With all the post-2012-presidential-election talk about unity, a post about racial/ethnic differences may not seem timely. But this one’s been on my mind for quite a while. Plus, it’s not so much about differences as it is about recognizing them.
You all know I’m a rabid classic car enthusiast. You might have seen my Flickr “Master Set” with nearly 5000 photos from the hundreds of car shows I attend, across the nation. For about 13 years straight, I was blessed to attend the gigantic automotive spectacle that is Hot August Nights, in Reno/Tahoe. Twice, I trailered (approx. 4000 miles, each roundtrip) our (since sold) fuel-injected, custom 1965 Buick Riviera to H.A.N. All but two of these trips were with my business partner, Mike. Our friendship started as a Client (me)/Vendor (Mike) relationship, nearly 20 years ago. But, besides the financial success our partnership produced, our shared love of classic vehicles has brought us much closer. Mike is like the white, Midwestern-All-American-Boy Brother, I never had.
I mentioned “recognizing” differences, earlier. There came a time, years ago, I helped bring Mike into the realization that there are not many African Americans in the car hobby and Automotive Aftermarket business, which by the way, is a +/- $30 billion annual industry.
We play a “game” at car shows and NASCAR races. We call it “SPOT THE OTHER BROTHER.” I’ll challenge Mike to point out another African-American attendee or participant. The game usually involves lots of Mike asking, “What about him?” and my responses like, “He’s Indian, man…like from India,” “He’s a local, who works here, Mike.”
You just don’t see many black folks at the mainstream car functions.
For many of the years we attended H.A.N., they advertised attendance at over a million. They usually register 5,550 cars for the weeklong show, but it is reported that nearly twice as many classic cars can be seen cruising the streets of Reno and Sparks, as well as South & North Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Truckee and other regional locales.
After thirteen trips, I can recall about three African American car participants. There was Vic, the blackjack dealer who would drive his gold-laden 1957 Chevy Belair 2-dr. hardtop the nine hours north, from Las Vegas. There was another guy, who had a mid-50s Cadillac limo, from Northern California. Then there were the two years, my sweetheart and I took and registered the Rivi. Those are about the only ones I can recall. There may have been more. But, I bet you could count them, without taking off your shoes.
To give you an idea how much we stand out, I tell a story about the two years we took the Buick to H.A.N. Note that my personalized, Texas licensed plates read, “SOL•BRO.” Attendees and participants dubbed me “The Texas Soul Brother.” I stood out at H.A.N. for more than being black; the ’65 Rivera isn’t one of the most popular classic cars. ’65 Rivis are found scarce among the multitudes of first-generation (’67-’69) Camaros, early (1964 and a half, up through the early 70s) Mustangs, Tri-Five (’55, ’56, ’57) Chevrolets, Mopars (Chrysler Corp. Musclecars) and even the “orphan” cars (Studebakers, Hudsons, LaSalles, Mercurys, Lincolns, etc.).
The last time we took the car to H.A.N. was ’09 (although we were registered for ’10). After the show (which is usually always the first full week of August), I spoke with a friend who lived in Reno. He said, “People are asking about you. They’re saying, ‘Where is the Texas Soul Brother?”
Imagine that! Some 5,500 registered vehicles, nearly 10,000 cars on the streets, over a million fans attending and a single participant’s absence is noteworthy? Amazing!
Again, not surprising, considering how we’re so few and far between at those events.
Hot August Nights features nightly, mostly outdoor (and often free) oldies concerts. Over the years, we have enjoyed acts like Herman’s Hermits, America, Gary Puckett, Johnny Rivers, Tommy James, Gary U.S. Bonds, The Crystals, Davy Jones, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Blood, Sweat & Tears and some pretty good Elvis and Beatles tribute acts. There have been a few soul or “black-music” acts. We tried never to miss the magnificent Sonny Turner, lead singer of The Platters. We met Little Anthony & the Imperials and you can usually find one of the many “trademark” iterations of groups like The Temptations playing.
One nice, mild H.A.N. Friday cruise night in Sparks, we were amongst a huge, pressing crowd, enjoying The Beach Boys. Mike exclaimed how great the music was and what good memories it seemed to evoke for the crowd. He said, “ Everybody knows the words and can sing along,” I told him, “Mike, I doubt most folks from where I’m from, could name more than one Beach Boys song and certainly wouldn’t know all the lyrics.” Mike was surprised. I explained that although those African Americans who are my sister’s and brother’s age (60s) were “into cars”, they weren’t listening to surf music from the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean, while enjoying them.
Pop “Radio” rock hits and those “golden oldies” are what you are likely to hear at most car shows. If I were a teen in the 50s or 60s, hearing Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover (which I like) now probably wouldn’t trigger any “sock hop” memories.
I reminded Mike that the African Americans of the 50s and 60s were doing the same things that white kids were doing in the Midwest and elsewhere. The were cruising, falling in love, “necking” in the front seat, street racing (which I would never condone) and listening to music…likely SOUL MUSIC… on the car’s AM radio.
But life on the “other side of the tracks” wasn’t very much like TV’s Happy Days or that great night in the film American Graffiti. The 50s and 60s-era African Americans enjoyed cars as much as anyone. But remember, they weren’t likely welcome at the same drive-in restaurants, malt shops or drive-in movie theaters as the white kids. They did their own thing, to the soundtrack of their own music.
I have often expressed my mild disdain for most of the local, weekend car shows. For some reason, many call them “CRUISES.” Usually, the only cruising is the drive from home or a nearby parked trailer and the trip home. These shows usually go like this:
• You pay $10 to enter, with the hopes of winning a $5 trophy
• You park your car in a space, saved by your “car buddy”
• You open the hood, so fans can see your engine — I believe many cars “show” (used as a verb) better, with the hood down. (Because of the creative body lines and accents on the Rivi, I believe it looks sleeker with the hood closed)
• You break out your lawn chairs and sit for four hours, listening to the aforementioned “radio” oldies
• You might see some kids in poodle skirts and saddle oxfords, Hula Hooping or chicken dancing to some old songs to which they would otherwise never listen
• The same guys who judge the same cars, each month, award the $5 trophies to the same car owners each month
• You might actually “cruise” to the malt shop, after the show, if you get a “wild hair” to stay out past 10pm
The constant thing, with these shows, is those same old songs. I think they always do the same things, because they always see others doing the same thing. I mentioned this in my “People Are Sheep” post. (I’ll include a link, later).
So, I have often dreamed of staging my own car event. It would be called THE SOUL SHOW.
Instead of the cars being parked in their neat little spaces in a parking lot, participants would cruise past the fans (they have great, nightly cruises at H.A.N.) with some solid soul music, groovin’ from the P.A. system. When they do park (with their hoods closed, if preferred), no lawn chairs — it will be a street party, like my sister, brother and their friends had when I was a kid, in the 60s. There would be food, soda pop, maybe popcorn popped in a skillet and dancing in the street.
And EVERYONE who loves old cars and old music…or not…would be invited!
Let’s take a look at MY playlist. Note that it may be the same artists, but how about something other than the too-often-heard “radio” hits. The 45-rpm. “B-side” songs that folks actually listened to, too.
Keep in mind that some of the songs on the left are some of my favorites. Especially the “car” songs. Like I mentioned in the “Inclusion” post, (to which I will also include a link, later) this isn’t about prejudice for one genre, more about recognition of the other.
Those not familiar with the some of the tracks on the right, might search for them on YouTube. You might discover some musical “hidden treasure.” Because if you just go by what you hear on the local oldies radio station and at “car cruises,” you may never, otherwise.
Instead of: / You would have:
- Bill Haley & the Comets — Rock Around the Clock / The Spinners —Funny How Time Slips Away
- Jerry Lee Lewis — Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On / King Floyd — Groove Me
- Ricky Nelson — Hello Mary Lou / Impressions — Gypsy Woman
- The Tokens — The Lion Sleeps Tonight / Jackie Wilson — Doggin’ Around
- Chubby Checker — The Twist / Hank Ballard and the Midnighters — The Twist (original)
- The Beatles — She Loves You / The Impressions — Woman’s Got Soul
- Righteous Brothers — Unchained Melody / Jerry Butler — Your Precious Love
- Roy Orbison — Oh Pretty Woman / The Impressions — Gypsy Woman
- Leslie Gore — It’s My Party / Sam Cooke — Having a Party
- The Kingsmen — Louie Louie / Richard Berry — Louie Louie (original)
- Dion — The Wanderer / The Impressions — Man Oh Man
- Beach Boys — Little Deuce Coupe / Jackie Brenston/Ike Turner — Rocket 88
- Otis Redding — Dock of the Bay / Otis Redding — These Arms of Mine
- The Temptations — My Girl / The Temptations — I Wish It Would Rain
- James Brown — I Got You (I Feel Good) / James Brown — Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)
- The Troggs — Wild Thing / The Delfonics — Didn’t I Blow Your Mind
- Aretha Franklin — Respect / Aretha Franklin — Something He Can Feel
- The Platters — The Great Pretender / The Platters — With This Ring
- Johnny Rivers — Memphis, Tennessee / Chuck Berry — Memphis, Tennessee (original)
- The Beatles — Twist and Shout / The Isley Brothers — Twist and Shout (original)
- The Isley Brothers — Shout / The Isley Brothers — This Old Heart of Mine
- Elvis Presley — Hound Dog / Big Mama Thornton — Hound Dog (original)
- The Champs — Tequila / Amos Milburn —One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer
- Everly Brothers — Cathy’s Clown / Smokey Robinson & the Miracles — Tears of a Clown
- Dion — Runaround Sue / The Chi-Lites — Have You Seen Her
- Neil Sedaka — Breaking Up Is Hard To Do / Jerry Butler — He Will Break Your Heart
- Eddie Cochran — Summertime Blues / WAR — Summer
- The Rascals — Groovin’ / Gene Chandler — Groovy Situation
- Gene Chandler — The Duke of Earl / Gene Chandler — Rainbow ’65 (live version)
- The Monkees — Last Train to Clarksville / Al Green — Back Up Train
- Sonny & Cher — I Got You Babe / Ike and Tina Turner — River Deep – Mountain High
- Beach Boys — All Summer Long / Sly & the Family Stone — Hot Fun in the Summertime
- Gladys Knight & the Pips — Midnight Train to Georgia / Gladys Knight & the Pips — With Every Beat of My Heart (1970 version)
- Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen — Hot Rod Lincoln / K.C. Douglas — Mercury Blues (Crazy ‘Bout a Mercury)
- Len Barry — 1-2-3 / Wilson Pickett — 634-5789 (Soulsville, USA)
- Then we’ll toss in some of my personal soul favorites:
- Jerry Butler/Brenda Lee Eager — Ain’t Understanding Mellow
- Solomon Burke — Got to Get You Off of My Mind
- Don Gardner — I Need Your Loving
- Sly & the Family Stone — If You Want Me to Stay
- Solomon Burke — Memphis Soul Stew
- Brook Benton — It’s Just a Matter of Time
- Tower of Power — You’re Still a Young Man
- Isaac Hayes — I Stand Accused (we’ll include Jerry Butler’s version, too)
- Isley Brothers — Harvest for the World
- Otis Redding — I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
- Rufus — Tell Me Something Good
- Ray Charles — Night Time (Is the Right Time)
- WAR — All Day Music
- William DeVaughan — Be Thankful for What You Got
- Wilson Pickett — I’m In Love
- Spinners — It’s a Shame
- Sam Cooke — Bring it On Home to Me
- Otis Redding — Try a Little Tenderness
- Mel Carter — Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me
- Marvin Gaye — Distant Lover
- Johnnie “Guitar” Watson — I Don’t Want to Be Like the Lone Ranger
- Joe Simon — The Chokin’ Kind
- Joe Tex — Hold What You Got
- Ivory Joe Hunter — Since I Met You Baby
- Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes — I Hope That We Can Be Together Soon
Would you attend the SOUL SHOW?