Sunday, January 31, 2016

Speaking of Billy Joe Royal

Joy Lewis Royal and her husband Jack Royal (brother of Billy Joe)

In the Billy Joe Royal concert at the Strand post one or two back I mentioned that Billy Joe brought up the fact, that while in his teenage years in Marietta, or I think he said, “in the 50s” he mostly remembered all us laughing all the time.

That is true. Although, some of it were horse laughs, some were laughing at someone (not with), and some were muffled giggles we were trying to hold back.

I thought he gave a very good concert. I think he felt very comfortable knowing the all the good old boys he ran around with were in the audience – well, the ones that are still living, anyway.

Billy Joe also mentioned living in the Clay Homes. I did too. But I moved from there before the Royal family moved in, but still had friendship ties there and returned frequently.

Back then when I went to the Clay Homes (either by bike or foot) to run around with my friends I got to know Billy Joe and his brother Jack. Outside of their apartment was a grass court… lack of a better word. Across the grassy court was another row of apartments.

Late at night after dark many times we sat out front of the Royal’s apartment on the grassy court. We soon found out that if we laughed or hollered too loud an elderly man across the court by the name of Mr. Caudell would walk over and tell us to keep it quiet. First he was nice, then, each night he would get ruder and ruder threatening to call the law on us and so on. Mr. Caudell smoked all the time. In the dark, it got where we got a kick of seeing the red end of his cigarette seem to float through the dark in our direction to demand we hold it down. And he would turn around and be walking back to his house and somebody would hollow like a cow mooing or something and the glowing red little light would materialized and walks towards us again for another chewing out. That is a time we muffled our giggles.

It got to be an almost every night ritual.

Mr. Caudell* was the father of a cashier at the Big Apple where I later worked – small world.

*James Caudell said he has not heard of this Caudell, and thinks it may have been a name similar to Caudell.  Who knows?

After a while the Royal family moved to East Dixie Avenue, which so happened to be the same house my mother and father moved to when they were freshly married. My mother believed she saw a red headed ghost in the house one time. I asked Jack and Billy Joe if they ever had a ghostly encounter. Nope.

I will have to skip over most of our fun times… laughing in the fast-lane …. And tell of one road trip that lasted about two weeks:

About 1958 several of us boys went to Panama City Beach, Florida. We went in Billy Joe’s 1950 black Ford. It took us about 12 hours to make the six to seven hour trip. We got lost a bunch of times on little dirt roads in Alabama.

In Panama City Beach area we the cheapest motel we found was The Key of Rest Motel. They advertised only $8 a night for two people. Between all five of us we had about $40. I had $30 of that and Jack had about $15. We decided The Key of Rest Motel was about the best we could do.

Jack and I had most the money so we both registered and each paid $8. The room had twin beds and a bathroom that we shared with the connecting room.

We brought our stuff in, which wasn’t much and then bought some Straight 8 Beer which sold for $1 a six pack.

This was the first week of June. High school students from all over Alabama and Georgia and converged on Panama city. Most of the Marietta people had rooms at two motels just down the street. A few of our friends found out where we were staying and dropped by for a visit and bringing more beer.

After a while we decided to walk across the road to the public beach and go hang out on the beach and maybe get some sun.

I remember they had sun-tan lotion tents. You step in a tent, deposit a quarter and you are sprayed with lotion. We were too poor to do that, but I thought it was interesting anyway.

Also was a sign with a local ordinance number at the bottom. The sign said, “No Colored Maids allowed in bathing suits on the beach.” This was a public, government owned beach. I thought that was terrible.

I noticed the lady who owned our motel come from down on the beach someplace carrying a very big fishing rod and a basket which I suppose had fish in it. I was glad to see that… I thought she wasn’t swept up in running a motel so much that she couldn’t enjoy the Florida amenities too.

When you are feeling the effects of alcohol you can tolerate the hot sun more than usual. We all took a nap on the beach baking in the sun. We woke up a few hours later baked. We were red as lobsters.

That night we went to a pavilion by the beach called “The Hangout.” There was a jukebox playing rock and roll music and hundreds of teenagers… some were dancing, most were standing around looking at the dancers, and some more was out on the beach beyond the lights fighting. We wisely stayed in the lights.

When we returned to our room that night and we all stripped down to our underwear we were blistery sore. I think a few friends came in that had no money or a place to stay so we told them they could stay with us.

It was so crowded if anyone moved someone else screamed in pain. One of us checked out the joining room. It was not being used. We divided up, half of us went into the next room. Then there were probably between 4 and 6 per room. We all went to sleep peacefully.

In the middle of the night the outside door opened up in the unpaid-for room and there stood the woman who ran the motel with a newly married couple. The bride screamed, the woman proprietor hollered, and some of the half-naked red-baked boys screamed.

She kicked us out. We asked for a refund and she laughed bitterly.

When we were putting stuff in the car she marched over from the office and wisely demanded to go through our suitcases. She retrieved her towels.

With no place to go we headed to Valdosta, Georgia. Billy Joe was born in Valdosta and had family there. I am not sure if Jack was born in Valdosta or not. Doc Holliday was.

Again it took us longer than it should have. Again we got lost and went through Tallahassee, Florida, which I think was way out of the way.

Billy Joe and Jack’s uncle and aunt welcomed us. The aunt cooked some delicious breakfasts. For almost we week we just lounged around and went to a local teen hangout at Twin Lakes Park a couple of times.

Their aunt and uncle were very much into music. They had a piano and guitars. Billy Joe would practice singing with playing different instruments. I think he could duplicate anybody’s voice and style while singing… if you had your eyes closed you were think the Coasters or maybe Ray Charles was singing, and the next song you would think it was Hank Williams…. Then you would hear, Jerry Lee Lewis grabbing the bull by the horns.

After the first week Tommy, Charlie, and I went with their other uncle and aunt who lived in Tifton to spend a few days. Jack and Billy Joe stayed with the ones in Valdosta… they were singing together over the piano and guitar, harmonizing like.

In a few days we returned to Valdosta to hear the latest. A furniture warehouse had a dance a certain night every week. BJ and Jack’s uncle played in the band… and BJ was going to get to play with them.

For the occasion BJ and Jack’s mother and their two sisters came from Marietta to Valdosta to hear him on stage. They knew he could do it, and do it well - and they were right.

After the dance was over, Mrs. Royal and her daughters, Tommy, Charlie, me, and Jack crammed into a car and drove back to Marietta. Billy Joe stayed back in order to perform.

As far as I know that was Billy Joe Royal’s first singing gig.


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