An out-of-the-blue e-mail from a reader in California led a few weeks ago to a unique insight into what soul music was like in Augusta in the 1950s and 1960s.
Daniel “Jake” Jacobs wrote that he lived in Augusta from 1960 to 1989 and, as a white teenager, fell in love with the black rhythm & blues songs he was hearing on WAUG and WTHB radio stations and through concerts at Bell Auditorium and elsewhere.
He said he was returning for the Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker show at Westobou featuring members of James Brown’s band and wondered whether I could help him meet some of the local radio and stage heroes of his teenage years.
Because I didn’t live in Augusta in the 1960s and have been intrigued by that period, I set up a lunch with Jacobs and his local high school friend Ray Phillips and three pivotal movers and shakers of that era.
They are legendary WAUG announcer Robert “Flash” Gordon, national recording artist Mickey Murray (Shout Bamalama) and 1960s show promoter and popular Augusta and Montgomery, Ala., disc jockey Allyn Lee.
Lee said his career course was set in show business in the late 1950s when he moved to Atlanta to attend Morris Brown College.
“I was there two years,” he said. “My momma wanted me to be a preacher or teacher. But I said to hell with that and spent every night at the Royal Peacock nightclub on Auburn Avenue watching The Spaniels and Roy Hamilton and Ray Charles and many more.”
Lee ended up back in Augusta, co-opening WTHB radio station with Joe Thomas (“Jo Jo The Thriller”) and booking soul music acts for Bell Auditorium and other venues.
“I booked the Isley Brothers (Ron and Ernie Isley with other members) early in their career into Charlie Reid’s Paramount Country Club on Gwinnett Street (now Laney-Walker Boulevard),” Lee recalled.
“They had made Shout and Twist & Shout. My wife, Lu, was pregnant then, and I told them, ‘If we have another daughter we’re going to name her after the song you just came out with, Twistin’ With Linda, and Linda is what we named her.”
Gordon said his first job in radio came at WAUG because, as a high school student, he’d met popular WAUG announcer Mal “Your Pal” Cook in Augusta who encouraged him to study at a good radio school.
“I graduated from the New York School of Announcing and Speech and couldn’t get a job,” said Gordon, who would become owner of the two Pyramid Music stores in Augusta and general manager of James Brown Arena.
“My wife wanted us to move back to Augusta, and Mal gave me two hours each weekday working at WAUG. I worked on the air between Tiny Jenkins, (“Mama’s Baby Boy”) who came on with his gospel music show early in the morning and was a truant officer, too, and Wayman White (“Dukey Duke”).
“Dukey would do a gospel show for an hour (Heaven Bound Train) and then a rhythm & blues show for an hour (Duke of Wax). And then I’d come back and do my second hour between Dukey and Mal Cook, who would close it out since it was a daytime radio station. He also gave me four hours on the weekends. And that’s how I got started in radio.”
Jacobs told Murray that, as a teenager, he saw Murray several times at Bell Auditorium just sitting near him when he was a guest of the shows’ stars, and one time he saw a highly-spirited performance by Murray and his band, The Zippers, in the gym at Aquinas High School.
“You did a split that left a nice black mark on the gym floor, and that thing stayed there forever,” Jacobs said. “Every time I’d go in the gym, I’d see that mark and remember that night with you and The Zippers. You guys were great.”
The luncheon talk brought up popular music stores on Broad and 12th and Ninth streets and famous singers who emerged from Augusta’s music scene.
Those include Freddie Scott (who made the original hit of Hey Girl, I Want You To Know later re-cut by The Righteous Brothers and others); The Fiestas (brothers Tommy and George Bullock and other members who hit with So Fine); and Bill Johnson and the Four Steps of Rhythm (You Better Dig It).
Jacobs asked whatever happened to Little Genie Brooks, another well-known ’60s local soul act, who had a hit with James Brown Boogaloo.
“He died,” Murray said. “Eugene Brooks was his real name, and he was from Wrens, Ga. I went down there for his funeral, and the people didn’t really seem to know anything about him. He recorded James Brown Boogaloo at Sunset Recreation Center in Augusta with Leroy Lloyd and the Swingin’ Dukes.”
“Wasn’t there a female disc jockey at WTHB?” Jacobs asked.
“Yes, that was Miss Soul,” Lee said. “I see her every now and then. Her real name is Evelyn Lowe, and she married Chris Lowe, who became a preacher.” Gordon added that Miss Soul had retired from Paine College.
Gordon was asked how he met James Brown since Gordon would go on to manage Brown-owned radio stations WRDW in Augusta, WJBE in Knoxville, Tenn., and WEBB in Baltimore.
“Through Mal Cook,” Gordon said. “Mal was his man in Augusta, but he got teed off with Mal when Mal went to open up WENZ in Richmond, Va. He had told Mal not to go. That’s when he told me, ‘You’re my man, now,’ but you know who ran everything anyway. He’d tell you how he wanted it done.”
The luncheon gave the three Augusta soul music pioneers a chance to renew ties. Lee had not seen Murray in about 40 years. It was evident what strong bonds that soul music has made of all around the table.
Lee, in fact, talked about how one great friendship came from his show bookings.
“The next show after I booked with the Isley Brothers was with The Falcons when Wilson Pickett was with them and The Fiestas and some others,” Lee related. “They called and said it was snowing hard and they were all stranded in North Carolina.
“I called up promoter Phil Walden in Macon, Ga., and asked if he could help me out. He said, ‘I’ve got a guy here named Otis Redding. You’ve been playing his first record.
“Otis showed up with a big Afro hairstyle and wearing a white suit that his wife had sewed big black stripes down the sides to make it look like a formal outfit. I said to myself, ‘This country dude isn’t going to cut it,’ and I had sold out the show.
“I went to Charlie Reid and told him I would probably have to give some ticket buyers their money back. He said, ‘How much do you need?’ and I told him $500. I never will forget that Charlie did that for me.
“But the show was great, and after that Otis and I became the best of friends and stayed that right up until the end of his life.”