Delta Boogie Hairy Larry
invites you to
join the
Delta Boogie
email list
Home Network Now! Search Table of Contents Links Music Video Radio Bands

Larry Donn

Birth Date: June 7, 1941

Birth Place: Bono, Arkansas

Current Residence: Bono, Arkansas

Larry Donn Gillihan was born and raised in Bono, Arkansas, a small town just a few miles north of Jonesboro. In the early 1950's he heard his first Rockabilly from Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Sonny Burgess, and Billy Lee Riley as they performed around the Northeast Arkansas area. Larry Donn decided it was time he got in on the act and so he formed his first band in 1957 at the ripe old age of 16. In 1959 he recorded "Honey Bun" on the Vaden label. "Honey Bun" and the flip side "That's What I Call a Ball" have since become Rockabilly standards performed by musicians all over the world.

In the 1980's Europe discovered Rockabilly and Rockabilly discovered a whole new audience. This audience was wild about that fifties tough guy look and that pounding backbeat rhythm that had come straight out of the Blues. Larry Donn became a European Superstar. Touring in Britain, Germany, and Holland he performed for thousands of screaming fans. Today his CDs are sold world wide and Larry Donn memorabilia is worth big bucks on the market. Some early recordings are worth as much as $250 for a single 45 record.

Larry Donn also writes a column, "Rockabilly Days" in the leading American Roots Music publication "Now Dig This". Included below are some of his most popular columns.


Larry Donn's Blues Fest Appearances


  • Blues Fest 92
  • Blues Fest 93
  • Blues Fest 94
  • Blues Fest 95

  • Articles From Rockabilly Days

    Read Larry Donn's "Rockabilly Days" articles

    Day At Sun
    Ronnie Prophet
    Sammy Creason
    The Story Part 1
    The Story Part 2
    The Story Part 3
    The Story Part 4

    Autobiography

    Larry Donn tells his own story in
    his column "Rockabilly Days" which
    appears in the magazine "Now Dig This"

    The Story Part 1

    I was born Larry Donn Gillihan, two miles north of Bono, Arkansas on June 7th 1941 on my parent's farm. The house I was born in was later converted to a barn for horses and cows. I was an only child, but our neighbors had a son my age who also had no brothers or sisters, and we became like brothers to each other. He is my wife's cousin, Larry Joe Patton. He has played on a few of my records, and played bass and rhythm in my band for a while. My interest in music was natural, I guess, as several people in my family are musicians. One of my uncles played with Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys in the 1940's. I listened mostly to country or hillbilly music in my childhood, because it was the music my parents liked. I learned the words to the songs on the radio and sang them in cotton fields as we picked cotton by hand. In the early 50's I discovered Dean Martin, and began to pattern my singing after him. In 1955, Sonny Burgess and The Pacers played a show at our school gymnasium. It was the first time I had heard a live rock n roll band, and I was immediately hooked on this new style of music. One day in the fall of 1955, while walking through the auditorium at Bono High School where I was a student, I noticed a crowd of girls gathered around the announcement board in the hall, obviously very excited. I asked one of them what the excitement was about. She replied, breathlessly, "Oh, Elvis is coming!" I said "Elvis who?" Of course, in a few weeks I knew very well who Elvis was as did the whole country. Elvis, who only did the one show at Bono, drew such a large crowd that the extra weight caused some of the floor supports to crack. Fortunately, the floor did not collapse. Elvis said many years later in an interview that he would never forget the show at Bono, because it was there that he first realized he was going to be a big star.

    The Story Part 2

    In 1956, each of the six classes in junior high and high school were given an assignment to produce an hour long show to be presented to the rest of the school in the auditorium. When our turn came I did an imitation, or pantomime, of Elvis Presley, while playing some of his records over the sound system.

    I had practiced, Elvis' moves in front of a mirror and I painted sideburns on with shoe polish to heighten the effect! The audience got into the act by screaming just like they did for Elvis, and when I finished they mobbed me at the stage and tore at my clothes and asked for autographs. Some wanted me to sign my name and some wanted me to sign Elvis' name. I was having so much fun, I would've signed President Eisenhower's name if they had wanted it.

    After the show, as I walked to the next class, a girl came up to me, sighed and said, "Oh, if you could only sing..."

    The next month, another class produced a show and I was invited to repeat my performance. I did so, and again received the same reaction.

    In July of 1957, I had an accident while mowing our lawn, and cut two toes off my right foot. While I was recuperating, I learned to play the guitar. Once back on my feet, my cousin persuaded me to enter a talent contest at the school, singing and playing my guitar. I sang two Johnny Cash songs that were popular then, "Home of the Blues" and "Give my Love to Rose", and won second place. First place went to a three year old boy who is now one of my best friends. At the contest I met Benny Kuykendall, a 14-year-old guitar player with a band which took third place. We became friends and began to play together at parties and anywhere they'd let us play. Soon, Benny's brother, Scotty, joined us on upright bass and Eddie Reeves played drums. We played church socials, nightclubs, between the the acts of school plays in fact anywhere we could find an audience, all over Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. We soon developed a reputation as a good band.

    The Story Part 3

    In 1956, '57, '58, I was Junior Fire Marshall and Commander of the school Safety Patrol. My troops were given the responsibility of guarding the dressing room doors in the gymnasium, where most of the Sun stars performed during those years. As commander, I had access to all dressing rooms, and I had several conversations with the stars. Roy Orbison had blond hair then and didn't wear glasses at all. Johnny Cash, a skinny young man with oily hair, played his guitar and sang "Don't Slobber on My Red Suede Tie" to the melody of "Blue Suede Shoes" in a fair imitation of country singer Lefty Frizzell. We were in his dressing room waiting for him to go on. I helped Carl Perkins, his brother J.B and Clayton, and W.S. Holland load their equipment into the trunk and on the top of a black Chrysler after the last show they did at Bono. They were leaving for a show in Virginia, then the "Perry Como Show" in New York, History has recorded what happened on that trip.

    The Story Part 4

    In September 1957, I met Billy Lee Riley when his band, The Little Green Men, performed at the Criaghead County Fair in Jonesboro, Arkansas, about 9 miles from Bono. Because my cousin was Riley's neighbor, he and I became good friends. My band and I did an album with him for Mojo Records in 1979. I played piano and assisted in the production. After I met Riley, I began singing his songs. The first rock n roll song I say was "Pearly Lee". I sang it at a party and the girls went wild! I decided then and there that I would do rock n roll from then on. I began to do all rock n roll and rockabilly in our shows around Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. For the next few years I was heavily influenced by Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnnny Cash, Billy Lee Riley, Roy Orbison, Jerry lee Lewis, Sonny Burgess, Warren Smith and Ricky Nelson. In early 1958, I say in with bobby Brown and The Curios at a local club. They were from St. Louis and had been playing in our local area for a few weeks. Bobby was originally from Arkansas, but had moved to St. Louis several years before. He and I became good friends, and when my band broke up later that year, I joined his band as bass player. Soon afterwards, Bobby booked a tour of Canada, and since all musicians had to be over 21, I could not go because I was only 17. After Bobby left for Canada, Benny, Scotty, and I got back together, and we were joined by Sam Creason, who is now drummer for Kris Kristofferson. Late that year, we were invited by Billy Lee Riley to go to Sun Records in Memphis and record. WE recorded "That's What I call A Ball" in the old Sun studio at 706 Union. A second song was also recorded, but we decided it was not good enough to release, so we went home with plans to write more songs and finish the record later. In 1958, on the second day of my last year in high school, the principal and superintendent of the school singled me out for a dress code. I wore my collar turned up, and the two top buttons of my shirt unbuttoned like all the other boys in school. For some reason, I was ordered to turn my collar down and button my shirt all the way up, but those orders were not extended to all male students. They admitted they were picking on me... singling me out. They said, " We're going to make an example of you", and when I refused to obey until the 'dress code' was equally applied to all students, they expelled me from school. when my mother called to question the expulsion, the principal cursed her. She promptly hung up on him and informed me that I would not be going back to that school. I took a correspondence course and got my diploma in 1961. In the summer of 1958, I hitch-hiked back to Memphis, 65 miles southeast of Bono, and went to the Sun Studio again to see Billy Lee Riley. Unfortunately, he was out of town that day, but hadn't told anyone at the studio that he wouldn't be in. Bill Justis was there, and he suggested that I wait a while, that Riley would probably be coming in before noon, or shortly after. We called his home, but got no answer. During my wait, I helped Bill fix a loose tile in the floor of the outer office. Shortly before noon, Johnny Cash, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant came in. A few minutes later, Justis turned on the speaker in the office, and I heard "Down The Street To 301", and "Forty Shades of Green". I did not know if it was an actual session, or merely a playback from a previous session, but they played both songs several times. Later that afternoon, I decided Riley wasn't going to show up, so I left about 3:00pm and hitch-hiked back to Bono.

    Day At Sun


    Rockabilly Days

    The Big Adventure
    or
    A Day at Sun

    Larry Donn writes for "Now Dig This"

    "Button your shirt, Gillihan, and turn that collar down!", the high school Principal yelled as I passed him in the hall on my way to the next class. I thought he was joking so I just laughed and walked on. Later that day he said it again, and again I ignored him.

    It was 1958 and the first day of my senior year in high school. I had been playing music less than a year, but I had been wearing the top two buttons open and the collar up on my shirts since 1956. Nobody had ever complained before, and as most of the other boys sported the same look, I didn't even consider that the Principal might be serious.

    The following day at the start of my first class, the teacher threw a pin down on my desk and said, "If you're not going to button your shirt up, pin it". How she got the idea I would do one and not the other, I can't imagine.

    "No, Ma'am", I said.

    She immediately left the room and came back with the Superintendent who ordered me to button my shirt up and turn my collar down. At this point I realized they were not joking.

    "Is this the new dress code, or what?" I asked.

    "We just want you to button your shirt and turn down your collar", he replied.

    "Sure, if you'll make everybody else do the same."

    "We're not concerned with the others. We want you to do what we tell you to do."

    "No, I will not be singled out. What's good for one is good for all. You can't make a rule that applies to no one but me."

    He stood and glared at me nastily for a few seconds then turned and left the room. I had a feeling it wasn't finished.

    When the class was over I walked out into the auditorium and was stopped by the Principal who was waiting just outside the door. "Gillihan, are you going to button your shirt up?".

    "No", I replied, "not until the rule applies to everybody equally."

    "Then go home and don't come back!"

    As I reached the exit I heard him yell behind me, "I'll see that you never graduate from any school in Arkansas!" I knew he didn't have that much power so the threat didn't bother me. But it told me that this wasn't about buttoning up my shirt, it was about control. They wanted to control me. I don't take orders very well from those I do not respect, or if the orders are unfair or dumb.

    In the years before, under the previous Superintendent and Principal, I made excellent grades and even won a couple of medals; one for making the highest grades in the school and a 'citizenship' award given by the teachers for being an all-around stupendous fellow... well, you get the idea. I was also champion speller of the school one year, the Junior Fire Marshall three years and Commander of the Safety Patrol three years.

    The new administration took over in the Summer of 1957 with a 'get tough' attitude. They declared they were going to 'clean up this school'. No one knew what they were talking about as it seemed fine to us. Everyone was learning and making reasonably good grades, we were allowed to have music shows in the gymnasium or auditorium as well as other extra-curricular activities, and the school was almost enjoyable. The new guys stopped almost everything. For some unknown reason, they began to pick on me. Several times during that year, they stood at the rear of an auditorium full of studying students and carried on loud conversations about me and a girl I was dating, including some very embarrassing remarks. I asked them twice, very nicely to stop it. Both times I was answered with arrogant laughter and the statement that they would "say anything we want to say about you, anytime or anywhere we want to."

    My grades went down dramatically. In six months I was making the lowest grades I had ever made. The tension was tremendous, and I was relieved when it was all over. I wasn't concerned at all about not graduating from school because I was going to be a rock n roll star and it wouldn't matter, anyway. I was a bit concerned about how my mother and father would feel, however, over the phone they began to see my side. To finish this part of the story, I took a correspondence course from a school in Chicago and got my diploma two years later, along with a scholarship to college which I refused, as I had had enough of school. I wanted to rock n roll!

    About 9am the following day, while my parents were both at work, I decided to hitchhike to Memphis. I had met Billy Lee Riley a couple of times and my plan was to go to the Sun studio and see if he would help me get a job cleaning up around the place. I wasn't sure he'd remember me, but he knew my cousin quite will, who lived across the street from him for some time, and I was sure I could make him remember.

    I got a ride almost as soon as I put out my thumb. It was a black '58 Chevrolet and it took me almost halfway to Memphis. Unfortunately, the next ride was three hours and ten miles in the hot August sun later. It was an old truck loaded with logs bound for West Memphis, on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. That was my last ride of the day.

    I walked seven miles into Memphis (I counted 2,336 steps across the bridge) and as nightfall was about an hour away, I realized I had left one tiny detail out of my plan. Where I would sleep that night. I had three dollars and forty-six cents in my pocket, but I had no idea where to look for a room, or even if I had enough money to get a room. I considered finding a sheltered spot under the bridge but nothing looked inviting, although there was a large cardboard box that could have served the purpose. I'd heard of people sleeping on park benches so I walked down to Tom Lee Park on Riverside Drive and selected a bench under a tree. I was very tired, having walked about twenty miles that day, and it was almost dark so I stretched out on the bench to see what kind of bed it would make. Remember, this was 1958, when you could leave the keys in your car and your house unlocked all night without worry. Even so, I was taking a risk, however small, but I didn't think about that at the time.

    There was another nocturnal threat that I also had not thought about, guaranteed to drive even the most courageous indoors. The Mississippi River mosquito. With the coming of darkness they began to bite. Soon, I left the bench, the park and the river and stumbled toward the lights of downtown. I thought I might find an all-night movie and I could sleep in a back-row seat. Three hours later, I was still walking. I found myself on South Second Street holding on to parking meters to keep from falling. I was beginning to slip in and out of consciousness and I knew I would not be on my feet much longer. A bell rang in the back of my mind and I remembered that somewhere during the past three hours I had seen a sign that said, 'Rooms - 50 Cents'. But where? I didn't think I could remember where I'd been, even if I had nowhere else to go, so I turned around and started back. Only a couple of blocks away, I saw a sign at the foot of a very steep and narrow stairway. I pulled myself up the long flight to a middle-aged woman in a small office.

    "I need a room."

    She looked over my shoulder. "Nobody with you?"

    "No. Just me."

    She stared at me for a few seconds with a puzzled look then took my money and pointed out the door to a room with a window on the street. The door had only a wire hook to keep it closed and the blanket had a large hole in the middle of it, but the sheets were clean.

    The next morning, I washed up a bit in the lavatory down the hall, ate a Snickers bar for breakfast and headed down to Union Avenue which would take me to Sun.

    The two ladies in the front office didn't know when Riley would be there but said I could wait for him if I wanted to. About 11:00 a somewhat short, sturdy-built man came in from the studio. He was very friendly and after we had chatted for a while, he mentioned that the floor had a loose tile and I could help him fix it. Somewhere along, the phone rang. I heard one of the ladies say "Bill Justis? Yes, just a minute." He answered the call and that was the first time I knew who he was.

    The second time I met him was in 1960. I went to his office (Play Me Records) with Billy Lee Riley. Justis not only remembered me from the day in '58, but remembered my name as well.

    No one seemed to mind me hanging around the Sun office, and I expected Riley to show up sooner or later, so I decided to stay as long as they would let me.

    About the middle of the afternoon Johnny Cash walked in, wearing the usual black suit and carrying a guitar. He looked around, said "Howdy-doo" to the room and went through the studio door. He was accompanied by two guys who may have been Luther and Marshall but I was too busy looking at him to notice. A half-hour later, Bill turned on a speaker on the back wall of the office and we heard 'Down the Street to 301'. A few minutes later, he turned it on again and 'Forty Shades of Green' was playing. The information I have says '301' was recorded on July 17th, 1958, and I couldn't find anything about the other one (although I know he recorded it for Columbia in 1961). As this was in early August, they were probably listening to playbacks of previous cuts.

    About three o'clock I decided Riley wasn't going to show up (I found out later he was out of town) so I told Bill and the ladies goodbye and stepped out onto the sidewalk of Union Avenue with no idea of where to go. I headed toward downtown and by the time I reached the river, I had decided to go home. I walked all the way back to West Memphis where I caught the first of three rides, the third taking me to within a hundred yards of my house, and the Big Adventure was over.

    Ronnie Prophet


    Rockabilly Days
    Ronnie Prophet

    Larry Donn writes for "Now Dig This"

    I was in Nashville nearly 20 years ago to discuss a management deal, and the prospective manager took me to The Caraousel Club to see Ronnie Prophet. I didn't know the name and thought no more about it until the house band finished a set and this guy came on stage with a guitar and an Echoplex and started making strange noises and hitting wild guitar licks. From the reaction of the crowd, I began to suspect we'd stumbled into a Prophet family reunion, but in a few seconds I was laughing and cheering right along with the rest of them. I don't remember how long the show lasted, but I do remember wishing it was longer. Afterward, he came to our table to chat for a while, and I discovered he actually had fleeting moments of sanity now and then. I never forgot the show, and over the years, seeing his name occasionally in magazines and such brought a smile to my face as I remembered.

    I haven't been to The Gateway Theatre in several months, mostly because of the appearances of several "famous unknown" country starts ( they may be famous but they're unknown to me), but when I heard Ronnie Prophet was going to be there, I swore on a copy of "Now Dig This' that I wouldn't miss this one. My father and mother have never been to the Gateway, and as I was sure they'd enjoy the show, 12-gauge mama and I invited them to go with us.

    As we entered, I spied Ronnie just inside the door talking to a couple of guys. I approached him and stuck out my hand.

    "It's about time this place showed a Prophet", I declared.

    He gave me a "I'll met you're somebody I met a long time ago" look, and I told him about it. Shortly, we retired to the back room and I showed him a copy of NDT. He went through it from cover to cover as we talked, and I was careful to point out "Rockabilly Days" when he reached that page. He had some nice things to say about the magazine which I will not repeat at the risk of giving the Editor a case of egoitis. When he finished it, he demonstrated his vast knowledge of electronics by inserting the batteries correctly the first time in his wireless microphone transmitter, obviously trying to make a good impression of the famous magazine writer. The wireless thing lets him leap about the stage freely without fear of breaking a leg with a snagged guitar lead.

    I learned several other things bout him as well; that he has done several tours of Europe, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and New Jersey... er New Zealand; that he has appeared on many television shows in America, including the very popular :Tonight Show', has appeared on the Nashville Network's "Nashville Now" show 34 times,; that he hosted his own show, called "Ronnie Prophet Entertains" on the BBC and on the CBC; that he won the '84 Canadian Country Music Entertainer of the Year award, the Television Country Show of the year award in'77, '78, '79, and '80, and on and on and on, and if I listed it all I wouldn't have room for anything else.

    The show opened with Ronnie at the back of the room behind the audience, dressed in a mask and cape as 'The Phantom f the Opry', the title of a hit song he had a few years ago. "Opry", of course refers to "The Grand Ole...". That's so you won't think I've misspelled it. He sauntered down the aisle in the spotlight, playing his guitar and singing, with an occasional flourish on the black and red cape. When he reached the front of the stage, I looked away for no more than two seconds, and when I turned back, he was on the stage, a good four feet above the floor. Nw, there is no way this guy could jump that high, and he couldn't have used his hands to climb as he never stopped playing the guitar, and there are no steps at the front of the stage...maybe he really is a phantom, as well as a Prophet. He told some funny jokes, did several ' impressions' of famous people and played some really great guitar licks, accompanied by an extremely small drummer in a box less than a foot long. About halfway through the show, the drummer fell ill and refused to play another stroke. Ronnie declared that he didn't need the drummer, and proved it during the rest of the show.

    Near the end, he introduced Glory-Ann ( Glory, Hallelujah!! Ronnie who?), and the visual part of the show took a sharp swing upward. Now the guy's not a bad looking chap. I suppose although I'll leave that judgement to the ladies, but I am eminently qualified to declare Glory-Anne a definite "looker". But she may be one of those militant feminist type, and after reading this might send me a dangerous animal, so I should also mention that the kid can sing! And I suppose I should also reveal that she has had twelve records on the charts in Canada, received many awards for her music, including the Duo of the Year with that Ronnie fellow, produced, directed, wrote and stared in her own television show in Canada for five years, and lots more exiting stuff. They sang a few songs together, with some smooth and very pleasant harmony, then the Ronnie guy closed the show and dashed up front to sign autographs.

    Incidentally, you can expect a vertible plethora of Ronnie Prophet imitators soon...just before the end of the wold as we know it; the Bible says that in the last days there will be many false Prophets.

    "Ronnie Prophet..the greatest one-man show I've ever seen.

    --Chet Akins and Larry Donn

    Pete Williams A letter from Sandy Ford in November's NDT brought the sad news of the death of Pete Williams. On my first visit to England in 1989, the second show at the Racehill in Brighton, which was, at that time under Pete's proprietorship. He treated me royally, and secured forever a place in my memory as a real genuine, actual nice guy. We could all take lessons from him on how to treat others. He loved rock n roll, and his eyes sparkled when we talked about it.

    I knew nothing of Pete's personal life, except for his fine son, Peter, whom I met a couple of times and that his wife's name is Peggy. Perhaps they will be comforted knowing that he left a great legacy of goodwill among those who knew him.

    I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that he is serving Elvis an ice-cold root beer right now at the opening of Pete's Pub in Hawaii.. and the band is rockin'!

    L.D.

    Sammy Creason


    Rockabilly Days
    Sammy Creason

    Larry Donn writes for "Now Dig This"

    A phone call from Joe Lee gave me the shocking and saddening news that Sam had died in Nashville. I immediately called his sister, Susie, who told me he had suffered an aneurism (a swelling of a blood vessel) in his brain while at work. He was immediately taken to a hospital where he died within a few hours. If you are a regular reader of "Rockabilly Days", you may recall some of the many times I've mentioned him in this space. His brother, Gary played with my band in '58, and was the drummer on a session at Sun in August of that year. Gary also played on my ill-fated session for Billy Lee Riley and Roland James' Rita label in the early 50's.

    Benny and Scotty Kuykendall and I had always thought that we were the first band Sammy played with, but a recent conversation with Gary cast considerable doubt on our position. Gary was playing with Ray Coble and the JazzKatz in '58, and suffered a flat tire on the way to a venue one night. Being almost late and only a short distance from the place, he and Buddy Adams, the bass player (later with Bobby Brown 7 Curios for many years) left the car and ran the remaining distance. While running, he stepped half on the edge of the pavement and half on the verge, which was a few inches lower, twisting his foot and breaking some small bones. It was very painful, but he played the full night, and didn't know he had fractures until a visit to the doctor the next day. The following night, and for several weeks thereafter, Sam took Gary's place with The JazzKatz. I know this because I was there the night Gary broke his foot. Ray Coble was a friend of mine, and I occasionally went along for the ride. I distinctly recall Ray being concerned about a drummer for the following night, and Gary reassuring him, that Sam could do the job, although he had never played with a professional band before.

    However, we do have the honor of being the first to force him to do a drum solo. We were playing the C&R Club near Trumann, Arkansas, probably in late '58, and I asked Sam to do a solo. He had only been playing a short time, and insisted that he couldn't do a solo. We played one of those pieces where everybody gets to do a short solo ("Mama Don't Allow No Music Playin' In Here' or some such), and when it was time for the drums, Sam was grinning at me and continuously shaking his head from side to side to indicate that he was not going to do it. I yelled for him to "take it", and being somewhat of a trouper even at that young age, he gave it a shot with a rhythmic "Caravan"-type beat on the floor tom. Long drum solos were all the rage then, so we left the stage despite his yelling "no, no, no" and "I can't do this". His drums were at one end of the narrow, curved stage, and I walked around to that end and began coaching him by offering suggestions based on what I had seen his brother Gary do. After a couple of minutes he had it by the tail, and I walked up to the bar to listen. He played on for about ten minutes, then yelled for us to come up and finish the song. We didn't, and he soon finished it himself with a magnificent series of single-stroke rolls and cymbal crashes, then gave a yell, threw his drumsticks across the stage and collapsed over the drums. A few years ago while investigating some old tapes, I ran across a drum solo he did in late 59' or early '60 at a rehearsal. The "Rockin' Love" cut on my Collector CD was recorded the same night.

    Sam played with Sonny Burgess and myself for a few months in early '61, but being in the high school band, he was required to play at all school functions, which occasionally interfered with our schedule, so we hired another drummer. After finished school, he moved to Memphis and worked for Ray Brown's booking agency for a while. Somewhere along the line, we both worked with a band called The Spyders. After I left the group, they became The Tarantulas and had a chart record with an instrumental called surprisingly "Tarantula". After illness kept Bill Black form appearing with The Bill Black Combo (a brain tumor eventually killed him in October 1965), The Tarantulas became The Bill Black Combo and, with the addition of Reggie Young and a couple more musicians, toured with The Beatles on their first trip to America in 1964. After that, Sam played awhile with Tony Joe White (Polk Salad Annie', which should actually be "Poke Sallit Annie"), and once appeared on the "Tonight" show with Johnny Carson, American television's popular late-night talk show. He was nominated at least twice in the drummer category of "Playboy" magazine's Jazz and Pop Poll in the late 60s or early 70's.

    Eventually, he and some of the musicians he knew formed a group called The Dixie Flyers, and moved to Miami to work as a studio band for Atlantic Records. The band included Mike Utley, Charlie Freeman, Tommy McClure and possibly another one or two that I don't remember. They recorded with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and Sam also worked with a wide variety of artists that included B. J. Thomas, Brook Benton, Jimmy Buffet, Sam The Sham, Dr. John, Sam & Dave, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Charlie Rich, Dottie West, Junior Parker and Ted Nugent. Sometime in the early '70s the band hooked up with Rita Coolidge and she married Kris Kristofferson. After the divorce, Sam remained with Kris for many years. He appeared in several movies, one of which was a truck-driver story called "Convoy", He was one of the 'friends of Jesus in the chartreuse micro-bus' as described in C W McCall's song which inspired the movie. One of my many cousins was also in the picture. His name was Bill Foster (real name Bill Coontz) and he played an old driver whose CB 'handle' was "The Iguana". He died about six months after finished "Convoy", ending a long career as a movie stunt man and actor.

    Sam had been living in Boston for several years, working for Wells Fargo company and playing with Kris Kristofferson. A few years ago, as Kristofferson was performing less and making more movies, he began to think about moving to Nashville to do sessions. Instead, he took a job in Memphis, managing the Wells Fargo office there, and joined Jerry Lee Lewis' band. I didn't know he had moved to Nashville after that, but I assume he was still planning to work in the recording studios there.

    Sam was a classic 'never meet a stranger' type. He was friendly to everybody he met, and always had a big smile ready to flash at the slightest provocation. In a way, he was partly responsible for "Honey Bun" getting recorded in early '59. We were to play, along with Benny and Scotty, at The Clover Club, near Swifton, Arkansas. Some sort of unexpected school activity required Sam's presence, and we couldn't find another drummer, so we decided to do the Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two act, and hope the patrons bought it. Unfortunately, there were no patrons. We talked to the bartender for an hours or so, and decided to go home. On the way, we stopped at Bob King's B&I Club to see why the parking lot was full, and discovered Sonny Burgess was playing there, fresh back from a tour with Johnny Cash. We were invited to play a few while the band was on break, then introduced to Arlen Vaden, which led to the session and release of "Honey Bun" on Vaden Records. If Sam had been there, we probably would have played a couple of hours at The Clover Club, just because we like to play, even though the house was empty, and it is very likely that we would not have stopped at Bob's on the way home.

    I have an 8mm movie somewhere of Sammy, Jimmy Coleman, Larry Joe Patton and myself arriving at Jim's house from a night at The Silver Moon Club in Newport, Arkansas. There is a memorable scene with Jim and Sammy acting as if they've had a few too many, although neither of them drank alcohol. Perhaps I'll dig it out one day and have another look at it.

    About a year ago, Sammy mentioned that 'one of these days' he would come to visit his family for a while, and we could get together and jam. Well, I guess we'll have to wait a little longer for the jam, because I don't plan on making the permanent trip to Hawaii anytime soon. Then again, neither did Sam. We have no way of knowing which heartbeat will be our last, and we are, literally, just one thump away from exiting this world permanently.

    While preparing this story, I visited with Sammy's sister, Susie, and his mother Mrs. L.W. Franklin, who still lives in the same house where I used to pick up Sammy and Gary in the '50s. She is a most kind and gracious lady for whom I have always had the highest respect. It's easy to understand why Sammy was such a friendly guy when you know his mother. Of course, credit also goes to his stepfather who was jolly fellow and always had a friendly word for me. Sam's father died in 1944, and Mr. Franklin in 1979.

    Elvis' Hawaiian band just keeps getting bigger and better. They've got a great drummer now, and I've heard they're rehearsing every Wednesday night at Pete's Pub for a really, really big show when the rest of us get there. That's one I don't want to miss... LD

    Delta Musicians

    placeholderDelta Boogie Bands
Arkansas Blues Caravan - May 20, 2007
Delta Musicians - Aaron Love
Delta Boogie Links
Blues Fest, Craighead Forest Park, Jonesboro, Arkansas
Building the Craighead Forest Bandshell
    Home Network Now! Search Table of Contents Links Music Video Radio Bands

    Hairy Larry blogs music and more at the Delta Boogie Tumblr
    Email Hairy Larry
    Copyright by Larry Heyl and Vivian Heyl