Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Paul Finebaum's first interview with Buddy Buie on April 13, 2006

Paul: We welcome you back. Couple of weeks ago I got a note from my good friend, Ronnie Quarles, who runs our affiliate WTBC in Tuscaloosa. He said he'd done a show with a fellow named Buddy Buie. He said it was one the great shows they'd ever done over there and he said,"You need to get Buddy Buie on."

                                   THE LATE RONNIE QUARLES ~ a.k.a. "The Que"

I said,"We'll see if we can track him down," and now I'm looking across the table at Buddy Buie, who has had an extraordinary career and I must confess Buddy, I know the music but I didn't know the story and it's a great pleasure to talk to you.

Buddy: It's a pleasure to talk to you.

Paul: For those who...
& we're going to play some songs in a few minutes which are going to do more than ring a bell! They're going to resonate because they did with me. Pat Smith and I were going over some of your music today. You grew up in Dothan, Alabama and you got into music.

You became one of the most accomplished songwriters of your era, putting together some incredible songs that were played by many groups and before we get into some of those incredible songs which will include "Spooky", "Traces of Love" and many others that are almost as well known, I'm curious. How did it begin?

Buddy: First of all let me say, thank you for inviting me and I'm mighty proud to be here. I was born in Dothan, Alabama [note: Buddy was actually born in Marianna, Florida but his family returned to Dothan while he was still an infant] and I always loved listening to the radio. I knew most of the songs...before....I knew them by their intros, you know.
So when I was in high school, I had some buddies.

They had a little band and I'd hang out with them and they were real...kinda bashful and I was kinda outspoken so I helped them get jobs & stuff and one of the boy's names was Bobby Goldsboro.
             Bobby Goldsboro is the second one from the top.



& so anyway, I started writing the songs in high school because I would keep them to myself because I was a little ashamed to tell everybody. I was embarrassed.
"You don't write songs!"
"YES! I DO!"

But I'd write them in my head because I don't really play an instrument but I found a friend of mine in Dothan, Alabama, John Rainey Adkins. I finally got the nerve to tell him about my songs and he was the first one that didn't laugh. So he said,"Let's work out something."
So we'd sit in front of his house in a '56 Chevrolet and write songs. Well, to make a ...I'll try to speed this up.

                                               BUDDY BUIE AND ROY ORBISON


From there I promoted shows too in the Dothan area and Roy Orbison came to Dothan and Roy and I became friends and he became friends with the boys in the band called The Webs.
One day he said, " I want to take this band on the road." and I said,"I'm not going to let you take that band on the road unless you take me with you!"
& so off we went to see the world!
I met Bill Lowery from Atlanta in 1965 and we had a hit with a young guy by the name of Tommy Roe and that kind of started things and I moved to Atlanta. Then in 1967, the producer of this group called THE CLASSICS IV took sick and they were doing one of my songs so I was..., by default, turned out to be their producer and they cut "Spooky".
"Spooky" later on became a very big song; was recorded by a lot of people.
Then we had "Stormy" & "Traces of Love" & "Everyday With You Girl", all those hits right in a row.

Paul: Why don't we listen and then talk about how it came together.

[they play a recording of "Spooky"]

So you did "Spooky" with THE CLASSICS IV. It was a big hit with THE CLASSICS IV.

Buddy: It was #2 in the country.

Paul: & then it became a hit with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

Buddy: The Atlanta Rhythm Section recorded it and it became a big hit again and then David Sandborne, the great saxophonist, recorded it and it was a #1 "Jazz Instrumental".
It started as a jazz instrumental.

Paul: We were looking earlier today and this song's been done by a lot of folks.

Buddy: Yeah, it has.


We've been real fortunate there because a lot of people seem to like it and it seems to have a life of its own. It's been almost...
That long since it was recorded...

Paul: Do you have a personal favorite among the productions?

Buddy: I produced two of them.


Paul: That's a loaded question!

Buddy: CLASSICS IV & THE ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION so those are my favorites.

Paul: I want to hear THE ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION in a moment because I'm curious, in doing and having a huge hit in '68, with THE CLASSICS IV, how much later?

Buddy: I think we recorded in '80 with THE ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION. Yeah, we recorded it in 1980.

Paul: How much different was it?

Buddy: Not really that much different except the solo is not a sax solo, it's a guitar solo played by the great Barry Bailey that I thought was sensational and it was basically the same structure as the original record.
                                                               BARRY BAILEY
Paul: The one song, when I was listening to it this morning, I'm not just saying this...
because it's one of the great songs I grew up with & I think so many people when they hear it think,"That guy put this one together!"
Before we listen to it...
CLASSICS IV did it. So many people have done it. How many people have done....
Who else did "Traces" other than THE CLASSICS IV?

Buddy: Well you know, it was done by a lot of instrumental artists...the most recent was Gloria Estafan. We have had so many instrumentals, like everybody from Montovani to...gosh, you know, Paul, it's been recorded about 75 times!

Paul: & this song made the charts on two consecutive years- THE CLASSICS IV & THE LETTERMEN.

Buddy: I almost forgot the LETTERMEN record. That's right! Yes! THE LETTERMEN had a big record with it!

Paul: That's got to be pretty unusual, I mean, you see it in a different generation but the next year!

Buddy: I think the reason is two different audiences, you know, CLASSICS IV , "Top 40" & THE LETTERMEN were, at the time we called "Good Music". It's now called "Adult Contemporary".

Paul: Let's listen to one of my all time favorites, "Traces"

[play a recording of "Traces"]

Buddy Buie, tell me, is terms of putting this song together, what...
Depending on how old you are, it takes you back to another time but what does this song remind you of?
                                                        GLORIA AND BUDDY

Buddy: This song,this lady who's sitting to my right,
was written for...


It was written about my wife and the song to me...
One of the proudest moments & comments I can make about this song is about ten years ago, Broadcast Music Incorporated, BMI, had their 50th Anniversary. Of all the songs in the complete catalog, "Traces" was the 34th most played song- #1 was "Yesterday". #49 was "My Way".
                                 Jimmy Dean, Gloria Buie, Frank Tanton & Buddy Buie


So we're in there with a lot of nice people. It was played so much. It was played on a cross section of radio stations from "Pop" to "Adult Contemporary", even "R & B", stations like that.

Paul: What did you think of the Gloria Estafan rendition?

Buddy: Well, I was tickled pink to have it!
She was pregnant when she did that, and I don't think they spent as much time as I'd like to see her take with it, but, hey, I'm grateful she recorded it! Very good move for us. She's a great singer.

Paul: Let's see how she did it.

[play a recording of Gloria Estafan's version of "Traces"]

Paul: I may be old fashioned. I think I'll take the earlier version.

Buddy: I'm not knocking it at all.

Paul: Buddy Buie is our guest, We'll also get to your phone calls later on , 1-866-741-7285.
There are so many great songs. We'll listen to that as well.
You also did a song about a fellow who once coached at the University of Alabama.
We'll talk about that as well as your phone calls as we roll on...


 [begins with a recording of "Imaginary Lover"]

Paul: I'm afraid to ask you, Buddy, what you were thinking about when you wrote this one?


Buddy: The answer is, "YES!"


Paul: That takes a few of us back to high school, too!


Buddy Buie and Randy Owen of the group ALABAMA The Night Buddy Was Inducted Into                    THE ALABAMA MUSIC HALL OF FAME

Paul: Buddy Buie is our guest and his career is legendary. You're in a couple music hall of fames I was reading, of course, including the Alabama and the Georgia. That was the Atlanta Rhythm Section doing your song. I'm a writer of newspaper columns, not a writer of music. How in the world do you come up with the lyrics to some of the songs we've heard?

                                                 J.R. COBB & BUDDY BUIE
                                                        J.R. Cobb & Buddy Buie

Buddy: Well, the songs...
The way I write songs; I am not a trained musician. I'm a guitar owner. I don't call myself a guitar player. I write with great musicians. I've always picked good musicians to write with. I'll come in and say,"O.K., I got this idea. Here's the idea," and I'd hum a little of the way I'd heard it. The guitar player or the keyboard guy would say," Hey, yeah! That sounds good! Let's try it!" and then he'll give me his ideas. The lyrics...
J.R. Cobb, who I wrote "Spooky", "Stormy", all the CLASSICS, "Traces"...
all the things we're listening to, he's a great guitar player. Dean Daughtry, the keyboardist for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and Robert Nix, we wrote the songs "Imaginary Lover", "So Into You", "I'm Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight" for the Atlanta Rhythm Section and so the way I write songs is like hunting and pecking on the typewriter. You know, you can write a pretty good sentence even if you do it with one finger, you know...
                               Atlanta Rhythm Section Bassist Paul Goddard & Dean Daughtry

                                                            ROBERT NIX
Paul: I've always wondered because, not that I've attempted to write a song but you'll be walking down the street or you'll be waking up & you'll be thinking...
Do you have a notepad by your bed?

Buddy: No.

Paul: Your wife's laughing here!


Paul: My thing, I'm very disorganized. I tell all my co-writers,"If it's not good enough to remember, it's not good enough to keep!" and I kinda live by that...

Paul: You don't fear you're gonna come up with...
You've already come up with some good ones!...
You're not afraid you're gonna miss the greatest line of your career in the middle of the night?

Buddy: The minute I think of one I catalogue it in my head. I go like, "O.K., I gotta remember this! This is cool!"
So I remember it. I very rarely forget 'em.
Now, at my age now, I probably forget a lot!


Paul: "So Into You", another huge hit for the Atlanta Rhythm Section

[play a recording of "So Into You"]

Paul: I bet you're pretty proud of this one.

Buddy: Yes. It was very big. It was the first big song by the Atlanta Rhythm Section. We had been making records since 1970 and this happened in 1976. If this album hadn't been a hit then the record company was gonna drop us so it's got a great place in my mind because it...

Paul: Do you feel that group ever got...
They had a lot of big hits, but did they get the appreciation and recognition that they deserved?

Buddy: I don't think so but I'll tell you one of the reasons why is all of 'em were serious musicians, serious session musicians.
They performed because there was demand for them to perform but they never really were a band that loved the road. They were very straight ahead. They didn't get a lot of publicity because they didn't actually want a lot of publicity. We had great guitar players in that band: J.R. Cobb, Barry Bailey. Had a great keyboardist, Dean Daughtry. Paul Goddard on bass. Everybody in that band was very serious about music. We did all that starting in about 1970 when I opened this studio called STUDIO 1 which STUDIO 1, a lot of people know because Lynyrd Skynyrd, all their stuff there.

                                      LYNYRD SKYNYRD RECORDING IN STUDIO 1

It was a nice studio. We recorded there at night and Skynyrd recorded in the daytime.

Paul: Can't believe those songs were done in the day!


Buddy: The Skynyrd stuff was done...
Sounds like it was done at midnight!


Paul: Maybe some TIME like I've never seen!


Buddy: A lot of artificial inspiration, you think?

Paul: Exactly!


Paul: I imagine none of that happened...
Buddy Buie's our guest, we're gonna open the phone lines in a minute. We're also gonna get to a song you wrote about one Coach Paul Bryant. You also did a song that B.J. Thomas made a hit.
We were doing a B.J. Thomas hour a couple of weeks ago with some of his...

Buddy: Oh really! Was he in town or something?

Paul: Somehow I can't even remember the genesis of it. We started playing a B.J. Thomas song and we all started going down his book.
Anyway, Buddy Buie's with us.
His hometown of Dothan...
A lot of this stuff was done in Atlanta, I guess, produced in Atlanta.

Buddy: Yes, most of it was done in Atlanta.

Paul: We'll get to your phone calls if you wanna give us a ring, it's 866-741-7285

[play a recording of "The Day Bear Bryant Died"]

Paul: Wow! Buddy Buie! "The Day Bear Bryant Died" ! An extraordinary song!
Buddy, how did it come about?

                                           RONNIE HAMMOND AND BUDDY BUIE

Buddy: Ronnie Hammond, the lead singer of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and I were at Lake Lanier staying in a ...
We rented a place to write for an upcoming Atlanta Rhythm Section album and it was in January of '83. Bear'd just died and Keith Jackson was narrating the procession and people lined up and down the road. Well, like, you know, usually a songwriter...
I'm a professional songwriter. Like I don't see a sunset and write a song about a sunset. This is an exception to the rule. We heard this song...
I mean we saw the parade, I mean, the procession.
God, I'm saying all the wrong words.

Paul: I understand.

Buddy: We saw the procession. It was not a parade!

Paul: It could have been.

Buddy: And we started writing.
Matter of fact, we didn't write for the Atlanta Rhythm Section at all that day. Later on, demo-ed it and ...
then we basically just forgot it because it was never meant to be a commercial endeavor and Harrison Parrish, one of the founders of MOVIE GALLERY
He's a friend of mine. He and his girlfriend were at our house one night and I played "The Day Bear Bryant Died".
He said,"Man, you gotta do something with THAT!"
                                                    Harrison Parrish & Debbie Coe

He introduced me to people at the university 'cause I didn't know anybody there. I used to book bands at the Sigma Nu house at the university and go up there but I didn't know anybody there so he introduce me around and one thing led to another and right now, this song..
We're gonna give a lot of the proceeds of this song to the Bear Bryant Museum.

Paul: Other than your interview on Ronnie Quarles' station, that song has never been heard outside of Tuscaloosa until today?

Buddy: It hasn't.

Paul: It needs to be.

Buddy: My dream is to be in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the whole crowd sings along with the chorus!

Paul: Wow!

Buddy: That's my dream!

Paul: I was somewhat facetious about a song we played about that time but THAT is an extraordinary song!

Buddy: Thank you so much! I hope the BAMA Nation will look for it because it's gonna be coming out in mid August , right before football season and we hope to have the Atlanta Rhythm Section and a couple more people go up to the university and play before one of the games. We really want to promote it. Not only to help the Bryant Museum and CTSM [ed. note: Crimson Tide Sports Marketing]
We just want Bear's vision, Bear's memory to live on.

Paul: Buddy Buie's with us and we've certainly talked about his career as a producer and a songwriter. We've played "Spooky" and "Traces" and "Imaginary Lover" and so many of the famous songs that you have written and produced.
People've been waiting for a while. We want to give people around our listening audience an opportunity to visit with you. We don't have a lot of time for calls but we'll try to get to as many as possible.
Catherine, you're on with Buddy Buie.

[dead air]

Catherine? Not working here. Let me try George in Geneva. Go ahead.

George: Hello, Paul.

Paul: Hi.

Buddy: Hello.

George: Just wanted to call and say, Paul, I'm a fan of the show. Listen regularly.
Sometimes I wonder what some of the topics have to do with sports. I'm a big sports fan but one thing I love equally as sports is music and ,particularly, a big Southern Rock fan.
Grew up in the 70s. A big ARS fan and a big Buddy Buie fan. I read the jackets of the albums and I'm familiar with a lot of the names.

Buddy: Thank you.

George: Knew Buddy was from the same part of the country I was from or I am from...
Work with a guy who is married to a cousin of Dean Daughtry who I think is from Andalusia or Opp...
                                                  Robert Register & Dean Daughtry

Buddy: He is.

George: That area...

Buddy: He is.

George: Thanks for the music. I've enjoyed it all my life and proud for you to have contributed what you have to the music industy but Paul.
Appreciate you having Buddy on.

Paul: It's our pleasure.

George: I think you hit a homerun with this one, particularly for me.

Paul: Well, thanks. I appreciate the call. Hate to run but we want to get a few more folks on.
Catherine is on with Buddy Buie.
Go right ahead, Catherine.

Catherine: Hey, I'm so sorry that my phone...

Paul: Go right ahead!

Catherine: I just wanted to tell you, Buie, that I am one of the biggest fans of you because my whole life...
I used to play all those Dennis Yost music.

Buddy: Um hum.

Catherine: I don't know whether you were with them at Samford in 1974 where they had a concert.

Buddy: I don't...
You know, there's been so many concerts, so many dates, I don't remember. I probably was though.

Catherine: I wanna tell you that all of your music is really sexy!

Paul: Let's listen to "Stormy". This is one of your biggest hits, I guess.

Buddy: Yes, one of the big hits by Dennis Yost & The Classics IV.

[play a recording of "Stormy"]

Paul: Wow! He belted that one out, didn't he!

Buddy: He's a great singer!

Paul: Whoa! That leaves me breathless! Buddy Buie is our guest. You've heard...
I'm shook up! ALL SHOOK UP!


Joe is next with Buddy Buie. Go right ahead, Joe.

Joe: Paul, a great thing you got here with Buddy and it's really been enjoyable.

Buddy: Yes, sir!

Joe: When is the last time that you wrote a song and is it possible with your background, I mean, can you get into what we're hearing today to the point that it might be popular again?

Buddy: To be perfectly honest with you, a lot of music of today, Hip Hop & Rap, I give 'em their props. I give 'em all the respect in the world because they figured a way to communicate with the world but they don't communicate with me very well and probably my music probably doesn't communicate with them.

Joe: Well, have you stopped writing?

Buddy: No, I've not stopped writing. I don't write like I used to 'cause it messes with my fishin' and my traveling.


Paul: His newest hit's gonna be "The Ballad of Paul Finebaum"!

LAUGHTER [Now you can really hear Gloria Buie laughing]
                                 David Smith, Kathy Parish Swigler, Buddy Buie and Gloria Buie

Joe: One last question and I'm gonna run, Paul's got a bunch of people...
Do you watch "American Idol"?

Buddy: Oh, I certainly do, I'm a Taylor fan, too, Man!



Paul: When are they gonna do "Buddy Buie Songs"?

Buddy: Well, I don't know but I wish they would!

Paul: Taylor could do a few of your songs.


Paul: SURE!

Joe, appreciate it.

We'll come back but we're not gonna have enough time today. We're gonna have to get Buddy back.
Back after this.


[play a recording of "Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight"

Paul: Another one of Buddy's hits!
And we haven't got half done today!
We're booking you again!

Buddy: I'd love to come back!

Paul: We're booking you for the whole summer!


Paul: Let's continue with some more phone calls.
Mack is calling from Dothan, Alabama. Hey, Mack!

Mack: Hey Paul! How're you doing, buddy?

Paul: How're you doing?

Mack: Great show! Man, Buddy! Great to finally talk to you!

Buddy: Good talkin' to you!

Mack: My brother, Shannon Meckly and I were driving by on Irwin Street about a year ago. You know, we were driving in that neighborhood over by Southside and he told me, "Buddy Buie grew up in that house!"

Paul: National Landmark!

Buddy: 1008 Irwin Street!

Mack: That's right! I just wanted to say, Paul, only one thing's bigger than Buddy's music and that's Buie's Cafe!


That his father owned. His great parents!
On Foster Street!
That's a wonderful place to eat!
Of course, it's no longer there now, but, uh, I called Harrison Parrish and told him you were on and called up Bobby's brother, Jimmy at the bank over there to tell them you were on but, uh, just wanted to say, uh, how I followed your music, uh, do you ever get down to Dothan, Buddy?

Buddy: All the time! My mother lives there and I go... you know, I live at the lake. I live at Eufaula.
                                  The View of Lake Eufaula From Buddy Buie's Home

Paul: Thanks Mack. Appreciate the call.
Of the Atlanta Rhythm Section songs, is there one you would take with you to your grave? If you could take one of the bunch?

Buddy: Well, if I had to differentiate between hits and album cuts, there was an album cut called "Dog Days" that's near and dear to my heart,and, um, but the hits, uh, I suppose...
It's hard for me to pick. It's like, "Which child do you like best?"
It's hard for me to do that.

Paul: Pretty good stuff! Let's continue with Buddy Buie. Jesse is calling from Montgomery. Go right ahead, Jesse.

Jesse: Hey, Buddy!

Buddy: Yes.

Jesse: You know I never met you but I was a friend of John Rainey's.
               David Adkins, John Rainey Adkins and Wilbur Walton, Jr. On The Dothan Musicians Mural

Buddy: Oh really!

Jesse: When you said that name, I thought,"HE WAS THE MAN!"

Buddy: If it hadn't been for John Rainey, I wouldn't be having this conversation with Paul right now!

Jesse: Well, I tell you, people probably don't know him because he never wanted to travel out of Houston County...

Buddy: That's true, too!

Jesse: But he was The Man when it came to playing and arranging music!

Buddy: Yeah, he was great!

Jesse: And my favorite song of yours is "Georgia Pines"!

Buddy: Well, thank you.

Jesse: That was a great, great song.

Buddy: The great Wilbur Walton!
                              WILBUR WALTON, JR. (in red T-shirt) & THE JAMES GANG

Jesse: Yeah. Let me ask you this. Do you know what's happened to Joe South?
Joe South Standing On the Left With Billy Joe Royal Seated Along With Musicians Who Performed on the Joe South Composition DOWN IN THE BOONDOCKS

Buddy: I talked to Joe not too long ago. He's doing fine. He's living in Atlanta. He's not writing much anymore but he's a great one!

Jesse: He was a great one!

Paul: 'Preciate the call. Let me ask you about, you... did,uh,
two songs for B.J. Thomas.
          B.J. THOMAS with Dothan's BEAVERTEETH @ The Bitter End In New York City

Buddy: Um, hum.

Paul: He was certainly...
How did that relationship come about?

Buddy: B.J., his producer...
His producer at the time was a guy by the name of...
uh, I mean his manager was guy named Steve Tyrel.
Now Steve has made the jump from a manager to one of the prominent jazz singers right now so he brought him to me and B.J. and I became friends.
Matter of fact, I'm gonna see him down in LaGrange, Georgia in a couple of weeks.

Paul: One of them right here!

[play a recording of "Most Of All"]

Paul: "Most OF All" You also did "Mighty Clouds of Joy"

Buddy: "Mighty Clouds of Joy"! Yeah!

Paul: Wasn't a bad one here!

Buddy: Al Green recorded that too!

Paul: He sure did!
Let's grab one or two more calls...
Unfortunately, we're just running out of time here but Terry is down in Dothan. Hey Terry!

Terry: Hey Paul. Buddy, I didn't get to talk to you. Are you still involved with ARS and are they going to be doing any new studio things and
#2: I had an opportunity to interview Barry Bailey doing a Southern Rock Radio Show and he told me that his personal favorite ARS album was the first album but, you know, you can't find it on CD now and I was wondering why...
                                                                   BARRY BAILEY

Buddy: It was the only...
We did...
That was for MCA Records. You can go...
If you can go to
or to, what's the big site, some of the Internet sites and some foreign record companies have it but as far as the band, The Rhythm Section, yeah, they're still playing. A lot of the members of the band, the original members, have gone their own separate ways and the great guitar player, Barry Bailey has retired. He retired about three months ago.

Terry: I wasn't aware of that.

Buddy: The band's still doing great and as far as recording...
but on this...
I don't know if you heard that Bear Bryant song we played a few minutes ago...

On that album we're gonna have Rhythm Section cuts. We gonna put some of the old stuff on there and then Ronnie Hammond, who sang "The Day Bear Bryant Died" is with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.
He's retired though.

Paul: So many great songs for The Atlanta Rhythm Section!
The Lettermen!
Buddy Buie, who's heading toward...
He's in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame!
He's in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame!
& now he's in the FINEBAUM HALL OF FAME!
because this is one of the best shows we've had in a long time!

Buddy: Thank you so much! I've really enjoyed being here!

Paul: We hope to see you this summer.

Buddy: I'd love to come back!

Paul: We'll pause right here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

by Robert Register


from the Tuesday, May 4, 1819 issue of the MOBILE GAZETTE & COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER:
AN ACT in behalf of the Connecticut Asylumn for teaching the Deaf and Dumb
Be it enactedby the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, Theat there be granted to the Connecticut Asylum, for the education and instruction of deaf and dumb persons, a township of land, or tracts of land equal there to be, located under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, in tracts of not less that four entire sections each, in any of the unlocated lands of the United States, to which the Indian title has been extinguished, which land shall be and forever remain to the use of said Asylum, for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb persons, or if said Asylum shall sell land, which they are authorizto do, the money arising from such sale shall be and remain forever to the same use
H. Clay,
Speaker of the House of Representatives
JAS. Barbour,
President of the Senate, pro tempore.
March 3, 1819-Approved,

When we review the progress of most endeavors, we usually find that the first years are always the toughest. So it was with Tuscaloosa. The story of the modern city of Tuscaloosa begins in 1816 when Indian title to this land was completely extinguished by the Treaty of the Choctaw Indian Trading House signed on October 4, 1816 at Strother Gaines' trading post on Factory Creek in Sumter County (Any archaeological remains of this old trading post were probably destroyed during the construction of the Interstate 20-59 bridge that crosses the Tombigbee.)

All of this good land for growing cotton lay vacant and enterprising heads of households from the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia poured into West Alabama to prospect for the most fertile land from which to make their fortunes. For five years, from 1816 until 1821, progress in this remote back country was nil and the rowdy frontier town that haphazardly rose on top of River Hill faced continuous problems produced by a lack of land ownership and adequate transportation.

Every person who settled in Tuscaloosa was a "squatter" and many factors complicated the land situation, making it impossible for anyone to own land within the town's boundaries. Before any public land in West Alabama was offered for sale, the land that contains Tuscaloosa's original city had been reserved from entry. By an act of Congress which formed Alabama Territory ( called "Mobile Territory" in the original legislation) on March 3, 1817, all of the land that is now north of 15th Street between Queen City Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard was reserved for a town site. The earliest settlers in Tuscaloosa could not buy the land they lived on until it was surveyed. Even if they had the money to pay cash, our earliest pioneers could not obtain titles for the land they claimed. The town's survey did not occur until the spring of 1821. In the absence of property lines and titles, the frontier town with a population of between 600 and 800 sprang up in a climate free of almost any governmental authority.

William R. Smith, in his REMINISCENCES... , describes the rustic settlement of his childhood:
"...the place presented nothing as a village but a rude cluster of log huts, heterogeneously arranged, with little regard with regularity as to streets. My own very dim recollections open here in 1821. Even then there was scarcely a plank or brick in the village. It was full of shrubby little oak and pine saplings, and literally swarming with the native Indians. Here the red men resorted to trade and to drink, and here they came to exhibit their skill at their favorite sport of ball playing."

This form of field hockey appears to have been the predecessor of the Crimson Tide's present proud Saturday afternoon football tradition. An early Greene County newspaper includes this advertisement:
By a special appointment made by a party at the Choctaws
A grand DANCE and BALL-PLAY,
will take place on Saturday next, in the vicinity of this place, on which occasion
all choice players
will attend on that day!
The Captain of the party makes the following requests,which it is hoped, will be observed by the citizens and those who may attend, not to give gratuitously, or sell, to any of the Players or Indians of the nation, who may accompany him,

In their old age, many of Alabama's earliest settlers fondly recalled these spectacular athletic contests. General Thomas Woodward described the excitement of a Creek ball play in 1825:
"The old man(the Chief) then turned to his people, and said to them,... that every man must do his best-show himself a man, and should one get hurt he must retire without complaining, and by no means show anything like ill humor. The speech ended, about two hundred stripped to the buff, paired themselves off and went at it. It was a ball play sure enough, and I would travel further to see such a show that I would to see any other performed by man, and willingly pay high for it, at that!"

George Catlin's Tul-Lock-Chish-ko, in Ball-Player's Dress

With such a large and idle illiterate population of American men passing through town on exploratory trips to the newly opened wilderness, Tuscaloosa was the frequent destination of professional gamblers. In a letter to his wife, Clarissa, William Ely expresses his disgust at Tuscaloosa's favorite vices:
"...they disipate their time and money and would their morals if they had any, without enjoyment, in lounging about taverns, stores, tipling and gambling houses, or making and attending horse races, cockfights, called chicken fights,shooting at a mark, hunting or fighting.
Notwithstanding such are their habits, I think them a very avaricious people. Money is their god and cotton is the idol of their devotions."

To say the least, Mr. Ely did not have a taste for frontier living. A successful businessman, this 53-year old Connecticut native was in Alabama because he had devoted his life to charity and philanthropy. Indian title in West Alabama had been extinguished and Ely came here to locate and sell public lands donated by Congress to the Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. From its formation in 1815 until 1819, the asylum was supported by charity but in 1819, the U.S. government gave its support to this institution, the first of its type in our nation.

In 1819, Congress gave the institution an entire township, thirty-six square miles of public land. Ely came to Alabama because land was about to go on the market and he was authorized to buy thirty-six square miles of his choice in Alabama and then sell it to the highest bidder. Despite his highly critical letters about Tuscaloosa, he liked the area and considered it to be "a very healthy place." In fact he liked it so much that he bought four-&-one-half square miles of land that spread out south of 15th Street and west of Martin Luther King Boulevard. In a letter to his wife dated "Tuscaloosa, 2nd June, 1821," Ely bragged that, "The population now may be from 6 to 800 souls, not one of whom, except a few to whom I sold land since I came here, have any title to the land they live on."

Tuscaloosans did not appreciate being hemmed in by a Connecticut Yankee, no matter how noble his cause may have been. He wrote to his boss, James H. Wells, Treasurer for the asylum about his fears in Tuscaloosa:
"My health is not very good, tho I am able to attend to business, but the constant care and anxiety I experience, both on account of my business and the hazard to myself, and the property in my custody among such a barbarous people, many of whom are incensed against me, and the confinement I find it prudent to subscribe to, never going out here unarmed; pray severly on my health and spirits and tender me quite unhappy."

William Ely knew the muddy streets of Tuscaloosa were filled with men who would love to give his Yankee ass a royal butt kicking.

It was not as if Tuscaloosa was populated with the criminally insane. These squatters were making a living in the wilderness without the support of any governmental agency. They lived here in spite of the government's laws and the government didn't have the guts to send troops to the Falls of the Black Warrior to burn their cabins and send these men of the forest packing.

Thomas Perkins Abernathy gave a great description of these citizens, "...the people of early Alabama farmed their patches of cotton and corn, lived a hardy, rugged life close to nature, were friendly toward their neighbors and hospitable toward strangers, made an honest living for themselves and their families, attended to their own business most of the time and only rarely had leisure to celebrate."

After crossing the Warrior River at Tuscaloosa on a flatboat in 1821, William Gilmore Simms commented on the people living in the surrounding area, "Like the people in all counties who live in remote interior situations and see few strangers who can teach anything, these people had a hundred questions to ask and as many remarks to make upon the answers. They were a hardy, frank, plain-spoken, unequivocal set who would share their hoecake and bacon, or take a fling or dash of fisticuffs with you according to the several positions of friend or foe which you might think proper to take. Among all the people of this soil good humor is almost the only rule which will enable the stranger to get along safely."

One leisure activity that lured our rustic predecessors was the barbeque. The folks who attended these congregations were greeted by neat rows of liquor bottles each handsomely adorned with a paper label which named the political candidate who furnished the rum and whiskey.

These fellows loved to horse around and they weren't blood thirsty, but they loved to get drunk and fight. William Ely, the cultured businessman from Hartford, Connecticut, did not appreciate Tuscaloosa's fondness for this "hardy form of sport":
"The highest and lowest classes in society, the one considering themselves above, and the other below the influence of public opinion, are much addicted to excessive drinking. And to have a reputation of being a brave, daring character, with property, whether with or without talents, learning or any other requisites for an office, will enable a candidate more surely to command the votes of the electors than all other requisite qualifications without it. And I am told that one of the representatives from this town actually fought himself into the legislature last year."

The center of the frontier town of Tuscaloosa is debatable but this author believes it was right across the street from where I now type this essay on the north side of the 2600 and 2700 blocks of University Boulevard. The late Matt Clinton states, "The first burial ground in what is now Tuscaloosa was the hillside at the northern end of 27th Avenue near 4th Street. Close to that spot were built the first Baptist and Methodist churches. The cemetery was north of the churches. The cemetery was north of the churches. It was destroyed when the cut of the L&N Railroad was made."

Simms says that, "The town was little more than hewn out of the woods. Piles of brick and timber crowded the main [street], indeed the only street in the place, and denoted the rawness and poverty of the region in all things which could please the eye and minister to the taste of the traveler. But it had other resources in my sight. The very incompleteness and rude want of finish indicated the fermenting character of life."

In his biographical information on Captain James H. Dearing, Mr. Clinton wrote:
"He [Dearing] came to Tuscaloosa on an exploratory trip during the first year of the town's existence, 1816. He stayed in a little 'shanty of a hotel' kept by Joshua Halbert [this hotel was located near the site of the old water tower, on the southwest corner at the intersection of 4th Street and 27th Avenue]."

William Ely describes the tavern where he stayed as Lewens Hotel and he states that this log structure was located across the street from a log cabin used as a Methodist Church. This was June of 1821, so possibly Halbert's establishment was being managed by Charles Lewin who was mentioned as the Tuscaloosa tavern keeper in 1842.

Ely describes Tuscaloosa as a " which contains twenty stores and little groceries or hucksters shops..." Written records on Tuscaloosa from between 1816 and 1821 are scant so William Ely's fifteen letters from Alabama are important documents. Acquired by the University of Alabama before 1950, these documents are a tangible witness to Tuscaloosa's earliest days. To sit in the Ganrud Reading Room at Special Collections and to hold and to read a fabulously detailed letter penned in one of Tuscaloosa's log taverns in 1821 is a profoundly moving experience.

When reading Ely, one main thing needs to be kept in mind. William Ely was accustomed to the finer things in life and he was miserable in Frontier Tuscaloosa. He complained to his wife that he was indeed "a stranger in a strange land," and was sick of his journey from the very beginning. A year before his letter from Lewen's Hotel, he wrote this on April 20, 1820:
"I am weary with traveling over mountains, thro' swamps and mud and living in the middle of piles of logs with no other windows than the large spaces between them (there not being a pane of glass to 5000 people in the country), of living on hog and corn with a few racoon, oh , how I long to return to a civilized and moral world." However, one year later, in 1821, Ely did discover panes of glass in some Tuscaloosa cabins and wrote that, "I have traveled about 240 miles south of the Tennessee River and except at this place [Tuscaloosa] have not seen a pane of glass in any house and I do not think there are as many panes of glass, as houses, in this place...They all live in dirty, small sod and mud cabins, or in those of a more mean construction, and are generally almost destitute of all the comforts and conveniences of life. Bacon, corn bread, or greasy hot half baked biscuits, about as often without, as with vegetables, with water, buttermilk and sour milk, constitute, with tea and coffee, for those that buy them, their general diet..."

Mr. Ely's inspection of his tavern's kitchen convinced him that Tuscaloosa did not meet New England's public health standards. He complained to his wife:
"The kitchen!! Oh the kitchen!!!! The filthiest place you can conceive of being occupied for cooking, is small, but contains two beds, in which and on the floor, from six to ten negroes of both sexes and various ages all unmarried sleep promiscuously."

Ely says that "The Methodist house is across the street from where I live- about three weeks since, under the pulpit, which is a coarse square box raised about two feet from the floor, a great old sow introduced to the light six or seven fine pigs. Whether the floor was even swept after it before the next meeting I could not tell as I could not discover that any dirt was missing and two or three times since when the people have assembled there the old sow with her pigs placed herself at the door and claimed and disputed for the right of possession and a person was obliged to go out several times and beat her away from the door."

Tuscaloosa's pioneer women did not escape Ely's poison pen: "I am told the females, ladies I should have said, have almost no taste or inclination for reading, mental accomplishments not being sought after by the other sex, are neglected by the females and their whole attention is directed to tricking off their persons in the best manner for catching a man to take care of, and support them, their courtships if they deserve the name, are generally very short, and on the part of the female at an early age, and there is generally very little of either sentiment or prudence in the connection between the sexes."

Ely was highly amused at the married ladies attempt at "high society." He wrote,"A coach with two or three servants, driving up, with three or four ladies, dressed in their crepes, cambricks, silks, laces, leghorns, lace veils, white or coloured kids, to one of these cabins, the ladies jumping out into the mud and clamboring, perhaps, over a dirty rail fence, and walking, sometimes over shoes in mud, to get to it, and then stooping to enter the door (as few of them are high enough to permit a man to enter without stooping), is a perfect burlesque on show and parade, on good sense and propriety."

In the summer of 1821, Ely left Tuscaloosa and never returned. During that summer, frontier Tuscaloosa and its shabby cabins and eight-hundred squatters came to an end. The Cotton Plant
  became the first steamboat to ever dock at Tuscaloosa. With Colonel John McKee opening a federal land office in town, men without capital were at the mercy of the men with the money. Many of the squatters moved into the back country. Abernathy describes them:
"Men of this class, being improvident by nature, did not come to seek wealth but merely to gain a subsistence or to enjoy the freedom of the forest. They built their simple cabins and planted their crops of corn between trees which they killed by girdling. Their greatest immediate problem was to live until the first crop was made, and here there was much difficulty."

Four years later, in December of 1825, Tuscaloosa was made the capitol of Alabama and the little town at the Falls of the Black Warrior began to reap the fruits of its destiny.

The frontier and its people had vanished.

That rugged way of life would never return.

ALABAMA PIONEERS website link to the story of Ely's 1821 visit to the Falls of the Black Warrior

Tuscaloosa shipping news from 1819 and 1820 issues of the MOBILE GAZETTE & COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER:

March 15, 1819
For the Falls of the Black Warrior
THE elegant Barge FREELOVE, 75 tons, D. Swing, master, is now ready to receive freight and will be dispatched immediately- apply on board or to
Henry D. Merritt

April 23, 1819
Port of Mobile- CLEARED
Keel Boat Saucy Jack, Taylor (master), Tuscaloosa

November 8, 1819
Port of Mobile- CLEARED
Keel Boat President, Files (master), Tuscaloosa

March 1, 1820
Port of Mobile- CLEARED
Keel-Boat, Inferior, Daniel (master), Tuscaloosa

 from the Wednesday, September 8, 1819 issue of the MOBILE GAZETTE & COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER:

To Boat-Builders
A PERSON capable of undertaking the building of a small Steam-Boat, partly on the plan of a keel-boat; to be commenced immediately at the falls of the Black Warrior, will be certain to final employment by applying to
St. Stephens, Sept. 8-3t.

"As stated, the present site of Tuscaloosa, being at the Falls of the Warrior, or head of navigation, had been reserved from entry and sale by the General Government. The fine expanse west of the city had been included in a grant to the Hartford Deal and Dumb Asylum. Seeing its advantageous location, a company composed of Marr, Perkins, Lewin, and others, purchased it. They knew it would one day be a city, or at any rate a valuable suburb, whenever the United States should throw open to buyers the reserved section. They proceeded to lay off the village of Newtown, selling alternate lots to purchasers, burdened with the condition that they should build upon them in a specified time. As our people had but just whipped the British and expelled the Indians, they were in no mood to listen to conditions, so they petitioned the General Government to lay off the present site of Tuscaloosa in lots and sell them without reserve. Much against the interests of the Newtownites, this was done by the Governmental Surveyor, Coffee, in 1821.

"Hence arose a jealous rivalry between the two factions, that was protracted for many years.

Newtown had a court-house, a jail, and a ferry. It had a hotel, a steam mill, a cigar factory, a market-house and numerous stores, offices and dwellings. As population, however, like everything else movable, takes the Hue of least resistance, it naturally distributed away from monopoly and restriction. It spread along the bluff between the present Broad and Spring streets, where they could overlook, beyond the Warrior, the expanse later known as 'New Kentuck,' and where it could draw its supplies of water from the bold and sparkling springs that gurgled in the grassy coves below.

In time Newtown began to pale its 'ineffectual fires' before the rising sun of Tuscaloosa. Her abandoned tenements were either torn down or wheeled into the rival village, until finally, in 1827, she was deprived, by the popular vote, of the court-house and jail, so that, to use the expressive language of another, 'when Newtown was visited by the tornado, in 1842, it found little to destroy.; "

Source: Northern Alabama - Historical and Biographical by Smith & De Land, Birmingham, Ala 1888 - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney

 from the Wednesday, July 21, 1819 issue of the MOBILE GAZETTE & COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER:

   By a gentleman recently returned from the Tombeckbe we are informed, that Gen. Jackson has written to Meshuleetubbee, head chief of one of the three great divisions of the Choctaw nation, thro' the interpreter, Peachland, requesting to meet him at a time and place specified (when or where our informant did not learn) to hold a conference on the subject of the sale of part of their nation to the United States. When our informant left there, Meshuleetubbee and Peachland were on a tour through the District, to consult the other chiefs and head men on the subject: and the opinion was almost universal among the whites in the neighborhood, that the District will be ceded to the United States, either by sale or in exchange for lands on the Arkansaw- though not immediately.

We learn from another source, that a deputation of the Choctaw nation has visited the country on the Arkansaw, with a view to such an exchange, and made a very favorable report, both of the country and the quality of game. In consequence of which a great number of the Choctaws have expressed a willingness to exchange with the U.S. on the same terms as those granted to the Cherokees. The District embraces the Military Crossing of the Beckbe, where it has lately been determined, the great federal road from Nashville to New Orleans shall cross that river.

Mr. Meigs- Agent for the Cherokee Nation, has given public notice on the intruders on the Cherokee lands, that unless they remove off the said lands by the first of July, he shall apply to Gen. Jackson to remove them by military force. These intruders were ordered to leave the nation before the season of planting, and many did then remove; and proceeded to plant their crops- they therefore deserve the less commiseration.

 from the Friday, April 23, 1819 issue of the MOBILE GAZETTE & COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER:

(Late Editor of the ANTI-MONARCHIST, at Cambridge, South Carolina)
for publishing by subscription a weekly news-paper at Tuscaloosa (falls Black Warrior)

On making this proposition to the citizens of the Alabama Territory, a decent respect for their opinions requires that I should state the objects to be persued by the Republican & the principles by which it will be governed.

The citizens of this Territory must necessarily meet here, generally speaking, as strangers to each other. Emigrating from different and distant sections of the Union; accustomed to different and in many cases, opposite modes of State government; weded to opposite and conflicting prejudices, and bringing with them a great diversity of manners, customs and habits, they must particularly require some medium of public information, by which they may learn the views and opinions of each other respecting public measures, and public men; and through which each may communicate his own. This free and frequent interchange of sentiment cannot fail to be highly beneficial to the community; to promote concord, strengthen the bonds of union, and bring the citizens to think and act in unison, like brethren of the same family. Such a medium will be found in a widely-circulating News Paper: and no other is so well adapted to these desirable purposes.

From the rapid increase in population, it is evident this Territory must shortly be admitted into the Union, and assume the dignified title of one of the United States. A necessary consequence of which will be, the formation of a constitution-the most important task, of a civil nature, that a state ever has to perform, and for the proper execution of which a collection of all the knowledge and wisdom of the State will be the requisite.

It will be the primary object of the Republican to collect and disseminate the most useful information on this subject, whenever it may be required,and on State polity generally, as connected with the wellfare of Alabama.

The Republican will possess every possible facility of obtaining the earliest and most current information on public affairs, which will be promptly communicated to the public. It will contain, besides the latest foreign intelligence, an account of every important transaction of the general Government-a correct synopsis of the proceedings of Congress, with the votes and most interesting speeches of individual members, particularly of those from this Territory: LAWS for the Territorial government, appointments to office, &c. with every other information which may conduce to the prosperity of the Alabama Territory, and of the American Republic.

Well written essays, in prose or verse, calculated to promote Religion, Morality, Agriculture, Manufactures, the liberal Arts and Sciences, Political or General Knowledge, will be gratefully received and gratuitously published; but the Editor reserves to himself the privilege of rejecting any communications which he may deem indecorous, or otherwise unworthy a place in his columns.

In canvassing the official conduct of public officers, due respect will be always paid to veracity, candor and decorum; and private character will be held sacred.

The glorious and honorable termination of the late War, aided by the good sense of the people of the United States, having consigned to oblivion all party distinctions and animosities, the Editor scarecely deems it necessary to say, that his political creed is that of the Republican school. Having established and conducted, through the late war, a public Journal, under the title Anti-Monarchist, on principles corresponding with the title, he conceives himself warranted in the assertion that, his political principles are such as no friend to the liberties, independence and prosperity of the United States ever was, or ever will be, ashamed to avow.


The Republican will be published once a week, on a Royal sheet at $4 per annum, payable in advance.

Niles' Weekly Register ~ Saturday, July 19, 1817

Mississippi and Alabama. 
Nashville, June 10. — We are gratified in being able to state that the division of this territory made by the last congress is very generally approved of by the people. The election for the convention to frame a state constitution took place in the western part last week, where in most cases gentlemen of respectable talents were expected to be elected. It is anticipated it will not be very long before the people of the eastern section will also be permitted to elect a convention. It will settle faster than any new country ever did. Gen. Coffee is now surveying one hundred townships adjoining Madison county, lying on both sides of the Muscle Shoals, which is believed to be the flower of the Alabama territory, and has recently been laid off into three counties. All west of Madison county, north of Tennessee river, and south of the state of Tennessee is made one county, and is called Elk county, the seat of justice for which is at Fort Hampton. All south of Tennessee river, east of the Chickasaw boundary line, north of the highlands that divide the waters of the Tennessee from the waters of the Mobile, and west of the Cherokee boundary line, is made another county, called Blount county, the seat of justice of which is at Milton's Bluff All south of Blount county, to the east of Tombigbee river, to the north of Clark county, and west of the highlands that divide the waters of the Alabama from the waters of the Tombigbee, is made another county, called Sevier county, the seat of justice of which is at the falls of the Black Warrior.* These counties are settling very fast, and by the time the land can be sold, will contain a dense population.It is expected the sale of those lands will come on at Huntsville, in Nov. next, and they will sell higher per acre than any public land ever offered by the United States. It is supposed the hundred townships now surveying will produce nine millions of dollars, when sold; but from the short time al lowed by law, to keep the office open, it is apprehended that only a small part can be exposed to sale this fall. The consequence of which will be that many who are now vesting their funds in scrip, expecting to purchase lands, will be disappointed in their calculations; as they will probably have to wait until another law is passed to continue the sales.

* This is the highest point of navigation of the waters of Mobile, is surrounded by good laud, and, is only 70 miles from Huntsville, of course we may soon expect to see. a large thriving town at this place.