Soon the stagelights came up and Scott’s five thousand watt smile penetrated even into the dark corners of the reverberant Rome Forum. The band, completed on this evening by a pair of horn players, launched into a group of southern soul numbers, and the crowd hit the dance floor excitedly.
The band, the songs, the dancers, and the festive big venue took me back to my musical childhood.
Before I was old enough to carry a Gibson Guitar, my dad would take the family and park behind the National Guard Armory on hot summer nights to listen to the bands play the local dance. The Armory was not air-conditioned, and the bands would prop open the back doors of the building wide, and I would sit, half hanging out of the back window of our Chevy wagon, and watch the musicians play.
I played the drums in those days, and I could not take my eyes off the drummers of these bands as they drove the southern soul sounds that soon became the soundtrack of my youth. Back in the day, these bands would often dress identically and sometimes would sport white dinner jackets. These would soon come off as the heat and energy of the evening demanded movement and musical energy.
My dad would finally have his fill and would crank the car amid my loud protestations, and I would strain to hear the music as it faded into the night.
I picked up a guitar because I was asthmatic and could not participate in the town’s leading export, football. The sixties were in full bloom, and often the year’s big debate would be among the members of the Prom Committee. Would they hire a “Show Band” (read: soul music, choreography, and banter) or would it be a “Rock Band” (read: guitars, light shows, and groovy music). The choices were divisive, and often one type of band would play the prom and a second would play what was called “The After Hours Dance” (read: naughty behavior).
I soon teamed up with a group and formed a band. Local Rome banker Roger Smith played in a competing band in those days, and they were really good. When they played, all other musicians would line the sides of the high school gym and try to figure out the chords of the new songs they were playing.
My mom took my band to Augusta and we outfitted ourselves in lace front shirts, wide striped bell-bottom jeans, and vests. The lead singer in Roger’s band had gone to Atlanta and purchased a Nehru jacket, and oh, how I burned in envy for that rock and roll sartorial choice.
Still, my band continued to improve, and we were eventually selected to play the dance at the high school gym after football games: a most sought-after gig. We would open up with “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group and then move through a repertory of hits from the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival and more. Throughout the dance, the girls would continually bombard us with requests for “slow songs.” I think we knew two.
Roger and I teamed up with members of my band for one memorable performance.
Every year the state convention of the Future Teachers of America was held in Rock Eagle, near Eatonton, Georgia. The hip young teacher/advisor of our high school group asked Roger and myself if we would like to enter the annual talent contest there and, mischievously, we said yes.
You see, for years the talent at the state convention of the Future Teachers of America had been lovely young folks reciting poems, singing a patriotic song, and the like.
That night, the auditorium was filled and the curtain closed. Armed with Kustom rolled and pleated amplifiers and Gibson Guitars, the curtain opened and we launched in to Creedence Clearwater’s “Proud Mary.” The place went wild. It was like The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Well, all except for the old teacher on the front row with his fingers in his ears.
I don’t remember if we won the contest or not. I know we placed. But we won the convention, because fellow students followed us to our cabin and feted us with compliments (and kisses) throughout the evening.
The majesty and power of Rock and Roll.
Here’s to Scott Thompson and Peachtree Station, and the brilliance they bring to the eager audiences in our area. If you get a chance, get out and see this top drawer outfit at your earliest opportunity, and if you do, close your eyes and go back to 1968. That’s me in the bell-bottoms holding the big red Gibson guitar. I still play it.
Harry Musselwhite is senior lecturer in Music at Berry College and is the author of “Martin the Guitar,” an interactive children’s book.