We had a fun trip yesterday, fun for many different reasons. Robert Montgomery, Stan Wilemon and myself were booked as a trio to play a venue called The Outpost Music Barn. It’s located around Tallapoosa, GA, in an area called Waco. My first time there and I believe Stan’s too, Robert has played there in years past. The Outpost is a great place to hear Bluegrass music, a real family atmosphere. If you’re in the area, you should stop in for a show!! There’s never too many trips where you leave home at noon and are back by midnight, that’s one of the fun parts of this particular gig, plus the audience was just great, very appreciative and attentive!! Also, for me, getting the chance to go back in the area where my Dad was born is always special. He and his brothers and sisters were all born in Cedartown, GA. just a short twenty miles north of Tallapoosa. I remember one of the very first shows we ever played was in Cedartown. My Dad went with us and it rained sooo hard that night, I remember we all had to take shelter in the park.
Also, that night I met and became friends with a fellow that has remained one of my closest friends, Randall Franks. Randy was three or four years younger than me, and was already fronting a bluegrass band called The Peachtree Pickers. Off and on, through the years, he has made trips with us as a part of the band, filling in for someone (he can play and sing just about any part or instrument), or as a special guest on the show. Randy has used our group as part of his Bluegrass and Country show in years past. I’ll bet he don’t remember this, but I learned how to play “Katy Hill” from him, sitting in a motel room in North Carolina in 1985. We’ve travelled alot together over the years with the band, and just him and I going to shows. We’ve had some great talks and times, good memories. Randy had an opportunity to travel with Bill Monroe, as a Bluegrass Boy, on fiddle and bass fiddle when he was real young. A great opportunity, Bill always appreciated Randy’s talent and business sense, and Randy certainly made the most of that great opportunity and continued to have a close relationship with Bill throughout Bill’s life. Randy also studied acting as well as music, and by the late 1980’s, he had an opportunity to be a regular and have a featured role in the huge T.V. series “In The Heat of The Night”, starring Carroll O’Conner. Randy told me that “Heat” was filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana (or close-by) its first season and then moved to Covington, Georgia (not too many miles west of Atlanta and Randy’s home) for the remainder of the show’s run. Randy joined the show at this time and worked for five or six seasons. The show being filmed in Covington allowed Randy to sleep in his bed at home, much of the time. Now that would be a great gig, wouldn’t it? I remember one time, Randy and I were driving to North Carolina for three days of work in the early ’90’s, so Randy says, “let’s drop by Covington, I’ll show you around, I need to pick up some ‘Heat’ souvenirs to sell at the shows”. It was my first time in Covington, but as we drove into town, there’s the big clock on the building that you see on every opening to the T.V. show. Randy showed me the building that was used for the Police Station and different sites around town that were used regularly on the show. Naturally, now they were being used for what they were, i.e.: library, etc., but I recognized every one of these places from watching the show. So we go into this store where they had a ton of “Heat” souvenirs and Randy introduced me to the owner and went to the back to get a load of souvenirs. I’m talking to this guy about his experiences of having this show filmed in his town for years and he’s telling me great stories. All the while I’m thinking, this guy is the spitting image of Carroll O’Conner, so I say, “you know, you look alot like Carroll O’Conner, has anyone ever told you that?”. He tells me that he was Mr. O’Conner’s stand-in for a number of years on the show and shows me a framed picture with him and the Chief standing side-by-side, both dressed in their police uniforms; it was hard to tell which one was which. That was my only time in Covington, but I remember they had the cheapest gas I’d seen anywhere back then, I wonder what gas costs in Covington now? LOL
As I mentioned earlier, my Dad’s family was from Cedartown, GA. After most of the children were born, they moved to Cullman County, Alabama (around 25 miles west of where we live now) in the late 1920’s and grew up in that area. Their Mother died when my Dad was seven, there were older and younger siblings than my Dad, the Depression was in full swing, it had to have been a real hard time for them. So by 1938, Leddell (my Dad) was seventeen and Cleo Davis (his older brother) was nineteen. Haskell was a couple of years younger than Daddy and Bobby was three or four years younger, yet. They all grew up loving music, singing and learning to play instruments. Cleo was the oldest boy, so he decided to go back to Cedartown where some of the kinfolks lived and try to get a job there. When he gets to Georgia, some of the family tells him about reading a newspaper ad in the Atlanta Journal about someone looking for a guitar player and singer. So reluctantly, he goes to the address in the ad and sees some musicians leaving the trailer that is parked there. He knocks on the door and takes his turn in the barrel, the guy he’s auditioning for never introduces himself and asks him what he wants to sing. Cleo tells him that he really likes that Monroe Brothers song, “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul,” the guy tells him he knows it and they start to sing. Cleo told me that quickly he realized that this guy WAS one of the voices that he had heard on the record, and that thought just scared him to death, so he stopped singing and said, “you’re one of the Monroe Brothers, aren’t you?”, the guy says ‘”Yes, I’m Bill”, now let’s try that again”. Long story short, Cleo got the job and became the Original Bluegrass Boy. Actually, Bill Monroe hadn’t even named the band, that would come a few months later when Bill added a bass player (Amos Garren) and a fiddle player (Art Wooten). In the very beginning, Bill and Cleo travelled as a duo while Bill looked for the right people to build his first band. By October 1939, Bill felt they were ready to audition at WSM in Nashville for the Grand Old Opry. They arrived without an appointment, did the audition for Judge Hay and the rest is history! Bill Monroe started a relationship with WSM Radio and the Mother Church of Country Music that lasted around fifty-seven years and twenty year old Cleo Davis was blessed with some of the greatest memories of a lifetime. Cleo left the group in the fall of 1940, moving to Lakeland, Florida. He served in WW2, returned to Lakeland, and lived there the rest of his life. He passed away in 1986.
One of the dividends of travelling and playing for a number of years is the memories of being at that place or the other and things that happened there. Just about every place has a story and a good memory or two. Hope you enjoyed this one !!!
Till next time, David
Great story! Enjoyed reading it. Roberta and I have missed seeing you and the band. Looking forward to April when you come up to this cold, Yankee state of New York. Hope you have a GREAT New Year filled with all good things. Take care and God bless!
Steve (and’Berta, too!)
Hey Steve! Great hearing from you! Glad you enjoyed the story, will look forward to seeing you both soon!