Category Archives: The Southeast

The Football Coach with the Green Thumb

The Football Coach with the Green Thumb

Vince Dooley signs his gardening book at Aldridge Botanical Gardens.

November 11, 2010

Former University of Georgia head coach Vince Dooley is regarded as one of the top college football coaches of all time. He won a national championship at Georgia in 1980 in addition to six Southeastern Conference titles during his 25-year career. He also coached one of the greatest college running backs of all time, 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, the anchor of the 1980 championship team. Dooley later took the reins as athletic director at Georgia, but he still found time to indulge in several interests, including gardening. His wife of 50 years, Barbara Dooley, has recently overshadowed her famous husband with her off-the-cuff, outrageous comments on sports radio talk shows, including WJOX’s Paul Finebaum Show, where she is the most anticipated weekly guest. Vince Dooley will be in town on Tuesday, November 16, at Aldridge Botanical Gardens (3530 Lorna Road, Hoover) to sign his latest book: Vince Dooley’s Garden—The Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach. Dooley’s appearance (which is free) from 4 to 6 p.m., with a reception from 5:30 to 6 p.m., will also include a Q&A session. Details: 682-8019 or

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Black & White: How did you get interested in gardening?
Vince Dooley: Well, I had absolutely no background when I started gardening. But if you live around a university and you have a curiosity for anything, you can satisfy it, because there’s an expert on everything. I have always enjoyed auditing courses on different subjects while I was athletic director at Georgia—history, I particularly enjoy. I was always curious about trees and plants, so I thought I’d sit in on one course, not realizing that I would be bitten by a bug and get infected. And there is no cure. (laughs) If I can do it, anybody can do it.

Do you have a favorite flower?
Well, I love Japanese maples, I love hydrangeas. There’s a wide variety of them, and one of the very best is at Aldridge Gardens, the Snowflake. I enjoy camellias and peonies.

Is your wife, Barbara, as enthusiastic about gardening as you are?
Not really. We finally reached a compromise. She would be in charge of domestic affairs and run the house, and I wouldn’t mess with anything. I would be in charge of foreign affairs outside of the house, and she wouldn’t mess with my garden.

Is it true that you considered running for governor of Georgia in the early 1980s?
I did think about that. I got my master’s in history and wrote a lot of papers on elections. There are some good people in public service, but you’ve got to be totally committed. I guess that my commitment was more to athletics and serving in that respect, to be in a position to influence young people. My head wanted to run for governor, but my heart wasn’t totally into it.

When you and Fob James [a teammate of Dooley's when the two played football at Auburn in the 1950s] were roommates in college, did you discuss politics?
Yeah, we used to. Fob was an example of someone with no political background who could be elected to office. I probably would have been what you call an old southern Democratic—a very conservative Democrat. But the parties have gotten so mixed up and screwed up, you might call me an Independent now.

Auburn has surprised quite a few people this season.
I’ve never seen one player make so much difference in a football team as [Auburn quarterback] Cam Newton. They’re probably a pretty respectable team without him. But they may be the best team in the country with him. There’s no position he couldn’t play.

How did playing and coaching under Shug Jordan at Auburn influence you?
I learned my basic philosophy about football from him. I had the advantage of being in an area where there were some great football coaches, and I used to always scout Alabama and Georgia Tech [as an assistant coach at Auburn]. Bear Bryant and Bobby Dodd had two contrasting styles, but both were successful. So I was able to pick what I liked from them, but I got my base [coaching philosophy] from Coach Jordan; he gave me my first coaching opportunity.

The coaching profession has changed a lot since your days. Coaches switch jobs frequently.
There were always demands on coaches in the past, but there are more demands today, primarily because they’re getting paid incredible salaries. They make more now in 2 years than I made in 25 years. I never had an agent when I was coaching, either. In my latter years when I was athletic director at Georgia I could have, but I went so long without an agent I said, heck, I’m not going to have one this late in my career.

Was Herschel Walker the best player you ever coached?
He was the most productive player by far. He combined three things: He had incredible speed—world-class speed—he had great strength, and he had an incredible mental toughness. I’ve never seen all three of those things combined so well in one package.

Your wife speaks her mind quite freely when she’s on the radio here. Does she ever embarrass you?
Nah, what comes in her head goes out her mouth. She has no filtering of her thoughts. It makes her, in one respect, well liked and respected. But on the other hand, it gets her in trouble periodically. (laughs) I’m more of the “think first, speak later” type.

Will Barbara be with you at the book signing?
Oh, I don’t know. She’s so busy these days, she’s hard to get a date with. (laughs) &

Benefit for Gulf Shores Musicians

Benefit for Gulf Shores Musicians


November 04, 2004 

On November 17, the Moonlight Music Cafe will host a benefit for Panhandle musicians who performed at the fabled Flora-Bama Lounge in Gulf Shores. The ramshackle bar was made even more so after Hurricane Ivan huffed and puffed to blow the place down in September. Among the performers at the Sunday afternoon benefit (2 p.m. to 8 p.m. as of press time) will be Rock Killough, Rusty McHugh, Gove Scrivenor, The Larry Wilson Trio, Elaine Petty, and others. Proceeds will also be donated to various Gulf Shores charities. For more information, call 205-822-1400.

Racing in Alabama — Talladega Celebrates 35 Years of NASCAR

Racing in Alabama

Talladega Celebrates 35 Years of NASCAR

September 23, 2004

October sports talk in Alabama is traditionally geared toward football. But this year a pair of high-profile automobile races promises action that’s three times faster than a Brodie Croyle bullet pass, and light-years quicker than a Cadillac Williams touchdown run. Talladega Super Speedway celebrates its 35th anniversary the weekend of October 3 with the EA Sports 500. NASCAR has gone through numerous changes since an unknown named Richard Brickhouse drove to victory in the first race at Talladega in 1969. (Brickhouse’s golden opportunity came about only because the usual contingent of NASCAR stars, led by driver-turned-organizer Richard Petty, boycotted the race due to safety concerns at the world’s fastest speedway.) In place now is a new points system that places the top 10 drivers a mere five points apart as they begin what is billed as the Chase for the Nextel Cup, a playoff of sorts designed to make the final 10 races compete head to head with Sunday afternoon NFL football.

Gone is longtime series sponsor Winston due to the straightjacket imposed by the government on tobacco advertising. NASCAR’s top series now races under the title Nextel Cup, but apparently this current version of “legislating morality” doesn’t stop there. Network television’s old-fashioned squeamishness and double standard about advertising liquor has made Crown Royal whiskey the forbidden fruit of the NASCAR circuit. What Crown Royal does sponsor is the International Race of Champions Series, which features NASCAR drivers competing against Indy car and sports car stars in identically prepared racecars, each emblazoned with the purple and gold Crown Royal logo, at NASCAR tracks such as Talladega Super Speedway.

150,000 NASCAR fans can’t be wrong. (click for larger version)

But booze is booze. Budweiser sponsors Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The first thing Earnhardt often does on network TV when celebrating a win is to chug a Bud tall boy before telling the interviewer that he’s going back home “to drink some more Bud.” Coors Light sponsors Sterling Marlin. Miller Lite sponsors the car of Rusty Wallace. Wallace has announced that the 2005 season will be his last, and what has he titled his farewell tour? “Rusty’s Last Call.” Bobby Allison used to drive a gold Miller car that looked like a can of Miller zooming around the track. The NASCAR series that often runs on Saturdays in tandem with Sunday Nextel Cup races is sponsored by Busch beer. Rednecks running moonshine whiskey on the back roads of North Carolina and Virginia in the 1950s and ’60s were grooming themselves to become some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers ever. (Check out Tom Wolfe’s enticing 1965 Esquire essay about stock car legend Junior Johnson, “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!”)

According to AutoWeek magazine, NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter has this explanation: “Yes, TV plays a big part in it. Over the years it [NASCAR] has taken the stance that it’s not in their best interest to advertise liquor and spirits. But climates change, and it’s not like we said we’d never consider it. Network TV doesn’t accept it, and they account for a big portion of sports revenue. It makes sense for us to track that. If it’s acceptable to them tomorrow or later on, that would put a different light on it.” Never mind that Jim Beam currently sponsors an Indy Racing League [IRL] car, or that the IRL runs many of its races at tracks affiliated with NASCAR, and it telecasts races live on ABC.

Some things never change, however, such as that strange twist of human evolution known as the drunken NASCAR fan. Last spring at Talladega, Jeff Gordon, the most despised driver, beat the most popular, Earnhardt Jr. But most disconcerting to the inebriated was that a crash that occurred with a handful of laps remaining forced the race to finish under a caution flag, a situation in which drivers must reduce their speed and maintain their positions, except for pit stops. Feeling deprived of the possibility of a last-minute race to the finish line, hundreds of intoxicated louts hurled Budweiser cans at Gordon’s car as he slowly took the checkered flag. Several weeks later, a race at Pocono Raceway also ended under caution, prompting one irate drunk to toss a cooler at the flagman waving the checkered flag.

Some drivers don’t change, either. Tony Stewart punched rookie Brian Vickers after a race at Sonoma, California. Stewart has a history that includes shoving matches in the garage area after races, throwing things at competitors on the track during cautions, trying to pull racers from their cars, and once knocking a tape recorder out of a reporter’s hand. After Stewart wrecked rookie Kasey Kahne at Chicagoland Speedway this year, Khane’s entire crew charged down pit road during the race to confront Stewart’s crew in a free-for-all. “He definitely needs to get suspended, and he should have his ass beat,” assessed Khane’s car owner Ray Evernham. “That’s the problem with him. Nobody has ever really grabbed him and given him a good beating.” Evernham then offered to administer the whipping himself. Tony Stewart’s legendary temper is refreshing, however, in light of NASCAR’s perpetual attempts to clean up the sport’s image. Ironically, Stewart has often said that Talladega race fans are the worst-behaved on the NASCAR circuit.

Porsche 250 at Barber Track

Birmingham’s lush new Barber Motorsports Park will host the Rolex Grand American Sports Car Series on October 10. The Porsche 250 won’t pack in 150,000 like Talladega does (and George Barber is probably fine with that), but staging this year’s race in October instead of May is expected to attract more than last year’s weekend attendance of 25,000. And while it won’t make network TV, it will be broadcast around the world on the international SPEED Channel.

The racing entry field is expected to be larger this year, as the Rolex Series has more than doubled the number of Daytona Prototypes to almost 20. Sports-cars typically race several classifications on the track at the same time. This year the Grand American Series will have three classes—the futuristic Daytona Prototype (the fastest), GT, and GTS. It’s basically three races held at once, and the added excitement is that they get in each other’s way from time to time.

Several high-profile names have entered the Grand American fray this season. NASCAR and Indy Racing League team owner Chip Ganassi, who will have his drivers Sterling Marlin, Casey Mears, and Jamie McMurray racing at Talladega, has a Daytona Prototype with former Indianapolis 500 stars Max Papis and Scott Pruett sharing driving chores. (Sports-car racing typically has a driver change during a race.) Hurley Haywood will compete with co-driver J.C. France (son of NASCAR magnate Jim France) in the renowned Number 59 Brumos Porsche, winner of last year’s race at the Barber track. Haywood is world-famous for his three wins at Le Mans and his five victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona. The addition this year of NASCAR stars Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kyle Petty to Grand American races when there isn’t a NASCAR event has increased the racing league’s profile in 2004. If that doesn’t impress you, movie star Paul Newman drove with Petty at the Rolex Series opener, the 24 Hours of Daytona. Appropriately, Newman’s car number matched his age—79.

For those NASCAR fans who have a tendency to snub sports-car racing, it’s more compelling than you realize. Watching two or three Daytona Prototypes banging one another as they compete for one of the Barber track’s numerous tight corners is a thrill you’ll never experience at Talladega. And if the weather’s bad, just bring an umbrella. Unlike the NASCAR boys, the sports-car men aren’t afraid to race in the rain. &

The Ride of a Lifetime

The view from inside. (click for larger version)

Seven years ago I took my turn behind the wheel of a Camaro racecar at Birmingham International Raceway [BIR]. I had been working on a story about drivers at BIR, and one thoughtful gentleman named Sluggo asked if it would help to take his car for a spin around the half-mile oval racetrack, the third-oldest track in America behind Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I arrived at the track on a July Sunday afternoon, slipped into a fireproof driving uniform, strapped on a helmet, and did 25 or so laps. It was fun, but I pretty much shamed myself with my lame speed. As I brought the car around for one final lap, terror struck when I applied the brake pedal to come into the pits. There were absolutely no brakes. I circled one more time, as it takes a while to roll to a stop when you’re going 90 mph.

Laughing not only at my timidness to “put some speed on that thing,” but also that the brakes had given out, Sluggo told me I wouldn’t achieve the full experience until I had been out on the track with other cars. He wasn’t kidding. Toward summer’s end, I arrived at the track one Friday night for that evening’s races. Sluggo turned the Camaro over to me during the 7 p.m. practice session for street stock cars, the classification in which he raced. I would be more or less “mixing it up” with a dozen other cars at race speeds. Having already thrown up once from fear when I heard the engines being revved at deafening levels after arriving at the track, I was literally shaking when I climbed into the racecar. The worried expression on Sluggo’s face suggested that he was beginning to have second thoughts about putting me out there with others. Nevertheless, he reassured me that the brake failure a couple weeks earlier had been rectified. I’ll never forget his final instructions before I drove off: “And if you wreck it, buddy, don’t worry about it . . . ’cause we’re just out here to have fun.” With those words of encouragement, I attempted to merge onto the track as half a dozen cars careened out of turn four at more than 100 mph.

Somehow I put the car into the middle of race traffic, and away I went. I held on for dear life as cars passed me on the right and left, often at the same time. There were no side mirrors on the Camaro, just a wide rearview mirror above the dash. The full-face helmet and painfully tight seat harnesses that strapped me to the seat with no room to move allowed for near zero peripheral vision. I’ll never forget the sight of several cars in my rearview mirror. Ahead, a car had slowed, which meant that I would have to pass someone as three cars were coming around me. I sweated bullets and somehow stayed out for 10 noble laps. Poking through the corners, I would slam the accelerator all the way to the floor as I exited the second and fourth turns, which meant I was blasting down the straightaways [approximately 120 yards in length] at a top speed of maybe 90 mph before having to turn left again. On the tenth lap, the car’s rear went out of control in a fishtail-style maneuver as I tried to pick up my speed between turns three and four. I gripped the steering wheel firmly to brace myself for impact, either with a wall or another car. I knew from many years of watching races at BIR that I’d probably have to fight whomever I wrecked . . . if I was still conscious. But, amazingly, the car straightened out as I lifted off the accelerator. (The pros know you often step on the gas to straighten out a sliding car, but I didn’t have that much courage.) In fact, I barely touched the accelerator again as I crept down the back stretch of the track with my tail safely tucked between my legs. The brakes worked this time. For the rest of my life, whenever I watch Sunday afternoon racing and the telecast shows the driver’s view from the in-car camera, I’m able to say that I’ve been there . . . sorta.

One Fine Evening

One Fine Evening

Carole King proves that she’s still the queen of song.


September 23, 2004 

As the sun set on Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta in late July, the final rays of the day glimmered off the glossy black grand piano at stage center. A pair of lamps, towering potted plants, a couch, and a couple of plush thrift-store chairs decorated the stage. A posh audience peeled shrimp, uncorked wine, and chatted incessantly. It took a full 10 seconds for the high-brows to realize that Carole King had wandered onto the stage and was waiting patiently (and somewhat slightly embarrassed) for their acknowledgement. King, who is still easy on the eyes at 62, smiled as a smattering of applause erupted into a standing ovation. After bowing ceremoniously and taking her seat behind the piano, she flicked on the small lamp above the instrument and pounded out the opening chords to “Home Again,” her dirty-blond curls bouncing in time to her prancing fingers. Due to King’s notorious stage fright, she rarely gives live performances. This was her first tour in more than a decade, and I was fortunate enough to be in the front row witnessing a performance I’d been waiting my entire life to see.

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It’s been more than four decades since the songs of Carole King and her former husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, ignited a 1960s phenomenon known as “girl groups.” The Shirelles scored one of their earliest hits in 1960 with the couple’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” The Cookies recorded “Chains” (which later became an even bigger hit for The Beatles); the controversial “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” was recorded by The Crystals in 1962, while The Chiffons put the irresistible “One Fine Day” on the pop charts in 1963. Other artists began paying attention, and soon The Animals added a tone of danger to King’s music with their foreboding version of “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

Her songs also found a niche in the 1966 bubblegum craze: “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees; “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits; and Donny Osmond with the syrupy “Go Away Little Girl” and “Hey Girl.” Her babysitter landed in the Top 40 as Little Eva singing “The Loco-Motion,” the vocals of which sounded suspiciously close to King’s. Aretha Franklin recorded a soulful version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Blood, Sweat, and Tears covered “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi De Ho).”


Her voice, never a thing of beauty but nevertheless always a perfect fit, has aged with a ragged edge that adds a touch of oddly refined dignity and genuine personality.

King was a prominent pioneer in modern pop music at a time when it was a man’s world. Yet despite the legacy of her influence on early rock’n’roll, 1971′s Tapestry remains King’s masterpiece. Her two previous albums received little response, but Tapestry was the record that made King a star. It sold in the millions before such numbers were relatively common in the music industry (current sales of Tapestry are over 15 million). The record introduced a new genre: soft rock. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “I Feel the Earth Move, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Home Again,” “Tapestry,” “It’s Too Late,” and the sentimental “So Far Away” brought hippies from the edge to the middle of the road, and suddenly the piano was almost as hip as the electric guitar.

Carole King has dubbed her summer concert itinerary “The Living Room Tour.” She had been stumping for presidential candidate John Kerry, going into rich folks’ homes to raise money and, inevitably, to play a song or two. King decided that an intimate series of shows armed with only her piano and a couple of acoustic guitarists (who wisely stayed out of the way for much of the evening) would be a good way to spend the summer. Surprisingly, the only political grandstanding of the evening came when King plugged wilderness protection near her Idaho home (“I moved to Idaho after Tapestry when heavy metal appeared,” King told the audience, laughing) and demanded that people register to vote, regardless of their choice of candidates.


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Her voice, never a thing of beauty but nevertheless always a perfect fit, has aged with a ragged edge that adds a touch of oddly refined dignity and genuine personality. The only glaring negative was a near-condescending moment when she and the guitarists decided to “write a song from scratch” to give the crowd a taste of the mystery of songwriting—which is really not so mysterious considering that probably 99 percent of the audience had invented an equally stupid little tune at some point in their lives, even if it were only making up melodies to nursery rhymes as kids.

Several of her 1960s hits recorded by others were lumped into a medley, which was understandable given time constraints. A verse and chorus of “Go Away Little Girl,” in which King wished aloud that Donny Osmond was present to perform a duet with her (which would’ve made a near-perfect evening even finer) was certainly better than nothing. A surprising highlight was a full rendition of her Monkees hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Throughout the evening, she chatted amicably to the audience between songs, engaging in stories behind the creation of some of her biggest hits. It really was like having Carole King playing piano in your living room—if your home had been invaded by a wine and cheese brigade staffed by balding, affluent men and middle-aged women with fake breasts and skirts too short for ex-hippies hoisting glasses of Burgundy in toast to Carole King. &

Hoover Faces Crossroads Election

Hoover Faces Crossroads Election

It’s far too late to rescue Hoover from its urban sprawl nightmare, but voters are going to the polls anyway.

August 12, 2004

For the first time in its history, the city of Hoover will be electing a full-time mayor on August 24. Nine days before the election, the city is scheduled to christen its controversial new Hoover Public Safety Building (located at Valleydale Road and Highway 31), a municipal behemoth that has mayoral candidates foaming at the mouth as they castigate incumbent Mayor Barbara McCollum for saddling Hoover with a project that currently has an estimated $32 million price tag. The structure, which was purchased for just over $7 million, has been described by various mayoral candidates as a white elephant, an albatross, a municipal monstrosity, and a Taj Mahal. Toss in a couple of other red-hot issues like unimpeded development and the booming Hispanic population, and McCollum’s opponents agree that Hoover is at a crossroads of unparalleled significance.

“One of the greatest mistakes our city has ever made,” proclaims candidate Bob Lochamy regarding the new public safety center. Lochamy is a one-time restauranteur, former radio personality, and public-relations and media consultant who peppers his campaign diatribes with quotes from former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. While acknowledging Hoover’s need to expand municipal services to a larger facility, he grumbles that a location other than right across the street from a sign that reads “Welcome to Pelham” might have been more prudent. McCollum’s decision to purchase and move into the new public safety center was inexcusable, according to Lochamy. “If we could impeach or recall an elected official such as our mayor, then, in my opinion, this issue is an impeachable or recall offense.”

Candidate Tony Petelos, former commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources under two governors, and a three-term member of the state House of Representatives, refers to the public safety center as the “albatross down the street.” Petelos explains: “I felt like there wasn’t enough planning and enough information when they bought the building, and now we’re paying for it. The Mayor says it came in under budget, but the problem with that statement is that they didn’t put the police department there. The plan was to move all the police down there. All they’re doing is moving the jail and supervisors. So they’re calling it a public safety center without any police.”

“It’s just a time bomb ticking. It’s not just the day laborers and congestion. There’s a myriad of problems. The core of our city is deteriorating. . . . It is frightening to consider how precarious our future is . . . ” —Hoover mayoral candidate Bob Lochamy

Mayoral candidate and current Hoover City Councilor Jody Patterson calls the public safety center debacle “the biggest government waste project I’ve ever seen. It just blows me away that we waste taxpayers’ money like that. I’m just amazed that the general public has not gone ballistic over what the Mayor did,” said Patterson, adding that a Wal-Mart Supercenter and two Kmarts could fit inside the renovated building.

Candidate Walter Mims said the public safety center “is probably something we need, but I really don’t have much of an opinion. It’s probably something we’ll grow into.” But regarding economics and the blight that results from out-of-control development, Mims would like to see more focus on Highway 31, “the centerpiece” of Hoover. “We’ve got to do something to help the small businesses, which are the catalyst for everything. One of the first things I would do is create a small business council. And I might say ‘no more Wal-Marts!’”

Lochamy pledges to hire an economic development officer, preferably former local sports tycoon Art Clarkson. Lochamy would also like to see a 12,000-seat arena and a water theme park built in Hoover. He envisions revitalization of Lorna Road as a necessary step to ensure that Hoover has a stable, progressive future, and earlier had suggested that several apartment complexes on Lorna Road be demolished so that the new public safety building could go there. “We have a disproportionate number of apartment complexes located in a very tight area. It’s just a time bomb ticking. It’s not just the day laborers and congestion. There’s a myriad of problems. The core of our city is deteriorating,” says Lochamy. “. . . It is frightening to consider how precarious our future is . . . ”

To address blight, Patterson wants to “eliminate subsidizing new developments.” Patterson believes developers have gotten very good at pitting city against city with promises and financial incentives. “Let the market dictate which stores survive. When the demand for a new shopping center is there, the supply will come.”

“If we’re going to do new developments, let’s bring in some new type of retail, like the Bass Pro Shops, says Petelos. “We’re reshuffling Hoover businesses and putting some Hoover businesses at risk because there’s so much competition. . . . If we didn’t annex any more land, there’s still 30 percent undeveloped land in the city of Hoover. There’s a lot of growth potential available. So we need to do a better job with land-use planning. We need a master plan; we need a long-range strategic plan; we need a housing code.”

More than one candidate warns of the “Hispanic problem,” and the implementation of housing codes to limit how many people may occupy an apartment. “All we’re doing is attracting more illegals to the city of Hoover,” warns Petelos. He suggests that Hoover meet with surrounding municipalities and approach the federal government to urge that an INS officer be brought in, with local governments paying part or all of the salary. “So that we’ll have a presence here, so that when we have these illegals we can process them,” explains Petelos. “The problem now is that the Feds aren’t interested in processing them because they’re overburdened because there are only two INS officers in the state. We need to pull our head out of the sand and figure out how we’re going to address it without violating people’s constitutional rights, without violating the legal immigrants’ rights.”

Lochamy fears the gathering of Hispanics at day laborer pickup spots for those seeking work is getting out of control, but admits that area residents are to blame for perpetuating the problem. “We have to look in the mirror. Those who are hiring the day laborers and violating worker’s compensation and payroll taxes [are to blame].”

In addition to limiting the number of people sharing an apartment, Patterson wants to enforce driver’s license and automobile insurance laws. “If they’re illegal, they’re not welcome. If they’re legal, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what culture you come from.”

“With the unemployment low [1.8 percent in Hoover], we need the Hispanic population,” says Mims. “To a certain extent we exploit them, but to a certain extent they take advantage of things, too. Most of them want to be useful, and be contributors to society. . . . We need to get them started a little earlier on getting their kids to learning the language because that really slows them down in our schools. And it kind of holds some of our other kids back, too. We’re getting to be a diverse community, and I think there’s room for all of us.”

Despite repeated requests for an interview, Hoover Mayor Barbara McCollum was unavailable before press deadline.

Book Review: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?


Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?


The story of the Carter Family, also known as the First Family of country music.


July 29, 2004

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?
By Mark Zwonitzer with

Charles Hirshberg.
Simon and Schuster, 417 pages,

$15, softcover.

The story of the Carter Family is the story of Appalachian mountain music, the genre that would later spawn country, bluegrass, and folk music. Along with Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters were among the biggest stars of the late 1920s and ’30s. Their 78 rpm recordings of “Wildwood Flower” and “Keep on the Sunny Side” sold close to 100,000 copies at a time when the recording industry was still relatively new. Carter Family songs have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie, among others. They’re also credited with the first recording of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Maybelle, Sara and A.P. Carter. (click for larger version)

For nearly half a century, the real story behind the breakup of the original Carter Family remained a mystery. Ensconced as the first family of country music, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and her cousin Maybelle never spoke publicly of the split. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?, however, reveals the family secrets in agonizing, intriguing detail worthy of a John Steinbeck novel. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening journey into the desperation that not only defined the Great Depression, but that also was the essence of Carter Family songs.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is more than the Carters’ story, though. It’s also the story of the birth of the recording industry and the hoodwinking quackery of a millionaire “medical practitioner” named Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, the man who broadcast the Carter Family to much of the western hemisphere over his million-watt border radio station XERA. In fact, it’s the bizarre introduction of Brinkley’s cure for male impotence (which he regularly hawked over the airwaves) during the book’s prologue that initially prompts the reader’s jaw to drop before the Carters ever show up in their own book. The doctor was pocketing $750 to $2,000 a pop in the 1930s performing operations that involved grafting bits of goat testicles onto the gonads of gullible men who were seeking to regain their virility. One can hardly wait to find the Carters’ connection to this freak show.

Raised in Poor Valley, Virginia, at the bottom of Clinch Mountain in the foothills of the Appalachians, Alvin Pleasant “A.P.” Carter possessed a slight tremor from childhood on. The affliction (“nervous energy” the locals called it, as A.P. constantly talked to himself and could not sit still) was attributed to his mother having been struck by lightning while pregnant. His constant shaking added a distinctive vocal quiver to his bass voice that lent an ethereal, tender quality to the Carter Family sound. On the other side of Clinch Mountain, his future wife Sara lived in Rich Valley, so named for its fertile soil. Sara’s cousin Maybelle eventually married A.P.’s brother Eck, and soon Maybelle and Sara were close as sisters, spending their free hours singing and playing guitars together.

Keep on the Sunny Side: a grinning June Carter and her first husband, singer Carl Smith, in the early 1950s. (click for larger version)

If having a woman [Sara] as lead singer made the Carters a unique act, A.P.’s role made them even odder. His bass dropped in and out of songs unpredictably, and there were some nights he didn’t bother to show up for concerts or recording sessions at all. A.P.’s number-one contribution was roaming the hills of Tennessee and Virginia in search of songs that he could adapt to the group’s sound. Though his name is listed as the writer on most of the Carter songs, he rarely wrote anything.

A.P. was unique in another way: he sometimes stayed with black families while traveling to collect blues songs and then reciprocated by allowing blacks to stay with him and Sara, much to the consternation of the locals. A.P.’s incessant travels left Sara to tend to the farm and raise the family, offering the first clue that their marriage would soon unravel. That Sara fell in love with his first cousin Coy, who moved into the Carter house to help Sara with the chores while A.P. traveled, made the divorce even more bitter.

Ralph Peer, the man who made a fortune off of musician Jimmie Rodgers and who introduced the terms “hillbilly” and “race” into the lexicon as new rural musical genres, recognized the Carter Family genius. Peer literally grew up with the recording industry. He was born in 1892, the same year that Thomas Edison introduced his Electric Motor Phonographs for $190 each. After the Carters’ audition in Bristol, Tennessee, Peer signed the trio to his Victor recording label, paying the group $50 for each song recorded. Steeped in opera and classical music, Peer despised the hillbilly and black blues from which he was making a fortune, but he made the Carter Family a household name by 1928. Soon, Maybelle’s graceful, thumping guitar style that incorporated rhythm and lead at the same time would be the most widely imitated picking technique around. Their harmonies grew incredibly tight. Because three minutes was the maximum space available on a 78 rpm record, they whittled a song down to its essence.

Maybelle and her husband Eck, however, stayed above the frayed edges that haunted A.P. and Sara’s lives. While singing songs about what the book refers to as “the fine art of hard living,” they lived like royalty, spending their money on cars, motorcycles, and other luxuries their neighbors could only dream about. Even Maybelle was a motorcycle enthusiast. The image of June and Maybelle careening around the dirt roads of Poor Valley at 100 miles per hour does not match the backwoods Grand Ole Opry image projected by the simplicity of their music or June’s dumb-girl comedy routine. Maybelle and her clan were actually quite sophisticated for a bunch of Clinch Mountain yokels. Eck, an entrepreneur at heart, introduced electricity to the valley in 1930 when he rigged a turbine wheel in a nearby creek. He was so successful that the Appalachian Power Company of Bristol bought him out when he began plugging in his neighbors. As part of the deal, Eck demanded—and received—every electrical appliance on exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Daughter Anita, the youngest of Maybelle and Eck’s three daughters, said she could not recall ever being without a dishwasher. It’s almost surreal, the way the Carters lived. Every Sunday afternoon, Eck would set up huge speakers in his yard and baffle the surrounding hillbillies by blasting Mozart and Beethoven into Poor Valley.


By the time Dr. John Romulus Brinkley entered their lives in 1938, Maybelle and family had been living well for quite some time. At Eck’s behest, Maybelle, Sara, and A.P. moved to Del Rio, Texas, where Brinkley paid them $75 a week each, with six months paid vacation thrown in. The Carters did two shows a day for six months on XERA, an outlaw radio station with the miraculous power to “shrink a vast continent down to the size of a small village.” Brinkley had been run out of Kansas after being stripped of his medical license. Fleeing to Texas, where medical standards were less stringent, he built a couple of hospitals for his libido-rejuvenating procedures. He even had pens out back for his many goats, allowing patients the opportunity to pick out their own goat testicles. Because of 50,000-watt restrictions on U.S. radio stations, Brinkley built XERA across the border in Mexico, where his million watts not only broadcast his surgical skills, but also sent the Carters across America, into Canada, and as far south as South America.

At this point, the story is only half-told. There’s still the anecdote of a drunken Hank Williams trying to shoot June Carter. And, of course, June will eventually marry Johnny Cash, who adds another dimension to Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? by performing such wild antics as kicking out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry. Night after night, the Carters went on perpetual searches of Cash’s dressing room to flush the many pills he had stashed away. Trying to find Cash’s pills was “like an Easter egg hunt,” said June’s sister Anita. A.P. does not have a happy ending, and most appropriately, neither does Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. Sara settles down in California with her true love, Coy. And as for Maybelle and her family, the best is yet to come. &

Wax Country Music Stars Face Homelessness

Wax Country Music Stars Face Homelessness

Someone in Nashville is moving a ton of wax, and they’re not selling records.


“Nobody’s ever tried that in their life, to sell a whole wax museum!” laughs John A. Hobbs, his booming Southern drawl reminiscent of Looney Tunes rooster Foghorn Leghorn. Hobbs currently has his entire 55-figure Music Valley country music star wax museum in Nashville up for auction on eBay. He’s asking $750,000, but will settle for $450,000. The current leading bid is $200,000 as of press time. The auction ends May 7, after which Hobbs will consider options to sell the stars individually. “We were trying to sell the whole family at one time, to keep the family together. But if we have to, we’ll deal them one at a time. Some of the stars wanted to buy their own, some of the managers of the stars wanted one . . . [television comedy host] Jimmy Kimmel wanted to buy Minnie Pearl.” Hobbs says that the individual figures should fetch $3,000 to $15,000 each.Music Valley Wax Museum, the last wax museum in Nashville, will shut its doors for good on July 31. The city’s original wax museum, The Country Music Wax Museum, closed in 1997 after 26 years. “We had a big tourist attraction back then, but now we’re changing our whole look in Nashville,” grumbles Hobbs. “It’s not that much toward country music, it’s more toward conventions and football. And they put country music on the backburner. The other museum closed up ’bout several years ago. This ‘un done pretty good [Music Valley] but the land’s too valuable to leave a museum on it.”

Wax likenesses of country music artists Minnie Pearl and Alan Jackson. (click for larger version)


Hobbs also owns the Nashville Palace, a swanky nightclub where real live country music legends, as opposed to wax figures, can be spotted almost nightly. Many of the young stars got their start there, according to Hobbs. “Randy Travis washed dishes for four years; Lorrie Morgan worked there at age 16. Alan Jackson sang there for free. Vic Damone and the Smothers Brothers worked there. George Jones used to be there nightly, where he’d often hop on stage,” laughs Hobbs. “I’ve seen George at his worst and at his best. I’ve seen George when we wouldn’t let him go on stage!”

Most of the museum’s figures were made in California by wax artist Rio Rita, who created the replicas of film stars in the Hollywood Wax Museum. Hobbs sent Rio Rita four photos of each country star’s face, including a facial front shot, two profiles, and an angular shot combining face and profile. Each figure is garishly displayed in shiny, waxy living color on the eBay web site, with “Dueling Banjos,” the theme song to Deliverance, casting a surreal pall over the macabre auction. The stage outfit worn by the Ernest Tubb mannequin is the same one he wore throughout his career, as is the flowing gown adorning Loretta Lynn. Lynn’s figure also includes a plate used in her famous Crisco commercials. The Chet Atkins figure includes one of his original guitars, while Buck Owens is wearing the actual hillbilly overalls and straw hat that he sported on the “Hee Haw” set. The cornfield where the buxom “Hee Haw” babes popped up to shake their breasts and deliver ridiculous one-liners is also included. While a few figures resemble their breathing—or once-breathing—counterparts, most require an observer to use some imagination. Willie Nelson looks more like hobo singer Box Car Willie, who in turn looks like NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Roy Acuff favors crooner Andy Williams, while Minnie Pearl is a dead ringer for the puppet Madame from the “Waylon and Madame” ventriloquist act.


“Marty Robbins liked his wax figure so well he used to come down there ’bout once a month, and he’d bring a beautician and get her to comb his hair.”

Hobbs’ personal favorite is one of the newer figures, country singer Alan Jackson. “Alan looks like he could just walk right up and talk to you. Marty Robbins liked his so well he used to come down there ’bout once a month, and he’d bring a beautician and get her to comb his hair and everthang . . . Ernest Tubb wouldn’t even look at his figure,” remembers Hobbs. “He’d say, ‘My God, I’d think I was dead. I don’t want to go and look at that damn thang.’” &

The web site address for the Music Valley Country Music Star wax museum auction is:

Dead Sea Scrolls — Exhibit Rolls into Huntsville

By Ed Reynolds

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The most influential book of all time has frequently been a lightning rod for debate through the years. Some take the Holy Bible literally, as the infallible word of God. For others, it’s more or less a helpful guide to life and how to live it. Regardless, it’s a poetic historical document that has divided humanity regarding interpretation. That an exhibit titled Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book has sparked arguments within the religious community as it attempts to separate fact from myth should come as no surprise.Consider the case of Richard Hunne, a Christian martyr believed by many to have been executed by the British after being branded a heretic for possessing an English version of the Bible in the 16th century. Portions of Hunne’s handwritten Wyclif Bible, according to the exhibit the first to be translated into English, is one feature in the nondenominational presentation, which will be on display January 5 through 31 at the Von Braun Center North Hall in Huntsville. Actually, some Biblical scholars question whether Hunne was really put to death or committed suicide in prison. Critics of the exhibit also claim that English versions of the Bible existed in the 8th century, long before the Wyclif translation.

Controversy has always been a nagging aspect of religious history. For years the Dead Sea Scrolls have been at the center of an argument regarding their role in either clarifying or contradicting traditional interpretation of Jewish history and the beginnings of Christianity. The Scrolls, which date back to 250 B.C., are the oldest known manuscript of the Old Testament. Prior to their discovery in 1948, the oldest known Hebrew copies in existence dated back only to the 9th century, which caused many Biblical scholars to question the validity of the Old Testament.

Despite any controversy, the exhibit is a remarkable look at the history of the Bible. Included are 5,000-year-old pictographic clay tablets, the most ancient form of writing, from Mesopotamia, and the oldest known written example of the Hebrew name for God, Elohim, on an ancient scroll that dates back 2,600 years. Excerpts from Paul’s letters to the Colossians, written in Coptic, are on display along with a 1611 first edition of the King James Bible.

All viewings must be scheduled because only 50 people are allowed in the exhibit at any one time. Organizers explain that this allows visitors a couple of hours to completely view the pieces, which are presented in a timeline format. No cameras are allowed. Admission is $15 for adults, and $10 for ages 8 to 18. The exhibit runs Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. That way, no one misses church. For more information, call 800-277-1700. &