Right around Christmas 1966, I got a call from Larry Covington. His band, The Shaparrails were playing at The El Toro in West Memphis. Their drummer was going out of town for Christmas, and wanted to know if I would be interested in setting in two nights. My band (The Teiffids) wasn't doing anything and I needed the money for Christmas. I had heard most of the song they cover on radio or records.
They were a top 40 cover band and 1966 was a great year for covers. The first night (Friday) went good, I was looking forward to making the money Saturday too. It had been snowing off and on all day, when we left the club that night it was real iffy for Saturday. It snowed big time, everything was closed Saturday. I didn't hear from Larry for almost a year, they stayed on the road most of the time.
He called in October ('67) and said he had quit the band. Wanted to know if I would help him start another one. I had just got back from California, and didn't have anything going on. So we got together the next night, and was going over some songs. He got a phone call right in the middle of things. It was Richard Beckham, the lead singer for The Shaparrails. He was here in Memphis, the rest of the band were in Pensacola Florida. I don't know what was going on in the band, what ever it was, they needed Larry back and they needed a drummer too.
Richard had a nice set of drums, but he was mostly a singer. Larry ask me to go to Florida for two weeks, for $300 a week. That was good money, and I'd never been to Florida. I had a set of Apollo drums, got them on Beale Street for $200. Richard was taking his Rodgers ($1500) so he said and I could use them. I had been playing a small club in the river bottoms out in the country where they really put sawdust on the dance floor. We had no dress code and our music was a lot of jamming, mostly blues. My world was about to change. We got into Pensacola about 10a.m.,on a Monday morning.
The band was staying in a house in back of the club (The Band Box). We went right to the club to set up the stage and get a sound check. This was a union club, and I wasn't in the union. I borrowed a union card from a friend of theirs, and I had my brother's driven license so I could get in the club. I also had my license, we use to laugh about if something happened to me, the authorities wouldn't know where to send my remains.
I didn't have any clothes like theirs, so the next thing to do was get some. Dress up to me was a new pair of jeans. Richard and Larry took me out shopping for stage clothes. The band picked up the tab for clothes they pick out, but I had to pay it back later. I didn't like the cloths at all, a pair of bright blue elephant bell bottoms and a psychedelic nehru shirt. I got maybe an hour cat nap before time to get ready for the gig. I was the last one to shower, every body else went on over to the club. When I got dress I was ready to quit and come back to Memphis. I was so far out of my comfort zone it wasn't funny.
Walking in that club that night was a very hard thing to do. I was so horribly uncomfortable it hurt. Getting behind the drums wasn't any easier, I was late coming in on the first song and it didn't get any better. It seem like a life time getting through the first set, and the next three were just as bad. It was like I'd never played drums, I was either late, early, or didn't do it at all. After the show, Kay Moore the bass player and leader of the band said he was going to have to get another drummer for the next night, I couldn't blame him, it was terrible.
The organ player Jimmy Crawford and me got along real good, he ask me to hang around a few days and party. The band house was huge, it had three apartments in it. The waitresses and bartenders live in the other parts, it was a full time party. The house came with full time bandaids as they called them. Jimmy had met a good looking girl Pat that live across the street from the club. She was a full blooded '60s chick, long black hair, very short black mini skirt, high black boots.
She was the most open minded girl I'd ever met. Her house was very hippiesh, black lights, incense and good music. We went over there the first night in town. She had some pills someone had given her that she didn't know what they would do. They had a little peace sign on them, she was calling it p.e.c..’Peace’ turned out it was pcp. Neither one of them wanted to take one first, so being the fool, I did. They went on and took one too, after seeing it didn't kill me.
I know we laugh for hours and I do barely remember crawling to the bed. Next thing I remember there was a naked girl laying next to me in bed. My head hurt so bad I didn't even ask where she came from, I just went back to sleep. Now the next thing I know her mama was in the room yelling at her. She was saying her daddy was out in the car and she had a good mind to call him in. I didn't move, I kept my head under the covers. I didn't know where my clothes were, or the back door. I couldn't remember very much at all, had I had sex with her? I just laid there hoping for the best. When they finally left I got up and was putting my pants on, Jimmy and Pat came in. They had run out the back door when the lady came in the front, and it was Pat's house. The chick came by the band house that afternoon and said she was sorry about all that.
I listened to the band the next two nights and was recording the shows. I was running out of money so I was going to leave the next day. It was the last set and the drummer they had was outside talking to his girlfriend. They were on stage calling for him, he didn't show. Kay said for me to come on and play the last set. I had a little bet of a buzz on, I knew more about their song too. I wasn't late this time, I let it all hang out. I didn't have anything to lose, I enjoyed playing with them this time. They felt the same way, Kay told me I had the job if I wanted it, and I did. The band house was always full, Sunday was no deferent. We didn't play on Sunday and everybody was making plans for that night.
This good looking little girl was telling Jimmy and me she had three hits of acid (LSD). She had her eye on Richard and was talking about spiking his drink. Jimmy ask for a hit and she gave it to him. I didn't know Richard very well, I knew he didn't smoke pot so I didn't think he would dig the acid. I'd never done any and wasn't thinking about doing any. Jimmy didn't like the idea of spiking Richard so I ask if I could have it. She gave it to me, a little pill you could hardly see. We all three took it a the same time, none of us knew what to expect. We were going to hang around and party, but after we did it we decided to got to the beach.
It was after dark when we got to the beach and some kids were camping out where we were planning to go. So we went on down the beach a couple of hundred yards or so, the kids had the best place, with tree. They started throwing gas on the fire, it looked cool, but it was also dangerous. So we went over to supervise, five of the coolest kids, they were 12 and 13.We just set around listening to them and watch them throw gas on the fire.
It started raining about 1a.m.,it got pretty bad a little later, with thunder and lightning. It wasn't long tell one of their mom's came and got them. The acid made everything very intense, it was a strong thunderstorm too, I think. We did however with some trouble, keep the fire going. Other then the logs on the beach moving round, looking like alligators, and a great feeling of being, the acid was like smoken pot.
For some reason we all had a nickname that night. Jimmy looked just like Ringo Star, and the chick looked like Samantha on the T.V. show 'Bewitched’, they said I looked like Ab Lincoln, so it was Ringo-Sam-Ab.The first I really knew acid was a hallucinogenic, Jimmy and the girl were setting on a sand hill under a tree. I was standing out by the fire and there was a stump right beside it. I started staring at it, at first it looked like a dude, with a real colorful turban on. I’m thinking, man this is pretty cool, almost funny.
All of a sudden it became a chick with long blonde hair and she was trying to get out of the ground. It became so intense, so fast, she didn't have any arms. Before I knew what was happening, I try to help her. Then I realized what was going on, it freaked me out. Something freaked Jimmy and Sam at the same time, and they were 50ft. from me. That was the first time I knew how weird this drug was.
We decided to go back to the house, when we got in the car, Jimmy didn't feel like driven, after that hallucination, I didn't want to drive either. We pulled over in a parking lot, under a street light. We all felt real strange, I had my shoes off, and my feet on the dash. It was raining a little, and the rain running down the windshield with the light from the street light, made a shadow on my feet. Again, at first it looked cool, like a little light show. All of a sudden, my feet malted.
Now this really got to me, it wasn't just the vision, it was the feel too. I closed my eyes, and that helped, I opened them, and it happened again. Nobody in the car was saying anything, but I knew they were feeling it too. I decided not to open my eye any more, the feeling was to strong.
We must have went to sleep, the next thing I know a cop was knocking on the window saying we couldn't sleep there. We were so glad he didn't ask us anything, I’m not sure we could have answered him. When we went on stage that night we were still a little off, a few beers helped. I didn't do any more of that stuff for a while.
That was just the first week on the road with The Shaparrails, the club pick up their option for two weeks, we were in Pensacola for four weeks. The Band Box was a cool club, but the coolest was Papa Don's Sly Lark, there was one in Mobile too. It was an all night club, so when we got off at 1:30a.m.,we could go down there and watch a good group, The Zig Zag Paper Co.. They were more of a underground type band, playing music I liked, Hendrix, Cream, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, we covered these bands too, the songs that hit, Zig Zag would do B side cuts too.
This one dude that was hanging around the band house, mostly with one of the waitresses. He was always borrowing clothes, he had my David Crockett leather coat on one day and got busted. He was A.W.O.L. from the Navy, I tried the rest of the time we were there to get it back, I never did. We played other towns in Florida, none as cool as Pensacola. We came back to Memphis for the Thanksgiving holidays, and to work up some new songs. They had been on the road for a year, they needed a rest.
We did a few jobs around town, they did New Years Eve with their old drummer. They still couldn't work out their problems, it was mostly Richard and the drummer, Van Bramlett. When they went back on the road, I was with them. Music was changing fast, it was getting heavier, more underground. It was the norm to see groups do songs that last 15min.,like Iron Butterfly's 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'. It was really a get high and jam type deal, the band was as high as the people watching, or higher.
The Shaparrails were more of a business band, by the book. People were starting to color outside the lines, and club owners had no chose but to conform. Almost over night it went from groups like, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Dave Clark Five, to groups like, Blue Cheer, The Seeds, The Yardbirds, Vanilla Fudge. It was the start of the drug culture, you were either in it, or out of it. I made some bad choices in my life, and I'm sorry to say, things weren't about to change.
The first job we did in the new year (1968) was in Pine Bluff Arkansas, The Attic. That was a fun one, trying to get a B-3 organ up the back stairs, real small stair. Back to Memphis for a month, and then to Fort Myers Florida, this is where it ended for me. It was a nice club, 300 sets, a 40 lane bowling alley, and a real nice restaurant. It was right on the edge of the everglades, and that was the name of the facilities, The Everglades. We were down there for a month, a lot happened in that month.
The coolest thing was a dude name Pop, he was like 60 and just got married to a good looking 25 year old. He had 200 acre of land that back up to government land, it was just right down the street from the club. He had made it a home for run-a-way kids. There was ten kids at the time we were there, anywhere from 16 to 10 years old. He had 25 horses, a fairly good size garden. They rented the horses out, worked in the garden, and took care of the house work. All of the kids love him, he was a fair man, but they had to earn they keep. If they were bad or lazy, he took them out of the barn and put them working in the house. It was really cool, I worked at a riding stable when I was a kid, so I could relate.
Pop and Richard hit it off real good at the club, and Pop told him any time we wanted to ride just let him know. The very next Sunday we (the whole band) went horse back riding. It was about 10 of us, we rode all day and in to the night. It was like going back in time. We could call Pop and ask if we could go riding, and after we'd get off (1:30am) he would have some horses ready.
One Sunday I went with Larry to see his sister in West Palm Beach. They had a store there that was huge, the biggest thing I'd ever seen. I got some real cool stage clothes. The thing I remember most about West Palm was a boat on the beach. Their motors went dead in a storm 20 miles out, and it was laying right in the middle of the best part of the beach. This boat was as long as a football field, and almost as wide.
The next Sunday we laid around all day and just about dark, Jimmy and me decided to go to Miami. It was about 200 miles straight through the everglades. At the time it was a little two lane road, we took the v.w..van so we would have some place to sleep. We stop a couple of time to pee, you talk about dark. We just set there for a few minutes listening, it sounded like the zoo, if your car broke down you'd be better off staying in it tell the sun came up.
We drove for two hours with out seeing another car. We got into Miami at 10:30pm and it wasn't a whole lot going on. We went into this one club, it had a live band and a girl was up on a stage behind the bar. She was putting fluorescent paint all over herself and rubbing up against a mirror on the wall. She was good and so was the band. Beer was $4.50 a bottle, we drink a few and decided to check out Miami.
The street were dead and just about midnight, all heck broke loose. It was like 5 o'clock rush hour, we'd never seen anything like it. There wasn't a Ford to be seen, all-BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars, limos, and here we are in a bright yellow V.W. bus-with flowers all over it. It made us feel a little out of place, we pulled behind a bar and went to sleep. We were going to go to the beach the next day to check out some chicks.
We parked right off the beach and was walking down to it. We past a store, it was called, Blow-up-Miami. This dude standing out front called us over, what they did was take a picture of you and make a poster out of it. I'm 18 and I really wanted to be a rock star, a poster couldn't hurt. We burned all out time right there, the posters looked good. We had to play that night, and we had a four hour drive, so we didn't get to the beach.
Stuff started getting weird about this time. First off Jimmy came into rehearsal one afternoon and said he had hepatitis and didn't know how bad it was going to get. Then, I'm really not sure what happen this day but we went horse back riding. For reasons unknown to me Richard didn't go with us. We got back to the club late and only had an hour or so to get ready. Richard was drunk as a skunk, there was no way he could make the show, and he was the biggest part of the show. Key told Larry to help get him sober. Kay and Larry both were very upset over it and started talking of getting rid of him, and Jimmy was sick. I was in all this talk and didn't know how it would effect me, I was soon to find out.
Richard got into it with Kay and Larry and they told him Saturday was going to be his last night. It was one thing after the other, it wasn't looking good for the band. They were telling Richard it was over, at the same time they said Van (their original drummer) was coming back. I never did feel like their drummer anyway, but Richard had been there from the start. So Richard and me and I think Jennifer, Richard wife got on a plane and came back to Memphis. From what I heard they went to Key West and somebody broke in the van and stole all their stuff. Jimmy and Larry moved to Ft.Myers, Kay came back to Memphis, and Van went back to Kentucky. The Shaparrails were no more...
An update to this story in 2004..
When Richard and me came back to Memphis, I left my tape recorder and tapes with Jimmy. After a few months went by I ask about them. I was told they had been stole with all the other equipment. So be it, or was it??
I went by to see Richard one night where he was DJ’ing. This was in 2004, he said he had a CD of The Shaparrails from Ft. Myers and Pensacola. I knew it was off of my tapes. I called Kay, and Tina, Kay’s wife had found the tapes in something or somewhere. So she rigged up a tape recorder and transferred them to her computer and made some CD’s. I talked to her and told her that the tapes were mine. She gave me a CD and the tapes, three 7” reels. At that time you could record stereo both ways, so it was six hours of music. I wish she had call me first, but she tried to do it her self. I barrow a half track machine and did the best I could. Most of the highs are gone, but you can tell what we were doing.. Next Story- The Richard Beckham Band
1967 / 68
Richard Beckham - lead vocal Jimmy Crawford - B3 Organ / vocal Larry Covington - guitar / vocal Kay Moore - bass / leader Roger-drums