John Lee Sanders sparked his interest in music, from the early lessons in Boogie Woogie Piano from his older brother Chip, Early on, there was no television in the house, so the upright piano was the center of family entertainment. The sounds of blues, Gospel, and country exploded into one person when Elvis Presley bought his first home a few doors down from John's Aunt and Uncle in Memphis Tennessee, 1957. Memphis was like a 2nd home to John, his Mom's hometown, as well as grandparents, Cousins, Aunts and Uncles.
Elvis, his folks, Vernon and Gladys had moved from the projects to a middle class suburb of Memphis, Vernon Presley gave 6 year old John a tour of the house, including Elvis' bedroom and guitar collection, a memory that was forever cherished. John's Cousin, Art Sutton also encouraged Sanders in his music career. Arthur ran one of the largest music stores in Memphis, had recorded with WC Handy, father of the blues, Art worked often with Bill Black, (bass player with Elvis) and knew almost every musician on the Memphis music scene. John learned harmony from the Methodist Church Choir and started classical piano lessons in the 1st grade. John's 1st grade teacher was the wife of one of Mississippi's early Rock and Roll DJs and music education was a part of every day. Something must have been in the water there, when John discovered his classmate, Chalmers Davis became one of the great session players at Muscle Shoals Alabama, and long time Hammond Organist with Little Richard.
"the sound of the blues was all around us in the Delta, oozing up from the streets, from the Black church on Sunday Morning radio, the street vendors, and the songs of the chain gangs, immortalized in early recordings of Alan Lomax"
1960s, Birmingham Alabama,
John's father, Bill Sanders, a former high school basketball coach, had come to the south from Illinois in the 50s to build State Farm Insurance from the ground up with headquarters in Mississippi. The CEOs at State Farm figured with my mother Gladys' roots in Memphis, would give him the guidance to navigate through southern culture, which is a world of it's own.. He hired managers and agents all over the South, and traveled much of the time. In 1960, Bill was transfered to Birmingham to an executive position with the company. That year, on a trip to Washington, John and the Family met Vice President Richard Nixon on a visti to the capitol.
He lost the election that year to John Kennedy, along with his brother, Bobby helped to bring equal rights to the segregated south, but also divided the Southern States along party lines. The year 1964, was a pivotal year for John, as Birmingham became ground zero for the battle for civil rights. On a school train trip to Washington DC, at aged 12, his interest in Government and politics had begun, and saw the injustice of the world of black and white when his Alabama group was not allowed to march in the parade because of it's racial intolerance. "That year in our 6th grade class, we were required to memorize Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and as I read those words on the Mall in Washington, I realized in my city, and much of America, they were only words, for some of the people, yet to be realized."
That same year, John met Martin Luther King, and George Wallace, one who would block the dream, and one who would carry it forward. A year rocked by violence, intolerance and apathetic neutrality from the local churches, President Johnson sent troops to guard the streets, and our city was a war zone for quite some time. "Overlooking the torn city below, We lived in a suburb called Vestavia, a beautiful home with a backyard bordering on rolling hills, with wooded trails and streams, pristine forests that went for miles. My parents put a rehearsal/ game room in a walkout basement, and with my 2 brothers and I, there was always a rehearsal or jam session going on. I tried my hand at drums, but could never get both hands and feet going at the same time, so focused more on the piano. There was a piano, bass, and guitars, and I learned them all.
"that year I saved up my nickels and dimes from yard work and bought my first guitar, a cheap Japanese single pickup with lots of chrome, from a downtown pawn shop for $35.00. that night we saw the Rolling Stones on their 1st tour of the States. they opened for the beach boys, who brought the house down. Their harmonies I adored, but it was the Stones who brought something dark, deep and magical. Seeing these English white guys doing blues from Chicago and the Delta, was an Epiphany, hearing Brian Jones doing Elmore James on the slide, on "Little Red Rooster" was eerie, primal and gut wrenching. I had always loved the blues, being from the Delta, it was as natural as the ground we walked on, but seeing it played in a stadium with 20,000 screaming fans, i realized the funky down home country blues of Rural Mississippi had crossed the Atlantic, had transformed and become part of a world stage, that forever changed popular music. I later became part of the Long John Baldry Band, and learned that without Long John Baldry there would have probably never been the Rolling Stones.
Sometime around that year, I auditioned as a singer for the Ramblers, the top Rock/R&b band in town, who's piano player happened to be my brother Chip. I got the gig, and would come out and do 30 Minutes as an added attraction. The local top 40 station, WSGN, promoted the hell out of me, and on Saturday nights, we would pack the local National Guard Armory with 2 or 3 thousand people. I would sing Ray Charles, some Stones, blues and Beatles. and was so tiny, I had to stand on a chair to reach the mic. I was 12 or 13, and worked almost every weekend, I don't know how much the band made, but I got $5.00 per gig, all in one dollar bills, which happened to be 5 times my allowance at the time.
I wasn't growing, and the doctors tried an experimental growth hormone shots. I'm not sure if it worked, because I'm still 5'4' but my voice dropped about an octave in a few months. All that changed rapidly as I began to grow into my adult voice, Going from Michael Jackson to Barry White in a few months was difficult, and there wasn't much novelty in a singer who's voice would crack with those puberty hormones. But I was serious about it, and took voice lessons from our choir director who had a PHD in voice and music education. His name was Vernon Skoog, and he introduced me to Broadway Music, and the classics. At Christmas and Easter he would bring in a 40 piece orchestra to do Handel's Messiah at our Methodist Church. Our Church music had it's roots in European Classical music and American Hymns, not the 5 Blind boys of Alabama or Mahalia Jackson I so much wanted to sing. So I learned a few different voices for every occasion. Maybe that's where I learned to do impersonations, out of necessity, to fit in like a chameleon.
Speaking of my mother, She was the one who encouraged me the most, drove me to piano lessons, wrote the checks, and set the timer, for my piano practice every day. Between she and my brother Chip, any wrong note got a holler from down the hall. I did Chopin's prelude in C minor, for my 5 grade recital, a piece that I could still play in my sleep, a piece that Barry Manilow had a hit on in the 70s. My mother loved Broadway Music, the standards, and had an amazing ear. She always had season tickets to the local Musical theater company and supported the arts. She encouraged me to audition for the local theater productions. I got in the Cast of "Oliver" one of my favorite musicals. (Later in my life I had a wonderful conversation with Lionel Bart, the composer of Oliver, in the last months of his life)
I had many piano teachers, but the one who helped me the most, was the one who taught me how to read chord changes. I realized the simplicity of the chord structure of pop songs, soon a light went on in my head, and I could sit at the piano, and go down the top 40 charts, and could play most of them from the many hours spent listening to radio. The simple pop tunes on the charts were not as interesting musically, and I began to gravitate to great songwriters, such as Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Jimmy Webb, who i recently performed with in Washington DC for members of congress. As the Beatles Music became more complex with each album, I learned it all, and grew with them as they progressed as artists.
I listened to 2 or 3 radio stations, the top 40 station, WSGN, who's #1 DJ, Dave Roddy who helped me get started in the biz. The other station was WJLD, the black soul/ blues station, with Sam "Doulble 0" Moore, who introduced thousands of us black and white kids to james Brown, Albert King, BB King, Jackie Wilson, and the stars of the blues and the chitlin circuit. It was WJLD, whose underground codes and messages would organize the kids to get out in the streets to march for equal rights. Those kids were the backbone of the movement, who withstood beatings, fire hoses, and police dogs of the Birmingham Gestapo. Today they are heroes, I applaud them for their bravery.
I was not old enough to get into the clubs, nor had the nerve at that age to go into the black neighborhoods for any of the R&B shows, with so much racial tension in Birmingham, but WSGN, and Dave Roddy started bringing some of the regional black soul acts to the Armories where we often played, On the day I got my license, a carload of girls and I drove across town and heard Irma Thomas, The Queen of New Orleans R&B, it was the first time I had heard a real New Orleans R&B band live, and it was the most soulful sound I had ever heard.
My brother Chip was in Pi Kappa Alpha, in the University of Alabama, with a large entertainment budget, and they were booking acts like Otis Redding and Percy Sledge for their formal dances, and the Southern beach music scene as it was called was breaking down racial barriers more than any court order could do. That year, George Wallace Stood in the school house Door at the University of Alabama, to block black students from registering, but a few blocks down Otis, and Percy were breaking down barriers, doing it a different way as music has a way to open hearts and minds.
At my high school, I had a wonderful Choir director who brought us to the state Championship for singing. At our spring concert we sang a Bach Cantata, and I can still remember the counterpoint and harmony to that amazing piece. The director realized my gift for arranging, and asked me to transcribe and arrange Brian Wilson's "Good Vibrations" the number one song of that time. it was a challenge but helped me to put it all on paper for the choir.
Despite all of the troubles of our time there, Birmingham was a wonderful place to live, and I am grateful of my parents and their love for us, and their encouragement of our music. They made it possible to live my dream.
Some would wonder why I describe the racial struggles of life in the south, when I was so fortunate, and had so much, even though I spent most of it on the sidelines as a child. When I became old enough to realize the lie, I began to get involved. I believe this was the great moral and ethical turning point of our time, and my Christian interpretation of the Holy Bible caused me to lose faith in the church in it's failure to act as Christ would have taught us during this crucial time. To tell our story I think it's important, because the music I play today, the blues and Gospel would not be here without this story, and it has taken me around the world. It's a universal story of love, acceptance and a spiritual journey to be all that Christ wants us to be, to love more fully, regardless of how much we have, or what side of the tracks we came from. I'm proud to have met Martin Luther King, and though I didn't realize the magnitude of his work on human rights at age 12, it inspires me to have witnessed a glimpse of his life. As I am writing this in Europe, a black soul singer named Michael Jackson had a funeral with all of the dignity and importance of a King, with most major European networks broadcasting the entire event. All of this came to be because of the work that went on in Birmingham and other cities around the world. As I see the towering spires of the churches dominating the skyline of Every City in Germany and Austria, I think of the holocaust and how such a horror could happen in a country so densely populated by Christians, and then I think of my own church in Birmingham who preserved their own neutrality during their time of crisis.
The Bayous of Louisiana 1968-1973
In 1968, during the height of the Viet Nam War, I was 16, and my 2 older brothers were of draft age, Chip opting to serve at home in the National Guard, and Steve rejected for service because of a high School football injury.
I spent a week in Chicago in 1968, during the Democratic convention, with my Aunt and Uncle who had worked with Bobby Kennedy on his presidential bid, and on their stern advice, decided not to be part of the protest, and with the violence that occurred it was a wise decision. The war in Asia and the Racial war at home caused tensions within the family, with my Mother, a supporter of George Wallace, My father, a moderate republican supported Nixon and later helped campaign for Ronald Reagan, and myself leaning towards the left. That Easter, Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, and the downtown Memphis neighborhood my grandmother lived in became a more dangerous place to live, She moved to the suburbs as did many whites, as American cities went up in flames that summer. I had so much hope for the country with Robert Kennedy, but he was murdered on the night of my High School Prom.
That September, 1968, my father Bill Sanders was appointed to head the State Farm Insurance Operations for much of the deep south, with their new headquarters in Monroe, Lousiana, in the heart of the Southern Bible Belt, great music, great culture, For my 16th Birthday, I recieved some love beads, a stack of posters from the Fiillmore in San Francisco, Johnny Winter's 1st LP, and Cream, with Eric Clapton. I listened to Jimi Hendrix, it was high energy hard rock, but it was deeply rooted in the blues. Monroe Louisiana was the heart of the Bible Belt, surrounded by cotton fields and forrests. Monroe was a few miles from Ferriday LA, where Jerry Lee Lewis was from. Robert Johnson sings about Monroe in the Song, "Sweet Home Chicago".
The culture was much different from Alabama, and on the license plates it said "Sportsmen's Paradise" The boys at my school had 2 things on their mind, Football, and hunting, for me it was girls and music, On Fridays, they wore their camelflage hunting suits to school and went down the hallways blowing on duck calls. Needless to say i didn't fit in very well, and was very shy. I didn't dress the part, and was beaten up most every day by the bully of the week. While I was called a Bushy haired Mother F**ker, by the head coach, Monroe rolled out the Red Carpet for my parents, because the new State Farm office would employ about 3,000 people, the largest employer in the region, with bank deposits in the billions, so I didn't want to rain on their parade, and kept my mouth shut.
The Neville High School Big Band played a spring concert a morning assembly, and featured the sax section in one of the songs. When they stood up in played in 5 part harmony, 2 altos, 2 tenors and a bari, it was a revelation, and I had a vision of myself as a sax player, playing jazz in huge concerts. It was a vision from God I believe, and that day I convinced my father into buying a brand new Tenor Sax. The only catch was, I had to join the marching band and play the halftime shows on the football field. It was spring, and I had 5 months until the next September to pass the audition, It wasn't easy, but I practiced 3 hours a day, went to band camp in Ruston LA, and was selected. Learning the music of John Phillip Sousa, and things like "Tiger Rag" our schools fight song, made me a better musician, learning to play with an ensemble.
I learned arranging by notating the horn parts of Blood Sweat and tears, Chicago and other horn bands of the day.. On Friday nights at the high school auditorium was the Friday Night Gospel Sing, with groups like The Happy Goodmans, the Oak Ridge Boys, Little Steve Sanders, and the Stamps. It was white southern Gospel, like Elvis Sang, ladies with beehive hairdos, a foot high, and beautiful Harmony. I performed in local talent shows, wrote for the church choir, would sneak in the clubs to learn from the great blues musicians touring through the south, Like the Boogie Kings, with Jon Smith, GG Shin, and Jerry Lacroix, who would later become Edgar Winter's White Trash. I graduated in the Spring of 1970, and instead of having a high School Prom with all of the students, the all white Country Club decided to have an invitation only prom open only to the white students. My friends and I were outraged, and boycotted the event and had our own celebration at the home of the parents who supported our decision.
In 1970, I received a music scholarship from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where I studied composition, piano, saxophone, guitar, flute, voice and performed in various ensembles. For extra income, I arranged music for pit orchestras in various productions, including the opening number for the Memphis Maid of Cotton Pageant, which may have become the inspiration for Elvis Presley's "American Trilogy, with it's grandiose orchestration and dynamics. The Military began a lottery system for the draft and I was #39, to go. I continued to stay out of the Viet Nam War with a student deferment, and was required to keep my Grade point average above 2.5 to keep Uncle Sam from Calling.
On one of the Marching band road trips with the football team, to the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, A cajun girl invited us to stay at her home in a small town called Pine Prairie, Her parents spoke only Acadian French and she took me to an Authentic Cajun Bar called "Fred's Lounge" in Mamou LA, where the band was a fiddle, Accordian, washboard, and a guitar. There was a live radio show on a Saturday Morning, and it was like a different country with electrifying grooves, a fusion of country, french african, and blues. This was my first taste of Cajun Music, and it still has an influence on my style.
Growing up is hard for young people, and despite some of the negative things here, I loved Monroe, my family and the people there. Looking back on all of the influences, musical, spiritually and others, Louisiana has one of the richest cultures in the world, and I wouldn't trade my life there for anything.
In September 2005, I was on tour in Europe, while Katrina pounded New Orleans, and a city drowning.,
I immediately thought of the vacant State Farm Office my father helped build in 1968. I put in a call to the Monroe Red Cross from Europe, and got them in touch with the people in charge of the State Farm office building. 2 days later I got this email response "After much deliberation and community building , it has been decided that we will use the State Farm building. God Bless You! Anne P. Patten Executive Director Northeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross
Here's the rest of the story published in the Monroe Louisiana News Star
September 4, 2005
State Farm site becoming shelter
By Jordan Blum
The U.S. 165
building is being prepared as the primary local, long-term shelter for 2,000-3,000 evacuees who will not be able to return to southern Louisiana and Mississippi for months, Ouachita Economic Development Corp. board members confirmed Saturday.
Although a formal announcement has not been made, OEDC board member Joe Holyfield said it is "pretty firm" the facility will be the long-term shelter. He said it could be ready to house evacuees as soon as midweek, but there was no confirmation on when the actual transfer from the Monroe Civic Center shelter could begin.
Holyfield, OEDC board member Malcolm Maddox and about 70 volunteers were busy at the
facility Saturday morning and afternoon moving walls and clearing space to prepare the site. American Red Cross officials arrived later in the afternoon to assess and help prepare the facility.
Portable showers, an infirmary, a full-supply kitchen and executive spaces to accommodate Red Cross administration and law enforcement, Holyfield said.
OEDC is also offering extra rooms in the facility to displaced businesses that could relocate hundreds of jobs to Monroe temporarily or permanently, he added.
donated its largest Monroe facility to the OEDC as mitigation for closing its Monroe operations.
City of Monroe spokesman Rod Washington said a formal announcement is expected sometime during the week. Red Cross officials assessed the site Saturday, but the decision is not quite "100 percent," he said.
Washington is also acting as spokesman for the new Emergency Unified Command Council for Ouachita Parish, which was announced Saturday.
Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Kim Golden declined comment on how the
facility would be used at a news briefing Saturday morning at the Monroe Civic Center.
She only said the new Unified Command Council and the Red Cross are in the process of determining the site of a long-term shelter.
The Civic Center is currently housing nearly 2,000 evacuees and is near capacity. The short-term shelter is now only accepting evacuees being brought in through coordinated requests. Arely D. Castillo/The News-Star Larry Smith, center, and other volunteers plan for the organization of a temporary shelter for Hurricane Katrina refugees at the former
building on U.S. 165 on Saturday.
The idea of using the sprawling, former State Farm facility as a long term shelter was the brainchild of former Monroe resident John Lee Sanders who contacted the American Red Cross. Sanders' late father, William D. Sanders was State Farm senior executive who headed the local office for nearly 20 years.
Copyright (c) The News-Star. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Texas in the 1970s
The music scene in North Louisiana was limited, and the University at Monroe, although a great school, had a music program more suited for training teachers, rather than professional musicians and recording artists.
After hearing an LP by the fabulous, One O'Clock North Texas State Lab Band, My friend David Zeagler and I decided to transfer to NTSU, Denton Texas, which was one hour north of Dallas. In the sax section alone were great players like Blue Lou Marini of the Blues Brothers, Randy Lee, and Lon Price, not to mention the other great musicians. My parents were hesitant for me to leave home, but they were great and supportive of my decision.
David went on to be lead trumpet in the One O'Clock band, and toured with Stan Kenton, and I stayed in Denton for a few years, Studying Composition with Merrill Ellis, Piano with Lyle Mays, I studied electronic music on one of the early Moog Synthesizers in experimental sounds.
The Summer of 1973, I went to Rome Italy for a Louisiana Arts program from the University. I studied Italian, Drawing and painting, and European History. The world opened up as I got a sense of it's depth, culture and diversity. I studied the Masters of Art, up close and personal, and spent many hours at the Vatican, including an audience with Pope Paul VI. I loved the church, intrigued by it's history, the miracles at Lourdes and Fatima, the music and the art, and it's commitment to the sanctity of life and the sacraments. I was raised a protestant, and considered conversion at times in my life.
On a weekend trip to the Montreaux Jazz Festival, I met Dr. John and Professor Longhair, from New Orleans, and that night conceptualized my passion for New Orleans Piano, which is the music I play today. The backup band for the show were the Meters, who I later worked with and recorded with their drummer, Zigaboo.
The fall of that year, back at NTSU, I rented a house from an eccentric composer in residence, Dika Newlin, who had been a close companion, biographer and perhaps Mistress to the great Austrian Composers, Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler. She was the Yoko Ono of Classical music, had an IQ of 180, a photographic memory, and had a fascination with the occult. I found Voodoo Dolls, and many evil things left in the house, which may have caused harm to my spiritual being with demonic spirits Just a year short of getting my degree, I regretfully left to pursue my love of performing in the Texas Blues Clubs, concert halls, and black Juke Joints of East Texas.
I joined a funk/jazz band called Buster Brown, some great players from the Texas Panhandle. We moved to Dallas and got a house gig at the roughest club in town, the Red Noodle, ran by a rascal named snake, right out of the Black Pimp movies of the 70s. He sold Heroin and ran prostitution out of the club, I later found out, and would try to stiff the band on every dime he could, but times were tough in a Rock and Roll town, for an all white Funk band playing black music. The highlight of our stint at the Red Noodle was doing a week backing up The legendary Texas Tenor sax man, David "Fathead" Newman. He was one of the greatest influences on my sax playing, and could go with ease between hard bebop jazz, and down-home Texas blues. Fathead was the lead sax player for Ray Charles, and played the solos on many of the great Atlantic Records sessions in New York. Through Fathead, I met David Ritz, a Texas Music journalist and biographer, who wrote the life stories of the legends of Jazz and Blues. He recently wrote the liner notes on my new CD, and is currently writing Gospel music with me.
Buster Brown got a house gig at Mother Blues Club in the heart of the club district, where Freddie King would hold court and sit in with the band on frequent occasions. Mother blues had amazing music 7 nights a week where you could hear anyone from Lightnin Hopkins, Horace Silver, and Freddie King. I would hear rumors around town that Eric Clapton would hang there on his visits to Texas, it was a block from my house, so I was right at home.
We began getting some great opening act slots in Texas, with Dr. John, Tower of Power, and many others, thanks to Angus Wynn, the promoter of the Dallas Pop Festival with Jimi Hendrix. While driving to a show in Austin, our equipment truck broke down, and the band in a seperate car had no gear and no money for a hotel. We called some buddies that had just moved to Austin ffrom Dallas, and ended up staying with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. We partied with the Vaughan brothers, and I was knocked out with their passion for the blues, and their knowlege of the music. The Dallas Funk/ R&B scene had gotten a little too slick for my taste, but the guys in Austin were keeping the blues alive, as well as a thriving hippie Cosmic Cowboy songwriter scene, with Willie Nelson bringing it all together. here's a later incarnation of the Buster Brown Band, after I left the group
Buster Brown and I parted ways after I came home a little early one night and caught our band manager in a compromising position with my girlfriend. I hitch hiked to the Mardi gras in New Orleans with $2.00 in my pocket, a saxophone and a broken heart, An old man in a black Lincoln Continental with a bottle of Gin and a car phone picked me up and drove be as far as Baton Rouge. This guy put out oil well fires for a living in Saudi Arabia, and had played with Django Reinhardt in Paris, and Bob Wills and the Playboys in Texas, what a ride. I made enough playing on the streets of New Orleans for food and a hotel, and realized with this sax and my voice, I would never go hungry, although at times I got pretty close.
After a short stint in a funk group called "the Last Band" that included 3 great singers, Robert "Goodie" Whitfield of the Gap Band, Pat Peterson, now with John Melancamp and Cavin Yarbrough, of Yarbrough and Peoples, Smokin Joe Kubek on Guitar, and Bones Jones, drums, from the James Brown band. We had the greatest bass player I had heard in my life, named Widetrack. Those were dark days as some of the band members had serious drug addictions, and it began to fall apart. After leaving the gig one night, after a drug deal gone bad with some guys in the club, I witnessed a shooting at close range, and forever scarred me with violence and handguns. Texas and Louisiana were rough states, I had seen guns and knives drawn many times, but that was the first for a shooting. I thank God for protecting me through those dangerous times, and for pulling me through it all.
After that experience, I left the band, and went back to Louisiana and finished my music degree, and contemplated what to do next. I graduated, gigged around Louisiana at various clubs and taught school as a substitute teacher for a few months, and I thought the juke joints were rough. .........
A few months after graduating I got a call from some great musicians I had known in Dallas, the top drawing club band in town with the greatest potential of getting signed to a major record deal That band was "Uncle Rainbow" after a few months on the Texas R&B, Jazz, funk, pop music scene, we were offered a production contract and all expense paid move to the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more
Brent Bourgeois, Keys, Vocals, compower Richard Oates, Vocals, composer, 1953-2010 Danny Neal, Guitar David Perper or George Lawrence, Drums Larry Tagg, Bass, vocals, composer John Lee Sanders, Sax, Keys, Vocals, composer Bongo Bob Smith, Percussion Steve Gay (original Sax player) Richard Banister, original bass player Steve Mitchell, Drums Management, Norm Miller House Sound, Road Manager, Scott Harrison Monitors, Lighting, Rick Deputy Producers, Dallas Smith, Michael Hossack, Jimmy Horowitz, Ian Samwel, Narada Michael Walden, Studio assistant Engineer, Ken Peden
After graduation from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, with a few years of doing the club circuit under my belt with the Dallas Funk Band, Buster Brown, I contemplated my future. I didn't have a teaching degree from the university, so my career options were going to be the performing arts. I stayed in Monroe doing gigs at night in local clubs with guys like Kenny Bill Stinson, and being a substitute teacher during the day.
In December 1976, Blues Legend Freddie King was playing in West Monroe, and I had known him from my days in Dallas doing the house gig at Mother Blues every Sunday and Monday. Freddie liked my playing, and invited me to join him on the gig that night on sax, and I ended up playing almost the whole night. It was one of the most exciting performances of my life. After the show Freddie mentioned he was doing a tour of Japan in February the following year, and asked if I'd like to go, of course I said yes. Freddie King went back to Dallas and died the day after Christmas from a blood clot. He was only 42 years old, one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, and now as I have become somewhat of a blues guitarist, he was my greatest inspiration as a guitar player.
A few months into the new year, 1977, I got a call from Richard Oates and Brent Bourgeois, wanting me to come to Dallas and join their new group Uncle Rainbow. I would be replacing a great sax player, Steve Gay, and also playing keyboards and vocals. The band love my writing, but vocally I don't think I was very strong, listening back to the tapes of those years. Richard Oates had an amazing tenor voice with great control, and was just a natural at it. They were already an established act on the local club circuit, and could pack most clubs in Dallas 6 or 7 nights a week.
Brent Bourgeois, who became a hit Gospel producer in Nashville at Word Records. In those days, my role as a musician was more in the background as a writer, arranger, and soloist and Uncle Rainbow was about 80% original material, and the other half cover material. The covers were flawless reproductions of, Beatles, complete side 2 of Abbey Road, with full orchestration, and harmonies, with perfect intonation. Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Little Feat, Sly and the Family Stone, Herbie Hancock, and Earth Wind and Fire. The originals were influenced by the music of those artists, plus hundreds of other blues, funk, jazz and pop artists of the time.
We did a gig in Vail Colorado, and were torn in 2 directions. We met Jed Johnson, Andy Warhol's Partner in his company, who wanted to take us to New York, and become pop stars on the East Coast Artsy Scene. On the other coast was Michael Hossack of the Doobie Brothers, who had just left the group, had bought a huge studio in LA, and wanted to produce the band, set up a management and record deal.
We took a vote, and decided on relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area, for 6 months we reheased, and rehearsed, until the band was tight as could be. Within a few months time we had sold out Crowds throughout northern California. We spent 4 years building a following, and seeking that elusive record deal, Auditions with Geffen, Warners, etc.
An off the mixing board cassette tape live from a disco in San Diego somehow got into the hands of America producer Ian Samwell, which led to auditions with Jimmy Horowitz, an executive and producer with Riva Records. Riva had been started by Rod Stewart, and Billy Gaff, Rod's manager at the time, and signed John Mellancamp, Long John Baldry and Uncle Rainbow. We recieved an $80,000 budget, which is still huge to this day. the LP was finished and sat on the shelf for almost a year, while a distribution deal was made. The record biz was in a recession, and it was the end of the big budget deals, and development for new acts, and the huge hollywood parties. Uncle Rainbow fell through the cracks, between rock, funk, disco, new wave, jazz and rhythm and blues. Still under contract to Riva, we couldn't release the record, or sign with anyone else, so it was a ship without a rudder.
the grind of working 6 nights a week, being turned down by numerous record companies, and trying to fnd a sound that would be commercial enough to satisfy the record companies, but hip enough to satisfy our long term fans and ourselves turned out to be too hard to maintain. we broke up in 1981, and played our last gig on Sept. 6, 1981
The band members were being torn in different directions musically and spiritually. We had signed a production contract with up-and-coming producer Narada Michael Walden, who had played with Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and some of the top fusion acts of the time. Narada wanted to steer the band into a more Middle of the road pop format, which was nothing of the high energy funk sound of Uncle Rainbow's live performance. An Audition was arranged with Geffen Records in San Francisco which floored the Head of A&R John Koladner. John had one of the best ears in the business and had launched the careers of Foreigner, Abba, Genesis, Sammy Hagar, Aerosmith and Whitesnake. I think he really believed in the band, and was ready to sign us on the spot, but needed the approval of his associate A&R executive, Carole Childs, a onetime girlfriend of Bob Dylan. She hated the band, and walked out of the audition after 3 songs, got in her limo and flew back to Beverly Hills.
After the Geffen Fiasco, Narada lost interest and began focusing his attention on female pop divas, and became one of the most sucessful producers in history. I worked with Narada off and on for about 6 months at his home and the studio arranging and writing, and learned so much from him about production. Even though my music has a completely different style of production, I enjoy the sound and stellar perfection of his recordings and hope to work with him again some day.
After the Breakup of Uncle Rainbow, there was a void in the Bay area music scene for years. Brent Bourgeois and Larry Tagg formed "Bourgeois Tagg", moved to Sacramento, signed a management contract with Bill Graham, and a record deal with Island Records, and had great sucess. They recorded Yoyo, produced by Todd Rundgren, and this was the hit single from the record, one of the great songs from the 80s
On October 10, I got a call from my old friend and bandmate, Brent Bourgeois who was spending the final days with Richard Oates, who was dying from Hepatitis C. He had undergone 2 liver transplants, one after the band had put on a benefit for him. It was a long fight, and now Richard is at peace with our Lord. He died on October 14, 2010, and his memorial service was in Dallas on October 18. I was fortunate enough to say goodbye to Richard, and say how much he meant to me and how much we loved him, and I flew to Dallas to be there for the funeral. Richard, the rest of the band and I had such huge dreams, and great music, and we feel that we found success in our music, even though we didn't go as far as we have wanted, but because of him and the other great musicians in my life, I've become a better writer, singer, musician and human being. Life is precious and can be taken in a flash. Because of Richard's amazing voice, I signed Record deals, and got my music heard by people all over the world.