OUT OF THE DARKNESS, A BEAUTIFUL LIGHT COMETH
Nashville Musician Ricky Godfrey On Garfeel Ruff, The Marshall Tucker Band and Beach Music
By Michael Buffalo Smith (2002)
Ricky Godfrey and his brother Ronnie, both blind since birth, were born and raised in South Carolina, and both have individual and collective musical resumes that would make any mother proud. (And their mom, whom I met for the first time during this interview, is indeed proud of her boys.) Back in 1980, the brothers were a part of Garfeel Ruff, a band that by all accounts should have been huge. Their debut on Capital Records was stunning. The only problem was, The Knack. Capital decided to put the publicity and advertising machine to work to promote the band that gave us “My Sharona,” and Garfeel Ruff was left out in the cold.
In the years that followed, Ruff bassist Franklin Wilkie would join The Marshall Tucker Band in an attempt at filling he shoes of the deceased Tommy Caldwell, and a few years later, Ronnie Godfrey would join the Tuckers as keyboard player, a gig which lasted until the band broke up in 1984, and Doug Gray and Jerry Eubanks reformed an all new Marshall Tucker Band. During the early ‘80s, Ricky Godfrey released an excellent solo album , Let The Big Dog Eat, featuring many of his Upstate South Carolina friends like Artimus Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and members of The Tucker Band, including Toy Caldwell.
Nowadays, Ricky has a lot of great music being played around the country, from a duet cd with brother Ronnie to a red hot beach band The Sugar Bees, to work with Clifford Curry. Rick dropped by the Gritz office for a wonderful visit. It was great to talk to my old friend again.
Tell me about the Sugar Bees?
Well, they are basically more of a studio creation and don’t play much live. We are however playing in Newberry this Thursday at the Newberry Opry House. I basically joined this group back in the fall of last year and they have asked me to sing. Fred Shaw, who runs the studio called Bradley House Music asked me to sing. I told them that I would do it, but that I would like to be able to have control over the songs that I sing, picking the songs. He said no problem. I started bringing in some beach shag songs that I liked and a few things from Nashville that I had heard. One song was called, “My Baby’s Got It,” which ended up being the title song for the record. Tommy Dean in Atlanta wrote that song and had been with this band called The League of Decency, and I had heard about him since 1985 and I had always wanted to do it. This song had been in my head since then. We had basically really started getting into it in January and February and got all the tracks recorded and vocals down and it was released in April. A company called Rock Bottom Distributors out of Atlanta is doing the distribution. We have already sold about 700-800 records.
What about this song you just gave me, called “Give It To A Good Man,” is it a new one?
It is a new single but there is some controversy about it because of a band called The Holiday Band, that is in the beach/shag world and they are pretty big. Someone had also given them the song, and they cut it a couple of weeks before. The problem was that this guy called Kelly Harrison, that puts out a magazine called the Beach Music Reporter, had insisted that I do it and Fred had actually recorded the Holiday Band at his studio and everything. I told Fred that was going to upset Kelly because he wanted me to be the one to sing it. He thinks it will be perfectly suited for my voice. Anyway, we came in an did it here a few days ago and I did the vocals and all the instruments except for the horns and the drums. There are a couple of keyboard parts that this fellow Bobby Simmons played on, but mostly it’s me and I am doing all the lead and background vocals. It is kind of a controversy who will be releasing it. They want to put it on Repeat Records. It could be me or the Holiday Band to release it, but if they want Kelly to promote it, then it will be me. They usually listen to Kelly. So it will probably be my version. Kelly sent it to me originally in April and was insistent that I do it. It was done originally by Koko Montoya and the Cape Brothers and I took their version and changed some of their lyrics and did it my own way.
Tell me a little bit about this disc, I Believe In America. Are you on this too?
Oh, yes, this is basically that one song that the Sugar Bees did called “My Baby’s Got It,” cut #11 it is also on the I Believe In America record. Basically, I think that the whole thing was Maurice William’s idea to let people know that the American spirit still lives and that we can overcome all of the tragedy of the terrorist attacks. Pretty much we got some people together and did it. My favorite cut on the record is a rocking blues tune that is really cool by Deitra Farr from Chicago. I like it better than my cut, even though I wrote “Living In The USA,” when you hear Deitra’s thing called “Homesick Blues” it is really good. Another favorite song on I Believe In America is the title song, “I Believe In America,” done by Mike Taylor and the Holiday Band is really good and that guy has a great voice. It is as good as that Lee Greenwood thing, “God Bless The USA.” It is a great song and I hope that people really pay attention to it.
When he does “Amen” on that is that the old song “Amen?”
That is the old “Amen,” I played on that and several other cuts.
It looks like a lot there are several by Bill Pinkney?
Yeah, of course he is on it and I did a thing with Bill back in the 80’s that Clifford Curry wrote, and I will have to get that to you.
Speaking of Clifford Curry, I’ve got one here called “She Shot A Hole In My Soul, Again.”
He is a really nice guy and he will come over to the house and have a song pretty much done. He will want me to play the guitar on it, and he sings it and he will give me a co-writer credit. He shouldn’t do it really. I may suggest two or three word changes but for the most part I don’t deserve it. On “She Shot A Hole In My Soul, Again” I did contribute a little bit more. A DJ named Curtis Carpenter suggested that title to Clifford and we wrote it. Clifford wrote about 95% of it, though.
I have heard of Clifford Curry, didn’t he have some hits?
Back in the 60’s he had a song called “She Shot A Hole In My Soul” that went national. He also had a song called “I’m Gonna Hate Myself In The Morning,” and a song called “Baby, Won’t You Shag With Me.” He is one of the big names in the beach music field.
Then there is the “Good Godfrey,” the record you did with your brother. There are 17 songs on this one.
Yeah, we figured we would try to squeeze about 17 songs into it and it is basically studio demos and things we have done over the last 20 years. We thought that we have not really done anything in awhile as far as with any record labels. We are very anti-record labels. I will give you an example of what the record labels do. The Bellamy Brothers, who have had hits over the last 25 years and they have had a lawsuit with Mike Curb for over ten years now and they are trying to get record royalties for records they have sold fifteen - twenty years. They are suing for 40-million dollars. Even if you are successful though, you are not going to get any money from a major label. Hardly ever. They like keeping their money and telling you that they are going to pay. But they don’t, and say if you don’t like it you can sue me and we will tie you up in court for years anyway and you end up paying an attorney. They don’t care about the artist. Really, they never have.
Did ya’ll do all the playing or are their other guys on it.
Well, there are several things from the Garfeel Ruff on it. For instance, “Never Too Old To Rock and Roll” is Johnny Neel playing on it with us. He is doing back up vocals. There are no liner notes on it. We probably should have but we were in a hurry to get it out and keep people guessing. There are all kind of players on it. “Kind Man” and “Cherry Pie,” those two things are basically Garfeel Ruff along with Marvin King. Allan Pearson is playing drums on those two cuts. I think “Three Nickels And A Dime” is on there and that came from a project that we did for a band that we called Five Wheel Drive for Capital Records back in 1992. It was basically the Garfeel Ruff guys without Buddy Strong. Instead of Buddy it was Marvin King playing guitar. So on that song “Three Nickels and a Dime,” and on “Kind Man” and “Cherry Pie,” it would be Frank Wilkie on bass, Alan Pearson on drums, Ronnie on keyboards, and Marvin is playing the guitar as well as myself. On those three songs it would definitely be that and there are a couple of things that don’t have Ronnie on them. One being “Nasty Woman” that I did at the house and it is not a great quality but is a cool song and I wanted it included. It is a demo I did at the house. Another thing that Ronnie did with Carson Whitsett. Carson played on lots of hits from Malaco Records back in the 80’s, one of the big hits that he was on was Luther Ingram’s,”If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Do Right.” Carson played on that and all the ZZ Hill stuff. He played organ on that and that would be the very last things on a Love Swing. I think if “Luck Ain’t No Lady” and “When She Goes Bad,” that is Carson Whitsett and Ronnie doing pretty much everything. Kim Morrison, Ronnie’s wife had sang on countless records and sang back up on that and I am playing guitar on that too. It is a mixture of a bunch of people on there.
Sounds good, and now backtracking just for the people that may not know, tell us a little bit about Garfeel Ruff for those that were unfortunate to miss it.
Garfeel Ruff was started in December 1974. Basically it was started by my brother Ronnie and Frank Wilkie. They had started the band and for a while or the first few weeks Jim Bowing was in the band, who was a keyboard and flute player that ended up moving on down to Atlanta, and played with a group named Star Shower and then joined a band with Peabo Bryson and has been with him for many years. Basically, whoever kept coming to practice would stay in the band. Anyway when Frank and Ronnie got the band together, Ronnie suggested that I join the band and they had already been playing with Allen and Lovejoy and they were in one of the versions of Lovejoy and Allen suggested that I used to play with this guitar player,
Buddy Strong, that played with the Dee Brothers and so we got Buddy to come over and start playing guitar with us. We knew Buddy would stay because after the first practice Buddy left his amp. (Laughs) We figured that was a good sign. We tried to see how many days in a row we could practice. Our first job was at this place called The Palace and we played for a few weeks and then we got fired. That happened to us a lot. We would play lots of covers and disco and top 40’s. So we would get tired of playing that and started playing our original stuff and we would get fired. For the first 2-3 years we did not sound that good, we were really relatively bad. (Laughs)
I had only been playing guitar for about one year, but I was a good singer,I just had not really mastered the guitar and everyone was real patient with me. We did a concert for J.E. Sirine Stadium (Greenville, SC) in the summer of 1976, with Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, Grinderswitch, Wet Willie and The Outlaws. We played first and were the opening band for all that.Then Grinderswitch came on, and about three songs into it it started to rain and all the rest was rained out. They did a homecoming later on that we were not on, but because we got all that exposure that day and that was one of the first gigs that I sounded decent on guitar. In 1976 we made a commitment not to play any commercial music, unless we just wanted to.
So we started playing some original music and we were the only ones besides someone that already had a record deal and were the only band that we knew doing that and getting some jobs out of it. There was another band called Bosco B. Band that was only doing original music but they did not play out often, maybe a park concert once in awhile or something. We were trying to do this in live clubs and were the only ones we knew doing that. We were able to survive and flourish and we got this deal with Capital and we started getting packed houses everywhere we played and then we released a record in 7’9. Garfeel Ruff went to number 2 on the charts, at least in South Carolina, and then Capital Records started spending money on The Knack instead of us. They decided to not really promote us, and in the summer of 1979 they decided to drop the band but while we were there we scored a motion picture sound track called “The Hitter” and we got some mileage out of it.
I remember that, and in our area we felt as if Garfeel Ruff was almost what Marshall Tucker was, as far as fan following.
It got real big.
Then later on you did a very good album called “Let The Big Dog Eat.”
I felt that I had made a mistake on that record by singing too low, in keys too low. Whenever in music that you sing in a lower baritone range it can be classified as country, but when you go into a very high baritone or tenor range that can be construed as R&B and then as you move up into the registers then it may be heavy metal. If you take a blues song and sing it in lower range it may sound like a country artist like Mel McDaniel singing the blues, but if you move it up it could sound like B.B. King and move it up more you can sound like AC/DC or Robert Plant. The pitch of the voice can to some degree determine what kind of music it is. I think some people felt like even though it wasn’ t country music but because of the range I was singing some of those in and it didn’t really have the effect that I wanted it to have. “Let The Big Dog Eat” was done in G and I wish I had cut it in B flat and I would have had more of an R&B edge to my voice and I think it would have helped the record some.
It is a musician thing though, when I heard that I wasn’t a musician at the time I heard it and you did have Toy Caldwell and some of those on the album.
Oh, yeah, Toy and Paul (Riddle) did not mind at all if we used their names but Doug (Gray), George (McCorkle), and Jerry (Eubanks) really did not want their names mentioned in case they got into trouble with the record companies. They were still trying to do the Marshall Tucker thing and they did not want any trouble for them or for us. I said “whatever,” but Toy and Paul were very good to help us and that is how Artimus Pyle was, the same way.
But the thing they all did was not charge us at all and played on it for free. When I tried to get a distributor for my record I went up against a brick wall. Unless you had lots of money to spend on promotion in the mid 80’s you were just going up against a dead end. It probably sold about 2,500 copies and then I started realizing how syndicated the whole business is. No matter what people tell you, when something gets on the radio, it’s not because how good it is but because you decided to pay the right person. You buy your way to stardom and it does not happen because you are good.
Musicians need to know that because they can go out and find some venture capital or bank that can make them successful. If you are talented and pay lots of people like record distributors and pay different DJ’s to pay your records,put it this way there is only one DJ that went to jail for payola and that was Allen Freed. He was made an example out of by the government. A good book to read is one called “The Hit Men,” and it kind of described what is going on in the upper levels of the music business. Once you understand that, it makes it clearer what you need to do to become a big success. But I am telling you right now a person’s best bet is to try to get a website up on the internet and learn about the economics of trying to sell your products over the internet. You will save a lot of money and be in the same league with lots of other people and it will be based on talent more.
There is only one band that has really done it right in the history of rock and roll, and that was The Grateful Dead as far as really had a big mass of millions and millions of records sold and they were able to get that money and had the freedom to do what they wanted with their own money.
I am holding a book now that is coming out next week on Billboard, by an author named Peter Thall , that used to be employed by Columbia Records, of course he will never be again, (laughs), he talks about how a 12% artist royalty on a $16.99 CD can turn out to be fifty cents or not even that.
Oh, yeah. I was over at Jim Bowen’s house and I mentioned him earlier. He told me that Alicia Bridges that wrote, “I Love The Night Life, I Love The Disco”.... she just got a check for $1,200 a couple of months ago. This record was released in 1979 and sold millions and she has basically been swindled out of millions of dollars and the people that will end up with the money will be the lawyers. Don’t get involved with a major label. It might be better to be unknown for the most part and be able to keep your own money and then if you can cause a stink like Hootie and the Blowfish, the record companies will come to you and then you can give them the rest of your money. What I heard about Hootie was that before they made it they would go to USC football stadiums and they would play, and people would come and hear them while people were coming into the stadium for a game. They did not have any permission to do it but just did it and got the attention.
Lots of people remember that your brother Ronnie played with Marshall Tucker for a while, just before the original band broke up. Some of the music that he did “Just Us” and “Greetings from South Carolina” was just great.
Ronnie felt like in some ways that he kind of messed up their sound. We came from a classical music background and we believed in making music as good as it could possibly be. That meant for instance making the tempo steady. He would show the band how to do diminished walk ups and Marshall Tucker never did that .
When you think about it, when I was kid I would hear that old song “Honky Tonk Women,” and think those guys were really into it, and then when I got grown up and started to appraise the music it sounded like a train wreck. But when I was kid I thought it was incredible. They ignored most of the technical rules of music and most into feeling good. They were one of the best live band to hear and the records were so so. When Ronnie kind of disturbed that raw sound and made it slick and some people weren’t able to relate that much. But they were on their way down. Peopl e like things because it is new, not because it is good. The era for Southern Rock heyday was between 1976 and 1980, and after 1980 new wave and The Knack moved in. So when Ronnie joined the band, after the heyday and they were a dinosaur by then. Ronnie got in after Tommy Caldwell was killed in a car wreck -he was the original bass player-Frank Wilkie joined the band, and he kept after them and said that they should think about getting Ronnie in the band to play piano, back-up vocals, and he is easy to get along with.
Then after Tom Dowd produced them and they worked with someone that was perfectionistic, they realized they could evolve with the times and reproduce some of these piano songs that they might sing on in live shows. Ronnie joined the band and by then the music had run away and they got lost in the shuffle. At about that time I was in Europe, and one of the big differences between the European person and the American person, the European likes music because it’s good and the American likes it because it is new, and that is a shame. The flavor of the month kind of thing.
I have always wanted to do my own thing, and my brother moved up to Nashville in 1988 and he got us this deal with Jimmy Bowen who at the time had moved from MCA to Capital and so a fellow named Buzz Stone was the A&R guy at Capital and Buzz got interested in us and we had this band called Five Wheel Drive. First we were going to call it The Godfrey Brothers but the guys were not into it and we didn’t care so we thought for a long time and came up with this Five Wheel Drive. It just seemed like a positive image. We did several demos that ended up being hits for other people. We recorded “Indian Outlaw” that Tim McGraw later covered and “I Want You Bad” and “That Ain’t Good” which Collin Ray had a hit on and we did a song written by Tommy Barnes called “Three Nickels and a Dime” that was in a movie. We recorded “Watermelon Crawl” that Tracy Bird had a hit off of, and we recorded a song called “I Sure Can Smell The Rain” which Blackhawk covered. We had all these demos that other people made hits out of. That let me know that we knew how to choose hit songs. There are lots of songs that are out there that are hits but unless you know the right people and are paying the right people and how much you are willing to shmooze and flatter people and get political and do favors ...and I have not really been that good at that. Some of that behavior is undignified and I don’t mean to sound pompous, I am a regular guy but some of that is shameful and questionable. Some people will do anything to get recognition and I won’t do that.
Some of the people that move to Nashville feel like they should be a star within six months but my attitude was I am moving to Nashville where some of the best players of the world have lived and I am in a city with lots of great writers and musicians and I had gotten married a few months after I moved there. I had a daughter and was offered some road jobs but didn’t take them because I want to be a good father, and not absent extensively. Basically, I took stock of the city and played with Donna Fargo and moved to Nashville in 1993. I got some dates with Donna Fargo, and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave. I did some blues music and Billy Preston and I played some shows together. The main thing is that he is a private person and sounds as good as ever. He still plays very smart and good piano licks and high musical standards. I think that is wonderful.