HISTORY WORTH SAVING - Newton Collier played trumpet on the hit Soul Man for Sam & Dave, he's preformed on the Ed Sullivan Show twice and survived a gun shot to face. His story of perseverance is one you just have to hear.
Podcast Download: History Worth Saving - Newt's Story - Ep 6
Slide Show Version of the Podcast:
MJ: One of the greatest things about America is our music. It brings you and me together, when nothing else can. I’m Matt Jolley and on this episode of History Worth Saving - my friend and now your friend - Newton Collier shares his story of survival and the healing power of music.
MJ - “You were the trumpet player for Sam and Dave, weren't you? Soul man.
NC - That's correct, I was.
MJ - You played Ed Sullivan, didn't you?
NC - Right. That was in '69 I played on The Ed Sullivan Show. We played it twice at [inaudible]. That was an interesting gig all the way around.”
MJ: There’s something in Macon’s water - it just grows great music. Smack dab in the heart of Georgia, right along the banks of the Ocmulgee River - its the sight of the first Christian baptism in America. Macon’s been home to Little Richard, Ottis Redding, James Brown, Jimmy Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, Cheer even lived here for a while, so it shouldn’t surprise you but Newt was inspired to play the trumpet at the age of ten - while hanging out with Sammy Davis Junior.
NC - “Okay. My music career started back when I was about 10 years old. And my mother wanted me to learn piano. But she was only teaching me so much. She could play pretty good. [inaudible] to play. But they gave me to a lady that was named is Gladys Williams. She would've been the number one female orchestra leader and the most respected woman in the music business in Macon. This lady was playing Idle Hour Country Club back in the '30s and '40s. And in the '50s - I'd say '55 - the city of Macon - at the City Auditorium - gave her an unbelievably big, big successful retirement [inaudible] party. They had all kinds of entertainers here for her. She was famous with people like Eartha Kitt, Ruth Brown, Pearl Bailey and all these different people used to be coming through her house. Sammy Davis Junior. These all kinds of stuff [inaudible]. And I was impressed. So I said to myself, "What did she do to get this kind of clientele coming hanging out with her, and she was no-nonsense at the same time. She taught me classical piano, and while I was over there one day, Mr. Sammy Davis, Jr. happened to come by-- happened to be there, and I came by and they were playing trumpet. And he [inaudible] had a trumpet, and he was playing piano and [something?] like that. So, he let me touch his trumpet, so I got a feel for the buzz at one time. So hey, I like that. So I bugged my mother about getting a trumpet for me, and so she went to Bibb Music Center and talked to the manager down there, and I ended up with the Conn Constellation trumpet, and you could hear me coming down the street by myself [laughter] in the middle of the band. It was loud.”
MJ: When he grew up he found himself playing the trumpet professionally, and then one day he got the call - you know - the call - the one every artist hopes to get.
NC - “While in Augusta, I get a call from Phil Walden, and they said that they wanted me to go [inaudible] and play behind these guys named Sam and Dave. I said, "Who [laughter]?" They said, "Sam and Dave." I'd never heard of them. And so I get there. They had their record out, but it had never hit nowhere but Macon, Georgia probably. And I went and played. So they asked me that same night, would I like to go on the road with them? I told them, "Sure, no problem.” So that lasted for a number of years. So I [inaudible] get on the road with Sam and Dave. I ended up [inaudible] wanted to come back to Macon, Georgia, now Otis [inaudible] again. So all the time, Otis was behind me all the time. So I didn't know what was going on. I think he said something to me, "How do you like [inaudible] with Sam and Dave?" So we were playing like that. "Yeah," I said. "Good, man. Good," he said. "Good. Stay there [laughter]." And I did. I stayed with them [laughter] 15 years.”
MJ: If you don’t know, Phil Walden he’s the man behind the music of Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers band - to many others to mention - but when he called - you answered.
NC - “They had the largest booking agency in the south. You had Percy Sledge, Joe Simon, [inaudible] Pickett, Joe Tate, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carl Thomas, William Bell, Solomon Burke. You just name all these big artists. Think about it. 60 of them being booked out of one little place. So Macon got to be a mecca because all the bands that come here, they signed their contracts and worked out of there. Also, they were bringing the bands into town. And you had the clubs here to support that level. We had tons and tons of nightclubs up and down Poplar Street right where we are. It was just a whole row of nightclubs. On Cotton Avenue, there were four or five clubs on Cotton. On Mulberry Street, there was a couple of clubs around there you could play. And they also had Macon Recording Studio here which was James Brown's studio which was in the grand old opera house, [inaudible] annex called the Georgian Hotel. And they would bring different artists into town. When some of them come in, they would go over there to that studio and lay down basic tracks to different songs.
MJ - Now, what was the studio right across the station from our TV station? I had always heard that was Capricorn.
NC - That was Capricorn. That came in the '70s. I'm still in the ‘60s.
MJ - So you're talking about right behind the old theater over here?
NC - Back. It's the Grand Opera House, it's on Mulberry Street and it's front of what was called Guy White. And it's also right next to what is now an empty parking lot that contained the Georgian Hotel which is next to the brand new Opera House.
MJ - Wow. And that was James Brown's studio?
NC - That was called the James Brown Studio until they moved it in '72 or '73 to [inaudible] Road which is now part of Jones Funeral Home. And the door that James Brown used to write all his telephone numbers on is still in place at the funeral home.
MJ: So Newt’s on top - his music career is going great - he’s making money - and then - it all changed.
NC - “I'm a victim of violent crime in Boston. I was actually coming home and I was actually driving. But something [inaudible] we'd get out the car and I would make my deposit. A car pulled up beside of me and I think they caught me. I wasn't paying no attention. That car had been following me evidently and they shot me right in the face, right through the, right over the passenger side. The window was down. It was in the summer. And they hit me right inside the face. Now, they said the bullet ricocheted off the car seat but either way it went in my head and right below my jaw, my right jaw. But now I have an artificial jaw. So I had to be up in the hospital for a long time. And this is the process of me trying to help some more guys which went on to be LTD, play their instruments and everything. They left and became a band and I stayed there in the hospital. I found out I'm not going to be able to play a trumpet as a trumpet no more because I have no control over my lips.
MJ - And momma said I told you to learn the piano.
NC - Well, she did that now. She definitely told me that and I'm a little small to be carrying a big heavy piano around. I've got to work. And so I had a friend, Mike Metheny. I decided to study more music at Berklee College of Music. So I was talking to Mike Metheny, who's the brother of Pat Metheny, and they said yes, all right, try this, go down to the MIT media lab, which I had been working at MIT. I never thought to go by there to see what they were doing. But they were working on an instrument which they called the Lyricon. And and they had me blow through a tube. And as I was blowing through the tube, I was instantly hearing the sound that I was blowing coming and I said what in the hell is this? And so they said it's called an EVI. I said what? EVI. He said electric valve instrument. I said, [inaudible] very smart engineers that invented this and call it simple - EVI. And so that's what I ended up with, a prototype EVI, which looked like a bug sprayer. The original one looked like it might have been the old bug sprayer that you might want to put something in it. But the one I have now is even closer to a kazoo. I hum. And it's a piece of plastic on the end that picks up the vibration. [inaudible] when I hum instantaneously turn that into sound. And that's the instrument I have now to play.
MJ - And are you still playing? Do you play with anybody around here anymore?
NC - Yes and no. I'm a freelance musician when it comes to just playing, but nobody I know is hiring horns.
MJ - Even with your resume’?
NC - Even with my resume I get exactly zero, and I have to work on whatever I can get. And if I hustle a job up I hustle it up. If not, I have started [inaudible] the young kids. And introduce this horn to a new generation of kids because I can buy them the small kazoos and I go out and do [inaudible]. And these kids think I'm Superman or something doing this. I have fun just hanging out with the kids and stuff like that now.”
MJ: If you believe all the noise and stop listening to the music, it will get you down. But…Newt’s lesson is one we can all learn from.
NC - “Well, music is the common denominator for racism. It's called people working together.
MJ - What can we learn from that?
NC - We can learn that music is the soothing soul of a lot of things. For one thing, music put a lot of people together. It put Otis Redding and Wayne Cochran together. That's a good combination. It put Booker T. and the MG's together. That's another racially mixed group. It put Macon, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals in the same breath of a lot of musical people that incorporate everything together. Music was the mecca of the city, of the town, and music was also the soul and the heart of the Civil Rights. Everybody had a song.”
MJ - “What do you want people to remember about Newton Collier when you're long since gone from here? What do you want them to remember about you?
NC - He was here, and he tried to do the best he could to unite a lot of musicians with a lot of new-- I'm into technology and music also, and I would like for more kids to get into the business end of the music. Performing is good, but if you don't know how to take care of your money and take care of the people you're working with and who you're working with, you're basically nobody. It's like a kaleidoscope. You have to start very small and build your circle around you. And each time you pick up someone, you teach them the ropes, get them to go get someone and teach them the ropes. That makes for a giant operation. It doesn't matter if they're black, green, red, yellow, gray, or purple. What makes this world go round is the money, and it's called green.”
MJ: So here’s the deal, turn off the noise and turn up the music. It’s the Macon way, and there’s lots of music being made all over America - you just have to listen.
MJ - “What do you love about America?
NC - What I love about America is-- I've lived in a couple of other places, not for a long time, but I always [inaudible] myself, Georgia [inaudible] is my roots. It must be the [inaudible] because I'm still drinking it and I'm still rooting.
MJ - You’ve got some coffee mixed in with it this morning?
NC - Oh, yes. I must have my coffee along with it [laughter]
MJ: So here’s the final proof if you so still don’t believe Newt about the power of music, just imagine a pack of white hippies walking into a bar full of a bunch of black guys. I know, it sounds like the start of a joke - but its not - it was Macon in the 1970’s.
MJ - “When you saw the guys, in the 70s, come through here with there long hair and totally different style. Because you guys were buttoned up. Suits and ties. And, did you think, well this isn't going to go anywhere? What did you think back then?
NC - To be honest with you. When I first saw them come into town, I'd say, "What? What.?" And so it was interesting. When the brothers came to town for the first time people be in the shops. They'd be waiting on customers. Then all of a sudden all the eyes and everybody, "There go them, hippies." "Look a there, how they dress. What is that he got around his neck? Is it [inaudible]?" You know it was all kinds of stuff going on like that. So they were not likely the most welcomed people in town. But when they start going to the bank they would welcome in as regulars.
MJ - It comes make to that green stuff you were talking about.
NC - Yeah, something about green money breaks down barriers and those things.
MJ - And that was back in the day when they were--. You know Cher was here. I want to talk about Jimmy Hendricks. You told me he learned to play guitar here when he was visiting?
NC - Somewhere over in Fort Hill, there's a lady named Ms. Hall, he used to be with. He would come over and he would be seen at places like [Swayer's Nake?] Camp Bratley's Club, theTwo Spot club. And especially when Johnny Jenkins was playing. And him and Johnny met. And Johnny told me one time, he said he remembered--. Johnny died in 2006. Early in 2006, it went to see him out in Northside. We got to talking about the same thing. "Yeah man. I remember that little kid running back and forth. And we finally met. His name was Jimmy Hendricks. But he was named Jimmy something else." I said, " Jimmy Jam." He said, "Yeah Jimmy Jam. That was him. And he had a brother. A little young brother." I said, "Yeah, he has a younger brother, Leon." He said, "Yeah man. They used to come out there. Remember you used to come out there and see us all the time?" I said, "Yeah. I remember that.”
MJ - We didn't talk about one of the favorite sons here, and that's Little Richard. Did you ever have any run-ins with him?
NC - I knew Little Richard but I was also younger. In Macon that had a lot to do with it. I couldn't run with that crowd because I wasn't old enough to run with. I was doing good to hang with Otis.”
MJ: So now that you’re ready for a road trip, give Newt a call, jokingly I told him that he should start offering personal music history tours - just ride around with folks for an hour or two. But now, the more I think about it, the more I think he really should.
MJ - Who's still here? I know [Carla's?] still and a lot of the Redding's are still here. Who else do you run into that-- because I think this is so cool. You come to Macon, and you run into guys like John Baker that played with Percy Sledge. Everybody's played with Percy Sledge, but he's the jeweler here in town. You were the guy that I got to know as a taxi driver, but also as a musician here. There's so many neat people here. Who's still running around?
NC - Okay, we have Robert Coleman. He's still around. He played with [inaudible] round. We have Tony Bone-- Anthony Dorsey, we call him Tony Bone. He was with Joe Tex and Paul McCartney. We have Matt Brown. He used to play with the Raleigh g--. He played with Tony Bone. He also played with the Airforce band. You have John Louder. He's the saxophone player that played with the dance band. It's a bunch of people. Different places and you come through different times. A lot of them are actually leaving because what's happening in Macon now if you don't have the club system or the support. And so they have to go other places to perform. Let's talk about if you have Harold here, you call him Hollywood. He's our band director for William Dale and a lot of the stacks artists now.
MJ - You know what? Back then you had WIBB, which was playing Hamp Swain and all those guys.
NC - So we have Hamp Swain, just passed recently. Lafayette Haynes is the only one still with us out of that complete group now. We have newcomers like Big George now Shirley Ellis.
MJ - And you said Lafayette was in here this morning too.
NC - Right. He was here just as you were leaving out. The guys, we was having senior coffee together.
MJ - Senior coffee with some of the greatest musicians in the world. Right here.
NC - Yes. It gets to be like that. He has a shop around the corner.
MJ - Is Grant’s still going on? It ought to be a museum. I mean that place is hallowed ground down there.
NC - Yeah. I mean that would be ideal for a Macon local museum.
MJ - They can still sell beer and booze?
NC - Right. Now that would help. That would help the finances because museums have a hard time financially. And if you could open this up and actually make it a Macon music museum with a beer license, we in business.
MJ - Maybe you need to go do that for retirement?
NC - I might have to leave you here. I have an idea… [laughter]
MJ - Got to get up here and go make some money.
MJ - “Where can people find you? Because they don't want to--. You should set up a music tourism business. There's your second business. How can people find you, Newt?
NC - Well, I'm available. But also I'm online, you can Google me on face-- you can Google my name, Newton Collier. Or you can find me on Facebook.
MJ - And for what, about 50 bucks you'll drive people around town for an hour and show them all these sights, right?
NC - Right. I can do that—
MJ - Maybe a hundred bucks. We'll see if you want the personalised tour.
NC - I'll give you a very good tour. Won't cost you no more than an hour of your time and a few greens.
MJ - That's right. I'm telling you. You need to start that. Newt's music tours. That'd be fun.”
MJ: Well…there you have it, go get in touch with Newt and take a tour, but most importantly - turn down the noise and turn up the music. I’m Matt Jolley - and that’s History Worth Saving.
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