Wednesday, November 10, 2010

With Sabres In Our Hands

Excerpt from Robert Gordon to accompany the song
This was 1974, and the divergent forces in Memphis music came together that night at the post-Elvis studio built by the master around the corner from Sun. It was a session for Jerry McGill, whose Topcoats were the South Memphis hoods that East Memphis mamas were too scared to hire in the late 1950s. McGill's one released recording had been for Phillips some twenty-five years earlier. Jim Dickinson was producing the session, using demo money he'd wrangled from Warner Brothers. Those present included Danny Graflund, Campbell Kensinger, Marcia Hare, and another of the Mud Boy dancers. Impresario Jim Blake was there, as was writer Stanley Booth. Knox Phillips, Sam's elder son, was engineering the session.
Campbell sat in the control room drinking Wild Turkey from a fifth, bouncing the bottom of the glass bottle on the floor as he listened to other people tell stories. "You ever think of 'the Law' as a whole fucking table?" Campbell asked. And he picked up a coffee table, put the corner in his mouth, tried to bite it off.
Stanley Booth, who was practiced in the martial arts, leapt up and karate chopped a decorative wooden shingle into two pieces. Campbell was extremely unimpressed. Blake remembers Campbell saying, "These guys in my gang walk around with these guns and knives and shit and they think they're tough. I'll show you tough," and Campbell whipped his noonchuks from his back pocket and started hitting himself on the left side of the head. "About twenty times," says Blake, "stuff that would have not only disabled me or you, but would have given us permanent brain damage. And he said, 'Now that's tough.' Hey, nobody could disagree with that."
Knox and Dickinson, who was thinly slicing hog tranquilizer for sustenance, kept their attention on McGill, who was overdubbing the vocal. Knox remembers that he was singing "Desperados Waiting for a Train," but Dickinson believes it was a Civil War song called "With Sabres in My Hand." In the latter number, there is a line that upset McGill every time, a line at the end of the song in which the Southern narrator refers to "the lost cause." Dickinson leaned to Knox to confirm that he'd frisked McGill before the session.
"Yes," said Knox, "I got his gun."
"Gun?" said Dickinson. "Guns!"
At that moment, Eggleston was entering the studio floor with his video camera, and McGill's fuse lit. It was bad enough admitting defeat on audio tape, but to have it chronicled on video was too much. Eggleston crept closer as the song neared its climax. The camera was on top of McGill when he said the scurrilous words. The goddamn line sung, the final notes fading, McGill reached into his jacket and stated, "Lost cause my ass," unloading his six gun into the ceiling. Instinctively, everyone in the control room ducked. When Dickinson looked up, Knox was still at the board.
"What're you doing?" he hissed.
Stated the ace engineer, "The gun needs mo' echo."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Death Day...August 16 1977

Ok..33 years ago, Jill and I are living at 100 North Main in Memphis... Lowenstein Towers 20th floor over looking the Mighty Mississippi.

The previous night we had played and engagement with MudBoy at an old porn theatre on Madison that had been converted into a Rock and Roll Joint.. I believe it was called the Ritz... A couple of years earlier, I had seen "Behind the Green Door" there.

Knox Phillips on death day

Following the performance, Dickinson and I were talking to Herbie O'Mell. Herbie said that he had earlier heard from Joe Espsito at Graceland and Elvis had not come down from upstairs in 2 days or so and everyone was getting worried. We collect our fifty bucks or whatever and go on home. The following day is my birthday.. Jill and I are lounging around the apt.. I actually was on some pretty heavy pain meds at the time as Pat Rainer and I had been in a pretty serious auto accident over by the Pink Palace just a few days earlier.. so I had a big patch on my face where some glass had cut me during the accident.

Dickinson call up about 1:30pm and asks if we had heard the news. About 30 minutes later, while still on the phone the news flash came across the TV. Dickinson said he was headed into town. We all meet up at Phillips Recording... where the phone is ringing off the hook. Knox and Ricky were there. Robert Palmer calls at some point and says he'll be in Memphis in 3 hours. Robert, from the "Insect Trust" band had become a senior music writer at the NY Times
Robert Palmer and Randall Lyon Death Day 1977

Palmer arrives a few hours later via taxi (which cost him a fortune as there were few taxis available and hotel rooms were really hard to get). I end up driving Robert to Graceland. It was a madhouse. The picture below is Palmer outside the gates of Graceland on this day 33 years ago. I also took photos at the funeral a few days later. If you'll remember, there were at least two Elvis fans hanging outside the gate that were killed by passing motorists.

I thought it might be appropriate to publish these pictures, or let them escape on this day in 2010..
almost to the minute of when this saga began.

Other folks who showed up at Phillips during this 3 day period were Tav Falco, Charles Rateri, Randall Lyon, Pat Rainer and several of the Sun artists who had recorded concentrically with Elvis..

Robert Palmer NY Times at Graceland on Death Day

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Tucker Street Raid

Finley Duncan and Shelby Singleton at Playground site in Valparaiso


So.. In Late 72 or so, on this same farm in Brentwood, I had a two track recording set-up. We had different musicians and songwriters in and out. It was adequate for song demos and the like. Jimmy Louis was a friend from Florida who ironically happened to record at Playground and had a record out on Shelby Singleton's Plantation label. He and his wife came to Nashville to visit us in a Lime Green 68 Caddy. Word got out that Shelby had a film projector and was going to have a showing of "Deep Throat" at his studio. (Gotta remember this was before VHS). So Louis and I attend the event and meet David Alan Coe, who was signed to Shelby also at the time but had cut his first LP down in Valparaiso which came out on Shelby's label called "Penitentiary Blues" that was co-produced by Teddy Paige.

Coe ends up coming back to the farm and staying 3 days.. we sang, wrote and recorded night and day for about 3 days.Within a month Coe had signed with Columbia and we went along as his backing band. The first album that he recorded for Colombia "The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy" was largely a result of the farm sessions. As Columbia, started promoting the Coe product.. we played gigs and did TV shows, even played the Ryman. However, we missed Memphis and would make regular trips on the weekend back to the Bluff City to hang with our rock and roll buds. Before Coe was signed to CBS he wrote for Pete Drake.. we did a lot of hangin out at Pete's Place on 17th Ave. There was a set of apartments across the street.,Dottie West had one, Linda Hargrove had one and McGill, for short time had 2. McGill would end up making alot of those weekend trips to Memphis with us. For a time perspective. this was during the time Eggelston was shooting "Stranded in Canton". As Coe started to gain recognition, different sidekicks, road managers etc. began to appear..

The Tucker Street Raid
The first manager made the mistake of giving me a ride from Nashville to Memphis in his little MG. We docked at Hal Newman's apt. behind Huey's on Madison Ave. Hal had a perpetual tab at Huey's and we could literally receive food and beer through the window.. Hal had a baby grand in the front room so there was always lots of songwriting and singing going on there. On the day of our arrival I stashed the road manager on Hal's sofa.. and we went about the task of making music in Memphis. Jerry was there speaking in rhyme. He had embodied the spirit of Confederate General Nathan Beauregard Forrest... he was toting around a homemade weapons bag that included swords, bows and arrows and knives, however every word he spoke was in rhyme.
site of the Tucker Street Raid

Campbell Kinsinger was the king of Midtown. Nothing happened in midtown that wasn't truly sanctioned by him and his crew. We did a lot of strange and bizarre stuff in Midtown in the 70's.. most of which couldn't have occurred if Campbell hadn't been in control of the streets. Campbell is another story worthy of recognition. .

So the road manager is asleep on Hal's sofa.. Campbell drops by a couple of times and tells us all that no one should leave.. goodies were arriving at 10:00pm. The cast of characters at the time included McGill, Halito, Scary Sherry (who eventually married Bernard), Judy Avanzi, Celia Yancey could have been there, I can't remember and possibly Pat and Sabue and a couple of Midtown stragglers.

At 10:00 pm sharp.. simultaneously the front door and the back door are kicked in. Through the back door came one of Campbell's trained gals swinging nun-chuks better than Bruce Lee and Whitey, one of Campbell's lieutenants. led the charge through the front door with a nickel plated nine millimeter.. both entree's were followed by other members of Campbell's crew.. We hear someone holler "Secure" and Campbell enters through the front door. When I see McGill hit the floor and crawl under Hal's piano, I also deem this to be a good idea.. The road manager is still on the sofa. Campbell orders the guy to stand, which he did.. Campbell begins to interrogate the guy and then rips off the guy's tee shirt to inspect a tattoo he had on his arm. Seems like this tat was not one you would want to wear into Campbell's territory. The manager makes an explanation that he had received the tattoo from a cell mate in a northern prison and had no idea what it meant. (at this point it should be noted that Campbell was the undisputed leader of a regional Bike club.. and David Alan Coe and/or his supposed brother Buddha was the chief of a rival club).

Neatly tucked under the piano, we all are a bit nervous. Campbell then orders me to stand. I stood. He asks me "Lancaster, can you speak for this guy?' After a short amount of thought, the truth was "No". There are some situations where a one word reply is more than adequate, any other words would have been an excuse or a lie.

After a bit more interrogation and roughin' up, It is deemed that this guy is ok for now and everyone should get off the floor and this party should resume. Which it did. The music continued, everyone in the room, including the bikers sang a rousing version of "Why You Been Gone So Lone". Campbell insists we move the party to Peanuts.. which we do. While Furry is playing. Campbell's guys repeatedly started torturing this road manager and eventually kick his ass totally.. smashed his glasses and trashed his MG..I still don't know how he got out of Memphis. At one point during the melee, feeling as small amount of sympathy for the guy who had given me the ride, I ask McGill at the bar if there was anything we could do... he just smiled and shook his head...

Needless to say, our time with Coe had come an abrupt and interesting conclusion.. There was a phone conversation on my behalf between Campbell and Coe. As far as I know Coe never played in Memphis until after Campbell's death.. could have just been a coincidence.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Turquoise and Leather

I was born in Memphis
Youngest brother out of three
raised down in Dixie
in the south of Tennessee
My Daddy was a hustler
Momma worked most every night
In the streets I learned to do the boogie
In the joints I learned to fight

Call Me Hootchie Cootchie Man

Jerry McGill

For those reading this soap opera who may not be familiar with McGill.. there are some things you should be made aware of. Jerry was friends with Waylon early.. long before the bigger records when Waylon was playing shows at the roadhouses in the American southwest. They were all buds with Duane Eddy who was Jessi Colter's first husband. In the mid 60's Waylon was just assembling the band that would eventually play on the "Honky Tonk Heroes and Me" album, which would be the first real breakaway album from the traditional Nashville method. On trips from the west coast to Nashville, McGill started bringing back turquoise and silver jewelry that he had acquired from his native American friends. Within a very short time every country music star in Nashville was wearing this type jewelry. Turquoise became a rage for a few years. McGill was singlehandedly responsible for this.

Jerry also acquired and was wearing leather clothes from the Indians before anyone else in Nashville. Country music didn't want leather clothes.. It didn't fit the mold in 1970. When Waylon put on leather clothes the "outlaw" movement became a reality.. or at least one that Nashville execs figured they had better package and promote like Wheaties. There were country music outlaws before the movement.. always had been.. just nobody called their names.

Now I can tell you this first hand... McGill has never compromised.. It's all or nothing, always has been. If you were to hang around Jerry.. you'll do more living in three hours than you would in your normal life in 3 years. Even now at 70 years old with diabetes and half a lung he can get more out of life than you can imagine.. It would make Keith Richards' eyes spin.

This is Jerry in May 2010 at Playground

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Curtis Buck.. The Saga Continues

So.. We're gonna back up a few years before we continue with the present.

When I first met McGill he wanted to kill me. I didn't know this until later. I was eighteen or nineteen and we were staying on a farm in Brentwood when Jerry shows up with a band of criminals... mostly car dealers, politicians and drug dealers that hung out in Printer's Alley. We won't mention any names to protect the not so innocent. When these guys arrived at the farm.. they had a full unopened bottle of quaaludes.. which we were supposed to keep safe until it was disposed of. There was also a shitload of little green mescaline pills.. The drugs were deposed, however not in the manner that they intended.. In a fog.. some incidents occurred after which McGill and I had an altercation.. Jill and I ended up chasing him from Brentwood all the way to Dan Penn's carriage house studio behind Ira Sachs' house.. Jill and I had a new '72 Monte Carlo.. we side swiped a couple of tractor trailer rigs on the high speed chase. At Dan's, after some tense moments (I had too much testosterone for my own good) Jerry and I resolved our differences.

A couple of days later Dickinson calls up .. He says "Jerry calls me a week ago and asks me if I know you, he says he's gonna Kill you, because your an arrogant bastard. The following week he calls and says I got this new kid Lancaster, who is going to lead my band".

One of the cons talked us into trading the bruised unpaid for Monte Carlo for a pristine '47 chevy, even trade... Everyone on music row had Cadillacs.. the bad boys.. Waylon and them had Lincolns... I had the '47.. Stanley and Bernard totaled this car on the Mississippi Arkansas bridge a year or so later. Stanley's book was still not out at the time

More later
Future Episodes include:
The Tucker Street Raid
Fort Buck
Doctor Buck

Monday, July 26, 2010

Geronimo in the Panhandle

Jerry McGill aka Curtis Buck..condensed recent biography...

for our friends who don't know
Until 3 months ago.. I hadn't seen or heard from Jerry in over 35 years. Jerry surfaced in Huntsville and schedules a session in Memphis with Roland Jaynes at Phillips which included, much to Roland's dismay, more folks than antici...pated including all of the surviving members and compadres of MudBoy, Luther and Cody Dickinson..and two different films crews were in attendance. Robert Gordon and Paul Duane had been in the process of filming a documentary film on Jerry. Up until then the only way I knew he was still alive was a random post on Facebook. Within 2 weeks of the Phillips sessions.. McGill had hired a taxi to bring him down here to Valparaiso from Huntsville with all his earthly possessions as well as several other folks' possessions. We put him up at Ed Kollis' house, a couple of blocks from the studio. At this time he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer, not to mention he was in advanced stages of diabetes.. A day and a half later after a long arduous flight through volcanic ash to Huntsville, Irishman Paul Duane arrives in the same taxi with film gear in tow. It only cost $750 for the taxi ride..more later

McGill... Recent Bio... continued

We left off with Jerry and Paul Duane (Irish Filmmaker) arriving at Playground via taxis hired in Hunstville only 400 miles away)

McGill arrived first. It took them almost 20 hours to make the drive from Huntsville.. 1st there was a flat tire with no spare somewhere south of Cullman. While the taxi driver (who McGill had designated as his road manager) went looking for a tire.. Jerry was serenading on the interstate. Hiway patrols were in attendance.. after a 4 hour tire.. they got to south Alabama and had no money for fuel... there was a wait for money to be wired from the company filming the documentary.. They arrive on a Friday afternoon.
Unloading Jerry's possessions.. there was a broken plaster Elvis statue, along with a plaster angel.. a legal sawed off shotgun.. bags of medications.. and some other various folk crafted weapons.. some items that turned out to be "borrowed" and a few clothes.

We locked Jerry away in Ed's house for the night. The following day, April 24th was Saturday in the Park family day, which takes place in front of the studio and is an all day event. We are always involved with the audio portion of the event and were that day. While we were working the event McGill escapes Ed's house and begins to walk towards the sound of music. At the sight of Jerry the neighbors immediately call the police. Jerry ends up arriving at the event via female police escort. She was a big gal, goes to the passenger side of the cruiser and physically lifts McGill out of the police car, while playing "Working Girl" on the guitar and sets him on the street in front of the studio... more later

So... Saturday in the Park.. is a local festival with some family and historical oriented vendors and booths, all accompanied by school and church musical ensembles playing live. McGill goes around to each booth and does impromptu performances and gathers small crowds at each. There is a historical museum next to the studio which he visited and performed in... all the while secretly trying to score. Needless to say he was the surprise special guest of the day. We fed him and relocked him in Ed's house on Saturday night. The same evening he woke and decided to go fishing on the pier across the street. The police were again called by someone who was accusing him of being a child molester because he had asked a kid if he wanted to go fishing. Again, he talks his way out of the police situation..Sunday morning on the walk to the studio he passes a church, takes out his guitar and begins to serenade some of the parishioners. VOLCANIC ASH over Ireland keep Paul from flying out.. He arrives with camera in tow on Monday which is Jerry's vocal overdub day. By this time McGill had converted Ed's house into a fortress and had weapons, mainly shivs, stashed in every available crevice. Meanwhile Elvis' head is still broken off the statue and he's shooting insulin through his clothes. By overdub day.. he had not slept nor stopped talking.. so his voice was shot for singing.. which really didn't matter.. what did matter was how I was going to get them outta here. Jill and I resolve ourselves to driving both Paul and Jerry to Huntsville.. We did this on Tuesday.. of course after stuffing himself on herbalite smelling dog tranquilizers we couldn't find Joyce's house and she wasn't answering the telephone.. all Jerry said was "Uh Oh.. wrong rocket" Jerry was supposed to go have a lung removal operation under yet a different alias in less than 2 days. Joyce was in the shower so we placed all of his belongings on the porch and left him with Paul and Joyce.

A couple of harrowing weeks later, while shooting a crossbow. he chopped off a finger on his fretting hand.. he had a gig scheduled for the weekend. When he calls with the news of the accident I tell him how to tune his guitar in open D and play with a slide.. he was thrilled.. however the morning of the gig bounty hunters from Cullman show up and arrest him under a different alias... still hadn't had his scheduled operation... so all of his meds were in sacks not prescription bottles and they don't exactly let sacks of drugs into the prison. So with the pain from the recently departed finger.. he screamed for a couple of days. This being a weekend there were no judges available and as it turns out the following Monday is a state holiday in Alabama.. ironically Jefferson Davis' birthday..the courthouse in Cullman is closed all week

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Danny and Casey's 5th birthday Party at Lincoln Park in the Vale of Paradise at 2:00 pm.. just around the corner from the studio.. Air show will continue today as well..

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Alabama Musicians Hall of Fame induction Ceremony.. was a blast.. congrats to all inductees.. all well deserved accolades. Special kudos to Jerry Carrigan, Paul Hornsby and Buddy Buie.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Citing influences, Hank Sr., Hank III, Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family, John Palmer "Hoss" Morton has written some pertinent material delivered in a tongue in cheek bluegrass fashion.. the words quickly transcend the genre. Accompanied by PinchBottle band members Wes on acoustic/vocals and Robert Wright on mandolin/vocals, the band delivers these songs with a "Mayberry" slant that is mature beyond their 19 years. We have recorded 3 tracks and are continuing a sprint to finish the project. Look for some "in store" performances soon.


A local music magazine after finding out that we had played with Lx.. asked me to write a piece.. it's rather generic but will have to do

Alex Chilton 1950-2010

I met Alex Chilton in 1974 at the Mid South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee. My wife Jill , and I were playing a gig with our band Confederation and guest artist Jim Dickinson, along with Waylon Jennings. As we sang the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses", a thin skiddish figure dressed in a bright yellow rain coat, with hood up and walked up to the microphone and started singing with Jill and I. At the end of the gig Dickinson, who had played on the the Stones' cut of "Wild Horses, introduced us to Alex.

For some years we had been enjoying the Boxtops and the songs they recorded. Songs like "Cry Like A Baby", "Neon Rainbow" and perhaps the most famous "The Letter", produced by the legendary Dan Penn. Alex sang "The Letter" in 1967 when he was only 16 years old. It became an immediate smash "Boxtops" hit. At first, it was hard to realize that this unassuming and quietly introspective man had already attained worldwide acclaim.

Over the next 35 years Alex would remain both a friend, a collaborator and a musical inspiration. During the same time that we became friends with Alex, he and friend Chris Bell had a newly formed group called "Big Star". Big Star went on to record 3 critically acclaimed, melodically beautiful power pop albums at the famed Ardent Recording Studio in Memphis. Big Star did not sell a lot of albums initially, however the group had a major influence on on up and coming post punk bands such as the Replacements and R.E.M. Always the innovator and "quiet rebel", Alex experimented with alternative sounds writing and recording several solo albums.

Alex moved to New Orleans in the early 80's. He continued to perform, play guitar and write until his unexpected passing. In the past few years "Big Star" has been finally gaining the recognition deserved with the release of a box set and a new revival of the band. Alex was preparing to travel to Austin, Texas to perform with the group at the SxSX music festival only a few days prior to his death.

We will always remember Alex as a friend, excellent guitarist, singer writer and a major influence on American music culture.

Jim and Jill Lancaster

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Stuff coming!

New product on the way.. Steve Fisher "Nothing But Hope"

BigWater Music

You can find some previews of the BigWater record here
BigWater is feverishly trying to get out a a CD by the end of March. We have been recording songs from the Playground catalog and are playing them at our live performances to enthusiastic audiences. We have also included a Dan Penn song or two. We are making "in progress" reference Cds and this is the working cover for the ref disks. They are for sale on a limited basis.. Less than 30 units will be manufactured before we change jackets and program content.

This is a post from the current Uk mag "In The Basement". Playground alumnus Len Wade is picked #3 all time blue-eyed soul singers with his 1966 cut of "It Comes and It Goes".. truly an amazing track and a scorching vocal. Thanks to David for publishing this great rag!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mr and Mrs. Right

We are finishing up the 1st 7 cuts on Rip Wright. Rip was raised right here in Valparaiso... and in 1980 made a 45 with Finley Duncan. It was issued on the Emerald Coast label on green vinyl ( there are only 4 artists issued on this label). Rip has combined local color as well as well as a unique musical combination of players for the new project which includes his son Robert. The project was initially begun with the Decoy's lead singer, Scott Boyer. Rip is officially a boat captain and entrepreneur. Songwriting has always been a hobby, but now one that he can put on disk and share. "Alimony" which was issued on the 45, for you collectors, who by a slim chance might have this Emerald Coast 45 has been re-cut and is a rockin track. We look for an issue on the current endeavor sometime in 2010.

Steve Fisher "Nothing But Hope"

As the New Year has turned over.. we can hardly say 2010 much less write it down.. however studios are like casinos.. no natural light and no clocks.. after a three year project, Steve Fisher's "Nothing But Hope" is finally on the forecast to be released. Masters have been sent to the manufacturer and art is on the way.. so we are about a month out for retail copies. Steve has crafted some fine songs into an Americana Symphony.. actually we like to call it the "Boggy Bayou Hobo Orchestra". To accompany these quatrains, some fine musicians are featured on this disk. Clayton's guitar work exceeds Nashville twang. This is what a telecaster is supposed to sound like. Fred Dumalot overdubbed drums on the entire project (a feat in itself) and Doug plays some memorable mandolin on these American poems. There will be a limited amount available on the Playground website The cover photo is by Shelley Swanger and graphic art by Willie Warren Meigs