Larry Donn's Rockabilly Days - Alonzo Buzzard

Rockabilly Days

LARRY DONN writes for Now Dig This (Sept. 92)

A sudden invasion of Arkansas vampire mosquitoes left me little time for writing a column this month. Armed guards are quite expensive these days, so I've been up almost every night keeping watch with a 12-gauge shotgun. Not many of them can survive a blast of double-naught buckshot, but I keep a club handy to finish off the bigger ones.

I have asked my old friend, Alonzo Buzzard, to guest-write this month's column. You will, of course, remember Alonzo's big hit of 1953, 'Love Me Strange'. He was awarded a plywood record (by his uncle, who felt he needed encouragement) for selling 500 copies. His two friends each bought a copy and his mother bought the other four-hundred ninety-eight. The record is extremely rare and would probably command nearly a pound a copy if she would part with them.

I have asked my old friend, Alonzo Buzzard, to guest-write this Alonzo was heavily influenced by blues legends Blind Lemon Ade, Blind Potato Salad and the revered British bluesman, Nearsighted Plum Hendryk-Smythe. He has probably played in every blues club in America at one time or another, and is the inventor of the now-popular electric double-barreled tambourine.

Alonzo was either born or hatched (there is some disagreement) near Paul's Switch, Arkansas, in 1929. His parents, Ole and Irma Buzzard, were mussel-shuckers at Black's Button Factory on the Black River, near Black Rock, Arkansas. He attended Paul's Switch Elementary School but was requested to leave by school officials in his fifth year in the second grade after he won their paychecks at a noon poker game in the teachers' lounge. Expulsion from school was a blow to his self-esteem, and he began to drink. First, it was cola, being too young to buy alcoholic drinks, then ginger ale, and finally, root beer. Soon, it controlled his life. For years he binged at least three times a week, occasionally waking up in strange places with strange people or animals. Eventually, with the help of the Root Beer Recovery Institute, he kicked the habit, and hasn't had anything to drink since but a couple of fifths of Jack Daniels a week.

Alonzo was either born or hatched (there is some disagreement) near A. Buzzard, as he signs his name, started his career in music at about the age of 14, playing country bassoon with Don Waynek & The Green Bullets. A year later he took a sojourn into gospel music as a piano tuner with Elder Virgil Cranberry & The Disciples. Elder Virgil's daughter, Innocent Sue, was the piano player, and he and Alonzo came to parting of the ways when he discovered Alonzo was tuning more than just her piano.

For the next few years he worked at a variety of occupations: toxic waste taster, goldfish polisher in a pet store and substitute laboratory animal. In 1951, he was arrested for impersonating a doctor while giving free breast examinations to women in a bar. It was a job playing piano in a marching band that rekindled his interest in music, which led to his recording of 'Love Me Strange'. The tape was heard by officials of Oops! Records ("Our records are never released ... they escape!") and the record was on the market the following week. His next four records sold over 200 copies each ... enough to be called a hit in Paul's Switch, Arkansas, and firmly established Alonzo as a legend in his own mind.

Then, trouble again. His success apparently had angered jealous neighbours. One night, he awoke to find a burning treble clef on his front lawn. Then, charges of ear pollution were brought against him, and vicious rumours were spread that he was to blame for the fall of the Roman Empire, World War Two and the widow Thompson's gallstones. The war had been over for a while, and Alonzo's enemies didn't know much about the Roman Empire, but the widow Thompson was well-liked, especially by the men, and when they heard about the gallstones, they threw Alonzo into a boxcar on the next passing train. Fortunately, he was asleep at the time and missed the action. He had always had trouble sleeping, and trying several insomnia cures that didn't work, he found that counting aardvarks jumping over a green '38 Ford truck put him into a deep sleep every time. When he awoke, he was in the Toad Suck, Arkansas City Jail, charged with being a public nuisance. After a quick trial, he was sentenced to a life term in St. Jerry's Hospital For The Terminally Disreputable, where he remains today. In 1966, a movement called Free Alonzo Buzzard, or FAB, was begun, but folded two minutes into the first meeting because it was a Saturday afternoon and they wanted to go fishing.

Alonzo's talent for poker has served him well. His weekly poker games at the institution have become a tradition, and, although he is still serving his life term, he now owns the hospital.

First, I want to thank my real good buddy, Gary Donn, for letting me write in his magazine. Me and him been friends for a long time. He shore is a good feller, and I learnt him everything he knows. Thanks again, Jerry Donn! He's been tellin' me how much y'all like rock n roll. He said I should tell some stories about the old days when I was runnin' around with Jimmy Cash and all them other boys. Me and Jimmy, I'll bet, turned over more, outdoor toilets than anybody in northeast Arkansas. Then people started puttin' em inside sorta' put us outta' business. When Jimmy heard about it, he said "You mean, they do it in the house??" Only he didn't say "do it". (Bobby Donn told me not to use no dirty words 'cause the Queen might read this.)

Boy, I shore would like to go over to England and play some rock n roll. I'll tell you what, when I get out on parole in 2034, I'm gonna call ole Jimmy and get him to bring along them Two Tennessee guys, and we'll go over there and play you all of my hits and some of Jimmy's. If anybody'd like to buy tickets in advance, send me twenty dollars and two hacksaw blades, and I'll send you a ticket one of these days.

I guess y'all know I started rock n roll. It come to me in a vision one night in 1949 when I was tryin' to go to sleep. I was havin' a lot of trouble gettin' to sleep, and that night, I was countin' spider monkeys jumpin' over a wheelbarrow. Most people count sheep, I think, but wool makes me itch. I tried countin' chickens crossin' the road, but I found out I was allergic to feathers. Then, I tried possums crossing the road, but they kept gettin' run over by trucks. So, that night, I was countin' spider monkeys. The nineteen-hundred and thirty-fifth monkey was playin' a guitar and singin', and I said, "Monkey, I ain't never hear nothin' like that before". He said, "It's called 'rock n roll' and you're supposed to go out and show it to the world". I asked him why, and he said it was to save the world from jazz. Well, I'll tell you, I felt honoured. It ain't everybody that gets picked by a monkey to save the world, you know. I got my old guitar out of the pawn shop and started runnin' all over the country teachin' people how to play rock n roll. First, I went down to Teksis and showed it to Buddy Haley and Rory Orbertson. Buddy moved off up north somewhere and started a band called the Comix, and I think Rory went up to Menfis. They told me why didn't I just start doing it myself, so I did. That's when I cut 'Love Me Strange', and you know the rest.

Another old boy I learnt how to play was that Luther C. Perkings. I shore am proud of him, too. After I showed him a few things, he went right to work playin' lectrit guitar with Jimmy Cash, then he wrote that song about "don't nobody mess up my shoes" and made enough money to get his own band. I told him if he'd just wear rubber knee boots all the time, like I do, he wouldn't have to worry about gettin' his shoes messed up. I just wash mine off with the garden hose. If somebody steps on 'em when I'm out somewhere dancin', most places got a boot washer in the bathroom. That's what I use it for, anyway. You can just stick your boot down in the round thing with the water in it, then you turn this little handle, or some of 'em have a chain you pull, and the water gushes in and cleans off your boots purty as a whistle.

One time, in St. Lewis, I carried Chick Barry's guitar. I made it almost a half a block before these two big guys caught me and made me give it back. I guess they figgered Chick could carry his own guitar. He appreciated me tryin' to help, though, 'cause he told me if ever he saw me again, he'd have his boys take me for a ride. I thought that was real nice of him, but I rode in one of them big cars one time, so I wasn't too excited about it and I never did go back to take him up on the offer.

I saw my old buddy, Paul Burlington, a while back. He come to visit me one Sunday. You remember Paul, don't you? He played with that Bernie and Johnny Dorsey when they had their big band. He said that 'Love Me Strange' would be worth at least a pound a copy over there. I don't know exactly how many dollars it takes to weigh a pound, but I'll bet it is a lot.

That Johnny Lee Lewis was another boy I hung out with a lot. I'll tell you for shore, that boy was a piano-playin' son-of-a...uh, well, he was real good. The state where he was born, Lewisiana, and not many people know this, was once owned by his family. I talked 'em into tradin' it to the Newninted States for a piano so Johnny Lee could learn how to play. When he was a just a kid, I would sit at that piano for hours at a time, showin' him how to play the buggie-wuggie. He messed up there for a while when he went out to Harleywoods and started tellin' jokes with that Dean Marston guy. I kept after him about it, and I finally got him to come back home and play the piano. If I hadn't-a made him come back, he wouldn't-a never wrote that song about a whole lotta' chickens in the barn, so I guess I did the right thing.

I was playin' a grocery store openin' in Menfis one time, when this kid named Alvin Preston come up and said he shore did like my singin'. Yeah, it was the same Alvin Preston that you know. Well, it wasn't long after that, he come over to my house one day with this song he wrote for his mama called 'That's Okay, Mother'. He wanted me to sing it and cut it on a record. He said he knew it would be a big hit and he was too busy hookin' up lectrit things to be a star. He said if I'm come over to Sam Phelps' Sun recordin' place, he'd get Skippy Morris and Bobby Black to play on it, but I couldn't go 'cause I had to wax my pickup truck. I just told him to sing like me and he'd do alright. Boy, it's a good thing I told him that. Why, I'll bet he sold 8 or 900 copies of that record. 'course, if I'd-a done it, it woulda' sold at least a thousand 'cause my mother woulda' bought that many.

Alvin called me up on the telephone a while back. He said for me to don't tell nobody about it and where he was at, too, so I didn't. It don't make no difference anyhow, 'cause I ain't never heard of no place called High Warye. Everybody thinks old Alvin's gone to that big rock n roll show in the sky, but he ain't. Now, he told me not to tell nobody, so you keep your big mouth shut, okay?

Well, Billy Donn told me not to make this too long, so I guess I'll quit and go feed the hogs. I shore do hope y'all enjoyed my stories. I know some of them may be different from the way you heard it, but I promise that every word is absolutely true. One of these days, I'll get Laurie Donn to let me write in her magazine again. It shore is a fine magazine and Laurie is a real nice girl.