to literally count to stay in time. Frank kept telling me, "don't listen to Wain, just play as if there was a regular beat behind it". Yeah, right. How could I not listen to him? When we would lose time and get thrown off, Sonny and I would turn to each other in frustration while Wain was back there laughing at us. Gotcha! Over time, I became very proficient at playing against time in a song, somewhat like Grant Green and to this day I owe a debt of gratitude for Wain making me do things that I never thought I was capable of.
When we were playing in Atlanta, our little gig was a popular spot for the traveling jazz musicians to hang out and sit in. You may know nothing about drums but I'll try and describe how frustrated drummers would become when playing his set up when they sat in. He used sixteen inch "heavies"on his sock cymbal, the stand that sits usually to the left of the drummer that has two cymbals on it that go up and down making a "chich, chich" sound when the foot pedal is pressed. A sixteen inch cymbal of solid metal is just about as big and heavy as the big "ride" or "crash" cymbal that is in front of the set that the drummer plays with his right hand steadily and then hits it hard or "crash" for effect. When the tune would start and the unsuspecting drummer was playing, you'd hear the sock cymbal right on time at first with that "chich, chich" sound but then after awhile, there would be only one "chich". Further in the song, it was hardly audible and then near the end, there wasn't any "chich" at all. When the drummer would get up after his time on stage, they could hardly walk and would hold their left leg in pain, it was cramping so hard. "What kind of sock is that you got, man"? "Damn"! Nobody could play that sock cymbal for any distance except Wain. He'd do it all night and into the wee hours if he had to. You never heard it fade out when he was back there.
One of the main things that always impressed me about Wain was that he lived his music 24/7. He'd hustle gigs all day long and into the night when we didn't have a gig to go to. When we were on our breaks, he'd promote the band constantly and would procure places for us to play if there was anyone around to listen. When he slept, which wasn't much, he'd dream about his music and never tired of trying to advance the group and himself. He'd practice his drums constantly and how he found time to do that, I'll never know. If he hooked up with a woman, which was often, part of the deal would require her to promote us too or he would place her in some capacity that would advance our cause. If he wanted something from the band in a song, arrangement or just to go along with one of his hustles and we seemed reluctant, he could lay a guilt trip on our ass that would make us cave in to his wants inside of an hour. He was also a task master but no one ever got tired of working for him and he always kept us working barring any unforseen circumstance that would crop up, like the time we went back to Chattanooga and got locked out of a gig that I'll tell you about later. He was a disciple of the great jazz drummer, Elvin Jones and he taught me what Coltrane was all about in his eyes. And last but not least, he could clean a dime bag of weed faster than anybody I ever knew!
Everett Turner, on the other hand was rather quiet, studious and a fantastic musician and trumpet player. He wasn't anything like the trumpet players I played with later in California who were just plain out of their minds. Everett was from Nashville and was a classically trained, college educated musician with no frills. He was devoted to his music and did more than his share to make us tight and really sound good. He taught me what dynamics were all about, knowing when to bring the song to a crescendo and when to take it to pianissimo in all of the right places. He used to take me up to the top of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and to the top of some other mountain outside of Atlanta, whose name I can't recall to practice scales and experiment with new or unusual chord progressions. We used to challenge each other with jazz trivia questions about who played with who and who did this and that. It was great fun and I was very proud that I held my own with him in that regard. He has a big band now in Los Angeles and just retired from the Los Angeles School District after more than thirty years as an educator. I know in my heart that he is woefully missed there because he was one hell of a teacher to me!
Lloyd Jones was the family man among us and as I said before, didn't want anything to do with the jazz world and eventually tired of the musicians grind and went back to a regular job, working with the youth of Huntsville. He was very level headed and never could understand why anyone could be late for anything, especially a gig, which Sonny often was. Lloyd was my mentor for soul music, especially the soul of Johnny Taylor and Otis Redding, two of his favorites. I can still hear him telling me to "listen right there Danny....do you hear that guitar"? "You got to get down with it like that, Danny"! He played great blues piano and could sing pretty good too. What his voice lacked in timbre, he made up for in conviction. He also was a "worry wart", which I suppose is a good thing in a band leader and when he left the group, his absence was severely felt, especially by me. He eventually came out to Los Angeles to live a few years after we got here and I would see him often when I would head down to Frank's place for a visit. He became the manager of a Radio Shack store and married a Mexican girl here. When I last saw him, he was drinking pretty heavily and was starting to act a little strange. Maybe Los Angeles and it's lifestyle was too much for him and he developed these odd thoughts that I was out to get him or do him harm. I can't imagine where those thoughts came from. He moved back to Huntsville recently and I heard that they stopped the bus he was taking back home and called mental health becaue he was acting rather oddly and telling everybody that Danny Pollock was following him from California and I was going to kill him or something. It broke my heart when I found this out. I always ask about him when I talk to Frank or anyone from Huntsville and I'm told that he's doing better and is ok.
Frank McCrary was a full time music major at Alabama A&M College and he took his music very seriously, although he tried not to show it and was rather cavalier about his abilities. We had a lot in common and I took to him right away and we quickly became fast friends. We're both the same age with me being a few months his senior and he was different than the other guys in the band in that he was more self assured and that appealed to me. He lived with his folks on Hall Road in Huntsville and the first time I went over there, his mom served me the best soul food in the south. This lady could cook, so I got over there as much as I could until I got her son arrested and thrown in jail and she cut me off! She didn't really forgive me until she came to California later for a visit after Frank's dad had passed. Frank and his mom doted on each other and they were very close. I envied that because I've had a love/hate relationship with my mother my entire life.
In addition to his regular job, Frank's dad did a little "moonshining" too on the side to neighboring "dry" counties and he used to make a concoction he called, "Wildcat". One time I went over to pick Frank up for a gig for a change and when I got there, Frank was running late getting home from school. Mr. McCrary invited me in to join him and a friend of his while I waited for Frank. They were sitting at the kitchen table doing a little sipping and Mr. McCrary asked me if I wanted a little taste and I was more than happy to oblige. He poured me a tumbler full and I was a little cautious with my first sip because I was worried that it was going to go down like 151 proof rum. It hardly had a taste at all and was as smoothe as silk and I was having no trouble with it at first. After I had imbibed about half of the tumbler's contents, I was getting a real buzz going and I remember Mr. McCrary's friend telling me that they were going to Nashville that night and Frank's dad was going to fix him up with his cousin when Mr. McCrary cut him off, telling him, "I said I think she might be my cousin and if I find out she ain't, then I'm the one that's doin' the ass packin"! By the time Frank got home, I was passed out on the living room floor and Frank woke me up and asked me, "you been drinkin' some of that Wildcat, huh"? As usual, there I was hanging on to Frank's shoulder while he supported me, walking up and down in the street in front of his house, trying to get sober for the gig we were already running late for. I made it through the night and it was the only time that I was glad that a gig with these guys was over and I was safe and sound back at the Arsenal.
When we played Bigger 'N Seay's in the summertime, it got so hot in that club that Frank and I would go up on the roof to get some cool air and try to sneak a few tokes if we could. One night we were up there and I was walking around exploring the roof and looking out over Huntsville from different angles when I noticed that you could see right into the ladies restroom through a window from a clandestine vantagepoint. It was near a small bridge that joined the club to it's neighboring building and there was a tall tree that had grown between the two buildings and some of it's branches had grown over the little bridge and hampered anyone attempting to cross it. I went back over to Frank and told him, "come over here man, I've got something to show you". Frank comes over and I'm whispering to him, "check it out Frank, look, we can see right in there". There weren't any doors to the stalls and you could see everything these women owned through that window without them seeing you if you were careful. When we went back for the next set, we made the mistake of telling the other guys about it and when the next break was called, everybody was up there. I don't know if it was Jack or Ted or who but somebody started to giggle and before any of us could clasp a hand over his mouth, some of the women came over to the window, shielding their eyes from the bright light inside and we hear shouts of , "there's somebody out there....who's that out there peepin' in this window"? Everybody but me bolted for the bridge and when I finally got to it, Sonny was letting go of the tree limb that blocked the pathway and it swung back and hit me square in the chest and shoulder, knocking me flat on my behind! Thank God I got back to the stage undetected and nobody ever found out who was up there. Frank asked me, "where were you, Pugsley"? I told him meekly, "I hesitated". Frank looks at me kind of puzzled and said, "nigger, didn't I tell you back in Gadsden that when one nigger runs, all the niggers run"? Would I ever learn? Hell no. It's not a white instinct and the three or four seconds it takes for me to remember the lesson, it's too late!
It's funny how one can get so worried or worked up about the unknown, the way I did when I first arrived in Huntsville. When the song of my time spent there with them came to a close, I had come full circle from being an intimidated, unsophisticated, white, half- assed blues guitar player to a relatively competent, somewhat sophisticated, street wise, musician with a black personality that would probably cause my dad to roll over in his grave. I am truely grateful for becoming a member of this "family" that took me from the greenhorn I was in the beginning, metamorphosing into someone with a new attitude about myself and my music with the ability to survive and persevere. It's obvious to me that I learned a great deal from "my dawgs" during that time in my life and just about all of us stay in touch except Sonny. Sadly we lost him to the ravages of diabetes in 1993.