Nora and I will be staying at the Sheraton near the Campus and near Chuck's Fish. I am not sure you know about Bennie Deer. He's in chapter 22 of the book. Ironically, he is playing drums in the band at the restuarant tomorrow night. According to sources, Bennie was one of the best drummers of the era and played with some of R&B's greats. I'll call you on your cell when we get close to Tuscaloosa. Can't wait to meet Tiger Jack as well.
I don't think I've ever met Bennie Deer but I'm a big fan of The Crowd Pleasers.
I really enjoyed your interview with Bennie in the book.
The following is an extraordinary email I received from wwwwwwwwwwyker describing the work he did with George Byrd, sax player with The Crowd Pleasers.
I was putting up a teaser "For Rent" sign on Wednesday at the corner of 30th Avenue & 15th Street when up walked George Byrd. I gave him a flyer for the book signing and showed him the book. He immediately wanted to see The Pieces of Eight so I turned to that section of the book and ,by God, there I was standing in the middle of the parking lot of Thomas's Rib Shack listening to George Byrd sing "Lonely Drifter".
That's something money can't buy.
I recorded a 45 rpm record on GEORGE BYRD and DORETTA EPPS in 1967 or 68'...and I leased it to SHELBY SINGLETON at SSS INTERNATIONAL in NASHVILLE...met JEANIE C. RILEY that same day...it was when HARPER VALLEY PTA was a hit...
I recorded GEORGE and DORETTA at The STUDIO that would later become MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND...The Cat that owned the studio would let me come in after hours and cut stuff for free,,,,BILL CONNELL was my drummer on that session ..he's the only one that I can remember as a session man.
If you see GEORGE BYRD ask him if he remembers this old record...he was just a young kid from T-Town...I think the song was called JUST AS LONG AS I HAVE YOUR LOVE.
ALSO PLEASE tell all of your readers to checkout our http://www.youtube.com/ videos of DONNIE FRITTS, DAVID HOOD, SCOTT BOYER, PATTERSON HOOD and JASON ISABEL from THe DRIVE by TRUCKERS...They TAG WORD is MFV RADIO and it will bring all of our videos up....
WE had a great MFV Party and Raffle the FRIDAY after Thanksgiving..... PETE CARR won the grand prize which was a RED 4gig Ipod with MIGHTY FIELD of VISION inspribed on the back.
Maybe you can make the next party Ka$H Register...we'd love to have you !
Here's a Jerry Henry interview with the sax player for The Crowd Pleasers, George Byrd.
George how did you take up the saxophone?
I got my first saxophone when I was getting ready to go into the 7th grade. Which was back in 1955. I've been playing saxophone ever since.
Why the saxophone?
I saw people playing the sax on TV. I liked the sound and that is what I decided I wanted to play. I played in the school band. I started off with the beginners band in the 7th grade. I played with them for 1 year. Then I played in the main band until I graduated from Druid high school in 1961.
When did you start playing in rock and roll bands?
1956! My older brother, Earnest Hawkins, had a band called the Aces. He's still living and he lives up in Washington D.C. He was a trumpet player. The Aces played at the high school and the Elks Club. That was about the only black place you could play back in those days. The Elks Club was over on short 19th street.
After the Aces, what was your next band?
I had a high school group of my own called the Dominoes. It was actually a band and a singing group. When we were the singing group we called ourselves the Flamingos. Those two groups lasted about 30 years around here in one form or another.
How did you get from Tuscaloosa to Motown?
I decided to take a chance. I had some good friends in Detroit that told me to go talk to Barry Gordy. Mary Wells was a cousin of mine. He came down to visit and had Mary Wells with him one Christmas. We got together and that is when we recorded "Lonely Teardrops" with Jackie Wilson. At that time he was a independent record producer before Motown. I wanted a bicycle for Christmas and he wanted "Lonely Teardrops" so I traded him that song for a bicycle.
You wrote "Lonely Teardrops"?
Yes Sir I did! After that I went to Detroit and Barry started his own label, Motown, with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and all those other famous people you've heard about. The Funk Brothers played behind all those songs. You know James Jamerson, the bass player, and that bunch. I worked with them. Martha Reeves gave me my first audition. I worked with all of them like Stevie Wonder. Everybody pitched in. Sometimes they would need back up singers. They didn't care who you were, if your voice fit in, they would use you. The Temptations sang back up on my sessions that I recorded for Motown.
Where did you go after Motown?
I came back to Stillman. I was still in college when I did Motown. I was only about 19 or 20 years old. I had a music major and a music minor. I've got a music minor in saxophone from Stillman.
After college did you go on the road to make your living playing music?
Yes I did. I went on the road with Joe Simon. The guy that had the hits "Chokein Kind" and "You Keep Me Hangin On". We played all over the country. I had a chance to go to Europe with him but I turned him down. I told him I didn't want to go across the water. I don't regret it and I still don't have a desire to go. That's when I went to Muscle Shoals and did session work up there. I worded with Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, all those folks that were recording in Muscle Shoals back then. I got to play with the Swappers, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins, Clayton Ivey, Barry Beckett, all those guys.
Didn't you do "When a Man Loves a Woman"?
Yeah, that and "Slip Away". Lots of those songs.
Was "When a Man Loves a Woman" recorded in the little studio in downtown Sheffield or when they moved out on Jackson Hwy?
In that little studio in downtown Sheffield. That was for Fame, Rick Hall's studio with Quin Ivey.
What came after Muscle Shoals?
I went back on the road with my own bands, The Everyday People, Salt and Peppa, and today it's The Crowd Pleasers. Salt and Peppa was the house band at the Citizens Club for a long time.
Wasn't that when Jimmy Montgomery owned the Citizens Club?
That's right Jimmy Montgomery and Shorty Wilson owned it. There was a lot of fights there. When the fights started I would go the other way. (laughter) We played those places over in Northport, The Red Ox, The Shiloh, all of them. I played the VFW for a long time with Don Holt and that group.
You did some work up at Stax Records in Memphis, didn't you?
Yea, we played with Issac Hayes and all them. One of the musicians, Ray Thomas, was a band director. He was from Memphis and he knew all the musicians in Memphis. Some of them would come down here with him in the summer and we got to play with them. They would take our material back to Stax. I got to play with great musicians at Stax like Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Booker T. Jones, all those guys.
Which of your peers do you look up to as far as saxophone players?
Junior Walker and Hank Crawford are the people I looked up to when I was learning how to play.
You've been on the road through the good and the bad. Any regrets?
I don't have any regrets. I'm relieved to know that I wouldn't try some of the things now that I tried back when because now I know better. But I never did get on the drugs. I stayed away from the drug scene. I stayed clean.
George there's only one time in my life that I have seen you without that saxophone. You must truly love it.
All my girlfriends tell me it stays around my neck more than they do. (laughter) I call it my wife. I tell them why it stays around my neck. Because it feeds me, takes care of me, don't fuss, don't fight, and I don't have to pay it any alimony. (laughter)
George, any advice to anyone taking up the saxophone today?
Yes, I started out on alto, which is a small sax because I was so small. They thought the tenor and the baritone would be too big for me. I played alto for 12 years. I got my audition at Motown on alto instead of tenor. After I was there awhile they need a baritone sax player for the Supremes and that's how I started playing the baritone sax. I played on Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" with a baritone sax. I recommend the alto for anyone starting out.