Getting Ready for The Beatles …

The “Camelot” original Broadway soundtrack album drew major turntable time in our home.

What came before the so-called British Invasion that The Beatles kicked off in 1964? In this piece, originally published in Beatlefan #260, I take a look back at some of the British pop culture that Americans experienced in those pre-Fab days.

In the U.K., this spring marks 60 years since The Beatles’ first album, “Please Please Me,” was released. It initially came out on March 22, 1963, as a mono LP, followed just over a month later by a stereo version.

By May that year, it was atop the U.K. album chart, where it would remain for 30 weeks, until being replaced by the next Beatles album, as the Fabs reached phenomenon status in their home country. The London press tabbed it Beatlemania.

In the U.S., however, it was pretty much the sound of crickets, as far as The Beatles were concerned, in the spring of 1963. Americans, in general, wouldn’t really begin to hear about the Fab Four until late that fall, and our own Beatlemania erupted early in 1964.

Up until 1963, many Americans hadn’t really thought of Britain as much of a source of entertainment, though I was somewhat of an exception, since my mom was from the U.K., making me more inclined to take note of folks pronouncing words with a long A.

Beatles influence Lonnie Donegan had a couple of U.S. hits.

In the years since then, it has become a sort of cultural shorthand to say that, before The Beatles, British music was pretty much a nonhappening in the former colonies. And, as far as pop-rock music goes, that was sort of true, with few British teen-oriented acts hitting the U.S. charts in the pre-Beatles era.

The biggest hits imported from the U.K. during my younger years — none of which I remember identifying as being of British origin at the time — were “Rock Island Line” by Lonnie Donegan (an early Beatles influence in Britain), which hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1956; Laurie London’s “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” which topped the Billboard singles chart in 1958; the Donegan novelty tune “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight?),” which hit No. 5 on the Billboard chart in ’61; Acker Bilk’s dream-like instrumental “Stranger on the Shore,” which topped the chart in 1962 (and which I remember listening to, before going to sleep, on the local middle-of-the-road station that our radio always was tuned to, pre-Beatles); and The Tornados’ instrumental “Telstar,” which spent three weeks atop the chart starting in late 1962, making it the first U.S. No. 1 hit by a British group. 

“Beyond the Fringe” was a comedy stage revue written and performed by (from left) Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett.

Also hitting the U.S. charts before The Beatles (but totally escaping my notice) were jazzman Kenny Ball’s instrumental “Midnight in Moscow,” Frank Ifield’s yodeling countryish hit “I Remember You” and the Springfields (led by future star Dusty and her brother Tom) doing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

And, there was another British performer with a hit single in the U.S. pre-Beatles, but we’ll get to that later on.

Still, the general rarity of Brits on the U.S. Top 40 (or Dick Clark’s afternoon “American Bandstand”) doesn’t mean that Americans growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s didn’t experience British entertainers before the Fab Four.

We did, but those performers pretty much were in the realm of stage, film and television, with Walt Disney providing the greatest exposure to British stars.

Meanwhile, the highest profile musical figure from the U.K. was actress-singer Julie Andrews.

Julie Andrews starred with Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady” on Broadway.

As far as pop culture went in the first half of 1963, the Brits were not big news in the U.S. At school, my classmates’ only previous British fascination had been with notorious party girl Christine Keeler, though we weren’t sure exactly what she’d done other than pose nude, as my buddy Chip informed us in fifth grade.

(Chip also told me the facts of life that year, and, the next year, he would tip me off to The Beatles, the week before their “Ed Sullivan Show” debut. Chip was a good guy to know.)

Although the U.S. release of the first James Bond film, “Dr. No,” was in May 1963, it wasn’t until the following year, after The Beatles had invaded our shores, that Sean Connery really was elevated to superstar status, as the spy craze became a sort of action-film variant of Beatlemania.

However, for those of us interested in things from the U.K., there’d been a lot of ground broken before then, though in a rather low-key manner (which seems particularly appropriate for the Brits).

My Gran in Wales used to send me Rupert Bear annuals.

My first exposure to any sort of entertainment from the U.K. was in the form of monthly packets of British comics weeklies that my Gran and Auntie Helen sent me from Wales. Birthdays and Christmas also brought hardcover annual books starring Rupert Bear (a favorite of Paul McCartney’s, I’d later learn) and Sooty, another bear. The latter (a favorite of George Harrison’s) was based on the TV adventures of a little bear glove puppet, some of which made occasional U.S. appearances on Disney’s weekday afternoon “Mickey Mouse Club” series.

However, my first real recollection of TV with a British accent was the “The Adventures of Robin Hood” TV series starring Richard Greene, which aired 1955-59 on CBS, and then for years in syndication. It was the first of many British series that Lew Grade would peddle to American TV, with one of the most notable being “The Saint,” starring future 007 Roger Moore, who drew some early notice in the U.S. for the 1958-59 “Ivanhoe” series, and replaced James Garner in “Maverick,” as the Maverick brothers’ cousin from England, for about half of the 1960 season.  

Another British series that was a favorite of my family in the pre-Beatles era was “The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake,” starring Terence Morgan. We were disappointed that only one season was made of that show, and it aired on NBC in 1962, as a summer replacement for “Car 54, Where Are You?”

Richard Greene starred on U.S. TV as Robin Hood.

There had been British stars in Hollywood movies for decades, of course, including such names as Vivien Leigh, Deborah Kerr, Cary Grant, David Niven and Albert Finney, whose 1963 star turn in “Tom Jones” even had TV commercials riffing on it.

However, since most of the films those Brits starred in were not aimed at kids, they didn’t make as great an impression on me as did the actors in the films Disney made in the U.K. in the 1950s, starting with “Treasure Island,” starring Robert Newton as the prototypical movie pirate character, Long John Silver.

Other Disney U.K. productions that were a big hit with younger American moviegoers included yet another tale of Sherwood Forest in “The Story of Robin Hood,” starring Richard Todd; “The Sword and the Rose,” with Todd and Glynis Johns; and “Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue,” again teaming Todd and Johns.

I was a bit too young for moviegoing when those films initially were released, but I saw them on TV. However, I did see Disney’s 1960 “Kidnapped” (starring American James MacArthur and a host of British actors, including Peter Finch, Bernard Lee and Peter O’Toole) in a movie theater with my father, who liked taking me to Walt’s movies.

One of Disney’s biggest British-themed hits with my age group was 1959’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” an Irish tale of leprechauns that featured Sean Connery (before he became 007) and almond-eyed British starlet Janet Munro, who won a Golden Globe and quickly became my first real movie crush. When she appeared in a 1959 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” adaptation of “Berkeley Square,” I managed to talk Mom into letting me stay up past my bedtime to watch it, even though it wasn’t really the sort of show a 7-year-old boy enjoyed, and I soon was nodding off.

Disney star Janet Munro was one of my earliest on-screen crushes.

Old Walt also was taken with Munro, and he signed her to a five-year deal. She showed up opposite James MacArthur (a Disney regular) in “Third Man on the Mountain,” and played opposite MacArthur again in the epic 1960 adventure “Swiss Family Robinson,” which I sat through twice in one afternoon in a local theater. (It remains one of my all-time favorite films.) Munro also was featured on Disney’s Sunday night TV show in “The Horsemasters.”

The star of “Swiss Family Robinson” was British actor John Mills, and his daughter, Hayley, became Disney’s latest child star that year, headlining “Pollyanna.”

The next year, young Hayley hit it really big, playing twin daughters of divorced parents in Disney’s “The Parent Trap,” in which she did the double-tracked lead vocal of a song, “Let’s Get Together,” which was released as a single (billed as Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills). It became a Top 10 hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 8. It also beat The Beatles to the phrase “yeah, yeah, yeah” by a couple of years. Mills went on to star in three other Disney films.

Interestingly, in my elementary school days, my taste in female movie stars skewed older (Munro), and I found the on-screen Mills a bit bratty in her early Disney days. But, by the time she’d become a young romantic lead as a teenager, I was smitten. (Mills’ first truly adult role in 1966 was in the very un-Disney “The Family Way,” for which Beatle Paul McCartney did the music.)

At first, I thought Hayley Mills was bratty, but she won me over in her teens.

Disney also presented us with another British star in 1963. Patrick McGoohan would go on to become one of my mother’s on-screen crushes and one of my TV heroes in the mid-1960s. He already had been seen on CBS in a brief run of “Danger Man,” which we somehow had missed, but Disney put him in “The Three Lives of Thomasina” and, of more interest to me, the TV miniseries “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh,” one of my all-time favorites.

I’ve told Beatlefan readers before how we were watching “Scarecrow” on the night The Beatles made their American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and, in the era before home video recording, we had to switch back and forth between the last half of “Scarecrow” and the first half of “Sullivan,” so that we didn’t miss the Fab Four’s performances.

Speaking of the Sullivan show, it provided, along with Disney, the primary exposure in the U.S. for a lot of British performers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of those performers was Julie Andrews, who rose to American stardom through Broadway, and made several key appearances on the Sullivan show.

Patrick McGoohan starred in “The Three Lives of Thomasina.”

I first became aware of her when Mom got the original Broadway soundtrack LP for the 1956 Broadway smash “My Fair Lady,” in which Andrews played Eliza Doolittle opposite Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins. That album, featuring such songs as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Show Me,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Just You Wait” and “The Rain in Spain,” was played frequently in our house, and we also enjoyed Andrews performing on various TV variety shows, as well as that local MOR radio station.

She also starred in a 1957 live production of “Cinderella” on CBS that was seen by more than 100 million viewers.

Then came 1961’s “Camelot,” with Andrews starring on Broadway as Guinevere opposite Welshman Richard Burton (another of Mom’s faves) as King Arthur. Sullivan had Andrews and Burton on his show, performing in costume as they sang the title song from the stage musical, along with “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” The Broadway soundtrack album for “Camelot” also occupied a lot of time on our turntable.

Andrews then teamed up with rising American comedy star Carol Burnett for 1962’s “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall,” an hourlong CBS special that kicked off with a number called “You’re So London.”

(Of course, Andrews’ greatest fame would come later, starring in quite a few big movies, beginning with Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” but that was after The Beatles had arrived.)

Julie Andrews and Richard Burton starred in “Camelot” on Broadway.

Andrews had two LPs top the Billboard album chart in the U.S. in the pre-Beatles era: the soundtracks for “My Fair Lady” (which hit No. 1 at various times in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1959) and “Camelot,” in 1961. Interestingly, both albums dislodged Elvis Presley LPs from the top of the chart. The soundtrack to the TV production of “Cinderella” starring Andrews hit No. 15 in 1957, while the soundtrack to “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall” made it to No. 85 in 1962.

Another British “invasion,” of sorts, that predated The Beatles was on Broadway. Following in the footsteps of Andrews’ success, Anthony Newley starred in 1963’s “Stop the World — I Want to Get Off”; Georgia Brown starred in “Oliver!”; the satirical revue “Beyond the Fringe” introduced Americans to Dudley Moore and Peter Cook; and British music hall veteran Tessie O’Shea was featured in “The Girl Who Came to Supper” (which led to her being on the Sullivan show the same night the Fabs debuted).

However, none of that really was on my pre-teen radar.

“The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” aired on Disney opposite The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The other way I was exposed to British entertainment before 1964 was through U.K. magazines sent to my mother by her family back in Wales. I flipped through the pages of some of them, but generally didn’t spend much time on one called Woman’s Own. Because of that, I missed something about the new big thing in Britain that my mother picked up on.

And that’s how it came to be that, one night, in the fall of 1963, Mom was saying goodnight to me and one of my brothers when she noticed my hair, as I was lying in bed. In an age when the crew-cut still was king, my hair had grown out a bit since summer, so that I actually could comb it. And, as she looked at my bangs down over my forehead, she said, “You look like a Beatle.”

I didn’t know what she meant. I asked her what a Beatle was.

“Oh,” she said, “it’s a British singing group.”

A few months later, I finally knew what she was talking about.

Bill King

‘Sitting in the Stand of the Sports Arena’

Elton John performing at the University of Georgia on his 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour. (Photo: Rusty Gunn)

Paul McCartney once sang about sitting in a sports arena, waiting for the show to begin.

That lyric from “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” summons memories for me of my hometown arena, the University of Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum, in Athens. I had gone to elementary school across the street from the distinctive structure, and watched it being built. It has a unique design — it’s actually two separate structures, with a striking parabolic roof and the arena itself. Many who first saw it back then thought it looked like a flying saucer, while others said it favored some sort of prehistoric bird.

Originally built primarily for livestock shows, rodeos and basketball, it also has been the scene of quite a few memorable nights of music through the past 59 years.

In fact, it’s where I saw my very first rock concert.

That was The Association, the band known for such hits as “Cherish,” “Along Comes Mary,” “Windy” and “Never My Love.”

The Association.

It was Feb. 23, 1968, and I was still in high school, but I got Dad to drop me off outside the Georgia Coliseum, as it was known then (the Stegeman name, honoring a UGA athletics pioneer, wasn’t attached until 1996). The show was sponsored by the Interfraternity Council, which in those days presented concerts a couple of times a year to supplement those booked by the student fee-funded University Union.

I was about to take my place in line at the box office when a college-age guy walked up to me and asked if I’d like to save some time and buy a ticket from him. I was a little suspicious, but since all seating was general admission, and he was only asking face value ($2.50), I went took him up on the offer. Maybe his date had stood him up, I don’t know.

Inside, I took a seat that was about midway up, and just to the side of the stage. That turned out to be a good thing, as the Coliseum’s acoustics generally were horrible (it was, after all, designed for cows and basketball players, not music). However, the sound was fairly acceptable in the sections closer to the stage, and on the floor.

As I recall, the band did most of their hits, and threw in a few numbers I wasn’t familiar with (including “Requiem for the Masses”), and also mixed a little comedy in, as well. (I remember some sort of joke about women burning their bras.)

All in all, it wasn’t a bad introduction to arena rock concerts.

My next show at the Coliseum was a momentous occasion for me, because it was the first time I ever took a girl to a concert. It was March 1969, and the act was Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. We found seats in the lower level behind the floor of the arena, but the Coliseum acoustics seemed a bit more forgiving for a group like that (whereas rock bands’ music tended to turn into an echoey din that far back). My date and I both enjoyed the show. My main memory of it, besides the girl beside me, was the two female singers — Lani Hall, who had not yet married Herb Alpert, and Karen Philipp, a willowy blonde whose hips didn’t stop moving the entire night. (She later played Lt. Dish during the first season of “M*A*S*H” on TV.)

Karen Philipp of Brasil 66. (Film Score Monthly)

My next show at the Coliseum was when David Gates and Bread played there in February 1972. I took a date to that one, too, and we sat on the floor, where the sound was fine, but she didn’t really seem to be into the band. When I took her out afterward for some pizza, I asked what she thought of the show and she just answered, “It was weird.”

My next concert at the Coliseum was one of my favorite bands, Badfinger, a Welsh-English group that recorded on The Beatles’ Apple label. The February 1973 show had the misfortune to come about three weeks after an infamous show there by the Allman Brothers Band, where officials had let in nearly 12,000 concertgoers (a couple of thousand over the official capacity), and the very stoned and drunk crowd left “a detestable mess” behind, including a “tremendous amount of vomit.”

Things went much better at the Badfinger show, but, because of the Allmans scene, where attendees sat (or passed out) on the floor, a new rule had been instituted, limiting floor seating to 760 chairs, which left the back third of the floor unoccupied (not great for the concert atmosphere).

Pete Ham of Badfinger. (The Red & Black)

My brother Jon and I got onto the floor, thankfully, where the sound was acceptable. But, my friend Joel Provano recalled, his seat was “pretty far from the stage, and the acoustics were so bad that I couldn’t even make out what songs they were playing.”

The reviewer for The Red & Black, the student newspaper, wrote a rough review trashing the band, though most of his complaints really had to do with the terrible sound (and the fact that he wasn’t very familiar with the band’s songs).

I wrote a letter to the editor (I wouldn’t join the paper’s staff until the following school year) and pointed out the problems with the review. One of them was that the reviewer had complained that they had a much harder rock sound performing live than on record. Said my letter: “Are they to be criticized for that? A concert that sounded like a record would be short, dull and not worth the effort.”

Easily the best show I saw at the UGA arena was in my senior year, in October 1973: Elton John, then at the height of his popularity on his “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” tour. My date was a good friend’s roommate, and she made a much more convivial concert partner. Tickets were just $3!

Elton and his band — bassist Dee Murray, guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson (whom I’d later get to know when I covered music for a living) — were outstanding, and the song list for the sold-out show was an interesting mix of hits and album tracks. Elton, wearing a silver jumpsuit that reflected the different colors of the lights, opened with “Elderberry Wine” and “Your Song,” and along the way performed “Rocket Man” and several numbers from the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, including the title song, “All the Girls Love Alice” and the terrific medley of “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”

Floor pass from the Elton John show at the Georgia Coliseum. (Rusty Gunn)

He closed the regular set with “Crocodile Rock” (with one of his roadies dancing onstage wearing a crocodile head) and then came back out for an encore that included a version of “Honky Tonk Women” on which Gregg Allman came out and joined in (to negligible effect). Elton closed with a rousing number that still can be heard in the fall at Georgia Bulldogs football games: “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”

Doug Vinson, who lived not far from me when I was growing up, remembers standing outside the Coliseum before Elton’s show and the crowd waiting to get in was so large and packed that “I got smashed like a bug against the glass. My feet were dangling off the floor for quite awhile — rough beginning to the evening, but it ended up being a fantastic concert.”

Sketchy acoustics aside, the venue now known as the Steg has seen its share of big names. It came along in an era when the top music acts hadn’t yet priced themselves off the college concert circuit, and a wide array of performers played there, ranging from the Kingston Trio, to Ray Charles, to James Brown, to Sly and the Family Stone, to Iron Butterfly, to Kenny Rogers and even Bob Dylan. Plus, of course, the hometown B-52’s played a concert in the Coliseum.

Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band at the Georgia Coliseum. (The Red & Black)

The venue also presented comedians, ranging from Bob Hope to Jon Stewart, and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke to an overflow crowd there.

The first concert ever held in the Coliseum, a couple of months after the venue’s February 1964 opening, featured the Four Freshmen and the Four Preps. (That was, naturally, the Greek Week show.) The Four Seasons did the first Homecoming concert there in October ’64 (my friend Mindy Moore Bacon remembers going, even though she was only in junior high), and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong brought his All Stars there for a free show in February 1965, followed about three weeks later by Johnny Mathis and the Young Americans.

Because of complaints about the acoustics at the earlier shows, the university brought in Atlanta-based Baker Audio (which had done The Beatles’ 1965 show at Atlanta Stadium) to try and improve the sound for Armstrong, but, truth be told, there wasn’t much they could do about the cavernous arena.

Announcement of the first Homecoming concert at the Coliseum.

I asked folks I went to school with — and others who grew up in Athens or went to UGA — to share their favorite concert memories from the show. Here are some of those recollections:

My classmate Tom Hodgson said the Coliseum concert he looked forward to the most was Jerry Butler singing his hits from “The Ice Man Cometh,” including “Only the Strong Survive.” Tom said he remembers “Jerry, dressed in a white suit with a quartet of beautiful women singing harmony behind. Sometimes, during an instrumental interlude, he’d call a singer over and slow dance with her. I don’t remember who my date was, but she wished I was as cool as Jerry Butler, and I definitely wished she was as hot as those singers.”

Likewise, Sam Heys said that “my favorite and most lasting memory was the Jerry Butler Homecoming concert on Oct. 24, 1969, because my blind date, Pat Finley, is still with me more than a half-century later.”

Satchmo in concert at UGA. (The Red & Black)

Betz Tillitski has vivid memories of that 1973 show by the Allman Brothers, saying the interior of the arena resembled a giant bong. “We got seated and the lights dimmed and, boy, was I stunned to see these strange flickers of light all over the place. Like cigarettes but the flame stayed brighter longer. I didn’t understand I was seeing joints being lit up. Never been near a joint before. People were passing them all around. Then that strange but sweet smell was everywhere. I thought I was at Woodstock. I remember hoping my parents didn’t smell it on my clothes when I got home.”

But, she said, “the most fun concert I attended there was in the spring of 1974, and I saw the Coasters, The Platters and the Tams. Stood on the floor in front of the stage dancing the entire time. Ended up on a guy’s shoulders watching the incredible show.”

Not that all the shows at the Coliseum were a great success. Dan Pelletier remembers the night Karen and Richard Carpenter “were stinking up the joint and the crowd booed, so Richard walked off the stage in a huff. Karen came out and talked to some of the  remaining crowd and explained they had been on the road and were tired. I remember thinking, ‘OK, so are you going to refund the money you were paid for a performance you are not giving?’ No refund was given.”

My late friend Rusty Gunn, who took some of the photos accompanying this piece, told me a few years back that his first show at the Coliseum was when he was a junior in high school, and he and some friends took dates to see Little Stevie Wonder and the Temptations. (Helen Castronis remembers Wonder still was billed as “Little Stevie” at that time, and that it seemed like “he played every instrument on the stage.”)

Stephen Stills performing in Athens. (Rusty Gunn)

Rusty might have been the king of Stegeman concertgoers, as he saw the Association, the Righteous Brothers, Iron Butterfly, the Four Tops (“they were late but to make up, they let us climb up and stand on the side of the stage”), Chicago, the Allman Brothers, James Taylor, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Three Dog Night, Mountain (“Leslie West’s guitar looked like a ukelele on his monstrous trunk”), Yes (“I heard they were appalled there was no organic food offered at the Holiday Inn”), Badfinger, the Carpenters, B.B. King and Billy Preston on the same bill, and Stephen Stills with Manassas (“he wore a UGA jersey”).

“My biggest regrets were missing Jethro Tull and also Frank Zappa,” Rusty said.

Betz, on the other hand, had a chance to see Tull, but chose not to, although she had a ticket. “I got into an argument with the guy I was going with, and I walked back to the car while we were in line to get in,” she recalled.

Lynn Hardman still has his ticket from the May 6, 1966, show by James Brown, and no wonder — he and a friend managed to make it to Brown’s dressing room after the show, and JB gave him an autograph.

James Brown ticket stub and autograph. (Lynn Hardman)

Dan Greene remembers a show in 1965 when “Dionne Warwick was an hour late, and drunker than Cooter Brown when she arrived.”

Rick Allen remembers that Warwick’s opening act was Bill Cosby. “He put on a great show of his own, just him standing up on the stage telling jokes. When Dione didn’t show up on time, he was asked to keep on performing, until she did get there. He sat down on the edge of the stage and ad-libbed for well over an hour. All of his ad-libbing was far funnier than his routine.”

Warwick was booked again for the Coliseum in 1968, but canceled, and, instead, Bobbie Gentry (of “Ode to Billie Joe” fame) was booked, and brought along with her a rising star by the name of Glen Campbell. And, Rick Allen remembers, “He blew the audience away, far better than Bobbie.” 

My classmate Lynda Harden Powell’s first job after graduating from UGA was to assist in booking and working at Coliseum concerts, “where I was able to sit backstage during the shows. Looking out into the audience was like being in the night sky with a gazillion stars (lighters).”

One of the most memorable shows, she said, was the Charlie Daniels Band. “They were so much fun, and would interact with us backstage during the show.”

On the other hand, when Linda Ronstadt played the Coliseum on a double-bill with Jackson Browne, she was “all business,” Lynda said. “She came onstage, did her show with very little stage presence, got on her bus and left — no interaction whatsoever. I understand that she was extremely shy. Boy, could she belt it out, though! No acoustic issues with her!”

John Myers worked on the Student Union Concert Committee in 1978-80, where fellow members included Bill Berry and Bertis Downs of REM fame. “We came up with the concert schedules, booked and promoted the acts, and worked as local road crew and security (all 165 pounds of me) on the day of show,” he said.

The Beach Boys in Athens. (Rusty Gunn)

“Most of the bands didn’t finish their contract-rider refreshments, so the crew would get the leftover beer, wine, etc. and have an afterparty in the stock pens connected to the building out back. I watched a couple sunrises back there while polishing off some rock star’s leftovers.

“We had the Village People in their heyday. They had the band gear and sound stuff on one truck and three trucks of costumes and props,” John said.

“Jimmy Buffett was the biggest show we did in that era. He was very personable and kind to the crew. He cut out right as the show ended, to go see BB King, who was playing [across town] at the Georgia Theater that same night. He got a staff member to drive him over there.”

The worst act to deal with, John said, “was Jay Ferguson who trashed a grand piano by tossing his drink in it. He didn’t like the sound that night.

“Sound was always a huge problem there. Some acoustic engineers from [Georgia] Tech rigged a fix with some ugly plywood panels suspended in the corners of the space.”

Also, he recalled, “The hydraulic stage lift was pretty awesome to see. It was there to allow for full floor access for the rodeos and stock shows.”

James Taylor onstage at the Coliseum. (Rusty Gunn)

And, he added, “I loved sneaking down and grabbing a nap on those long days in the athletic trophy room.”

Lee Eidson remembers that, in the early days, students going to concerts at the Coliseum dressed up, including coats and ties for the men. (That had changed by the time I started going to shows there. I didn’t wear a coat and tie for that Sergio Mendes, show, though I did wear a French-cuff shirt with cufflinks and a monogrammed sweater.)

Lee said his favorite memory of the Coliseum was “seeing The Guess Who while sitting on the floor. I made eye contact with this gorgeous strawberry blonde seated several rows in front of me. She turned and looked directly at me and smiled. It was an Age of Aquarius moment!”

Brenda Poss remembers seeing the piano duo Ferrante & Teicher at the UGA arena and MiMi DuBose Gudenrather said one of her favorites was James Taylor.

Mike Powers worked concessions at the Coliseum for both sports events and concerts, including Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa. Unfortunately, he said, “stoners don’t buy as many soft drinks as athletics fans.”

Among the shows Jim Goolsby saw there were Johnny Rivers and Jose Feliciano. Michael Doke also remembers seeing Ides of March and Hank Williams Jr. And, Saye Sutton saw Iron Butterfly from the front row there, and swears that “’In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ went on for 47 minutes, not 17! I didn’t hear for a week.”

Marie Andrews saw the Four Tops at UGA and recalls: “They were an hour late getting there, but we didn’t care. It was a great performance!”

When Laird Miller saw Steppenwolf at the Coliseum in November 1970, “the rumor was that the Coliseum might crack and collapse. So, being typical 16-year-olds, our gang all lied to our parents, telling them we were going to a movie, and went [to the concert]. Nothing collapsed. Would have been sad if my first rock concert had been my last!”

Among other acts that have performed at the Coliseum through the years are Rufus Thomas, Peter Nero, the Serendipity Singers, the New Christie Minstrels, Roger Williams, the Supremes, the Lettermen, Al Hirt, Eddy Arnold, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Glenn Yarbrough, Skitch Henderson and the Atlanta Symphony, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Jack Jones and Buddy Rich, the Fifth Dimension, the Impressions and the Dells, Major Lance, Paul Anka, Bill Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Soul Inc. Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Floyd Cramer and Jerry Reed.

OutKast at the Steg. (Hargrett Library/University of Georgia)

Also, Sam and Dave, Jimmy Ruffin, Blood Sweat and Tears, Henry Mancini, the London Philharmonic, Friends of Distinction, Pacific Gas and Electric (with the Allman Brothers Band opening), Three Dog Night, Richie Havens, Mylon LeFevre, Steely Dan, Poco, the Rev. Pearly Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Seals and Crofts, Isaac Hayes, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Muddy Waters, Tony Joe White and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Plus, Vince Vance and the Valiants, the James Gang, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina, the Doobie Brothers, Billy Preston, Curtis Mayfield, Dr. Hook, America, the Marshall Tucker Band and the Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Spinners, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and Leon Russell.

Others include Billy Joel, Earth Wind and Fire, Jesse Colin Young, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs Revue, Wet Willie, Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon, Orleans, Hall and Oates, Pure Prairie League, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mother’s Finest, Dolly Parton, Jerry Jeff Walker, Heart, Doug Kershaw, Bobby Blue Bland, Dave Mason, Gloria Gaynor, Dottie West, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Boston and Sammy Hagar, Amazing Rhythm Aces, Pablo Cruise and Delbert McClinton.

Also, the Commodores, the Oak Ridge Boys, Neil Young, Sting, Alabama, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Widespread Panic (in 1985, 1988 and 1989), Hootie and the Blowfish, the Indigo Girls and the Black Crowes.

Aerial view of the Coliseum. (Hargrett Library/University of Georgia)

Concert bookings at the venue have slowed down over the past 20 years, but the arena still has played host to OutKast, Guster, Busta Rhymes, John Butler Trio, O.A.R., Sam Hunt, Fetty Wap (who showed up 90 minutes late, performed less than an hour and had his pay withheld by UGA), Needtobreathe and Yo Gotti. And, there have been brief performances by rappers Ayo and Teo, Blanco Brown and Quavo at three Stegmania basketball preseason events.

All in all, that’s quite a roster of stars for a venue co-run for years by the athletic department and the College of Agriculture.

UGA’s Stegeman Coliseum may be “like a relic from a different age,” as McCartney sang, but it has played an important part in the cultural life of Georgia, introducing  several generations of young people to the concert experience.

And did I mention it looks like a flying saucer?

— Bill King

A ‘Lost’ Tale of Mayberry

Sheriff Andy Taylor and schoolteacher Helen Crump. (All photos: CBS)

I’ve known writer Jeff Cochran since he was the public relations guy for Peaches Records in Atlanta and I was covering the music beat for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Later, Jeff worked in advertising at the AJC. In recent years, he also has contributed to Beatlefan magazine. And, like me, he’s a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Here’s a fanciful what-if piece he wrote back in 2009 for Like the Dew, a Southern-oriented news and opinion site that, sadly, no longer is online. It was the all-time top story on LTD, and, if you know the show, I think you’ll get a kick out of it. …

“The Death of Helen Crump”

Just a few years ago, a lost script for the Andy Griffith show was found at The Snappy Lunch in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown. Efforts to learn more about this script have proven futile. Calls to people associated with the show were never returned. Therefore, we have no choice but to run the script and let our readers join us in wondering what might have been.

Helen and Andy outside the Mayberry Courthouse.


Sheriff Andy Taylor and Floyd the barber are sitting in the courthouse when Gomer Pyle loudly bursts through the doorway.

Gomer:  Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Miss Crump’s dead!

Andy: What’s that Gomer?  You’re all out of breath.

Gomer: Miss Crump’s dead. She got run over by a school bus.

Uh-oh, Helen isn’t pleased …

Opie and his friend Arnold then come running into the courthouse.

Opie:  Pa!  Pa!  Miss Crump’s dead!  She’s really dead, Pa.  Arnold and I saw it happen.

Andy: Now, Opie, you’re all out of breath too, just like Gomer.  Arnold, can you just tell me what happened?

Arnold: Sure, Sheriff. You know that new kid, Chester Fields, who just moved here from Winston-Salem?

Andy: Yeah, I’ve seen him around.

Floyd: Nice boy, Andy, and from a good family.

Andy: I know that, Floyd.  Go on, Arnold.

Arnold: Anyway, Chester was caught passing a note in class to Johnny Paul.

Floyd: Another nice boy, Andy.

Andy: Uh-huh.

Arnold: So Miss Crump gets mad and writes a note for Chester to take home to his parents.  But then the bell rings and everyone leaves the classroom.  So Miss Crump takes off after him with the note.  She runs out of the building and right in front of the school bus that’s just pulling up.  Well, the bus runs her over.  It was like in a book I read once.

Floyd: What book was that, son?

Andy: Never mind that now, Floyd!  Well, since I’m the Sheriff, I better go down to the school and write up a report.

Gomer: Andy, can I ride over with you in the squad car?

Andy: Sure, Gomer, but you don’t need to blow the siren.  There’s no hurry in getting there now.  Hey Opie… can you call Miss Peggy and give her the …, I mean tell her what happened?

Opie: Sure, Pa.

Barney seems to have heard this sermon before.


The next day Andy walks into Reverend Tucker’s office.  The Reverend has several balled up sheets of paper strewn across the floor.

Reverend Tucker: Andy, I just don’t understand it.  I’ve been preaching funerals for over 25 years and I’ve always been able to come up with something nice to say about the deceased.  But with Helen Crump, I can’t come up with anything good.

Andy: Don’t worry about it, Reverend.  You’ll think of something, I’m sure.  Anyway, I wanted to invite you over for supper tonight.  Peg’s making leg of lamb, my favorite dish.

Miss Peggy saying goodnight to the sheriff.


Later that evening, the viewing is taking place. Andy is with Aunt Bee.

Aunt Bee: Well, I guess I’ll miss Helen. I don’t know why but I guess I will.

Andy: Oh we’ll be okay, Aunt Bee. These things happen.

Aunt Bee: Well, I’ve done my part to lift everyone’s spirits.  I’ve made two dozen jars of my pickles to give to the mourners.

A look of pain is on Andy’s face.  He grabs his Deputy, Barney Fife, by the arm and drags him over to a corner in the viewing room.

Andy: She beats everything, you know that?  The last two days have been so nice and now she has to ruin everything with those pickles. … Hey, Barn, I’ve got an idea. …

Andy tells Barney his idea.

Barney: No way, Andy.  I only go incognito in the line of duty.

Andy: Think of the people you’ll be helping, Barney.  It is in the line of duty.

A few minutes later, Barney, wearing a long dress and a flowery hat, walks up to the coffin, pauses and then sets a jar of pickles inside the coffin.  He walks away but returns 10 more times over the next half hour.

Aunt Bee: Who is that frail old lady that keeps going back to the coffin?

Andy: Oh, that’s Helen’s old teacher from high school.  You know, she was a big influence on Helen.

Aunt Bee:  She certainly looks stern.

Andy: Oh she’s just all tore up over Helen, Aunt Bee.

Aunt Bee:  And where is that Deputy of yours?  He was supposed to help me with the pickles.

Andy: Oh don’t you worry, Aunt Bee.  Barney’s got that taken care of.

Looks like Aunt Bee’s been making pickles again.


The pallbearers are carrying Helen’s coffin to the burial site but they’re tired and irritable.

Otis: Barney!  This coffin is heavy!

Barney: Pipe down Otis!  Pipe down!

Goober: He’s right, Barney.  It feels like we’re hauling Aunt Bee, not Miss Crump!

Barney:  Nip it!  We put jars of Aunt Bee’s pickles in the coffin.  Now unless you would like to eat some of those kerosene cucumbers, you will nip it!

Ernest T. Bass and his “mother figure,” shortly after she whacked him with her ruler.


The next day Andy, Barney, and Floyd are sitting outside the courthouse.

Barney: That was a pretty good service yesterday but I don’t think Reverend Tucker said one thing about Helen.

Andy: No, he just told a few stories about his days at seminary.  But all in all, everyone had a good time.

Barney: Hey Andy, wasn’t that Aunt Bee’s broach on Helen’s blouse?

Andy: Well, yes.  The other day Aunt Bee and I had to go over to Helen’s to pick out some clothes for the viewing.  So we were going through her dresser drawers and then we found Aunt Bee’s broach. Aunt Bee had suspected that Helen had stolen it from her on that Ladies Auxilary trip to Charlotte.  But Aunt Bee decided Helen could just have it.

Barney: That was nice of her.

Floyd: I saw Peg with you during the service, Andy.

Andy: Yeah, she had a pretty good time.

Floyd: Well, it always makes a nice impression when you bring such an attractive date to your girlfriend’s funeral.

Andy: Yeah, boy.

Right in front of the courthouse, a short man with a rumpled hat walks by. It’s Ernest T. Bass. He’s sobbing uncontrollably.

Andy: Well, it looks like we have another mourner still in town.

Barney:  That’s no mourner. That’s a nut.

POST-SCRIPT FROM BILL KING: The character of schoolteacher Helen Crump, played by Aneta Corsaut, produces a generally negative reaction from many fans of the Griffith show. Her short temper didn’t go over well, and many maintain that, if not the inventor, Miss Crump certainly was a prime practitioner of RBF (resting bitch face). Many fans wish Sheriff Andy had stuck with Ellie the lady druggist (Elinor Donahue) or Peggy the county nurse (Joanna Moore), his two main girlfriends in earlier seasons.

The proud parents with soon-to-be-forgotten Andy Taylor Jr.

But, Miss Crump did not die in the series and, in fact, remained the sheriff’s lady beyond the end of the show’s run, with Andy and Helen getting married in the first episode of the spin-off series “Mayberry RFD,” and returning to town a year later for the christening of their newborn son, Andy Jr.

Now, if you never knew Sheriff Andy had a son other than Opie, you’re in the majority. Years later, when the cast got back together for the “Return to Mayberry” TV movie, Andy and Helen still were together, and most of the main characters still living were featured. But, no Andy Jr.

So, at a New York press dinner for the film, I asked Griffith why the sheriff’s other son wasn’t even mentioned. He shrugged his shoulders and said they figured most viewers wouldn’t know anything about Andy Jr. “and it would just confuse them.”

Sounds like prime fodder for another “lost” script!

Pretty Vacant: The Night I Covered the Sex Pistols’ U.S. Debut in Atlanta

Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols during their concert at the Great Southeast Music Hall on January 5, 1978. (Louie Favorite/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

You don’t often get the opportunity to be a part of rock ’n’ roll history, but I did just that 45 years ago tonight, on Jan. 5, 1978.

That was the evening that the Sex Pistols, the much-hyped British shooting star of the then-nascent punk rock movement, made their U.S. debut at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta.

Having made a media sensation back home cursing on television and sneering at the queen in their best-known song, the band was known primarily for being deliberately provocative, and for such antics as spitting on audience members.

The best-known Pistols were spike-haired lead singer Johnny Rotten (nee John Lydon) and skeletal bassist Sid Vicious (who, not surprisingly, would suffer a fatal overdose a little more than a year after that Atlanta show).

They arrived in the ATL as a bona fide media sensation, and a host of local and national broadcast and print reporters were on hand to chronicle the event. My story about the concert ran on the front page of The Atlanta Constitution the next morning. I also covered the show for Billboard, the Chicago Daily News (which ceased publication two months later) and one of the London papers, whose name escapes me.

The Sex Pistols’ album, which I picked as the worst of 1977.

Leading up to that night, I had picked the Pistols’ album, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols,” as the worst of 1977 in my Weekend Music Awards, published a couple of weeks earlier in the Saturday Journal-Constitution combo.

My worst-album nod for the Pistols drew the attention of Robert Christgau, pop music critic of the Village Voice in New York City, who called me up to question my musical taste.

In his report on the Atlanta show for the Voice, Christgau cited me as part of the “imperiously ignorant media” on hand for the Pistols’ debut. (A year later, I named the Pistols’ Atlanta show as the worst concert of the year in my 1978 awards column, but I didn’t hear from Christgau.)

My wife Leslie accompanied me to the show, and she remembers it as a rather “weird” scene as we stood in line on a very chilly night. The Music Hall was located in a strip shopping center called Broadview Plaza (now Lindbergh Plaza) that was dominated by a Winn-Dixie grocery store. The crowd lined up along the storefronts included a few punks (who immediately drew the interest of the TV crews), but largely consisted of typical Atlanta clubgoers, in attendance because they were curious about the band, and the Pistols opening their tour in Atlanta seemed to be a big deal.

I found out years later, that, before the show, the Pistols had been taken to the nearby Victoria Station restaurant for dinner, where Music Hall bartender Doreen Cochran recalled them occupying a back room.

Atlantan Lynn Stroud was along for that dinner and later sent me a brief account. She and her girlfriend Paula had been hanging out with Doreen at the Music Hall and a Warner Bros. Records rep asked them to accompany the band to dinner.

Sid Vicious (left) and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols before their concert in Atlanta. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

“Of course, we were up for the adventure,” she said, “since we were curious about this group and all the hype they were causing by coming to the U.S. What a trip that night was! I have told the story numerous times of how, when we were all walking into the Victoria Station restaurant, when the door opened there was a couple with their young daughter with them trying to exit the restaurant, and they literally dropped backwards and the dad put his arm out in front of their daughter (in a protective response) upon the sight of this motley crew that was coming toward them. …

“We did have a private room. The entire time, Sid acted like a child, throwing mashed potatoes around and being unruly. He had some real issues, as we all know. Johnny was a completely different person off-stage and off-camera while we were there. He was quite polite and normal, but when we [returned to] the Music Hall …  and he saw all the reporters and news cameras, of course, he turned on his act and spat at the camera.”

Stroud ended up taking guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, the “normal” members of the band, out to an Atlanta club after the show and played pool with Jones, while a friend of hers accompanied Vicious back to the band’s hotel, where the punk rocker destroyed the room (which the record company folks had locked him into).

The show itself was quite an event. The local group Cruise-O-Matic, a mostly-oldies band with attitude that played what member Jonny Hibbert describes as “britpop, hick pop, and early r&b,” did an opening set before the Pistols came on. In his Village Voice report, Christgau dubbed them “the Shitheads.”

Hibbert, who got to interact with the Pistols backstage, remembers “how insane and over-hyped it all was, probably because they had Sex and Pistols in their name.”

Drummer Paul Cook was one of the two “normal” Pistols. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

He thought Jones and Cook were “great guys,” and that “Sid was already on his way out. How he played that gig is a testament to his life-force. I was very sorry to see his predictable demise.”

Hibbert also noted that, “although our band made light of [the Pistols’] pose, which aggravated the punk poseurs of our town, we sounded great!”

One of the things Cruise-O-Matic did that aggravated the punks was bring on Atlanta musical satirist Darryl Rhoades of Hahavishnu Orchestra fame.

Christgau, who didn’t know anything about Rhoades, described him as “an exceptionally hirsute person wearing a ‘Kill Me’ T-shirt and carrying a large papier-mâché safety pin.”

“I was brought up to sing ‘Boot in Your Face,’ a song that I had performed in the Hahavishnu Orchestra satirizing the Ramones,” Rhoades recalled recently, “but it seemed apropos for that night.”

He was not impressed by the Pistols, who were assembled by British manager Malcolm McLaren to promote his London clothing store, known as Sex.

The Sex Pistols onstage at the Great Southeast Music Hall. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

“The guitarist, Steve Jones, was decent, as was their drummer, Paul Cook, but Sid was zombie before it was cool and Lydon didn’t move me,” Rhoades said. “I wasn’t moved, but the kids dug ’em. I saw them then as I do now, just another version of the Monkees. It felt like a manufactured product. Anger on plastic.”

Without his approval, a portion of Rhoades’ performance that night later was included in the punk-rock documentary film “D.O.A.: A Right of Passage.” Finally, after objecting to the clip being included in a Blu-ray release of the film, Rhoades received a payment about three years ago.

“I also ended up in the National Examiner,” Rhoades said. The tabloid ran a picture of him “wearing a shirt that I sprayed ‘Kill Me’ on and the caption under the picture said, ‘Punk bearing message on shirt that most true music fans would like to fulfill.’ Now, that I’m proud of.”

As for the Pistols’ performance, you can read my assessment in my original report, reprinted below, but basically I thought it mostly was talentless noise, though the band was not quite as terrible as I had expected. I described them as “musically mediocre,” and Christgau took that as some sort of triumph for the Pistols, winding up his piece by saying: “Not everyone hoping to be shown the light left with eyes shining, but there is universal agreement that the Pistols expanded their core of fans; even Bill King, apparently nervous enough to essay a serious hatchet job, allowed as how they were mediocre.”

The logic of that comment escaped me then and now, but I was amused that the self-dubbed “dean of American rock critics” mentioned me twice in his report, which was one more mention than Sid Vicious got.

I do recall that, at one point, I left my seat during the Pistols’ performance and retreated to the lobby, where legendary Atlanta concert promoter Alex Cooley, who was a part-owner of the venue, was sitting. I asked Alex what he thought of the Pistols, and he just shook his head, expressing bewilderment that some people considered this music.

Nine days later, the Sex Pistols broke up, following the end of their brief U.S. tour in San Francisco.

Johnny Rotten singing to the crowd during the Sex Pistols’ first American concert, in Atlanta. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

Here’s how I summed up the band’s time in Atlanta on the front page of the Constitution …

Yes, there actually are people in Atlanta willing to stick safety pins through their cheeks.

True, there weren’t many of them, but safety pins and other trappings of punk rock were in evidence at the Great Southeast Music Hall Thursday night, when the Sex Pistols, Britain’s most notorious punk band, made its American debut.

For the most part, though, the crowd that witnessed the Pistols’ show looked pretty much like the average Atlanta concert crowd. Only a handful of the “faithful” went the full punk route, adorning themselves with torn clothing, chains, leather jackets and the spiky punk hairdo popularized by the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten.

The crowd seemed to be made up more of curiosity seekers than true Sex Pistols fans. “I’d say about 99.4 percent of them are just curious,” said local promoter Alex Cooley, a part-owner of the Music Hall. “There are a few scene makers here with safety pins through their nipples and things like that, but most of them just want to see what it’s all about. It’s an older crowd, mostly.”

Promoter Alex Cooley, before the start of the Sex Pistols’ show at the Great Southeast Music Hall. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

One group of young men sitting near the stage confessed that they were not real fans of the Sex Pistols. “We’re just general audience,” one of them said. They did say, though, that they were familiar with the group’s album, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”

“It’s all right,” one of them said. “It was better than I expected.”

Another member of the crowd said that he liked some of the group’s songs, “but some of it is just noise to me.”

One of the “punks” in attendance, a sullen young man who said his name was Karl Korrupt, said, however, that he had come to see the Sex Pistols “because I’m a fan, and for the violence, man.” Asked if he had put a safety pin through his cheek in honor of the group’s arrival in Atlanta, he sneered and said, “Man, it’s been in there about six months.”

The Pistols were not as awful as I expected, but were musically mediore. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

Fans or not, the audience awaited the group with anticipation. “The show might not be incredible, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Atlantan Chuck Cooper.

For something that had grown into a full-blown international media event, the Pistols’ show proved to be somewhat anti-climactic.

But, while the punk rock band was not as good as its fans would have you believe, it was not all that terrible, either.

It’s just that, after all of the media hype that preceded their appearance here, it was a bit of a letdown to see just how musically mediocre Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones and Paul Cook actually were.

The 500-seat capacity Music Hall was packed to overflowing for the show, with people even sitting in the aisles. Many more were turned away.

The line of people waiting to get into the show started in front of the Music Hall in Broadview Plaza at about 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon — five hours before the concert began.

Sex Pistols front man Johnny Rotten. (Louie Favorite/AJC)

The event was well-covered by the media, with some 40 television and print reporters in attendance, including representatives from several British newspapers. The television cameras were especially in evidence as they sought to film the more picturesque members of the crowd — such as a pair of lavishly made-up drag queens.

The band finally took the stage for its 45-minute show at about 10:30 p.m., as Rotten greeted the Atlanta audience by saying, “My name’s John, and this is the Sex Pistols.”

The crowd rose to its feet with the opening strains of the band’s most famous song, “God Save the Queen,” and remained standing for the rest of the show. However, those closest to the stage seemed to be more into the group’s performance, jumping up and down and shaking their fists, with those in the back standing mainly so they could see the wild-eyed Rotten dancing about the stage.

The show was repetitious, but, all in all, most people seemed to get a kick out of it.

“That was great — I got kissed and spat on and all kinds of things,” summed up a young lady, who spent the evening in front of the stage.

Keeping Christmas and Family Memories Alive in the Kitchen

Chocolate trifle was the first of her grandmother’s Christmas treats that Olivia attempted.

Six years ago, one of the earliest Adventures in Food columns I did for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was about some of our family’s Christmas traditions, many of which revolve around food. Some of those traditions have waned through the years, but others live on, bringing back cherished (and delicious) memories. Here’s a slightly revised and expanded version of that AJC piece. …

One of our family’s holiday traditions is a Christmas Eve reading of the Dylan Thomas classic “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

The celebrated poet’s stories of the Christmases of his youth are particularly meaningful to us, since some of our own family Yuletide traditions (mainly food) have roots in the country known as the Land of Song, thanks to my Welsh mother.

Despite having trained to be a ballerina — and being advised by a teacher in a domestic science class (British for home economics) to marry a rich man, because she was so hopeless in the kitchen — Mom became a celebrated cook in her new hometown of Athens, after moving to Georgia as a war bride following World War II.

Mom became widely known in Athens for her cooking.

She adapted her own food traditions to those of her Georgia-born husband, so my brothers and I grew up with a melding of Southern and Welsh customs.

Almost as enjoyable as the delicious treats that came out of Mollie Parry King’s kitchen at Christmastime were the stories of her childhood, and her vivid memories of her own mother making Christmas puddings, fruitcakes and mince pies.

Her family was large and hospitable, so a dozen puddings, six large fruitcakes and hundreds of mince pies were prepared annually.

In a Christmas reminiscence for a local weekly paper, Mom recalled that the pudding mixture contained raisins, currants, suet, several dozen fresh brown eggs, pounds of candied peel, chopped apples, lemon juice and rind, nutmeg (grated), cinnamon, bread crumbs, flour and sugar — liberally laced with “spirits.”

Young Mollie Parry King didn’t know how to cook when she first came to the U.S. as a war bride after WWII. That soon changed!

“Each family member had one big turn of the massive spoon and made a wish, then the pudding basins were greased and filled two-thirds of their capacity, covered with buttered muslin, which was tied securely, and then steamed for hours in a large black kettle.”

After the puddings were cooked, they were put in the “cold” pantry on a marble-topped table, to await reheating on Christmas Day. Decorated with a sprig of holly, each section of pudding contained a silver charm or coin for luck, which my grandmother had sterilized. Everyone was warned about the silver surprises, so that no one swallowed his good luck or broke a tooth.

Next, came the making of the fruitcakes of various sizes, all round except for the large square one that was to be specially decorated for tea time on Christmas Day. The cake was rich and dark — made with butter, sugar, fresh eggs, candied peel, glace cherries, sultanas, chopped almonds, spices and good brandy.

The square cake was iced twice — first, an almond paste icing, then a white icing that hardened, ready for decorating by my grandmother, who turned it into a house. As Mom recalled: “Father Christmas was always on the point of climbing down the chimney, and his sleigh and reindeer balanced precariously near the roof’s edge. Father Christmas occasionally had to be touched up with food coloring to keep his nose bright red to match his coat, but he, like the china robins perched on the Yule log, which was another Christmas teatime tradition, was saved from year to year and carefully stored.”

The Yule log was a luscious chocolate cake-roll, filled with whipped cream and topped with chocolate icing. The log had a rim of “snow” on it.

Mom presented a groaning board of holiday delights prepared in her Athens kitchen.

The filling in the mince pies really did contain minced meat — either beef tongue or very lean beef, along with beef kidney suet. The meat was cooked, and then ground together with the suet. To this mixture was added chopped apples, seeded raisins, seeded pie cherries, citron, spices, sugar and tart jelly. Since it was to be stored (in a covered crock), a quart of good brandy and a bottle of good sherry were added.

Several days before Christmas, the pies, with a rich, flaky homemade pastry, were assembled in tiny, fluted tins and baked.

“Hundreds of mince pies had to be made,” Mom recalled, “and our kitchen became an assembly line, one cutting out the pastry bottoms and putting them in the tins, another adding the mincemeat, and a third putting on the ‘lids.’”

Once Mom had a family of her own, she customized some of her mother’s holiday cooking traditions, and added some of her own, including those influenced by the Southern foodways she encountered in Georgia.

When my two brothers and I were growing up, the holiday season really began in earnest with the Christmas party my parents threw at our house each year for the staff of the bank branch that Dad managed.

Mollie Parry King, the real Queen of Christmas.

Mom spent hours in the kitchen, usually making beef Wellington and chicken Kiev, along with her famous whole wheat bread (a much-clamored-for gift among folks around town), and a big table of homemade sweet and savory treats, such as sausage rolls with puffed pastry (a great family favorite); date-nut, chocolate and oatmeal cookies; the traditional mince pies (which neither Mom nor I really liked that much); Southern-style cheese straws; fudge squares; little lemon tarts; brownies; German chocolate cake with a delicious coconut filling (my favorite, and my usual birthday cake request); a white layer cake with lemon curd filling and coconut frosting; sausage-cheese balls; and fruitcake (the American style favored in the South, rather than the hard, iced variety her mother had made).

To be honest, I never was a big fan of fruitcake of any kind — especially not the doorstop variety that local bakery Benson’s sold nationwide — although I liked all of Mom’s homemade fruitcake except for the brightly colored, candied fruit. I was always lobbying her in vain to make me a loaf where she left out the fruit and put in more nuts, to make up the difference.

(Actually, a few years out of college, a friend had a party at his parents’ house in Athens and one of the things served by his mother was a nut cake, that was very much like fruitcake without the fruit. I loved it.)

Occasionally, Mom also tried her hand at things like peanut brittle and English toffee, and one year even did something the British call faggots and peas (with ground meat and dried peas) that we decided was better left on the other side of the Atlantic.

On Christmas Day, after we’d seen what Santa brought and opened the wrapped gifts, my Grandma King and Uncle Larry (Dad’s youngest brother, just 11 years older than me) would arrive, and we’d have more of the same treats Mom made for the party, plus ham, turkey Wellington (made with a turkey roast in a loaf pan), congealed cranberry salad (another of those American dishes she’d picked up living in the South) and yeast rolls made from scratch.

Mom’s whole wheat bread was much in demand. Livvy now makes it; here she is kneading the dough.

Some years, she made our favorite British meal, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. And, when I was younger, we also had Mom’s attempt to re-create (minus the recipe) the pork pie her father had made when she was a child. We thought what she came up with was quite good, but she said that it never quite matched the actual taste of what she remembered, so she gave up on it. 

It all was topped off with her delicious pound cake (another sensation around town), all those Christmas cookies, and two varieties of scrumptious Yule log — a dark chocolate one, favored by the kids, and a milk chocolate version, preferred by Dad.

Even after we’d all grown up, Mom continued to play host on Christmas Day in Athens and still prepared an amazing array of dishes. As my daughter Olivia recalls, “She went all-out.”

Mom died in 2008, and yet she’s been a part of every Christmas since, thanks to her look-alike granddaughter, who each year turns out some of her beloved Grandma’s treats.

No breadmaking machine at work here! It takes three hours to turn out a batch.

As a girl of about 10, Olivia watched her grandmother cook for the holidays, and wrote down the recipes and directions for posterity. (Mom usually made them from memory.)

The first of those holiday treats Olivia undertook on her own, just a few weeks after Mom died, was the chocolate trifle that was a particular favorite of my son, Bill. She felt the need to carry on the tradition because, “we always had it at Christmas, and it wasn’t going to be Christmas without it.”

Featuring hand-crumbled brownies (the most time-consuming part), crushed Heath bars, chocolate pudding and mousse and whipped topping, it’s a 10-layer treat made in a 3-quart heirloom trifle dish, and chilled at least eight hours before serving.

It took a few years for Olivia to muster the courage to tackle Mom’s famed bread, a crusty, dense tea bread made with whole wheat flour, wheat germ, yeast, milk, honey, water and salt.

This is bread made the old-fashioned way, with all the mixing, kneading, rising and more rising done without the convenience of a bread-making machine.

Altogether, it takes more than three hours to make one batch of a half-dozen loaves. Olivia does it just like her Grandma did, even thumping on the bread when it looks like it’s done to see if it sounds hollow.

The kitchen smells heavenly when this bread is baking!

The smell of the baking bread is heavenly, and hot out of the oven it just begs to be slathered with butter and jelly or jam. Usually, at least half a loaf is gone within minutes.

It’s a lot of trouble, but Olivia finally undertook it after some gentle nudging from one of my brothers. “Uncle Tim had been asking me for years to make it, and I finally decided to make it as a Christmas present for him,” she said.

But, really, it’s a gift for the whole family, reminding us in a tangible and delicious way of those Christmases in Athens presided over by my mother.

The brave young Welshwoman who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to start a brand-new life with the man she loved lives on in the hearts of her children and grandchildren.

Her presence is never more palpable than when we’re tucking into warm whole-wheat bread fresh out of the oven or dipping into her delicious chocolate trifle.

As Olivia put it: “It’s like she’s here.”

Merry Christmas, Mom!

For more Christmas memories you can click through to check out my look at A Child’s Christmas in Georgia (With Apologies to Dylan Thomas) and my tale of A Christmas Eve Like No Other.

Excelsior! My 1978 Conversation With the Legendary Stan Lee

My friend Clint Ard recently noted the fourth anniversary of Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee’s death on Facebook, and I mentioned to him that I once had the opportunity to do a phone interview with the man who launched the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man. Lee and I had a great conversation, and, at the end of it, he told me, “Young man, this is the longest phone interview I’ve ever done!”

Here’s a slightly revised version of what I wrote for the Aug. 11, 1978, issue of The Atlanta Constitution. …

“From where I sit, bigotry is one of the many stains upon the human escutcheon which must be eradicated before we can truthfully call ourselves civilized.”

The statement of an eminent scholar? A passage from an essay in one of those high-minded journals that enlightened intellectuals read?

Nope, that quote, which probably has sent a good many of you scurrying for your dictionaries, comes from a current issue of one of the most popular — and yet most maligned and misunderstood — types of publication: a comic book.

Escutcheon? ­­With jargon like that, it’s easy to see that comic books have come a long way from the SOCK! POW! CRUNCH! days of yesteryear.

And, the man most responsible for that change, as well as other innovations in comics, is Stan Lee, the co-creator of Spider-Man and publisher of the Marvel Comics Group, which leads the comic book industry, selling some 71 million of the 200 million comics sold last year.

Stan Lee in 1978, a few months before his visit to Atlanta.

Lee, who will be the guest of honor this weekend at the Atlanta Comics and Fantasy Fair at Dunfey’s Hotel, has, through the years, become almost as popular a personality as his creations. Writing in a gee-whiz style, which runs the gamut from multisyllabic words to phrases like “Excelsior” and “’Nuff said,” he often touches on unlikely subjects, such as bigotry, when he isn’t huckstering his latest product in his monthly Marvel Comics column, Stan’s Soapbox.

It’s all part of the Marvel difference, which has taken comics reading out of the realm of kids stuff — with 50 percent of Marvel’s readers (known as “True Believers”) now being between the ages of 15 and 25 — and has made Lee big on the college lecture circuit.

Now in his mid-50s, Lee broke into comics back in 1939, when he joined Timely Comics (Marvel’s predecessor) “as sort of a go-fer,” he said recently.

Clint Ard and Stan Lee show off some of Clint’s most prized issues in this 2010 shot.

Before long, however, the company’s editor and art director had resigned, leaving only Lee.

“I was 17 and I found myself the editor pro-tem until they could find somebody older,” he recalled, “but they never found anybody.”

So, he spent the next 20 years writing no fewer than two comic books a week, moving from one trend or cycle to another. Westerns, romance, war, fantasy — whatever was in vogue, Lee wrote it.

“But, we weren’t really making our mark,” he said. “We were like a Grade B movie producer. I was just doing what I was told, because I never took comics serious. I always thought of it as a temporary job. Then, after I’d been in it about 20 years, I decided I would do the kind of book I’d read.”

The result, in 1961, was the Fantastic Four, a departure from previous comics in that “they argued amongst themselves, complained about their pay and once were even evicted from their penthouse headquarters for being behind in their rent,” Lee said.

Bill Bixby (left) and Lou Ferrigno in “The Incredible Hulk” TV series.

Soon, the fan mail started to build, and, then, when Lee created a green-skinned character called the Hulk, “our popularity catapulted.”

Spider-Man, a superhero with everyday problems — and Marvel’s top seller — followed in 1962, and soon Lee’s comics had become a cult with college readers.

At that time, the leading comics publisher still was DC Comics, the home of Superman and Batman. “We were always highly competitive with DC,” Lee said, “and we started way behind them. But we had a steady climb.”

By 1968, Spider-Man had passed Superman as the most popular comics character, and in the early 1970s Marvel had “one of our biggest triumphs” when it began to outsell DC overall, Lee said.

The secret to Marvel’s success? “We did it by being realistic,” Lee said. “We were asking the reader for a suspension of belief … to accept a character with green skin. But, given that, we said, we’ll tell you stories about that character as realistic as possible, as if he really existed in a real world, with real problems.

An issue of Marvel’s Pizzazz magazine, published 1977-79.

“On the contrary, I didn’t find any realism in Batman and Robin. If I was a superhero, I don’t think I’d pal around with a 15-year-old kid, day and night. At the very least, people would begin to talk. And, Superman. As Clark Kent, he wore glasses … and then he just took off his glasses, and suddenly Lois Lane couldn’t recognize him.”

Lee also said he “tried to use college-level vocabulary, or even above. We didn’t lose any younger readers at all. At worst, they had to use the dictionary a little. And, we gained the college reader.”

Although Lee became Marvel’s publisher in 1972, he serves “mostly as creative director. It’s my job to make sure we’re doing the right type of magazines, and come up with new ideas and new areas to explore.

“We’re always looking for new themes and formats, trying to satisfy the older reader. [A recent comic paired Spider-Man with NBC-TV’s Not Ready for Prime Time Players.] The toughest part is to appeal to college kids without sex and violence. But, we can’t inject more sex, because, no matter how expensive the magazine, we know that younger kids will still read them,” he said.

Lee hasn’t ignored the youngsters, though. Marvel started publishing Pizzazz, a general interest magazine for the 9-to-14-year-old set last year. However, Lee said he found the general interest format “too weak for a newsstand magazine, so we’re changing it to make it a humor magazine, sort of a cross between Mad and National Lampoon, without the sex.”

Another Marvel publication is Crazy, which is basically a Mad magazine look-alike. “I’m not proud of the [lack of] originality of that,” Lee said, “but I hope it will be to Mad like Penthouse is to Playboy. And, I’ll settle for that.”

Marvel’s Beatles comic book.

On the other hand, he said, Marvel has pioneered the rock ’n’ roll comic book, with editions starring Kiss and The Beatles published so far. “It occurred to us that the same people that are into rock are reading comic books,” he said.

In addition to films, books and newspaper comic strips, Marvel also has moved into TV, with “The Hulk” and “Spider-Man” making it to the tube this past season, and “Dr. Strange” and “Captain America” due this fall. But, while “The Hulk” show pleases him, Lee feels the producers of “Spider-Man” have missed the fact that “the whole appeal of the character is the contrast and conflict between his private life as Peter Parker and his life as Spider-Man. The comic book version is more adult and sophisticated than the TV version.”

Of course, for Lee’s millions of readers, that should be no surprise. After all, when was the last time you heard the word escutcheon on “Laverne and Shirley”?

Stan Lee with the cast of “The Big Bang Theory.”

Post-script: In 1978, when this interview was done, Marvel was just starting to enter television, and hadn’t yet begun producing movies.

After some halting efforts that mostly were unsuccessful, aside from the Bill Bixby “Hulk” series, Marvel finally started Marvel Studios (later bought by Disney) in the 1990s, and, in the new millennium, launched the ultra-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s “Iron Man.”

Following his retirement from Marvel Comics, Lee remained the company’s figurehead and became a pop culture icon, making quite a few film and TV appearances, ranging from cameos in Marvel productions, to guesting in an episode of top-rated sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” He died at age 95 on Nov. 12, 2018.

My article in Marvel’s Pizzazz magazine.

On a personal note, Marvel’s Pizzazz magazine, mentioned in my article, only lasted 16 issues, folding in 1979, and was known mainly for running a “Star Wars” comic strip. But, while it was around, I did manage to get published there, being commissioned by the editors to do a short profile of an Atlanta disc jockey who had gone by the name Machine Gun Gary on the air, and who had switched over to being a commodities broker. They ended up completely rewriting my piece, to put it into what I called “Marvelese,” but I was paid well for doing it. And, I guess it briefly made me a small part of Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe.

— Bill King

My Evening With the Killer

Jerry Lee Lewis, aka the Killer.

Rock ’n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died at age 87. I met and interviewed the man known as the Killer back in December 1981, when he came to metro Atlanta for a show at a country music nightclub. Many in the audience believed that it might be their last chance to see Lewis, who had survived a serious health scare earlier that year. In reality, the Killer was around another 41 years. That evening, I got to spend quite a bit of time backstage with Lewis and his teenage daughter Phoebe, who ended up providing a photo to go with my article. Talking with the Killer was rather like being in the middle of an off-the-cuff performance by a legend (a word he used quite a bit, in referring to himself).  It was one of my more memorable nights on the music beat. Here’s how it went …

It might be a bone-chilling Thursday night in December, but the house is packed at Country Roads, a smoky country music club just off Interstate 20 in Lithonia. Some of these folks arrived three or four hours ago, just to make sure they got a seat. They don’t want to miss what some of them believe to be their last chance to see a living legend while he’s still living.

The Killer might be back after a brush with death just a few months ago, but a good many in the Country Roads crowd are wondering just how much longer rock ’n’ roll’s original hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-loving wild man will be around. “I didn’t want to miss this,” one young woman says. “This may be the last time. …”

That would make the Killer laugh. Obviously, these people don’t know Jerry Lee Lewis. It takes more than a ruptured stomach, three weeks in intensive care and a two-month hospitalization to stop a Legend. And, as Jerry Lee Lewis still tells you at every opportunity, he is a Legend. No. 1. And, don’t forget that, son.

Showtime is supposed to be 10 p.m., but nobody’s surprised that Lewis is running a little behind. He’s quietly ushered into the dressing room in back of the big room at 10 till 10, and won’t take the stage for almost an hour. After all, you don’t expect a Legend to live by the clock.

His band opens the show with a warm-up number, and then cheers start to swell as the Killer, looking almost frail now, is escorted through the audience and up to the stage, where he takes his customary place in front of the piano, mic stand placed between his legs.

“They tell me he’s straight now,” a local country music DJ says out in the crowd, “but he looks terrible.”

Indeed, the painfully thin man in the spotlight certainly doesn’t look up to a night of rockin’ and rollin’.

So much for appearances. Lewis may no longer be stomping on the piano keys with his feet, kicking his stool across the stage and standing on top of his instrument as he wiggles his hips — the vintage Jerry Lee Lewis trademarks that always have bordered on self-parody, without ever going over the edge — but the voice is still there, strong and resonant, as he launches into Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”

An interesting choice for an opener. A walk of any duration in the Killer’s shoes might prove too much for most folks.


The difference between today’s Jerry Lee Lewis and the one Atlantans saw this past February isn’t that obvious from the stage. But, in the dressing room before the show, the change is more striking. In place of the cheeky performer with a slight paunch is a man who looks older than his 46 years. The blond curls that hung in his face as a youngster are now clipped short and brown, sweeping back in slight waves from the gaunt face, with its prominent cheekbones. He still hasn’t gained back 20 of the 32 pounds he lost during his recent illness.

Clad in a brown velour pullover, jeans, tan shoes and with a heavy gold medallion around his neck (positively conservative compared with the tux with leopard-skin lapels that he sported back in the ’50s), the Killer is relaxed as he sits on a couch, toying with an unlit pipe and joking with band members and relatives.

Sitting next to him is Stone Mountain resident J.W. Brown, whom Lewis introduces as his former bass player, second cousin and “ex-daddy-in-law.” Road manager J.W. Whitten keeps a watchful eye on his charge from across the room, while Lewis’ 18-year-old daughter, Phoebe, an attractive blonde photography student who lives with her Realtor mother, Myra, in Stone Mountain, moves about the room, taking photos of her father.

The Killer’s daughter, Phoebe, took this shot of her father while I was interviewing him.

I ask Lewis how he’s feeling. “With my fingers! How am I feelin’ now, son? I’ll tell ya.” He pauses thoughtfully, then answers as if reciting a song lyric: “I feel better all over more than anywhere else. That make any sense? Think about it. I feel better all over more than anywhere else. I feel good!”

“I think he looks as good tonight as I’ve seen him,” Brown says.

Lewis cuts him off with mock impatience. “I know I look good,” he says. “I’d look good dead. But, the thing about it: I’m a livin’ … lovin’ … wreck! Legend! Genius! Name the trip, I have done it.”

No false modesty here. The Killer brags incessantly, whether it’s about his Lear jet, his sexual prowess or how many contemporaries he has outlasted. “Why should I be modest?” he says, his voice rising in volume, in the style of the Pentecostal preacher he once considered becoming. “A legend, modest?”

Lewis is in a reflective, nostalgic mood this evening. He and Brown are reminiscing about those early days at Sun Records and their use of one of the first solid-body electric bass guitars.

“We go back to 1956, you know,” the Killer says in a lazy, slurring drawl, barely more than a mumble. “I got him to go up and get the first Fender electric bass in Memphis. I’d noticed this group called the Coasters … not the Coasters, the, uh, I don’t know. They was a colored group, goodies, but, hell, I can’t think of ’em. They were the first group to have a Fender bass. So, Alan Freed had ’em in one of his little movies and I saw it [he imitates the sound of the bass] and I said, Heyah! Man, if a person had that onstage, and the way I hook up a piano [he pronounces it “pee-an-uh”), with a violin pickup, which nobody’d ever seen … a blind man in Natchez, Mississippi, taught me. Paul Whitehead. He’s dead.”

The monologue, punctuated by obscenities and crudities, rises in tempo and volume as Lewis warms up. He spits the words out in a single breath, sometimes running them together in a sort of country jive that’s increasingly harder to decipher as he becomes more excited. At other times, he makes masterful use of the dramatic pause and inflection. He might not be onstage yet, but he is performing. And loving it.

He continues: “An electric bass onstage and a man who’d never played it before, and I showed him how to play it. I said, ‘This is what I want you to do, can you do that?’ And [he looks at Brown now, grinning], he said, ‘Anybody could do that,’ and he was right. Anybody could have done it. The thing about it: Nobody had done it. We did it. But, that electric bass, those licks, that piano and amplifier, and a set of drums — we sounded like Guy Lombardo’s orchestra. We were rockin’ and rollin’.”

The Killer in his heyday.

Did he think of it as rock ’n’ roll when he first started playing? “I thought of it as just pure gospel, man,” he says, tilting his head back and jutting out his chin in a characteristically cocky pose. “I was preachin’ my sermon. And makin’ it stick! Even when it got me denounced out of Bible school.”

He began playing “before I was born, I think.” He laughs heartily at his own joke. “I was 8 years old when I got my first piano [a Starck upright that he still has]. Mama and Daddy mortgaged their home and 60 acres [in Ferriday, Louisiana] for that piano. And then lost them.”

He was, he claims, not only a natural musical talent (he taught himself to play piano and drums and learned guitar from his father), but a born rebel. “Very revolutionary, man, yessir. Revolutionary in my walkin’ and talkin’ and my lovin’. Revolutionary. Just can’t help it. Always have been.”

Lewis grew up absorbing musical influences from the “Grand Ole Opry” on the radio, the Assembly of God church his family attended, and Haney’s Big House, a local Black nightclub frequented by Memphis bluesmen.

By the time he was 15, Lewis was playing in a band at a Natchez nightclub, and had begun a brief marriage to Dorothy Barton. A short stint at Southwest Bible School in Waxahachie, Texas, a turn at selling sewing machines and another marriage to Jane Mitcham (this one yielding a son, Jerry Lee Lewis Jr.) preceded his full-time entry into the music business in 1956.

His uninhibited, pumping piano style won over Sam Phillips of Memphis’ Sun Records (Elvis Presley’s first label), who signed him. Lewis’ second record, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” — recorded in one take and released early in 1957 — topped the pop, country and R&B charts, racking up some 6 million sales.

John Lennon once said that nobody in rock ever improved on “Whole Lotta Shakin’,” and Lewis, not unexpectedly, agrees. “It’s the most perfect rock ’n’ roll record that has ever been, or ever will be made. And John Lennon was nobody’s fool. But, he’s dead. And many others. And allllll these damn people that just know it all. I buried ’em.”

He pauses, to let that skin in. “The Killer is still here.”

Jerry Lee Lewis carefully developed an image as a brash wild man.

For a while, the Killer rivaled the King with such international hits as “Great Balls of Fire,” “Breathless” and “High School Confidential.” His appearances on the Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark TV shows made him a sensation. Whether he was running his comb licentiously through his long hair, flashing that familiar sneer, or just beating his piano into submission (once, he even set fire to it), Jerry Lee Lewis was like nothing the audience ever had seen before.

Then, in the fall of 1958, he arrived in Great Britain to find the newspaper headlines screaming about his recent marriage to 13-year-old Myra Brown, J.W.’s daughter and the Killer’s third-cousin.

His superstardom — some 25 million records sold in 18 months — ended almost overnight. Back in the U.S., radio stations blacklisted his records, and the hits — with the exception of “What’d I Say” in 1961 — stopped coming.

He retreated to the Sun Belt honky-tonk circuit and continued releasing records with a frustrating lack of success. You’d think it would have made him bitter, daughter Phoebe Lewis says, “but he’s not at all. There are times when he gets mad and fed up, and won’t talk to reporters and all, but it surprises me he’s not bitter about the treatment he got.”

Finally, in 1968, Lewis turned completely to recording country music, and soon was hitting the country Top 10 with such songs as “Another Place, Another Time” and “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me).”

His personal life was another story. Myra divorced him in 1970 and he lost his son, Jerry Jr., in a 1973 car accident. (Steve Allen Lewis, his first child by Myra, had drowned at age 3 in 1962.)

A tempestuous marriage to Jaren Pate (they’re now separated), lawsuits stemming from his accidental shooting of a member of his band, tax problems (the IRS auctioned off his cars, motorcycles, guns and diamonds to partially satisfy a lien on $274,000 in back taxes) and arrests resulting from his battles with drink and drugs have kept the Killer in the news during the past few years.

Lurid tales of this period made headlines last fall during the Memphis trial of Dr. George Nichopoulos, who was accused (and acquitted) of providing Lewis and Presley with tremendous amounts of amphetamines and other drugs.

Lewis says none of this publicity about his drug habit bothered him. “I could have cared less about that.” Bad publicity means nothing to a charmer like Lewis. “Any fan of mine, anybody that likes me just a little bit, I will eventually win over completely,” he says.

But, it bothered his daughter Phoebe to have all of this made public.

Jerry Lee Lewis and daughter Phoebe at her high school graduation.

“Unfortunately,” she says, “it was true. So, whether it made me mad or not, there’s not a whole lot I could say about it.”

Then, this past June, came the stomach pains, just before he was supposed to appear at a Fourth of July show at Stone Mountain. Spitting up blood, Lewis was taken from his Nesbit, Mississippi, ranch to a Memphis hospital, where doctors operated twice and gave him a 50-50 chance of pulling through.

“He had indigestion,” Phoebe recalls, “and took an Alka-Seltzer or something, and his stomach just exploded. That 50-50 business they released was bullshit. The doctors told me after he’d recovered that they thought he had only a 5 percent chance of living. He’s an amazing man.”

Lewis was so weak when visited in the hospital by old friend Johnny Cash that he could communicate only with hand signals. But, he says quietly, “I didn’t even think about dyin’, whatsoever. If I had, I probably would have died. Defeat is one word I’ve never really used.”

Did such a close call change his life? “It changed my life completely,” he says. “It’s educated me enough to know that I … It’s made me think a lot, yes. Slowed me down from drinkin’ a lot. Slowed me down from fuckin’ too much. Slowed me down from takin’ too many chances. I mean, in other words, it made me realize that I was 46 years old, and not 21 or 31 or 41. I was 46.”

A wicked grin breaks the sober mood. “So, yeah, I took another look at my life, and I went out and I fucked more women. I wrecked more cars. I flew more planes. I drank more whiskey. But, I don’t take any more dope.”

He turns to Brown. “A hell of a speech, wasn’t it?”

So, the Killer hasn’t really changed, has he? Lewis furrows his brow and gives a reproachful look. “How could I ever change what I am? How could anyone change what they are? I can remember when I was a kid, every time they had altar call at church, I was right down there. But, I’ve never been a hypocrite. I haven’t lived it, and I know it. I am what I am! Not what you want me to be, uh-uh.”

“He was always just like he is now,” Brown says. “Doesn’t give a damn and tells it like it is. I ain’t never seen anything like him.”

Lewis says he views his life with no regrets. “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen it all. I’ve had happy times beyond the realm of imagination that I can never go back and capture again. But, I have happy times now.”

Those include seeing more of Phoebe, who hasn’t lived with him now for 11 years (although she did spend two summers touring with him as a backup singer, before deciding she wasn’t cut out to be a performer). Lewis spent the Christmas holidays here with her and his ex-wife.

“Amazingly,” she says, “I have a close relationship with my father. It’s not really a father-daughter relationship, though Jerry would like it to be. But, he wasn’t there to discipline me when I was little, and it’s too late for him to start now.”

The man she knows, she says, is warm, compassionate and giving. Not a legend.

Hearing that pleases Lewis inordinately, but he still doesn’t want to let go of a reputation he says he “developed” and “earned.” Road manager Whitten says there’s no way the Killer could have done all he’s reputed to have done. To that, Lewis adds: “But I done most of it. I think I deserve everything I got.”

Lewis was back on the road a month after getting out of the hospital and says he’s happy to be performing. “This is my life.”

He says he’s finally gotten that “heavy eagle off my back,” a reference to the IRS, and is negotiating a new record deal (he has no label now). He might cut a gospel album. He’d like to make one good movie. But, as for actual plans, he says he doesn’t know what he’ll be doing.

“Yes, you do,” Phoebe interjects. “He’s gonna be doin’ the same thing he’s doin’ now, forever. That’s all he knows how to do.”

“All I know how to do,” the Killer repeats. “That’s very true, baby.”


Onstage, those staccato piano licks ring out, and the Killer runs his elbow up and down the keys. “Middle Age Crazy,” “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” “Chantilly Lace,” “Great Balls of Fire” — the mixture of country ballads and rockers brings the audience to its feet.

A last look at a living legend? Not likely. The Killer says it all in the song “Rockin’ My Life Away.” His voice blares from the speakers with conviction as he cries: “My name is Jerry Lee Lewis, and I’m damn sure here to stay.”

Bill King

Fairground memories: Rides, games, smells and ‘fried something-on-a-stick’

That’s me at left, wearing glasses and leaning on the counter, with brother Jonathan (center) and our dad, William D. King (far right) in the Evening Optimist Club fair booth in the late 1960s. (King family)

Autumn’s here, and that means it’s the season for county-state fairs and carnivals, though there aren’t nearly as many of them around as when I was a kid. I’ve written a reminiscence for the AJC of what it was like at the Athens Agricultural Fair back then. Below is an expanded version, with many more memories of the fair from folks who grew up in my hometown.

Anyone who grew up in the 1960s remembers that special week each fall when the local fairgrounds suddenly came to life, with neon lights blazing and a cacophony of noises — music blaring, kids screaming on the carnival rides, barkers trying to attract suckers to the games of chance, and prize cattle mooing mournfully.

At night, a big draw was the view for miles from the Ferris wheel, where many a first kiss was exchanged at the top (if not in the darkened Tunnel of Love).

Remember the Tilt-a-Whirl, Kamikaze and Toboggan? And, for younger kids, the bumper cars and merry-go-round?

Athens children who were members of Future Farmers of America pose with their livestock at the 1961 Athens Agricultural Fair. (Johnny H. Kesler)

And, who could resist the midway, with the funhouse’s distorted mirrors and the haunted house’s hokey skeletons, fake cobwebs and occasional jump scare?

My brothers and I always looked forward to late October, when the Athens Agricultural Fair had a weeklong run at the grounds on Hawthorne Avenue that now is now Bishop Park.

There had been various fairs held in Athens for decades, but the Athens Agricultural Fair began in the late 1940s, and for a while was held at the American Legion field  near Sanford Stadium. The fair seems to have moved to the Hawthorne site sometime in the 1950s.

We frequently went to the fair with friends, usually on a weekday after school, but we also went with my banker father, who was a member of the Evening Optimist Club, which ran one of the food concession stands as a fundraiser.

Ask about memories of the fair and the one thing most people mention is that intoxicating smell, as the scents of popping corn, cooking caramel, frying meat, pastries, wet straw and diesel fuel mixed with an occasional whiff of livestock on display.

It seemed the weather always turned cool right about time for the fair. “I always looked forward to the sights, sounds and smells provided at the fairgrounds on a cool, crisp evening,” recalled Helen Barrett Penter. “The smell made it seem like a special place.”

Back in the 1960s, the most exotic food available at the Athens fair was cotton candy. (Sweet Cotton)

Betz Tillitski remembers that “as your parent’s car got closer, you would get that first glimpse of the brightly lit Ferris wheel. We were entering a different world. I was so excited to get inside the fair and start exploring. The bright lights, loud and corny music and so many things to smell gave me information overload, but I loved every minute of it. … Everything looked and felt exotic.”

Actually, Betz didn’t love everything: “The people working at the fair looked seedy and scary. I would stare and keep moving,” she recalled. 

“The fair was something you looked forward to every year,” said Blake Giles. “As an adult now, you notice how rundown some of the modern carnivals are, but, as a kid, it was all magical. I loved going at night, when it was lit up. But, Mother made me take a nap if we went at night. Who could sleep when such excitement loomed?”

“I couldn’t wait for my Dad to take me. I got almost as excited as Christmas,” Charles Isbell said.

The Toboggan was one of the popular carnival rides set up each October at the Athens Agricultural Fair. (Skerbeck Family Carnival)

Anne Segrest Freeze remembers the fair differently, depending on her age at the time. When she was young, she said, “I went with my Daddy. And, then as a tween, our parents would drop us off, and we’d look for cute boys.”

Roxann Malcolm Eberhart remembers, “We also would run into our friends to hang out with. We always felt safe, and our parents let us run free. We would never do that today. … I wish our kids and grandkids could enjoy the simpler times like we had at the fair.”

Of course, the fair was open that week rain or shine, and Kyle Brown remembers “they put straw down on the main thoroughfares, to deal with the mud. I don’t recall it ever being really muddy, but they knew the grass was going to get ground to paste, regardless, so there was always straw.”

Straw was a factor in another fair ritual, too, with some Athens kids showing up at the fairgrounds each year the day after the fair closed, to search for change that people had dropped in the ground covering.

The fairgrounds had other uses, too, besides the October fair. Circuses would set up there some years, and, in 1970, the National Guard camped there when it came to down during some racial unrest. The fairgrounds also was used to burn hundreds of trees downed when two tornadoes hit nearby neighborhoods during the spring of 1973.

But, most of us only ever went there for the October fair, where another attraction was the food, which Dan Pelletier summed up as “corn dogs, popcorn and fried something-on-a-stick.”

When I was a boy, I used to eat the sweet coating off a caramel apple at the fair and then toss the remainder of the fruit. (AJC file)

For many kids, a chance to gorge junk food your mom never would make was a big attraction, but not for Tom Hodgson. “Everything was either too big or too sweet or too sticky,” he said.

Nowadays, carnival food has become a much more expansive category than it was back in the day. There’s a cookbook entitled “Fair Foods” that glorifies such things as cheesecake on a stick, fried Coca-Cola, giant barbecue turkey legs and spicy peanut butter and jelly burgers, and there’s even a Cooking Channel show called “Carnival Eats.”

Looking at what’s served these days, I’ve concluded that any food you can think of can be found deep-fried at a carnival, ranging from pickles to peanuts to Oreos to ice cream to s’mores to Mars bars to mac and cheese bites to Twinkies to cookie dough to a stick of butter inside a pastry crust. Plus, of course, there are various things dipped in chocolate, from bacon to bananas, and — the peak of carnival cuisine — the funnel cake, which itself has evolved into increasingly elaborate permutations, ranging from red velvet funnel cake to cheeseburgers where funnel cakes replace the buns!

Back when I was attending the Athens fair, though, funnel cakes hadn’t yet shown up. I didn’t encounter them until adulthood, when I took my kids to one of the traveling carnivals that used to set up once or twice a year in the parking lot at the mall near our house.

(To this day, my daughter Olivia never has been to a county or state fair. My son Bill never attended a fair until he was an adult and moved to Raleigh, where he’s attended the state fair several times.)

However, Peggy Corry Bodie remembers the Athens fair having something called “elephant ears,” a churro-like fried dough treat with powdered sugar or cinnamon on top that appears to have been a predecessor of the funnel cake.

The most exotic thing we encountered at the fair in those days was cotton candy. Christeen McClary Mix remembers eating it every year, “not so much the taste, but the fun of watching them spin it onto the cone.”

I wasn’t a fan of cotton candy — it made your hands and face all sticky and blue. Alice McClendon recalls that colorful stickiness “getting it all over the car.”

And, then there were the caramel apples (I’d eat the caramel and then toss the rest of the apple), caramel-covered popcorn, neon-colored snow cones and fried pies.

Corn dogs are a staple of concession stands at county fairs. (Associated Press)

Plus, of course, the burgers, hot dogs and fries peddled by my Dad and the other Optimists at their stand. Fortunately, I was among the club members’ older children who were allowed to work behind the counter there, which was a bigger thrill than it might sound, because, while we didn’t get paid, we could eat for free!

There’s just something about a burger or hot dog, fries and Coke at an outdoor event that seems special — especially when you don’t have to pay for them.

Still, with Dad or one of his friends watching, those of us from the younger generation working the counter generally restrained ourselves from overdoing it.

I remember enjoying hearing the club members exchanging slightly adult jokes in front of me (which made me feel very grown-up), and I still can hear my father’s friend Mahlon Edwards growling, “beep-beep, beep-beep,” as he carried a hot dog cooker full of water through the crowded space. Mostly, the Optimist kids were kept out of the cooking area, though Mahlon’s daughter, Mahla, noted recently, “I still can point proudly to a small scar” from one time she “rubbed accidentally up against the fryer arm.” 

There usually was one afternoon during fair week — probably the day students got in free or at a steep discount — where the booth mostly was run by children of the members, with just one or two of the adults handling the cooking in the back. (In the years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, there also was a designated “colored people” day for Black folks to attend the fair, but that had gone away by the time I was attending regularly. We had a lot of Black customers any day of the week at the Optimist booth.)

My favorite time to work at the fair was on Saturday night, and I remember that every other year it coincided with Georgia and Kentucky playing a night football game in Lexington, and we had the game on the radio in the booth.

Our fare at the Optimist booth was pretty limited — hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, gum, candy, crackers, cigarettes (we kids didn’t handle those), along with the drinks: Coke, Pepsi, orange, as well as hot chocolate and coffee, which were particularly popular at night. One thing we didn’t have, but were asked for constantly, was foot-long hotdogs (or “foot-longs,” as fairgoers called them). We had to direct those customers to the Jaycees’ stand.

Another memory of working in the booth that has stuck with my brother Jonathan is the dehydrated onions that were used. “That was the first time I’d ever seen that,” he said. (Mom used to dice up fresh onions at home.)

Saturday also was the last night of the fair, and I remember how we’d slash prices — and even give stuff away for free — as the closing hour approached. One year, there were leftover frozen burgers that we took home and enjoyed all winter.

University of Georgia student Doug Vinson managed to stay in the ring 3 minutes with Victor the wrestling bear. (Doug Vinson)

It wasn’t all work, though. We could take extended breaks and wander around. I mostly steered clear of the sideshows, where a mix of fake and real “human oddities” — ranging from the “bearded” lady to the “gorilla girl” — were displayed. Brother Jon recalls walking by the bearded lady tent and being shocked when she came out front, though he allows, “It may have been a guy in a dress.”

Along those lines was the “amazing transformation” of “Sheena” into a gorilla, as recalled by Lynn Doster Boyd: “Sheena would start out looking like Jane from Tarzan, then, as the announcer talked about long fangs expanding from her mouth and claws on her hands and feet, they would drop a black cloth down over the cage. When she reappeared, she would be in a furry gorilla costume. … She would start shaking the cage like she was coming out, then one time she did! We were so scared, but I do remember laughing once we got out safely.”

The carnies weren’t too careful about checking ages at the so-called “adult” sideshows, so you could have a 16-year-old girl (one of my classmates) running traumatized from the tent after the “Half-Man, Half-Woman” lifted their dress and was revealed as intersex (possessing both male and female genitalia), or a 13-year-old boy finding out what was concealed behind the pasties and G-strings of the strippers in the “hoochie coochie” show.

My classmate who saw the Half-Man, Half-Woman said she was so “freaked out” that she’d never mentioned the experience until she told me about it.

“When I think about it now,” she said, “I’m devastated for her to have been exposed like that!”

Meanwhile, another classmate, Susan Middlebrooks, refused to join her friends going into the “freak” shows. “I never could handle people being made fun of,” she said.

As for the strip show, Terry Smart remembers one time, when he was 15 and helping his father out at the Kiwanis concession stand, “I took a break and decided to see if I could get in the hoochie coochie show.”

He was successful, but, while he was inside the show tent, “I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my Dad. He promptly grabbed my arm and marched me back to the Kiwanis booth. He stated we should never take a break at the same time! It was my first and last time at the hoochie show.”

Lee Eidson remembers “my mother telling me not to look at ‘those women’ standing in front of the hoochie coochie show as we passed by, and me wondering why there were so many men standing out front!”

A sign advertising Victor the wrestling bear’s TV appearances and famous conquests. (Doug Vinson)

And, then, there was Victor, the wrestling bear, going up against those brave (or drunk) enough to try. While at the University of Georgia, Doug Vinson took on Victor for a school newspaper story. He lasted 3 minutes.

“Even with the trainer right next to us, it was a bit unnerving being in the ring,” Doug recalled. “I had watched the bear easily push around three hulking brutes before I stepped into the cage. Victor about knocked my head off when he was swinging his right paw, plus I don’t think he’d had a bath since he’d left the wilds.”

Doug also recalled that the bear, who “slobbered all over me during the few minutes I was in the ring,” would guzzle a few bottles of Coke between bouts.

“The fall fair in Athens was wonderful as a kid,” Doug added. “I looked forward all year to riding the bumper cars and jumping on all those rickety rides put together by the colorful carnie characters.”

For many folks, of course, the main reason to go to the fair was those hopefully not too rickety rides, which were assembled with the help of local boys as young as 13 who showed up at the fairgrounds on setup day.

“I worked hard all day spreading a tent and pushing up support poles,” David Burger recalled. But, at the end of the day, when the foreman pulled a huge wad of cash out, “I remember being quite pleased with the amount; probably the most money I had ever earned at that point in my young life.”

Speaking of money, Nita Norton remembers “saving up my baby-sitting money for the rides.”

Farm and home displays like this one were a part of the Athens Agricultural Fair. (University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)

I wasn’t too fond of the “thrill” rides — I’d heard too many tales of people throwing up — but I did enjoy the flyer that swung back and forth in increasing arcs. And, I loved colliding with other kids in the bumper cars.

However, I didn’t really trust the Ferris wheel, and I wasn’t the only one. Said Blake Giles: “I was afraid the seat would tip over backward.”

Chris Hale recalls the “scariest” ride being the Scrambler, aka the Twister, on which suspended riders spun around, experiencing centrifugal force.

A ride also figures in another of Betz Tillitski’s fair memories. “My best friend, Gail Wilfong, promised me that, if I rode the Tea Cups with her, she would not touch the center wheel — that made the individual cup spin wildly. She lied. She spun it as much as she could while I was yelling in her ear to stop. Gail would not be denied. She laughed; I tried not to get sick. Over 50 years have passed, and I still have not completely forgiven her.”  

Debbie Settle said her favorite ride was the bumper cars, while Susan Middlebrooks’ favorite “was the Tilt-a-whirl. I remember no one wanted to sit on the right side of the car, because they would be crushed by the other two sitting to the left.”

The same thing happened on the Scrambler, and some teenage boys getting on the ride with a girl looked forward to their date being pushed up against them.

Debbie also remembers “the first year of the double Ferris wheel and the excitement of coming over the top. I could manage the height, but anything that turned me upside down was not something I could do.”

Susan, meanwhile, was “terrified to ride the Bullet, and never did.”

Owen Scott found the bumper cars “fun” and said the Himalaya ride “was kind of smooth. It was a pink roller coaster that wasn’t very steep. There was a Spook House ride, where mechanical hands came down and mussed your hair. It wasn’t actually scary.”

Added Owen: “It wasn’t hard to entertain kids back then. The novelty was what made it exciting.”

Fred Birchmore said he “always liked the Zipper, which was two rotating rocket ships at the ends of a huge noisy, grinding spinning girder. I imagined that, if I ever got rich enough, I’d have one in my backyard. It was sickening to ride, but a great place to find coins beneath, as it made every rider’s money rain out of their pockets.”

Mark Sanders said one of his most memorable days involving the fair was something he and other boys at the Athens YMCA, across the street from the fairgrounds, got to see while “waiting for our parents in the carpool line after football practice. The Toboggan got stuck at its pinnacle, and the stranded patrons actually had to be rescued by the heroic Athens Fire Department hook and ladder team.”

Joe Costa said his favorite event at the fair “was not a ride, but it was the dunk tank. I used to be a very accurate pitcher, and it gave me great pleasure to see the guy in the cage disappear into the water tank multiple times when I had baseballs in my hand!”  

This pig was among the farm animals entered in competition one year at the Athens Agricultural Fair. (University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)

There were some family-friendly and relatively tame attractions, too. Yvonne Davenport remembers riding a pony for the first time at the fair with her oldest brother. Remembering that, she said, “brings a smile to my face.”

She also has fond recollections of “taking pictures in the photo booth … and holding my mother’s hand as we dragged her around the fair. She was a good sport, and my father always left work early, to make sure we could go as soon as school was out.”

In addition to checking out the rides and Midway, I usually did a quick walk-through of the long, low building that housed all of the blue-ribbon jams, jellies, pies and cakes, but I had little interest in the pens of cows and pigs.

The latter provided a lasting fair memory for William “Ort” Carlton, who recalls “meeting a piglet, bristles and all.

Some farm girl handed me a piglet. … It wasn’t the least bit scared. … It loved having me scratch under its chin. ‘It’s smiling!’ she said. ‘Look how tight its tail is curled. That means it’s happy.’ When I handed it back, it let out a little squeal. ‘You made it happy,’ the girl told me. ‘You’ve made a friend!’”

Another concession stand at the Athens Fair, down the line from the Optimist Club, was Fleming’s. (Johnny H. Kesler)

For several years, there also was a Shetland pony show, organized by Ralph Snow, the former mayor of Athens, who ran Snow Tire Co. downtown (where Creature Comforts brewery now is located).

Kathy Snow Segars, his daughter, remembers she and a couple of friends getting to participate. “We sat in folding chairs next to the judges’ table and presented the winning ribbons,” she said. “We had sashes saying ‘Ribbon Girl’ and we were proud to wear them out in the fair, to the rides.”

While the farm displays were not for me, Johnny Kesler recalled that “back in the ’50s, boys that were raised on the farm took FFA [Future Farmers of America] at Athens High School. And it was a big deal to show your farm animals.”

Although I didn’t spend much time around the livestock, I did check out the prize-winning crafts and quilts.

“I enjoyed watching the judging,” recalled Roxann Eberhart, who was in 4-H and, like the other members, usually had something entered into competition.

I didn’t encounter funnel cakes until I took my kids to one of the traveling carnival ride shows that set up at the mall near our house when they were young. (AJC file)

One of the winners lived next door to us. “In third grade, I entered an apron in the county extension sewing competition. I won a third-place ribbon,” Harriet Anderson recalled. “Two years later, I entered a dress, with matching shawl and purse. I placed for that, also.”

There were educational exhibits at the fair, as well. “I vividly remember seeing my first planned parenthood information in an exhibit at the fair,” Harriet recalled. “In those days my mom couldn’t even begin to explain that to a small child.”

Colleen Drury Jenkins’ favorite fair memories are attending as a family. “My dad was an agricultural engineer, and my mom was a homemaker. We would spend a lot of time looking at the farm animals — I can almost smell them now. And I loved going into the area where the judged work of seamstresses and home canning was displayed. The big blue ribbons on the winning items were so exciting.”

Also along the midway were games, such as throwing ping-pong balls into a fish bowl or breaking balloons with a dart to win a prize.

Chris Hale remembers trying one game where you had to throw a large hoop over a prize strapped to a dowel mounted to a wooden base. The hoop had to clear the base for you to win that prize, but “I don’t think the hoop was large enough to clear the base,” he said. “I never remember seeing anyone win at this game.

However, he did win a green suitcase, playing some game that he doesn’t remember. He used that suitcase for years, he said, and every time, “it brought back memories of the Athens Fair!”

Several fairgoers also remembered an event involving baby ducks. “I remember picking the ducks up out of the water looking at the number on the bottom, which corresponded to a prize on the wall,” Dave Williams said.

Kathy Segars looks back fondly on trying for a prize at the games of chance, even though it was well-known that the folks who ran them “were well versed in cheating their clients. We knew it, they knew it, and it didn’t matter — it was part of going to the fair. My older brother Buddy and his friends spent most of their time trying for a prize, usually to impress one of the junior high-aged girls.”

Even though the carnival episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” had tipped me off that many of the sideshow games were fixed, I did toss the occasional hoop over a bowling pin. I think the only prizes I ever won, though, were a plastic squirt gun and a tall flashlight that ran on about 4 D batteries.

However, some folks had better luck. Betsy Ross Crane, who lived near the fairgrounds, remembers her father tossing coins to win “both a beautiful platter and shaped bowl that we took home to my mom, which I now have today.”

Even better, she said, “on the way out one year, my dad won me three stuffed animals. I remember walking home clutching my stuffed animals, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.”

Bill King

Special thanks to Ann Gagnier of the Athens Regional Library System Heritage Room.

Mom found pleasing our family as easy as pie

Here’s a slightly revised and expanded version of a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

Apple pie generally rates as America’s favorite pie; it certainly was my father’s favorite. (Mary F. Cunningham)

There never was a shortage of delicious desserts in our house when I was growing up.

My mother, Mollie Parry King, had a sweet tooth, as well as a knack for baking and pastry-making. That meant she always was turning out tasty treats, including a pound cake that my wife and daughter swear is the best they’ve ever had.

Despite that, we really were a pie family, influenced in no small part by my father, the first of three generations of Bill King. One of my earliest memories is Dad mimicking a TV commercial done by a folksy Mississippi-born sportscaster in the 1950s. Dad would drawl, “I’m Red Barber, and I laaak pie!”

When Mom would offer a variety of dessert options, as she routinely did, Dad would say he’d have “the variety plate,” meaning a small slice of everything. However, he always preferred pie over just about any other dessert — especially apple pie.

Dad loved just munching on a juicy Yates or Winesap. But, a hot, fresh slice of Mom’s apple pie, maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top, was his favorite.

A slice of apple pie was Dad’s favorite dessert choice. (Mary F. Cunningham)

Not that he turned up his nose at Mom’s peach pie or peach cobbler — she made both of them all year long from fresh peaches she’d frozen during the summer (one of the benefits of living in the Peach State!).

But, while those fruit pies might have topped Dad’s list, they were far from the only offerings in Mom’s house of pies, with choices ranging from strawberry to chocolate to cherry delight. Recently, my middle brother, Jonathan, was reminiscing about that cherry delight, which he said was “one of my favorite pies that Mom made!” It’s a concoction of cream cheese, Cool Whip, cherry pie filling and graham cracker crust. I believe Mom got the recipe from a lady who lived next door to us in the late 1960s.

Another pie that was a family favorite was called cherry delight. (Grandma’s Cooking)

Come the holidays, she served pecan pie and two varieties of pumpkin pie, always pleasing my son Bill. Then, there were the savory pies, like pork, chicken or beef.

Those pies are a staple of British cooking, and we all loved it when Mom would make what she called meat pie (beef or lamb, potatoes and vegetables in pastry). It was a particular favorite of my son, Bill. Mom would make one for him whenever he stopped by for a visit during his time at the University of Georgia in Athens, even when she was in her 80s.

The night after Mom’s funeral in 2008, young Bill teamed up with his Uncle Tim in her Athens kitchen to make “Grandma’s meat pie” one more time for those of us staying at the family home — a loving culinary tribute.

I think it was one of my favorite meals ever served in that house.

Looking back on when my brothers and I were growing up, I think one of the things we liked best about Mom’s pies was her pastry. We enjoyed a wealth of fillings encased in my mother’s buttery, flaky homemade pastry, which was a work of art. Mom always said you either had the touch with pastry, or you didn’t. It wasn’t something that really could be taught.

Me and Mom in the late 1990s. Her knack for pastry made our family pie lovers. (King family)

My family was not alone in enjoying pie, of course. Most people in this country love a good cake, but pie-eating seems to be as American as, well, you know. After all, you see lots of pie-eating contests, from county fairs up to the national level; you don’t see cake-eating contests. And, a pie in the face is a comedy classic. The only time you ever really see that with cake is when the bride and groom smush wedding cake into each other’s faces, and that mostly makes me cringe.

I even have a favorite pie movie — “Waitress,” a whimsical comedy-drama starring Keri Russell as a young woman who deals with adversity by whipping up pies with names like I Hate My Husband Pie (lots of bittersweet chocolate). And then there was the “damn fine cherry pie” in “Twin Peaks.”

Also, don’t forget that pizza is a pie. In fact, a poll showed it’s America’s second-favorite pie, after apple.

Anyway, besides the standards like apple and cherry (which has a wonderful interplay of tart and sweet), my favorite of Mom’s pies was her lemon meringue. I remember she added lemon zest to the filling.

The interplay of tart and sweet is part of what makes a cherry pie so special. (Olivia King)

Even after Mom was gone, pies remained a part of family gatherings. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the time we bought a lemon pie for one holiday meal, only to find no pie in the grocery bag when we got home. (A pie thief must rank among society’s dregs.)

My pie taste has broadened over the years. I don’t recall Mom making it very often, but, once I was grown-up, Key lime pie became a favorite. My wife Leslie and I had a particularly outstanding Key lime pie on vacation one year near Charleston, South Carolina.

Mollie Parry King was known for her desserts, especially anything involving pastry. (King family)

Getting to know my wife’s family included new pies, too. My mother-in-law, Doe Doe Thornton, was known for something called “green pie” (made with lime Jell-O, lime juice and Carnation milk), and a delicious brownie pie that was just what the name implies.

Pie is an international thing, too. I remember Mom’s story about when her father in Wales made a rhubarb pie for the first time. Not knowing any better, he didn’t cut up the stalks of rhubarb, making for a rather unwieldy dish baked in a rectangular bread pan.

Ironically, I don’t remember Mom making rhubarb pie when I was young. The first time I actually had it was when we were staying with my Uncle Bill and Auntie Joan in Wales; it was pretty good. Mom later started making a strawberry-rhubarb pie after she and my youngest brother, Tim, planted rhubarb in the little garden she had off the back patio.

Speaking of Britain, I recall one year we were in the U.K. and the fad there in restaurants was “Mississippi mud pie.” Funnily enough, no one seemed sure what it was, with that name on a different concoction everywhere we tried it.

And, on another trip to Britain, we tried the fish pie (with cod, prawns, salmon and smoked haddock in cream sauce, topped with mustard mashed potatoes) at Geales, in the Notting Hill area of London.

Whether it’s the best in the world, or just the best in New York City, Junior’s Cheesecake was the highlight of a trip to Brooklyn for me and Livvy. (Olivia King)

Another trip that added to our pie hall of fame came when my daughter Olivia and I traveled to Brooklyn, New York, for a wedding. After checking in at the hotel and inquiring about the restaurant there, the bell captain took us aside and suggested that we walk a couple of blocks to a place called Junior’s, which he said was famous for the best cheesecake in New York.

(As far as we’re concerned, cobblers, tarts, cheesecake — anything served in a dish with a crust — is a “pie.” And my favorite food expert, fellow University of Georgia grad Alton Brown, assures us cheesecake is a pie — “a custard pie, to be exact.”)

Olivia gets ready to enjoy a slice of the celebrated cheesecake at Junior’s in Brooklyn, NY. (Bill King)

Actually, Junior’s advertises its star offering as “the world’s most fabulous cheesecake,” and I wouldn’t argue. Their “Famous No. 1 Original Cheesecake” certainly was one of the best we’d ever tasted, with Olivia unable to choose a winner between it and the white-chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust served at the Last Resort Grill in my hometown of Athens.

The Bonzo Slice at Murphy’s, in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, includes fudge brownie, cheesecake and dark chocolate mousse. (Murphy’s)

Cheesecake also figures into Olivia’s other favorite, the Bonzo Slice (with fudge brownie, cheesecake and dark chocolate mousse) served at Murphy’s in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland area.

As for other restaurant offerings, we were partial to the chocolate ice box pie (with candied orange) that was served at Pea Ridge, our neighborhood restaurant in greater Decatur. Unfortunately, the new owners took it off the menu. I still haven’t forgiven them.

The chocolate ice box pie, served with candied orange, was a King family favorite at Pea Ridge in greater Decatur. Unfortunately, it’s no longer on the menu. (Pea Ridge)

It seems there always are new pie horizons to explore. Recently, my niece Jennifer mentioned liking the classic Southern buttermilk pie, which I’d somehow never tried.

So, we ordered some mini buttermilk pies from Biti Pies in Amarillo, Texas, which charmingly came with a personalized note from someone named Skeeter.

Buttermilk pie is a Southern favorite that my family somehow had overlooked until recently. (Olivia King)

It reminded me of chess pie (as Jennifer had said), and my daughter said the creamy filling also put her in mind of Krispy Kremes.

I guess we’ll add it to our list of favorites. Like Red Barber, and my Dad, we laaak pie!

Spread the word: We’re stuck on peanut butter

My family is devoted to Jif, but decided to give a few other brands a try. (Olivia King)

Here’s an expanded version of a column I did in 2019. …

“Man cannot live by bread alone … he must have peanut butter!”

That whimsical twist on a Bible verse, frequently attributed to President James A. Garfield, actually originated with comedian Brother Dave Gardner, a sort of poor man’s Andy Griffith popular in these parts when I was growing up.

For my family, though, it’s always been something of a credo.

We take our peanut butter seriously. It’s estimated the average person in the U.S. eats about 3 pounds of peanut butter a year. My family eats that much in a month.

My daughter Olivia is particularly devoted to the spread, whether in a sandwich or simply eating it out of the jar with a spoon, a la Brad Pitt in “Meet Joe Black.”

The first decade or so of her life, she ate a peanut butter sandwich every day. We used to joke that her diet had two food groups: milk and peanut butter.

Olivia enjoys her first taste of peanut butter after two months in Europe, where it’s not as easy to find. (Bill King)

Eventually, she discovered vegetables, but Olivia still loves peanut butter. “It’s my favorite food,” she said recently.

Really, though, who doesn’t love peanut butter? Culinary god Julia Child liked it on corn chips, New York City chef Larry Forgione eats it between two potato chips, and President Gerald Ford smeared it on his English muffin every morning. I once had dinner with Michael Nesmith, of Monkees fame, and we wound up discussing peanut butter, which he declared “completely salutary.” I walked away impressed that a rock star even knew the word salutary.

Celeb devotees aside, peanut butter is the food of the people. The National Peanut Board says peanut butter accounts for about half of the U.S. edible use of peanuts — about $850 million in retail sales each year. (And Georgia is the No. 1 producer of peanuts in the United States.)

Peanut butter is popular with both children and adults because, in addition to being economical and tasting good, it’s a good source of protein and contains no cholesterol. Plus, it’s high in unsaturated fats, which help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.

It goes well with a lot of other foods, too. My wife, Leslie, loves peanut butter and bananas. Some folks eat it with apples. It makes great desserts, such as peanut butter chiffon pie and peanut butter cookies (including the Girl Scouts’ Do-si-dos), and it blends brilliantly with chocolate, whether you’re talking homemade buckeyes candy or Reese’s peanut butter cups out of the vending machine. Thanks to the remake of Disney’s “The Parent Trap,” some kids who grew up in the 1990s also like peanut butter on their Oreos.

The National Peanut Board says peanut butter accounts for about half of the U.S. edible use of peanuts. The three top-selling brands are, in descending order, Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan. (Olivia King)

Needing a quick supper one night back in my single days, I remembered an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” in which Sheriff Andy’s son, Opie, makes sandwiches for a runaway boy, telling his pa: “I’m makin’ him a peanut butter and bologna, peanut butter and liverwurst, and one with just peanut butter and peanut butter.”

I tried the peanut butter and bologna, and it wasn’t bad. My brother Tim perfected it by adding mayonnaise, “to make it slide down easier.”

Turns out, peanut butter and mayo sandwiches were a Depression-era Southern staple. I sent Tim a link to a Garden & Gun article about that sandwich not long ago, and he responded: “Gotta have bologna in it!”

Although mashed-up peanut paste actually dates back to the Aztecs, peanut butter as we know it today didn’t come along until the late 19th century. Many folks attribute it to George Washington Carver, who promoted more than 300 uses for peanuts, but the peanut board says credit for the actual invention of peanut butter is spread among several other folks: Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Canada, who came up with a peanut paste in 1884; Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame), who in 1895 patented a process for creating peanut butter from raw peanuts; Dr. Ambrose Straub, who in 1903 patented a peanut-butter-making machine; and chemist Joseph Rosefield, who in 1922 invented a process for making peanut butter that kept the oil from separating by using partially hydrogenated oil.

Of the three organic or natural brands of peanut butter that we tried, we liked Whole Foods 365 Organic the best. (Olivia King)

Rosefield licensed his invention to the company that created Peter Pan peanut butter, and eventually began producing his own peanut butter under the name Skippy. The third member of peanut butter’s “big three,” Jif (currently the top seller), didn’t come along until 1958.

Through the years, the TV advertising slogans for those brands have become a part of Americana: “Peter Pan is the p-nuttiest!” “If you like peanuts, you’ll like Skippy.” … “Choosy mothers choose Jif.”

Jif is my choosy daughter’s favorite (it’s what her grandmother served her on peanut butter toast), so that’s what our family buys. We recently checked out the other brands, and Olivia admitted that, per the ads, Peter Pan was “peanuttier,” but it didn’t have Jif’s sweetness, and she didn’t like its aftertaste. Skippy, she found “fake-tasting.” Jif, she said, “has a better mouth feel and is the least oily.”

Whatever your taste preference, there’s probably a peanut butter for you — Jif alone makes 13 varieties, ranging from extra crunchy to omega-3 to whipped to maple.

We prefer to stick with Jif’s original creamy, but we recently tried out three of the leading “organic” peanut butter brands — Trader Joe’s Organic, Whole Foods 365 Organic and Smucker’s Natural. The main problem with all three was the way they separate — the oil sits on top, and the peanut butter is rather liquid; you have to stir quite a bit before you can do anything with it. They also have to be refrigerated after opening.

“Man cannot live by bread alone … he must have peanut butter!” said Southern comedian Brother Dave Gardner, who was popular in the 1950s and ’60s. (Olivia King)

As one of the organic peanut butters dripped off a spoon like cake batter, Leslie wondered: “How would you make a sandwich with that?”

Our verdict: Whole Foods 365 wasn’t bad, but Trader Joe’s had the consistency of glue, and Smucker’s was grainy as well as oily. None of us could even finish a spoonful of it.

Whatever way you like your peanut butter, “It’s the food that defines Americans,” as my wife put it.

Our daughter found that out the hard way. A two-month study-abroad trip to Europe, where our favorite treat is hard to find, was, she recalled, “the longest I’d ever gone without peanut butter.”

Returning home from the trip, Olivia dropped her luggage and made a beeline to the kitchen cabinet, pulled out a jar of Jif and scooped out a heaping spoonful.

The look on her face said it all.


When I originally wrote this piece in 2019, Jif had ruled supreme in our household for many years — ever since a contamination problem had taken our previous preferred brand, Peter Pan, off the market temporarily, and we started buying Jif. Even after Peter Pan returned to store shelves, our daughter, the chief peanut butter lover in our family (if not the world), decreed that we would stick with Jif.

And, so we did, until Jif had its own problems earlier this year and disappeared from stores for quite a few months. For a while, its absence seemed to drive the PB hordes shopping at the two Publix stores we frequent into a buying frenzy, and soon all that was left on the shelves was the house brand. It was dry (making even a spoonful tough to choke down) and not particularly tasty. Olivia’s response was simply to do without until her beloved Jif could return, but I discovered that Skippy, the No. 2 seller to Jif’s No. 1, was available from Amazon.

So, I ordered enough jars of Skippy to last me through the crisis. And, you know what? I found that I didn’t really miss Jif.

An absence of Jif from grocery store shelves gave Skippy a chance … at least, with me. (Bill King)

Once my daughter’s favorite returned to our cupboard, I still had a couple of jars of Skippy, and I compared them, cleansing my palate, as they say, between spoonfuls.

My findings: Jif has a slightly saltier taste; Skippy is a tad creamier. I’m fine with either one.

That’s heresy to my daughter, of course. But, as far as I’m concerned, choosy mothers may choose Jif, as the old ad slogan goes, but Skippy’s 1980s spokeswoman — former Mouseteer and Disney generation heartthrob Annette Funicello — was a mom, too. So, I’m calling it a draw.

Bill King