Copyright 2017 James Hooker
A famous producer introduces himself: "Hi kid, I'm the greatest being since God". You believe him because producers, in their own way, are gods - they sense an idiot in full idiot mode. "I'll make you a star", he says, and you just know he will because he says he will. After all, He's God; a god in a business that doesn't give a shit.
Memphis is a city full of beautiful women who latch onto you with the certainty you'll rise to the top of your profession and take them with you. You're full throttle, hole in the head mode now - you believe every fucking word they say.
"Idiot mode". But, the music in Memphis is world class, weapons grade good, and you're good at what you do. You're fucked.
"Life's a bitch, and then you gotta die
Screamin' and kickin' from the womb they drag you
And never say why
Throw you out on a cold dark road
No signpost in site
But you're a clever boy
You're a Renaissance Man"
When I was 14 years old (1962) my dad would drive me to, what we called then, the "Black Bottom" section of town at 9:00 PM a couple of nights a week. He dropped me off in front of radio Station WOIC. Inside was "Charlie".
Charles Derrick was a real man with a loud but smooth voice, who came in over my transistor radio - every night, and talked to me, and a few other people in Columbia I suppose but, to me, it was a personal link-up. I found Charlie after becoming ill at the thought of listening to Pat Boone sing another note. I found him after I started, what we called then, 'fanning the band', which is the act of desperately searching for anything other than Pat Boone. Charlie caught my ear late one night, and I locked on to the static of that strange AM Shangri-La. It wasn't Pat Boone. It wasn't Annette and Paul. I had discovered 'Race Music'. His show was broadcast, if memory serves, from 8 to 11 PM, and then, the whole station went off the air until the next morning.
Race Music! That, kiddies, was a real term.
I would sit there in that cramped control booth while my dad waited (probably asleep) in the car - just me and Charlie, and the sounds of quite the mixture of Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, soul, gospel - if Charlie liked it, Charlie played it. I don't recall him liking Pat Boone. Poor Pat, maybe I should lighten up.
Charlie taught me a lot about life in that booth. During commercials, we would discuss many things, one of which was the subject of race. I was taught, by my elders, to listen to my elders, and learn from my elders. Charlie taught me a lot, and it stood me in good stead later in my carrier as I found myself playing Hammond B3 and electric piano with many of the artists I first heard in that control booth.
Charlie's gone now, but I think of him often, when even on a rotten day, his memory can fetch a smile to my face. Thank you Charlie Derrick, b.1923 d.2006. This song's for you.