“Well, My Friends, the Time Has Come”

“To raise the roof and have some fun.” – Lionel Richie

Ranking The 25 Best '80s Hits From Corniest To Greatest – Page 2 – New Arena

In this five-part series, I honor my dad and the players that made magic happen on a “God-awful blue court” in a gym located on the campus of Seminole Junior College in Seminole, Oklahoma.  My dad and those players were more than just a coach and his ballplayers.  They were my heroes, and this series of posts is a dedication to that time, those men, and some unbelievable basketball.  And, oh yeah, you know I’m going to bring some sweet sounds from that era as well!  Previous: Part 3: The ABC Gang

Part 4: Hutch

In 1983 there would be no rematch with our heated rival Westark. Instead, Phillips County located in Helena, AR had upset the Lions and would be our opponent for the best-of-three Region II championship.

In game one, the Trojans managed a 35-30 halftime lead, and then fueled by Anthony Bowie’s 17 points in the second half held on for a 71-66 win. Bowie finished with 25 points while Adam Frank scored 16, Chilli had 12 and Alford finished with 11 points.

Game two wasn’t as close as Bowie finished with 17, Frank had 16 again, and Chilli added 14 points to seal the elusive Region II championship 65-55. And after a seven-year absence, Oklahoma had a representative headed to Hutchinson, Kansas, and the National Junior College Basketball Tournament.

My dad after the Region II championship win over Phillips, AR being hoisted by Chuckie Givens and Win Case

Our Trojans were on a 20-game winning streak, sitting with a record of 32-4, and entered the national tournament with a well-balanced offensive attack. Our two sophomore guards – Winfred Case and Adam Frank were averaging 10.1 and 13.8 points a game. Our all-freshman front line had “Boo” at 17.8 ppg, Chilli at 16.2 ppg, and “Sugar” Ray averaging 12.4 ppg.

Our first round opponent was Mesa, Arizona who entered the tournament at 24-8.

Said Chilli: “The thing that helped us a lot, during the NJCAA was the NCAA tournament was going on probably the first or second round and we were in the hotel watching those games.  We were looking at that and we starting talking about ‘we can do that!’ so we went out there and did it.   

I remember being in Hutch for the first two rounds including this first game against Mesa. Mesa played at an agonizingly slow pace making every possession critical. Tight defense and patient offensives resulted in the lowest scoring game in the national tournament in 23 years!

Trailing by two with just over two minutes remaining, Ray Alford got a crucial steal and dunk to tie things up at 42. After forcing a five second call with 45 seconds left, Win Case was fouled and made one free throw giving the Trojans a 43-42 lead. The Thunderbirds held the ball for the last shot and a Bobby Jenkins 12 footer rimmed in and out as the Trojans escaped with a first round win.

Our second round opponent was the #1 ranked juco team in the country – Jamestown, NY, who had lost just once that season and was led by Carl Jeter who was averaging 18 points and 7 boards a game.

Behind six forced turnovers early, Jamestown jumped out to a 20-8 lead to start the game and led 45-32 at halftime. The Trojans had committed 11 first half turnovers and had been out-rebounded 24 to15. In my twelve year old mind, it seemed at the time like we were down by 50. Still, 13 points to the number one team in the nation made for an uphill battle in the second half.

“At halftime I remember how calm Coach was,” said Case, “And that we couldn’t play any worse and that they couldn’t play any better. We just piggybacked off of that.  He said to just continue to follow the game plan and we’ll come back.”  

It took a consistent turnover-free run to get Seminole back into it. With just under five minutes remaining, we took our first lead since 2-0 when Bowie knocked down an 18-footer after a steal and assist from Case. The Trojans led 63-62 and eventually stretched that lead to 68-63 with three minutes remaining, but Jamestown wasn’t done yet. The Jayhawks rallied and briefly gained the lead again at 69-68 when Jeter knocked down an 18-footer with two minutes remaining.

With 1 1/2 minutes remaining Ray Alford hit a leaning jumper to give SJC the lead back at 70-69. Following a free throw by the Jayhawks, the score was tied at 70 when Chilli was fouled with 25 seconds remaining. Childs, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds, made one of two for a 71-70 lead. Following a Jamestown timeout with nine seconds remaining, Jamestown’s guard Mark Scott attempted a pass near the top of the key that Bowie jumped up into the air and intercepted. He dribbled the length of the floor and slammed home a reverse two handed dunk just after the final horn sounded. It didn’t count, but it didn’t matter. The Trojans had won.

I remember our team sprinting onto the floor and celebrating at mid-court mobbing Bowie, who had finished with 19 points and six boards. I ran right up and jumped around and celebrated as well. In my mind, it was the greatest comeback ever!

“It was a great win over the number one team in the country,” said my dad after the game.

The Hutchinson Sports Arena organist serenaded us with the song “Oklahoma!” after the win. It was on to the semi-finals where our opponent was Southeast Community College of Fairbury, Nebraska, coached by a young 24 year-old first-year coach named Dana Altman.

In his first year of coaching his alma mater, Altman had led Fairbury to the Region IX championship and a 28-5 record at this point. His team led by 6’7″ post player Neil Wake had survived back to back overtime games to reach the semi-finals defeating 4th ranked Mercer, NJ in a first round matchup 71-64, and then by one point again over Clinton, Iowa in the second round.

Over 6,200 fans packed into the Hutchinson Sports Arena to see Seminole take a narrow one point lead into the locker room at the half. The Trojans remained in control most of the second half and had extended the lead to six with 6:20 remaining in the game. But with under two minutes remaining, the Bombers completed a rally that put them ahead 71-70 behind a dunk from Neil Wake. An Adam Frank jumper and free throw put us back up two with just under a minute remaining. Following two free throws by the Bombers’ Joel Clark, Seminole held the ball for the final shot. Win Case penetrated and found reserve forward – Jacksonville’s Kenneth Bullard for the lay in.

A last second shot by Leo McGainey (who finished with 20 points) was short and our Seminole Trojans (now 35-4) had just made the NJCAA finals. Altman, now the head coach at Oregon University, recalls a hard fought game that ended with his team on the short end of a 75-73 score. There was some controversy as to whether Bullard had travelled prior to laying in the winning bucket with just four seconds remaining.

Dana Altman 1983
Coach Dana Altman circa 1983!

“Charlie Spoonhour and Moe Iba (former coaching greats) were sitting on the baseline that night, and they told me that we got beat on a bad no-call.  He (Bullard) travelled so bad,” recalled Altman.  

Chilli had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Trojans into the finals. Bowie had 16 point and nine rebounds while Adam Frank (who had been feeling ill much of the tournament so far) chipped in with 13.

“I met your dad for the first time that year,” said Altman. “They (Seminole) won, and they played San Jac better than we could have in the finals.  They matched up better with San Jac and they guarded the hell out of them. We easily won the 3rd place game.” (Fairbury defeated Walker College of Jasper, Ala 103-84).   

The championship game was a matchup of two contrasting styles. The San Jacinto (Texas) Ravens (34-2) were coached by Ronnie Arrow, had won 20 in a row, brought power and size inside, and started five players who would go onto Division one schools – 6’7″ Carey Holland (Auburn), 6’9″ Andre Ross (San Diego State), 6’2″ guard Nolan Gibson (Bradley), 6’1″ guard Ron Singleton (Arizona State), and 6’6″ swingman Frank “Spoon” James (UNLV).

4540873-0-4
Frank “Spoon” James

Bowie remembers hearing about “Spoon,” and getting a glimpse of their opponents in pre-game warmups:

“I heard Spoon James this and Spoon James that.  I don’t know who he is, but he’s going to find out who I am (laughs)!”

“Just getting there (the NJCAA), I thought we had a chance.  Getting to the finals.  When I saw those boys that San Jacinto had, I was like ‘oh, my God.’  I wasn’t worried about my position.  I was more worried about Chill’s and Ray’s position.  There’s going to be a helping out down low!  But actually Chill and Ray did a hell of a job on those big boys.” 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sjcrayalfordnjcaa.jpg
Chilli and Ray working hard inside against a big San Jacinto frontline.

Our Seminole squad (only the third Oklahoma team to make the finals joining Murray State and Cameron), on a 23 game winning streak of our own, jumped out to a quick lead 15-6 thanks to 11 points combined from Case and Bowie. San Jac slowly chipped away behind tournament MVP Spoon James and took the lead 34-33 behind a steal and layup by James. The Trojans regained the lead when Bowie took a pass from Case in the corner and knocked down a jumper just seconds before halftime. The underdog Trojans led the sixth-ranked San Jacinto Ravens by one point at halftime 35-34.

A couple of ties and lead changes ended when San Jac went on an 11-0 run to go from one down to 10 up at 56-46 with 10 minutes remaining. The Trojans could never get closer than five and fell to the Ravens 73-68.

Three players fouled out in the game – two for Seminole (Case & Frank) and Spoon James for San Jac.

Chilli: “San Jac was so big.  They kind of wore us down.  They were like 6’9, 6’10 two-forty something and we hung in there as long as we could.  If we could have got up I think coach may have slowed it down, but they just kept pounding it inside (against us).  We only lost by 6 or 8 so it was close.”

Said Bowie: What really stands out to me is that Win Case just went off on us and started fussing and cussing at us – that we need to step up and play.  We just needed another break or one more player off the bench that was a threat.  We just didn’t have it.  I think if we would have had an Archie Marshall when we were freshman I think we would have taken them easily that freshman year.  It was still a good game.”

Bowie and Chilli were named to the all-tournament team that day. Adam Frank, who finished his SJC career with six points and five fouls that day would go on to play his remaining two seasons at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. Ironically, his playing career would come to an end in Dallas, Texas in the 1985 NCAA Elite Eight at the hands of Anthony Bowie and my dad and the Oklahoma Sooners led that season by junior All-American, Wayman Tisdale. The Sooners beat Frank and his famous teammate – Karl “The Mailman” Malone 86-84 in overtime that day.

Case, who averaged 14 points and eight assists per game at Seminole in 1982-83 was given the Bud Obee “Outstanding Little Man” award at the 1983 NJCAA tournament following in the footsteps of the 1982 winner Anthony “Spud” Webb.

“The second year how close we were.  How much of a machine we were.  That year was really special because no one really cared who got the credit.  It was all about winning.  Coach Kerwin created that culture of winning. Your dad could really recruit.  He, in my opinion, put Seminole on the map.  I love your dad.  Words can’t describe it,” said Case, who would go on to sign with Coach Paul Hansen and Oklahoma State University.

“Everyone’s dancing their troubles away. Come join our party, See how we play!”

It was a party for our Seminole Trojans in 1983. A non-stop party that only ended because a big, talented team from Texas said it was time. Nonetheless, the season was a towering success, and yes, we were losing our backcourt, but we had “The ABC Gang” returning for their sophomore season. It was just a matter of filling in the gaps and reloading for another shot.

In August of 1983, Lionel Richie released this single from his “Can’t Slow Down” grammy-award winning album that beat out the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The former Commodores frontman went all the way to #1 with this party track, “All Night Long.”

“Yeah, once you get started you can’t sit down. Come join the fun, it’s a merry-go-round.”

As always, thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

Your studly author wearing a sweet SJC Basketball Camp t-shirt in the summer of ’82

Coming Next: Part 5: The Final Run

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“There’s a Party Tonight, You’re in a Red Light Zone”

If you don’t want a ticket you better move on” – Midnight Star

Midnight Star hometown, lineup, biography | Last.fm

In this five-part series, I honor my dad and the players that made magic happen on a “God-awful blue court” in a gym located on the campus of Seminole Junior College in Seminole, Oklahoma.  My dad and those players were more than just a coach and his ballplayers.  They were my heroes, and this series of posts is a dedication to that time, those men, and some unbelievable basketball.  And, oh yeah, you know I’m going to bring some sweet sounds from that era as well!  Previous: Part 2: Just “Win”

Part 3: The ABC Gang

1982-83…

Win Case spent the summer of 1982 working in the Upward Bound program in Seminole helping underprivileged youth and working on his game. He also worked on his recruiting (a role and talent that has served Case well through his post-basketball and current coaching career that has taken him from Oklahoma colleges to Middle Tennessee to his current position as an assistant coach at Ole Miss University).

“I told coach there’s no way that Westark is going to beat us again,” Case was quoted as saying early into the ’82-’83 season, and he went to work that summer making sure that it didn’t happen again. Part of his plan was helping to recruit two under-appreciated Tulsa players who were teammates at Tulsa East Central and were initially planning to attend NEO in Miami, Oklahoma.

Those two players were Anthony Bowie and William “Chilli” Childs.

William Childs and Anthony Bowie with Coach Rodger Lefler

“We didn’t really know about Seminole,” recalled Childs.  “We knew that Win Case went there, but we had friends going to NEO and Connors and so we were leaning that way until our high school coach (1982 All-State Coach of the Year Rodger Lefler) said ‘I’m not trying to tell you all where to go, but if it was me I would go with Jim Kerwin at Seminole.  We said ‘who is that?’ and then he told us how he played for Phillips (Phillips 66ers AAU team based out of Bartlesville, OK) and his history and how he knew your dad.”

“Your dad set us down and told us like it was.  He didn’t promise us no starting positions or anything like other programs were telling us.  Win (Case) sold us on it and Adam Frank too.  That was our decision to go there and one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”

William “Chilli” Childs

William Childs was a strong 6’5″ swingman who could play inside or out. Possessing a smooth left-handed jumper, he was known to everyone simply as “Chili” or “Chilli (his preference)” or “Chilly” depending upon who you ask to spell it for you. It didn’t matter how you spelled it though because William Childs was a b-a-l-l-e-r. The nickname that Coach Lefler had given him as a junior in high school was based off of the penguin cartoon character “Chilly Willy,” but William didn’t like that nickname. It was his teammate Anthony Bowie who shortened it to “Chill” during practice one day, and soon everyone followed suit by referring to him as “Chill” or “Chilli.”

“The coaches loved Chill (at E. Central), but they were pretty rough on him,” recalled Bowie. “But we knew Win.  He was kind of a pivotal point for us because he was there at Seminole.  We used to see Win all the time walking down the street (in Tulsa) dribbling his basketball.”  

Anthony Bowie was Chilli’s 6’5″ do-it-all teammate from Tulsa East Central. Bowie could play multiple positions on the offensive side of the floor including point guard, and was a lock-down defender on the defensive end.   

“It (Seminole) was good for us.  It gave me an opportunity to venture out slowly without going to a big college.  I think it got me ready to go to the University of Oklahoma.  I thought it was a good thing to take that road of going to junior college and then to really see where I was at with my skills.  Junior college basketball reminds me of when the CBA was the CBA (Continental Basketball Association).  It was a fast-paced game and you had to be ready and in great shape and condition.  Your dad was based upon playing defense and stopping people but at the same time getting out and getting it going.  I don’t remember him putting limits on us as long as we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.” 

Anthony “Boo” Bowie

The third piece of that recruiting class was a 6’5″ post player from Wewoka, Oklahoma named Ray Alford. Ray was a heralded player coming out of Wewoka where he averaged three blocks and 17 rebounds a game his senior season. His high school coach Jim Lawson was quoted as saying that Ray could have played point guard if he wanted. Ray was also a part of the famous OKC Rams AAU team during the summer where he teamed up with players like Wayman Tisdale, Darryl “Choo” Kennedy, and Mark Price, who ran point on the Rams’ 1981 national championship team.

The three Seminole signees were teammates at the All-State game the summer of 1982 before embarking on two historic years together at SJC.

Win Case also proved important in the recruitment of Alford: “Ray had all the fanfare coming out of Wewoka (OK).  He had great grades but he was an undersized post.  He would come to a lot of our games and I would tell him if you want to realize your dreams you need to come play for Coach Kerwin.  He will care about you more than just as a ball player.  And he listened.”

“I thought Ray was pretty cool, said Bowie.  “He was the coolest dude there.  That’s why they called him “Sugar.” It was great how we came together and the three of us just hit it off.  I think what it really was is that we were so damn competitive with each other.  The first time I saw him dunk – I was like what the hell?!  Ray could get up off the floor quick.  He wasn’t the biggest, but I thought ‘hey we were going to be alright.'”

Future SJC teammate Archie Marshall remembers Ray’s attributes as well: “You talk about dunks.  Ray Alford had crazy hops (the highest vertical on the team), and had the little mid range jumper and did the simple things.  He was real quiet.  I didn’t realize how intelligent the dude was until later on.  Years later we hooked up over Thanksgiving dinner and he would tell me stories about how he was studying while we were out partying.” 

“Sugar” Ray Alford

Because of the lack of student housing and lack of any campus dormitory, the players lived in a two-story house a few blocks from Seminole High School on Jefferson Street that they called “The White House.” It was either a rental or a house that the Booster Club owned. I remember riding with my dad over to the house on occasion during the summer just to make sure the yard looked kept, and that the house hadn’t burned to the ground I guess.

Chilli remembers: “It was probably more like Animal House.  Parties, chicks, all of that… like a frat house.  We wasn’t that rowdy, but I heard after we left Seminole they had to close it down.” 

The house was located in a residential neighborhood, so maybe it wasn’t ever too rowdy if you listen to the players, but Athletic Director Thurman Edwards does remember one incident:

“I had to go to the house one time because the heater didn’t work and some of the guys were tearing up chairs and had started a fire in the fireplace to stay warm.”

Win Case recalled using “The White House” as part of his recruiting pitch:

“I told those guys – I just want you all to know – you’re gonna love the White House!  It’s this luxurious mansion.  It’s sacred.  This is a really good place to live.  It’s legendary!” 

Anthony Bowie added: “It was big house.  It was nice, but it was a lot of house.  The guys were pretty good about being in the house.  I think Win Case thought he was the headmaster of the house though.  It had to be at least 6-7 guys in that house.  I don’t even remember how many lived in there, but it was the best thing because we could all get up together and go to class together and get in the gym.”

But at the gym, the practices were not easy, and it was no secret that my dad could be tough on players. And it was never more evident than it was at one particular incident during practice that season involving William Childs. It was early in the season that began with six straight wins before a two point loss to Westark. After two more wins, the Trojans experienced two straight losses – a double OT loss to Independence, Kansas and a two point loss to Connors put our record at 8-3.

“The practices were pretty tough,” said Chilli.  “Your dad could be pretty tough.  We were rolling good our freshman year.  I think we had loss to Independence though and at practice coach was getting on us and I was kind of getting mad because he was on me about getting more rebounds, and so I said I’m going to quit coach.  And he said then get your ass out of here!  (laughs).  So I walked out of practice.  I tried to come back in that day and he said, nope you’re not coming back to practice today.  It took me a couple of days to get back on the squad.  It was during a break or something so I didn’t miss any games.  It was no feud or anything, but it made me snap.  He knew how to motivate us.  He was upset we lost and we shouldn’t have lost.”

Athletic Director Thurman Edwards also recalled the incident:

“I was outside the gym and I see (Ron) Moddelmog and (Larry) Sims talking to Chilli. Your dad had just kicked him out of practice and they were talking him into going back.”

Members of the SJC Booster Club (L-R): Larry Sims, President E.E. Brown, Sam Lacks, and Ron Moddelmog.

Practices may have been tough and intense, but the games are what made it worth it.

Bowie: “My freshman year the big games that stood out for me was the games against NEO because I knew a lot of those guys.  A lot of them were from Tulsa too on that team.  Coach Gipson really wanted us to go to NEO.  It was crazy playing against them because we knew them and most of them were about one year ahead of us.” 

“Your dad had that high voice when he was talking especially when he was angry and upset.  It was hilarious.  Chill has a good impression of Coach Kerwin.  You know your dad was a cool character.  He didn’t really want to show that he was mad or angry, but when he got upset that voice got real high,” said Bowie. 

Chilli remembers one particular game from early in the season:

“The game that stands out that we talk about all the time is when we were at Allen County, Kansas.  It was probably our 6th or 7th game playing Allen County and we were losing.  We were losing and Win (Case) called a timeout and he started going crazy because he didn’t think we were playing very hard and the crowd was hyped up.  They had a guard named Eric Watson who signed with K-State and he and Win were going at it, but we were losing.  Win pumped us up at halftime and said we ain’t losing this game and we came back and won that game.  They had some 6’9 and 6’10 guys and their guards were bigger than ours and I think we were down like 10 or 12 and came back and won that game.  That game stands out for me as well as the games against Independence and Connors.”

After an 8-3 start, the Trojans started to gel, and before we knew it had won 19 of our last 20 to finish the regular season. Our only loss during that time? Westark again.

We entered the state tournament at 27-4 and proceeded to destroy Bacone 99-71 in the first round setting up a semi-final matchup with St. Gregory’s. Win Case was 7 for 7 from the field and made both free throws to finish with 16 points. Adam Frank, who started the game 2 for 12, hit eight straight shots at one point and finished with a game-high 24 points in the 88-68 win.

A championship matchup with a very good NEO team was up next. We had beaten them twice during the regular season, but both games were tough, defensive battles played in the 50’s and decided by seven and four points respectively.

Game three between the two teams would prove to be even more defensive and tighter than the previous two as the championship game never made it out of the 40’s. It was Adam Frank who carried us that night though hitting 6 of 12 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free throw line scoring 22 of our 45 points. He was tournament MVP as the Trojans prevailed 45-42.

“The guy is a great player,” said my dad after the win. “People have underestimated him all year. He’s a winner.”

Three-peat! All-American ballboys front and center again. Another one of my favorites from our Seminole days – our manager (Curtis) is to the left of me in the white polo.

We had just won a third straight Oklahoma Junior College championship, were now 30-4, and expected another tough best-of-three series with Westark. Little did we know that the unexpected had happened over in Arkansas. The Westark Lions had been dethroned from their perch as the best juco team in Arkansas.

“No parking baby. No parking on the dance floor”

Another funky R&B band I absolutely thought was awesome was Midnight Star. I actually posted one other time about them on this site, but this 1983 hit was always my favorite. The distinctive sound of Midnight Star along with the clothing and the hair styles of 1983 really help this video stand out. At this time in my life, I was trying to learn how to break dance in my room with an instructional break dancing book. I never practiced enough to be any good, but this song got me onto the dance floor, and let me tell you – if the blue rubber floor on the campus of Seminole Junior College was the dance floor, these Trojans were never in park. It was always 0 to 94 feet in no time when there was a basketball involved.

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

Coming Next: Part 4: “Hutch

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“Let’s Groove Tonight”

“Share the spice of life.” – Earth, Wind and Fire

stereo fire | Tumblr

In this five part series, I honor my dad and the players that made magic happen on a “God-awful blue court” in a gym located on the campus of Seminole Junior College in Seminole, Oklahoma.  My dad and those players were more than just a coach and his ballplayers.  They were my heroes, and this series of posts is a dedication to that time, those men, and some unbelievable basketball.  And, oh yeah, you know I’m going to bring some sweet sounds from that era as well!  Previous: Part 1: Trojan! Power!

Part 2: Just “Win”

1981-82

By the summer of 1981, we had moved from our duplex into our new house directly across the street from Northwood Elementary School at 1206 Carson Drive. We also welcomed Win Case, a 5’10”, 150 pound lightly recruited point guard out of Tulsa Hale High School who’d spent the majority of his career considered undersized. Hale Coach Robert Sprague kept encouraging the young Case (who averaged 13 points and 10 assists per game for Coach Sprague), and eventually my dad came calling.  

“I was playing in the Tulsa All-star game at Booker T Washington (Tulsa) as a senior, and your dad was the first coach that came up to me after the game and asked if I had any interest in playing at Seminole.  I didn’t even take a recruiting visit. He was a great coach, but an even better recruiter,” Case said laughing.

Case was actually the MVP of that all-star game, but basketball in Tulsa in the late 70’s and in the 80’s was no joke, and Win was still lightly recruited at best following that game. Case was surrounded by great players in Tulsa during those days like Johnny Craven (Tulsa McClain), Tulsa Washington’s Tisdale brothers (William and younger brother Wayman, who were back to back Tulsa City players of the year in 1981 and 82), Creason Hay (Tulsa Washington), Anthony Bowie of Tulsa East Central, and Win’s teammate at Tulsa Hale, Willie Irons. Not to mention, there were two other pretty good point guards in the state during this time named Steve Hale (Jenks) and Mark Price (Enid) who shared player of the year honors with Wayman Tisdale in 1982. But in the summer of 1981, Case showed up at Seminole with little fanfare and even less money in his pockets wearing the only pair of pants he owned.  

“I think God put us together.  My parents were both alcoholics so it was tough upbringing and your dad became a second father to me.  I couldn’t really go home over the holidays or during the summer so he took care of me.  I had one pair of pants when I got to Seminole and they were shorts.  I didn’t have any money, but he made sure the people of Seminole took care of me.  He also made sure I took care of my grades and he coached me.”

The 1981-82 SJC Trojans. Back row (L-R): my dad, Greg Hicks, Richard Casey, Joseph Boutte, Willie Maree, Kenneth Bullard, Anthony Satcher, Henry Wright. Front row (L-R): Charles “Chuckie” Givens, Kelvin Wright, Adam Frank, James Allen, Kevin Ross, Winfred Case

Win Case and “Deac” Wright made up the Trojans’ starting backcourt while Greg Hicks (our lone returning starting) was joined on the frontline by returning sophomore Willie Maree and New Orleans native Anthony Satcher. My dad was a two-time All-American basketball player at Tulane University back in the early 60’s and still maintained some connections in “The Big Easy” that helped him land Satcher, and fellow incoming freshmen – guard Adam Frank, forward James Allen, and 6’7″ center Joseph Boutte.

Wright recalled: “After our first season, Greg Hicks and I walked into your dad’s office and I said ‘Coach, we’re probably going to be ranked in the top 10 next season! He said, hell, we ought to win the whole damn thing!’ Once I heard that I came back to Jacksonville for the summer and worked out. I knew this man was expecting greatness and I worked out so hard before that season started.”

My dad did expect greatness and he expected full effort in practice as well.

“They were some of the toughest practices I’ll ever go through.  But it’s why we had so much success.  He (Coach Kerwin) knew how to push and push and push.  He was very competitive and made sure you were going to be the best player you could be,” recalled Case.  

But the practices weren’t without their share of fun. After practice, my dad would challenge player after player to beat him shooting free throws. Most tried and most failed.

“I think (Anthony) Bowie tried every single day to beat him shooting free throws.  I told him, don’t ever try to beat coach,” said Case.   

Joseph Boutte remembers games of H-O-R-S-E after practices on occasion as well:

“Coach Kerwin, you, and I would play a game of horse after practice. I would try my best to beat Coach, but Coach would not have that. I finally understood that he was spending extra time with me teaching me and helping me build my confidence as a basketball player and as a person. He took a chance on me as a player and to this day I have learned values from his coaching style that still allow me to expect nothing but the best of myself. And for that I am thankful to him.”

My dad always had other thoughts or ideas in how to properly “motivate” his players. Bonnie Ritchie, who was referred to as “Miss Bonnie” by the players, was the Director of the Student Union at SJC during those days. Her main job was to oversee the cafeteria and the snack bar, and she recalls one such idea early in my dad’s tenure:

“When your dad first came to Seminole, and I don’t remember which player, but he came to me to take away his meals as punishment! I looked at him and said ‘Coach, I cannot pretend to tell you how to coach but please do not use the cafeteria as punishment! They don’t like the cafeteria as it is, and it will be worse if you use us for punishment!’ He looked at me and said ‘Bonnie, you are right,’ and he never mentioned it again! We were always good friends!”

“Miss Bonnie” and her husband, Herman, representing for Seminole at the 1999 juco baseball college world series

Full of cafeteria and snack bar food and practice-tested, all the hard work was paying off as the Trojans broke from the gates and started the season with win after win. Through 16 games, we were 16-0, and were indeed that top 10 team that “Deac” had predicted. The SJC Trojans were ranked 10th in the country and were a well-balanced team offensively. “Deac” was averaging 17 points per game, Willie Maree had become an offensive force inside averaging 16.8 ppg, Hicks was at 14.7 ppg, Satcher at 10 ppg and Case was manning the show at point guard and averaging 7.5 ppg. Sixth man Adam Frank was an offensive spark plug off the bench averaging 11 ppg.

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Lean in! Noisy crowds and gyms made listening to my dad in the huddle tough sometimes.

By the time January 14th of 1982 rolled around, there was no doubt that Seminole was on the national junior college radar as the Trojans were sitting at 19-0, and had moved up to #5 in the nation. It’s also when the defending national champion and rival Westark Lions came to town. I was just 11 years old, but I didn’t think our team would ever lose again. I just knew we had Westark’s number this time.

The meeting was the first of two regular season meetings with the Lions who were on a streak of their own. They came into town with three starters off of their national championship team and were led by last year’s national tournament MVP DeWayne Shepard. They too were undefeated at 15-0, ranked #3 in the country, and sports writers and editors across the state took notice.

I love that she sat on the bench because the place was too packed to find a seat elsewhere!

We were playing too good. Even though Shephard had 20 points for Westark, we defeated the Lions 65-58 for our 20th win in a row.

The win streak came to an end just 21 miles down the road a few weeks later in Shawnee when St. Gregory’s College and Coach Don Sumner (my alma mater and coach from 1989-1991) ended the Trojans’ 24 game win streak.

Shawnee history: It happened in March
Longtime St. Gregory’s coach Don Sumner

Coach Don Sumner: “We (my dad and he) had a good relationship. We only had one problem in a game where he said one of my players kicked one of his players. And then there was one game where Joe Thomas was refereeing. We both had been given technicals that night and I’m still on Joe about something, and here he comes over and he was going to put his whistle around my neck, but he didn’t. If I had to do it again I would have taken that whistle and given him a technical!”

My dad recalled the incident too: “I was standing by my bench and Don just looked at me and put his hands up in the air. I yelled at him that he should take over for the next 20 or 30 minutes!”

“(Seminole) used to beat the crap out of my teams, and I still don’t like him for that,” said Sumner. “You can tell him that too. (But that game in 1982) we were playing at OBU (Oklahoma Baptist University) that night because our new field house was being built, and Chad Scott (a second team NJCAA All-American for St. Greg’s) hit about a 40 footer at the buzzer and we won.”

And in our locker room, “Deac” Wright recalled the losing end of a hard fought game:

“We played terrible. Your dad was mad. I remember being in the locker room after the game and the trainer bringing in drinks for us and coach slung those drinks all over us!” Wright said laughing.

The 1981-82 season was also the first season featuring (in my own mind) the All-American ball boy team of myself and my best friend Brandon Buss. Ballboys are responsible for things like providing water and towels to the players or rebounding shots for them when they’re warming up. Brandon and his family had just moved to Seminole and lived just a few houses away from ours across the street from the elementary school. We spent many afternoons on the playground playing tag, shooting baskets, hitting golf balls, and riding our bikes through the woods behind the school. But the weeknight games at Seminole JC were special.

“I remember thinking how big-time we were and just having a great time. I remember going back into the old weight room a lot I think taking cokes to the officials at halftime. You and I also had these red, white, and blue wristbands that we used to wear, and I thought they were so cool,” recalled Buss. “I also remember the bus ride to the national tournament (in ’83) and how cool it was that Win Case was talking to us. I remember your dad and the players cutting down nets after championships too.”

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Big Willie Maree going to work against NEO.

After finishing the regular season at 27-3, the Trojans were the heavy favorites again heading into the state tournament at Fredrickson Fieldhouse on the campus of OCU, and the NEO Golden Norsemen awaited the Trojans in the finals that year.

Thanks to a three-point play by Willie Maree, we went into the locker room up 37-35 at the half. We maintained a pretty steady lead most of the second half until NEO’s Kelvin Upshaw brought the Norsemen to within 67-65 with three minutes remaining. Tournament MVP Greg Hicks scored the next two buckets. “Deac” added a basket and Win Case hit a free throw for a 7-0 run that essentially ended NEO’s chances. Frank and Wright each hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to secure the 78-71 win. We also held a 34-21 rebounding advantage that night. Frank and Wright joined Hicks on the All-Tournament team.

State champs again. All-American ballboys Kyle Kerwin and Brandon Buss front and center in our official SJC Ballboy shirts and cool wrist bands. Greg Hicks can be seen right behind us holding up his tournament MVP trophy.

Once again the Trojans squared off with Westark in a best-of-three series with a berth in the national tournament on the line. The two split the first two games just like 1981 setting up a winner-take-all game three held on a neutral floor at Connors State College in Warner, Oklahoma.

Recalled Wright: “I remember in game three (against Westark) at Connors (neutral floor) we were killing them, but then the rubber came apart under the backboard and they held up the game while it was being fixed. It’s no excuse but I remember it taking quite a while and for some reason after that we lost the momentum we had.”

Indeed, a 14-2 run over the last eight minutes of the first half and a quick start to the second half by Westark put the Trojans in a hole they could never completely climb out of.

Willie Maree scored 19 and Greg Hicks had 18, but just like the previous season, Westark once again prevailed two games to one, and off to Hutch they went while our season ended at 31-5.

This time the 12th ranked Lions’ season ended after a one-point loss in the first round to Midland College (Midland, TX). Midland went on to win the national championship with a roster of only eight players but was led by All-Americans Puntus Wilson and future NBA slam dunk champion, 5’7″ Anthony “Spud” Webb.

Our original Jacksonville trio all went on to play basketball at other schools. Greg Hicks would sign a letter of intent to play basketball at the University of Hawaii. Bi-State all-conference teammate Willie Maree signed with Hardin-Simmons, and “Deac” Wright was off to play ball at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK.

Another state championship, but another loss in the Region II championship to Westark. After two very successful seasons, it was becoming frustratingly obvious that we were still just a little short when it came to winning the big game that would propel us onward to Hutch. And now, we were losing three key components to our success with the loss of Hicks, Maree, and Wright.

Would we ever beat Westark when it counted? Were we going to be able to keep the winning going?

Well our point guard and leader on the floor, Win Case, was on the recruiting trail along with my dad, and it took them back to Win Case’s hometown of Tulsa and the signing of two very important players.

“Let this groove set in your shoes. So stand up (alright) alright.”

In early 1982 just before our second state championship, Earth, Wind, and Fire were hitting it big with the lead single from their album “Raise!” The song, “Let’s Groove,” still remains probably my favorite Earth, Wind, and Fire song ever and this video is straight fire. It hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 early in 1982 and spent 8 weeks atop the Hot Singles chart as well. The SJC Trojans did some grooving during the ’81-’82 season to the tune of 24 straight wins, and a second straight Oklahoma state championship.

Thanks for reading

sincerely,

the 80’s

Next up: Part 3: The ABC Gang

Bonus photos of Pastor Dr. Henry “Deac” Wright Jr.

Preach on Pastor “Deac!” NEW MT. CALVARY MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH

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“Celebrate Good Times”

“Come on!  (Let’s Celebrate)” – Kool and the Gang

Kool And The Gang* - Celebration (1980, Vinyl) | Discogs

In this five part series, I honor my dad and the players that made magic happen on a “God-awful blue court” in a gym located on the campus of Seminole Junior College in Seminole, Oklahoma.  My dad and those players were more than just a coach and his ballplayers.  They were my heroes, and this series of posts is a dedication to that time, those men, and some unbelievable basketball.  And, oh yeah, you know I’m going to bring some sweet sounds from that era as well! 

Part 1:  Trojan!  Power! 

I moved to Seminole, Oklahoma in the summer of 1980 when I was 9 years old. Ronald Reagan was President, inflation was 13.5%, the average cost of a new home was $68,000, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year at 963 (it’s currently hovering around 30,000 as of mid December, 2020).  And, you know what?  I didn’t care about any of that.  I was nine, remember?  Pay attention, cause here we go…    

What I did care about during those formative years was making friends, riding bikes in the woods behind Northwood Elementary School, trading baseball cards, listening to cassettes on my Walkman, and playing sports.  And it pretty much remained that way the entirety of the four years our family spent in Seminole. 

My dad was hired as the head men’s basketball coach at Seminole Junior College after a successful two-year stint at Northern Oklahoma Junior College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma (N.O.C.). 

In our two years at Northern, our team was led by one of the best junior college forwards in the country who hailed from Jacksonville, Florida. People just called him “Slim,” but Rodney “Slim” Jones was more than just a cool nickname. For two years, he led our Northern teams to 24-8 and 21-9 records, and he did something maybe even more important – he helped open up the pipeline from Jacksonville, Florida to Oklahoma that fueled many of my dad’s teams for years to come.

My dad: “Rodney Jones was about 6th or 7th man for Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Florida. Coach Lanny Van Eman told Ribault’s coach Bernard Wilkes that he should send some of his players to play for me at Northern. So I called Coach Wilkes and told him to send me both the players he was trying to find colleges for. One (Al Madison) only lasted maybe a semester or a little more, but Rodney Jones turned into an All-American. Coach Wilkes was so impressed with how Rodney turned out that he started sending me more and more players when I got to Seminole.” 

Rodney Jones: “I was actually the last man on my Ribault team. I quit the day after the final cut to work at our local super market bagging groceries.”

The 24-8 NOC team in 1978-79 was the best record in Northern history at the time and was capped with an Oklahoma State Junior College championship.  The 21-9 team in 1979-80 averaged over 80 points per game and made it to the semifinals losing to eventual champion Connors State College.  Rodney Jones was recruited by over 125 Division I schools by the end of his sophomore campaign and eventually chose head coach Larry Little, assistant coach Riley Wallace, and the University of Hawaii over TCU in Dallas (his second choice).

When Seminole came calling and my dad accepted the job, our family (which consisted of my mom, Gayle, my one-year old sister Kari, and myself) packed up for Seminole, Oklahoma. The town had an oil boom back in the mid 1920’s that saw its’ population soar to almost 25,000 people, but by the time we moved there in the summer of 1980 Seminole’s population was holding steady at approximately 8,500 residents.

Little did we know what lie ahead the next four years for my dad, his teams, and the town of Seminole: Four years, four Oklahoma Junior College state championships, two Region II championships, and one magical run to the NJCAA national championship game.

1980-1981…

My dad (then 39 years old) was hired to take over the Seminole Trojans after the firing of former coach Jack Herron who was coming off a 9-19 season at Seminole.  Headed by a search committee that included SJC President Elmer Tanner and athletic director Thurman Edwards, my dad beat out Robert McPherson of Western and Cletus Green of NEO to land the job. Edwards was a native of Seminole where he was a high school sports star, and was SJC’s first ever athletic director serving as A.D. from 1975 to 1994. 

Edwards recalled: “Cletus didn’t speak to me for years afterwards. He was my high school coach at Seminole and we had a good relationship, but he thought the Seminole job was going to be his, but I had been watching your dad even as far back as when he coached at Stillwater (where he was coach at Stillwater High School from 1973-78).”

“I had been playing racquetball and golf with Myron Roderick (Oklahoma State University wrestling and tennis great, coach, and eventually OSU Athletic Director from ’83-’90) who encouraged me to consider and follow your dad. Elmer Tanner let me be an athletic director, and said if you want this Kerwin guy, go hire him. The rest is history.”

At the press conference my dad was quoted as saying: “Of all the junior colleges in the state, I feel Seminole can be the best.”  He was right on the money as he jumped from the old Oklahoma Junior College Conference (OJCC) to the Bi-State Conference. Edwards added “one of the principal reasons that made him so successful in Juco is that he taught defense.

Thurman Edwards (left) and my dad in 1993.

The better quotes from his presser that day though came from my mom who said: “I’m enthusiastic.  I yell a lot.  I’ve never met a good official, and I’m into the game at all times.” 

And was my mom ever into the games. She could easily be heard yelling at the officials, cheering on the players, or stomping on the metal stands and leading the “Defense!” chants. She sponsored the cheerleaders our first season in Seminole and always helped lead the “Trojan Power!” cheer during timeouts where one side of the gymnasium would yell “Trojan!” and the other side would respond with “Power!”

My mom (far right) and three of her Seminole girlfriends

We moved into a duplex in Seminole as my dad hit the recruiting trail and welcomed in a few key transfers to his first team.

The 1980-81 team featured a starting backcourt of sophomore Ralph Davis (a transfer from Oklahoma Christian in Edmond and very good all-around point guard) and sophomore Rick Westfall of Mesquite, TX (honorable mention all-conference).  Our athletic front-court featured 6’5 freshman Greg Hicks of Jacksonville, Florida, All-American honorable mention Harold Taylor (another Sophomore transfer from Oklahoma Christian), and big man (and my favorite player on dad’s first team) – Bruce Lee of Edmond, OK. 

Lee, a Division I prospect, was fresh off of a MVP performance at the annual Faith 7 basketball game featuring the best high school players in Oklahoma against the best high schoolers in Texas when he opted for Seminole JC where he could work to develop his outside game. Providing bench punch was big man Willie Maree of Jacksonville, and guards Frank Comisky (Albuquerque, NM), and Henry “Deac” Wright of Jacksonville.

The 1980-81 SJC Trojans Back row (L-R): Harold Taylor, Greg Hicks, Taylor Kemp, Bruce Lee, Willie Maree, Coach Jim Kerwin. Front row (L-R): Eric Ford, Frank Comiskey, Steve Olive, Rick Westfall, Ralph Davis, Henry Wright

“Deac” (short for “Deacon,” a nickname he picked up as a youth having a dad that was a pastor for 35 years) was a raw talent when he came to Seminole. “Deac” didn’t even play basketball in high school, but his Jacksonville friend “Slim” Jones convinced my dad to give him a chance. So my dad flew to Jacksonville, Florida to check out this unheralded player.

Wright recalled seeing him in his Jacksonville neighborhood at the house next door. “He said I’m looking for “Deac” and I said, that’s me. So he came in and met my mom and then we went up to Ribault High School. We didn’t really do much but shoot around a little bit and I showed off some dunks, and that’s all he said he needed to see. We went back to my my house and he told my mom that he was offering me a scholarship and my mom started crying. It was answered prayers for her.”

My dad: “When I flew to Jacksonville to see “Deac” I just figured if he wasn’t any good I could make him the manager or something. Turns out he ended up being really good.”

And so it was off to Seminole, Oklahoma for “Deac” as well as 6’5″ Willie Maree and 6’5″ Greg Hicks, an outstanding athlete and Florida All-Stater.

“Seminole was a culture shock!” said Wright, “It was like we stepped back in time coming from Jacksonville to Seminole! The wardrobe. The language. The social life went downhill for me when I got to Seminole, and we didn’t know what to do when it snowed! None of us had coats or clothes for the cold weather and we didn’t know it got that cold! But when we were on the basketball floor we had fun. Your dad would get in your chest and yell and scream, but he got the best out of us.”

He had to get the best out of them, because the brutal Bi-State Conference consisted of some tough teams and legendary coaches like Don Sumner (St. Gregory’s), Cletus Green (NEO), Mickey Weiberg (Carl Albert / Connors), and Gayle Kaundart (Westark). The teams in the Bi-State Conference consisted of: St. Gregory’s College (Shawnee, OK), Carl Albert (Poteau, OK), Claremore, OK, Westark (Ft. Smith, AR), NEO (Miami, OK), Oklahoma City SW, Bacone College (Muskogee, OK), and Seminole.

After a slow start that found the Trojans just 5-4 after our first nine games, we caught fire and finished the ’80-’81 regular season winning seven of our final nine games to complete a 22-9 record and a second place finish in the Bi-State Conference.

In the first round of the Oklahoma State Junior College tournament at Fredrickson Fieldhouse in Oklahoma City, the Trojans faced Eastern. The two teams had split during the regular season, and we were good enough to win the rubber match that day – 59-51. A semi-final win followed over Claremore, who we had also split with during the season in two high-scoring closely contested overtime games (a 107-106 OT win and an 84-82 OT loss). It was another high scoring game, but no overtime this time around as Bruce Lee pumped in 23 points while Ralph Davis and Harold Taylor each had 22 in the 95-87 semi-final win.

St. Gregory’s College, a team Seminole had beaten twice during the regular season, awaited the Trojans in the finals. The Cavaliers’ talented Larry Skinner led all scorers with 25, but a dismal 35% field goal shooting percentage doomed St. Greg’s. The Trojans led by 17 with 10 minutes to go and the Cavaliers never got any closer than 12 the rest of the game. Harold Taylor, who would go on to sign with Arkansas Tech University in Russellville and is remembered for his huge hands and big vertical, only had eight points, but was still named the tournament’s MVP on the strength of the first two wins. He would also receive honorable mention All-American that season. Bruce Lee had 17 points and joined Taylor also on the all-tournament team. Greg Hicks led the Trojans with 19 points in the finals.

“I think we controlled the tempo of the game. We ran when we could, and set it up when we wanted,” said my dad after the win. “The whole key has been our defense. It’s been three good days of defense that has carried us.”

A championship hug for a championship coach.

The 25-9 Trojans then battled our arch nemesis – Westark College located in Ft. Smith, AR, in a best-of-three series where the winner earned a birth in the National Championship tournament as the winner of Region II. Even though we were in the same conference as Westark, the Lions played in the Arkansas State Junior College tournament, which they had won to set up the showdown.

The NJCAA National Tournament has been held every year since 1949 in Hutchinson, Kansas.  “Hutch,” a town on the Kansas plains with a population of about 45,000 people back in the mid to late 80’s, was the mecca of junior college basketball, and it was the destination goal of every junior college basketball program in the country.  In game one, our Trojans won a hard fought battle 46-44. But we couldn’t win pull out a second win losing the next two games to Westark 51-46 and 59-55. We ended our first season at 26-11.

My dad and legendary Westark coach Gayle Kaundart. My little sister Kari is in the background above my dad’s head. My grandma Ruby can be seen wearing a blue blouse. My Uncle Rick is to the left of her with hand on chin while Seminole sports writer Noah Long is to her right. You can also see a little bit of the infamous blue court at SJC as well in this picture.

The Westark Lions, who had defeated my Seminole Trojans by nine total points in the last two games proceeded to “Hutch” where they promptly won the national title over Lincoln College (Illinois) 67-50.  Westark finished 33-5 and only had to survive one game in Hutch where they didn’t win by double digits. 

By the summer of 1981, my dad’s team had lost every player except the Jacksonville trio of Hicks, Maree and Wright. Four starters were gone – Taylor to Arkansas Tech, Ralph Davis to my dad’s alma mater, Tulane University, and All-conference honorable mention Rick Westfall was gone to the University of Missouri. 

The 6’7″ Lee was also gone to the University of Oklahoma.  Lee was tough and skilled and was a leader on that first Seminole team, but he opted to transfer to OU after his freshman season where he then spent two seasons in a supporting role for the Sooners. Lee had one of the most outstanding games my dad ever recalled while at Seminole when Lee scored 28 points and pulled down 26 rebounds against Claremore College. Lee also played his junior season at OU in 1983 with a freshman All American sensation from Tulsa named Wayman Tisdale.

Sadly Lee didn’t get to see his senior season at OU. Bruce Lee passed away in May 1983 during a routine tonsillectomy in Oklahoma City. The official cause of death was cardiomyopathy, which is an abnormality of the heart. 

“He (Lee) played with great determination, desire, and pride,” my dad shortly after Lee’s passing. “As a coach in recruiting other players, Bruce was an example of the ideal standards you look for in recruiting. I feel very fortunate that Bruce touched my life that one year he was an athlete at Seminole Junior College.”

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Bruce Lee celebrating our first Oklahoma Junior College state championship in the spring of 1981.

In the summer of 1981, we welcomed ten new faces including three more from Jacksonville. Our new roster for 1981-82 season consisted of six players from Jacksonville, four from New Orleans, one Californian, one player from Kentucky, and one lone Oklahoman.  The Oklahoman was a small point guard from Tulsa that no major colleges recruited.  He may have been the most important recruit in Seminole Junior College basketball history though, and his name was Winfred Case.

“There’s a party goin’ on right here. A celebration to last throughout the years.”

If ever a song personified our four years at Seminole, it’s this Kool and the Gang classic that hit #1 in February of 1981 just weeks before the first SJC state championship. Any of you that have visited this site in the past know this site is also a partial dedication to the music of the 80’s, and the early 80’s R&B scene was vibrant and cool and I loved it. After practice I remember the players hanging around in the SJC gym getting a little more work in, and there was usually a big boombox sitting on the baseline blasting out the latest hits. I’m sure this one was in heavy rotation in 1981. It was for me.

I was able to see Kool and the Gang in concert one time back in 2012 and I thought they were fantastic. Still do. Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

Coming next: Part 2: Just “Win”

Bonus photo:

The man responsible for opening the Jacksonville, Florida connection for my dad: Rodney “(still looking) Slim” Jones and his family.

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“They’ve Got Cars Big As Bars”

“They’ve got rivers of gold. But the wind goes right through you. It’s no place for the old” – The Pogues

Fairytale of New York: The surprising story behind The Pogues' Christmas  anthem
MacColl and MacGowan

Usually every December I’m featuring some 80’s Christmas song and video. I’ve written about Wham! and the iconic “Last Christmas.” I’ve written about Run-DMC and “Christmas in Hollis,” and of course the collaboration known as Band Aid and “Do They Know it’s Christmas?

This December’s featured Christmas song is really a song that I barely remember from a band that barely registers on my 80’s radar, so I’ve immersed myself in all things The Pogues the past few days. Outside of today’s song, a couple of my favorites from The Pogues include 1996’s “Love You Till the End,” and 1985’s “Rainy Night in Soho,” and “Dirty Old Town.”

As the son of a full-blooded 100% Irish father, one of the things I appreciate about The Pogues is that they have a very Irish vibe and sound to their band even though most of the members were not/are not Irish. Formed in London in 1982 and calling themselves Pogue Mahone (translation = “kiss my arse”), the group shortened their name to The Pogues for their 1984 tour with The Clash. Elvis Costello worked with the group as producer on their 1985 album “Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash,” and was apparently the person who challenged and/or wagered lead singer Shane MacGowan to write a Christmas song around the same time.

The song apparently took two years to write during which time they lost their female singer Cait O’Riordan who married Costello and left the band in 1986. Upon the recommendation from their then-producer Steve Lillywhite (who also produced for U2), they recruited Lillywhite’s wife Kristy MacColl for the female vocals on the song.

“Happy Christmas your arse. I pray God it’s our last.”

I can see the appeal of this song. Many refer to it as an anti-Christmas song, and I’m sure many can relate. All you have to do is listen to the first line of the song “It was Christmas Eve babe in the drunk tank” to know this isn’t your typical Christmas song. For many, the Christmas season is just a time to tolerate as many have memories of tough times and family strife. So in those regards, I’m sure this song is very relatable for many. The song has drunks and love and a fight and controversial name-calling all to a very distinctive danceable Irish sound. Probably sounds like a normal Christmas gathering for many!

Most all of my Christmas memories are times of happiness and joy and anticipation so this song never really connected with me, but I can understand if it connects with you. If it does, I hope you have better Christmas times now and in the future.

“So happy Christmas. I love you baby. I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.”

Shane McGowan, the band’s lead singer, was actually born on Christmas day 1957. And if the young police officer in the video below looks strangely like a young Matt Dillon, that’s because it is. Dillon was a big fan of The Pogues and apparently met them on their first tour of America in 1986.

In the UK, this is apparently the most played Christmas song of the 21st century and reached #2 on the UK charts back in 1987. From their album “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” here is McGowan along with the late Kristy MacColl and the band known as The Pogues with the somewhat anti-Christmas song – “Fairytale of New York.”

Merry Christmas all you bums and punks! I love you all.

sincerely,

the 80’s

There’s getting ready to be a Christmas fight here sometime around
Christmas 1986 or 1987 if my sister doesn’t quit leaning on me!
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“There is nothin’ fair in this world”

“There is nothin’ safe in this world.” – Billy Idol

Billy takes a break from his prayer life to pose. I’m confident that he resumed praying the Rosary shortly after this photo.

That last line – “there is nothin’ safe in this world” leads me to believe that Billy Idol is clairvoyant and saw 2020 coming way back in 1982. Whether he is or isn’t can be debated I guess, but one thing that can’t is that COVID-19 has just screwed everything up in 2020. It’s super annoying. It’s touched every aspect of our lives personally and professionally. It has ruined companies. It has ruined sporting events and concerts (including Billy Idol’s 2020 concerts), and movies and the theatre, and festivals. More importantly though it has taken lives and it continues to wreck havoc with families and friends around the world, and it probably will continue to do so until a reliable vaccine is released and the results are known.

Until that time, it’s social distancing and clean hands and masks in the restaurants and the supermarkets, and at sporting events, and most any social gathering. That includes weddings. I’ve attended two “COVID weddings” within the last two months. Both weddings were fairly “normal” events. And when I say “normal,” I mean they were both very reminiscent of pre-COVID weddings with the lone exceptions being the face masks and the increased use of hand sanitizer.

Otherwise, people you know and people who are complete strangers are still sitting next to each other at rehearsal dinner and at the wedding. People are still dancing next to each other, eating and drinking next to each other. There are still groomsmen and bridesmaids, and a first dance and a cutting of the cake. The bride still throws her bouquet over her shoulder to a group of single females all vying for the opportunity to catch it and be the next bride. The groom still takes the garter off of his bride’s thigh and shoots it in the air as all the single men who have been enjoying the free booze stumble over themselves to make the catch.

Like I said, pretty normal though bubbles has become a thing over the past five, ten years? I don’t know. I haven’t been paying that close of attention, but if you’re old enough to remember, then you’ll recall weddings where rice was the customary thing to throw as the lucky couple walked to their chosen mode of transportation waiting to whisk them away to a life of married bliss. A real mess if you think about it now. How many eye injuries happened because of people throwing rice at the couple? How many ears and open mouths were hit with rice? How much of that stuff got stuck in the bride’s hair or veil, or dress. The madness! What a terrible thing to throw. I had to research it, because I don’t know the origins of wedding traditions, but apparently the throwing of the rice signified rain which was to bring prosperity, fertility and good fortune to the couple, and which is why you were supposed to throw it up in the air, not directly at the couple. Who knew!? Probably a lot of people.

Anyway, one thing COVID hasn’t beaten or changed is love. L-O-V-E. People are still getting married in a pandemic. It may look a little different, but COVID is basically just that little, extremely annoying gnat hovering around Love’s face. Love just continues to wave it away, but you know eventually that little COVID gnat is not smart enough to leave love alone, and it’s going to get crushed. It’s just a matter of time. Ironically, even as I type this post in the living room of my home, there is a gnat that will not leave me alone. Those suckers are persistent.

Love in 2020 has driven us to think outside the box, to innovate, to stretch the limits, and despite the risks – to continue blowing bubbles. As the Good Book reminds us, “love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Love cannot be defeated, and it will continue to persevere, even in 2020.

“Come on. It’s a nice day for a white wedding.”

One of the two weddings I’ve attended this year has been of a couple with the last name White. The little ring-bearers even wore shirts to the rehearsal dinner the night before that said “Ring Security” on the front and “White Wedding” on the back. They did not, however, have Billy’s face anywhere on them.

Released in 1982, this is easily one of Englishman William Michael Albert Broad’s most recognizable songs. The now 65 year old, who performs under the stage name “Billy Idol,” has always been a favorite of mine with his bleach-blond hair, leather wardrobe, washboard abs, and his incessant snarl. In fact, his snarl with that upper left lip is to 80’s music as Elvis and his upper lip was to the 60’s.

In the iconic video featuring his real-life girlfriend at the time (Perri Lister), the singer is singing about watching the woman he loves marry someone else. It’s not really a pro-marriage song. “Little sister” is slang for “girlfriend,” and the song just happens to have the word “wedding” in the title. There’s a whole lot of damage to good kitchen appliances as well happening here. Regardless, get ready to work on that upper lip snarl and sing along with William.

I can’t wait until this pandemic is over, because I’ll be singing – “It’s nice day to… start again! Come on!”

Thanks for reading.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“We Got Wayman, Billy, and the Boys”

Billy Tubbs and Wayman Tisdale | Sooners, Oklahoma sooners basketball,  Boomer sooner
Billy Tubbs and Wayman Tisdale

I met Coach Billy Tubbs in 1984. I was 13 and he had just hired my dad to become an assistant coach for the University of Oklahoma men’s basketball team. At that time I was happy for my dad, but selfishly I was also a little bit upset. The reason? Because I had spent the first 13 years of my life an Oklahoma State Cowboy fan. I hated the Sooners!

I spent five very formative years in Stillwater from 1973-1978 (home of the OSU Cowboys) bleeding orange and black, and cheering on Cowboy greats like football players Terry Miller and Ernest Anderson, and basketball players Leroy Combs and Matt Clark. Now, like a gang member taking up a new residence, I was being forced to trade in the orange and black for crimson and cream. I was becoming a Sooner.

When we arrived in Norman, OU basketball was on the verge of greatness. The 1983-84 team led by sophomore All-American Wayman Tisdale had just given Coach Tubbs his first regular season Big Eight Championship finishing 13-1 in conference (at Iowa State being the lone conference loss). The Sooners lost in the Big Eight Conference Tournament finals that season to Kansas and then were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Dayton 89-85 to finish a promising season at 29-5.

My parents bought a house on Riverside Drive. Coach Tubbs and his wife Pat lived just around the corner on Joe Taylor Circle. I’d occasionally spend a hot summer day over there enjoying their backyard pool. My parents would spend an occasional evening over there enjoying some beverages and discussing the latest in OU basketball. One thing we did after arriving at OU was win, win, win, and with his Jack Nicholson southern twang, and fantastic story-telling Coach Tubbs became a fixture in our lives.

My dad (left) trying to show Coach Tubbs (right) how he does his pony dance.

The Tubbs had two children – Tommy, a back up point guard on the OU team, and Taylor, their younger daughter who would also attend OU and become a member of the OU pom pon squad in the mid to late 80’s. Tommy was a senior when we moved there, and in his words “not good enough to play on that team.”

There were many summer days when my dad and I would play golf at the local Trails Country Club and Coach Tubbs and Tommy would make it a foursome. The funny thing about our foursomes is that I always recall Tommy playing with range balls that he would gather off the practice range before we teed off. Back in the 80’s, The Trails was narrow and on many holes if you weren’t in the fairway, you were not going to find your golf ball amongst the wild grass that they let grow in the rough areas. I’ve heard many times that Billy had boxes and boxes of new golf balls in his garage, but because of Tommy’s penchant for hitting them wayward he refused to give him any. “They’re still finding balls I hit into the south Canadian River to this day!” said Tommy Tubbs in a recent phone call.

Left picture: Tommy Tubbs bottom right. Right picture: Taylor Tubbs with my sister Kari on the left and her friend Mikel McCurdy on the right.

Those six years flew by, and just those six OU teams in particular won 31, 26, 24, 35, 30, and 27 (173 total) games respectively behind a man to man pressing team that ran up and down the floor and took the first open shot they had. Many throughout college basketball just called it “Billy-ball.” Those same six Sooners teams won four regular season Big Eight Conference championships, three conference tournament championships, and every one of those six teams advanced to at least the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with the 1987-88 team advancing all the way to the national championship game losing a flukey national championship game to a red-hot Kansas team (sorry Jayhawk fans, but that OU team wins at least 8 out of 10 times, maybe nine).

My dad has countless “Billy Tubbs stories” of which I’m sure are actually true. He loves to tell of the time they were at Kansas State and at halftime of their game my dad tells the story of Billy asking him to find a pay phone and to call his wife Pat back in Norman. Upon doing this Billy proceeds to ask her something to the effect of if we were getting screwed by the officials on tv as bad as we were in person. Of course, Billy’s conversations with officials are legendary with the most iconic coming from 1989 when the Sooners hosted Missouri before a raucous crowd in the Lloyd Noble Center.

There’s so many things to love about this video. Where do I even begin. You have the legendary college basketball announcer (and longtime family friend of ours) New Jersey’s Bill Raftery doing commentary for the game, and a classic “that’s unbelievable!” reaction. There’s one of the all-time officiating greats, Ed Hightower who retired in 2013. We see and hear from longtime OU radio announcer and Sports Information Director, Mike Treps (who passed away in 2014), on the public address system. And of course you have Billy’s awesome announcement to the crowd, the crowd’s reaction, and Billy’s even-better incredulous look after getting hit with a technical following the announcement. Just classic. Plus, another Sooner win followed this 112-105 that day.

Tommy told me that Billy was baptized in the Arkansas River during his stay as a youngster at Fort Chaffee near Ft. Smith, Arkansas, before he moved to Tulsa. His mom worked cleaning and replacing linens at the Fort and then was offered the same role at a new laundry facility in Tulsa. So that’s what brought them to Billy’s hometown of Tulsa. It wasn’t an easy road for Coach Tubbs as he had lost both his mother and his father by the time he was 14. He persevered to the tune of countless victories at Lamar and OU and TCU, and coach of the year honors four times in the Big 8. More importantly though, he had a successful marriage of 62 years, and raised two children and lived to see many grandchildren as well.

The Kerwin’s and the Tubbs

Looking back now, I am so happy that my dad became a member of the OU coaching staff. It enabled me to make lifelong friends from 8th grade through high school graduation in Norman. I was able to play high school basketball against and with some of the best players the state had to offer. It indirectly led me to meeting my future wife. And, oh yeah, I was able to watch some of the best basketball (and football too) that the University of Oklahoma has arguably ever had. I was afforded the opportunity to witness some great basketball from incredible seats. I was able to travel with the team to Kansas City, and Birmingham, and Tuscan, and to Hawaii.

And of course I was afforded the opportunity to spend a lot of time around one of the greatest characters and college basketball coaches of all-time. But he was more than just a character wearing a black hat in the world of college basketball (a role I think he relished). He was more than a one-liner or a funny quote. He was a survivor. He was an underdog. He was a competitor. He was a top dog. He was a husband, and a father, and a friend, and a winner. He and the Tubbs are family, and that will never change. The world of college basketball just became a little less interesting and a little less fun with the passing of Billy Tubbs.

“Down in Norman, Oklahoma, ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.”

Well, there’s definitely some pain being felt today after the passing of Coach Tubbs at the age of 85. But let’s go back some 37 or 38 years when this song was released. I don’t know who wrote or sings this song, (which is a parody of Waylon Jennings’ “Waylon, Willie, and the Boys,”) but they did a mighty fine job.

When I spoke with Tommy Tubbs recently, he told me that he had visited with Regina Tisdale, wife of the late, great Wayman Tisdale, who passed away from bone cancer in 2009. Regina told him that when Billy transitions to that next life that Wayman will be there with that big smile on his face welcoming him.

That’s a wonderful thought and I’m sure a reunion of Heavenly sorts awaits Wayman, Billy, and the boys…

Thanks for reading, prayers to the Tubbs’ family, and RIP to one of the best to ever do it, Billy Tubbs.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“And I Say Rock On!”

“Uh, rock on!” – the Mighty Van Halen

Amazon.com: Mingki Van Halen Classic Rock Star Band Poster - 18 × 24 Inch:  Posters & Prints

I like lists. I’m always a sucker for a good top 10 list or a top 20 or top 50 or an every (fill in the artist) song worst to first list (I’m looking at you “Rolling Stone”). I also don’t feel that one post in tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen was near enough, so here comes my own favorite Van Halen songs list with one caveat: this list will only include my favorite 80’s Van Halen songs.

Whoa. Settle down. Crazy, right? Take the iconic “Van Halen I” (a 1978 release) and to a lesser extent “Van Halen II” (released in 1979) out of the equation as well as anything released post 1989, and you get a totally different look.

So many tough decisions on what to include and what to leave out. After a good couple of hours of politicking (flip-flopping and vacillating) between songs, here are my top 11 favorite 80’s Van Halen songs.

Why 11? Well, 5+1+5+0 = 11. That’s the best I can do.

I present you – “Sincerely the 80’s Standing on Top of the Top 11 List:” (a 90’s Van Halen reference and a song that didn’t qualify, I know… cut me some slack)

#11

“Hot for Teacher” album: 1984

Favorite lyric: “I think of all the education that I missed. But then my homework was never quite like this.”

This song was so different. A drum solo to start the song? Oddly cool. Thank you Alex Van Halen. Of course the video is iconic. Once again, thank you Alex Van Halen for your lack of rhythm during the dance sequences in the video. Eddie’s solo while walking on top of the tables in the library made me want to visit the school library just to see if there were any guitar students doing the same thing. Alas, there never were.

#10

“Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” album: Diver Down (1982)

Favorite Lyric: “Daddy didn’t need no little toys. Mommy didn’t need no little boys.”

A nod to my first Van Halen cassette when I was 11 or 12. This is the first Van Halen I knew – a group with an album of five cover songs out of 12 total songs. I didn’t know this was a cover song when I first heard it. I knew nothing of Ray Davies or The Kinks or their version. I wasn’t that musically knowledgeable yet and there was no internet either. I just thought it was a cool song. And it is… even if it’s not a Van Halen original. Sorry Roy Orbison and the VH cover of “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” You just missed this list.

#9

“Summer Nights” album: 5150 (1986)

Favorite lyric: “Summer nights and my radio. Well that’s all we need, baby, don’t cha know?”

I heard this was originally intended to be a David Lee Roth song before he departed Van Halen, and that there might be a demo somewhere with his vocals. I’d love to hear it, but nonetheless, Dave’s loss is Sammy’s gain, and I absolutely think Sammy crushed it. My buddy Barry and I agreed that this was probably the most underrated song on the 5150 album. This was an instant classic to us and was played relentlessly during the summer between our 9th and 10th grade school years.

#8

“I’ll Wait” album: 1984

Favorite lyric: “Are you for real, it’s so hard to tell from just a magazine. Yeah, you just smile and the picture sells. Look what that does to me.”

In my mind, the first true Van Halen rock ballad, synthesizers and all. The song was a collaboration between Eddie Van Halen and Michael McDonald. As an outspoken critic of the heavy synth sound that was beginning to dominate the airwaves in the 80’s, David Lee Roth was against even including this song on the album. Per usual, Eddie wanted it on the album and so it was, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

#7

“And the Cradle Will Rock” album: Women and Children First (1980)

Favorite lyric: “And so an early age he hits the street ‘n winds up tired with who he meets, and he’s unemployed. His folks are overjoyed”

This song wasn’t even on their setlist when I saw them on their “A Different Kind of Truth” tour in 2012. It was my lone disappointment with their setlist. Released in 1980, it’s the first song to incorporate Eddie on a keyboard and the first song I remember mocking all of you (now us) old, know-nothing parents when Dave asks “Have you seen Junior’s grades?” Well, too bad, because the cradle will rock! And this video is awkwardly awesome.

#6

“Best of Both Worlds” album: 5150 (1986)

Favorite lyric: “Just tune in to what this place has got to offer, ’cause we may never be here again.”

This world and a sort of spirituality lie beneath a lot of the Sammy material including this sweet little tune from… brace yourselves… my favorite 80’s Van Halen album, “5150.” Yes, blasphemy I know to dare put a Sammy-led album ahead of any Dave album… especially 1984! Sorry, not sorry. Go make your own list. The list is the best of both worlds!

#5

“Love Walks In” album: 5150 (1986)

Favorite lyric: “Contact is all it takes. To change your life to lose your place in time.”

Look it’s no secret that post-Dave Van Halen had A LOT of songs with the word “love” in the title. In fact, it’s easy to get “Love Walks In” confused with “Why Can’t This Be Love,” or “When It’s Love,” or “Can’t Stop Loving You,” or “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do).” I mean, you get the picture. So, if I’m going to choose my favorite “love” song to add, it would be this one that hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was one of four top top 20 hits from the aforementioned fabulous “5150” album.

#4

“Panama” album: 1984

Favorite lyric: “Hot shoe, burnin’ down the avenue. Model citizen, zero discipline.”

That was me back in 1984 – model citizen, zero discipline! Ok, so not really, but I remember listening to this song and originally thinking “I can’t understand a word Dave is singing except ‘Panama’ and something about ‘in the turn.'” Thank you lyrics websites all these years later for allowing me to correctly sing all of the right words in perfect pitch.

#3

“Dreams” album: 5150 (1986)

Favorite lyric: “And in the end on dreams we will depend. ‘Cause that’s what love is made of.”

Who’s out there screaming: “what??!!” Lol. If you’re all Dave and no Sammy then this list continues to disappoint you. I have equal appreciation for both lead singers though I do lean DLR. But I have to give Sammy his due and this song as well. From the synth intro to the tempo of the song to Sammy’s vocals to Eddie’s solo, this would be my favorite Sammy-era Van Halen song. Just the short Eddie solo from 4:04 to the 4:17 mark conjures up the air guitarist in me.

#2

“Jump” album: 1984

Favorite lyric: “And I know, baby, just how you feel. You got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real.”

Possibly the most iconic keyboard intro of all-time. They play it before the jump ball at basketball games. Sure it’s one of the most played 80’s songs ever, but for good reason I tell you! If this song comes on the radio, I rarely turn it. It never gets old to me. The video features Dave at his jumpiest. So flexible. I’m the anti-Dave when it comes to flexibility… even back when I was 13.

I don’t know who created this of Eddie, but go ahead and jump!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 121450108_10223687832521088_1134958548982448136_o.jpg

Honorable mention goes to: “Mean Street,” “Everybody Wants Some,” and “When It’s Love.”

And at…

#1

“Unchained” album: Fair Warning (1981)

Favorite lyric: “Non-stop talker, what a rocker! Blue-eyed murder in a size five dress.”

No real surprise to many I’d say, but I didn’t even know about this song until sometime post 1983 or 84 once I started back-tracking and listening to older Van Halen albums. So I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but I guarantee you when I did I was in as much awe of it as I am to this day. It has everything – a badass intro, Dave screaming, a cool chorus, Eddie’s short solo at the 1:49 mark, Dave’s playful banter… hey, hey, hey, one break coming up!

There you have it. My always subject to change top 11 favorite Van Halen songs from just the 80’s. As always, thanks for checking in.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“When It’s Love…”

“Hey, it lasts forever.” – Van Halen

The last time I wrote a post featuring my favorite band of all-time was 2018 when I wrote about messy relationships. Now, two plus years later, I find myself paying tribute once again while reflecting upon the life and death of the great musical virtuoso, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen.

Passing away at the age of 65 from cancer, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting and reading what others have been saying and writing about this talented man. It’s left me with questions though like why does it matter so much? To clarify, why does it matter so much to someone like me (and the thousands of others) who wasn’t family or a friend or even an acquaintance? Why does his life and legacy mean so much to so many people who knew him only as a legendary guitar player for one of the best rock bands of all-time? Did we learn anything from him besides imitating his finger-tapping techniques, his pick slides, or his use of the whammy bar?

I don’t think Eddie’s life matters so much because he was a great guitar player or because of those 15-30 second bursts of fingertip magic. It’s really because of how those riffs and melodies and lyrics and how that collective sound of Van Halen music made us feel. His music penetrated many of us to our very core. Eddie’s talent transcended music in the same way that Michael Jordan’s artistry transcended basketball. You didn’t have to know anything about basketball to know that you were witnessing a rare form of greatness with Jordan. Just the same, you didn’t need to understand scales or chords or guitar types to know you were witnessing another form of artistic greatness when Eddie Van Halen held that musical axe in his hands. The sounds had meaning whether we understood it on a technical level or whether it just somehow made sense. The music he created caused us to act, sometimes reflect, or sometimes it just made us more aware of the moment we were in. And that’s what the best music does – it causes you to feel something.

Eddie was the pride of many as the son of Dutch and Indonesian immigrants. Knowing very little English when the family located to Pasadena, CA in 1962, the Van Halen brothers lived an American success story. Eddie was bullied as a child because of his mixed-race appearance, because of his low socio-economic status, and because he sounded different and wasn’t fluent in English. So instead of becoming bitter and angry, bullied child pours his time into music thanks to the love of music his parents possessed. Bullied child then becomes a guitar maestro and along with his brother Alex banging away on the skins form a few different variations of Van Halen until the they come across a young Jewish teen named David Lee Roth in 1972 who was nearly the vocal version of Eddie’s guitar riffs. It was Roth who suggested they change the name of their band from Mammoth to Van Halen in 1974.

Of course, many are familiar with the variations of Van Halen through the years – with David Lee Roth on vocals until 1985, then with Sammy Hagar until 1996, back to Dave briefly in 1996, then Gary Cherone from 1996 to 1999. Back to Sammy from ’03 to ’05, and then finally back to Dave in 2006. And oh yeah, bassist Michael Anthony being replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen in 2006 just added to the dysfunction of the Van Halen band family. But families are messy and one could argue that family dysfunction is just another normal when it comes to any kind of family definition.

My first taste of Van Halen was as a pre-teen when I lived in Seminole, Oklahoma. My first Van Halen tape was actually 1982’s “Diver Down.” I knew very little of VH I, II, Fair Warning, or Women and Children First albums. I purchased the “Diver Down” cassette as part of one of those Columbia House 6 tapes for 1 penny promotions that suckered you into paying full price for four more over the next year or two. So for the longest time, the only Van Halen music I owned was “Diver Down,” which was the album that was rushed and included five covers out of the 12 songs. Vintage Van Halen it was not, but nonetheless, 12 year old Kyle was still hooked by the Van Halen sound even if I knew very little of the glorious riches I was to hear in the coming days, weeks, and years.

For my claim to Van Halen being my all-time favorite band, I only saw them perform live one measly time. That stat alone will probably disqualify me from being some sort of super fan like a few of my friends that have seen Van Halen 10’s of 20’s of times, own VH memorabilia, and know every lyric to every David Lee Roth fronted Van Halen song. For whatever reason – timing, finances, location, etc., I never saw the original four play together, and like I mentioned, was only able to see the band one time – on their 2012 “Different Kind of Truth” tour. David Lee Roth was back in as lead singer, but young Wolfgang Van Halen was playing bass instead of Michael Anthony. So like everyone since pre-1985, I was left with viewing 3/4 of the original Van Halen lineup. Even though the war will always rage of Dave vs. Sammy, everyone knows that the heart of Van Halen was truly Eddie and to some extent his underrated big brother, Alex.

I paid $150 for a ticket to that concert in 2012. Kool and the Gang (another band I love) opened for Van Halen that night at the BOK Center in Tulsa, and I still have a few videos stored away including this one of Eddie and a partial portion of his legendary solo “Eruption.”

“You look at every face in a crowd. Some shine and some keep you guessin.'”

In 1988, Van Halen’s second album with lead singer Sammy Hagar called “OU812” was released. The album wasn’t as good as 1986’s “5150,” which completed the transformation from hard rock Van Halen into pop rock superstardom, but Eddie said in an interview one time that the band was more comfortable with each other by this time and the album came out easier than “5150” did.

By this time, Eddie Van Halen had been married to actress Valerie Bertinelli for about seven years and had downshifted slightly from a balls-out, wailing gunslinger to a more refined and controlled master of his craft. If he needed to shred, he just need open that box back up, but by the mid to late 80’s, Van Halen had morphed into a more well-rounded Billboard hit-making machine thanks largely to Eddie’s creativeness as well as the stronger vocal chops by frontman Sammy Hagar who had replaced David Lee Roth in 1985. The keyboard sound of the 80’s resonated through many a Van Halen lick while Eddie still managed to find time to showcase his guitar talent.

“Waiting for someone to come into focus. Teach you your final love lesson”

I chose this video not because it’s my all-time favorite Van Halen song (it’s not even in my top 10), nor is it a favorite Eddie solo of mine. I basically chose it because of the message the song conveys and the fact that it showcases a wide range of Eddie’s immense talent. Sure, there’s a nice guitar riff per usual Eddie, but there’s also the beautiful keyboard arrangement he performs, as well as his complimentary backing vocals, which are typically credited more to bassist Michael Anthony. Nonetheless, Eddie’s voice always blended nicely with Michael Anthony’s and together they helped create the Van Halen backing vocals, another key component in their timeless music.

Growing up, this song was always just this rock ballad to me about finding your soulmate and the lifelong love that would accompany it. However, just watching the video again for the first time in 30+ years, reading the lyrics, and thinking about the bigger picture in life, this song is much more. In a way, the music of Eddie Van Halen is love. It’s his love that he gifted to generations of fans around the world.

Many of us that longed for a reunion of the original four members plus Sammy for one big Van Halen tour were pissed that Eddie never seemed to acquiesce to the idea. And mind you if Eddie wanted it to happen, it would have happened. We thought ‘quit being selfish! Get it together Eddie, and give the fans what they want!’ Well, in hindsight, Eddie was anything but selfish. He gave us his soul. He gave us his heart and he gave us his love until he had nothing left.

So, I’ll ask again – did we learn anything from Edward Van Halen? If anything, I would say Eddie’s music reminds us to give, to share, to love, and to never take for granted the artistic talent that surrounds us everyday. Because when it’s love that you’re giving, when it’s Eddie’s love and Eddie’s gift to the world, it will definitely last forever.

Hitting #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts, #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and music that will last forever, here is “When It’s Love”…

R.I.P. Eddie, and thank you.

sincerely,

the 80’s

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“I Know That I Must Do What’s Right”

“As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” – Toto

Toto in 1982

Today’s short video-laden post is a tribute to a song and some of the most peculiar, fun-to-sing lyrics in 80’s music lore. If you were ever to ask me to name my favorite lyric of the 80’s, the one above would surely be in my top two or three. I just figure if you can somehow manage to incorporate “Kilimanjaro,” “Olympus,” and “Serengeti” into one line of a song (a Billboard #1 hit at that), then props to you for one of the most original lines in pop music history no matter if the rest of the band likes it or not.

While doing research for this post, I also stumbled across the “Toto Forever” project created by (I presume a big Toto fan) a man named Max Siedentopf in 2019.

See the source image

Siedentopf created a solar powered display somewhere in the Namib Desert which extends along the coastal plain of western Namibia. The setup had Toto’s “Africa” playing on repeat. I have no idea if the song is still playing on repeat or the display even still exists with all of the sand storms that blow in the Namib Desert, but just the thought of stumbling upon this piece of artwork in the middle of a desert in Africa makes me almost want to travel there to find it. You know, if travel to other continents was still a thing amidst this 2020 pandemic.

“She’s coming in, 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation.”

Of course, I always thought I’d save this song and use it after a trip to Africa a’la Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell from about four years ago…

So predictable though, right? Instead I decided to write about the song after my sister sent me the following video of my cute nephew and niece and their “Africa” interpretive dance. I’ve already posted about my nephew Keller in a previous Halloween post from two years ago, but I knew when my sister sent me this video that it constituted another post featuring him along with a dancing assist from his younger sister, Sylvie.

“Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”

“I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had (ooh, ooh)”

This song almost didn’t make it onto Toto’s 1982 album “Toto IV.” If you believe Wiki, this was the last song added to the album, but ironically remains Toto’s only #1 hit. Written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, it was the band’s third single from the album and peaked at #1 for one week back in February of 1983. The famous line featuring “Olympus” and “Kilimanjaro,” and “Serengeti” was just a “goofy” placeholder according to Porcaro and bandmate Steve Lukather. 

Regardless, the lyric will be forever etched in my brain as well as my other 80’s fans across the world and even to those who may have accidentally stumbled across the Toto Forever project in the Namib Desert. Here is the video directed by Steve Barron about a man’s love for the continent of “Africa.” Co-writer and initial creator of the song David Paich plays the researcher in the library…

If you just haven’t had enough “Africa” in this post already, then you can check out Weezer’s version from 2018 when a fan vote caused the alternative band to perform their own cover of Toto’s classic. It reached #51 on the Hot 100 chart, but #1 on the Billboard Alternative songs chart becoming the band’s first #1 since its’ 2008 hit “Pork and Beans.” As an added 80’s bonus, the video features 80’s legend Weird Al Yankovic…

Thanks for checking in!

sincerely,

the 80’s

Ahh, you know I wasn’t going to let this post finish up without my own rendition of my nephew’s dance did you (with an assist in the foreground to my wife)? It’s not near as cute, but it still was a lot of fun!

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