(From the unpublished novel, Copyright 2010 Donald Riggio)
Memphis, Tennessee was a bustling city south of the Kentucky border on the banks of the Mississippi River. Born out of the 1930’s depression era hardships that befell whites and coloreds alike, both races came together in an integrated, urban environment quite unique to its time. Those who settled there brought their culture and their music with them.
W.C. Handy, a self taught Negro musician, songwriter and bandleader, sometimes referred to as the “father of the blues,” helped transform the city into one brimming with promoters, publishing houses and record companies as early as 1910. In the downtown area, blues clubs lined both sides of Beale Street, a predominantly colored section of town.
Teddy Boyette drove passed the Memphis city limits around midnight, completing the trip of over 500 miles. He pulled the Desoto onto a railroad siding and parked between two freight trains. There, he stretched out in the backseat for a few hours of much needed sleep. He had a big day ahead of him. Despite what his parents and Chanticleer thought, he did have a plan.
Teddy knew that the three top record executives in Memphis were Lester Bihari, Sam Phillips and Artie Franklin. Bihari ran Meteor Records out of a small store on Chelsea Avenue. Sam Phillips owned and operated Sun Records out of a similar storefront operation on Union Avenue. Teddy had decided to make his first stop Artie Franklin’s hugely successful Myriad Music Corporation on the third floor of an office building on North Main Street.
He freshened up in a service station restroom, putting on the only pressed white shirt he’d brought with him. By ten in the morning he stood in front of the receptionist’s desk at Myriad Music.
“May I help you?” The receptionist greeted Teddy with a polite smile as he stood on the other side of her desk, his tattered guitar case dangled from one hand.
“I’d like to see Mr. Artie Franklin, please.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No ma’am I don’t.”
Her smile faded. “I’m sorry, Mr. Franklin doesn’t see anyone without an appointment.”
“Well, you see ma’am I’m a singer and I… ”
“I can see that young man. But, if you don’t have an appointment, I’m afraid I can’t let you in.” She looked down, hoping the annoying youngster would go away.
“Okay then, how do I make one?”
“An appointment, how do I go about making one?”
“Do you have a manager, someone who represents you?”
“No ma’am I don’t got no one like that. I just want Mr. Franklin to listen to me sing.”
“If you’d like to leave your name and phone number I’d be happy to have someone from our staff set up an audition for you.”
“Audition! Yeah, that’s what I want. But I’d like to audition for Mr. Franklin himself, if you don’t mind?”
“Mr. Franklin doesn’t conduct personal auditions. Now, why don’t you just go away before I have to call the police?” She punctuated her threat with a less than friendly grin.
Chastised like a troublesome child, Teddy turned and walked away. He stormed out of the building and paced the sidewalk. Stewing in his anger and disappointment, he resisted the urge to go back inside.
Teddy wandered up the street. On the corner across the intersection he came to a luncheonette. He went inside.
The late morning breakfast crowd was breaking up. Teddy walked to the counter to the right of the entrance and sat on a vacant stool. He peered out the front window that offered a good view of the office building down the street. A waitress arrived across the counter to take his order. She was an attractive woman in her mid-thirties. Her dark auburn hair was done up in a tight, fashionable style that flipped up at the back. Make-up accented her deep green eyes. The extra button she kept opened on her brown waitress uniform called attention to her ample bosom.
“What can I get for you, honey?” She asked.
“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and some toast.”
“White or Rye, the toast?”
“Comin’ right up.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“You can skip the ‘ma’am’ talk there darlin,’ my name is Dee.” She cast a flirtatious smile Teddy’s way making him blush.
The waitress made her way through swinging doors to the kitchen. She put two pieces of white bread into a toaster. A second waitress, pudgy with peroxide blonde hair joined her.
“Hey, Paula. Did you see the smile on that cat at the counter?” Dee asked.
They peeked through a diamond shaped cutout window in one of the doors.
“Yeah. He’s got the whole package don’t he?” the peroxide blonde said.
“You got that right.”
“You looking to housebreak a new love puppy, Dee?”
“He might be good for a few kicks.” Dee observed. The two women giggled naughtily bumping shoulders. The toaster popped two pieces of browned bread upward. Dee prepared the toast and returned to the dining room.
The young man was gone. She caught sight of him through the luncheonette window as he walked up the street. Dee didn’t know what she admired more, the Gary Cooper-like determination in his gait or the way his tight ass wiggled as he walked. Her blonde co-worker stood next to her.
“You must be losing your touch, sweetie you let that one slip right off the hook.” The blonde kidded her.
“He’ll be back,” Dee replied.
“How can you be so sure?”
“He forgot something.” She motioned to the guitar case leaning on the opposite side of the counter. The girls shared a leering smile.
Teddy’s stomach turned flip-flops. As he sat in the luncheonette, he decided he’d given up far too easily in his quest to see Artie Franklin, allowing himself to be shooed away by his secretary. He’d come a long way seeking his big chance. If he gave up now he might as well head back home and work on his family’s farm or find a job somewhere else. Before doing that he’d give Artie Franklin one more try.
As Teddy approached Franklin’s office, the secretary caught sight him and picked up the telephone. Teddy guessed she was calling the authorities.
Just then, an office door behind her opened and three men walked out. The man out front was older and did all the talking. Teddy assumed he was Artie Franklin. The other two followed their boss; hanging on his every word, eager to carry out orders.
“I’m going out for a while Tammy.” Franklin told his secretary.
She tried to warn him about the young troublemaker but Teddy was already within earshot of the men.
“Excuse me, Mr. Franklin, can I have a word with you please, sir?” Teddy asked.
The three men stopped walking. The yes men shrunk backward leaving Franklin face to face with the youngster.
“Okay, kid, what’s this all about?” Franklin demanded.
“My name is Teddy Boyette. I’d like to sing for you.”
“You plan on auditioning for me right here in the hallway?”
“I know you’re a busy man, Mr. Franklin, but my singing is different. If you’d only give me a chance, I…”
“Don’t bother…” Franklin cut him off in mid-sentence. “ I don’t have the time to listen to every one of you greasers who manages to bully his way into my office.”
Several other people were gathering in the hallway to watch the confrontation. Franklin took the opportunity to lash out at Teddy.
“Look kid, we promote clean talent here not juvenile delinquents. That slicked back hair and tough guy look may work on the other side of the tracks, but not here. You must listen to the radio? You know what kind of songs are getting all the airplay, Johnny Ray, Dean Martin, people like that. Go get yourself a haircut and clean up some, then maybe you’d stand a chance.”
People stared at him, some giggling at Franklin’s chiding words. Teddy’s embarrassment turned to anger.
“And if you’d take your fat head out of your ass you might see that things are changing in music and its people like me gonna’ make them changes!”
This outburst by such an upstart against one of the most influential record executives in Memphis shocked everyone within earshot. Now, Artie Franklin was embarrassed.
“What did you say your name was?” Franklin asked.
“Well, I’m sure gonna’ remember that.”
Two uniformed Memphis police officers arrived on the scene. They took hold of Teddy, one on each side of him.
“No need for the strong arm fellas, I’ll go quietly.” Teddy said.
Despite his surrender the policemen pulled him toward the stairway. Once outside they were content to send him packing with a swift kick in his backside and a strong warning for him not to return. They stood sentry to make sure he heeded them. Head down, Teddy walked back to the luncheonette.
Rock and Roll quote of the day: "Her home is on the south side, high upon a ridge, just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge." From - Memphis, By: Chuck Berry.