The Birth of Chevy 6

As recalled by Ben Burford

The year was 1974. My girlfriend, Jean, and I were at the University of Alabama. One weekend we had gone to a party where The Cadillacs from Samford University were playing. They had the whole 50s thing going, and with Sha Na Na so huge after Woodstock, and American Graffiti having enjoyed massive success, they were just the ticket for a great time with some great tunes.
“I could do that,” I said to Jean.
“I know you could,” she replied, having been through my high school band, the
Odds n’ Ends, with me.
“I think I’ll do it,” I said. The next day I called Jimmy Walker at Anthony Attractions, who had booked many of the bands for us at the Delt house. He had us on his roster before I could hang the phone up good.
Jimmy was definitely instrumental in getting the band together in those formative days. He told me about Kenny and Jeff Demond and Leroy to begin with. Yogi Jones, who worked for him as an agent, came up with the name Chevy 6, from the slang for a Chevy 6-cylinder. Great. But I never knew if it would ever get off the ground.
Maurice happened upon the band quite by accident. I was telling him in cost accounting one day how I had seen The Cadillacs at a party and how much fun they were. I then told him of my plans for my own fifties extravaganza band, and how Jimmy Walker had told me that we could work as much as we wanted to if we had a band like that. Before I knew it, there were two singers. Maurice and I started getting together at the flop house and singing along with records. The first songs we learned were “Silhouettes,” “What’s Your Name,” “At the Hop,” “Rockin Robin” and a couple of Beatle songs.
The band had six full practices and went through some bizarre personnel changes before we had the original group. Guitarists were the hardest to keep, as the chart shows. We had three really good ones leave because they just “couldn’t really get into playing oldies.” I’m sure they were suffering for their art as well, but I planned on making money.
Our first practice was rather disorganized, but Kenny and I were both really fired up. Then Jeff, Leroy and Dwayne dropped out all at once. Brian Smith, Joe Terry and O’Neal Smitherman joined next, and we actually learned a couple of songs. “Silhouettes” and something else.
I thought we had something good going until Joe Terry quit.
Jackie Smitherman practiced with us twice after that. I never got the feeling that he was gonna stay with it, and he didn’t.
Then by some bizarre twist of fate we got Rocky from the Phi Gam house. I had asked my brother Jim what to do, and he suggested C. Moore Thompson from the Phi Gam house. C. Moore couldn’t do it, but suggested Rocky, who played keyboards.
Kenny said that was fine. He could play guitar, and moved from his original position on keyboards.
At Rocky’s first practice Brian and I made him pretty uncomfortable. Why couldn’t he get the parts on “Rockin’ Robin” and “Silhouettes”? I told him if he was gonna play with this band, he was gonna have to do better than that. He told me later that he felt like sneaking back afterwards, getting his stuff from the garage and stealing off into
the night.
Before too long, Jimmy Walker called us with our first job at Woodland Forrest Country Club. Little did we know, we were supposed to be Doc Holliday and the Thunder Chicken. We just knew that we had a gig on the books and had to be ready!
That three weeks of practice taught Maurice that the best way to stop a mike from feeding back was NOT to cover it with his hand. I thought his head was gonna end up in Gadsden the way Kenny and O’Neal jumped him about it. He had a habit of twisting this little curl at the back of his hair whenever he was thinking, nervous, or preoccupied. It looked like he was gonna twist his whole head off that time.
One night during practice, we were talking about what great girl songs there were, and it was too bad we didn’t have a girl singer. At first Rocky suggested that we dress like gays, but we decided it would be too “out there” and “hard to comprehend” without getting beat up.
O’Neal mentioned the next best thing: dress up as girls! That night Brenda Burford and Marcia Shannon were born in Adolph Smitherman’s garage replete with piss chair (an old upholstered armchair that a drunk friend would frequently pass out in). Totally apropos, because that’s the class of girls they were.
We must have practiced every day for three weeks before the Woodland Forrest job. Eventually, due to Adolph needing his place back and neighbor complaints, we had to move, ending up in Kenny’s grandfather’s corn crib.
It sounded good in there surrounded by all that deadening hay, but I was always on the lookout for corn snakes after Rocky told me they loved places like that. And even more so after O’Neal told me with glee how he used to catch them in there all the time when he was a kid. Shudder.
One day during practice, these two girls came over to audition us for Squeal Night at the Phi Kappa Sigma house. We passed the audition, thank God. It would have been crushing to be rejected by the likes of them. Two jobs on the books!
We worked feverishly until we finally had about three sets of stuff together. Good thing, because the gig was upon us.
When we went to Woodland Forrest to set up, Mrs. Fitts, who was in charge, had just that: a shitt fitt. Where were Doc Holliday and the Thunder Chicken? She was so mad at Jimmy Walker and Anthony Attractions that she could have chewed nails. (Jimmy was occasionally a threat to be involved in sketchy band arrangements.) Mrs. Fitts’ ire and threats that we had better be good really helped us out a lot, since we were already scared shitless.
All of us had dates: Carol Cloakey, Miriam Parker, Jean, Mary Bernard Inge, Sharon Brown and Sandra “Cassahndra” Smitherman (dubbed that by Rocky). When we all got to the place it was discovered that Maurice had gone off and forgotten his clothes. He had to go back for them and we were almost late. I had no intention of further pissing Mrs. Fitts off, so the stress level went up a notch.
Even though it was a blur, the job went really well, and the people loved us. We did our “39-21-46”/“Hey Baby” medley for about 20 minutes, going back and forth between songs, until one by one the people were carried off the dance floor on stretchers. Good filler. I was beginning to understand how some other bands did it. Learn one song and play it for a long time. You don’t have to know as many.
Bellenger, Sharon and Mary Bernard got drunk as hell and Jean and I got in a classic fight. She was so sure I wanted to be a STAR and would have no need for her. Shit. She and Cassandra got to be good friends that night. We all ended up sitting outside the IHOP for hours; Jean was crying and I was just bummed out.



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