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  Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

THE UTOPIAN LIFE

by George Lester
George Lester
Things just kept getting better at the new radio station in West Monroe, Louisiana. Most of the announcers arrived hours before their shifts or stayed afterwards on their own time. No one was watching the clock. Their main concern was to get our new facility up and running smoothly. The enthusiasm seemed to exude in our daily broadcasts. It was probably the most cheerful sounding radio station I ever worked for. Fifty years have passed since then and I could possibly be remembering only the good times. However, at most of the other radio stations I worked for after that I seem to recall mostly bad times. I guess thatís the nature of the beast.

It was a far cry from working late nights in a lonely building sitting in the middle of a cotton patch across the bridge in Monroe. Radio fans crowded the lobby most of the day. They seemed to enjoy hanging around just to see what was going on. Musicians and singers took advantage of our offer to let them use our equipment for recording sessions after sign off each night. It was no where near as sophisticated as a Nashville studio but it was fine for making demo tapes. We never charged them anything for our services. It was a goodwill gesture and it worked both ways.

There was an old abandoned warehouse down by the Ouachita River that had been used for loading and unloading cargo back when shipping barges plied the stream. It had been recently converted into an informal concert hall. Each Saturday night performers from miles around would take turns on the stage in one huge jam session. Admission was free and the place was always packed. They paid for the use of the hall by selling drinks and snacks and by taking donations. I took advantage of their hospitality and sang with the band on occasions. It was also a great opportunity to plug our new radio station. This all took place in West Monroe, a totally different town from the more sedate Monroe just across the river.
The great country singer Webb Pierce was born in West Monroe August 8, 1926, the same year I saw the light of day. He was one of the most successful country singers of all time. His most well know hits were There Stands the Glass, I Ainít Never and Slowly. When he was 15 he had his own weekly show on the same radio station in Monroe that I had just left. The studios were downtown in a hotel at that time instead of out in the middle of a cotton field.
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Many stories about him were still being passed around in West Monroe.

It was said that although Webb had a beautiful tone to his voice he did have a bit of pitch problem. Most singers have a tendency to go flat. Webb went sharp at the end of a sustained note. He also had trouble with meter. I knew one of his mentors personally. He told me he had to teach Webb how to wait and come in at the proper time time at the beginning of a phrase. The country crooner would rush ahead come in too early, which is common with some singers. Webb was a good student and he soon corrected these minor problems.

He was later invited to appear on The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, the launching pad for many future stars such as Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Jim Ed Brown and Slim Whitman. With this golden opportunity offered him, Webb came up with a plan to achieve instant stardom. Before the show he went out front and bought tickets for several young girls waiting in line. He then asked them to sit in the first row and after each of his songs to scream and holler and beg for more. It worked. Soon their enthusiasm spread throughout the audience. His sky rocket to stardom had begun. He had a talent not only for singing but knowing how to get things done.

His popularity grew week by week until Nashville took notice. It wasnít long before he was invited to join The Grand Old Opry. Then his record sales soared. He found that a large portion of the royalties were going to the music publishers. Thatís when he decided to form his own publishing company and keep the money in his own bank account. Webb Pierce was soon to become one of the wealthiest country singers in the business.

When a Nashville tour bus came cruising down his street he saw a way to make even more money. He opened his own house to the public and, for a fee, fans were allowed to tour his luxurious home and to see his $30,000 guitar shaped swimming pool. Webb Pierce souvenirs were available to his admiring public. This made everybody happy but his neighbors. They sued him in order to put a halt to the nuisance. Webb lost that lawsuit.

Somewhere in his career Webb developed a severe drinking problem. It became very evident when the West Monroe Chamber of Commerce invited him back home to be the marshal for their annual rodeo parade. It turned out to be a huge mistake. On the big day Webb had to be helped into the convertible. All during the parade, as people cheered and threw accolades his way, it is said that he kept sipping from his pint of bourbon, hardly aware of his surroundings. When the bottle was empty he is reported to have tossed it to the street, causing the spectators to scramble from the shards of broken glass. He was never invited back.

Webb Pierce, a history making country mega star, lost his battle with cancer in 1991. He had lived up to his song, There Stands the Glass.

Back to the radio business.

When I went to pick up my final paycheck at my previous radio station I saw a new employee at the front desk. I found her very attractive and while I was waiting for my check we struck up a pleasant conversation. A few days later I called her at work and asked if we could have a nice social get together at a place of her choosing. She agreed and our unofficial date turned out great. It wasnít to be our last and things escalated from there. I suppose my improved self image and my better attitude on life had a lot to do with how smoothly things went. A few weeks earlier I doubt if I would have gotten anywhere with her.

Here I was with a great job and a newly found soul mate. I hoped that this beautiful life would go on forever.

The roller coaster just kept climbing higher and higher.

When you reach top there is only one way to go.
© George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

July 14, 2007 column

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