STORY OF CARGOE Beautiful
Sounds and Memphis Blues
CHAPTER FOUR: Delusion and Dissolution...
made the decision that those four guys (Bell, Chilton, Stephens
and Andy Hummel) would be Big Star," Manning disclosed,
"would be shown as the name, would be shown as the pictures
even though, yes, I played a bunch of keyboards, Tom Eubanks
played some bass and by the second album, Richard Rosebrough
played some drums and percussion. It was a conscious decision
at that time." In other words, there was more there than
what was advertised, but it was okay. It was their
The perception today was that the pop scene
in Memphis was a cohesive movement, but interaction was limited
according to the people within and attached to Cargoe.
Peters remembers Chilton and the members of Big Star hovering on
the fringe. "Chilton had, at the time, really lost interest
in The Box Tops and he began playing with this new little band no
one thought much about which eventually became Big Star. Because
Cargoe had gone into Ardent, Alex was aware of them, and because
of personal connections starting to develop with people back in
Tulsa (Fry and Chilton had taken to visiting Tulsa, looking for
new bands to record, and Chilton became enamored of a beauty who
had once seriously dated Tim Benton), became fascinated with the
music Cargoe was making. And that's partially how Big Star
found its sound.
"They were at first an almost
nebulous band. They really didn't know which direction to
go. Alex was still singing with that big throaty voice he'd
had with The Box Tops. By the time they had finished
listening to Cargoe recordings over the course of several
sessions, both at home and at Ardent Studios, Alex was singing in
more of a Beatle-esque style."
As for a
relationship among the members of the two bands, none really
developed. "We really didn't talk a lot with Big Star,"
Wisley related. "At least, I didn't. They kind of
came off like snotty rich kids, like they were better than
everybody. They'd just come in and do their studio thing. I
only saw Alex once in awhile. I'd hear weird stories about
how somebody would be recording in one of the studios and get
everything set just right and then Alex would come in at night and
change all the mixing settings. They'd come in the next
morning and find he'd changed everything on the board."
#1 Record were ready to go at about the same
time. The artwork was exceptional and tasteful and ad
campaigns were readied. But behind the scenes, decisions had
been and were being made which precluded any real success. But
Cargoe and Big Star, anxious to bust out of the gate, neither knew
nor cared. They just wanted to play.
AFTER THE MATH
back to Memphis from Seattle and everybody started going, you
know, if this is what being a successful rock star is, I don't
want to be it." -- BILL PHILLIPS, keyboards, Cargoe
Like the calm before the
storm, the release of the album provided the band with their
finest moments. It also provided the worst.
Manning and John Fry, aware that they were rowing against the
current, decided that a showcase tour was in order, and where
better to do it than the West Coast. A short, intense link of
gigs was set up and Manning and the band headed for Los
"We flew into L.A.," said Wisley,
"and we went and stayed, where else? Chateau Marmont.
That's the place John Belushi died. That's where all of the
rock stars used to stay. We get there and there was this
piano down below, so we were playing the piano in the lobby,
singing some of our own tunes like we owned the place. It was
"We rehearsed at Studio
Instrument Rentals, in the same room that the Stones were in a few
weeks earlier. We had a couple of tunes we did from the Flo
and Eddie period of Zappa and they happened to be in another room
there. We were big Zappa fans. BIG. We did a couple of
Zappa songs and they were standing outside, listening. They
told us later that they thought it was great, that they thought we
"We were in town the same week as
Led Zeppelin. Terry got us tickets to the show through his
friend, Jimmy Page. We didn't meet them or anything, but it
was a great show just the same."
pushing it hard," said Manning. "When we took
the band to Los Angeles, they went on KHJ-TV, one of the biggest
stations there, before potentially millions of people. We played
the music video we had made on them at that station." It
would be one of the very few stations which would air it.
video was almost an afterthought to most people. MTV was a
few years distant and getting airplay for such things was next to
impossible. Still, Manning and Fry had decided that the
effort might pay off and pieced together a video segment to
complement Feel Alright.
"I think the
video was taped outside as they were building the new Ardent
studios on Madison," Wisley recalled. "We were set
up in the parking lot while they were building that."
The band did play The
Whiskey, but the memories were distant. The only thing that
sticks out after all these years is that the managers kept telling
them to turn it down. A few years later, they would be
telling the same thing to Van Halen.
The next stop
was San Francisco, where they played the grand opening of the new
downtown Tower Records store. A few radio interviews later
and it was off to Seattle.
"Somewhere in there,"
mused Wisley, "somewhere between the cities, we were in
Houston to play The Real Don Steele Show on TV. I thought
this was so cool. We took a premixed tape of the instruments
without the vocals and we sang the song live. It was Feel
Alright, but just the backing track. I remember seeing a
video of it afterwards and thinking, this is awesome. Great
camera angles and all that stuff.
also was on American Bandstand," he added. "On
Rate-a-Record. They played Feel Alright against who
knows what and we won. I don't remember much about it, but I
do remember that when they asked the kid why he liked it, he said
'it's got a good beat.' It was so classic. I've never
been able to find any reference to that, even on the Internet, but
I saw it."
"By the time we got to Seattle,"
Phillips said, "the bottom had dropped out of everything, but
we didn't know it at the time. Everybody was pretty much
still giving us the star treatment, but basically we're just
another garage band that ended up in Seattle, at that point, with
no backing or anything except we've got this album, and we've got
these pretty cool songs, and we've got this single that almost did
something in several cities, but it's going down the charts now,
because it can't go up the charts if you don't have any records to
"We were really feeling the emotion,"
added Wisley. Here we were in Seattle at the Ace Motel, which
was all these little bungalows that were like ten bucks a night. I
mean, it was really crappy. We'd gone from the Chateau
Marmont in L.A. to this really cheesy motel in Seattle almost
overnight. And Tim some way had found out -- this was when we
were way into Captain Beefheart and Zappa -- that Jimmy Carl Black
(who had been playing with Zappa) had said that this was what is
was really like on the road. This was what the music business
was really like. I think Tim was already getting jaded.
we played this outside drive-in theater in Seattle that was set up
for a weekend fest. I remember this local band, two girls
frontlining and one was doing these wild kicks and stuff and I was
going, wow, this is too hot! We left Seattle and not too long
after, there was this Dreamboat Annie album."
"What this whole
thing was leading up to, when we got back to Memphis from
Seattle," according to Phillips, "was the beginning of
the end. Everybody going, you know, we have an album out. We
had a single out and it's falling down the charts. What's
going on here? I thought we had people behind us. And this is
the place where I know John and Terry didn't know what the hell to
say to us."
Cargoe struggled to stay together,
in spite of the obvious troubles at Ardent and their own troubles
within the band. Everyone tried to put a good face on, but
the pressure on the four very different personalities created
ever-widening cracks in the makeup of the group.
it became too much and Benton said he was leaving. They had a
scheduled gig playing second on the bill to Poco at The Shell in
Overton Park on Halloween night of 1972. It would be the last time
they would all play together.
On stage, it was
intense. "I thought, well, this is the last time we're
going to play this together," lamented Wisley, "and it
was really sad. I actually remember crying in the middle of
some of the songs, thinking, this is it. I mean, we were so
good. It was really hard for me."
came on the scene at a time when sincerity in music, rock anyway,
was fading," Tim Benton wrote a few years after the
breakup. "We had hopes of being a very positive element,
but I was really becoming disillusioned with the rock scene.
"The band split for several reasons. I
think the biggest was our disappointment over how things were
working out. There were increasing conflicts within the band
and I decided that my girl, who had been pressuring me to quit,
was right, so I was the first to quit. A month later, Tommy
quit and two months after that, they quit trying replacements and
"It was the domino effect,"
admitted Phillips. "Tim started thinking that way and
Tom's saying I don't want to be in this band unless Tim's
Wisley took it from there. "After
Tim and Tommy left, Bill and I tried to do a few things, but here
we were, trying to hold together the first Cargoe album with two
guys who were okay studio musicians, but we had lost the soul that
was there. With them, the songs were flat. They had no
dimension to them.
"We had a rehearsal
studio. We would go there every day for hours and work up
tunes. The guitar player was a really eclectic John McLaughlin
kind of guitarist and the drummer was ..."
rhythm and blues kind of guy," Phillips interposed.
mean, it worked," Wisley said, "but it wasn't the
magic. In my mind, we were at the point where we sit back and
punt and get new jobs and try to write songs and start it all over
again. Or, I just split and go back to Tulsa, get a real job
and take it from there. And for whatever reasons, that's just
what I did. We were broke, poor, no job. I said I can't
do this anymore. That's when I split and left Bill hanging by
"And I said, I'm going to stay in
Memphis and be a musician, regardless," Phillips said, "and
that's when I really learned about the glamour of the business,
because I started hooking up with bands that were real inferior to
what Cargoe was, just to make a living. And I was going, man,
these idiots are out here playing music -- at least, they think
it's music.... It was kind of demeaning. Those were some
pretty dark days for me."
Benton, meanwhile, had
hooked up with the Memphis Symphony. "I didn't take
lessons seriously until I began taking them from the teacher at
Memphis State, Terry Hulick, in 1971. He was an orchestral
player (tympani) and didn't play a drum set, but he played all of
the orchestral percussion instruments. He got me into legit
music. Eventually, I became good enough to join the Memphis
Symphony for one season. I still played the drum set, mainly
with records, but I didn't play with anyone else for a little over
a year. The girl I was living with didn't want me to. She was
having a lot of problems and in '73, was involved in this intense
situation and there were threats and we split Memphis real fast
and moved back to Tulsa.
"There, I worked
in jobs which were time-consuming and very exhausting, so I had no
time or energy to play and I started freaking out. I realized
that I needed to play drums more than anything, so I worked
part-time and played.
"When my girlfriend and I
split up, I ran into another girl who was a junkie and she turned
me on. I was playing in a group called Jazzoo at the time and
I was really enjoying life, for a change, but I was getting
pressure from my dad to go back to school. I opted for North
Texas State in Denton because it was considered the best jazz
school that wasn't a conservatory.
"When I moved to
Denton, I quit the drugs. I practiced on the drum set four
hours a day and was very depressed for about three months, but
everything finally came together."
time the letter was written, Benton was still in Texas, married to
a wife supportive of his music and playing in a jazz
Wisley, of course, returned to Tulsa, got a
job at a computer company of some sort, and married his childhood
Phillips spent stints with a number of
bands, most notably variations of the Hot Dogs, and eventually
worked his way back to Tulsa where he was reacquainted with
"When I got back to Tulsa," Wisley
said, "Bill and I got together in a very fateful way. I
hadn't been playing music except on my acoustic guitar in my
bedroom and Pam, my wife, hadn't really followed music except a
little with her kids. Well, one day she said 'why don't you
get with Bill?' I said, 'he's always got an unlisted number
and I could never find him.' One day, Pam and I were at an antique
mall and they were closing up and somebody says, 'Hey, Max.' I
look up and it's Robby, Bill's brother. Well, he gave
me Bill's phone number and I called and here we are, four years
Those four years have been filled with
music and collaborations with old and new friends. Phillips
and Wisley tied up with an old friend, Peter Mayo, in an effort
now called The Brady Orchestra. Mayo owns the Brady Theater
with his brother and has pieced together a band which changes to
fit their needs.