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160808 August 8, 2016



My Musical Journey to Memphis
Tommy Towery
LHS '65

        Last week I ended my Beach Boy concert story as the city of Huntsville disappeared in my rear view mirror on the day after graduation from Lee. I was moving to Memphis and changing my life and my future forever. My first college plans were to attend the University of Alabama and live in the dorm and use the full books and tuition scholarship I was entitled to because my father was a disabled Alabama WWII veteran. Had those plans worked, I would have been classmates with many of you. When it came time to commit, primarily because of financial reasons, those plans were altered when my mother re-married and moved to Memphis the year before I graduated. I could go live with her and my step-father and not have to pay room and board expenses and could easily afford the $82.50 per semester tuition at Memphis State University. Yes, it was only $82.50 when I first started, but increased to $122.50 per semester for my senior year. Room and board at Alabama was about ten times more than that.

        So, with no friends in my new legal residence of Memphis, Tennessee, I spent a lot of time sulking in my room and listening to music while suffering from a severe case of homesickness. In one way I was lucky, and that was because I did not leave a girlfriend behind. Earlier in my senior year I had broken up with the only girl I had ever gone steady with. Most of the time in my newly found free time I listened to a Goldie Oldie radio station, but often augmented those lonely days with the small collection of record albums which I played on the console stereo in my bedroom. But Memphis had two very good popular radio stations (WMPS and WHBQ) as well which could easily rival my favorite hometown station of WAAY, 1550 on the AM dial. Memphis also afforded me some musical options I had yet to see in Huntsville – the city was big enough to attract the popular musicians and groups of the day.

        In Huntsville, the biggest star I had ever seen live was Jerry Lee Lewis, who performed one night at the Madison County Coliseum. This was during Jerry Lee’s bad times, when his career had taken a nosedive after marrying his 14-year-old cousin. I paid $2.00 at the door to see him perform. Prior to then he was only doing shows in big cities and the tickets demanded much more money.

        Although he helped make it famous in the music world, Elvis was not the only venue in Memphis and Sun Studio attracted a lot of future legends. It’s funny, but even though I lived in Memphis for four years during the height of Elvis' popularity, I never saw him in a concert or even on the street or any civic event. I had college friends who went to school with him. Besides turning out its own style of music, Memphis also attracted many top acts.

        Two weeks or so after moving there I got a job at a Y.M.C.A. camp that kept me out of the city for the entire summer. When I finally got back into town, it was time to get ready to start to college. It was also when I first came to appreciate the drawing power of Memphis for great concerts.

        Though the Beach Boys were still turning out the hits being played on the radio, I had to settle for other concerts to attend. But, I was not disappointed in the offerings.

         The first big group I got to go see live were The New Christy Minstrels, my favorite folk group of the era. Though the folks scene was being pushed aside by the British Invasion, I still loved folk music. I had met up with a couple of other camp counselors during the summer and we spent many an hour around the campfires playing and singing our favorite folk songs. But we were nowhere close to the beautiful sounds of Barry McGuire and his group.

         Folk music was soon pushed aside by the other popular groups of the time.  On October 24, 1964, I attended the “Johnny Rivers Midnight Special” concert, which included Ronnie and the Daytonas (Little GTO), Chad and Jeremy (A Summer Song), and none-other than the Fabulous Ventures. Johnny Rivers finished up the night.  I was sitting high in the nosebleed seats (two rows from the top) but because of my location, the music seemed to bounce off the ceiling and right into my section. Everyone was screaming and singing along with the music and before you knew it people were literally dancing in the aisles – including me. I don’t know the girl I danced with, but I wanted to dance and she wanted to dance so … we danced. It was like something out of the movies.

         In December of 1964, the Dave Clark Five appeared in Memphis and at the time and were the most famous group I had ever seen. I enjoyed the British Invasion’s sounds, but still loved the Beach Boys’ music more.

         Finally on April 10, 1965, I finally got to see my first Beach Boys concert – live and in person. I went to the Ellis Auditorium in downtown Memphis and paid $2.50 for my ticket. The opening acts with them were The Gentrys, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and Bobby Goldsboro. It was an interesting concert, because when I gave the usher my ticket he pointed me down a long corridor to a section of the theater I had never been to before. The seat I had was in a pretty good location, not nosebleed high like before, but much lower. Finally, as the lights lowered and the music began, the stage curtains opened and I found myself looking at the back of the band. Looking past them, I saw another audience on the other side of the stage (where I previously sat for concerts like this) looking back at my section. This was a normal theater type auditorium, not a coliseum or arena type building. It was odd being behind the band, but finally someone on stage noticed us back there and every once in a while the acts would turn around and face us, but most of the time we had a true “backstage” view for the whole evening. 

        A little over a week later, on April 19, the traveling “Shindig” concert was my destination. That evening I enjoyed listening to Sue Thompson (Sad Movies), The Hondells (Little Honda), The New Beats (Bread and Butter), The Dixie Cups (Chapel of Love), Jim Dovel and the Gauchos (Boney Maroni), and watched the Shindig dancers.

        On April 27, 1965, Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars hit Memphis. Included with Dick Clark’s tour in 1964 were Gene Pitney, the Dixie Cups, Dean & Jean, Mike Clifford, the Rip Chords, the Coasters, Brenda Holloway, the Crystals, Brian Hyland, the Kasuals, Major Lance, George McCannon, the Reflections, Round Robin, the Shirelles, and the Supremes. I thought I had died and gone to Rock and Roll Heaven! Never in my wildest dreams in Huntsville did I think I would get to see those great legends.

         I think I was most impressed by the Rip Chords (Hey Little Cobra), Gene Pitney (Town Without Pity and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and of course Jan & Dean (Surf City and Dead Man’s Curve.) Let’s not forget the girl groups: the Crystals (Then He Kissed Me), the Shirelles (Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow) and the Supremes (Baby Love and dozens of other hits).

         The next year I joined a local fraternity at MSU and joined forces with a group that also liked the Beach Boys as much as I did. When their tour brought them to the Mid-South Coliseum we got tickets. My fraternity big brother and I attended wearing white pants and wide stripped blue and white shirts – just like the ones the Beach Boys wore in some publicity photos while on tour.

        The next time the Beach Boys showed up in Memphis I took my portable cassette tape recorder and placed it in the chair next to me and recorded their whole concert. The opening act that night was Buffalo Springfield.(For What It's Worth) Their original lineup included Stephen Stills (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Dewey Martin (drums, vocals), Bruce Palmer (electric bass), Richie Furay (guitar, vocals), and Neil Young (guitar, harmonica, piano, vocals). I was unaware what future greats were in that group.

         My music saga continues next week, with more Beach Boys and other concert memories.


        Memphis, TN - I decided I wanted to write about music again this week, and so I did. I don't know about all of the rest of you, but I know some of you mark the events in your lives by the music you listened to. For me it all started at Carter's Skateland and merged into the teenage "kissing parties". Then came Bradley's Cafeteria, and the rest is history. Cruising the Parkway between Shoney's and Jerry's; parking at the lookouts on Monte Sano, around the campfires of my Boy Scout years, all of it was highlighted by music. And so I take you on that musical journey with me. Let's go back and enjoy.

The Virtual Jukebox
 John Drummond
LHS '65

        The Beach Boy's "I Get Around" has been rattling around in my brain ever since I read this past week's edition on Sunday morning.  If The Video Jukebox is still accepting quarters, could you spin for us three other BB hits? Thanks for the great tunes.

"California Girls"

California Girls

"Help Me, Rhonda"

Help Me Rhonda

"Fun, Fun, Fun (till her Daddy takes her T-Bird Away."   

Fun, Fun, Fun

My brother Don (back), my mother, and me and our TV on East Clinton Street.

The Vintage Television
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

Where the Action Is

Where The Action IS

        Where the Action Is or (WTAI) was a music-based television variety show in the United States from 1965–67. It was carried by the ABC network and aired each weekday afternoon. Created by Dick Clark as a spin-off of American Bandstand, Where the Action Is premiered on June 27, 1965.

        Originally intended as a summer replacement and broadcast at 2 P.M. EDT, the show was successful enough for it to continue throughout the 1965-66 TV season, with a change in time period to 4:30 P.M. Eastern time following the horror soap opera Dark Shadows. Both programs attracted a young audience who watch the shows after school.

        The show's theme song, "Action", became a hit single for Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, peaking on the charts (#13) in September 1965. Most of the telecasts, all of which were produced in black-and-white, were taped at various locales in Southern California although a handful of segments were taped elsewhere in the country. The theme song was written by Steve Venet and Tommy Boyce. Later Boyce co-wrote songs for The Monkees.

        The program had its own stable of performers, most notably Paul Revere & the Raiders, who served as the de facto house band. When the group departed the show in 1966, they were replaced by The Robbs and The Hard Times. Other regular performers on Action included the dance troupe Pete Manifee and the Action Kids. Individual episodes featured a wide range of guest performers, as detailed below.

        Also appearing were Steve Alaimo, Keith Allison, and Linda Scott. Ms. Scott had a few hit singles as a teenager in the early 1960s; she was only 20 when "Action" premiered.

        The weekday program was cancelled on March 31, 1967, with the network giving its local affiliates the time slot. However, members of the program's mainstay band Paul Revere and the Raiders (with lead vocalist Mark Lindsay) hosted very similar follow-up shows; both Revere and Lindsay hosted Happening '68, a Saturday afternoon follow-up to American Bandstand, and a weekday version of the same show, It's Happening, from 1968 to 1969. Both shows were produced by Dick Clark's production company for ABC.



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Subject:    The Beach Boys

Dianne Hughey McClure

LHS '64

        As a rule I preferred solo singers rather than groups,but the Beach Boys were an exception to this rule. I went to a Beach Boys concert at the VBC several years ago. John Stamos was a nice surprise as he was with the group that night. There had just been a tornado and the next day they went to the area to visit with the ones affected by the tornado. Also I have been watching Aquarius about the Manson "family" and was surprised to learn that Brain Wilson was friends with Charles Mansion. if this is true or added for drama I don't know. He tried to help Mansion launch a career in singing.  Sadly Manson decided to go in a different direction as we all know. 

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