Page 84 - Cityview May-June 2017
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Perry ran the physical education program with an iron hand, and I had just finished one of his punishing basketball practices. It sounded a little country and little bit rock, with a strong guitar solo. We were hooked for life.
By the time Chuck Berry came along, we were already searching out those “race” records with double-entendre lyrics that were becoming trendy but forbidden among teenagers. Artists like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters (“Work With Me, Annie”) had made our parents nervous, and who could ever forget the still popular “Sixty Minute Man” by the Dominoes. We filled the Riviera Theater on Gay
Street in March 1955 to watch the movie Blackboard Jungle just to hear “Rock Around the Clock” play over
the opening credits. It gave our music recognition and credibility. Few remembered the movie or cared. It was all about hearing one of our songs on the big screen.
In those days, our music was hard
to find. We could not hear it on local radio because the airwaves were
filled by white pop played by disc jockeys like Eddie “Your Ole Dad” Parker (WKGN). Music by the best black artists of the day, including The Clovers, Ruth Brown, The Coasters, and Ray Charles, wasn’t available in most mainstream record stores like the
one in Miller’s Department Store or
in Clark & Jones Music on Gay Street. We were lucky to find used jukebox copies of the songs we loved. Mr. Sam Morrison at Bell Sales on Market knew me well and would hold back the latest releases. He was one of the few adults I knew who promoted rock ‘n’ roll
in those days, and I looked forward
to saving a bit of money and visiting him as often as I could. Every now
and then, kids like me could catch a clear signal from WLAC in Nashville
as John R. and Hoss Man Allen crept through the transistor radios beneath our pillows. Those DJ’s would promote record packages from Randy’s Record Mart in Gallatin, where I could get six records for $4.00 with what was called “The Blue Light Special.” Bill Petty, who would go on to practice law in Knoxville, was a paperboy in Gallatin and made sure Randy had plenty of newspaper to wrap up records like “Try Me” (James Brown), “Sh-Boom” (The Chords), and “Earth Angel” (The Penguins). Bill had a front row seat to the music revolution. So did I.
In May 1955, I got a close-up
view of the beginning of rock ‘n’
roll. The Knoxville Junior Chamber
of Commerce sponsored the Miss Knoxville competition at the new auditorium of WNOX on Whittle Springs Road. I was asked to perform and open the show for the guest star: Bill Haley and the Comets. What a thrill that was just to meet one of the true originators of rock ‘n’ roll. At that time, “Rock Around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” had already made rock history, and meeting Bill Haley and appearing on stage with him made me feel connected to the roots of the music I loved.
Later, Little Richard made his
only trip to Knoxville for a show
at Chilhowee Park Administration Building. My mother took me and
my friend Jim McMichael to see our first rock ‘n’ roll show. The audience was segregated for that show with us white people confined to the balcony. However, Jim and I insisted on going up front, and my mother took us to the front row in the downstairs section
Bill Haley and the author backstage at the studios of WNOX in May 1955.
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