Ooh, the 70s!

As chronicled in the massive history of Fayetteville’s music scene, the 1970s overflowed with great music that echoed down the length of Dickson Street. The Charles Tuberville Band was among them.


Back: Singleton, Smith, Billy Osteen
Front: Ellis, Tuberville, Womack
Photo courtesy Joe Phelps

Charles Tuberville Band

Charles Tuberville became hooked on the guitar after watching an older cousin plug his “machine” into an amp and began playing a song by The Ventures. Then when The Beatles took rock n’ roll by storm, that changed everything. Charles got his first guitar, an electric Harmony Bobcat, for Christmas in the 7th grade. “‘At the time, I was playing trumpet in the school band. The day I got my electric guitar, that trumpet never again came out of the case,’’ he recalled in an interview for Blues News.[1]

His Fayetteville band formed in the early 1970s and played popular clubs like Notchy’s and The Library. In 1976 when the Brass Monkey took over the former Gaslight space in the basement of the Mountain Inn Annex, the Charles Tuberville Band served as the house band. Members of this powerhouse group were Charles Tuberville and Billy Osteen (Cal Jackson still in Memphis) on guitar; Albert Singleton then later Cherry Brooks, vocals; Lance Womack, drums; Jimmy Smith, keyboards; Jim Sweeney (Tulsa), Joe Ellis, bass. Members of this band later appeared in other groups. Charles Tuberville moved to Tulsa in 1979 and went on to ply his guitar craft in multiple formats, performing on an album with Tulsa musician Jimmy Markham including Get Ya’ Head Right (2018) and producing his own album, Somethin’ in the Water in 2019.

Don’t miss these great stories of creativity, ambition, and craziness that permeates the 550+ pages of GOOD TIMES: A History of Nightspots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas — available at Amazon.com and the local Washington County Historical Society offices.


[1] Bill Martin, “Charles Tuberville,” Blues News, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 3

Beating the Train

This photo reminds me of my dad Floyd Pitts who would sometimes reminisce about his younger days when he was still in high school at Morrow, Arkansas. He’d tell part of this tale then slap his leg and start laughing.

During that period of his life – early 1930s – his parents and younger sister had to move to West Memphis where his dad found work. Floyd stayed at Morrow to finish high school. He slept on a cot at the Morrow Mercantile with duties to keep the fires going at night so the stock didn’t freeze. Alongside his work duties and high school classes, he and three friends performed around the Northwest Arkansas region as a quartet.

“By 1933, I was the leader of the Morrow Quartet (I played fiddle and sang bass) and we were the best in the whole area. We sang at anything. We’d put on a show at places like the Savoy Community Building, we sang on the radio all the time, KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks [then located in the Washington Hotel on the southwest corner of the Fayetteville square, Mountain and Block], any old breakdown tunes.

Floyd Pitts circa late 1930s

“It was a novelty for a boy to play the piano. People would take us home for dinner if we’d perform.  Jim Latta was the father of one of the singers—the lead, Vernon Latta. He’d help us out buying gas. Vernon played guitar and mandolin. Or the Morrow Mercantile would help us because of Dennis Carmack, the tenor of our group. There were four main guys who owned the Mercantile: Ernest Ball, Lowrey Carmack, __ Reed, and [can’t remember].  Ty Reed sang alto (high tenor). I played fiddle and Dennis Carmack played guitar.

“Dennis had an old Chevrolet and that’s how we got to Fayetteville for our weekly radio show. One time we were running late. There was a railroad crossing at the turn off from the Cane Hill Road to the main highway just east of Lincoln. We heard the whistle and as we roared up to the crossing, we could see the train coming. Trains were long in those days, usually pulling an endless string of freight cars. We knew we’d miss our broadcast time if we waited for the train.

“The train was barreling down, close, too close, to the crossing. There wasn’t time to discuss it. Dennis floored that old Chevy. The engineer laid on his whistle as we hurtled ahead throwing up a huge dust cloud behind us. We could see the engineer’s mouth moving as we approached. He was shaking his fist at us.

“We flew over those tracks without a second to spare. The force of that train as it passed behind us shook the car. As we made the sharp turn just after crossing the tracks, that old car went up on two wheels. We all leaned to the right, laughing at our near miss as the car slammed back onto all four tires. We made it to the Fayetteville Square in time for our show.”

Floyd Pitts went on to gain his bachelor’s degree in music at Northeastern State University at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, then taught music at Rogers AR public schools until his service as an officer in the U. S. Navy in World War II. After the war, he gained a master’s degree in music at Iowa before returning to Rogers to teach. He took over the band man post for the Grizzly band at Fort Smith’s high school in 1953. During his time at Fort Smith, he moonlighted in vocals and piano with a dance band that played local venues like the Elks Club. In January 1957, he proudly led his band in the Washington D.C. parade for Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration.

In 1958 in search of better income, he moved his family to Miami, Oklahoma to lead the music programs for the public schools and direct the junior high and high school bands. During those years, he pursued after-hours income by tuning and repairing pianos, something he’d done since his high school days when he’d teach shape note singing at schools and church houses around the area and inevitably encountered out-of-tune pianos. His father, a sometimes blacksmith, forged Floyd’s first tuning hammer from an old Model A tie-rod.

Floyd remained the Wardog band director at Miami until 1967, when the family once again relocated to Fayetteville, Arkansas. (His wife, Carmyn Morrow Pitts, was relieved to be back in “God’s country.”) From there, Floyd taught band a couple of years at Westville, OK and for many more years at Lincoln AR, more or less a return to his roots at the end of his long career in teaching music to multiple generations. He retired in 1979 but continued his new career as a full time piano tuner/technician alongside his daughter Denele until a couple of years before his death in 2004. Even in his last days, a good old fiddle tune would bring on a flurry of foot tapping.

~~~

Floyd’s first tuning hammer from Model T tie-rod, late 1920s

Side note: KUOA began as a project of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, using these call letters starting in 1926. With the deepening of the Great Depression, in 1931 the University decided to lease operations to out of town interests. “Members of the Fulbright family then formed KUOA, Incorporated, to purchase the station, and on April 1, 1933, they took control, with Roberta Waugh Fulbright as president, John Clark as secretary-treasurer, and daughters Roberta Fulbright as station manager and Helen Fulbright as vice president.”[1] Ownership of the station shifted to John Brown University in 1936.


[1] https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/kuoa-radio-station-3678/

I Coulda Been a Singer

“You missed your calling,” a friend recently commented.

I had shared a video of “It’s All About That Bass” for her to see.[1] I thought it was fun. I was especially tickled by the clarinet part. I’m weird that way. But I think her point of reference was the lead singer whose gyrating performance in her leopard skin dress apparently made my friend think this was what I wanted her to see.

The truth is, I could have been a singer. My dad, forever the music teacher, started me on piano in second grade and on clarinet in fifth. By seventh grade, he set me down for grueling hours of learning how to sing harmony. I taught myself guitar in tenth grade and began teaching guitar lessons the next year, a pursuit that involved strumming chords while singing.

Other Side of Apathy 1965 Left to right Trula Roberson, LuJean Howard, Denele Pitts

That was the popular music genre of the times. 1964, 1965. Folk music. I joined with two other classmates to perform popular songs of the time – “Blowing in Wind,” “The Water is Wide,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Turn Around,” and others including “Hang on the Bell, Nellie,” which always brought down the house. We called ourselves “The Other Side of Apathy.” We were in high school, performing largely for local civic group luncheons and banquets.

My vocal talents won me a slot in All-State Choir both junior and senior years, and of course I performed in the high school chorale. My dad signed me up for private lessons with a voice teacher at the local junior college. Those lessons nearly ruined me. As far as the instructor was concerned, the only legitimate vocal performance was in opera. I loathed that bellowing warble I was supposed to produce from my diaphragm. I quit the lessons.

Despite the off again, on again nature of my fraught relationship with Bill, my high school sweetheart, we maintained our strongest bond in music. In my dad’s high school band room, Bill played drums and I, by ninth grade, played oboe. But in marching band, I set the oboe aside and picked up cymbals. At halftime shows and marching band contests, Bill and I were only a couple of positions apart on the field. We marched to “Semper Fidelis,”[2] “National Emblem,”[3] “Washington Post”[4] and other popular marches, one hundred strong, our formations geometric. My dad the Navy man would have none of that wimpy popular music of the day with majorettes prancing out front while the band stood still.

But I digress.

Bill and I were voted the most talented of our class. So we felt especially obligated to sparkle at the senior program. That tradition of our school included skits, speeches, and performances of all kinds to cap off our public school years. There was no question that Bill and I would do something musical, although Bill had also continued to pursue his talents in dance. We didn’t rule out some combination.

By this time my daily guitar teaching lessons at the local music store had brought me in contact with the front lines of popular music. I had embraced Beatle mania, enjoyed Streisand’s songs, and knew some of the forbidden rock and roll like “House of the Rising Sun.”[5] But it was “Girl From Ipanema” that had won my heart.

Bill and I worked out a performance that put me standing at a microphone at the front left corner of the stage. Bill’s part was to dance along the footlights in an improv jazz style. Behind us against the back curtain, a tall stepladder held three guys playing claves, maracas, and guiro.

I did my best to transcribe the music so we could recruit appropriate accompaniment, but the record I had of Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz didn’t offer an easy transcription.[6] I couldn’t find any sheet music, so I winged it a capella with just the rhythm section. We had maybe three rehearsals in between senior prom, drunken escapades on the lake where I managed to get strep throat, and performing my solo in part of Hayden’s Mass in G (choir concert) – with strep throat.

In preparation for our performance of “Girl From Ipanema,” I rewrote the lyrics to “Boy From Ipanema.” I would sing about Bill. Always without much money, I pawed through our household collection of patterns and fabrics and settled on thin pale blue cotton for a dress with a bloused sleeveless top and long straight skirt split up the side. I wore my hair straight and long. For his part, Bill wore black tights, leotard, and fedora.

When the curtain opened, a blue spotlight found me. Bill danced in blue footlights. The packed house went utterly silent as I breathed the song into the microphone. The song told the story. Bill performed perfectly. I sang it without a hitch. When the last note faded and Bill’s proud dance had melted to a close, there was dead silence. And then they shouted the house down. (Sadly, there are no photos of this event.)

This was the high point of my career as a chanteuse. Bill went on to a notable career on Broadway. I thought of a profession singing in smoky lounges out front of a jazz combo. I perfected my Greta Garbo poses, practiced exhaling cigarette smoke through my nostrils. Alas, I had no clue how to break in to that world from my mid-South innocence.

Bill in “A Chorus Line” (third from front), one of his many Broadway dance roles. Today he teaches dance and mentors upcoming devotees in New York City.

College for me depended on a scholarship and the ratio of singers to oboe players is probably at least 100 to 1. With an oboe scholarship, there was no time for choir. Besides, the only formal training for vocalists at the time – and largely still today – was o p e r a.

My father discouraged any idea of a career as a professional singer. He described the touring circuit of rundown lounges and loud drunken audiences, often with minimal pay. He didn’t fully describe the sexual harassment that comes with the scene, or the need to maintain a coherent group of musicians willing to forego intoxication and other hazards of touring. He thought I wanted a husband and children, and I did.

But I also wanted to be a chanteuse. Later, as my kids grew up, I’d pound out my own piano accompaniment to give full throat attention to song collections by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and other favorites, but the ones that thrilled me the most were the torch songs like “Scotch and Soda.”[7] I also sang with regional community choirs in the 1980s and ‘90s but by the mid ‘90s, I noticed my voice wasn’t exactly as controlled or clear as I wanted. I felt embarrassed and stopped participating in the choir.

Then a couple of surgeries involved tubes down my throat and I discovered my singing broke in critical places around Middle C. And I had long since lost my guitar. By the time I retired from what had become a 30-year career tuning pianos, I was so burned out I never wanted to see another piano and moved mine to a back bedroom.

The piano sits, untuned and untouched by me for over decade. On occasion when I am unable to resist the urge, I’ll drag out the stool for the old pump organ my dad restored and plod along with a few pieces trying to ignore the deplorable condition of my voice. Sadly, the voice is not a lifelong instrument for most of us, although at times I think I might buy another guitar and start practicing in the belief that I just need to start exercising those vocal cords. I still long to sing, and nothing brings that to mind more strongly than to hear a voice slamming through a song like the lady in “All About That Bass.”

This is one of those ‘paths not taken’ stories.

All About That Bass – Postmodern Jukebox
European Tour Version

~~~


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLnZ1NQm2uk

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PcBNWd2tTI&list=RDo3gHhCpkiWU&index=11

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U40OIESDwlU (Catch the heart of this piece at 1:46.)

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mxrh1CrMmTY

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-43lLKaqBQ

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nim7Xs41UJo

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoWfDw-v4DM