In 1965-66, Lawson and Four More had two releases on the Ardent label:
"If You Want Me You Can Find Me" and "Relax Your Mind". There have been a couple of books written on the Memphis
music scene of the 60's. If you are a Memphis music buff, here's how it (really) went down; if you're not into Memphis
music trivia, the basic information on this page is included in my "Musicography" section. My first play for pay band
was called Bobby and the Originals. We later changed our name to Lawson and Four More:
Bobby and the Originals/Lawson and Four More:
Joe Lee - Lead Guitar
Joe Gaston - Bass Guitar
Bill Donati - Drums
Bernie Hill, and (later) Terry Manning - Keyboards
Me - Lead Vocals & (initially) Rhythm Guitar.
We specialized in 1950's Do Wop. The Beatles and Stones had just come into prominence, and although we did some
of their tunes, we were considered an "oldies" band (even then!). The singers of the 50's were the greatest influences
on my singing style.
Our "home" gig for Bobby and the Originals was the T Walker Lewis YMCA, which was behind Treadwell High School. Unless
we had a private party, we would play there almost every Saturday night. Bill Thomas hosted the dance every week. At
the time, he was a DJ for a Millington radio station (WHHM?).
When we first started playing there, we competed in a battle of the bands, which would be held every week. We won
almost every one (I think we lost once). Later, the "battle of the bands" concept was dropped.
My association with Ardent Recording began as a chance happening. We went to Sonic Studio and recorded several
songs so we could appear on the local talent TV show, Talent Party, which was hosted by George Klien. On the tape, we
did a version of "You Make Me Feel Good", by the Zombies, as well as several tunes from the 50's ( "I Love You" by the
Volumes and "There's a Moon Out Tonight" by the Capris). The copy of the tape we received from Sonic Studios was on industrial
sized tape (which is the size that would be played on TV), so we couldn't play it on a home tape recorder. I went by the Berl
Olswanger Music store and mentioned it to Bob Fisher (now owner of the music store, Music Town). Bob said he knew someone
who could make me a consumer sized tape......
When I went back to pick up my tape copy, Bob told me that his friend owned a recording studio and wanted to meet
That friend was John Fry, who owned Ardent Recording. Ardent was a small recording studio that was in a room
in back of John's spacious home on Grandview, in the University of Memphis area. It was thought that
we had written the Zombies tune, which had caught his interest.
John expressed interest in our group. He and/or Bob Fisher contacted Jim Dickinson, who showed up
on the scene and wrote a tune, "Back For More", that sounded somewhat like the Zombies' song. We were told that they were
interested in cutting a record on us! The tune was initially produced by Bob Fisher in a smooth moderate tempo
(with a harmony part). Somehow (and I'm not sure how it happened), Dickinson wound up taking charge of the project, and
Bob Fisher was no longer involved.
The tune was redone in a faster honky-tonk style version. Dickinson played piano on it. I don't know if any
of my guys were on this session (I don't think so, but I fell asleep in front of the bass drum so what do I know!).
In those days (and probably these days), it was not unusual for studio musicians to be used on a session to save time
and money. In our case, we were not experienced musicians. Also, there was quite an age and musical experience difference. We
were 16-18 ("I was just 17. You know what I mean"). Dickinson & Fry were about 23.
Dickinson wrote another song, "If You Want Me You can Find Me", which became the A side. The musicians on the cut
were a combination of Fry & Dickinson's friends/associates/"hangers arounders". Jimmy Crosswaite, who is chiefly known for
his work in Memphis as a puppeteer, played percussion, which was maracas on a cardboard box. Charlie Hull, of the then defunct
Shades (?), played lead guitar. I don't know who played anything else (asleep).
After the master version was cut, Dickinson thought we should be marketed under another name (the Originals wasn't
very original). Because there were a couple of popular artists that were marketed under their last names, like Donavan, he wanted
to call the band "Lawson and something". Terry Manning actually came up with the "Four More" part of the name.
My stage persona reminded them somewhat of Mick Jagger. In fact when the "If You want Me you Can Find Me" lead vocal
was cut, I was urged to sing it in a "Mick Jagger with a southern accent style". I was instructed to no longer
play guitar on stage.
When I first met Jim Dickinson, I didn't know what his part in the scheme of things was to be. During the initial
"talking" stage, I thought maybe he wanted to join our band! When I asked him what was it that he wanted, he told me
that he wanted to be our manager/producer. Just like a scene in a grade B movie, he looked me in the eye and said: "I'm
gonna make you a star". Just like another scene in the same grade B movie, I believed him (laughter!). As funny as it
may seem now, I was told numerous times by Dickinson and Fry that I had "star quality".
This was a very exciting and interesting time. I lived in the University Memphis area (the poor side of the
tracks) and could walk over to the studio and hang out. The group of musicians that hung out at John Fry's included Lee Baker,
who introduced me to the blues. Lee showed me my very first BB King blues licks. He used to make me promise that
I would not show them to any other musicians! At that time very few white guitarists knew anything like that.
To set the record straight, I need to talk a little about Terry Manning:
Terry has had by far the most successful career (in music) of any of us "Four More" guys. I know he's done some major
league mixing (technical engineering and producing type work) for some top groups. Actually I'm not sure what all he's done
because I haven't kept up with him. When I left the group it wasn't real pleasant.
In one of the books written on Memphis music, Terry was described as a musical dynamo who showed up in Memphis after
a stint with the Bobby Fuller Four ("I Fought the Law and the Law Won..."). Actually, this description isn't accurate:
We had a keyboard player named Bernie , who wouldn't acquire the needed equipment for the gigs we were playing.
Bernie lost interest and kind of faded from the scene (I don't remember us firing him or anything....). One of the band members
knew Terry and he had the necessary keyboard equipment, so we hired him. Terry was the quiet reserved member of the group.
His musical skills were adequate (so were ours, with the exception of Joe Lee who was an accomplished classical guitarist), and
he was very shy (boy, did this change!). I do remember him mentioning the Bobby Fuller Four, but it was hard for
me to imagine him playing with them.
Here's a very interesting bit of music trivia: After our first release, Dickinson called a band meeting with all invited
except Terry. Dickinson said that Terry had to go because he was holding the group back. Bill Donati, Joe Lee, and
Dickinson agreed. Joe Gaston and me voted to keep him. I didn't want to fire Terry because he seemed like a really nice
guy and it would be traumatic for him. I don't think that Terry has ever known that Gaston and I kept
him in the "Ardent Circle".
Again, for me this part of the Ardent experience was extremely fun and exciting. With our first record release, we played
the "teenybopper" shows, and I would sign autographs! I have/had a bit of a theatrical flair, and we started adding little
odd twists to our stage act (later this would go from slightly bizarre, to psychedelic, to mean spirited). At
that time many of the hit acts (Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman's Hermits...) were doing silly off beat things
on stage. So we incorporated some into our "Southern Rolling Stones" presentation. On our dance/party gigs, I still
did my R&B and oldies, but we were urged by management to develop a more unique/contemporary style.
Around this time our performing venue changed. The YMCA style dances lost favor. For a time T Walker Lewis became "T
Walker A Go Go" complete with go go dancers in a cage! This didn't (I can't imagine why!) work, and the Saturday night dances
were eventually discontinued. We began playing more CYOs ( St Michael's...), high school and college (proms and fraternity) dances, private
parties, and the Bitter Lemon (the beatnik/hippie coffehouse which had converted to a rock & roll format).
Our second record, "Relax Your Mind", was released in the summer of 1966. It was actually an old Leadbelly song redone
in a "Lovin' Spoonful" type style. It got a tremendous amount of play on George Klien's radio show (on WHBQ). A friend
of mine was on vacation in Hawaii with his parents that summer, and he said my record was played there. This
was amazing because Ardent did not spend any money (that I know of) to promote the records, other than mailing copies
to radio stations around the country (the cost of postage).
This might be a good time to talk a little about Ardent. When we were "discovered" by John Fry, Ardent was a small studio
in a room behind John's house. I was told that the room had previously been used for John's (boyhood) electric train
layout. The record producing aspect of Ardent was non existent at that time. I remember John mentioning that he
had recorded an artist(s) in the past (there were no artists that were being produced then). Ardent owned some
type of small radio station(s) somewhere in Mississippi. Lee Baker and some interesting "arty" type people hung out there.
Before our second release, John's parents moved, so that was the end of the recording studio in the University of Memphis
area. Ardent moved to a building on National Ave (National & Jackson area). Our second record was cut in Nashville
at the Fred Foster Studio. I think this was done because of the transition between the "old" and "new" Ardent. I
think, the new studio wasn't completed. The only musician that did not play on "Relax Your Mind" was Joe Lee. Dickinson
played guitar (Terry played keyboard and harmonica). I think everyone played on the B side, "Halfway Down the Stairs", a song
written by Dickinson, which in my (humble?) opinion was by far the best thing we ever cut.
When the studio moved from the University of Memphis area to the National & Jackson area, my relationship with
Ardent and my group changed drastically. I had a logistics problem: When the studio was near my home, it was within walking
distance from my house. I used to "hang" there quite a bit. I had very limited use of a car, so when the studio moved,
I was there much less (out of sight....). At this time Terry and my roles reversed. John Fry almost seemed to "adopt"
Terry (I don't know any other way to describe it, but they became tight), and I became the outsider. Also, the band
became very contemptuous of the soulful style music that I loved and were now wanting to be like the Memphis version
of the Who. Much to my surprise, when we played gigs, Terry would insult the crowd and be very hostile in
general. I actually went along with a mild form of this when we first began to fuse psychedelic elements into our
performance. I knew we needed to do some things to set ourselves apart from the typical dance band and get noticed.
This all peaked with a show we played at Ellis Auditorium. I've had people through the years come up to me and say: "
I'll never forget the time you kicked the stage lights out at Ellis Auditorium (now the Cook Convention Center)!". I
hate to diffuse my image as a Memphis rebel, but it was all a suprise to me. Little did I know that Manning and the boys
had planned to destroy the stage and get arrested as a publicity strategy. I knew nothing of the plan and was in complete
amazement to see Terry kick out the lights and the rest of the band doing "I'm not sure what all"! Obviously, the more
we infused psychedelic and aggressive behavior, the less we became known as a "dance band".
Not to long after that, Joe Gaston came to me and gave me an option (ultimatum?): If I wanted to go along with
the new direction the band had taken, he and Joe Lee would align themselves with me. Although Terry, who now had
Fry and Dickinson's full support, had taken over the group, he wasn't a front man or (what they and I thought) a
credible lead singer (Terry later had a record release so you be the judge). I'll always respect Joe for that, because
he was the only person with the common decency to talk to me about what was going on.
However, my musical tastes remained with the more soulful style that I grew up singing. Also, Lee Baker had introduced
me to the blues and I was interested in exploring that genre rather than tearing up instruments on stage. I knew then that
all I ever wanted to do musically was be a good singer and player- I'm still committed to it today!
When I left the group, John Fry assured me that I would not be "left out in the cold", and he would be interested in
working with me as a solo artist or my next band project.
When I left Lawson and Four More, I formed my first blues band, Lawson's Blues Bag. Although this was
one of the best bands I ever had, I couldn't generate the interest at Ardent. Looking back, I didn't try very hard
because the previous experience had left me drained emotionally.
Terry, Joe, and Bill became the Goat Dancers (they may have added someone else but I don't know...) and the
rest is history.
As I mentioned there have been a couple of books written on the Memphis music scene of the 60's. None have told
my story accurately.
Bobby and the Originals/Lawson and Four More was together for almost two years (which is a pretty long
"band life"). We had two record releases and played all the local rock & roll shows. Also, we were also heard frequently
on the radio with the commercial ("If you want to get your kicks, get some picks and sticks") we did for the music store,
Guitar and Drum City (owned by the successful songwriter Paul Craft). Our competition was the Guillotines, the Group, and
Flash & the Casuals (the Radiants and the Counts had faded from the scene, and the Gentry's were on the
road with their hit record....). Although we performed around Memphis quite a bit, we probably would have played even
more, but as we infused more psychedelic and non commercial elements into our show, we became less marketable (danceable).
I'm told that my records are collector's items and can sometimes be seen trading on E Bay. I have none of them! We
had our picture on the cover of our first release, which was very rare (locally at least) for the times. I'm told that the
record sleeve (with the picture on it) is worth much more than the records.
Back For More, the B side of Lawson and Four More's first release is included on the CDs: A History of Garage
and Frat Bands Vol 2 and It Came From Memphis Vol 2.
I continue to be amazed in the interest in my early work with Lawson and Four More. Every time I google my name or the
band name I find a new website or CD release with some of our songs on it.
Check this link out on YouTube
(I have no idea how this got posted)
I have two cuts on the recent Ardent release "Thank You Friends, The Ardent Records Story". I also have a cut on the
recent Oxford American 10th Anniversary Southern Music CD release (I'm on a CD release with Elvis, Jerry Lee, Charlie Rich,
REM, Del McCoury....!).