Since my last report, I have had an unusual amount of travel and time alone in automobiles and airplanes. In addition to trips to Little Rock for business pertaining to ASUJ, I drove to Carbondale, Ill., to participate as a member of an accrediting team that conducted a three-day site visit to the Southern Illinois University School of Law; traveled to Sweden to meet my wife Irene for a four-day visit with her mother and siblings and their families; and upon my return, drove to Alabama to spend the Thanksgiving break with my parents and other family members. Since the holiday season is also a good time to share ideas, conversation and gifts, I have decided this month to depart from my usual practice of discussing ASUJ issues in First Friday and instead include a potpourri of thoughts I have had and stories generated or recalled during my recent trips.
Memories From the Past
A few days later I was in Alabama at my parentsí home and my sister Nancy approached me with a stack of childhood artwork, old letters, newspaper clippings and mementoes of scholastic achievements that my mother had collected about me and now wanted me to have. Nancy indicated that there was a similar stack for each of our siblings. Of course I accepted them and was fascinated to see these items that I had no idea she had collected that brought back memories of times in my life long ago.
On my drive back to Jonesboro from Alabama last Sunday, I thought about the meaning of these two unrelated but similar gifts from our mothers. Why did two people from two cultures and two continents, in the twilight of their lives, do this for their children in the same week? Why did each use intermediaries to ask us if we wanted these items, when each easily could have presented them personally? Why did they not tell us they were carefully saving these items in "secret" places? I am not sure that there are easy answers to these questions. What I am sure of is that worldwide human beings who live in different countries and cultures are more similar than dissimilar; we all share a sentimental attachment to family and an indescribable bond of affection and love for our children; and little gestures such as these become more meaningful as we grow older.
Musical Heritage of the Mid-South
I listened to both of these Sun Records CDs on my way back from Florence to Jonesboro last Sunday afternoon. Hearing these old recordings with their slightly tinny but captivating sounds reminded me of my familyís friendship with the Phillips family over the years. I also reflected about visiting Sam Phillips in his home in the early 1990s, but I will come back to that in a moment.
Sam was born at Florence in 1923 and graduated from Coffee High School, where he led the band. He attended what is now Auburn University to study engineering, but dropped out after his father died and took a disc jockey job at WLAY, a local radio station. He moved first to Nashville, then later to Memphis where he became a popular DJ at WREC. From there, he opened Memphis Recording Service in 1950 and developed his own label, Sun Records. He was a genius for getting the best out of young, raw talent and making records that had broad popular appeal. Nevertheless, he had difficulty making ends meet in the early days, so he decided to sell Elvisís contract to RCA in 1955. By taking the money and investing it wisely in Holiday Inn stock, real estate and radio stations, he became a very wealthy man. He maintained close ties with his hometown of Florence and the Muscle Shoals area, which developed its own recording industry in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Sam also purchased WJOI, a popular radio station there.
Our familiesí lives were intertwined for almost a half century. In 1954, my father moved our family to a small truck farm in rural Lauderdale County. Horace Phillips, one of Samís brothers, lived just down the road, and two of his sons, David and Donnie, became my good friends. Later, I coached another of Samís nephews in Little League. He employed my father as his North Alabama attorney, and they maintained a warm friendship throughout the remainder of Samís life. In his later years, in the 1990s, Sam would frequently come to see me on the campus of the University of North Alabama when he returned home. He was a great story teller.
As with many who lived through the Great
Depression, Sam had frugal ways, although he could be
incredibly generous with his time and talent. He often visited the
university where I was working in the early 1990s to assist with the
Entertainment Industry Center, which had more than 100 commercial music
majors. After the university launched a capital campaign, I decided to call on him at his
home in Memphis to ask for a gift for the school. The university
relations director at that time, Bill Jernigan, accompanied me because
he is an expert in the music history of the South and also knew Sam and
Sally Wilbourn, Samís assistant and companion since his Sun
Recording Studio days. The home was a nice but modest ranch-style house
on a residential street in Memphis. After Sally ushered us into the
house, Sam took us to the living room. He told us that this was one of
Elvis Presleyís favorite places to come following road trips after he had become a big star
under Col. Parkerís management and RCAís recording contract. Sam said
Elvis would show up unannounced late at night with several of his
buddies, have something to eat, and shoot pool or just talk into the wee
hours of the morning. Bill and I had a great conversation with Sam that
evening but never convinced him to make that large gift!
Clay Jenkinson to Speak at Commencement
Robert L. Potts