Lowman Pauling: Hero of My Hero

Everyone, I imagine, would like to think they live in a cool place, that is, if the word cool is even used anymore.

But I didn’t know just how cool Winston-Salem is until a few years back, upon learning that the hero of my hero grew up here.

My hero, for the record, is Steve Cropper. He’s one of many to hold that distinction, but he’s pretty high on the list – and has been since my best childhood buddy, Bruce Young, and I discovered those righteous riffs coming out of Stax Records in Memphis.

My kids’ generation were introduced to Cropper as the bearded guitarist playing with Elwood and Joliet Jake in the Blues Brothers. But Bruce and I, just as we were really coming of age musically, couldn’t get enough of that Stax sound of Booker T. and the M. G.’s, Sam and Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd and the Big O himself, the Man from Macon, the King of Soul, Otis Redding.

We came to learn that laying down those spare, bright, clean and ever so tasteful guitar licks was a lanky, white dude named Steve Cropper. And then we came to learn that Cropper also wrote or co-wrote so many of our favorite songs like Knock on Wood, 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.) and (Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay and, the one that really brought the house down at our dances up at the old Slagle Memorial, In the Midnight Hour.

The Lorraine Motel achieved infamy for what one of the worst among us, James Earl Ray, did in assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. But I like to remember it as the place where, in 1965, Cropper, a white man originally from backwater Dora, Missouri and Wilson Pickett, a black man from Detroit sat down and wrote In the Midnight Hour.

See what can come of it when we all work together?

Bruce, along the way, overdosed on life and died and I grew up, but I never lost my fascination for Cropper and the Stax Sound. So imagine my amazement when, one night in surfing the internet for all I could find about Cropper, I learn that one of his first, and perhaps greatest, influence was a cat from Winston-Salem named Lowman Pauling.

Lowman, as Cropper recalled, played with his guitar slung way down at his knees. So when he got home, Cropper linked his strap with a belt so he could drop his guitar way down low as well – just like Lowman Pauling.

The more I learned about Lowman Pauling, the more I learned there was to learn. I was fascinated to find that he and his brother Clarence Pauling (who would shorten his name to Paul and go on to mentor and produce Stevie Wonder) co-founded the Rhythm and Blues’ pioneer-band, The “5” Royales.

There really was no R&B scene, at least not as we came to know it in the 50s, until the Paulings, along with Jimmy Moore, Obadiah Carter, Otto Jeffries, John Tanner and Eugene Tanner, began shaking their tail feathers with such tunes as Think and Tears of Joy and Dedicated to the One I Love.

Would there have been a James Brown if not for The “5” Royales? Probably, but it was this band from Winston-Salem who showed The Hardest Working Man in Show Business how it was done.

It has often been said that life isn’t fair, and if you don’t believe it just ask those black artists of early rock and roll and soul who were exploited artistically and financially before eventually being cast aside. But I’m happy to say that the story of Lowman Pauling didn’t end when, working as a janitor in a Brooklyn synagogue, he passed away in 1973.

Cropper, to his credit, was among those who kept the memory of Pauling and The “5” Royales alive. The efforts were rewarded in 2015 when, along with Lou Reed and Ringo Starr and Bill Withers and Joan Jett, The “5” Royales were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

My compadre and good friend Lisa O’Donnell did herself proud, as usual, in memorializing the occasion in a series of articles for the Winston-Salem Journal. But what brought me back to Lowman Pauling and Steve Cropper and this riff you’re reading now was Scott Sexton’s column in the Journal how the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission had declined a proposal by Darryl Pauling, Lowman’s son, to approve a historical marker honoring The “5” Royales.

Sexton, being the professional he is, did make mention that the city has named a street after the band. But it’s a side street, running only two blocks, and to be honest, I’ve never, to my knowledge, been on it.

Come on Winston-Salem. Step up and recognize – no celebrate – the rich musical heritage of our fair burg, a heritage that would not be the same without the contributions of Lowman Pauling and the “5” Royales.

Prove that you’re as cool as the place you live, you members of the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission.

That is, if the word cool is even used anymore.

No Time Like Now to Get Better

Even while winning 240 games and two ACC championships in his 12 seasons as Wake’s head basketball coach, Dave Odom, being the human he is, was not infallible.

Odom made mistakes.

One he regretted almost from the time he made it was agreeing to take the Deacons to Hawaii over Christmas in 1999. That’s not to say Odom doesn’t like Hawaii. He loves Hawaii, so much so that since 2009 he has gladly served as chairman of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Tournament.

Friends of Dave, including the one you’re reading now, kid him about having the greatest gig in the world. He gets paid to spend a couple of weeks every year in paradise with the lovely Lynn, his wife, while he “entices’’ friends he has known for years in the business to bring their teams to his tournament.

But his mistake of 1999 was not where he took his team, but when. The Maui Jim Maui is played over Thanksgiving, which, as Odom was to come to learn, is the only sensible time to take a team from North Carolina almost 5,000 miles to play a basketball tournament.

And he paid for that mistake dearly. The Deacons lost to Oregon and Villanova in Hawaii, and needed two overtimes to beat Ohio. Then, upon return, they lost the ACC opener to Florida State in Joel Coliseum, accelerating a tailspin that resulted in 12 losses over a disastrous 18-game stretch.

The shame of it all was that by the end of the season, when the Deacons were winning eight of their last nine, they might well have been one of best dozen or so teams in college basketball. But having played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament, they had to prove it by winning the NIT championship.

The two losses in Hawaii hurt the Deacons’ cause that season, but what probably hurt even worse was losing so much time Odom would have otherwise had to spend with his team in a gym back home. Odom, like all good coaches, recognized how invaluable that time can be.

By Christmas, a team has already had a spate of games to highlight their strengths and expose their weaknesses. They’ve also hopefully survived exams, so classes are done for the semester.

Odom would use that time like a drill sergeant uses boot camp, to grind his team into the kind of shape needed to survive the exacting 2 ½ month war soon to come.

One lesson we should always remember – even while we’re always seeming to forget it – is that nothing in life is static. Instead everything is dynamic – the definition of which is a process or system characterized by constant change.

It took me way too long as a sportswriter to learn the most inane two-word phrase in the English language is no way, as in there’s no way N.C. State could ever beat juggernaut Houston for the 1983 NCAA title, or there’s no way the Boston Red Sox, after losing the first three games, could beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

Or, closer to home, there’s no way that Wake can make post-season play in 2018 after beginning the season with home losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty followed by a losses in Lynchburg to Drake and Houston.

Already we can see the change in the Deacons from that early pratfall. We saw it Saturday in the 82-53 home thrashing of Richmond and we saw it last night in the 80-57 romp at Charlotte.

As for how much change we’ve seen, that would require figuring out just how bad two of the worst teams in the recent histories of Richmond and Charlotte basketball really are. But Wake did manage to lose to Liberty, which is currently No. 211 in the RPI, as well as Drake, currently No. 180.

So progress has clearly been made.

Looking closely, I’ve seen it most clearly on the defensive end. Last night the Deacons held Charlotte to 15 field goals for the whole game (on 47 heaves) while allowing the 49ers to score on just 11 of the 33 second-half possessions played before Danny Manning emptied his bench.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If the Deacons are going to do anything worth remembering this season, they’re going to have to improve defensively. Manning knows that. His assistants know that. And we can only hope that his players, by now, know it as well.

Wake will play Army this Friday at 7 at Joel Coliseum, then begin exams next week. Practices are sporadic during exam week, but all teams find some time for basketball. And after Army the Deacons won’t play for 10 days, until they travel to Conway to play Coastal Carolina on Dec. 18.

After they, they have five more days before playing Tennessee in Joel Coliseum on Dec. 23.

Can we expect the team that plays UT two days before Christmas to be better than the one that beat Charlotte last night? Manning and his staff will have the better part of three weeks to see that it is.

Music from the Heart

Music, for the luckiest among us, is rhythmic, melodic and harmonious thoughts we carry around in our head which are far best expressed through the heart.

Sad to say, but too much of the music I hear around me doesn’t come from the heart.

Instead it sounds like product – not unlike soap or canned goods or beer — to be packaged and sold.

A few years back I attended a three-day songwriters’ workshop at the Community Arts Cafe downtown, which featured professionals from all facets of the Nashville music scene. There were songwriters, producers, performers, even song pluggers who made the trek up I-40 from Nashville to inform aspiring songwriters willing to shell out $300 how to make it the business.

Their main message was how hard it is to make it in the business, and what was required to do so. Yeah, they said, talent and ability might come in handy, but nobody makes it in Nashville without patience, perseverance, pluck and most of all, luck.

What they were selling was a dream, a dream I’ve had since I first recognized that my favorite musicians – giants like Hank Williams and Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and the Beatles – were those who wrote their own songs. I learned to play guitar at age 15 for one reason only, and that was to write songs.

But here I was 45 years later being told that if I wanted to make it in Nashville, that, along with my house, I would also have to sell my soul. The only songs Nashville was interested in were those that would sell X-amount of units – again, not unlike soap, canned goods or beer.

Looking back, what they were telling me made total sense. The music industry is, after all, a commercial endeavor that requires a return on investment.

Besides, there are already thousands of songwriters who have chased their dream now starving on the streets of lower Broadway. So these fine folks from the industry – several of whom I got to know fairly well and like — weren’t really looking for anything new and fresh.

By the third day, with most of the Nashville players on stage wrapping up the workshop, I experienced an epiphany. I asked myself, would I change my life as a sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal with theirs, a songwriter in Nashville writing songs for the sole purpose of making enough to eat and keeping a roof over my head?

If you wonder about my conclusion, go back and read the first graph of this post.

Music has to be about more than making money or it’s not worth the bother of tuning a guitar. And when it’s good, you don’t know it in your head or even your bank account. You know it in your heart.

Susanna Clark, the long-time wife and muse of one of my favorite songwriters, Guy Clark, might have penned it best in the song she wrote with Richard Leigh.

You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money,

Love, like you’ve never been hurt,

You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching,

It’s got to come from the heart,

If you want it to work.’’

This past Sunday I cruised downtown to the monthly open jam at Liberty Arts Coffee House ram-rodded by two good buddies, Richard Boyd and Billie Feather. Richard, who sings like I sing in my dreams, is the front-man of the killer rockabilly outfit The Bo-Stevens band which features the multi-talented Billie on bass.

For two glorious hours about a dozen of us, old friends like Jeff Wall and Cindy Taplin and brand-new friends like Mike and Lisa and Debbie and John and Dennis, sat in a circle and passed songs around like a bottle of the best brandy. Billie had her bass, Lisa played a dobro, Mike a banjo of some sort, John a mandolin, Dennis a harmonica and Richard and Jeff and Cindy and I strummed along on our guitars.

A couple of originals were trotted out, but most of our time was spent playing the good old-time songs everybody knew.

Nobody was there to sell a song, or even sell themselves. We were there to make music with friends and celebrate the opportunity to do so.

It was the same kind of celebration you can experience weekly down in Bethania at our Thursday Night Open Mic at Muddy Creek, one that has me waking up every Thursday morning with a smile on my face.

So if you want to hear the best music that can be made – music that comes from your heart – don’t bother with Nashville or any place dependent on a recording industry. Head on down to Liberty Arts Coffee House at 2 p.m. on the first Sunday or the month, or down to Muddy Creek Cafe any Thursday at 6:30.

Thank the ghost of Hank Williams that there’s real music to be heard.

Anyone looking can find it all around them.

Wake Puts the D Back in Deacons

At some point during Wake Forest’s 82-53 victory over Richmond this afternoon, analyst Daymeon Fishback of the Fox South Carolinas telecast remarked that when the Deacons got back in time to set up, they were pretty solid defensively.

I can only hope Fishback never visits the Klondike in July. He’s liable to move there for the weather.

It was, metaphorically, indeed a sunny day for Wake Forest’s defense, by far the sunniest of the season. How that much that had to do with the ineptitude of the Spiders’ offense – whose DeMonte Buckingham (4-for-12) spent the afternoon proving there was no shot too easy to miss – is impossible to tell definitively.

But to get 44 stops on Richmond’s 68 trips across midcourt could be categorically described as lock-down defense, a phrase I haven’t heard associated with Wake Forest in recent seasons. The game was over by the time Richmond began the second half with nine-straight empty possessions while the Deacons were extending a 40-29 halftime lead to 51-29.

The Spiders, as a team, shot 36 percent (21-for-59) from the floor and 23 percent (6-for-26) from 3-point range, looking all the while like the worst team I’ve ever seen Coach Chris Mooney of Richmond put on the floor. And as the Wake beat guy for the Winston-Salem Journal from 1992 through 2017, I saw Mooney, now in his 13th season, put a lot of teams on the floor.

So I’ll wait until Tuesday’s game at Charlotte to assess just how much improvement the Deacons have made defensively since the early going, when they were getting shredded virtually at will by such offensive juggernauts as Georgia Southern and Liberty in Joel Coliseum. But it’s pretty clear coach Danny Manning and his staff have put the time they’ve had with the team in the gym lately to good use.

I was really curious how much zone Manning would play today after his move to the 2-3 was instrumental in Tuesday’s victory over Illinois. Turns out, the Deacons were playing so well in the man-to-man that, early on, at least, he had no need to switch it up. I counted only two first-half possessions with Wake in a zone.

But I did like the way Manning made the move down the stretch, playing zone at least the final eight possessions before Richmond scored its last bucket on a fast break. The zone might be one more card in Manning’s hand, and the more the Deacons play it the better they should get.

With Brandon Childress being sidelined for concussion protocol, we got a longer look at Melo Eggleston, and I, for one, liked what I saw. He’s active, and athletic and he’s certainly not shy. Unless I miss my best, Melo will be a fan favorite.

What I appreciated best about watching the telecast from my hacienda headquarters was how Fishback spent the game entertaining us with anecdotes from the time he spent at Friday’s practice, and how much he learned from Manning about the team. And it’s always fun to look really closely and catch my compadres Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacons Digest sitting at their seats along the baseline.

That’s the same Conor O’Neill and Les Johns by the way – the two reporters who cover Wake basketball daily – who are not afforded the same privilege/courtesy of attending practices.

For the record, basketball practices at Wake Forest are not closed.

They’re just exclusive.

Return on Investment

The latest polls I could find on the tax bill the Republicans rammed through the Senate in the dead of night are running about 32 percent in favor, 46 percent against.

The analysis released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill will add $1.4 trillion to our deficit.

History informs us that in every tax cut over the past 50 years has resulted in the richest of the rich getting ever richer and the wages of pretty much everyone reading this remaining stagnant.

Like-minded friends are wondering, `Why are they screwing us again? How do they think they can get away with it?’

The answer folks is as obvious as the nose on Cyrano de Bergerac’s face.

They’re doing it because they were ordered to do it. They were directed to do it by the richest of the rich of our society, the Charles and David Kochs, the Sheldon Adelsons, the Bob and Rebekah Mercers.

They were required to do it by the fattest of the fat cats demanding a return on their investment.

When congressman Chris Collins called them donors, it’s pretty obvious who he meant.

“My donors are basically saying, `Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’ ’’ Collins said in the most impressive lapse of honesty I’ve ever known to come out of Washington.

There have to be Republicans who know there will be a political price for passing the bill – especially in the manner in which they did, cobbling together cutouts and loopholes and exceptions hastily scrawled in the margins of the text. And they have to know how hypocritical they look railing against deficits whenever a Democrat is living in the White House, and then reaching ever deeper into the pockets of our children and grandchildren as soon as a Republican is elected president.

But their calculation is that as bad as they get hurt by voters, they still need the money from the richest of the rich to get re-elected. That’s just the way the game is played today in America’s Age of Plutocracy.

Every independent look at the bill has deemed it another redistribution of wealth from the middle-class (again, you and me) to the richest of the rich among us.

In this case, however, the Republicans who voted for the bill had no choice.

They did only what they were ordered to do.

They’re doing it not for you and me or for the good of the country.

They’re doing it for one reason and one reason only.

They’re doing it for political survival.

The shame of doing it will not be easily erased. It’s up to you and me to make sure it’s not forgotten.