I had made it to the microphone and to the music, what I’d been dreaming of for ten years, spreading goodwill to the masses. It was better than I could have imagined. But I didn’t make a big deal of my debut at WAMY, yet anyone tuning in — for my first show — must have been thinking: “Where’s the turnip truck this country bumpkin just fell off?”
Spoiler alert: I would become a popular DJ for the number one radio station in Denver and had a chance for a weekend shift, had the U.S. Army not intervened, for the number one station in Los Angeles!
The first song I played on-air in Amory was by Elvis, That’s All Right.
Well that’s all right mama
That’s all right for you
That’s all right mama, just any way you do,
Well that’s all right, that’s all right
That’s all right now mama, any way you do
Well Mama, she done told me, Papa done told me too
Son, that girl you’re foolin’ with
She ain’t no good for you
But that’s all right now mama, any way you do
I’m leavin’ town, baby
I’m leavin’ town for sure
Well, then you won’t be bothered with
Me hanging ‘round your door
Well, that’s all right, that’s all right
That’s all right mama, anyway you do
Ah dala dee dee deelee
Dee dee deelee Dee dee deelee, I need your lovin
That’s all right,
That’s all right mama, anyway you do
(A regional hit for Elvis and a former blues record by its author, Andrew Crudup.)
Some, in the music world, would later make a case That’s Alright (Mama) was the first Rock ‘n’ Roll record.
From our old farmhouse, Momma was getting me up at 4 a. m. fixing my breakfast and packing my lunch. Dale was providing his ’37 Chevy for my 20-minute drive — half on gravel roads — southwest to Amory for my 6 a.m. sign-on.
Momma was constantly reminding me not to hang out with the wrong crowd. And that included the son of Bro. McLeod, Johnny, who was known to hang out at the pool hall in Amory. It was off-limits, considered a sin by our church and others, as gambling might be going on. Playing cards and dancing was also prohibited by our church and Momma had a rule about playing with toy guns, she didn’t allow it because kids pretended to shoot each other with them.
I asked Bro. McLeod for his blessing as working on Sunday would rule out my attendance at church. If this was something I really wanted as a career, he said he was fine with it, and besides, I was airing religious programs on Sunday.
One of the Sunday morning features on WAMY was an African-American singing group, “The Spiritual Mourning Doves,” a gospel quartet. They had a 15-minute show at 9 a. m. Typically, they paid the $5.00 fee with three or four crumbled-up one-dollar bills and the rest in coins. They were amazing singers and harmonizers. They did not stop when their time was up, so I usually kept them on-air for a couple of extra minutes, then slowly faded-out their music.
The Blackwood Brothers came to Amory for a show, and I was assigned to do a remote for WAMY. The brothers were a quartet who sang religious songs and were very popular throughout the South.
Elvis had seen them perform at the First Assembly of God church in Memphis. As a young Christian boy, meeting and interviewing the brothers was an unexpected honor. The Blackwood Bros. would sing backup on two gospel albums recorded by Elvis.
I was never late for work or failed to get the transmitter on the air, and the manager actually complimented my performance as a DJ. He even said, I had a radio voice. That was before, one day, trying hard to sound like a big-time DJ, I called Amory the windy city just like Larry LuJack on WLS referred to Chicago.
The equipment at WAMY wasn’t exactly state of the art. So, if I had to be away from the control board for a while, I’d turn the modulation especially low in case a preacher got carried away with a hallelujah — loud enough to overpower the transmitter — and knock the station off the air.
After a Sunday morning of religious programming, I was always anxious to play some Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the only thing that stood in my way on this morning was one last live church service from The First Baptist of Amory.
In order for them to go on-air at the appointed time, I inserted a cable that allowed them to hear the WAMY broadcast on a speaker at the church. This Sunday morning was no different, and their service began as usual.
Anxious as I was for the service to end, I forgot to remove the cable, meaning that my broadcast would be heard on the speaker in the church. As was my luck, a funeral was to commence immediately after their service.
The first thing the grievers heard was my over the top introduction of Jimmy Gilmer’s Sugar Shack kicking off the afternoon of Rock. Did I mention that my boss was in attendance at Amory’s First Baptist on this very morning?
So, when the mourners at the funeral were serenaded with: There’s a crazy little shack beyond the tracks . . . my boss was none too happy, and his tone might have been harsher had he not been calling me from the pastor’s study. I think he knew I got the message, and Mr. Boren never brought it up again.
I sold advertising that allowed the replay (of games I’d announced) of Hatley High School Football games on WAMY. None of the larger schools had done that, and WAMY would have been their only source.
I was popular at school, my grades were improving, and the girls were taking notice — calling me — wanting me to play records for them.
I knew my fortunes had changed when I got a date with pretty Eunice Melcher who was going semi-steady with the biggest jock in our high school, Woddie Gregory. We went to WAMY’s Christmas party at our sister station in West Point. It was the most fun we’d had on a date, thus far. I mostly shunned the girls at Hatley. I was dating girls from other and larger schools. Take that, Brenda Nell.
I was elected President of the Student Body (about 300 members) at Hatley High School, beating Jimmy Lynn, a popular and studious student with the last name of Carter. I was even appreciated more at Hatley Missionary Baptist Church. Bro. McLeod remembered me in his prayers, asking that my work be blessed. Could it get any better?
I thought about the time when a considerate relative, knowing I rarely got a soft drink, brought me a six-pack of those small six-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola® on a Friday afternoon when I was about 11. My brother was fond of telling people, in a lighthearted manner, that I finished the last bottle just before leaving for church Sunday morning.
I had guzzled 36 ounces of that cold carbonated sweet delight — secret recipe — tasting of vanilla and cinnamon in less than 48 hours. Now, I could afford an entire case of Coke and drink as much as I wanted.
A girl had been calling me on Sunday mornings at WAMY, telling me I was a great DJ and eventually proclaiming her love for me. Joy said she looked a lot like Connie Francis (Popular singer of hits such as Who’s Sorry Now). I told her I looked a lot like Elvis.
Lynn, the older woman receptionist (maybe twenty-six) at WAMY, took an interest in looking out for me — no doubt seeing me as an immature 15-year-old who was going to need it. Joy and I had talked for hours at a time (while the religious programming aired) every Sunday morning over several weeks; then, suddenly, the calls stopped.
Lynn knew about Joy, my telephone girlfriend, but lied to the Southern Bell investigator about phone calls to the station’s telephone emanating from Memphis that amounted to several hundreds of dollars in long-distance charges. I assumed that Joy’s mother had finally learned of the phone bill and was none too happy.
Joy was lonely and needed someone to talk with, and I was more than willing. I later heard that she was racked with polio and pretty much housebound. I’m sure Joy was heartbroken about our telephone break up, I know I was, I loved her a little as well. I never heard from her again. Well, so much for the egotistical DJ.
But my real joy was the music; I could hardly wait for one record to end, so I could put on the next one. And I never imagined that soon I would be introducing to my audience a musical phenomenon: The Fab Four from Liverpool and the British invasion.
While filling in for others on a weekday shift at WAMY, I was excited that a doctor had called my show to request a song. I told Lynn right away that Dr. Murphy wanted to hear Where Did Our Love Go (by The Supremes.) She said, “I’ll bet he does,” as she filled me in on a little gossip. Then a few days later, Lynn burst into the control room just as the “On-Air” light flickered out. “Don, you won’t believe this, you have fan mail from New York City!” (The largest radio market in the U.S.) she cried out. They had tuned-in long enough to describe the songs I played, remember my name, and of course, our call letters.
Everyone at the station was excited. It was good for WAMY. Advertisers at the local furniture store, Brassfield-Horn, would now surely have rich New Yorkers as customers.
Take that, Jr. High bullies who were enjoying a good laugh at my expense just a few years earlier. “Hey Swan’s Down Shit Mix (Vulgar spin of the then-popular Swan’s Down Cake Mix), you’re wearing my old T-shirt, you know how I know?” With everyone anticipating his response, the bully said, “I used to rub my sweat off on the sleeve, and the stain’s still there.” Everyone on the crowded school bus burst into laughter, except me. The last I heard about the bully, he was picking cotton at the infamous Parchman State Penitentiary in Mississippi.
Getting to WAMY now, I had the use of my brother’s almost new black VW Beetle with bucket seats, and four on the floor. Dale had a company truck, so between him and Momma, it was decided that I should use the VW as a safer mode of travel. Although not great for taking a date to the Drive-In, or streetlight showdowns, I was very appreciative.
With a $1.25 an hour for my WAMY job, and without rent or car payments, I had sufficient money for gas and enough for as many dates as I could fit in, at least two or three a week.
I thought back to when I was about ten years old. Our school bus driver, Jimmy Dale Parham, stopped by Miller’s (country store) before finishing his route. A portable radio suspended from the rearview mirror was playing All Shook Up by Elvis. He returned to the bus, sat down in the driver’s seat, and unwrapped about half of the white and blue wrapper with red lettering of his 3.6oz. Baby Ruth®. He bit into his 5-cent bounty ever so slowly as he held it with his right-hand, awkwardly, on the steering wheel.
Jimmy Dale chewed on that beautiful bar — my mouth-watering with envy — for what seemed like 20 minutes. I sat there staring and dreaming of the day I could walk into a store and get one of my own six-inch wonders of roasted peanuts, coconut oil, and caramel nougat covered with luscious chocolate. Now I could afford to buy the whole display.