John Wyker and Mighty Field of Vision
by Mitch Lopate
Hallucination verification, John D. "WildCat" Wyker's back on the loose! Actually, it's hard to keep him tied down - he's a writin', talkin', music-loving-and-playing power station of ideas. A musician by trade and a showboat promotion man by heart with close ties to Muscle Shoals, John's been riding the circuit for decades through several incarnations. Some of you may remember him on an early clip of American Bandstand (you remember that show from the '60's, dontcha?), the singles, "Motorcycle Mama" and "Baby Ruth" (the latter recorded as a duet by Delbert McClinton and Bonnie Bramlett), and leadership of the Rubber Band and Sailcat.
The Rubber Band was a favorite of two other fledging artists who had just come to town with their band, the Allman Joys - and we're talking here about a very young Duane and Gregg Allman. John and Duane were closely entwined in many episodes of mischief and rascally ways, and one of John's Stratocasters wound up in Duane's possession (currently in Delaney Bramlett's hands!). To boot, John also was there for the jump-starts of two other familiar faces: a young Rhodes Scholar and ex-Ranger with a guitar named Kris Kristofferson, and a piano-playing wonder called Chuck Leavell. In those days, if you looked under most any roof that supported four walls south of the Mason-Dixon line and had a band performing inside, you'd find John Wyker and friends.
Not one to ignore the call of Fate, John's at the reins of two large-scale tasks: the curator and gatekeeper of the legacy of Eddie Hinton, an R&B soulmeister who cut "Shout Bamalama," "300 Pounds," and other churning tunes through a meteoric-like brief lifetime of brilliance and flame-out. And if that's not enough weight to shoulder, John is the father-figure and mentor to The Mighty Field of Vision Anthem, a project with the heart and spirit of inspiration of efforts (like Charlie Daniels's Volunteer Jam) of musicians helping musicians, dedicated to raising funds and helping those brothers and sisters who have fallen on hard times. The MFV held their first session in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 14th, with players like Fame rhythm guitarist Jr. Lowe, Stephen Foster of the Doo-Dah Band, Little Richard's saxophonist, Guy Higginbotham, and Ray Brand of the Crawlers.
The best is yet to follow: John's enthusiasm and unbridled energy for the next phase has caught the attention and support of a monster cast:
Lee Roy Parnell
And, if you're part of the MFV mailing list, you've read John's "Cat Tales," where he lays down some funny and exotic yarns like he's got a bit of Davy Crockett and a sailor from the high seas in his soul - and a need as big as a barn door to share with man and womankind. Get it direct from the man: presenting the wild, the untamed, the amazing John D. Wyker!
John D., tell us a story about the roots of Southern music---and use a backhoe, 'cause these are some deep roots -
John Buck Wilkin, aka Ronny of Ronny and The Daytonas...in my opinion is the Brian Wison of Southern Rock. In the late '50s and early '60s there was/is a genre of music called "Landlocked Surf Music"; Buck Wilkin was/is one of the founders of this goodtime Beach and Hot Rod style of music. He had hits like "GTO" and "Sandy" and "Bucket -T" and others that are certified anthems of rock 'n roll history....
Buck and his mother, Marijohn Wilkin, also founded Buck Horn Music in Nashville in the '60s and the first writer to sign with their publishing company was a neophyte songwriter by the name of Kris Kristofferson ....
Buck Horn Music published all of Kris's first songs....these songs are all classics now.....I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time at Buck and Kris's apartment in the alley behind Music Row in the late '60s and was one of the first people to hear Kris play his new competitions.....like "Me and Bobby McGee"...and all those great songs from that period .....
I was crashed out on Kris' sleepin' bag one Sunday mornin' when he stumbled in half-drunk and kicked me in the side and demanded that I listen to his new song, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"....he always played a 12 string guitar back then, and all 12 strings were always totally out of tune....he sounded awful....and I told him so....later that mornin' when I was as drunk as he was ....he played that song again for me ....and I got it that time.....what a great batch of songs he turned out durin' that period!....
Some great times were had with Billy Swan and Art "Neckbone" Shilling....and Buck...and...Kris and Tony Joe (White)...hangin' out at Bob Beckham's office every afternoon for guitar pulls....later, Buck and I moved a young Tuscaloosa high school graduate named Chuck Leavell to Nashville to join our band, the American Eagles....he got his first session pay from these sessions but that's another story ....LONG LIVE LANDLOCKED SURF MUSIC !"
Amen, John, thank you for that saga. Now, how's about laying it down about a guitar - you know the one I mean.
You know that Strat that Duane Allman gave Delaney Bramlett...I trust what Delaney says about that Strat...and there are probably a lot of stories about that Strat...but you can believe me when I tell you that that Strat used to be my guitar back in about 1966 or '67'....me and Duane and Eddie Hinton were sharin' a small garage apartment in Sheffield, Alabama...later, Duane asked Eddie to sing with what turned out to be The Allman Brothers Band....
Anyway, me and Hinton and Duane were sharin' this little one room garage apartment and Duane had some fantastic red hash...it looked like the red clay dirt that we have in Alabama....we used to joke that we did not need even need to hide it and that we could just cake it all over our boots and stuff and people would just think it was Alabama red dirt....
Well.... me and Duane were sittin' around one night, smokin' Duane's hashish and he was playin' my Strat....I mean really playin' it makin' magic..he was gettin' sounds out my guitar that was blowin' my mind...It was easy for me to see that Duane had found his Muse and seen his musical matrix...and I was real high and spiritual.....sometimes we'd get so stoned that we felt like high priests goin' into the mystic and we could see thangs for what they really were - .anyway, Duane was smokin' on that Strat and I was smokin' his hash....and I made an offer to trade him my Strat for the rest of his hash....probably about a 1/2 ounce...the funny thang was....we kept settin' there and jammin' and writin' little snatches to songs...and we both smoked up the rest of the hash together...and I think Hinton may have gotten a few tokes.... when the hash was all gone, Duane still had that Strat of mine....I just learned from reading (the) interview with Delaney Bramlett in GRITZ that Duane gave that Strat to Delaney and he still has it after all these years...God Bless Delaney.....I knew Duane was special...even back then....way before The Allman Brothers ever got together....
Didn't you say you knew them when they were the Allman Joys?
I used to hire The Allman Joys to open our shows when I had The Rubber Band - .we were big stars to Duane and Gregg....we had a hit single that was on Columbia Records called "Let Love Come Between Us"; it also hit with James and Bobby Purify and Delbert McClinton and Mavis Staples also did great cover versions - .and The Rubber Band's version went to Number One in all the major cities of the Southeast or what Billboard called Area 6. -
We did not need an opening act, but Duane and Gregg and the other Allman Joys had become good and fast friends ...and they needed the money and the exposure - .so I used to hire them to open for us - . Duane would eat his guitar and play it behind his back and get down on the floor and do flips while he played and Gregg would be behind a little Vox organ on chrome legs..and Bill Connell pounding the drums....I thought they were pretty good...but the crowds gave them a hard time and gave a few boos from time to time....
You see, The Rubber Band used three saxes and a trumpet (I played trumpet & bass) in The Rubber Band and no other non-horn band could hold a candle to us back then....we were heavily influenced by a fantastic band from Muscle Shoals called The Mark V that featured Dan Penn, Norbert Putnam, David Briggs, Jerry Carrigan and Marlin Greene (they used to let me go on the road with them and get on stage and dance - .I was called "The Action Man");...anyway, The Rubber Band featured Tippy Armstrong on guitar and our singer was Johnny Townsend....who later had the hit "Smoke From A Distant Fire" by The Sanford Townsend Band.....
We all knew that Duane was 'way ahead of any of the other guitar players that were around the Shoals back then....except for two other amazing guitar-playin' cats ...one was Pete Carr and the other was Tippy Armstrong....and...Pete Carr is the only one that survived the rock 'n Roll Wars - .
- .but on a lighter note, I remember Duane used to say that our Creator had a few thangs backwards...he used to say that "God should have put a fingernail on top of our heads so we could grow it out like the bill of a cap or a visor... and if it rained or somethang fell on our heads, we would have protection--like a helmet or hardhat," and he also said that "God should have put hair where our fingernails are." He had a lot of reasons for that, includin' how it could serve as a Q-tip and other thangs that involved pleasing women..but I won't go into that here...Duane was really a trip back "in the time."
Also, did you ever know about Bill Connell, the most excellent drummer for the Allman Joys ? I recommended him to Doowang and Gregg and they hired him the night he graduated form Tuscaloosa High School and they all took off that night to go play at Trudy Heller's Club in Greenwich Village in New York City.....I know Connell must have gotten a crash course in Rock n' Roll in the fast lane after he left his hometown to hit the road with Allman Joys ! Years later, I hired Connell to go on the road with Sailcat in the summer of '72 when we did American Bandstand and Carnegie Hall (but that's a whole 'nuther chapter). Connell also toured with Bobby Whitlock a few years later - .
We're getting' a crash course here, too--somebody remind me when to kick in the clutch - Oh, yeah, we've got a reply about one of Duane's guitars from Ray Brand, one of your buddies.
Brother Sting Ray Brand! He has one of the only original Coricidan slide bottles that Duane actually used ....I've heard those legends about that famous Gibson Les Paul guitar of Duane's...and I think I read the same thang somewhere in one of Lanoir Allman's interviews...Duane used to call Gregg by his middle name when he really wanted to royally piss Gregg off....especially when Gregg was real depressed and wanted to go to "The Give -Up Rock"... (a legendary place said to be located near Opp, Alabama - .where people go when they want to give up - legend has it that there is a big statue of Monty Rock III there and a person goes to that spot and takes off all their clothes and confesses that they want to GIVE UP and they make a covenant that they WILL NEVER EVER TRY AGAIN !"And then the person lays down on that cold hard stone....and they lay there until they finally just die and their beaten and broken spirit leaves their listless body !
Nevertheless, the first cat's name that owned Duane's famous Gibson Les Paul....was Richard Compton....who died in a car crash. - Richard was from Decatur, AL, and he was a young musical genius that died too young.... like so many that I've know......Richard has a brother named Tommy Compton and his nickname is "Crash" ...he was once a sound engineer back in the early '70s at Capricorn in Macon....in fact, I think he was was hired to replace me when I quit my gig with Crapracorn in '69--sorry, I could not resist that - truth is, Phil and Blue and everyone in Macon treated me very well - actually, they treated me a whole lot better than I was treatin' myself at the time....way too much purple micro dot and stuff ..I know ya'll understand what I'm talkin' about !
Back in my college days, as a freshman - seventeen or eighteen of us - What happened after you left Capricorn?
I really left Capricorn because Chuck Leavell and Buck Wilkin and I were under contract to record an album for Liberty Records...it started out to be by our band ....The American Eagles....we did it at The old MSS on Jackson Highway .....and we brought Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan back home from Nashville to record at MS Sound and play bass & drums on the project....by the time we finished the record, Chuck and I looked at each other and said, This should really be Buck's record and debut solo album"; ....it was only fitting...the record was released as John Buck Wilkin, In Search of Food, Clothing, Shelter and Sex....I love that title....and it was/is a great record !
Buck's mother, Marijohn Wilkin, was a big part of the Old Nashville Establishment and Buck was really tryin' to break some unspoken rules ( and some written rules as well)....At the time, Buck was sharin' a cold water walk-up flat with Kristofferson and there was definitely revolution in the air when I used to go and visit them....a great period in Nashville around 1969.....in fact, Buck and Kris wrote a great song that we recorded called "Apocalypse 1969" ... we recorded that song at Broadway Studio which Marlin Greene had designed for Quinn Ivy....We had a whole room of Tuscaloosa musicians on that track, including Court Pickett, Frank Freidman, Art Shilling, Glen Butts, Lou Mullenix, and, of course, Chuck Leavell. - about six or seven guitar players.....a massive wall of guitars....back then, Tuscaloosa was producing some of the finest and most creative players that I had ever seen in one spot !
I think we kind of freaked a bunch of folks out on that session....there was so much energy in the room and we had one of those massive American flags like you see at big automobile dealerships - .and we would spread it all over the entire floor of the studio (or anywhere) and it was so big that we could drape it over most eveythang in the studio and still it would stretch out in to the hall.....I mean, we were "The American Eagles"....and that was way before there was ever groups called "America" or "The Eagles"....sometimes I think it's a terrible blessing to be ahead of your time....but how can a blessing be terrible ?
Well, looks like I've done it again....but I can't help it when my train of thought collides with my stream of consciousness - down by the railroad riverbed !
Someone get the license plate of that train - either that, or fish me out of the stream! John, this is better than Saturday night at the movies! What else have you got tucked away for us - how about your friend, Eddie Hinton?
Yes, sweet Mamalama....Hinton knew and lived exactly what he was he was singin' about on that song and so many others....but my favorite thang about Hinton and his music was that on most of his songs he sounds so optimistic and upbeat...and positive in the face of what seemed to be a totally hopeless situation......that's what's so great about Southern soul music and R & B that had its musical roots in black church....as opposed to that old wornout cry-in-yo'-beer-blues genre that gets so much attention these days...those kind of hopeless blues leaves me cold....
Eddie Hinton was the REAL DEAL--his songs were well-crafted, well executed and delivered with every once of soul on his body ! I remember once, Hinton and me were livin' together in a house in Florence, right after I came off the road with Sailcat...1972 or early '73....and Eddie woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me about a dream that he had....he did that a lot.....his dreams that happened while he was sleepin'...were very real to him and they all had special meanings to us.....This one night he woke me up and he was very extremely excited...and he shook me until I wrote up and he was just wild with joy...and he said, "Johnny, I just had this amazing dream and Otis Redding was in my dream and he taught me how to make his secret recipe for mayonnaise!" I knew exactly what he was talkin' about !
I'm fretting about why Otis was concerned about mayonnaise, considering everything else that he was famous for - but Otis did do things his own way - God bless him - and the mayonnaise, too! I'll never look at a tomato sandwich the same way, now.
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