Talk to us a little bit about…you came to the university in the late ‘50s. Did you have a special goal or dream when you thought about coming to the University of Georgia? Was there a…a focus or a purpose?
Going to college and getting a college education was the only thing my parents ever asked me to do. They were products of the Great Depression era. They got married in 1933 and they knew the value of education and they instilled that into me and…when they saw that I was interested in things like picking a guitar and singing country music or even before that, I wanted to be a baseball player. I wanted to be a song writer. I wanted to be a newspaper writer. So all of these things, they humored me with that. You know, you can do whatever you want to do, be whatever you want to be, but get that education. So I came here, not only wanting to get the education, but feeling a certain obligation to my parents because that was really the only thing they really ever asked me to do, was to graduate from college.
I think parents are still asking their children that same kind of thing. Your major…you majored in journalism.
I majored in journalism. I had done some writing for some newspapers. I grew up in Decatur right outside of Atlanta and I became the sports editor of a little weekly newspaper there called the DeKalb New Era back in the mid 50s when I was in high school and covered the…there were 8 county schools in Decatur that participated in the major sports and I…my…my beat was to cover those 8 DeKalb county schools, and in doing so, somehow I attracted the attention of somebody at the Atlanta Constitution and I became what they called a stringer for the Atlanta papers. They would send me out to cover football games, basketball games, whatever, in the whole greater Atlanta area, and then come in and write the stories for the Atlanta Constitution. They paid me the princely sum of $5 per game. (Laughs) Of course, gasoline was, what 17 cents a gallon or something, back then. But my ambition at that point was…was to go into the…the newspaper business. And when I came to Georgia and I found that the journalism school was divided into 3 sequences. It was News/ Editorial which was newspapers, magazines. There was Radio and Television – the broadcasting sequence. And then there was Advertising and Public Relations. And I got into the News/Editorial sequence to start with and then I kinda got bitten a littlebit by the show business bug and decided…and ended up majoring in the broadcast division.
So, music took one of our great sportswriters, is that right?
(Laughs) I wanted to be Furman Bisher…
Furman Bisher. What influences…did you find here? Did you have some faculty person or was there a person at the…at the Grady College that particularly influenced you and impacted your life or…or someone on campus maybe?
Well, of course, I was influenced by Dean John Drewry who was the head of the Journalism department at that time, the dean of the school, very much influenced by him; Worth McDougal who was the head of the Broadcast division; and I met people around town that influenced me a lot. H. Randolph Holder bought WGAU radio while I was working there. There was a man before him named Burl Womack, who I don’t think had any connection with the university but Burl managed WGAU and gave me my first radio job, hired me, I was green as a gourd and he hired me to work at the radio station. So…so many people like that influenced me and then I met a couple of people here…a couple of guys who were older than me that were back in school on the GI bill. They had been in the military and come back to school and they were both really country music fans and lovers and they both played guitar and sang. One of them had an early morning disk jockey show at WRFC and… they influenced me a lot because we formed a little band. I was actually going to go out for baseball when I came here. I was going to try to play for the Georgia baseball team and workouts started, practices started in the winter, in January or February, of my freshman year and it was about that same time that I met those two guitar pickers. (Laughs) And I ended up playing in a hillbilly band…
…instead of trying to see if I could throw fastballs and curve balls…
The end of your baseball career, huh?
You lived on campus for a while.
Lived in Reed Hall. I used to…could sit in my room before they double decked the stadium and watch the ball games.
I was gonna ask you about that.
(Laughs) I can’t do that anymore.
You had a tour last night. You know, Reed Hall is the Ritz Carlton now. Have you…did you have a chance to poke your head in the door?
No, I didn’t. I would love to. What do you mean, the Ritz Carlton?
Oh, they’ve renovated it. It’s really snazzy now.
Well, I’d love to go back to the room that I shared…my roommate my sophomore year was an exchange student from Tokyo, Hirouki Shugahara, and, we had some interesting experiences…me trying to understand him and him trying to figure me out and figure out what all this guitar picking was all about.
What was the social life on campus in the late ‘50s? I have a vision of “Happy Days.” Was it the good life? Was it…
It was good by...by the time I got past my freshman year. I was in the Kappa Sigma fraternity…
…and, you know, attended some fraternity parties and things and lived in the fraternity house for a short time and went to various events and things but I got awfully focused on…on the radio and music, and things like that, so I probably missed out on a good bit of the social life that I could have taken advantage of, just simply because… my interests kind of went elsewhere.
Well, you had a focus. That is something else that parents pray for, I’ll tell you that. There was also a 1947 Ford that I read about.
Was that something that got you around and…?
Yeah, when they finally let me bring a car on campus…you know, in those days freshman couldn’t have cars on campus.
And the first one that I brought over here was an old 1947 Ford, as you said, metallic blue. I’m sure it had been repainted a couple of times. And yeah, that’s what…what I got around in.
You’re not going to believe this, but I actually have a copy of your car permit that the alumni society had kept in your records. I’ve got some things you might want to see.
You are kidding.
Oh, my goodness !
Not the actual permit, but the information about your permit. I can tell you what your car permit number was.
(Laughs) I’d love to see that.
We ought to take a minute to say that Beta Lambda Chapter of Kappa Sig has honored you, I think recently.
Yes, they did.
In their Hall of Fame.
Yes, they did. That was very, very nice. I went to an event in Atlanta. There annual, what they call their Black and White, well, used to be called the Black and White Formal. I don’t know if it’s still called that or not, but it was a gathering in Atlanta at the Georgia Aquarium. And they honored me by naming me to the Kappa Sigma, Beta Lambda Chapter Hall of Fame and that’s pretty special.
That is…that is special. That’s special. You won the freshman talent show.
No, I came in second.
Who won first?
(Laughs) There was a little girl from, I think, Douglas, Georgia. She was a blind girl, a student here, and she played the piano and sang beautifully and she won first place and I won second.
Tell us what you did.
Uh, what I sang – I really don’t remember. I was starting to write some songs about that time so I probably sang something that I had written. What I do remember is that I had a little red cowboy shirt – a western shirt – now where in the world I found a pair of red pants…
…I do not know. (Laughs)
You were decked out!
(Laughs) I have a picture that appeared in the Red and Black newspaper, fortunately in black and white, and I’ve got on this red shirt, red pants, and a pair of white shoes, I think, and a white belt. So, for…for a long time after that I was not nearly as well known for singing or playing a guitar or song writing as I was for, there goes that crazy guy that wore that red suit on the stage.