Rock & Roll Rewind: James Brown Revue 1963
c d kaplan is a lifelong rock & roller. He’s got stories. Lots of ‘em. Here’s another.
This is a remembrance of my first college concert.
James Brown Revue.
Fall ’63. In Doremus Gymnasium at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
The story really begins the winter prior, my senior year in high school. Which is when
my pals and I discovered WLAC 1510 AM Nashville.
It is a 50,000 watt clear channel station, which meant its signal carries long and far after
dark. Which is when the station’s otherwise pro forma programming morphed into soul,
blues and R & B. That which had not so many years prior been dubbed “race music.”
I fell in love, we fell in love, regaling each other in the mornings with tales of the evening
before’s programming. The DJ that we most loved was a fellow who on the air went as
Big Hugh Baby.
Hugh Jarrett had once been a member of the Jordanaires, backing Elvis often. For us,
he was the raucous guy whose patter was full of sexual double entendres, aimed it
seemed directly at us and frat boys across the land. Though his primary sponsors were
Royal Crown Pomade, baby chicks and Randy’s Record Shop in nearby Gallatin.
As much as I listened, other than the album that informs this whole affair, the only tune I
now remember is Big Hugh spinning “Spring” by Birdlegs and Pauline.
James Brown’s iconic “Live at the Apollo” was recorded in October ’62, released a few
months later. Brown, confident and flush enough, bet on himself, funding the deal.
Big Hugh played it every night. All the way through.
Though thirty minutes in length it was and remains incendiary. That nightly turn was
something totally unheard of in those days on AM radio.
My gang fell hard.
Fast forward to the following autumn, When James Brown, the Famous Flames, and his
incredibly tight band played the first big gig of my life away from home. Fats Gonder, he
of the legendary intro to the album, was there too.
Be still my beating heart.
Understand, at the time, W&L had but 1200 or so students. All male. All white. Where
coats and ties were required attire at all times when on campus. Which included
Doremus Gym. Our dates from nearby Hollins, Sweet Briar, Mary Wahington and
Southern Seminary were dressed like the southern ladies they were expected to be.
Aside: It was an old school gym with a running track on a balcony, with a wrestling pit
area at one end. During the concert, the school allowed black residents in town to come in the back door and hang out in the pit.
This was culture shock.
This was, most of all, rock & roll heaven.
Brown did all his well known hits at the time. “Please Please Please,” “Try Me,” “Lost
Someone,” and “Night Train.”
The concert was, frankly, transformative. It was my first realization that high school fantasies could be real life experience.
There’s only one clip to watch to get a true sense of what that evening was like. Brown’s
set at the TAMI show, recorded in October ’64.