Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Real Rebels of Music

Sonny James and the Southern Gentlemen, 1983 -- SJ Web Site

Sonny James and Clay Aiken

The Real Rebels of Country and Pop

If you are a fan of country music, someone in your family probably remembers Sonny James. If not, you are much like a young couple who moved to Nashville with classical backgrounds, teaching degrees in instrumental music, and very little experience with the country genre. However, my husband, whose heredity -- and a high school band directing job -- had sent his blood pressure soaring, was told by his doctor to "change your lifestyle." And so we did.

We arrived in Nashville in the summer of 1973, and my husband played drums for several entertainers before joining "The Southern Gentlemen," Sonny's road band. Sonny and his wife never had children, and they immediately "adopted" our daughter into their family. In fact, they have several "nieces" and "nephews" from former band members, who remain close to this day.

The Sundays they were on the road, Sonny would have Mr. Caro locate a Church of Christ, and off the two would go in the bus. Many congregations throughout the US and Canada have been shocked to see SJ and his drummer drive up for Sunday services in the huge tour bus. Almost every time, Sonny was invited to lead the congregational singing, asked to autograph Bibles, kiss babies, etc., when all he wanted to do was quietly worship.

Setting a Good Example

I love Sonny James for the selfless, caring, courteous, benevolent way he has lived his life. Besides his many charities, strong faith, and deeply religious lifestyle, he has always felt that it was his responsibility to set a good example for young people; and for that reason, a key item in his contract was that there would be no alcoholic beverages served during his performance, no matter what the arena.

We know many of these descriptions apply to Clay -- selfless, caring, courteous, charitable, humanitarian -- as well as the strong determination that his product be "family friendly" and experienced by both adults and young people. By design, Clay has also placed a high priority on setting an example for others.

PHOTO INTERMISSION -- Clickable graphics from Clay's work with UNICEF and the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, as well as recent concert tours, include (1) Clayquebec1's "A Man of ... Heart" blend with photo by Invisible926, (2) JNT05 blend by Invisible926, (3) Amazing_CA's "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" blend from the Raleigh JNT Concert, (4) Clayquebec1's Bubel/Aiken Foundation blend/photos by Tasapio and Invisible926, and (5) Amazing_CA's Jukebox Tour 2005 wallpaper with photos by Tasapio.

A Compassionate Caregiver

There are numerous examples of Sonny's charity and compassion; however, the closest one to our family came when my husband suffered a heart attack and by-pass surgery at age 41. Due to complications with his leg, he was hospitalized longer than most by-pass patients. Who do you think appeared every morning to shave the drummer? The nurses and hospital personnel were immensely impressed and just as "fangirly" as we are about Clay, requesting autographs on every imaginable surface.

Months later when I began teaching a young boy piano, his last name didn't register -- at least not until our holiday recital in my studio when up drove his physician father in a red sports car. In walked Mr. Caro's surgeon, and I almost fainted. I reminded him that he had performed a triple by-pass on my husband, but he couldn't place the patient. Nothing I said jarred his memory until I mentioned the fact that the man in question had played drums for Sonny James. Immediately, he remembered.

Sonny James Album Cover

Sonny's career of many decades is over, but both of these singers have long, tall, slim silhouettes to go with their beautiful voices. Both are southerners who began performing at an early age; Sonny is a native of Alabama, and Clay is from North Carolina. They both love(d) their mothers, have good manners, and exemplify southern gentlemen.

Touring first as a youngster picking and singing with his family, the Lodens, Sonny went solo when his sisters married and his parents returned to Hackelburg to open a clothing store. His National Guard unit was among the first to be activated for the Korean War, and Sonny took an old fiddle and guitar along with him. In Korea, he honed his songwriting skills, returning two years later with a notebook full of tunes, many of which became hits as his solo career took off.

Five Years of Number 1 Singles

During the late 60s into the 70s, Sonny scored an incredible five-year run of Consecutive Number One Singles, a feat never before accomplished in country music, pop, or rock ‘n roll, and a record he held for many years. The foundation for this success was laid years before when in late 1956 the Alabama native took his guitar, a simple musical arrangement, and sang what would become his signature song, “Young Love."

Sonny's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

The Internet is loaded with SJ web pages, but at the "oh-fficial" Sonny James site, you can listen to many of his 67 Number One hits. In the "Southern Gentlemen" link and the lead photo above, the drummer I know the best is the Texan wearing the cowboy hat.

At the time my husband played for Sonny, several entertainers, many well known for substance abuse and a whole lot of rough living, were proclaiming themselves to be "the rebels of country music." I'll never forget when the drummer came off one of his first road trips with SJ and said, "You know what, the REAL REBEL of COUNTRY MUSIC is Sonny James!"

That statement kept echoing in my mind as the Clay Train began picking up speed. In another genre and a different generation, the REAL REBEL of POP MUSIC is Clay Aiken.




Idle-wandering said...

Welcome to the world of blogging, Caro. And what a wonderful start!! It seems to be Nashville day for me in Clayland--last night as we were speculating about "thousands" in possible album titles, I remembered White Rose, and that got me searching on the internet to find the name of that station: WLAC in Nashville Tennesee, of course!

Southern Girl said...

Great first post! I must confess that I wasn't familiar with Sonny James until I read your blog -- what a neat man. They don't make too many like Sonny and Clay. ;)