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Army Memories - Soul Music Of The Sixties
Grab a Beer, Put Your Feet Up, and Remember Again The Kind Of Music You
Heard In the Barracks Back At Fort Gordon

Ft. Gordon sits in the heart of the deep south. While the manicured greens of Augusta National tell one story of the south, so too does the Haunted Pillar on the corner of 5th and Broad in Augusta, where slaves were chained and auctioned off when the city was young. As a kid from the North, an E1 of 21, I remember standing there beside that pillar, touching it, looking at the blood stains soaked into it, and for the first time in my life understanding what slavery was all about. In my time at Ft. Gordon, I got to see both sides of the coin they call the south. The memories it left me with are long and undying. Soul music rekindles many of those memories for me... see if it does so for you too.

Special Instructions

Our List of Top 50 Soul Songs of The Sixties

To give your eyes something to do while your ears are busy listening, we've added a short story about how soul music came into our life. Enjoy.

Soul Music From The Sixties

Above music courtesy their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved by copyright holders. Music on this website is not for download or public resale.

James Brown - The Early Days

James Brown - The Early Days

James Brown was the first soul singer I ever heard. Today I know him, as everyone does, as the Godfather of Soul. But back when I first heard him sing I knew nothing of him except that Fred Peoples told me to listen carefully to his music and I would understand what it was like to be black.

James Brown was a child of Augusta. He lived in extreme poverty—of the type that today we would call grinding. As a kid his father sent him to live with an aunt who ran a house of prostitution. Living on the outskirts of Augusta, he spent long stretches of his formative years on his own, often walking into town, hanging out on the streets, and hustling to get by.

He tried to stay in school but ended up dropping out in the seventh grade. For me, that’s not so bad. My own Dad left school after the 8th grade and he ended up being one of the world's first injection molding engineers, and an instrumental part of building one of the largest plastics molding companies in the world: Tupperware. Back then you did what you had to do.

Growing up, James Brown did his best to make ends meet. He shined shoes, swept out local stores, washed cars and dishes, sang in talent contests, tried his hand at selling and trading old stamps, and, of greatest interest to us old Ft. Gordon guys, performed buck dances for change to entertain the WWII troops heading to what was then called Camp Gordon. Interestingly, the convoys of troops heading for the Camp had to pass over a canal bridge near his aunt's house, which gave him the chance he needed to stand by the roadside and dance for loose change.

I’ll bet I passed over that same bridge a dozen times in my nights of reveling with Fred and his friends (see story at right).

You can read more about James Brown on the internet… far more than I could tell you here. For now, enjoy his music… and the other songs posted here... a genre of soul music that had much of its roots in Augusta, Georgia.

James Brown - Buckdancing

James Brown Buck Dancing -- Even as an adult James Brown remembered the moves from his early days. The house behind him is typical of the places Fred took me to party. The walls were chinked with mud. The layout included one bedroom, shared by all, one "family room," and if one was lucky, a bathroom. If one was not lucky, the bathroom was an outhouse. Strangely, the shacks Fred took me to were often within a few miles of the "white comfort" part of town. If you look carefully behind the scene above you might see the white comfort part of town poking through the trees.

Such was our America back then.

Picture courtesy of the Harry Benson collection.

With James Brown growing up in Augusta, the town easily became a hub for soul music. During the 60s over a hundred local bars and clubs featured live soul music. Some of the more famous... or infamous if you prefer... included:


The Celebrity Room

The Cactus Lounge

The Harbour Light Bon Aire Hotel

Julian Smith’s Casino

The Kitten's Korner

The Key Club

Leonard's Lounge

The Marine Room

The Partridge Inn

The Shamrock Club

The Whisk-A-Go-Go

As in many towns in America back then touring groups often appeared in The National Guard Armory, while the big headliners used the famous Bell Auditorium in downtown Augusta. That's where I first saw James Brown.

Augusta Georgia - 1920

Shown above, Map of Augusta, Georgia, circa 1920. Note how the cemetery is split into a white and "negro" section.

Enjoy Soul Music


George and Fred And The Impact They Had On A White Boy From Up North

In the small New England town I grew up in we had no Negroes… well, that’s what Black people were called back then anyway. And as a farm boy living well outside of town, even if we did have any the chance of my meeting one would have been pretty damn slim. That is, if it hadn’t been for my Mom.

One day, sometime around when I was 7 years old, a black family moved into our town. At about the same time I joined the Cub Scouts. At one of the Pack meetings I remember what seemed to be a brouhaha, as the Pack leaders prattled among themselves about what to do with a request from the new black family in town for their son to join the Cub Scouts. It wasn’t that the Pack didn’t want him in the club, it was that none of the Den Mothers wanted him in their Den.

And there it was, just like that, I was introduced to the world of racism and discrimination. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. After all, I was just a kid. And, not knowing what a black person was anyway, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what all the fuss was about.

But my Mom knew what it was about, and with nary a nod to anyone or a care for what they thought she stepped forward and asked to have the little boy join our Den.

All of our Den meetings were held at our place… the farm I grew up on… some 15 miles from town. And over that summer and the next I got to know George Armstrong Strait. The new black kid in town. And he became my best friend.

As I recall, their family had come from Louisiana when George’s Dad took a position as the Head Librarian at the county library in Worcester, Massachusetts… the biggest library in the biggest city around, about an hour from the small town I grew up in.

George’s mom, who to me was one of the tallest and skinniest, not to mention darkest skinned people I had ever seen, was strangely beautiful and elegant—at least to me, a wide eyed 7 year old. And George, well he was just George. His voice was dark and husky for his age, while mine was all squeaks and reedy.

For that summer and part of the next George and I traipsed around our farm, went squirrel hunting with my Bee-Bee gun, picked blueberries in the pastures of our neighbor’s farm, chased cows, and built a club house together.

The club house was a right proper one, mind you, in part because my Dad helped us build it. It stood about 7 feet high, had Dutch doors on the front, a window that folded up so we could hide inside it and throw grapes at the other kids in my neighborhood if they were dumb enough to wander by while we were in it, and an almost flat roof that we could climb up onto to defend ourselves if we were overwhelmed by a counter attack. Best of all, it had our initials painted on it. I painted mine in 2 foot tall letters on the right side. George painted his on the top half of the Dutch front door.

“GAS.” George Armstrong Strait.

Then one day George disappeared. He was gone. Just like that. He never came back.

Because he told me stories of his grandmother in Louisiana, over the years I came to assume that he and his family moved back there, but I never really knew for sure. If you were to ask me now, I would tell you that while the North was certainly on the right side during the Civil War that doesn’t mean that blacks were loved or welcomed up North, even as late as 1952. The way the Strait family was treated, I wouldn’t blame them for going back South to be among family members that loved them. From my little boy perspective, even I could see discrimination in many of the people I knew. It was palpable in the stolid, stayed, New England town I grew up in. And I’m not proud of it.

Anyway, when George and his family moved away that was my last experience with black people… until I was drafted.

Fifteen years after George and I painted our initials on the Club House, I was introduced to black people again.

From the time the Army got its hands on me until I joined OCS about 6 months or so passed. Most of that time I spent at Ft. Gordon, going through teletype operator training… and it was during this time that I had my white face pressed up against black faces.

But unlike with George, this time I was a bit apprehensive… bordering on being scarred.

Being a farm boy and a virgin of the world at that, I was truly without guile or experience in life. Being tossed into the Army scared the hell out of me. Going through Basic was the most disrupting experience of my life. But as I was soon to learn that was the easy part of it. For after having my warm, comfortable world pulled out from underneath me, the Army had something more in store for me… they sent me to Fort Gordon, Georgia.

And this is where the story of George ends and one about Fred and Soul music begins.

At the time I arrived at Fort Gordon the build up to staffing Vietnam was fully underway. Unfortunately, while the buildup was underway, the facilities needed to handle the buildup didn’t exist.

For me, this meant being assigned to live in a ten man tent. The one they assigned to me was out in the nether land that existed between two sets of parallel barracks… one set on one side, and the other on the other… with us and about 10 other tents stuck in the middle between them.

In my tent there were 8 of us: me and 7 black guys.

So for me, this was like meeting George Armstrong Strait all over again… except that this time he was an adult and he neither looked like, spoke like, nor acted alike anyone I had ever known in my life.

The guys in my tent were a mixture of tough, street smart, inner city kids from Detroit and other northern factory cities, and southern country poor folk… really, really poor black folk.

Our bunks were placed along the outside edge of the tent… down both sides so that there was a clear space in the middle. The middle held a coal stove that we kept lit at night to keep ourselves warm in Georgia’s cold, dry winter. With a footlocker for each of us there wasn’t much room to move around, and so we spent most of our time laying on our bunks, swapping lies.

For 4 months I lived in that tent and while you might think that a Northern boy would be accustomed to cold winters, no amount of snow can prepare you for Georgia’s unique version of what winter should be. Some nights were so damned cold that even with the sides of the tent down and the coal stove firing at full blast we froze to death. On other nights the outside heat and humidity were so heavy that even with the tent sides rolled up and the mosquito screens down we just couldn’t get either a breeze or a break. The simple fact is, Georgia’s weather stinks and there’s no better way to learn that fact than to live in it in a tent.

Anyway, those were the bad nights. Not the best nights… not by a stretch. But there were good nights too.

The ones I remember vividly were the nights when the rain came down and the sides of our tent were rolled up so that all that separated us from the rain was the plastic-screen-cum-curtain that kept the mosquitoes out.

There, laying in my bunk, only inches from the screen, I could watch the rain of Georgia pour down… literally, in buckets, leaving holes in the red Georgia clay, inches from my face, as it drilled down into the soil… drilling down for hours on end, constantly... boring little holes in the ground... on its way to hell.

For me, a New England farm boy, in love with a girl back home, lost in this new Army experience… and now living in a friggin’ tent with 7 black guys… somewhere in the middle of Georgia, all of this was more than my simple mind could comprehend. Night after night I lay there, listening to the rain… lonely, forlorn, alone, and sad beyond measure.

And that’s where the black guys came in.

After all of these years I don’t remember each of their names, but I do remember the guy who decided a short while after I moved into their tent that he would take me under his wing and protect me. Where the others saw me as some sort of a threat, or at a minimum someone who they could toy with, and at worst someone to be subjugated, Fred Peoples saw me as someone in deep, deep need of a friend.

Fred Peoples.

Over the weeks and months that followed Fred brought me into the world of black people. And I mean, in capital letters, INTO the world of black people.

At night, as we lay in our bunks listening to the Georgia rain assault the ground, Fred encouraged the other guys to not only ask me what it was like to grow up on a farm, as a white boy, but to also tell me of their life experiences. Like in any Army environment, nothing was off limits. I swear, I learned more about sex talking late at night with those guys than I ever learned on my own... even until today.

With Fred’s encouragement we soon went from being a tent of 7 black guys and one white kid, to a close knit team of 8 that couldn’t be separated. As we all now know, this coming together and bonding thing is typical of Army life... but at the time I certainly didn't know that. All I knew is that with Fred's help my life went from being one of hell to one of happiness, as Fred and the other 6 guys took me into their world. And what a world it was; they brought me into the social world they lived in in a way that most of us white guys would never see, let alone experience.

They told me stories of their family, their growing up, the struggles they faced, vignettes of discrimination they experienced… endless talk of food their mothers used to cook… tons of stories about their grandmothers… and of course, stories about the girls they chased.

Within a short time Fred noticed that when weekend passes were handed out I spent my weekends on base, while they headed off to Augusta to hunt skirts. And that’s when my intro to the world of black living began in earnest.

Week after week I was taken under one or the other of my tent-mate's wings, and dragged along to town to party. But unlike the bars and clubs us white guys frequented, like the old Whisk-A-Go-Go on Broad Street in Augusta, my tent-mates took me to the outskirts of town, to crossroads and rickety shack bars that I would never have entered on my own. Sometimes we skipped the bars completely and ended up in a shotgun shack on a dirt road… a shack more flimsy than the club house George Strait and I built. The only difference was, these shacks had people living in them, and invariably girls waiting for us in the ones we went to. There we partied… with cheap wine, cheaper whiskey, and beer.

At first I was scared s$#*less and for the most part hung back in a corner somewhere, furtively watching what was going on and wondering if I would get out of that night alive. For me, the whole thing was an eye opening experience. But after a few times I began to notice that the black girls we met were as curious about me as I was about them. Quickly, I began to see that as the only white boy in the group, I was the freak in this circus, not them. And that’s when the fun started.

With me in tow as the token white kid in the group, I was soon cavorting around Augusta with Fred’s friends, learning what life was like on the black side of the tracks. Not surprisingly, black music was pervasive, and while up until then all I knew about black music was Chubby Checker, it didn’t take long for me to learn about soul… and that Augusta was the home of the Godfather of Soul: Mr. James Brown hisself. With Fred Peoples as my guide and his band of local girlfriends riding along and prodding us to spend money on them, we went to every black concert that came to town. By far the best of all of them was a concert James Brown put on at the Bell Auditorium. The place was packed… to the rafters. That night my musical knowledge blossomed, as did my love and understanding of a whole new genre of music, and a whole new group of friends.

Eventually it all passed… I was ordered to report about a half-a-mile up the road to the Signal OCS HQ. Fred and the other guys finished their training and moved on too. The Army does that to you…

I tried to track Fred Peoples down a few years back but all I could find was someone with his name and approximate age that died in Georgia. I have no idea if it was him or not.

These days I still listen to Soul music, and smile when I think of Fred and the guys, playing it nearly 24 hours a day in our tent. And I think of those long Georgia nights… the rain, the endless rain, the dirt road bars and shotgun shacks, the music, and the late night stories we swapped as we drifted off to sleep.

Purple Heart

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