The first week in October usually brings the first seriously crisp fall air, those wonderful deep blue October-in-Virginia skies, turning leaves, and for me, memories. This weekend provided new variations on that theme.
It was a road trip weekend. Friday afternoon we drove to Raleigh to hear the Allman Brothers Band with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion. Phil and his friends brought back wonderful memories with honorable versions of China Cat Sunflower, The Wheel, and clouded my eyes with I Know You Rider. ABB again played with power and sweetness that version of southern rock they practically invented down in Macon. As they have for almost four decades, Butch and Jaimoe kept the pace. As much as I wanted to hear Duane, Dickie, and Berry front and center, as I did July 19, 1970 at Love Valley, I must admit that Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge carry on the tradition admirably. And Gregg, after so many miles, sounds just the same.
Saturday morning came early as we flew to Milwaukee for the early afternoon wedding of Sarah, one of my wife's sorority sisters. Anita was the advisor almost 10 years ago when the chapter at Beloit College was formed. Sarah was among those first sisters. The wedding was picture perfect, like the weather, with just the right number of cute and/or crying small children to keep it real. The reception and dinner featured cake cutting, heartfelt and on-key embarrassing speeches by the Best Man and Maid of Honor, dancing to multi-generational music, and most importantly, an open bar. The high point for me was seeing several of the sisters I remember so fondly from my years in Wisconsin. They continue to blossom; that generation is in good hands.
Sunday was spent retracing our route, albeit flying through Detroit rather than Cleveland. We arrived before dusk, happy to have made the trip, happy to be home. But this is not what I really want to write about.
While driving in Raleigh towards the concert Friday afternoon we passed a van pulling a trailer. As soon as I saw what was written on the side of the trailer I started waving at the occupants of the van. Given the four lanes of rush hour traffic I doubt the members of Doug Clark's Hot Nuts saw me. My wife managed to snap a picture with my iPhone before traffic separated us.
Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, as they were known before Doug died in 2002, were part of my undergraduate experience. Their albums were a dorm staple in the mid-60's. We all knew the lyrics to their songs, almost a requirement to become a sophomore. By today's standards the lyrics would scarcely raise an eyebrow. But back then, they were dirty!
Yes, shocked readers, as an impressionable young man I listened to records with dirty words and suggestive lyrics. Have you heard of Moms Mabley or Rusty Warren? Bet you know Redd Foxx. Sophisticated recorded humor (Sahl, Bruce, and Nichols and May) was over our heads. Brother Dave Gardner and Shelley Berman were past us too, though we didn't know it. Anyway that was the spoken word; the Hot Nuts sang!
Formed in Chapel Hill in the mid '50's, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts were legendary by the time I went away to school in fall 1964. They took their name from their signature song, Hot Nuts. Greatest hits include Bang Bang Lou Lou, Barnacle Bill, Two Old Maids, He's Got the Whole World by the Balls, Ding-a-Ling, Limericks, and the favorite, Baby Let Me Bang Your Box. They had their own label, Gross. Are you getting the picture? And there were rumors of performances where they wore nothing but see-through raincoats or fur-covered jock straps. No fraternity on the east coast was worth its greek letters unless they had hosted the Hot Nuts at least once. Students loved them. Think Animal House. Did I mention they were black?
These masters of the double entendre and the dirty limerick were not as well loved by school officials and up-holders of local community standards. White southern civic leaders, ministers, and law enforcement officials of 1950's and 60's were not all that pleased that their sons (and especially daughters) were being so entertained by black men. The city of Richmond, Virginia banned them outright. While turning a blind eye is a southern speciality, Doug Clark and his band frequently found themselves on the wrong side of that thin line. So it was the night I heard them.
It was 1965, Danville Virginia. The show was to be at the Rathskeller, a hotel basement beer and dance club frequented by college students. Dates were procured, plans were made. That night the place was packed, standing room only. The atmosphere was electric, the beer flowing. Sure we were mostly underage (legal age was 21) but remember that blind eye. Finally the band hit the stage for their usual first set, what we generally call today Beach Music. We danced. But it was the second set, the Hot Nuts Show, we were waiting for. We were not alone.
During opening lines "Nuts, Hot Nuts, You Get Um from the Peanut Man", what we had all been waiting for, commotion started in every direction. Blue uniformed Danville police appeared at every exit. A police officer in full regalia, light bouncing off brass and chrome, took the stage, the microphone, and declared the show over. He told us to go home. We did. Although I do not know what happened to the band, I suspect they packed up and were escorted to the city limits.
Given that this was during the middle of a most violent period during the civil rights movement and that Danville police had brutally suppressed demonstrations only two years earlier, we should not have been all that surprised. And if the city fathers thought that their sons and daughters would learn a lesson about community values and who was in charge I suspect they would be surprised at what we took away from their lesson.
It is 43 years later; we are in charge now. Last Friday evening Doug Clark's Hot Nuts were on their way to another gig. Students two generations removed from those days will drink beer, get a bit rowdy, and try to come up with their own words to some old tunes. No police are waiting for them. There is a scholarship at UNC-CH in Doug Clark's memory. That is what rushed through my head on I-440 Friday night and put a big smile on my face. Isn't life grand.