Join us, won't you, on a twisted musical travelogue of the Southeast. Over the years, a lot has happened in this cluster of states, from Florida up to Virginia and over to Tennessee. How about, for starters, the birth and rearing of blues, country and rock 'n' roll? That in itself establishes the Southeast as the nexus for the development of American popular music.
Some of our most important musicians were born or made their mark here. They've gotten drunk, jailed, beaten up, broken down, schooled, discovered, inspired and adored here. They've crashed and burned, and even died here.
For our itinerary, we searched through the wild world of pop history to find a series of musical events, from watershed moments to tasty trivialities. We skipped the typical stuff -- Elvis walking into Sun Studios -- and opted mostly for the arcane (Hank Williams copping dope), the mythical (Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil) and the plain bizarre (James Brown going on a shotgun rampage). Taken as a whole, it's something of a snapshot of the Southeast's rich musical heritage. Hop in. Let's get going.
Vanilla Ice's album titles are telling. The rapper's 1990 debut, To the Extreme, spoke to his meteoric rise to stardom, and 1998's Hard to Swallow is self-explanatory. By the time Ice's Bipolar hit record store shelves (and soon dollar bins) in 2001, anyone who still cared could've assumed he was dealing with some mood issues, and sure enough, on Jan. 3 of that year, Ice (nee Robert Van Winkle) was arrested for pulling out a plug of his wife Laura Giarritta's hair. Though he doesn't deny it, Ice did offer a motive of sorts, saying that he did it to prevent Giarritta from jumping out of the truck he was driving. Maybe it was his effort to finally get some street cred. But at that point, none of us cared. -- Sanders
There's a scene in the biopic Ray, where the young Mr. Charles tries to join an all-white country band, but is first given a lot of flak by the band's racist leader. It made for a good movie moment. But according to Charles' own autobiography, Brother Ray, this wasn't the way things really went down. Charles actually hooked up with the group, called the Florida Playboys, in 1948 after meeting one of the members at the Arthur Smith Music Store in Tampa. From there, things were all good. Charles pulled in about $20 a night playing the piano and sometimes taking the mic. 'I was accepted and applauded along with everyone else,' Charles wrote. 'A lot of the black/white thing in the South was caused by white men worrying 'bout black cats f--king with their women. Since I couldn't see I wasn't much of a threat. In their minds, there was no way I could be checking over their little ladies.' -- Seymour
Hey Man, Nice Shot
On July 31, 1955, during his second trip to Tampa, 20-year-old Elvis Presley hit the stage at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory (506 N. Howard Ave.) as part of a variety show fundraiser for Tampa's Sertoma Club. Though still relatively unknown outside the South, Elvis was a hot commodity in the region because of his early Sun Studios singles. The shows were booked by a savvy promoter with Tampa connections named Colonel Tom Parker. Parker, who would go on to control every aspect of Elvis' career, was convinced that the young rock 'n' roll singer would be 'the biggest thing in show business.' He even hired a Tampa photographic company, Robertson & Fresh, to document the shows. One of the shots ended up on the cover of Elvis' eponymous debut. -- Harrell
She Looked Like She'd Been Trampled by Horses
It was Jan. 23, 1977, and punk queen Patti Smith was in the midst of a tour, rather improbably opening for Bob Seger. Smith, known for her energetic performances, worked up such a frenzy that she spun off the stage. (The exact venue has been lost, but given Seger's popularity at the time, our money's on the old Tampa Stadium.) She fractured two vertebrae in her neck, and required 22 stitches at a local hospital to close her lacerations. Smith largely spent the rest of the year recuperating. But she did find time to make a few hometown appearances in New York City (wearing a neck brace), write her fifth book of poetry, Babel, and compose several of the songs that would comprise 1978's Easter album, her biggest commercial success. -- Harrell
On May 6, 1965 -- four nights after they played The Ed Sullivan Show for the second time -- the Rolling Stones rolled into Clearwater for a concert at the Jack Russell Stadium. But the show didn't go as they planned. The Stones hit the stage, before a crowd of about 3,000, and performed four songs when a couple hundred teenage boys tried to crash through a line of Clearwater cops. The kids tried to tear up the place, throwing rolls of toilet paper and tossing chairs onto the field. The band fled the stage to a white station wagon, which was then chased by fans. The Stones were spirited away to the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel downtown, where, later that night, Keith Richards woke up with the fabled 'Satisfaction' guitar riff in his head. He quickly committed it to tape, and then returned to the sack. The next morning, he came up with the vocal hook, 'I can't get no satisfaction.' Far from recognizing it as a future rock classic, Keith was initially underwhelmed by his new creation. Nevertheless, that same year, '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' went on to reach No. 1 on the pop charts and stayed there for four weeks. On a side note, the hotel, now called the Fort Harrison (210 Fort Harrison Ave.), currently serves as the 'worldwide spiritual headquarters' of the Church of Scientology. -- Snider
A converted warehouse/concert opened on Orlando's West Livingston Street in the spring of 1992. Known as the Edge (100 W. Livingston St.), it became the epicenter of 'funky breaks,' the Central Florida permutation of breakbeat music. Spearheaded by DJ Icey (then DJ Icee), the Florida scene swelled, but will remain most famous for one momentous occasion: scoring the first North American appearance of the Chemical Brothers on Fourth of July weekend, 1993. Then still known as the Dust Brothers in their native U.K., Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons would be remembered for driving thousands of kids bonkers with their laboratory beats and psychedelic funk, a full four years before the duo's sophomore album, Dig Your Own Hole, would ignite Americans' brief flirtation with electronica. -- Ware
Originally, Lynyrd Skynyrd -- teenagers Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell -- played around town as My Backyard. But the name didn't stick, so the guys tried on a bunch of other monikers: the Noble Five, Wildcats, Sons of Satan, Conqueror Worm, the Pretty Ones, and One Percent. It took their gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School (1200 S. McDuff Ave.), however, to inspire the name that stuck. Lee High School had a dress code that forbade long hair, but to get around it, Van Zant and the gang would slick their rocker locks back with Vaseline, sculpting it out of their eyes and off their collars. It worked everywhere except in gym class, where a particularly crotchety coach named Leonard Skinner kept a sharp eye out for shoulder-length long-and-straighties in the showers. After 20 or so suspensions, the boys in the band simply stopped coming to school. They continued doing gigs and soon changed their group name to a legally safe variation of their teacher's name. Within a few years, Lynyrd Skynyrd became the frontrunners of Southern rock. But on Oct. 20, 1977, while en route to Baton Rouge for the first leg of a tour, Lynyrd Skynyrd's private turbo prop plane ran out of gas, forcing it to crash-land near McComb, Miss. The disaster took the lives of Van Zant and three others. It was a tragedy felt around the country, even back at Robert E. Lee, where the school mourned the 'Generals' it once suspended. -- Snyder
Limp Bizkit's Korn Dawgs
During one of two Jacksonville shows by then-reigning nu-metal outfit Korn -- in either May or November 1995 (rock history is kinda fuzzy) -- a fledgling tattoo artist/vocalist named Fred Durst snuck backstage to offer the band members some free ink. When a few of them took him up on it, Durst managed to slip them a demo by his band, Limp Bizkit. (Incidentally, the tattoos he gave them were awful because Durst wasn't all that experienced.) Before long, Bizkit was touring with Korn pals the Deftones and playing at Korn's parties. A record deal and the debut album, Three Dollar Bill Y'all, soon followed, sparking endless debates about what's worse: Durst's tattoo artistry or his band's music. -- Harrell
Before she traded her Atlanta digs for her diva throne in NYC, RuPaul used to haunt the Krispy Kreme in Midtown (295 Ponce de Leon Ave.) with its blazingly inviting 'Hot Now' sign. 'We all lived in that area,' Ru reminisced recently about her '80s-era hijinks. 'Honey, we were a bunch of kids, trippin' on acid, wearin' miniskirts and combat boots and dressing up. It had nothing to do with gay or straight. We were just a bunch of kids, havin' fun. The police were so sweet to us. We'd be out all night long, in that area between Piedmont Park and Ponce. We'd be all over that area and we never had any trouble. We'd wait outside Krispy Kreme for the light to come on. Oh God, my eyes are tearing up, just thinking about it right now.' -- Smith
Beauty and the Beats
If you need an explanation for some of OutKast's wilder 'dos -- Big Boi's pimp-ish press and curl; Andre 3000's straight, Cher-like booty-length wig -- consider where the duo got its first break: Lamonte's Beauty Shop in East Point's Delowe Shopping Center (corner of Headland and Delowe drives). That's where they hooked up with then-store manager/producer Rico Wade, who introduced them to LaFace Records President L.A. Reid. The music mogul signed the group to his burgeoning label. -- Seymour
Just inside the front door of the modest green house across from the Taco Stand on Milledge Avenue is the 'stage' where the B-52's played its first show on Valentine's night, 1977. 'A lot of things started here,' laughs Cindy Wilson of the B's. 'There wasn't much to do [in Athens] back then. Parties were what it was all about.' The group, which would soon put Athens on the musical map, had no intention of doing anything more than a one-off show. 'That was as far as we'd planned ahead -- three or four songs, just to have fun,' Wilson says. The audience that night was mostly friends and party hoppers, including Wilson's eventual husband, Keith Bennett. 'I saw Barbie dolls hanging up in there and a band set up with a gong,' Bennett recalls, 'and I thought, 'This is a party I should check out.'' -- Smith
394 Oconee St. is where Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe practiced in the remains of the old St. Mary's Episcopal Church. The church is also where they played their first show, on April 5, 1980, for local scenester Kathleen O'Brien's birthday party. They were called Twisted Kites at the time, but the name changed to R.E.M. the next week. The church was torn down in 1990 to make way for the Steeplechase Condominiums, and today only the weathered steeple remains as a landmark near the Nuci's Space rehearsal complex. But across from Oconee, near Wilkerson Street, is the old railroad trestle featured on the cover of R.E.M.'s 1983 album Murmur. -- Smith
Brown and Out
On Sept. 24, 1988, James Brown stormed into an insurance seminar being held next to his personal suite of offices. Apparently, Papa had just scored a brand new bag -- of PCP -- and, armed with a shotgun, he accused several seminar attendees of using his private bathroom. The police were summoned and Brown led them on a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Georgia, South Carolina and Georgia again, before the cops shot out his tires. The Godfather of Soul was convicted of multiple offenses, including assault, drug possession and failure to stop for a police officer. He did 15 months in a South Carolina pen and 10 months in a work-release program before being paroled in February 1991. -- Harrell
I Loves You, Georgy
As a young man, Charleston's Dubose Heyward worked as flunky for a cotton broker near the city's busy waterfront. There, he observed and learned from the lives, stories and folktales of African Americans who worked on the waterfront. In 1925, Heyward published a novel, Porgy, based on a real-life Charleston character, Goat Cart Sam, who, like Porgy, was a crippled beggar who got around in a goat-pulled cart. In 1927, Heyward and his wife, Dorothy, turned the novel into a play, which drew the attention of New York composer George Gershwin. He took the story and put it to music, creating America's great opera, Porgy and Bess, The story is primarily set in a large three-story tenement and courtyard called Catfish Row (89-91 Church St.), which was based on the real-life Cabbage Row, home at the time to many black dockworkers and their families. -- Grooms
Birth of Bluegrass
Bluegrass started in Kentucky, right? Not exactly. Two brothers -- Bill and Charlie Monroe -- were indeed from Kentucky, and yes, they invented bluegrass, a new form of acoustic music that sounded old and drove early audiences wild. But they first recorded their legendary sound in February 1936 in a makeshift studio in downtown Charlotte (Southern Radio, 208 1/2 S. Tryon St.). The pair had found enthusiastic audiences through constant touring and a daily show on WBT radio. Soon, RCA Records convinced them to record. These earliest sessions, which included songs like 'Nine Pound Hammer,' 'What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul' and 'Long Journey Home,' established their revolutionary style: a mixture of gospel and secular music often played at lightning speed with spellbinding technique and tight, high harmony vocals. -- Grooms
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.
Though its client list includes everyone from jazz pianist Dave Brubeck to former country stars Crystal Gayle and Eddie Rabbitt, Master Sound Recording Studios (5249 Challedon Drive) is now best known as the place where hometown hip-hoppers Missy Elliott, the Neptunes and Timbaland craft their space-aged beats. -- Harrell
PIGEON FORGE, TENN.
Dolly Parton's career as a singer, actress and all-around pop culture icon often overwhelms the original Parton story that attracted early fans of her high, lilting country vocals. That was the tale of a talented girl who grew up as part of a large, poor family in the mountains of Tennessee, dreaming of spotlights and fame, and with an implied promise that she'd never forget her roots. Turns out it was true, as Dolly used part of her fortune to create Dollywood (1020 Dollywood Lane), a massive theme park near where she was born in Sevier County, Tenn., bringing millions of tourist dollars to one of the poorest parts of the state. Among the rides, exhibits, shows and stores is a replica of her 'Tennessee Mountain Home.' You can also check out the original 'Coat of Many Colors' that her mama made for her. -- Grooms
Fix It Man
When Hank Williams' flight out of Knoxville was grounded on New Year's Eve, 1952, he checked into the old Andrew Johnson Hotel (912 S. Gay St.) and asked the manager to get him a doctor. Williams suffered constant intense pain from back problems and carried a card in his wallet identifying him as a licensed morphine addict. Dr. P.H. Cardwell soon helped him out with two shots of the opiate. A couple of hours later, his driver, Charles Carr, loaded Williams into the back of his Cadillac, intending to drive him to Canton, Ohio, for a Jan. 1 gig. Williams woke up briefly, topped off his morphine with chloral hydrate painkillers chased with vodka, and was soon sprawled on the backseat. He died somewhere between Knoxville and Oak Hill, W.Va. At the time, his big hit on the radio was 'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive.' -- Grooms
Take heart, young guitar-slingin' gearheads: Jimi Hendrix was probably more down-and-out than you at one time. Back in 1962, before 'psychedelic' was a part of mainstream vocabulary, Hendrix was stationed at Fort Campbell Army base. Aside from his duties as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, he gigged around Tennessee with his band, the Casuals. Collins Music, located in downtown Clarksville at 325 Academy Ave., sold Hendrix one of his first electric guitars, an Ibanez. But the then-20-year-old Hendrix couldn't afford the weekly payments of $10, so he soon returned it to the store. Records of the sale/return existed until just a few years ago, when a tornado swept through downtown Clarksville and destroyed the single remaining vestige of Hendrix's purchase -- a receipt, hanging almost unnoticeably on the wall of a local deli. -- Sanders
What's Love Got To Do With It
Long before Anna Mae Bullock was renamed Tina Turner, this teenage future icon fell in love with an 11th-grade football player named Harry Taylor. He was two years older and mighty fine. 'His skin was smooth and dark and he had beautiful white teeth,' she once said. 'The right size lips, the right size nose and a great little body.' One night on a date, they parked a friend's 1937 Plymouth near a Bells beer joint. Anna was about 15. 'Naturally, I lost my virginity in the backseat of a car: This was the '50s, right,' she recalled. 'Well, it hurt so bad -- I think my earlobes were hurting. But I did it for love.' The couple didn't last, though. Soon, Taylor, a known playa, moved on to other conquests, proving himself to be -- as Tina would later sing -- a 'Typical Male.' -- Seymour
There's something about second-degree burns -- rendered by boiling hot grits -- that will make you find the Lawd. Soul singer Al Green's jilted lover Mary Woodson committed suicide soon after scalding him with the Southern comfort food. A spiritually renewed Green saw the assault as divine intervention and founded the Full Gospel Tabernacle in 1976. For nearly two decades, Green has won converts by pairing straight-no-chaser Biblical references and heavenly croons steeped in gut-bucket soul. In Full Gospel Tabernacle (787 Hale Road), Green exorcised his prurient demons and -- until recently -- disavowed secular music by refusing to perform much of his classic material. Tourists, religious purists, and social outcasts seeking spiritual renewal continue to flock to his modest Memphis sanctuary in droves. -- Garnes
What Would Lucifer Do
One of America's most enduring music myths is that of Delta blues pioneer Robert Johnson's deal with the devil. The story goes that Johnson was a so-so young singer/guitarist, then disappeared for a spell and came back with prodigious talent. Word circulated that he struck his Faustian deal one spooky night at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale.
Today, the location is marked with a sign that simply says 'The Crossroads.' The tribute is fine from a tourism standpoint, says Roger Stolle, owner of Cathead Delta Blues and Folk Arts in downtown Clarksdale, but 'it's not where 61 and 49 crossed in the '30s.' The intersection of Old 49 and Old 61 is about a mile away.
Earlier this year, Stolle interviewed 90-year-old bluesman Honeyboy Edwards, a friend and contemporary of Johnson's. 'Robert told Honeyboy that he did make the deal with the devil, but Honeyboy said he didn't believe it,' Stolle recounted.
Either way, the 'crossroads' as a concept was popular in Delta culture. Edwards admitted to sitting at rural intersections by himself, drinking white whiskey and playing a little guitar, then 'getting a little tired and moving on' because Lucifer never showed up.
Even sans the crossroads myth, Clarksdale has been fertile musical turf. A roll call of legends were either born there (John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Son House, Junior Parker) or lived there (Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Pinetop Perkins, W.C. Handy).
In 1937, blues singer Bessie Smith got into a car accident outside Clarksdale and severed her arm. She made it to Thomas Hospital, where she died. The hospital closed in 1940, but was reopened four years later as the Riverside Hotel (615 Sunflower Ave.), where many blues musicians stayed while passing through town. The hotel, a decidedly rustic, one-story affair with warped wood floors, ancient mattresses, tattered linens and one bathroom each for the men and women, still operates today. But though it might not be the most inviting place in the world, as Stolle says, 'I don't believe there's anywhere else in the world with that much blues history that you can actually stay in.' -- Snider