Looking back over my life, the only thing that I can say I truly enjoyed as a JW was meeting and becoming friends with a number of JWs who were fine musicians and had experienced various measures of success in what used to be called the "music business."
Tommy Reynolds, from the vocal group Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds ("Don't Pull Your Love Out On Me, Baby" and "Baby, Baby, Fallin' In Love, I'm Fallin' In Love Again") recruited me to play drums in his Dallas circuit assembly orchestra in the 1970s.
In 1977, I became friends with legendary jazz composer/arranger/band leader Benny Golson, whose life story appeared in the Oct. 8, 1980 Awake, and who appeared opposite Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal." (Benny had been included in Art Kane's famous "Jazz Portrait: Harlem 1958," which photo figured into the story line of that movie.)
Following that movie, Spielberg and Hanks hosted Benny's 80th birthday performance at Kennedy Center, which included such jazz nobility as Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett. (Benny told me that his only stipulation to Spielberg and Hanks was, "No birthday cake!") Benny had also played on George Benson's infamous production of 10 of Watchtower's "Kingdom Melodies," which also featured performances by Larry Graham and Prince. (Incidentally, I received a pirated copy of those Patterson Bethel recordings from a District Overseer.)
I also became friends with former elder, now ex-JW, Ray Brown Jr., son of jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Brown. I introduced Ray to songwriting legend Paul Williams and, at my urging, they recorded a duet of Paul's song "Ordinary Fool," which had been recorded by Ray's mother.
Even since disassociating as a JW, I remain friends with Phillip 'Fang' Volk, the original bass player for Paul Revere & the Raiders. Phil had been recruited into JWs by PR&R's manager/producer Roger Hart, who had been to PR&R what Brian Epstein had been to the Beatles. Phil had met his wife, Tina Mason, who had been a dancer on the 1960s teen TV show, "Where the Action Is," produced by Dick Clark. Tina, also a fine singer, had recorded a version of my friend Chip Taylor's song, "Any Way That You Want Me," and Chip hand-picked Tina's version to include in a CD compilation of his compositions, titled "Wild Thing: The Songs of Chip Taylor" over versions by better known singers, Dusty Springfield, Ronny Spector (wife of infamous "wall of sound" producer Phil Spector) and the Troggs. (Chip Taylor is the younger brother of actor Jon Voight--thus Angelina Jolie's uncle--and is best known for writing the perennial hits, "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning.")
Later, I shared with Phil the YouTube video of Chip Taylor and Swedish superstar Jill Johnson performing "Forever's Going Underground," a song which Chip had written especially for Jill to record. Phil was blown away by the lyrics, and told me it was the best Country song about breaking up he had ever heard. He asked if I thought Chip would mind him and Tina recording their own duet of that song. I gave him Chip's personal email address so that he could ask the man himself.
My aunt and uncle from Fort Worth served as JW missionaries in Colombia, South America, in the 1960s and 1970s. My maternal grandfather--a longtime JW--lived in a detached apartment and kept their home rented out and in good repair. For years, the rental payments provided a source of income for my aunt and uncle, enabling them to live in such a manner that the locals and even some of their fellow JWs viewed them as being wealthy, which they were not. (Incidentally, Eric Wilson, who posts excellent videos on his own Beroean Pickets YouTube channel, moved to Colombia as a teenager in the 1960s and knew my aunt and uncle very well.) Eventually, my grandfather reached the age where he needed daily assistance with meals and such, and a young JW couple lived in the main house rent free, providing my grandfather one home cooked meal a day. The husband was a very talented guitarist named Bob Morris, who introduced me to the world of jazz.
I was an avid record collector, and spent much time in a Fort Worth record store called Record Town, owned and operated by a father and son, both of whom were named Sumter Bruton (Sr. and Jr.) In 1976, I began working for Musicland, a mall record-store chain based in Minneapolis, for which company I went on to manage stores in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Abilene. In 1976, Bob sold a guitar to a local guitarist named Stephen Bruton, the younger brother of Sumpter Bruton Jr., who was also a very talented guitarist. (Their father Sumter Sr. was a well-known Fort Worth jazz drummer.) Bob invited me to go along when he took the guitar to Stephen, a very friendly and unpretentious fellow a few years older than myself. On our way home, Bob told me that Stephen and his band were the backing band for Kris Kristofferson, and that they appeared with Kristofferson in the movie "A Star Is Born," the #1 movie and the #1 selling record in the nation at that time. Bob said that Stephen's band would be performing that very Saturday night at the House Of Pizza (known simply as "the HOP") just down the street from Record Town and Texas Christian University. My wife and I accompanied my best friend and his wife, Mark and Denise Brown, to see Stephen's band perform under the pseudonym, Little Whisper & the Rumer. To say that the experience was surreal would be an understatement. Stephen went to to move to Austin and became hugely popular and worked for many other well known musicians, including Bonnie Raitt. (To be clear, Stephen Bruton was never a JW.)
Bob Morris was an avid fan of the Jazz Crusaders, a famous band which originated in Houston and which included JW musicians Wilton Felder on saxophone, Wayne Henderson on trombone, and Hubert Laws on flute. (Wilton Felder also played bass for many other acts, including Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell.) Bob especially liked the Crusaders guitarist, Larry Carlton. (Ironically, Carlton would later marry Bob's cousin.) Bob's dream was to become a studio musician, and he certainly possessed the talent to do so. When I met Benny Golson in 1977, Bob gave me a VHS video of him which served as an audition tape to send to Benny and his business partners, which included Larry Graham, former bassist for Sly & the Family Stone and widely recognized as the originator of the "slap bass" technique. Benny Golson and Larry Graham hired Bob to manage their Los Angeles recording studio, and Bob met and worked with every JW musician on the West Coast, even playing concerts with the Crusaders and other JW musicians.
In 1991, a great R&B band from Peterborough, England, called The Motivators visited Abilene where I lived. They had come to the USA to record an album at Bradley's Barn in Nashville. Their sax player was an oil company executive from nearby Breckenridge who lived six months of every year in Peterborough. He had paid all expenses for their trip. Once in Texas, the Brits really wanted to play several West Texas "dives," but they had not brought any of their instruments and their drummer had not made the trip. Renting all the necessary equipment from an Abilene music store, they asked about hiring a drummer who could play R&B, and the store recommended me. An audition was scheduled and we really hit it off in a big way. The next week would prove to be a week I would never forget. At the end of the week, I casually mentioned to them that I happened to be a JW, and they replied in unison, "Bruno!" They told me about a good friend of theirs named Bruno Urciuoli who was a musical genius who had played bass guitar with them in the past and who also happened to be a JW. I called Bruno long distance and we visited for a couple of hours. As soon as I got a computer and accessed the internet, I connected with the Motivators and with Bruno. I continue to be blown away by what the internet makes possible.
When I was just a kid, my father was the Assistant Congregation Servant of the Poly Congregation in Fort Worth. To this day, I remember many of the members from that congregation. I remember one woman whose son was named Jerry Lynn Williams and who played guitar. My oldest brother became very enamored of Jerry and his musical talents, and always wanted to play guitar himself after that. Even after my father moved us to Mineral Wells (just 40 minutes West of Fort Worth), my family would go see Jerry Lynn Williams perform with a band called the In Crowd at a popular roller rink called Jolly Time. The In Crowd's claim to fame was as the backing band for a duo named Jon & Robin & the In Crowd which charted two Billboard top 100 singles, "Do It Again (Just a Little Bit Slower)," and "Dr. Jon." The In Crowd's drummer, Rex Ludwick, went on to play drums for Willie Nelson and appeared in the movie, "Honeysuckle Rose." My brother and family completely lost touch with Jerry Lynn Williams, but our paths would--in a sense--cross again decades later.
I had moved to Abilene to open and manage a Musicland store and, when that Musicland closed, I remained in Abilene, opening my own record shop, Off the Wall Records. Many years after that, my wife's nephew, Chris Labrenz, married a young JW whose family was from Fort Worth but had moved to the tiny town of Hillsboro. My wife and I attended their wedding and were assigned seats at a table with a delightful couple from Plano, Texas, who were of our age group. Beth is a Senior Vice-president for the JC Penney Co., and her husband, Darby Tipple, is a high school English teacher in Plano. Nobody bothered to introduce us, so we engaged in little more than friendly chit-chat.
The next morning, my wife and I attended the Kingdom Hall and, for the first time, we were able to visit with the bride's mother. She told us that our nephew had insisted on seating us at the same table with her brother, Darby, since we both loved music. She went on to say that Darby had played in bands around Fort Worth since his junior-high-school years. I couldn't believe that I had missed out on discussing music with someone who shared my passion, and I asked, "Will Darby be here this morning?" She replied, "Well, actually, no. Darby and our nephew (who had been the wedding photographer) are on a plane heading for England where they will be guests of Eric Clapton in his home for a month." I just about fell on the floor, and said, "Excuse me? How does Darby know Eric Clapton?" She looked around, leaned forward, and said in a lower voice, "Darby is Eric's AA Sponsor." Again, I almost fell over, as she continued, "Darby and Eric have been friends for years."
On our way home, I told my wife that there had to be more to that story, since one doesn't just become Eric Clapton's AA Sponsor! When Darby returned from England we connected on Facebook, and he explained the connection. It was Jerry Lynn Williams whom my family had known from from the Poly Congregation in Fort Worth! Darby and Jerry Lynn had been good friends and had played in several bands together in Fort Worth where they were both raised. In Eric Clapton's biography, he calls Jerry Lynn Williams the best white Blues singer he ever heard. Jerry had become a first rate songwriter, and Clapton recorded several of his songs. Jerry Lynn also wrote the songs "Giving It Up For Your Love" and "Sending Me Angels" for Delbert McClinton, who is also from Fort Worth. Delbert played harmonica on the song "Hey, Baby" by Fort Worth native, Bruce Channel. Delbert toured England with Bruce in 1962 with the Beatles serving as their opening act, and Delbert is credited with teaching John Lennon a harmonica riff which Lennon played on the Beatles' recording of "Love Me Do." There is a famous photograph of Delbert and Bruce posing with the Beatles with drummer Pete Best, before he was replaced by Ringo Starr.
I have more stories to tell, but if I tell them all here, you would have no reason to purchase my book when it is published!