When Roy Book Binder was here in Sydney last year, he told me about a book he’d been interviewed for. It was about music in Spartanburg, SC and it included a chapter on blues, one that dealt with Pink Anderson, plus Baby Tate, Peg Leg Sam, and Alvin “Little Pink” Anderson. I told Roy (that’s what I call him) that I’d like to read such a book and so he said that he’d send me one. And he did.
It’s entitled HUB CITY MUSIC MAKERS (1) – written by local journalist Peter Cooper, it has been supported by a number of agencies and published by The Hub City Fund! The term “hub city” refers to Spartanburg’s position in the southeastern rail networks, even today. In the past, there was a great deal of commercial traffic passing through the city by train: all manner of goods and services were funneled through Spartanburg back when rails ruled the world of long-distance transportation in the US. And musics of all kinds were available and performed for all levels in the socio-economic spectrum that existed. Cooper’s book lays out the stories of many connected with music in the city in concise and readable prose, as all good journalists should do.
Granted, much of the material will not grab most of the readers of this magazine, for blues, et al are but a small part of the larger whole. Remember, away from “us”, to the world-at-large, Spartanburg is best know as the home of the “southern rock” group, The Marshall Tucker Band… and NOT Pink Anderson (no matter that he gave half the name to Pink Floyd!). But there was lots more happening in that city over the decades – William “Singin’ Billy” Walker published the first “shape note” hymnal (THE SOUTHERN HARMONY AND MUSICAL COMPANION) in Spartanburg in 1835, almost a full decade before his erstwhile partner, Benjamin Franklin White, published his competing THE SACRED HARP in Georgia. Everything from “classical” on “down” is mentioned initially and then there are individual chapters: Disc jockey “Ace” Rickenbacker, C&W singer Freddie “Careless” Love (w. Spade Cooley’s band into the 50s), the rock and roller Joe Bennett (of the Sparkletones’ “Black Slacks” fame), female singer/guitarist/songwriter Marshall Chapman, and many more (including, of course, The Marshall Tucker Band). And there is a chapter on blues, which has Pink Anderson as its deserved focus. Cooper interviewed Book Binder, plus Pink’s son – he has also read both of Bastin’s books on the Southeast – to weave a good narrative. Reading the book also stimulated my own memories of Pink and Co.
Our first “meeting” was under less than ideal circumstances! One of the greatest aids then in doing research was the local city directory, usually published with the support of many area businesses and the local Chamber of Commerce. This volume was a commercial enterprise produced by a few publishers, usually paid for by subscription. Printed annually, it first listed all inhabitants alphabetically, then it listed streets by name (alphabetically), going in increasing numerical house number order. They were usually found in the local library, which also kept back issues as far back in time as possible or had survived. In those before the sixties they also had an additional bit of useful information: the symbol “c” was placed after the name of all “colored” citizens. More recent ones could be located with any of the subscribers, but lacked that helpful racial marker.
On our first trip to Spartanburg as researchers, Bastin and I arrived in Spartanburg on a Saturday afternoon. There was no telephone listing for either Pink Anderson, or George (“Baby”) Tate and the library was closed by then for the week-end. The only other location that we could think to go to was the local police station. So, in our innocence, that’s where we headed! It was either then or wait until the next day (Sunday) for the cop shop because the library would not be open again until Monday. Those in the station were puzzled by our request, but they grudgingly got out their directory and looked up Pink’s address for us. Then they were even more puzzled, for they couldn’t figure out what these two obvious auslanders were doing and why they wanted to go there.
We tried our best to explain ourselves, but were not getting through (or not being believed) to them. They asked, “Do you know where Carpenter Street is?” We said, “No, but we’ve got a map, so we’ll find our way with no trouble, thanks.” “Tell you what”, they said, “ we’ll direct you there. Get in your vehicle, turn at the next street and a patrol car will lead you there.” All our protestations fell on deaf ears, so off we went, because there was no alternative possibility… we were effectively trapped. They no doubt were aware of Pink’s various illicit activities and were keeping track of any unusual traffic to his place: We certainly constituted unusual traffic! And so it came to pass that Peter B. Lowry and W.J.B. Bastin had a police escort to the house of Pink Anderson. Oh joy! Oh rapture!.. . Oh boy.
Needless to say, this was not the desired unobtrusive folklorists’ introduction we preferred and we were worried that this would queer any possibility of seeing the man. We found out later that Pink’s drinking and card-playing patrons were none too pleased at the appearance of the fuzz at his doorstep, either! His girl-friend, Squeaky, opened the door a couple of inches to tell us “he don’t live here”, a common parry of such as W.E. under such circumstances. The cops were now parked on the other side of the street… watching. All efforts to persuade her of out honest intentions went for naught… she was having none of it! Finally, we got her to tell us where Baby Tate lived (remember, we came to town with names only, no addresses) and she obligingly gave us that information and slammed the door. She probably figured that doing so would shift whatever kind of trouble or attention that was out there onto someone else! So, into the van we climbed and off we went to locate Baby Tate (O&S # 11), leaving the cop car behind across from Pink’s. A few days later we finally met up with Pink (through Tate’s assistance) and all was cleared up and it became well between us. No one ever said that it would be easy!
(1.) HUB CITY MUSIC MAKERS: One Southern Town’s Popular
Music Legacy. Peter COOPER is available from the Hub City Fund
@ P.O. Box 8421 – Spartanburg, SC – 29305 – USA. The book costs
US$ 20.00, plus postage.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM #130 – Jun 1998, p. 19.
I don’t know if the book is still available – would that every important city would sponsor such a beast! There is a crying need: there are some specifically local books dealing with the jazz of certain cities besides the obvious New Orleans, New York, Chicago, or Kansas City – Newark, NJ; Cleveland, OH; Los Angeles, CA, Detroit, MI for example, but few (outside of New Orleans, or Chicago) for other forms of locally known Black music. More the shame, as the proverbial time is running out to deal with those with first-hand knowledge.
Pink Anderson had had a stroke or two before we had met him in 1970/71 and was not really able to play all that well – sad, because he wanted to in the worst way, even taking a drink (he usually did NOT do that) to relax things. I was not able to get much from him (nor was I able to get much from Floyd Council – same reason… hmm) in my decade’s travels. I tried many a time, with Tate, or Sam’s help, but with minimal success.
Roy Book Binder did get him into shape enough to tour a few years after I stopped coming around – I saw him in NYC at Izzy Young’s The Folklore Centre and he was not bad most of the time. [That was the night I met JoAnn Kelly and took her later to hear Bobby “Blue” Bland elsewhere in the city.] She was staying at Nick Perls’ place in Greenwich Village; she pinched a Yazoo t-shirt for me as “thanks” for being able to hear Bobby… with Mel Brown and Wayne Bennett on guitars, yet! Roy’s told me that on the tour some nights were good, some were not that great. But he did it once more before he died! Because that is what he was and what he “did”.
I did get a smattering of old medicine “cross fire” routines from Pink and Sam, although Sam had to do some prompting from time to time. The effects of the strokes, no doubt. A noble and notable gent with a knowing glint in his eye who once was a musical giant.