I imagined the cloud I’d been floating on was now soaring to the heavens. Life was good. But leave it to me to nitpick something. I had dreamed, wanted, worked, and finally became a DJ motivated by Elvis and my first time on-air in Mid-63 there was just one Elvis song: (You’re The) Devil In Disguise in Billboard’s top 100. Of course, there were his previous hits to play. But I was anxious to say, “Here’s another new song from The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
When I reached another milestone of becoming a DJ in his hometown, in 1964, there was no Elvis on the Top 100! Not a one. That was not a total surprise as the Beatles were storming America in April 1964, no less than eight of the Fab Four’s songs made the Top 100 that year, and they occupied the top five songs, number’s 1-5 at the same time! Who didn’t want to hear the risqué I Want To Hold Your Ha-a-a-and played five times in a row? That same month and year another phenomenon that appealed to the youth of American was released.*
Although many fans thought they were hearing a new Elvis song in 1964, instead it was an Elvis sound alike, with a slight similarity in looks, (but not Elvis impersonator) the handsome Terry Stafford with Suspicion that made it all the way to number 22 on the Top 100 in 1964.
Then in 1965, Crying In The Chapel by Elvis came in at number nine on Billboard’s Top 100. On WTUP’s Sonic 60s survey, it went to Number One. Unchained Melody–The Righteous Bros, You’ve Got Your Troubles–The Fortunes–Little Things–Bobby Goldsboro and I Can’t Get No Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones were big hits in 1965.
At WTUP, I did remotes, (broadcasting live), at grand openings for car dealerships, furniture stores, record shops, and the like. That exposure turned into jobs as Master of Ceremonies (MC) for music venues.
When Jerry Lee Lewis came to Tombigbee State Park near Tupelo, for a performance, I was there to introduce and MC for him and the other bands. Jerry Lee was the headliner with hits like Whole Lottta’ Shakin,’ Great Balls Of Fire, and Rockin’ Pneumonia. I was excited and playing it like a seasoned pro, I thought. When making a dramatic introduction of his band members and asking them to say “Hello Tupelo” I inadvertently bopped Jerry Lee’s drummer in the mouth with my mic.
I was showing off on stage like I was part of the band when a member of the audience handed me a request. “Not doing no damn gospel song” Jerry Lee told me. As of this writing, fortunately, he’s still alive and living in Mississippi. I hope this doesn’t piss the “Killer” off for me telling this story of his implied disrespect to the good God-fearing members of his audience. Although his moniker “Killer” isn’t to be taken literally, he is known to have a mean streak. Hopefully, I am so insignificant he wouldn’t waste his energy. For that gig, I was given a $20 bill almost a week’s salary at WTUP.
Since I wasn’t working Sunday mornings, I made an occasional visit to Hatley Missionary Baptist Church and was happy to hear, see and talk with Bro. McLeod. Now I was thinking I probably would have taken my first radio gig without his blessing. Of course, I didn’t tell him that I’d downed almost an entire bottle of lukewarm Miller High Life® — Baptists don’t have confessionals — from a bootlegger up in Lee County. (Mississippi was a dry state.)
Anyhow, I didn’t like the taste and didn’t have another beer for a year or two, and never in excess. I couldn’t understand the appeal it had for so many. A lot, I assumed, had to do with its illegality in the state. How wrong was that?
I was driving back home from Tupelo one Friday evening in a steady rain when I saw car lights in my lane at an upcoming curve. At about 50 miles-per-hour I swerved left to avoid the headlights and rolled the Beetle about four times before landing right side up in a cornfield. The lights I’d seen came from a telephone utility truck that was parked partially in my lane and on the shoulder of the road with his brights on; the man drove me to the hospital in his truck.
I was met at the hospital by WTUP’s manager (where I was treated and released). He took care of the bill and drove me to his house in his white 1965 GTO convertible. I will remember for a long time that ride, in his four on the floor 389cid Tri-power Pontiac®, and the taste of the coffee he gave me spiked with hard liquor. It was worse than the accident. Like beer before, I thought the appeal for spirituous beverages must be small. Wrong again.
The next day I was sore, but I needed to see the car that, during the flips, hadn’t crushed into my head. The roof of the Black Beetle remained intact from the blacktop scrapes, and its tumbles in the field — the engine, front end, not so much. Someone said the speedometer was stuck at 90 mph, its highest reading. (That’s a joke, the Bug would barely do 70 on a slight downhill.) Dale, who had given it to me on permanent loan, declared it totaled. There was no insurance coverage.
Now that I had no transportation, the station allowed me the use of its almost brand-new news cruiser, a red ’64 Falcon with a white convertible top with a 260cid V-8 and stick shift. I was making just above minimum wage, but the fringe benefits, wow. Now, I was motivated to finish high school.
The first time I drove up to Hatley High in that cool convertible, radio playing House of the Rising Sun: life was so fantastic, it could have ended right there.
In May of 1965, at age seventeen, I graduated Hatley High — barely. Four months later, I was fired from WTUP.
The same station that allowed me to play Elvis in his hometown, be on the air when the Beatles were taking America, advance above my peers, and gratis use their convertible was tossing me to the street. I had made an audition tape, an air-check from WTUP.
Who had narked on me about making the tape? I believe it was the same DJ who set me up with the nurse!
*The 1964.5 Ford Mustang, of course.