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ClarkThe Autobiography of Clark Terry$

Clark Terry and Gwen Terry

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780520268463

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520268463.001.0001

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Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton

21. Lionel Hampton

Gwen Terry

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes Clark Terry's journey with Lionel Hampton's, or Hamp as he was fondly called, band and beyond. After playing for Hamp's band, Clark knew that that was what he wanted. It fulfilled his desire of playing for a band as well as gave him good money. The experience was all about play, pack, and travel. After some gigs and a fruitful experience with Hamp, Clark decided to leave George Hudson's band and join Hamp permanently. George Hudson respected his decision to move on and Clark left on good terms with George and his band. It was a huge disappointment for Hamp did not turn up to receive him as a part of his band as was agreed.

Keywords:   Lionel Hampton, George Hudson, Clark Terry, band

Ada Mae stood in front of me in her kitchen with a black eye, crying her heart out. Now, I had gone over there to relax and to share the good news about joining Hamp's band. I'm sitting at her table, looking up at my pretty sister with a big swollen eye holding a towel up to her face. Telling me that she and Red had gotten back together and they had a fight. Man! I wanted to kill that big son-of-a-bitch.

She said, “John, Red is so mean. Threatening me, saying I need to quit my job and stay home. You know I need my own money.”

This was the same argument that I'd heard her and Sy having a hundred times. Sy didn't want her working late at that bar either, but at least he'd never hit her.

I got up and left in a huff. Half-running, half-stumbling, and cussing for the whole two miles over to Cocky's house. That's where I had stashed my gun.

I told Cocky—my friend who played bass in George's band—what had happened. I ignored him telling me to calm down. Got my “Five Brothers,” which was the nickname for my gun with five bullets in the chamber. Hoofing back over to Ada Mae's, I happened to glance in the window of the restaurant near her apartment. I came to a screeching halt. There they were, Red and Ada Mae. All hugged up. Goo-goo eyed and grinning at (p.91) each other. Sitting at a table, eating a jack salmon sandwich. With sunglasses covering her black eye and all.

I just stood there and watched them kissing. All I could do was spit! I felt real stupid looking at them with my gun in my pocket. That taught me a lesson: “Never put your shovel where there ain't no shit!” Better known as staying out of other people's business.

Later on, I made a beeline for Hamp's band bus. As we left St. Louis, I blended in with the jokes and camaraderie—especially with my old friend Milt Buckner. We laughed about the time in Danville when the cats and I had to get him drunk and make him get on the train because he was nervous about joining Hamp. My old navy buddy Mitchell “Booty” Woods was there, too. He and I talked about old times and caught up on what some of the Great Lakes cats were into.

Wish we had known then that Great Lakes would be so historic. Getting jazz bands together all over the States to treat our troops for all the hell they had to go through. Rewarding them with jazz. But more than anything, it was the first time that black musicians were given a special rating that was higher than cooking and bottle-washing. More than fifty years after we left that scene, the navy gave us a big reunion and flags and all kinds of stuff. Fifty years later!

But when I joined Hamp's band, when Booty and I were just jiving around and passing the time, all I was looking forward to was a chance for the big times.

It was fun playing with those guys. I felt like I'd really made it because I was playing with very well known musicians who had savored the life I wanted to taste. They had played all around. Not like the cats in George's band, who were hometown cats playing for scale in St. Louis. The cats in Hamp's band had played with the best—Benny Carter, Lucky Millander, Tiny Bradshaw, Buddy Johnson.

And man, Hamp was a gas! He gave a whole new meaning to the word “swing.” Maybe it was because he'd originally been a drummer, but he never missed a beat. His rhythmic patterns, speed, dexterity, harmonic structure, and humor blew my mind. He was a fantastic musician, whether he played the piano, the drums, or the vibes. And he was so animated. A great band leader too. The energy of his band was riveting. I loved it.

Trumpets were Joe “Chop Chop” Morris, Duke Garrett, Dave Page, Lamar Wright, Jr., and Skeeter Evans. On 'bones we had Booty, Buster Scott, and Harpo. I never knew Harpo's whole name. Saxes were Johnny Griffin, Bobby Plater, Johnny Board, Charlie Fowlkes, and Herbie Fields. The rhythm section was George Jenkins on drums, Milt on piano, Superman (p.92) on bass—I can't remember anything but his nickname—and I think it was Eric Miller on guitar. All remarkable cats.

We played things like “Hey Bop-a-Ree-Bop,” “Flyin' Home,” “Air Mail Special,” which Hamp had done with Benny Goodman, “Chew, Chew, Chew Your Gum,” and “Hamp's Boogie Woogie.” All hot tunes.

On top of all that sweat-poppin' music, Hamp had Dinah Washington with the show. Man, what a vivacious chick! She could belt a tune like Kid Carter could throw a punch—precise and right on target. She had that deep home gospel sound. Such perfection. She could sing the blues like a true champ. Made the goose bumps rise.

Then there was Madeline Green. Cocoa curves that would make your mouth water, and a face to match. She had that Nancy Wilson kind of flair. For the ladies there was Rubel Blakey, a handsome balladeer. Color of creamy coffee. Made the ladies swoon and cry.

After a few weeks with Hamp, I knew I wanted to keep playing with him. Great music and, at twenty-three dollars a night, great bread.

The bus was real comfortable and the pee stops along the roadsides were frequent enough. Plus, we had all the help we needed with our luggage because we had a valet named Leroy who could pick up a trunk with one hand. Big, burly caramel-skinned cat. Almost six feet tall, with a weight-lifter's physique. George Hart was our road manager. A shrewd, no-nonsense cat. He loved to gamble. Milt Buckner did the arrangements, and his charts were smoking hot. So everything was great.

It was a northern tour at first—the Royal in Baltimore, the Earl Theatre in Newark, the Apollo in New York, the Howard in D.C., and the Regal in Chicago. We didn't have a lot of time to visit other clubs and jam—it was all about play, pack, and travel.

When the southern dates came, we rode the train, heading to Louisville, Kentucky. The train made better time, and it was much safer than the bus—racially speaking.

Buster Scott had been telling us about his Muslim studies. By this time he had changed his name to Abdul Hameed. We didn't think much of it until the time when we were nearing the Mason-Dixon Line on the train. Normally this meant that all colored passengers had to get up from their regular seats and relocate to the back of the train in the “Jim Crow” car.

Abdul told everybody in the band that he was not going to ride in the Jim Crow car; he was going to stay right where he was. As he put a fez on his head, which was a big thimble-looking hat like what the Shriners wore, bets were laid. Next Abdul pulled out a newspaper that was written in Arabic; then he pulled out his Koran, also written in Arabic.

(p.93) We were cracking up at him and betting against him totally. When we reached the Mason-Dixon Line, the white conductor said, “Okay, now all you coloreds go in the back to the colored car.” Including Herbie Fields, who was Jewish. But Abdul didn't move.

We all piled up around the window of the back car trying to see how soon we'd win our money. The conductor gestured for Abdul to move, but nothing happened. The first conductor went and got his buddy, the other white conductor, and they both tried to get Abdul to move. We couldn't hear anything because we were too far away, but we were watching like hawks.

Abdul gave both of them a sarcastic look and continued reading his Arabic paper. Finally he reached into his pocket and handed them a card, which we later found out was also written in Arabic. The conductors looked at the card like two monkeys looking at a Swiss watch movement. They glanced at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and then they walked away.

I never bet against anything else that Abdul said he could do, and neither did anybody else.

Our next gig was in a little town near Louisville, Kentucky. After we'd finished performing, Dave, Hamp, and I ventured to a house of ill repute and gambling. A few hours later, all three of us had run out of money.

Hamp had a standing rule that anybody who wasn't there when the bus was ready to depart would simply get left. Well, by the time we made it to the pick-up point, the bus was gone.

So Hamp got on the pay phone and made a collect call to Gladys. Not only was she his wife, but she ran his business with an iron hand. She was in Detroit, where we were supposed to be going with the rest of the cats on the bus.

Dave and I huddled close to Hamp, trying to hear what Gladys was saying. We backed up a few steps because she was yelling. She said, “Where are you, Lio nel? Give me the exact address!”

He swallowed hard, then said, “Uh, we're here at the hotel where we were staying, and, and, uh, we went to a restaurant. And uh, when we finished eating and everything, uh, the bus was gone. So, so, can you wire us some money so we can catch the plane to get to Detroit? We gotta get to Detroit.”

Our band was a headliner at the big jazz festival and I felt pretty confident that she would help us out, since the show couldn't go on without Hamp. Or so I hoped.

She yelled, “Stay right there, Lio nel! Till you hear from me!”

(p.94) We kept asking the hotel folks if a telegram had arrived from Gladys. Several hours later, a little wispy dude showed up. Color of dark honey. He was Glady's personal valet.

Now, when I'd first heard the word “plane” come out of Hamp's mouth, I'd started taking big swigs from my cup because I was terrified of flying. I'd never flown before in my life! And I don't remember the flight at all. But I know we made it to Detroit and I played the gig.

When Hamp's tour ended and we were back in St. Louis, he asked if I could leave George and join him for an extended tour. I told him I'd talk it over with George. Hamp and I planned that if things worked out, I'd meet him in two weeks at a nearby bus stop.

When I hipped George to my plans, he said, “Well, Clark, you know I'll miss you. But, hell! If Hamp offered me a gig, I might take it myself. And besides, if you ever want to come back, you know you can.”

So I told all the cats in George's band about my plans, and we toasted to my success.

Two weeks later I stood on the corner with my suitcase and my trumpet. I waited and waited and waited. No bus. No Hamp.