Friday, November 23, 2012

Hammering Henry Aaron may have been impatient with a lot of folks, but he had plenty of time for a damn nice News Brother


"When Newspapers Mattered: the News Brothers & their Shades of Glory" is a fine book that isn't just for journalists. It goes far beyond "inside baseball" of the death of newspapers. There's some real baseball -- and a lot of great (and some not-great) people we meet along the way. Here's a snippet from one chapter featuring Hammerin' Henry Aaron, a hellluva guy, and me, a damn nice guy.
 
Few of the people I’ve met left as strong an image in my brain as Henry Aaron.
I remember him as kind of surly, at least on first meeting. I mean I liked him and he liked me.

Of course, I guess I didn’t blame him for coming off that way. After all, here was the greatest ballplayer of all time having to pimp himself out to sell Magnavox televisions in a small Southern city.
And anyone who knows anything about Henry Aaron knows he often had less-than wondrous times in Southern cities … including, of course, Atlanta.
I think it was the autumn of 1976, after he finished up his short “homecoming” stint with the Milwaukee Brewers.  The new Magnavox dealer, out on the south end of Clarksville, called to say “Hank” was coming to sign autographs, I believe for a grand-opening.  

Of course, the great home run king was getting paid by Magnavox.  Still, it was kind of disconcerting to me, as a guy who went to Atlanta to see his last game in Fulton County Stadium a couple years prior, to see this rather unassuming fellow in a sport coat standing over glistening walnut-cabinets containing the best TVs on the planet … or at least the best ones he was hawking.
Still it was Henry Aaron, and I called him “Mr. Aaron,” when I approached. I was unprofessional in that I had a poster, with its illustration of him arm-in-arm with Babe Ruth – “Brotherhood of Excellence” was written beneath the illustration – out in the car.

His surliness went away as my old smile and interest in humans, particularly home run kings gained on him.  At least while he was talking to me, he could ignore the fawning line of autograph seekers and local corporate hotshots.
I realized he liked that. Kind of making “the man” wait for him. Anyway, after I wrapped up my 45 minutes or so with him, I asked “Mr. Aaron” if I could go out and get the poster in my car for him to sign.

“They gave these out at Henry Aaron Appreciation Day down in Atlanta,” I said, offering the poster that on this day hangs in my son’s room.
“They didn’t appreciate me in Atlanta,” he said, or words to that effect. “I don’t remember that day.”

Still he signed it, simply: “Best Wishes, Henry Aaron.”
He rolled it up and handed it back to me.

“Thanks, Mr. Aaron,” I said.
At which point the great baseball player smiled, nodded and said words I’ll never forget:
 “My name’s Henry, Tim.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My tribute to Pogley: A Vietnam radar man who knew how to live, knew how to die (a friend who liked to fish & roller-skate against the wind)


(Note: I was commissioned by the friends and family of Lance Bell to write this memorial tribute for his service.  They have given me permission to share it here.  He was a good guy.)
  “Liked to fish & roller-skate.”
Paging through the memories of the friends and family of the guy I first called “Poontang” – I couldn’t remember his nickname was “Pogley” on our first e-mail acquaintance – I had to smile.
Here were pages of memories of the school kids Lance Bell mentored.
And the deep-war memories of his old hitch-hiking and hemp buddy Terry Kirkwood (“Captain Kirk” to me).
Then there is the page of basic obituary information that his sister-in-law Sue Bell begins with “Here are the facts on Lance.”
DOB: 11/12/1949. DOD: 11/06/2012.
Parents: William (Ty) Bell (deceased 11/15/2007) and Ginger Lee Spina of Barrington, Illinois.  Born in South Bend, Indiana. Brother: Micky (Sue) Bell of Mishawaka, Indiana. Sister: Billie Bell of Portland, Oregon. Nephew: Nicolas (Kate) Bell of Chicago, Illinois. Great niece: Audrey of Chicago, Illinois. U.S. Navy: 1969 to 1971. Formerly of Lakeland, Florida. Liked to fish & roller-skate. Mentor to kids at Rolling Prairie Middle School. Donations to VA Hospice at Hines VA Hospital, Hines, Illinois.
That’s something like 80 words, mostly names and basic facts summarizing, quickly, the sometimes belligerent little man who died of lung, bone and brain cancer after for too long ignoring his own health concerns while helping to take care of his mom and enjoying his time with the school kids.
“Lance enjoyed going to school, helping where he could and the friendships he found with you kids,” wrote his old friend, Kim Zahrt, a teacher, on a Facebook posting to let those same young people know he had died.
“Some do not understand why he did it for no pay,” says Kim.  “He valued the experience above money and felt it was where he should be. I’m so glad he had you to call his friends at his departure.”
No sense listing every Facebook comment from the kids who Lance had voluntarily mentored the last couple of years of his life.
But here are a few: “Lance was a good guy,” writes Ronnie Braman.
“He always pushed me to do my best,” says Brenden Bashore.
“Thank you for bringing him into our lives. He is missed and loved,” writes Brian Meadows.
Or perhaps this one from Steven Jacobs sums it up best:  “Lance was an awesome guy. He has done so much for so many people.  But we must keep our heads up. That’s what his hard ass would want.” I have to admit that Steven used asterisks to self-censor “hard a**), but today isn’t a time for self-censorship.
That hard ass wouldn’t want it that way.
Gotta say I didn’t know Lance. Never shook his hand or hugged him. At least not physically. Perhaps with words, as we were brothers running against the wind.  Yeah, Captain Kirk used that song to help describe his late friend. “Against the wind/ We were runnin’ against the wind/We were young and strong, we were runnin’ against the wind…”
Course that old Bob Seger tune goes on to have a little bitter loneliness in it, the price of “living to run and running to live.”
Captain Kirk plays that on his harmonica in memory of his old Vietnam buddy. He also plays Jimmy Buffett’s “We Learned to Be Cool from You”: “Maybe I can parlez a little Francais/Maybe I can write a whole page a day/Do a crossword puzzle in a second or two/But I learned to be cool from you….”
All the sudden, I’d be working in my basement, where I try to hammer out a living as a writer after being run out of the newspaper business for being too old and principled, and a note would pop up on Facebook: “Hope you’re having a good day, Mr. G.”  And I’d smile. Because of that note, I would at least have a better day, knowing that old Pogley was thinking about me.
Other times he’d write that he was going up to Jamie Waldo’s lake house.  To fish.
Maybe he’d write: “I had a great day at school today. Love these kids.”
Other days, he’d write that he was enjoying working with the students, but he needed to find work for pay soon. Problem was, well, it wasn’t a problem. Duty was that he was helping to take care of his mother. And that came first.
 Not false nobility here, folks, but there was something special about this stubborn little man and his devotion to doing right by his mom. We get one mother. And Lance spent the last couple of years putting her first. Just as she put him first back before that DOB all those years ago.
As I go through these pages of memories about a guy who was a brother I never met, I keep coming back to that one line in his “obituary information” that Sue wrote. “Liked to fish & roller-skate.”
Somehow, while I read Captain Kirk’s memories of the shared time as radar men on a guided missile destroyer in the Tonkin Gulf during the Vietnam War, I keep thinking about that.
The two old salts turned into hippies when they came home, quietly, to no parades, from a war they didn’t start and didn’t finish. Hitchhiking like Kerouac, across America, forth and back.  “We experienced many things,” writes Captain Kirk.  What those are, he leaves to the imagination.
“Lance was a brother I never had biologically,” the good captain continues.
Pogley was twice divorced. He was owner of a pool maintenance business in Florida. He loved the Sunshine state and he liked to deep sea fish and snorkel. And perhaps roller-skate?
“He, Bill Michael and Captain Bruce (Dunsmore) were tight mariners,” Terry writes, adding that his “dear friend from South Bend, Linda Baumgartner, came to live with him in Florida until Lance returned to South Bend a few years ago to take care of his recently widowed and homebound/now bed-ridden mother, Ginger.”
Bill says it was tough to see Lance leave Florida. “I hated to see him move to Indiana, but he felt that was what he needed to do. His Mom and family needed him, so he left Florida.”
Yet there are those decades of enjoyment Lance had with his pals in the Sunshine State. “I met Lance back in the early 1980s. He was my next-door neighbor in Sarasota, Florida,” Bill recalls. “Back then he had two loves: A 1966 Mustang coupe and an old Harley he called ‘Jesse Belle.’
“He was a tough, old bird, didn’t take any shit off nobody, came on to you like a mean old snake, but deep down he was as gentle as a lamb. I can remember many times I told him to his face: ‘I’m glad you have my back.’
“If he liked you he would die for you.”
Bill goes on to recall Lance’s patriotism, his love for the U.S. flag, which he flew on all patriotic holidays, including one Memorial Day when he accidentally hung it upside down. “He immediately had to correct his mistake,” says Bill. “Of course, he was not drinking???”
Lance, he says, loved the pure white beaches of the Gulf Coast and “the babes tanning on the boats.”  If not on a boat, he would wade out in the sea and fish, sometimes late at night.  Later, he lived on the state’s Atlantic Coast and took his 16-foot canoe everywhere, both in the rivers and out to sea.
“He showed no fear,” says Bill, elaborating that the two also loved fishing with Captain Bruce. “Every time the boat went in the water, Lance wanted to be on it.”   
Lance’s influence on young people is apparent. He fathered no children, but he’d have been a helluva dad. Florida housemate Linda Baumgartner’s grandson, Ben, called him “Grampa.”  Lance promised the kid he called “Ben Jovi” that he’d be around when he got older.  He’ll be around, Ben, not physically but forever in your soul.
His ability to relate with young people gave him a reason for living in his final years.  As Captain Kirk says, after he went to take care of his mom, “Pogley couldn’t find a job in South Bend, so he volunteered to become a high school mentor in his old friend, Kim’s, physics class.”
He drank too much and he knew it. Heck, I even knew him well enough to give him a hard time about that on the telephone. He had been a biker, complete with the Harley and the streaming hair.
He looked like Jesus when he went in the hospital. He was bald, hairless and 70 pounds when the hospice’s job was done.
 Gotta say, I liked the guy a lot. And I didn’t know him. I called him a few times in the hospital and hospice, wishing him well.
“Too much morphine, Tim,” he’d say. “Call me back when I’m not nodding off.”
Other times he was in pain. One day when I called he was anxious for his brother, Mick, to show up at the VA hospice. “Hope he hasn’t forgotten about me,” he said. “Nah. He’ll be here. Right now, I gotta sleep. Gimme a call back when you get some time.”
Mick made it and that made Lance’s day. After all, he loved his brothers, living and dead. Pat OD’d in 1974. Lance found the body and never got over that.
But he sure loved Mick.
 “Terry was trying to kidnap me or something,” Lance said, during one conversation. He described a planned intervention that his old Navy pal had tried to engineer to try to save his soul and perhaps his body last summer.
“I don’t know. Terry keeps talking about this Jesus stuff. I guess it’s all right,” said Pogley.  “I can’t take it all the time.”
But, according to Captain Kirk, Lance was happy for the “intervention” from above.  Had found his peace with the Lord at the time of his death.
On his final day with Captain Kirk, after he had prayed with his pal and said he was all right with the idea of finding out what’s next, Lance fell asleep.
Captain Kirk didn’t know what to do. He’d come from Des Moines, Bible in hand, to spend time with his friend before he died.  Yet here was the slight and exhausted former hitchhiker and biker -- streaming hair long-gone victim to the cancer treatment -- no longer conscious.  Sleeping. Or dead.
The mournful silence was interrupted.  “Man, Terry, you are a big, ugly fucker, you know that?” Lance whispered.
Terry almost passed out as the dying friend and his pal gut-laughed.
OK. It’s probably time to wrap this up. After all, I didn’t really know this guy. But I loved him, because we were of the same time, sharing the same experiences. We’d run against the wind, for sure.
I liked his little notes: “Mr. G, hope you’re having a good un. “
Mr. G didn’t have a good day a couple of weeks ago. I’d been unable to get through on the phone to the hospice room for a few days.
So I sent out an e-mail note to his friends, asking for an update on this man I liked but did not know.
And then the phone rang. It was about 9 at night. “Lance died at 3 this afternoon,” said Captain Kirk.  “He’s in a better place now.”
So when it was first asked if I’d write a tribute for him, I didn’t know if it was appropriate.
 Do I talk about his teaching for free?
His Vietnam experiences?
His apparent lifelong passion for the sea?
His love of his family, despite his own crankiness?
The fact he found enough trouble in his life to make it both good and bad?
“How should I remember this man?” I asked myself one evening as The Rolling Stones version of “Not Fade Away” and other classics blasted from my record machine.
 The more remembrances I read, the more I liked the little Vietnam radar man (I actually had “little MF” uncensored in my first draft. He probably would have liked that.)  Lance had plenty of woes in his life, demons he chased, fought, occasionally vanquished. But – according to all accounts – the little (guy) went out a winner.   He was a lot of things, mostly pretty damned good, to a lot of people.
How do I do him justice? 
That’s when the line in Sue’s obituary information made me smile and I knew what I wanted to say: Lance Bell “liked to fish & roller-skate.”


 

                 

    

 

 

 

 

      

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jason remembers Perry Baggs, an essential Scorcher; Funds sought to bury his drummer & co-writer who is Gone, Gone, Gone


The guy who made a name for himself as one of world’s most colorful front men, a Whirling Dervish in buckskin fringe, a man who liberally mixes hillbilly sensibilities with punk-rock aggression, sits back in his hotel room in the UK.
Jason Ringenberg, the Jason in the legendary outfit Jason & The Scorchers (and family friendly Farmer Jason in his “calmer” times) is pondering the news about his one-time drummer, harmonizer, sidekick, co-writer. Perry Baggs is dead.
“Perry had a magic, elfin-like personality that drew people to him,” says Jason.  “There would have been no band without Perry. Period.”
It’s about 5 a.m.  in the UK.
Probably the same time he and his friend, Perry Baggs, would sometimes find their muse to fashion some of what came to be called “cowpunk” music, but was really just music. From two hearts. 
  “White Lies” and “If Money Talks” may well have been formulated at this time of day … late night, really, at day’s end. After a show. As the adrenaline wears off. Before pulling the blinds and resting up for the next night.
Back when Perry Baggs was alive.
Perry, 50, a friend of this writer and so many people, a damn nice guy, was alone when he died in his Goodlettsville home Thursday.
His beloved Katrina Cornwell and friends from his church missed him. Perry, the longtime rock ‘n’ roll hero, never skipped church.  Well, at least not in his non-Scorching years.  Sure, he may have joked  he was a “#&%*ing Christian” … but that counts too, you know.  Or at least so they say.
 While drums were his claim to fame as a Scorcher, bass was more his thing in church.

When police went to do a well-check, they found Perry’s body.  Renal failure and diabetes had taken their final tolls on this vibrant “elfin” fellow.

Just a kid really when he climbed with Jason,  guitarist Warner Hodges and  bassist Jeff Johnson – the best of the Scorchers’ lineups – to within eyeshot of superstardom about 30 years ago.
Didn’t really make it past under-appreciated legend status. Occasional breakups and regroups with sometimes different personnel resulted.

But the churning, pounding heart of the Scorchers was fashioned not just by Perry on drums but by the songs he and Jason wrote together.   My friend Andy McLenon compares them to Richards and Jagger, with less success, but as much soul.   The Glimmer Twins are pushing 70 though and talking about playing the world for what may be the last time.  Perry fell far short.

No one really was surprised that the ailments finally got Perry, I guess. At the same time we all were surprised. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

He was only 50. To be truthful, my own friendship with Perry had more to do with my former career in daily newspapering, before, well … you’ve all read that story. Anyway, my years there ended about five years ago.

In fact, Perry had a lot to do with my hiring music writer Peter Cooper, who remains one of my dearest friends. When Peter came to interview for a job as a music writer at the daily newspaper, he stopped and looked at the guy in the library.  “Gee, Mr. Ghianni,” he said, his aw-shucks Spartanburg, South Carolina, charm in perfect order. “That’s Perry Baggs of Jason & The Scorchers…. Working in the library? Please hire me, Mr. Ghianni... please.... please.....”

Actually, it was a little more straightforward than that.  Peter called me “Tim” as I insisted and I’d already decided to hire him. But having Perry – drummer for Peter’s all-time favorite rock band -- in the library didn’t hurt.   

Perry’s layoff from his job as an “archivist” at the daily newspaper came a little later. By the way, back when newspapers really mattered, archivists were called librarians and the archives themselves were called morgue files.

 Anyone ever try to get health insurance on their own with pre-existing conditions like renal failure and diabetes?

Medical bills kept piling up and Perry kept dreaming of new songs, old friends and his own peculiarly rockin’ high lonesome harmonies that were essential to Jason & The Scorchers at their damned best.

Right now, Katrina is trying to see if Perry qualifies for  Metro Social Services indigent burial.  Meantime, she is rallying people to contribute to his Pay Pal account at perrybaggs@yahoo.com. His desire, Katrina says, is to be buried next to his mother at Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens.

She’s also floating ideas out there for perhaps a fund-raising concert. Or some such tribute.
Jason is aware of this as he sits in his room.  I tried to contact him the day Perry died, but he sent a note. He was in the UK and his hours were crosswise. “Of course I’d like to talk with you about Perry,” he said in a note, encouraging an exchange at a better hour .

“Warner brought Perry into the band the fall of ’81,” says Jason. “At the time we were using Barry Felts on drums and he quit. Perry came to my house to jam with us. From the first measure of ‘Gone Gone Gone,’ an old Carl Perkins song, we took off on, I knew Perry was the missing piece.”

It wasn’t just the drums but the spirit of the little guy who Hodges treated like a little brother needing protecting and nurturing.

“Perry’s impact on the band is incalculable,” says Jason. “He wrote some of our best songs, played drums, sang harmonies and was a huge part of the arrangements of the songs. There would have been no band without Perry. Period.
“I actually think of Perry more as a great all-around musician rather than a great drummer, although he was that as well,” Jason continues.  “Perry was a volcano of ideas. The job when writing with Perry was mostly as an editor. His creativity drove the sessions.”

And Jason missed him when the band began to fracture. Or when it fractured. At different times. For different reasons.  Perry missed Jason. And Warner, too.
“Me and Perry were quite close in the ‘80s and ‘90s, both as music colleagues and friends,” says Farmer Jason. “The last 10 years we drifted apart, although there was never any serious breakup. He left the band in 2002 to go solo. I respected that and supported him the best I could.”

 Perry and Jason did get back together, though. For a fund-raiser for the ailing drummer and again for an Americana Music Awards tribute.  Perry knew he was dying at the time. He said he’d just as soon die playing with Jason & The Scorchers as die quietly.  There was nothing really quiet about the guy.

Ever hear him laugh?

“The last shows with Perry will always stick in my mind. We all knew how hard it was for him to play drums like that with his poor health,” remembers Jason. Actually, when the Scorchers put together their latest album, “Halcyon Times,” Perry joined them. Too weak for the drums. But “he sang those brilliant harmonies on four of the tracks. It was a wonderful experience to be with him again.”

It also was the last time Jason saw his old running mate.

“I will always consider Perry one of the most naturally gifted music people I have ever known,” says Jason, from his UK room.
Sure, there was a little “acrimony” at times but “all bands have that.” All brothers, too.
“I spent 25 years with Perry. We had our good times and our bad ones. However, I count myself a fortunate man to have made music with him.”

Like he said: “There would have been no band without Perry. Period.”    

  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Please bang the drum slowly for Jesus' (and Scorchers') beloved cowpunk percussion wizard

Bang the drum slowly….
One of the greatest drummers in rock ‘n’ roll history is gone, his frail and battered body apparently finally giving out on him.
To be fair I didn’t know Perry Baggs (or Baggz, as his rock ‘n’ roll persona was occasionally spelled) best as a drummer.
He was the librarian at The Tennessean who liked Van Halen and admired my Hawaiian shirts. He liked to talk about music and faith.
And he liked to laugh if I quoted Dylan, Kristofferson, Lennon, Jagger or George Jones.
Oh sure, I knew who he was and I loved his band, having first seen Jason & the Scorchers way back when they were a sensation, playing at Cat’s or Kat’s or whatever that record store was just below Vanderbilt.
My good pal, Michael Gray, a music expert, scholar and genuine nice guy who spends his work hours at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, tells me that show was “legendary. I’ve been hearing about it for 20 years.”
There are a few of us left, I guess, who actually were there.
Andy McLenon was there, of course. He's been about everywhere Nashville rock has been fashioned.
He and the late Jack Emerson and their Praxis International – a mighty big name operating out of a basement – pretty much took Jason & the Scorchers to the world.
“I don’t know why I’m shocked, but I am,” says Andy, when reflecting on the death of his old friend, who joined up with front man Jason Ringenberg, guitarist Warner Hodges and bassist Jeff Johnson in the first (and best) version of the outfit.
McLenon says he remembers Perry as nice “kid,” a 19-year-old, who auditioned for the band that for awhile had the proverbial “Next Big Thing” moniker written about it everywhere.
“He was a soulful little guy. He was really focused, really sweet, a joy to be around,” McLenon says, adding that the medication Baggs had to take “would affect his moods” and perhaps influence the tension that sometimes existed between him and the band.
“But I know those guys love him. Jeez, Warner was like his big brother and protector from the real world. Perry was very lovable. He just got confused about reality sometimes.”
Then McLenon, who is one of Nashville’s truest rock scholars, reminds us that Perry was not just a drummer (although that was plenty.)
  “If you look back and look at the songs he wrote early on. It’s interesting. He had this musical melody thing. “He was really melodic in his writing,” he says, remembering how “Jason would write the lyric and Perry would add the fetching melody on some of the great early songs like ‘White Lies’ and ‘Money Talks.’
“Jason wrote a lot by himself, but the ones that Perry was involved in tend to be the more catchy ones,” says Andy.
Then he draws a straight line between the Ringenberg-Baggs pairing and another little rock pairing of writing and singing partners.
“When you listen to Jagger and Richards, you know those are two guys whose vocals are not technically great, but when they are together with Richards making harmony …. Well, I loved when Perry would sing with Jason. It was very soulful and very distinctive and very melodic.”
One thing that many people probably don’t know is the country side of Baggs. No, not the raucous hillbilly rock (aka “cowpunk”) of the Scorchers – which has been honored with a display in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“One of the interesting things is that in the ‘80s, before it was cool to do such things, Perry created this alter-ego, Austin Taylor, who would record these really country demos, things like ‘If Heaven’s Just a Fairy Tale, Then What’s the Story Here.’
“He would sing it so intensely. Seriously, they were very strong vocals. Before the hipsters – and Perry was never a hipster – thought George Jones was cool, Perry Baggs instinctively knew he was and tried to emulate him in his alter-ego.”
He adds that Baggs, who was raised in the Southern Gospel tradition, never really left that.
Later in life, after fashioning different lineups of country-fried rock efforts, Perry found his truest calling in his church. “Perry never really had a rock ‘n’ roll heart,” says McLenon.
“He had a big heart.”
Tommy Womack, who admits his love of Jason & the Scorchers and that his own band, Government Cheese owed a debt to that group, today lamented the loss of his good friend.
“Perry was one of the best drummers in one of the best bands ever. His health issues in the second chapter of his life shouldn’t obscure that.
“He was one of the greats with a big heart and huge talent. I’m privileged not only to have seen him play many times, but to know him as a friend.”
My own encounters with Perry were less musical, as mentioned a few paragraphs above. Perry worked in The Tennessean library in my final decade in daily journalism.
Before I got too old… But that’s another story.
Perry not only was a devout consumer of my writing, he was a big fan of my Hawaiian shirt wardrobe and of my curly hair.
He liked to sit down by my desk and talk about everything from Van Halen to the Scorchers to God in either lightning manic speed or a slow tired drawl, depending on where his health was taking him that day.
He would describe his own musical dreams, his latest effort and, even though it was obvious his health wasn’t good, he would thank his God for all that he had and all that he had experienced.
Even in physical distress, with his rockstar dreams dimming if not dead, he didn’t complain.
Sometimes he’d talk about Jason & the Scorchers regrouping. He’d talk about getting together with his old mate to write “the best songs yet.”
Other times he’d talk about Jesus & the boys and their impact on his life.
 And he would give thanks. He had obviously found peace.
The Scorchers, of course, are regrouped and back out there playing.
  But Perry had to step away, about 10 years ago.
His body frail, though his spirit strong, he no longer stand those randomly long nights in a van and didn’t have the strength to sustain those marathon drumming sessions that helped punctuate the Whirling Dervish antics of the front man in the buckskin fringe or the churning and explosive guitar work of Warner Hodges.
Perry Baggs’ body was discovered by police when loved ones were worried because he didn’t show up in church at Scottsboro First Baptist Church the other day.
Katrina Cornwell, also a former colleague at The Tennessean, was the one who sounded the alarm.
“We were very special to each other,” she said.
“I loved him very much. I appreciated him for the larger-than-life individual that he was.”
Her concerns about Perry first showed up on Facebook a few hours ago, when she asked for prayers because she couldn’t get in touch with him.
“For our mutual friends, please pray for Perry. Neither my friend Kay at church nor I can get in touch with him. I am EXTREMELY concerned, and if I don't hear from him pretty soon, I will take action to make sure he is OK.”
Later she wrote me: “I was praying for him initially because he didn't come to church and wasn't answering phone calls or texts from me or other church members. We sent the police to do a welfare check, and they found him inside dead. I don't know the cause of death yet."
"The medical examiner is doing the autopsy this morning.”
Katrina wrote the following obituary for her beloved drummer and soul mate:
    Perry Armand Baggs III, 50, was born in Nashville March 22, 1962 to his parents, Perry Armand Baggs II and Betty Grace Baggs.
He was raised in the Sylvan Park area and went to Cohn High School. Perry's family attended Park Avenue Baptist Church during his childhood and adolescent years.
His mother and father were talented singers, who played a key role in the church's musical program. Perry has a daughter, Faith Elizabeth Baggs, El Paso Texas; three sisters, Grace, of Nashville, Kelly and Rachel, both of Knoxville; and several nephews.
When Perry was about 19 years old, he got an opportunity to audition as a drummer for the Nashville-based, country-punk band Jason and the Scorchers.
He spent the next 21 years as the band's percussionist. Jason and the Scorchers were on major record labels.
They had music videos on MTV and toured with some of the best in the business, notably REM and Bob Dylan. Jason and the Scorchers garnered critical acclaim in the early 1980s for its unique blending of the country and punk rock musical genres.
The critics loved the band, and in 2008, Jason and the Scorchers earned a lifetime achievement award for best musical performance at the Americana Music Awards, held at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Perry also worked as an archivist in the library of The Tennessean newspaper for 17 years before he was offered a buyout as part of a massive, company-wide reduction in staff at that time.
 He then sought disability because he had already been on dialysis for kidney failure for two years.
He began receiving a disability check within six months of the initial filing.
Since that time, he has been an active member of Scottsboro First Baptist Church.
For the past three years, Perry has been a dedicated soloist and bass player at church. For a few months, the church has been paying him to play bass. Before that, he donated his time. Perry's contribution to the Scottsboro First Baptist music program helped the worship services to come alive, to touch someone's heart for Christ.
Perry was kind, compassionate, funny, generous, loving and high-energy.
  He was someone who enjoyed life.
Perry loved home-cooked meals, movies, music, surfing big waves at the beach and to spend time with people he considered family: blood relatives, church members, friends and his significant other.
  Most of all, he loved God, and he lived his life for Jesus Christ every day.
Of course, that obituary is written from the perspective of a broken heart, of one who has loved deeply and whose loved one has died.
And as just an old freelance writer who sometimes enjoys music, I really can’t add much to that, other than to say that the young fellow with the country-flavored heart who climbed to the near-heights as a rock star is at peace.
Bang the drum slowly.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My pal the Afro Doc drank with Waylon, threw better than Jefferson Street Joe and fought killer pit bulls

William 'Doc' Jones -- the Afro Doctor -- has been dead now for awhile. But as I took a break from my work today, I came upon this old column I wrote about him on the first of my many visits to his joint on Jefferson Street. This was published in the Nashville Banner, which actually was a very good newspaper, when such things actually did exist.


"The Afro-Doctor" drank with Waylon and battled killer pit bulls. He could throw a better spiral than his pal Jefferson Street Joe. He shares these and more recollections while dangling the remainder of his right leg over the arm of a barber chair.
"Cut it off from here down," says William "Doc" Jones, holding his hand just below his knee. "Diabetes." He raises his voice above ESPN hockey highlights blaring from the GB's Barber Shop television.
Outside his window on Jefferson Street, saggy-trousered punks and well-groomed good guys who call him "Doc" probably don't know that's a shortened version of the moniker of an almost forgotten legend.
As a healthy young man, he owned barbershops built on his reputation as the sculptor of the most magnificent of Afros. The 57-year-old amputee's just happy to be well enough to sell shaves and trims as a part-time employee at the shop whose initials stand for God's Blessings.
He pushes back the sleeves of his Predators sweatshirt and promises that the amputation was more blessing than curse.
"I could be dead. I was really close to the edge a couple of times. I could have died from the bacteria. .... I've never had a depressed day from it. I've had some days where I realize I'm not as mobile, but I'm not a person to allow myself to be depressed over what was.
"It's like the church story about the man who complained about having no shoes until he saw a man with no feet. I've seen guys in carts, with no legs, pushing themselves. And they aren't giving up, so why should I?"
He savors a slug of Diet Pepsi. "Course, I still got diabetes. Days I don't feel good. I try not to let a little minor ailment get me down." That minor ailment also claimed two toes on his left foot.
Dependence on a walking cane even has an upside: "I used it to beat off two pits when they rushed me." Guy without a cane might have been mauled.
Doc smiles at the writer swirling in the facing barber chair. "When I first started barbering .... I was going to Tennessee State (studying criminal justice and psychology). Between classes, I'd cut hair in the beauty shop on campus. I would wear a doctor's smock instead of a barber's smock.
"One day as I was coming from class, a girl asked me if I was a doctor. I told her 'Somewhat. I'm an authority on what I do' ... bringing big Afros down to a shape."
In addition to the smock, he wore a distinctive hairstyle. After Vietnam, "I went seven years without a haircut. First Afro I ever saw. Biggest, too." He measured it once: It was 56 inches in diameter.
Like Clark Kent to Superman, William Jones was transformed into "the Afro-Doctor," heroically rescuing errant hair growth on campus, in North Nashville and out to Bordeaux.
He credits The Beatles for his early, heady success. "They came over here with their hair in little bangs, but then they let their hair grow. That's why we let ours grow, too. They had as much to do with it as James Brown saying, 'I'm black and I'm proud.' "
Doc's love of The Beatles as well as Jethro Tull and the Allman Brothers illustrates his contention that "more than anything else, music doesn't have a color."
He celebrated that fact one evening when a buddy who knew Waylon Jennings brought the two together in a Music Row hotel room. The honky-tonk hero and the Afro-Doctor enjoyed each other's company. "He was a real nice guy. We just chitchatted and drank. Good night."
Earlier in life he had found a place where only one color mattered. It was neither black nor white. It was blood red. The former Cameron High quarterback - "I could throw the ball farther than anybody I've ever seen, 86 yards, and there was no wobble" - was drafted in '68.
Sent to Germany, he volunteered for 'Nam. "I decided I'd rather die in a tropical paradise than in the tundra."
"I was in the jungle most of the time. It was war, but I guess I had as much fun as anywhere else I've been," the former 1st Air Cavalry E-5 says with a shrug. Wedged between stacks of body bags that awaited helicopter hearses to negotiate the monsoons, he found that camaraderie and farewells came in quick succession.
"One day you'd be playing poker with a guy, and the next time you see him, he's dead." Appreciate moments.
Back home, he became "a personal friend of Jefferson Street Joe. He was a nice man. But he hadn't really been exposed to the streets. He developed some issues."
Doc laments the ignorance that cost TSU and NFL quarterback Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam his life - ignorance that thrives outside, on the athlete's namesake street. "There's a lot of riffraff. It's kind of a drug-infested area. But if you mind your own business, you get the lay of what it takes."
The thugs and dealers "have a lot of respect for barbers. They have to get haircuts. They know barbers don't have a lot of money. And they know if they take on a barber, they just might get popped."
The Afro-Doctor fingers his salt-and-pepper beard and smiles at the sunshine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One less finger to count on: The death of a News Brother

Scott “Badger” Shelton is dead.
Anyway, it seems like only the other day that he and I – remember I am “Flapjacks” -- were, with my big brother, Eric, and my pal Rob “Death” Dollar hanging out with the Lone Ranger. And it was Scott who was egging me on to head for the Kentucky-Tennessee border when Trooper Rudy tried his best to shut down the fun. I got a ticket, but I think even Trooper Rudy liked the damn nice guys who were riding in

the old Plymouth Duster.
After all, we were not only friends of the Lone Ranger, we were The News Brothers..
That was 30 years before Jan. 23, 2012, when Badger died.
Damn cancer. I’d like to use the ”F” word instead of “damn,” but it might offend. I mean I only use that in anger and in private, like when someone cuts me off in traffic and I figure I’m going to die. Or, I’d guess, when Trooper Rudy’s lights flashed as I pulled over on U.S. 41A, just south of Hopkinsville, Ky., where we’d been befriended by Mr. Lone Ranger.
Hold it, I know Mr. Lone Ranger is dead. But not Scott… He couldn’t be… . I mean how long ago was it that he joined Rob and me to ride the notorious newsroom shark back at The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper, where I spent my early years and flavored my soul? The shark ride was a News Brothers’ protest of everything and nothing. Mostly we were laughing and being friends who shared a peculiar trade, gathering news, him for the local radio station, WJZM, me and Rob for a newspaper for which we bled in effort to serve “our city” … the beautiful still in my heart Clarksville, Tenn.
Screw cancer. Yeah. Still wanted to let the “F-bomb” fly.
But he’s still here, isn’t he? Wasn’t it just the other day, give or take 30 years, that he stood there, with his lab coat covered with Beatles badges – that’s how he became Badger -- and applauded as I almost fell off the roof of The Leaf-Chronicle?
We were filming a second movie to the first one Rob and I did with a few other friends. The original -- “Flapjacks: The Motion Picture” – had been in our minds a huge success, as we raised money for charity and enjoyed our relatively minor celebrity. We did a little Christmas short subject, but never finished near-legendary “Flapjacks II: Revenge of The Big Guy” feature film because life – personal and professional lives – got in the way.
Another close friend of mine once said “Life’s what happens when you’re busy making plans” … or something similar. Course that guy’s dead now too. And all he had wanted to do was give peace a chance. Course that’s not a part of this story, really.
Our nearly fatal News Brothers roof scene – which almost had me going head first onto Commerce Street -- was going to be kind of like The Beatles on the roof of Apple Records. Flapjacks (me) was – by temperament and philosophy – the Lennon figure of the group. Death was the kinda-McCartney. Badger was Ringo – he has the drum kit in his basement as evidence. Jerry “Chuckles” Manley was a sort of George, although much thicker and with an accent that’s much more heavily Petersburg, Tenn., country boy than Liverpudlian Scouse.
Anyway, I didn’t fall off the roof and laugh my way to my death that day. It would have made good film footage. But Badger was glad I regained my balance. Death and Chuckles and a fellow I’ll just call “Tennessee” and a little bald-headed guy named “Danny” joined in the wondrous wall of applause. Then we shot another scene before climbing down through the roof and into the newspaper composing room, getting ready for another day at work.
Still got that Super 8mm film and at times have thought about having it developed to see what’s there. Then maybe film a grand finale with some much older guys. Heck, even my old pal, film editing wiz Robert Smith, could have taken it and spliced it together like he did with our first feature 30 or so years ago.
Course the rooftop scene film’s probably no good. Wouldn’t matter now, anyway, because Badger died Monday, so who would repeat that feverishly bored applause?
To hell with cancer.
Almost all of the true News Brothers made our annual reunion trek to Clarksville a couple months ago. We stopped for our customary plates of flapjacks, of course, at G’s on Riverside Drive. Even Badger made it out of his home off Memorial Drive, thanks to his beloved wife, Elise, also a former colleague, and his own determination.
We went by the Badger residence afterward. He was tired and weak. But he laughed. When I hugged him goodbye, I knew it could be the last time. But I didn’t want to believe it. I mean after the “goodbyes” “I’ll pray for yous” shared by all of The real News Brothers, we laughed.
Maybe, we figured, Badger was going to bounce back from his cancer. He’d tricked it before. Maybe this wasn’t goodbye, but instead “see ya later,” and we’d reunite again, with Scott getting the last laugh. That full-bellied laugh that he tried to punctuate the air with as we shared that lovely November night in Badger’s basement. The laughter wore on him, though.
Vile cancer.
My life now is into its fourth score or something like that. I’m 60, so I’ve completed three score and two months. There’s a lot of stuff muddled and muddied in my mind, but then there are the big Kodachrome images from back when we all thought the world was a sunny day, Oh yeah…
So many of the snapshots are from Clarksville, where I spent 14 years of my newspaper career. I believe that’s 42 in human years, as the lifestyle takes its toll. Everything looks worse in black and white, and the cost on a newsman’s soul has been demonstrated by many other friends as being potentially mortal.
But I’m still alive. Scott’s not. He died Monday.
Damn cancer.
Still as I searched out the details of my friend’s death, as I talked with my pal, Rob, and with the wonderful widow, Elise, I kept lighting on crystal clear and Kodachrome images.
There I was, scrambling up the stairs of the old WJZM radio station in downtown Clarksville – very near the church where Badger now will be memorialized.
I’d become his friend because journalists in a small city have to lean on each other sometimes. Besides that, we liked to laugh. I’d go up to the WJZM newsroom and talk about what’s going on. Maybe I’d get a guest spot on Jimmy in the Morning’s program – complete with the news breaks by the fine Scott Shelton reporting. He was no Les Nesman, that’s for damn sure.
Maybe I’d even get a chance to spin some discs, some stacks of wax. I remember both Scott and Jimmy looking in wonderment when I played “Helter Skelter” on the 23 watt AM station … not your common 6 a.m. wakeup fare on pop radio. When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide….
There are other times, like when Scott would drop in at the newspaper to stir up trouble or just visit with kindred souls. Almost everyone I knew in Clarksville knew Scott, so he was almost everywhere I went.
I moved from Clarksville 23 years ago or so. Over the years we’ve gotten together occasionally. But even when we were apart, Scott, well all the fellows in the News Brothers, owned a piece of my heart. If I really needed help or prayers – some think I need them – I knew I could always reach out to one of them. When so many of my so-called friends seemingly were frightened to be associated with me, Scott would shoot me an e-mail. Just encouragement. A very spiritual man, he offered up prayers that I’d have “a long and lucrative freelance career.” Getting there Scott. Thanks for the faith in me.
Damn cancer.
I’m not going to say Badger couldn’t get ornery. But that’s OK. Friends know friends have faults. Hell, look at me…. And some people still love me.
One less now, unfortunately.
There really is no need to go into a long and melancholy tribute or to replay my friend’s battle. All I can say is he had guts. His wife, Elise, had and has guts. So do their boys. It was a family affair, good and bad. Hell, just last Christmas Badger’s wife got him a nice HD TV, so he could watch the bowl games.
As the cancer seemed to slow, I’ll bet he was already waiting for the Vols next football season…. But he’ll get better reception where he is now. Course I heard God’s an Alabama fan – just look at the record for proof – and doesn’t let folks watch UT games. That’s not to say an angel can’t slip away to Neyland Stadium, though.
Another great friend, Tony Durr, who died many years ago in some lonesome and desolate Alaskan outpost once told me that “you’re lucky if by the time you get to the other end of life you’ll be able to count your true friends on the fingers of one hand.”
And then before I knew it I had “his” finger suddenly and mortally available.
I’m not sure if the “one hand” philosophy is correct. Seems I still have (yessir, yessir) two hands full.
Most of them are News Brothers, a strange and endearing fraternity of guys who came of age telling tales of bloodshed and of county fair chicken pot pie winners.
In recent years, I’ve even added fingers, because I’ve been in need of help or encouragement and there are those who have stepped forward, as I would for them.
But there is something so special about the News Brothers.
And now there is one less of us. Rest in Peace, Badger. I love you.
Fucking cancer....