By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Debra DiPaolo|
The Don & Dewey mix of heat, jive and unadulterated talent was a shock in its day. Not yet 21 when they started on Specialty, these cats were upstarts, hardcore; they not only wrote, played and produced all their songs, they both flat-out Screamed Into The Microphone. When they weren't hollering, they spoke in wildly poetic, almost indecipherable tongues (langga langga oli-oki changa-chang). They did the jungle hop with the beeb-a-lee bop, mammer-jammered at the hootenanner and got clean for their mama's papa's sister's brother's uncle's crazy child -- the one with the champagne eyes. They did it all, leaping from slam to simmer on perfectly vocalized close-harmony ballads that anticipated the glories of mid-'60s soul with blueprint accuracy. Hell, when Dewey went into a recitation, Don even urged him to "Go on, rap!"
Terry, a big, genial man with a clean-shaven howitzer shell of a dome, was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1937, the son of a railroad man who gave the family a comfortable upbringing in nearby Pasadena. Terry always had a piano at home. "It was just a natural thing for me to do, play piano and sing," he says. "I started out playin' boogie-woogie. My mother had an old Victrola and lots of 78 records. I could always hear Count Basie, Duke Ellington, but what was so nice was that I could go out in my back yard where my mother raised chickens, stand up on a box and look over the chicken coops, and there was always a church caravan that came through on Sundays. You'd see a couple hundred people there, and I had the pleasure of seeing Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. At the time I didn't know who they were, but I knew they got down!"
From his mid-'50s teenage launch with local doo-wop sextet the Squires (whose "Cindy" on the indie
Mambo label remains a prized dusty), Terry was clearly a force on the rise. He and boyhood chum Don Harris soon departed the staid vocal group: "We became Don & Dewey because there were too many people in the other band to make any money," he says. "Don and I did a record called 'Miss Sue' and 'My Heart Is Achin'' on a label called Spot, and we had some managers out of Chicago who'd been shaping us for a couple of years, and that evolved into this record. And it got a lot of radio play: Hunter Hancock -- Hunting With Hunter -- he used to play my record all the time. Peter Potter's Platter Parade, and [fabled record shop] Dolphins of Hollywood was playing it, too."
That kind of exposure was invaluable, and with such instant local notoriety, Don & Dewey's supercharged sound only blossomed wilder. "The real stomp-down, knockdown blues things, we'd been doin' that the whole time," he says. "Rhythm & blues were changin'. That's when we learned to rock it. R&B was too slow, too methodical -- felt like, 'C'mon, baby, we don't want to hear that!' The thing is, at that time, most people found what we did quite harsh. They said the music was too loud, always told us to cut our amplifiers down -- they did not want you to wiggle and jiggle. But I think that contributed to our success, because -- well, the kids were doin' it anyway: rock & roll."
DON & DEWEY SWIFTLY ASCENDED FROM HIGH school auditorium dates to steady work at Billy Berg's, the Hollywood boîte that had for years featured the biggest names in jazz, and at the Royal Room at Las Palmas and Hollywood, where Specialty head Art Rupe wooed them in 1957, not long before Little Richard, after seeing Sputnik arc over the Australian stadium where he was performing, took it as a sign from God and quit rock & roll.
"We immediately signed with Specialty," says Terry. "They already had Little Richard, and we were billed as 'The Two Little Richards,' but at that time Richard was so hot that he was overbearing everything. And that label had Guitar Slim -- 'The Things I Used To Do.' He came out of Louisiana to do some recording, and he was playin' at the 5/4 Ballroom. I had met him at Specialty Records one day -- he came in a green car, with a green suit, about 30 crazed women, and the party was on! He was really the Charlie Parker of the time, with that Fender guitar, which at that time was very new. So I learned to play the Fender just like Guitar Slim. He didn't play with a pick -- I don't play with a pick. We were taught to play the guitar with our hands, because there is nothing like the human touch. That's the way we learned."