Oddly enough, I would have never even dreamed of becoming a writer during my days in grade school and high school, although I did create my own music magazines and comic books as far back as 8th grade. I was more into rockets and outer space and even dreamed of being an asronaut like Neil Armstrong.
I was just 12 years old in 1969 as I sat glued to the black and white TV as Neil Armstrong made that “one small step,” which, according to Buzz Aldrin, was actually a three foot drop from the bottom of the LEM ladder to the surface. By no means a small step.
At the time, I was obsessed with rockets, outer space and the moon. I was all about Star Trek
and Lost in Space
. I dreamed of being an astronaut. My dad, who worked at the grocery store, brought me home a special gift that weekend. Seems Pepsi was offering a really cool space package if you sent in a certain number of bottle cap corks. Remember those? But the Pepsi man had a few of these items in the truck and gave one top my daddy. I was thrilled. It was a really nice big legal sized folder that tied shut like a document holder. On it was the NASA emblem and the Apollo 11 insignia. Inside were 8 X 10’s of the Apollo 11 astronauts, as well as photos of the moon, Saturn, Venus and other planets, along with a booklet about the “space race.”
One of the pictures my Dad gave me. Apollo 11 crew.
I didn’t remember John Kennedy’s famous “moon” speech from eight or nine years prior, but have seen it on TV in playbacks. I was sure JFK would have loved the fact that his promise to go to the moon came true in such short order.
My first real thoughts of writing professionally were spurred by a professor at Spartanburg Methodist College by the name of Dave Shuping, who made me feel as though I had a gift for writing. That encouragement, combined with years of reading music and political writers like Lester Bangs, Hunter S. Thompson, and Cameron Crowe, created a desire in me to get serious about writing.
Back in high school I had written music articles for the school newspaper, The Spotlight.
I had a “top ten” co;um called Flipside
, and I even had my own Music Hall of Fame. I remember getting some guys mad at me because I panned the Black Sabbath Sabbotage
album and they thought it was high art. Of course my reviews of The Allman Brothers Band and The Marshall Tucker Band were always glowing. Go figure.
For several years I wrote fan fiction for various sci-fi fanzines including my friend Becky Hoffman’s Southern Star
, even going so far as to create my own zine Paradise One.
I also made my own one issue rock magazine called The Coop
(named for Alice Cooper) in tenth grade, and during the high school days I created my own comic books on wrestler Ric Flair (as a gift for my buddy The Weasel
) and on the band KISS, prior to their first official comic. I must have been ahead of my time.
At SMC, I tried to kick it up a notch. Writing in the school paper about local and national bands and such was commonplace. Somewhere along the line I had my first article published in The Spartanburg Herald Journal
in my hometown of Spartanburg, SC. It was a profile on local musician David Haddox, who played drums in my band at the time.
After college I worked at various newspapers in Spartanburg County and in North Carolina, always pushing my agenda for rock and roll writing, which doesn’t really fly with editor’s who are trying to cover the City Council’s board meeting or the latest fender bender out on the frontage road.
While working at The News Leader
of Landrum, SC and her sister publication The Polk County News Journal
of Columbus, NC in 1990 some friends and I started an ecology newspaper called Utopia
. It was all about recycling, Earth Day and all of that good stuff. The two pages in the center were all music and all mine. I did CD reviews, commentary, show reviews and more. Unfortunately, the 500 issue run coupled with the fact that we only published three issues kind of made my efforts go nowhere.
Somewhere around this time I started a regular column called Southern Accents.
Modeled after Lewis Grizzard’s famous column, I just wrote about whatever crossed my mind. The column ran in the Inman Times (Hilda Morrow was the first to give me a break by publishing it)
, The Polk Country News Journal
, The Landrum Leader, The Boiling Springs Chronicle
and later in EDGE Magazine
In 1991, I was working at WTYN Radio in Tryon, NC while at the same time reporting for the paper The Tryon Daily Bulletin
. I was doing a play at the Little Theatre when I met James Irwin, and within three months he and I were publishing the first alternative press newspaper in Greenville, SC. The bi-weekly tabloid was called EDGE Magazine,
and for three years we had a blast. This was my first real, honest to God forum for my editorial commentary. I got to do reviews and music writing on my own terms and it was a blast. I was given the chance do interview everyone from George Harrison to Gene Simmons, from Paul Riddle of Marshall Tucker to Artimus Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was a great training ground.
Those years at EDGE
were a blast, working with James Irwin, Charlie Bergman and David Morris, (all three of whom are now sadly deceased) along with a staff that included Julie and David Moss, Mickie Ansell, Bethany Williams, Jill Greene, David Windhorst, Phillip Knighten, Gary X and many more.
Then in 1994 I broke ties with EDGE
and started the decidedly more artsy The Color Green
, which continued along the same lines, bringing interview opportunities with Chet Atkins, Carrot Top, Peter Criss from KISS, and Gregg Allman.
Somewhere along the line there a friend named Russell Hall introduced me to his editor at Goldmine
, the national monthly magazine for record collectors, and I started writing reviews and articles for them. Soon I became their go-to guy for Southern Rock. Besides writing huge 10,000 word cover stories on blues diva Koko Taylor, prog-band Kansas and head-banger Ted Nugent, I created deep cover stories on The Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Texas rocker Edgar Winter and Gov’t Mule (in their first national cover story
) among others.
Soon I was writing for online venues like Suite 101, Y’all Magazine
and print publications like Relix, Hittin’ The Note, Blue Suede News, Mojo, Discoveries,
and many others. Of course all of those gigs took a back seat when we started GRITZ in 1998. GRITZ
afforded me countless opportunities, including getting up close and personal with the very finest Southern rockers and other musicians on the planet.
Some of the high points right off the top of my head were my three hour plus conversation with the late Tom Dowd, a man who went from working on The Manhattan Project to producing the greatest LP of all time, The Allman Brothers Fillmore album. Talking to Gary and Dale Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd while they were on tour in Scotland was cool, and getting to know so many heroes before they died, Dru Lombar, Duane Roland, Little Milton Campbell, Ray Brand, Hughie Thomasson, George McCorkle, Jakson Spires, Jo Jo Billingsley and Tommy Crain among them. Of course it was a thrill to interview Dickey Betts, Bonnie Bramlett, Gregg Allman - and Charlie Daniels has been great each time we have done interviews, which has been six times in ten years. And meeting and interviewing Capricorn Records alumni like the late Phil Walden and producers Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby were also quite high on my list. Of course, interviewing and getting to hang out with Billy Bob Thornton is up at the top of the “most fun” list.
Now it seems I have finally found my true bliss. With Universal Music Tribe, I feel comfortable writing about great music of all types, from Miles Davis to The Ramones, from The Allman Brothers Band to Los Lobos. With Gritz
I kind of painted myself into a corner. Now I am able to enjoy Southern Rock as a part of my whole love affair with music.
God knows how much I love playing music myself and getting onstage and just rocking the house. I love acting on both stage and screen, drawing my cartoons and entertaining. But if you ask me what my true bliss is, the reason I feel the good Lord put me on this Earth, it is writing. Writing is my solace. My escape. Ronnie Van Zant once sang “All I Can Do is Write About it.” Me too. If I didn’t have that, I’d be one sad bison.
From the upcoming memoir, Prisoner of Southern Rock © 2011 by Michael Buffalo Smith, All Rights Reserved