This biographical sketch is an ongoing adventure. I will be making
additions and changes and adding photos as it strikes me. Things
are changing every day as I get time lines more accurate and dust
the fuzziness off some of my facts, while keeping "poetic license"
as a first line of defense. It's my life and I hope you find it as
entertaining as I have.



One of my favorite quotes is from Hunter S. Thompson, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." But, while that may all be true, there's an incredible, fantastic side that, if you're good enough and lucky enough to grab a foothold, you can experience a life with greater satisfaction, even though there may be lean times and rough spots. Well, almost guaranteed there will be lean times and rough spots. Music is a Muse with an alluring voice and she seduces you, many times in the most innocent of ways.

My earliest childhood recollections begin around the age of two. I can still see myself squirming and falling in and out of sleep on the cold hard oaken church pews at the Circlewood Baptist Church in my home town of Tuscaloosa. I can see my Dad towering above me, Broadman Hymnal in hand, and singing gloriously in his tenor voice. I remember thinking my dad is the world's best singer. Like any kid, my dad was the strongest and best at whatever. So, I suppose he's the one I owe or blame for my becoming a singer. All my early attempts at singing were imitations of my father. Later on in life, it was imitations of Bobby "Blue" Bland, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and just about any male R&B artist of the 60s.

Because I seemed to have some musical capabilities, I spent my grade school years fighting with my mother over one basic issue. She thought that I should grow up to be the next Van Cliburn at a time in my life when, more than anything, I wanted to be the next Mickey Mantle. So we compromised. I took piano lessons from Mrs. Trotter who actually came to my grammar school two days a week, all day, and taught piano lessons to kids in groups of two. During the summers, I would pedal my bike a few miles over to her house near the Raquet Club and take lessons there twice a week. I worked it out so I wouldn't have to miss Little League practice and still make all the games. One day I was on the way over to Mrs. Trotter's and it was after a rain. The streets were slick and some water was covering a pot hole that I couldn't see and when I hit it I went flying over the handle bars, hit the pavement and rolled across the intersection right in front of a pick up truck. The old red Chevy screeched to a halt just a few feet away, the sheet music in the basket on my bike spilled out all over and passing cars proceeded to scattered it to the four winds. I was trying to recover it and keep from getting hit, while all the time mumbling something about feeling lucky to be alive. But these redneck kids were in the back of the truck were making fun of the little sissy and his sheet music scattered all over the intersection, laughing and calling me names. I could have kicked all their asses but I would just take it out on the baseball field that night. That was where I really seemed to come alive. And I think it was the thing that connected with me being in entertainment later on, and it's about performing under pressure and what you find out about yourself in tough or high energy situations. Simple as that. It's the addictive adrenalin rush you get from being on the spot to produce in pressure situations. I truly believe that's when we as humans feel the most alive. And when we have success or have a great performance that's a boost to your self worth or self esteem that money can't buy. And it keeps you coming back. It's why we love sports so much. And it's why the guys who are gifted and lucky enough to play at the higher levels love the game so much. You are in the moment. You are giving yourself up to your preparation and trusting that, and being that. You are right on the edge. This is pass or fail. Your adrenalin levels are so high you can feel no pain. It is all on the line and the spotlight is on you.

One of my early inspirations came from my friend Eddie Hinton, who later became a successful songwriter in Muscle Shoals and who's solo albums are still iconic with a large audience. Eddie was a year older. He had lived in my neighborhood when we were kids and we reconnected in High School and became friends again. Eddie and I had both gone out for football but between Eddie's flat feet and my busted up knee, we wound up being the managers/towel jockeys for the football and basketball teams in a year when the basketball team went 32-0 and won the State Championship. Eddie used to bring this old firewood acoustic guitar to school and while the football team was out practicing, he would sit alone in that vacuous old gym, which had a cool echo, by the way, and play stuff like, "I'm a Kingbee, buzzing' around yo hive" and a bunch of other 2 and 3 chord blues songs. By his senior year, he had gotten pretty good at it and started playing around with other local Tuscaloosa musicians. I followed Eddie's emerging career with interest and by the time I had that afternoon session with my friend Jimmy Wilson, I was primed and ready. I knew I could do that. Eddie, however indirectly, had showed me the way.

Eddie Hinton

The Rubber Band
Ft. Brandon Armory - 1966

Battle Of The Bands

At about the age of 17, I was with some high school friends driving back from Columbus, Mississippi where you could buy beer as long as you were tall enough to see over the counter. As we were rolling along we started singing loudly in the car, my pal Jimmy Wilson commented on my voice and said he had been taking guitar lessons and that he had been wanting to start a band with some other friends. They didn't have a singer and wanted to know if I wanted to give it a shot. I remember noodling through a few Jimmy Reed songs in Jimmy's bedroom one afternoon and I really enjoyed it. Well, more than enjoyed it, I was hooked!

Moving forward from that defining moment, we enlisted another friend in our class at school, Tippy Armstrong to play guitar and Jimmy brought in Tommy Gardner to play bass and Tony Smally to play drums. I think our only qualifications were that you had to own an instrument. We rehearsed in the back of Tony's dad's rib joint, Smalley's Bar-B-Que, evenings and Sundays and we played our first gig some months later at at the Eastwood Jr. High School Prom. I remember Coach Jerry Belk, who had been my Coach the year I went to Holt Jr. High in the 7th grade, came up after we had finished playing and said "that was pretty good! I had no idea you could sing like that. How much do we owe you?". We looked around at each other and hummed and hawed a little when finally, Jimmy said "how's fifty bucks?" Coach Belk smiled and counted out the 50 bucks out of his own wallet. Hey, it was ten bucks apiece, found money, and we had a blast making it. We were all thinking that if they paid money for us doing something that we all enjoyed, that it was time to get serious. In the next few years that followed I was in several blues/copy bands with some of those same friends and little by little we found ourselves slowly moving up the musical food chain and I was definitely in it for the duration.

The Rubber Band
First Trip To New York
November, 1966

The Rubber Band
CBS Studios New York
November, 1966

After about a year the Band with Tippy morphed from the "Specter's" to the "Nightcaps". The Nightcaps were founded by bass player Doug Hogue. Doug booked all the gigs and divvied up the money. The band was me singing, Tippy Armstrong on guitar (he played a black Silvertone back then), My neighborhood buddy Bill Connell, Doug on bass and Danny Marchant on keys. What a character that guy was. We did a lot of frat parties and beach clubs on the Gulf Coast. We were all going to school at Alabama and working on the weekends and summers. We got a lot better in a hurry, both individually and as a band. We gradually morphed from doing strictly blues to doing the English stuff. Beatles and Kinks were popular and a lot of hits from that genre were part of our song lists. Horizons widened with a lot of new life experiences I'd have never had were it not for the bands and the music. Doug Hogue was one of the first people to see something more in me, talent wise. He taught me a lot and helped me recognize my true self and the fact that I had been given a talent that should be put to use. And that so much of it was self confidence. He pointed out that a whole lot of people with high self esteem are in reality, not that good.. or worse, Grasshopper. While working with the Nightcaps, I gained a ton of confidence. We were working a lot and actually making enough to support ourselves, but finally the conflict between my thinking I wanted to go to med school and knowing I wanted to be a musician came to a head.

In March of my freshman year at Alabama, we went out to play a frat party on campus and I went out knowing I was sick as a dog. I remember playing the first set and collapsing on a couch in an anteroom at the frat house. I didn't remember much after the first set. I do remember Doug following me home to make sure I got there OK. I was still staying at my folks house at the time and lucky for me, my mother, since we were crib babies, always got up in the middle of the night to check on the kids. She opened the door to my bedroom that night to find me writhing around on the floor, convulsing and trying to swallow my tongue. I was rushed to the hospital and woke up about a month later, having been in a coma for that amount of time. I lost down to about 140 lbs but I survived what had been diagnosed as MeningoEncephalitis. Although to this day I will swear that gargantuan inner conflict I was having literally made my brain explode. No one else came down with what I had. The whole Pike house had been put under quarantine and given vaccinations for whatever they thought I had, spinal meningitis or something seriously deadly. My head had swollen to the size of a basketball and I was running incredibly high fevers, none of which I remember. In fact I didn't remember anything except select members of my immediate family. Not friends or girlfriends or even that I was a college student playing in a band.

Slowly things came back to me and by the summer, I had almost fully recovered and was back with the Nightcaps playing in Gulf Shores and later that summer in Dauphin Island. Doug shepherded me back into it slowly and was a great friend throughout my recovery. Over the next year, the Nightcaps had just about run their course. Doug graduated and was making plans for his future but other opportunities were about to present themselves.

During that period as the Nightcaps, we had a great deal of fun. Tippy and I really loved the blues. It was all feel but the English scene was emerging and that's what most folks wanted to hear. The new stuff. So we played some Beatles and Stones, The Kinks as well as a lot of the American hits. Tippy and I spent a lot of time together. We hung out with the same people. My older brother was in the Army during the period and left behind a blue and white '61 Pontiac Ventura, which I subsequently commandeered for driving to school at the University and to Church downtown on Sundays. But most of the time I'd wind up at Tippys with him playing and us figuring shit out. I'd had some piano lessons, as mentioned before, but none of the related to John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed or Howlin' Wolf, so Tippy was a little ahead of me in the musical education department. I really learned to sing the kind of music I loved by playing with him. One day, I picked him up on a Sunday morning in late spring, as I remember it. Tippy lived on the West End of Tuscaloosa and I lived on the complete opposite side of town, so Church services would have already started. Tippy started giving me directions to a place a little further out in the country toward Foster's Ferry Bridge, where we took an abrupt turn into the driveway of a house about 50 yards off the road. Tippy told me to drive up on the carport where I should roll down the drivers side window and tell the old colored gentleman in the white sleeveless t-shirt what you wanted. You might ask for Heineken but what you usually got was a choice between Papbst Blue Riibbon, Fallstaff. And if the aforementioned Mr. Washburn in the white sleeveless T-Shirt had been industrious that week, Country Club Malt Liquor might be on the board. I believe this particular Sunday morning we sampled Mr. Pabst's Blue Ribbon Beer. It all tastes the same after the second one anyway.
Then the coolest thing happened. While driving down some country back roads, nursing our beer, we heard music. Really killer music. Tippy said turn around, so I did and we pulled up slowly across the street from a little careworn Church by the roadside. The AME Zion Church Of The Holy Fire Baptized Redeemer. Coming from inside that small wooden structure was this amazing chorus of voices, some great gospel/blues piano, with electric bass, drums and electric guitar that all seemed like the building could hardly contain it.
After about 10 minutes of us sitting there. several of the Church Deacons walked over a paid us a visit. Two white guys hanging out across the street from a Black Church would have drawn suspicious eyes in those days. Racial tensions had been high all through the 60s. 50 years later, it doesn't seem that much has changed, but that's another story. The Deacons just wanted to make sure we weren't there to make trouble. We told them we were musicians and had been drawn to the music and apologized for any inconvenience we may have caused. They invited us in.

Of the 3 or 4 services I remember going to, I got to see Reverend Archibald Weeks preach and sing up a storm, while his sister, Abigail, along with the band, played a mixture of gospel and blues, lights out. Now when I say "lights out", think a slight 85 pound woman in a blue dress with a matching blue hat and veil, shoes off, head cocked to one side and rocking the 88s to one of Archie's songs, "I've Got A Telephone In My Heart and I Call Jesus", in a huge raspy voice, not unlike Wilson Pickett. One of the baddest shuffles I ever heard. I got to watch her a bit and I'd have to say she had a large influence on my playing; as much as anybody before or since.

I had entered the University of Alabama at age 18 fully intending to get through pre-med and go on to become a doctor. But that spring of my freshman year when I got sick, no one thought to pull me out of school. So, in my absence, they flunked me in all 18 hours of courses I had been taking that semester. The whole ordeal had ultimately been a catharsis for me. When I re-enrolled for my sophomore year, I changed my course of study to the Arts, something a lot less stressful and for which I also seemed to have a talent for. I settled back into school but continued playing on weekends.

One night in the spring of my sophomore year, I got a call from a guy from Decatur named Johnny Wyker. Wyker was putting together a band and already had a booking agent lined up and he convinced me that it would be the perfect way to finance my college education. I said I would do it on one condition. That condition was that my friend Tippy Armstrong, with whom I had played in my first bands, could be the guitar player. There was no problem. The word was out that Tippy and I were both "up and coming" and this was a natural next step for us. We formed a seven piece band with some horn players and called ourselves The Magnificent Seven. The magnificent part about it was that we soon became the most popular band on campus and in no time at all we were doing gigs at all the major colleges in the Southeast. We headlined beach clubs in Florida and eventually some recordings we did at Boutwell Studio in Birmingham found their way to a big time producer in New York named Charlie Calello. Charlie had produced some huge records with the people like the 4 Seasons and Lou Cristie, along with one of my all time favorites, Laura Nyro. Our first trip to New York was a fantastic experience. I was really enlivened by the atmosphere. It's still one of my favorite places on Earth. Our sessions were booked from midnight to dawn, at the old CBS Studios on Madison Avenue. We were around the corner and down the block at the Berkshire Hotel. We burned it at both ends the whole time we were there, going to clubs and just seeing the sights between sessions.

JT and Denny Green
The Old Hickory - Summer 1966

Rubber Band Poster
B'ham Gig - 1967

Listen to:

Our first record made with Calello came out on Columbia records and was a big turn table hit, moving up to #1 in pretty much every city in the U.S. We had to change the name of the band because "Magnificent Seven" was a copyrighted movie title. So after some deliberation, we came up with the name Rubber Band and that's what they put on the record. We didn't sell a lot of them because Columbia didn't even realize it was their record and didn't follow up with records in the stores. Live and learn. We were novices at big time show biz but we had the taste of success and wanted more. Columbia did finally realize their mistake and put us out on the road for a promotional tour in about a dozen cities where our record was getting major airplay, New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonia, St Louis and points West.

That record was titled "Let Love Come Between Us". It was later recorded by James and Bobby Purify, Mavis Staples and The Pointer Sisters and went near the top of the charts as I remember with James and Bobby. As time went on, and as happens with all bands, we eventually broke up. By that time medical school was only a memory. Tippy became a Muscle Shoals session guitarist some years later and played on a wide variety of material from Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come", Bobby Womack's "Lookin' For A Love" to Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There". Johnny Wyker continued to be what he was always good at as an entrepreneur of sorts in the music industry in the Muscle Shoals area.

If you check out the Rubber Band Poster above, my old friends and band members are from left to right: Front Row - Johnny Wyker (bass and trumpet) and Jackie Sims (drums). Back Row - Me in the Jim McGuin glasses, sax player and all around great guy, Denny Green, keyboardist, Joe Sobotka, sax player Tommy Stewart and my old mate, Tippy Armstrong. Also on that same poster near the bottom you'll see "The Rockin' Gibraltars". That was the band from Montgomery that my long time friend and partner Ed Sanford was an original member of. The poster was typical of some of the stuff we used to do rake in money. For this gig, we rented the main ballroom at the Thomas Jefferson Hotel in Birmingham on a Saturday afternoon or evening after an Alabama game at Legion Field, charge 3 or 4 bucks a head and leave town with several thousand dollars clear. We were all flush after a weekend of playing. I remember one homecoming weekend at Alabama we played a Friday afternoon party, a Friday evening party, a Saturday afternoon bash for a bunch of drunk Law students, a Saturday night gig after the game at Foster Auditorium, Bama's old basketball arena and played a wedding reception on Sunday. Our pockets were stuffed with money and we lived a pretty decent life style for a bunch of kids that never worked a day in their lives. And we got serious too and drove up from Muscle Shoals to Nashville once to get all fitted for some suits to do more formal gigs.

We played a lot in Mississippi in those days. We'd do the same thing in Meridian and Jackson as we did with the Hotel Ballroom in Birmingham. We'd rent the local Shrine Hall or Amvets Hall and advertise with local DJs who got a rate on advertising but who also got a cut of the gig. The hall usually provided refreshments so they made out on that end too. We'd hire a couple of off duty cops for security at twenty bucks apiece and have our roadies stand at the door with a cash box and a stamper and wait for the onslaught. See, the thing was, there wasn't much else going on. Cable TV hadn't been invented yet or the internet or any of the myriad of options we have now days. We'd play little towns lie Opp, Alabama (short for "opportunity") and kids would show up for 40 miles away. Not just because it was the "Fabulous Rubber Band", but moreso because we were the only game in the county on a Friday or Saturday night. Some of my favorite memories were from those trips over to Mississippi. On an autumn afternoon we would be on the Natchez Trace headed for Oxford and witness one of the great shows of Nature. Millions upon millions of birds, all different types, Starlings, Cedar Wax Wings, Cardinals, Sparrows and several species of ducks and geese would blanket the sky in ribbons that you couldn't see the end or beginning of. They would settle in the trees for the evening on their way south. One of those trips was the inspiration for a song Sanford and I wrote called "In For The Night". But the great part, aside from the music was we were making money hand over fist. I was in art school and had all the best brushes and sculpting tools and all that. It was the first time in my life that if I wanted something I could just go out and buy it. I remember my Dad got a little testy when he found out that during my sophomore year in college I had made more money than him just playing on weekends. My Dad was old school and I don't think he ever understood what I did for a living, right up until the day he died. In retrospect, the Art School thing had to have been an instinctive move for me. I truly believe between my dabblings in art and the music I was able to reroute the circuitry in my brain to compensate for some of the damage done during my illness. I quite obviously came out of it a more right brain type of person.

Where I grew up in Tuscaloosa was just a little uphill from a post war sub division called Circlewood. By traversing several rows of modest 2 bedroom homes and several streets, a journey of about 8 minutes, I could find myself surrounded by forest with a stream running right down the middle of it. The stream took all kinds of twists and turns and in early summer, if you were careful of snakes, the cold water was a welcome relief on hot days. But certain times of the year it ran almost dry and a maze of water rounded rocks of all sizes was exposed like a a multitude of stepping stones that ran for about a hundred yards down through Mr Bobo's sugar cane patch, all the way to the edge of the woods. Thinking back, when I used to run those rocks, it was like a meditation for me. A Zen thing, if you will. The more I did it, the faster I got and most of the time I'd be in the air before I knew where my next footfall would be. I got really quite good at it and looked forward to running the rocks at every opportunity. I can't tell you how many times I've thought of that over the years. I guess that's the time of my life where I formulated the courage to cut loose from the beaten path and launch myself into the unknown. It's where I learned to just trust myself and go for it. Sure, I busted my rear end a lot and got banged up a bit and now and then I"d ditch in a mud hole for good measure. But this has been the story of my life; launching myself into the unknown armed only with what talent I believed I had and a healthy helping of audacity.

Rubber Band signs with
Columbia Records - 1966

Joe Sobotka, JT
Wyker & Jackie Sims

Tippy Backstage
Showing off his new 335

The only photo of Heart
at The Whisky A Go Go - 1968




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