STORY OF CARGOE Beautiful
Sounds and Memphis Blues
CHAPTER TWO: Into the Mystic...
I look back, I believe that what we were really trying to do was
create magic, and in magic, the closer you get to your goal, the
more obstacles you will encounter. We were so close to the
goal that the obstacles just became insurmountable." --JIM
PETERS, Disc Jockey, KAKC, 1964-1970
the three or four days at Beautiful," Peters said, "the
album was recorded, but the mix took quite some time. Bill
stayed in Memphis with Rob to mix the songs, etc."
"We towed all of our equipment down there and recorded
basically the same album that we were to record at Ardent,"
according to Phillips. "And I said, I like it here. I'm
going to stay. The other guys said, well, we have to go back
to Tulsa to pull our stuff together, so we can come back. So
I moved in with Walker and kind of parked it there. The other
guys came back a few months later."
we went back to Tulsa," Peters remembers, "I was still
on the radio and they thought it was cool hanging out with a disc
jockey. They were coming over to my house in the middle of
the night, tripping and wondering what I was doing."
Memphis, Walker was working overtime to complete the mixdown. "I
was still working full-time at WHBQ, being the music director
and doing afternoon drive," he said. "After I got
off the air at six or seven p.m., I would walk next door to
Beautiful and mix until four or five a.m. This was my first time
in a real recording studio, so I was getting quite the education
from some bona fide engineering geniuses, though I did not realize
it at the time.
"Dan Penn and his partner at
Beautiful, Eddie Braddock, had significant connections in the
record business, so when the album neared completion, they went
looking for bidders. Atlantic Records sent a producer named
Brad Shapiro to Memphis for a listen. He offered us a deal to
release the single with an option to pick up the album later. Dan
wanted a deal for the whole album, so he passed on the offer."
In the meantime, the
band had moved to Memphis and decided to set up on their own, as
living off of Walker's salary and the meager bookings wore
"When everybody moved to Memphis,"
Phillips said, "we just thought, well, we're a hippie band,
so let's do a hippie thing and all of us move in together. We
found a place that was kind of a converted duplex, upstairs being
one apartment and downstairs being the other. There was a
kitchen on both floors and there were enough bedrooms and living
rooms that everyone could have a room. Everybody had their
girlfriends and stuff. Basically, four couples moved in,
then Peters came to stay for awhile."
one room was handed to a friend from Tulsa, one Bill McMichael,
and there was no girl with Wisley for the first few weeks. "I
went to Memphis partially because Pam, my girl, met another guy in
1968 and married him in 1969. She broke my heart. I
wasn't going to get into that again."
came out later. "The band wanted me to move out to
Memphis," he said, "and that meant me quitting my radio
show. But conveniently, I got fired because of a rumor of
dope. They fired the entire staff of a number one radio
station! Except for the program director, who was
conveniently on vacation at the time. So I ended up taking my
wife and two kids and took over one of the rooms at 1972 Cowden,
the house the guys had rented. And I took a break from
radio, which I sporadically did over the course of my radio
"By the time I got there, though,
something had changed in the relationship between Bill and
myself. There were words being said that probably shouldn't
have been said and it affected Bill because his pride was in that
band. He thought I was on a head trip or he thought I was
negative about the band or something. It looked to me like
the band had begun eating itself from the inside out."
lot of the tensions came from the sessions.
eventually turned out," from Phillips' standpoint, "that
we liked the material we as musicians wrote together rather than
what we did when we collaborated with Jim. We recorded two of
his songs at Beautiful Sounds, but didn't consider putting them on
the album. We just had too much that the four of us had
written to worry about other people's stuff. We kind of moved
away from Jim at that point, I guess."
"Jim was way into
theater," Wisley suggested." He was a theater major at
Tulsa University, a graduate. He had this whole other world
going on. He wrote some songs and we tried to put music to
them. He wrote one called Carny Joe which I think made
it to the Beautiful tapes, but was ultimately sidestepped. Mainly
because we kept the tunes we had put together as a band.
don't know if you could say that we missed the boat or what, but
there were some things that Jim was trying to get us to think
about and do that we may have been too young to
From Peters' perspective, it had to
do with respect.
"I played a little bit
with Cargoe, yes, but it came to a kind of strange end at
Beautiful. Emotions were running high and I had a song that
I was playing on with them, but they wanted to put my part on
later. As an overdub. And I just didn't do it. I
decided then that the four of them were the band. Period.
worked hand-in-hand, so if they needed a line or a stanza, I'd
provide it. Horses -- I wrote the third verse. The
middle verse of Time, I wrote.
didn't give me credit for what I had done. It wasn't a
conscious thing; it was a mistake. But it was a mistake I
couldn't get anybody to correct. I couldn't get anybody to
listen, to say when somebody contributes, you have to give him
credit for being a co-writer of a song."
spite of the tensions, everyone plugged along. Walker and
Peters shopped the album and the members of the band kept
Penn grabbed the guys now and again to work
with him while they waited for something to happen.
would come up and say, hey, man, you want to take a hit of speed
and stay up all night and write a song?" Phillips
laughed. "I've got this idea. That's how loose it
was. And it was fun.
"Once he came
in with this line that went, 'If love was money, I could
afford you honey' and I thought, well, that's about hokey enough
to work, Dan. That was at night and by three o'clock the next
day, we called the musicians and laid down a demo track for that
"That was a great
tune," agreed Wisley. "It was something that Dwight
Yoakam could do today and make a major hit. It was one of
those boot-scootin' kind of things. And there was one Penn
and Tommy wrote with the lines, 'This ain't no beer joint, it's a
Penn had signed a deal for an
album with Happy Tiger Records and the single If Love Was Money
was released, but the album remained unreleased until 1973 when
tracks from those days were uncovered and placed on Penn's 1973
Bell LP, Nobody's Fool. Members of Cargoe did
receive credit on the album, but they did not play as a group
on any of the tracks.
"With Penn," Phillips
explained, "the work was more individual than the whole group
playing behind him."
"It was," agreed
Wisley. "Bill would be there just hanging out, and he
and Penn would hook up or Penn would hang out with Tommy. I
didn't hang around there. I don't know why."
were drugs, mainly speed and pot.
perspective," Wisley said, "there may have been a little
speed or something, but there wasn't anything hard going on at the
While the band played, Walker and Peters
"The anticipated flood of offers from
major record companies did not materialize," Walker
remembers. "Atlantic, for reasons we could guess at
forever, still would not meet the Penn/Braddock demand for $50,000
upfront against royalties. They seemed quite sure that
someone else would. They were wrong.
the band, Peters and I being the addled youth that we were,
thought we were going to be the next Beatles. Dan thought so,
too, and decided to put the record out himself. We'd show
them! Thus was born Beautiful Records, and we pressed up a
couple of thousand copies of Feel Alright as a
single. After all, they were killer players. So I got
them on the air."
station, WHBQ, was programmed by Drake-Chenault, 'inventors' of
the Boss Radio format that swept Los Angeles and then the nation
in 1965. Each week, the music directors at each station
across the country did the 'music call' with Betty Brenneman, who
was Drake's National Music Director. The lists were tightly
controlled and monitored by Betty. She loved the record, but
had reservations about putting it on the air -- part of the Drake
formula was (does this sound familiar?) a tight playlist of proven
hits with very little chance-taking.
I talked her into letting us try Feel Alright on WHBQ. It
hit. The phones lit up. The record sold. Of course,
Cargoe, Peters and I were so deep into Beautiful financially that
we were light-years away from seeing royalties. And all six
of us were living on my radio salary, although once the single was
all over the Memphis airwaves, the band got some pretty good
bookings and were able to contribute to the communal
The story was not so simple,
however. Peters remembers a phone call with Brenneman during
which she argued for the inclusion of the single on Drake's
"Brenneman had picked it up to go on
two or three stations," he said, "but the record came
back from the pressing plant with a little bit of the first chord
clipped off. Rob said, I'm not putting a record under my
name out that isn't right. And Betty said, but Rob, I didn't
even notice it. Nobody even knows, and he said I
know. He absolutely put his foot down. I wanted to say,
Rob, I think you'd better reconsider, but he was in the middle of
this phone call with Betty."
An agreement must
have been reached because it was added to the playlists of KAKC
and WHBQ. It reached #4 and #6 in each of those markets.
did appear to be looking up, even to Peters, who was once again
feeling the tensions within the group.
man," he said, "these guys were so influential at that
time. It was unbelievable. Every band and music person
in Memphis gathered around them. Including (what became) Big
Star. Including this band called The Knowbody Else that later
became Black Oak Arkansas. Including John Fry (Ardent's head
Then the records ran
out. With no money to repress, the single was dead.
turned into months," said Walker. "Feel Alright
had run its course, still no record deal and we're beginning to
starve. Girlfriends entered the picture (and the house),
nerves got frayed, cynicism set in, blah, blah, blah. We were
young and impatient."
But not all of the cards
had yet been played. In a last ditch effort, Walker and
Peters headed to Los Angeles.
Peters remembers it
only too well. "We made a trip out and knocked on doors
and got an offer from Epic Records. We went to see Walter,
the attorney. We had to walk over there and it started to
rain, which put us in a pretty bad frame of mind. When we get
there, Walter said, you know, you have a standing offer of $25,000
on the table right now from Epic. The thing was, Penn had
told us, don't come back with an offer less than $50,000. We
didn't know what to do. That was the top offer we got. We
were only out there for two weeks. My feeling was that had we
been there for four weeks, we would have gotten the 50 grand
because once the doors are open, L.A.'s a great city. That's
why great movements start there.
"What I found
out later was that Penn and his partner were trying to hold on to
that studio, but they didn't have any hits coming out. They
therefore didn't have any money coming in and payments were
Penn had received a loan from Union
Planters Bank and was being pressured to pay. This same bank
would play a major role in the dissolution of Stax Records.