Being stationed in Jacksonville I was able to travel to Atlanta frequently, so I got to know my brother Paul’s circle of friends who called themselves “The Crew” and included Dave Gallaher (now known as Microwave Dave), and John Costello. Those three and others who you will meet in the next paragraph were part of a fabulous horn group known as the Majestics. During my last year in the Navy they invited me to travel down the coast with them to Daytona Beach for Spring Break where I got to know the rest of the band. The venue was the Safari Hotel, overlooking the beach, and the Majestics were booked for an entire week there. Quartered in a large barracks like room over the lobby of the Safari, we ate most of our meals in the hotel’s burger joint called the Monkey Hut, and, when the band wasn’t playing, we spent many hours above that lobby jamming jazz and the blues.
My Navy years were complete at the end of 1966, around the same time that Paul and Dave Gallaher escaped the draft by enlisting in the US Air Force. When I got out I enrolled at Georgia State University where the other members of the Majestics were all students. Since Paul was leaving, they asked me if I wanted to take his place in the band playing guitar. What a fabulous opportunity that was. So I joined the band which included tenor saxman Curtis Rone, bassist Tommy Knox, drummer John Costello, trombonist Jim Hargis, and alto saxman Donnie Donaldson. We played as the Majestics with Tommy Knox as the singer unless we were backing booking agent Hugh Rogers. In that case we called ourselves Little Hugh and the Madmen.
The Majestics fell apart as the members started graduating and moving on to other “real” life opportunities. Sad for me, but if that hadn’t happened I would not have fallen into playing with the best group of musicians I ever worked with. We were called The Sounds Incorporated. If the Majestics were a Georgia State band, this band was a Georgia Tech band as both Steve Hesterlee, the saxman, and Bob Hearn, the bassman were attending and would eventually graduate from Tech. Hesterlee is a ridiculously talented musician who can and does play virtually any instrument that he lays his hands on, and plays them all well. Reeds, Strings, Keys, it doesn’t matter. He is a natural musician of the first order.
The drummer, Jim Hieronymous, who was already out working in the real world, was a master of poly-rhythms and could have played with any group working in Atlanta, or anywhere else for that matter. He and I became life-long friends. The band played a mix of funk and jazz, and we were what they call “locked in” to the groove. There was a period that we played behind the Drifters on the Chitlin’ Circuit. In order to be on that circuit the club had to be a mile or two down a dirt road, built of concrete blocks, decorated with crepe paper, and smelling of Mary Jane and stale liquor inside. We would play a jazz set, take a break, and then bring on Bill Pinkney and the Drifters, usually about ten on a Sunday night.
When my brother, Paul, finally got out of the Air Force he came home to Atlanta and enrolled at Southern Tech where he became an Electronic Engineer. During that time we would get together with Jimmy and jam in my parents basement every Wednesday night. Paul played bass and the two of us, who had been playing together since we were twelve, were locked in. Over the years since that time the three of us have gotten together occasionally. I like to call us Hieronegri.
Writing this, I’ve come to realize that time is not a clean straight line, but very fuzzy and meandering. All of these experiences are moments in a vast sea of time that encompasses all of our lives. Marriages, children, jobs, music, all of it mashed together impinges on the storyline. Paul graduated, and moved to South Carolina with his fledgling family. I married my first wife, Carolyn, and went to work at Herren’s, my Dad’s restaurant. Carolyn and I had a daughter, Marlena. Hieronymous was married to his first wife, Judy, and they had a daughter, Kathy. And of necessity the music morphed into a different kind of thing. We no longer played gigs as we needed to support our families, and wife units are notoriously opposed to us arriving home at two or three in the morning.
Around this time I met and began jamming with Ron Bramlage, aka Baby Ray, aka Eric Zoloff, who was another fantastic horn player. As if he didn’t have enough stage names, we gave him another and still call him Captain Tomato. Along with Jimmy playing drums we formed a group playing music that I had written, and called ourselves Mother Bleep. One of our fans, my future second wife Tricia, made a sign for us that touted us as a truly nasty jazz band. I still don’t think it was jazz we were playing, but the band was along the lines of Chicago. We had Graham Fowler playing bass, Dick Prange playing a fat tenor sax, Randy Prather on alto sax, and Randy’s wife Dolly singing. I was alternating on keys and guitar. The band made a recording at Trolley Tracks in College Park, and we were booked to play at the Piedmont Arts Festival. Alas, about sixteen bars into our first tune the bottom fell out of the sky. That storm put out the fire – permanently. The hand of God? I often wonder.
Since the disaster in Piedmont Park most of the group oriented music that I’ve participated in has been casual jam sessions with my brother. Also some, when I traveled home to Atlanta, with Jimmy playing drums, and another fine horn player, Jon Moore, playing tenor sax. The last of these Atlanta jams was at Jimmy’s house around 2003. That seems like a long time ago. The players included Jon Moore’s son, Stephen, who was beginning to play guitar, and John Ivey the veteran MoTown bass player. Jimmy moved out of his house soon after that and stored his drums. One of the saddest days of my life was when Jimmy told me he was hanging up his sticks, explaining that he just didn’t have the energy, or a physical location to keep his chops up. I had tears in my eyes during that conversation, not for me, but for Jimmy.
There have been times in recent years when I have thought about selling all of my equipment. To date those have been fleeting thoughts. Recently I’ve made some attempts to get together with musicians whom I have met at Guitar Center, all of which have come to naught. It seems that unless there’s money involved, there’s no music. What a shame. I know that there are guys jamming all over the city, and bands starting with both old and new repertoires. My chops (technical performance skills) are the best they’ve ever been. But I can’t bring myself to go hang out in bars where there are jam sessions. I don’t know their material, and maybe therein lies the problem. I’ve spent too many years now playing with myself. Don’t laugh.
And then there was none – no music except for the occasional jam with my brother. They say life is an arc. You’re a baby, grow up and engage in social activities, and then, as you grow older, life begins to reverse. Your world gets smaller, not so much social activity, and, through attrition if nothing else, your circle grows smaller until you’re back in the crib. That’s a nice way of saying friends die, or become encumbered with various physical conditions. Me, I’m just sitting here playing with myself – you can laugh now.