R&R Repast: WLAC & James Brown

Posted: May 19th, 2023 | Filed under: Culture, Music, Rock & Roll Rewind, Ruminations | 1 Comment »

This is a remembrance of my first college concert.

James Brown Revue.

Fall ’63. In Doremus Gymnasium at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

For the full story we need to go back to where the story starts. The winter prior, my senior year in high school. When my pals and I discovered WLAC 1510 AM Nashville. (We were far from the only ones. Such as the Brothers Allman — Greg and Duane — have spoken of the station’s influence. So too, Robbie Robertson up north of the borderline.)

It is a 50,000 watt clear channel station, which means its signal carries long and far after dark. Which is when the station’s otherwise pro forma programming shifted into soul and blues. That which had not so many years prior been dubbed “race music.”

I fell in love, we fell in love, regaling each other in the mornings with tales of the evening before’s programming.

The DJ that we most loved was a fellow who on the air went as Big Hugh Baby. Hugh Jarrett had once been a member of the Jordanaires, backing Elvis often.

For us, he was the raucous guy whose patter was full of sexual double entendres, aimed it seemed directly at us and frat boys across the land. Though his primary sponsors were Royal Crown Pomade, baby chicks and Randy’s Record Shop in nearby Gallatin.

Guys would call in, advising Big Hugh on the air, they were in the midst of reverie, and needed some help. (As I did once during spring break in Florida.)

So Big Hugh would send out a “55 gallon drum of white rose petroleum jelly.” Or a “Big Hugh Baby bird,” whatever that really meant.

Which blather came between the tuneage, Which was 100% R&B and Delta Blues, of the type we didn’t hear anywhere else, even WLOU.

Truth: as much as I listened, other than the album that informs this whole affair, the only tune I now remember is Big Hugh spinning “Spring” by Birdlegs and Pauline.

Now to the real nitty gritty. James Brown’s iconic “Live at the Apollo” was recorded in October ’62, released a few months later. Brown, confident and flush enough, bet on himself, funding the deal, after his label wouldn’t do so.

Big Hugh played it every night. All the way through.

It was like nothing else I’d ever heard, even though I’d attended a number of soul reviews in town.

Though thirty minutes in length it was and remains incendiary, considered by more than a few, the best live album ever.

That nightly turn was something totally unheard of in those days on AM radio. My gang fell hard.

Fast forward to the following autumn, When James Brown, the Famous Flames, and his incredibly tight band played the first big concert of my life away from home. Fats Gonder, he of the legendary intro to the album, was there too.

Be still my beating heart.

Understand, at the time, W&L had but 1200 or so students. All male. All white. Where coats and ties were required attire at all times when on campus. Which included Doremus Gym. Our dates from nearby Hollins, Sweet Briar, Mary Washington and Southern Seminary were dressed like the southern ladies they were expected to to be upon graduation.

Aside: It was an old school gym with a running track on a balcony, with a wrestling pit area at one end. During the concert, the school allowed the town’s blacks to come in the back door, walk up back stairs, and hang out in the pit.

This was culture shock.

This was, most of all, rock & roll heaven.

Brown did all his well known hits to the time. “Please Please Please,” “Try Me,” “Lost Someone,” and “Night Train.”

The concert was transformative. It was my first realization that HS fantasies could be real life experience.

There’s only one clip to watch to get a true sense of what that evening was like. Brown’s set at the TAMI show, recorded in October ’64.

All Aboard.

— c d kaplan

One Comment on “R&R Repast: WLAC & James Brown”

  1. 1 Mike Harpring said at 9:12 am on May 19th, 2023:

    I have TAMI on DVD. It’s a good high-quality video shot over 2 days. Jagger had never seen anything like Brown and the Stones were on next. Jagger tried to imitate Brown’s moves. There is a good still of Richards laughing at Jagger looking not so cool.

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