Augusta, GA

Part Two

Mayberry through Dark, Dark Glasses

But, I digress. The few things I can remember about the first forced year back in Augusta are: I had an anal retentive probation officer named Vern (an old pal of my Dad’s) who cited scripture, and almost had epileptic fits every time he saw me as my hair got longer; I sucked at Augusta College, which I was forced to attend, and was constantly arguing with the profs, who were all as stupid as Gomer Pyle on quaaludes; I held and lost so many stupid jobs (that always seemed to have something to do with a shovel and a ditch), that I lost count.

Then, there was sitting in front of the TV for days on end (let’s see, had I seen that Andy of Mayberry episode?), and eating until premature heart failure the requisite pig-out 8,000 calorie Southern Sunday Suppers (which, have to admit, were damned good). Then, being all screwed up about who and where I was (old drugs did that sometimes). I slept forever, obviously screwed-up. I started taking anti-depressants.

In reality, there was nothing so scary as sitting in front of a shrink for an hour–one picked out by Dad and Carol to go to– to convince me I had better get better. He let me do all the talking. As he was writing on his pad, I was trying to read the writing, upside down, and I was sure he was probably spelling out D-R. C-L-E-C-K-L-E-Y. Yikes!

So, better I got, quick. I wasn’t sure of the answer, or, how, but I needed to get my shit together, and get the hell out of my dad’s house. My answer turned out to be politics. It was the moment. The year before, while I was at Georgia Tech, Augusta had gone through a horrendous riot. Many black people were killed and wounded, and there was a standing joke among the good old boys about blacks and the Savannah River. The war in Vietnam was out of control. The killings at Kent State and a small black college in South Carolina were happening. And, all my friends wanted to raise hell, but also rock and roll without having a hundred cops show up. Time to revolt. Time to party, righteous.

Before completing the slow torture, I left my Dad’s house to find a place on my own. I said tell Vern to put me in jail, if you must, I’m outa here. I was living in communes, bagging school, getting turned on again with strange friends, hitching to Hot’lanta to see the bands, doing pick-up jobs, and getting political.

On one of those days, I met Buck Kent. Lieutenant Buck Kent. Buck was just about the most ridiculous excuse for a vice cop top dick as there ever was. He stood about 5 foot 5 or 6, buzz cut, dressed in green golf slacks, Izod shirt, with alligator shoes and a white alligator belt. Balding, squinty eyes, and always looking for the bad guy. He’d drive up to the guys hanging on the corner in his convertible narc-mobile, with big-assed, sweaty Durland, sweating little boy atom bombs, the sweat drenching his shirts, sitting in the passenger seat. They’d try to make a score or sell something. Oh sure, the hippies laughed. Yea, there’s a fuckin’ single engine Piper coming in later from Jamaica, Kent. Wanta meet us at the grass strip? He’d peel away. You’d smell the guy from a country mile away. Oh shit, it’s Kent, we’d scream.

The House on Monte Sano

It was 1971. I moved into a big southern mansion on Monte Sano Avenue, near an old part of the hill in Augusta, which had become run down. The new rich had abandoned the 100-year old dwellings, moving to the ‘burbs. Not too far from the college, the old mansions, many with white columns and wrap around porches, were perfect for taking over, fixing up, and renovating. A lot of college kids did that. I moved in with my buddies Frank and Raymond. We took over the first floor, and I think a friend eventually moved into one of the apartments on the second floor. A small group of stores and restaurants were down the street at the corner of Monte Sano and Central Avenue, friendly places, where we could walk to pick up cokes in the heat, bought from recycled bottles we scrounged. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were eventually “discovered” by the heads; a network of long-haired redneck communes. We called our place the Sunrise Inn.

Luckily, it was only ten blocks or so away from my grandmother, Jentzie. Jenny Mae was Kate’s little sister, and where Kate was large and stern, Jentzie was slight and sort of bent over, sometimes just as crankie, but she could be sweet. Jentzie played the boogie-woogie on the piano up to her 70s, and she taught my uncle to sing and play, Colquitt actually winning a Ted Mack Amateur hour in the 50s when he was a pre-teen, and later fronting a white soul band called The Pallbearers. Jennie Mae thought she was surely dying for some thirty years before she left the scene; she always had some new ailment, usually a hypochondriac panic. Superstitious as crazy, at the first sign of a cloud, would order you off the phone for fear of lighting hitting the lines. But she loved me and my sister and brother, having taken care of us for many years, and was always good for a breakfast of eggs and bacon at any time of the day.

One of the houses close by was rented by Sue Weed. Sue was a party animal, looked like a cross between Cher and, ., well, Sonny. Have drugs, will trip. She always had big dogs and drugs. Darlene and Laney, who lived down the road, were our spiritual guides. They used to hide out Vietnam Vets against the war. They were damned cool. Darlene was a tall woman, had this real toothy smile, and Laney was a kind of earth mother type, a bit overweight, long caftan dresses, a real sweet girl. Once Darlene got into an argument with an old boyfriend who demanded that she move back with her, that she shouldn’t be living with Laney, and asserted that she needed him, to do “man” things. Darlene laughed, said, need you for what? To open fuckin’ jars? A little hot water, a little tap. Open. You don’t think I can push the little spray thing down on WD40? Shit, I can do WD40! I got WD-40! I don’t need a man!

There was a growing “community” in the neighborhood, with a perimeter of hippie houses around Monte Sano Avenue to provide look-outs in the event of police incursions. Remember a national southern rock/jazz/bluegrass band called the Dregs? (used to be the Dixie Dregs) Steve Morse, the leader, was on the cover of guitar mags for years, later fronting the Deep Purple reunion. The bass player, a great guy named Andy West, would hang out and play frisbee in the front yard and the street with us.

I had met Frank Reed through the grapevine, an army brat. We hit it off, and started brainstorming (a lot of that in those days) immediately on how to pull off the revolution in Augusta. We had lived for a few months in an apartment until being evicted due to a little mix-up with the landlady (more about that later). Frank always listened to the most rad music — the MC5s, Moby Grape, and other bands that gave me a headache.

Frank was a smart guy, a real logic nut who introduced me to Ouspensky and transcendental writers and other radical theorists (all who ultimately convinced me I was pretty stupid). Frank was always coming up with the cardinal rules of the dayP.D. Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, the three orders of phenomenum; Kant’s twelve categories; the seven principles of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes; Hume’s seven relationships; the seven primary qualities; the seven energy centers, or chakras; the four domains of Yod He Vau He; the Trivium and Quadrivivum of the ancient universityyou get the picture. I was always mixing them up.
I preferred the popular writers and political cut-ups at the time, you know, the Abbie Hoffmans, Tom Haydens, and a few more serious writers like Bertrand Russell or a Herbert Marcuse. But, I really loved southern progressive writers; and I loved history. The Great Speckled Bird was pumping out great broadsides from Atlanta. And a quaint quarterly called Southern Exposure covered southern struggles, southern literature, and displayed great black and white pictorial essays, such as black sharecroppers and blues pickers in Mississippi. Good stuff was in the air, on the radio, in the book stores, in the head shops, and on the campuses.

Raymond was a long hair dreamer, a catfisher-painter who was strange and always buzzin’ on some new high, always finding the next good tunes. He had the longest hair, the baggiest, droopiest bells, an always exasperated look, a cross between confoundment at life’s little surprises, to a mescaline-like grin and rap, where he was just kind of shaking all over with body giggles, when we realized there wasn’t anything we could do about it and it was okay.

There was a ton of music to keep us going, mostly purchased as records, or caught live, as the radio stations were still top-40. The Allman Brothers hailed from Macon, a sister town to Augusta midway over in the state. We could catch them in Atlanta in the park for free, with other southern blues-rockers.

We still had James Brown running around; he owned a couple of radio stations in Augusta at the time (which continually played Say it Loud!) The man was the funk. My mom worked for his radio station when I was in my early teens. It was the basement of the famous old Bon Aire Hotel on Walton Way, a grand, but run down hotel from the turn of the century that had been turned into a senior citizen residence. The grounds of the Bon Aire were surrounded by luscious, huge magnolias. I used to watch Brown’s entourage come through, him in a purple convertible caddy, and learned later he bought that radio station to piss off the locals that still populated part of the hill (which worked).

When I was in the tenth grade, I would go to his concerts at the Bell Auditorium, a venue for the great soul revues of the day (me one of three young whiteys). James Brown served up a smokin’, electric, funkadelic, dressed to the nines, shimmering, glittering soul exestuation. Big Macio keep the band of twenty to twenty-five players and singers strung across the stage in perfect rhythm with two drummers, horn section, dolls providing vocals, and, then, of course, there was The Man, who could traverse the entire 100 foot wide stage on that awesome one leg swagger-dance he would do. Brown was always in trouble later on, jailed for tossing his wife around the house. One of his wives, when stopped by police for speeding tickets, tried to beat the rap by claiming diplomatic immunity. She claimed she was married to the Ambassador of Soul.

And then there was the country. We discovered the country again during those years; often while high, and it was bearable even straight. The beautiful blue ridges, if you could get away. The beach. And around Augusta, all kinds of mysterious places (at least on dope)–the Lake, the Savannah River, a peaceful place always; the old levy and the quarry, two bizarre places on moonlit nights.

So, somehow, I became some kind of political leader, god knows how. Some Capricorn organizational instinct/curse.

Sunday in the Park with the Freaks

There was a beautiful park in town that became a hang-out. Since the hippies had free music in the parks in Atlanta and San Francisco and Miami, etc., then well, we would too. Olmstead Park wrapped around a lake that needed cleaning up. My dad and other kids’ dads used to speed ski on the lake in front of large audiences when we were little. Since then, the park had frayed at the edges, neglected. But huge oak and magnolia trees still bloomed in the spring, sprouting giant magnolia blossoms. Azaleas in bloom. The park centered around a great little white gazebo. Great band-stand we thought. Great place to get togetherand play live music. The problem was, as always, it was against the law. Everything was against the law.

But then, we had Pat McNamara. Pat was a wild, Georgia Irish son of a gun, a willingness to always get in a scrap, a guy with long red flowing hair, a beard and ‘stash which proudly covered his red freckled face, a deep raspy voice which sounded like a cross between Louis Armstrong and the sound a gravel truck makes unloading, which he put to good use in blues-rock bands. He was a hell of a blues-rock keyboardist, and could hammer the hell out of a Hammond. We had been friends in high school, Pat always getting in fights and me trying to avoid em. All the big frat boys had gone off to Athens, or Tech, or Durham, North Carolina, or Gainesville, all happening places, well into their social affiliations and planning careers and marriage. Pat and I were the fuck-offs who wound up stuck in Augusta. We’d see the boys around the holidays, and since they had blown us off the last years we were in school together, we could care less about them. Fuck ’em.

Pat had his mom’s Riviera with the best sound system (and the only AC of any of our friends) in Eastern Georgiahis sled. Blasting Whipping Post or Memory of Elizabeth Reid from the Allmans Live at Fillmore East, until the 8-track tape wore through, Pat and I would ride the night, looking for something to do, some trouble to get into. We used to hitch to Atlanta or Savannah or south Florida, where we would always have big adventures or hairy near-escapes.

Once, on a hitch to South Florida, while walking through the outskirts of Savannah after having been stuck on Highway 25 in the middle of cotton fields all night, we saw some construction workers just starting work on a power grid structure, across a field, as the sun was coming up. The redneck assholes started whistling at us, due to our long hair, which they had not seen much of in those parts. Pat and I started yelling at them, Pat grabbing the Irish Shillelagh in his pack just in case. We were calling them every name in the repertoire, you redneck, pig-fucking, stupid, greasy, dumb mother-fuckers can kiss our ass! They started crawling down from the tower, and, outnumbering us, were proceeding to come after us to kick our asses. God dammmned!

Just then, an old bomber of a station wagon with wood side trim came barreling hauling down the road in our direction. Pat and I threw our thumbs and arms out wildly, as we were back-peddling down the road, headed south, keeping an eye on the necks, and as the car pulled over, a hippie chick leans her head out the window, and yells, hey, you guys got a hash pipe?

Pat says hell yes, we looked at each other, and jumped into the backseat, realizing we’re been picked up by two of the most beautiful young hippie girls we’ve ever seen, one a blond, the other a redhead, in the flowing hippie dress of the day, baby in the back; and as they sped away (at our urging), passing us a lighter full of hash, we turned around to watch the assholes chasing us, the car leaving them in the dust. Pat and I broke out laughing, and then got really bold, sticking our necks out the windows, shooting them armed birds and laughing at them, go fuck your sister, you redneck half-breeds! Pat yelled at the top of his lungs. Saved again! We had a nice leisurely ride to Daytona Beach, smoking a ton of hash and grass, and we spent the rest of the day at the beach with the girls, who were from New York, getting really high, before continuing our adventure south.

Somehow, hours later, by about two to three AM the next morning, we wound up on Key Biscayne, a bridge away from Miami, where we tried to find a small beach to crash on our bags, stupifiedly stoned and dead beat. Just as the calm water kissed our feet into peaceful slumber, having been up for 40 hours, flashlights jar and disturb us. Police woke us”this is Nixon’s Island, son. Move on.” Fuck. Nixon.

On a hitch back across the bridge, a car comes squealing around the corner, screams to a halt, and we were picked up by these three Cubanos. We sat in the back seat as they went speeding around Miami. They pulled into the back of an apartment building, and they all got out and went inside, saying, right back, man. Pat’s nervous, grabs the Irish stick in the dark of the back seat. The dudes come rushing back out to the car with a TV and anonymous small appliances, dump them in the trunk, jump in the car, and speed off. Pat and I look at each other. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. In the back of a car with fucking Cuban thieves. We finally got ’em to let us out at an all night Krispy Kreme, telling them we had been doing drugs for two days and were starved. Cop joint, luckily, too hot for them to hang around. We hitched a little further when the sun came up, called my mom, and slept for that day into the night. Somehow, we made it back to Georgia in one piece.

And around Augusta, Pat would urge me on to do something big. Like, organize this thing with this park, man, fuck the pigs! Fuck em! Stupid, neanderthal mother fuckers, what right do they have to tell us we can’t peacefully assemble and listen to music. Man, that’s the 1st amendment. This situation is funk-o-la, man. We can win this, bro! Fuckin’ A, Man! And then, he’d get in the sled, and ride off to find more dope.

So, I started organizing. With Frank, Sue, Raymond, Darlene, Laney, some VVAW guys on the lamb, whoever would come around, we’d organize concerts in the park, we’d organize against the war, we’d go down and march with the black folks downtown, we’d raise hell. And every time we’d screw up in getting the right permit (an impossible task).

We put the bands in the gazebo and strung wires from a generator. As the band was just warming up, and all the kids were there, its groovy, its music in the park, it’s happening.and just as a general induced mass peace would set in, oh, shit, it’s Kent!, our old friends from the Vice Squad would show up, with back up, before the second band had a chance of a sound check. Hootch cigs being stuffed out in the grass, eaten, stuffed down girlfriend’s pants. People scattering.

And then Charlotte moved in. Charlotte was a pretty, lost girl from Oregon whose fucked-up family had landed in Augusta; her father had moved to Alabama by then, I think. She showed up at one of our parties at the Inn. We went in a station wagon to some other party one night, and on the way back, we were in the far back seat, both of us totally contaminated, her head leaning on my shoulder. I was in love. There were others, all sweet Georgia peaches, all of them made all the more charming by their neuvo-south politics, but Charlotte was the most beautiful, the most fun, with a great laugh and the most marvelous tits I’d ever laid my eyes on by that point. I was twenty, she was 16 or 17. Charlotte Semar moved in.

And around the time I met Charlotte, Phyllis and Herb showed up. Phyllis was the cutest girl around, younger than Charlotte (who had dropped out), still in high school. I had grown up spending a lot of time with the guys on the block where Phyllis lived. Phyllis was a tom-boy when young, and blossomed later. There was much more to come about her later, a sweetheart over the years.

Herb was Frank’s friend, and was pleasant enough at the beginning. As time went on, he became a walking crank-case. Always crankin’ on speed or whatever, always focused on some scam which was the most important fuckin’ thing in the world at that moment. Herb was the quintessential jive hippie, tight hip disco-ish pants that were always frayed; always blitzin’ on some new drug deal that we all should invest in (only through him). Herbie fuckin’ Hodges. McNamara was always avoiding Herbie, and called him “the plague”. (Oh shit, it’s the plague coming down the street. Get me out of this funk-o-la situation, man).

A couple of blocks away, Bill and Pat Bryan lived in a more fashionable section of the hill, in a beautiful old house. Bill, a Vanderbilt man, had real southern pedigree roots, both in terms of journalism and old money; his father had been the first U.S. radio network reporter to enter Berlin, and had been an editor at the Journal-Constitution in Atlanta when it was a beacon for civil rights in the 50s and 60s. We could always go to Bill and Pat’s for a real meal, or a high chat in the living room with Patricia, who would hold forth in her rocking chair with a glass of bourbon.

I loved Pat to death, she was a kick in the pants southern intellectual, a slight woman with an Emma Peel haircut who looked great in khaki shorts and a tee shirt, who would love to get in arguments with me, Bill, whoever. Do tell, she would loudly proclaim when she wanted to make a point of disagreeing. They had a small boy, Wright, who Char and I would sit occasionally, and we would often comb their record collections, which had tons of blues and folk, early Billy Holiday and other classics, but also Bonnie Raitt, J.J. Cale, Jesse Winchester, low-country mojo music. And, Billy let me play his s thirty year-old Gibson, a thing of beauty.

Charlotte and I ran into Larry Jon Wilson one night while hitching with a wounded owl that we found on the road. A singer/song writer who had grown up with my uncle Colquitt, LJ had moved around after military school, getting in trouble, and later hanging with the likes of Willie Nelson and other outlaws, in the mid-60s folk clubs. He had moved back to Augusta and started a recording career, and later went on to Nashville. Larry was another guy who kept an eye on me.

The Reces’ were a couple in their thirtiesa little older than the Bryanswho were radicals in residence a few neighborhoods away, in a nice shady grove suburbanalbeit Unitarian modest split level house. Ellis taught at the black college. Margie was a grand lady, who watched over all us. Their sweet kids, all in junior and high school, all volunteered for the cause. The Reces’ would have constant teach-ins against the war in their house, and were members in good standing in the War Resisters League (the grown-up movement, we thought).

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T.W. Croft is the Director of the Heartland Labor Capital Network. He can be reached at: