The recent deaths of pop rock star David Cassidy at 67 on Nov. 21 and Grand Ole Opry legend Mel Tillis at 85 on Nov. 19 brought back warm memories of their visits to the area.
It was one morning in October 1990 that I was invited to WBBQ radio station in North Augusta to interview Cassidy, who starred as Keith Partridge on ABC-TV’s The Partridge Family series.
His visit caught most of his fans by surprise that Friday morning when he popped up virtually unannounced on Mark Summers’ popular program.
Cassidy was on a nationwide tour promoting his first album in eight years, David Cassidy, and his new single Lyin’ To Myself.
“I’ve been in 45 to 50 cities so far on radio and doing local television shows to tell people about my album. My single is screaming up the charts,” Cassidy told me.
He noted eight of the 10 songs on the album were co-authored with Sue Shifrin and that they also had written a powerful ballad, I’ll Never Stop Loving You, for Cher’s next album.
The next year Cassidy would marry Shifrin with that marriage producing a son, Beau, and lasting 23 years.
Within minutes of Cassidy going on the air, WBBQ was flooded with calls from fans. Many showed up at the station to catch Cassidy before he left; bringing him gifts, having him pose for photos with their babies and saying how much they loved him.
“I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t excite me and make me feel really good with all the people who still like me,” Cassidy said before leaving for the next city on his tour.
Over the years, I crossed paths a few times with country star Tillis with the first being in December 1972 on a package show that co-starred Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn at Bell Auditorium.
My ties to him actually came with the first star I ever interviewed specifically for this column, Kenny Rogers, who was appearing with his band The First Edition at a Shriner’s temple in Thunderbolt, Ga., outside Savannah.
Tillis had authored one of the group’s biggest hit singles, Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.
On his tour bus parked behind Bell Auditorium, Tillis told me that he had written the song in 20 minutes about a World War II veteran he had known in his hometown of Pahokee, Fla., who had come home crippled from injuries.
The soldier’s wife, an English woman, had been unfaithful to the guy, Tillis related.
Another of his own hit recordings, Commercial Affection, about prostitution was inspired by an Air Force buddy when Tillis was stationed in Japan.
Tillis, father of country star Pam Tillis, also wrote many other great songs including Bobby Bare’s Detroit City, Brenda Lee’s Emotions, Patsy Cline’s Strange, Ricky Skaggs’ Honey (Open That Door), Ray Price’s Burning Memories, George Strait’s Thoughts Of A Fool, Jack Greene’s All The Time, Charley Pride’s first hit The Snakes Crawl At Night and Webb Pierce’s I Ain’t Never, Tupelo County Jail and I’m Tired.
“I guess I have had more than 500 of my songs recorded either by myself or other singers,” Tillis told me. “I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also worked hard at it. That goes for anything you do. What you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.”
Maybe for more than anything, Tillis will be remembered for overcoming his vocal stuttering handicap, which he said was brought on at 3 years old when he had malaria. Yet, he could sing beautifully without stuttering.
During his Augusta visit, Tillis advised that people with physical or other handicaps must find ways to channel their problems into other outlets.
“If you can’t make light of your handicap, I feel sorry for you, my friend,” he said. “It’s awful for a man to go through life feeling sorry for himself. That’s the easy way out.”
BOB YOUNG’S BOOK SIGNINGS: Our longtime friend Bob Young, former mayor of Augusta, has out another book tied to the Civil War and again inspired by some real-life Georgia people, like in his 2012 release The Treasure Train about lost Confederate gold and silver that actually were turned over by the Confederates to Union Army officers stationed in Augusta.
His fictionalized new offering, The Hand of the Wicked, developed when Young came across the true story of a crippled, former slave Nellie West being brutally murdered in July of 1865 in rural Taliaferro County, Ga., near Crawfordville, just after the Civil War ended.
Details of the murder and subsequent involvement of leading citizens including Alexander Stephens, former vice president of the fallen Confederacy, and Augusta-based commander Maj. Gen. John H. King can be found in books about U.S. Senate proceedings and the official papers of former U.S. President Andrew Johnson.
It follows two men, Christopher Columbus Reese and John M. Brown, found guilty by a military commission and sentenced to be hanged but granted clemency by Johnson.
Young’s descriptions of just how cruel slaves were treated before, during and even after the war when they were freed are extremely graphic and upsetting. But they are totally accurate and appropriate in the telling of his story.
It’s a riveting, hard-to-put-down account that especially appeals to readers fascinated by Civil War history.
Young will be autographing copies of his book from 7-9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, at The Book Tavern, 936 Broad St.; from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Depot for the Camellia Festival in downtown Thomson, where Young was reared; and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Chamber of Commerce Building in Washington, Ga.
BOGGUSS AND BERRY RETURNING: Two country music stars returning to Imperial Theatre with Christmas shows will be Suzy Bogguss and John Berry.
Bogguss is back for the Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music’s Southern Soul and Song series with a holiday theme show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, with tickets priced at $15, $23 and $28.
Berry, who has been bringing his own Christmas show to Augusta for several years, will be back at the Imperial at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21. Tickets are $22, $27, $30 and $35.
An additional $20 will get you into a pre-show meeting with Berry at 5 p.m. to have photos taken with him and hear him perform an acoustic set.
Tickets for both shows can be bought at imperiatheatre.com, at the box office or reserved at (706) 722-8341.