by Michael Buffalo Smith
We met up with Scott Boyer at his home in Killen, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals. His puppy dog Rusty was running around playing and having a high old time, while Scott sat behind a keyboard in his home studio to open up about Cowboy, The Decoys and a lifetime of good music.
Tell me about where you were born and raised.
I was born in upstate New York, right outside of a town called Binghampton, New York, in a small community called Shenango Bridge.
I’m sorry Scott. This interview is over. (Laughing)
I get that sometimes. (Laughing) I am a Southerner by choice and they have accepted me in Muscle Shoals, and by God if they will accept me here then I guess I can pass anywhere. (Laughs)
When I was five my parents moved to Louisville, Kentucky and I went to grade school there thru fifth grade. Then I went from 6th through high school graduation in Florida and then went to Florida State in Tallahassee and lived there for a while. I got into a band called The Travelers. How is that for an original name (Laughs). Then got up with David Brown and Butch Trucks, whom I had gone to high school with, in Florida State where I was a viola major. This was when folk rock had gotten going.
David Brown had the idea to go to Butch - they had been in competing bands in high school, rock bands that is. So they felt like we should all get together because I knew the words and he knew all the rock and we could turn all the Bob Dylan songs into rock songs. We made a ton of money. We were making $300 per night in a three piece band back then. This was in 1965. I bought a Jaguar and we were playing 3-4 nights a week. I dropped out of college at the end because I was making good money. I could probably do well as a viola player somewhere but I enjoyed this kind of music.(Laughs)
David Brown went on to play with Boz Scaggs. We had a band with Butch Trucks called The Bitter End at first, and then were later called The Tiffany System, playing in Kentucky and Tennessee, around Chattanooga and Knoxville. This was when bands like The Strawberry Alarm Clock were big. We were a Spinal Tap kind of thing, acid rock. After that we became The 31st of February. It was me, Butch, and David. The three of us and Duane and Gregg Allman did play with us for a little while. I believe some demos were cut in Miami and they came out later as Duane and Gregg, The Early Years. That was some stuff we sent to Vanguard which was our record label at the time, to secure a budget for a second album. Vanguard did not approve the budget so then we broke up. Duane started hanging out in Jacksonville and there were jam sessions happening a lot shortly after. I think someone at Vanguard must have lost their job after letting The Allman’s go. (Laughs) Gregg had a couple of tunes, one was called “Well I Know” and then there was another called “God Rest His Soul.” They were good songs and whoever listened to them at the label felt they were not that good.
You gotta love record label people. There was a lot going on in Jacksonville at that time. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Lynyrd Skynyrd was around then but they were called The One Percent, and there was a band called The Second Coming, with Berry Oakley and Dickey Betts and Dickey’s wife. Reese Wynans was their keyboard player. They were a great band. There were several things going on at the time as well. The Illusions were a band that was kind of like The Beach Boys.
Tell me a little bit about how you got Cowboy together, meeting Tommy Talton and all that...
Well, I was living in Gainesville with our keyboard player, Bill Pillmore. We were living with a guy that was... shall we say... not making his living legally. (Laughs) We were hanging out and picking on some guitars - and I had met Bill at Florida State and there was another friend Pete Kowalke, and the two of them were on the swimming team at Florida State. Pete came and saw us, or did a gig with us at some point in Gainesville and said that he knew this guy that was a very good songwriter and that we should meet. I went and met him in Orlando and that’s when Tommy and I met. We sat up for several hours picking with each other and by the time the night was over we decided to put a band together. At the time, Bill and I were playing guitar and Pete was a guitar player, so we mixed with Tommy who had been playing with a drummer and bass player. The drummer was Tomm Wynn and a bass player named George Clark.
So we ended up with a six piece band and it just so happened that everyone played the right instruments, except we had too many guitar players. So Bill went and bought a piano and he learned how to kind of play it. It all worked out well for us as long as it lasted.
How did you get signed by Capricorn Records?
Pretty much because Duane showed up on our doorstep one morning. We were living in an apartment house that had been sectioned off into an upstairs and downstairs apartment. We had a practice room downstairs and in this old house. About 7 AM one morning someone comes pounding on the door. It was Duane and he was driving a camper on his way back from Daytona to Macon. He wanted to hear us play something. So I woke everyone up and scrambled down into the music room to play a few songs for him. The next thing I know, Johnny Sandlin, whom I previously knew from Miami, showed up and we did a set for him. After that we were called up to Macon. We had a place in Coco Beach, a little split level home in suburbia and these high school girls that lived there thought we were cooler than heck, but their parents didn’t really want us in their community. So we called Phil Walden and he said to come on up because they had a band house.
We went up there and got there late at night and we were taken to this grey house that had cots, similar to army cots and we all fell asleep on them. At 3 AM we were awakened by the police who wanted to know what we were doing in there. We explained to them that we were musicians for Capricorn Records and had been put up there. Nevertheless, it was a harrowing experience.
After that the band moved to Cochran, Georgia and we had this huge farmhouse. There were only three bedrooms but they were 50 x 50 feet. There was someone living in the corner of each bedroom. We had the band which was six people; Tommy, myself, Tom Wynn on drums, George Clark on bass, Pete Kowalke on guitar and Bill Pillmore on guitar and keyboard. Those are the original six fellows. We lived in Cochran for a while and the neighbors down there would come out and sit on the hoods of their cars on the weekend and just watch us because we had long hair. These were just good old country folks and they had not ever seen hippies before and they would just sit out there and watch.
There was a junior college in Cochran, and you couldn’t hold hands there - and males were constrained from carrying females books. That’s how conservative it was there. The landlady came over and said that we had to go after about 3-4 months and by that time a lot of our friends from Florida had come over - about 25-30 - and never left. (Laughs) I remember us driving back from New York one night, about a 15-hour drive, and we were all exhausted. I went into my room and there were about three people sleeping in my bed. I woke one of them up and the guy made the mistake of asking me who I was, and I went on a tirade about how that was my bed and he wouldn’t live long if he didn’t get out. The landlady said that we all had to go and we went to get some apartments in Macon.
Tommy sent was a couple of good pictures of that old house. One had the Allman’s playing in the front yard for a few people.
Oh yeah. It was called the Shedd House. It was some of the Brothers and us, jamming. Duane and Berry came out there and we had 25 people living there and on a nice day we would just sit outside on the porch and play because it was fun for us. We all learned from each other that way. It was just a fun thing to do to get together to play. Sometimes a song would come out of it. Back then it was fun.
I know the Allman’s had a house as well.
Yeah, they had a place called Idlewild South. I lived there shortly after the band house broke up. I moved in with Chuck Leavell and Charlie Hayward and a fellow named Barry Brandhorst after we had those apartments for awhile. Chuck and I began to look for a place to live and coincidentallly we got a place’s address and it turned out to be Idlewild. The brothers had moved out by then and bought some land in another place in Macon. Funny how that happened.
What are a couple of highlights you recall from the Cowboy days?
Well, I think it was 7-8 years that we were together. We got together in ‘69 and broke up in ‘75, but ran until ‘77 with a last rendition. The highlights were many. One was the first time we played at the Fillmore East. It was Cowboy’s first time in New York and our road manager was driving our Ford station wagon like a maniac on the way to the Fillmore to the hotel. And I remember him making a comment about “that’s how everyone drives up there.” We got into a wreck, just a fender bender but we were late by five minutes and we ran in to get our instruments. Bill Graham is yelling his brains out at us and we were running to get to the stage and play. I remember running down the stairs to the stage with Bill right on my trail, cussing me out. “How dare you be late for a gig at my club!” (Laughing) That is a very vivid memory, and we had a great show thank God.
Cowboy at the Fillmore. (Courtesy Tommy Talton)
Another memory of The Fillmore was the next time when we went there, and I can’t remember the name of the headliner but maybe it will come to me in a minute. It was some large act that had been booked there a couple of times and not shown up - so many of these fans had been holding their tickets for some time to see whoever it was. So we walked out onstage to a chorus of boo’s from the audience, then Bill Graham came out from backstage and stepped up to my microphone and said that the people that did not like the music that he presented could go up to the front door, get your money back, and go home and listen to your 45’s. Some guy in about the third row yelled “fuck you” and Bill Graham jumped off the stage to get the guy but about the time he got there the security had grabbed him and dragged him out of his seat and pulled him up the aisle with Bill kicking him in the ass as he was being dragged. We only played Fillmore East two times and then Winterland with Gregg. Many years went by and I ran into Bill Graham when he was having lunch with Phil Walden and he remembered me. I was amazed at his ability to remember people.
We played a pretty good show that second night and I think we were billed with BloodRock and Spirit.
“Please Be With Me” may be your most popular song ever. Do you remember when you wrote it?
Oh, yeah, we were doing the second Cowboy album, recording Five’ll Get You Ten, and the studio was being redone at that time in Macon. Johnny wanted to finish the album. He convinced Phil Walden to let us come here to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.
At one point they came in and we did a few tracks and I was done for the day. The other guys still had parts to do and our road manager - who is another story entirely - took me back to my room. They were supposed to come and get me for dinner and they forgot me and left me there. Suffice it to say that I grabbed a pen and started writing. I was doing free association in my head and then I looked at all the verses and started putting the verses in order the way they rhymed, just sort of a Zen way to write a song. This was just busy work because I got left at the hotel. I was not trying to write the next classic tune. Duane came in the next day and wanted to play. Well, we had three guys on guitars already. He wanted to know if we had something new and we tossed out a few tunes and finally I played “Please Be With Me.” Duane said, ‘Yeah, that’s the one I want to play on,’ and I remember that Johnny Sandlin looked at him and said that he felt that it was a beautiful song.
So I was a little puzzled, I didn’t think I had written any masterpiece. I didn’t really care that much about it, but have over the years grown quite fond of it. (Laughs) It has treated me well and I am grateful to have written it. The motel over here where I wrote the song is now run by folks from India, and they live in that particular room, so I can’t go back over there to try and write another song and see if history repeats itself.
How did you feel when you found out Eric Clapton was going to record it?
I didn't believe it. Johnny Sandlin called me while I was living at Idlewild South and I was going through one of those times that musicians go through when you have nothing. Didn’t know where the next meal was coming from kind of thing, okay? I got a phone call from Johnny, and those guys at the studio in Macon were really practical jokers. Paul Hornsby had found out on my birthday one year that I had crab lice and he wrapped me up a nice package of 3 bottles of A-200 and a fine tooth comb. I opened that up in front of about 20 people on that birthday. (Laughs) We got Johnny a duckbill cane one year from his birthday. We just mess with each other. So one day I got a phone call from Johnny and he said, “man, you aren’t going to believe it, Eric Clapton is going to record your song “Please Be With Me!” I told him that wasn’t funny, because I was having a hard time. Johnny was having to convince me that he was not kidding and it was for real. It took him a minute or two to convince me it was not a practical joke. It was a year after that I got a check, but my line of credit improved immensely - and dramatically.
Was that on Ocean Blvd album?
Yeah, and I know it is the best-selling album he has to date. They have reissued it several times and I can tell a difference when it is re-released. That’s the songwriting business. I know the guy over here Don Von Tress who wrote “Achy, Breaky Heart.” He was hanging drywall. He cut the demo on that and about two years later it was recorded. In his defense, I would like to say to the people of the United States, who hate the song as much as I hate the song, his original title to that was “Aching, Breaking Heart.” It was the producer who wanted to change it. Don is a very fine songwriter and he has had several other good songs recorded as well.
Tell me a little bit about The Decoys.
That’s something I love doing. They are a band that I love. Johnny Sandlin called me up in 1988 when I was in The Convertibles with Topper Price - and Tommy Talton was in it for awhile. My wife and I were in the process of separating. I didn’t have anything holding me in Mobile, Alabama. Johnny called and told me he was putting a band together up here. I had been one of the primary guys in The Convertibles, doing a lot of the work in the band, driving the band, really at the forefront of the band. So when Johnny called he says he needs a rhythm guitar player. I could just go up there and play the guitar, simple as that. So I was ready to go and brought the drummer from the Convertibles up with me. I was looking forward to not being the lead singer, just the rhythm guitar guy who sings some harmony parts, and doesn’t have to do all the set up and physical work. The people who were fronting the band separated from us after a few months. I was left at the forefront. Johnny felt the band was going to break up. I felt like I couldn’t just give up after bringing everything up from Mobile and so I became the front guy in the band. That was 19 years ago and we have gone through a host of people, but there are two other mainstays, Kelvin Holly on guitar and N.C. Thurman on keyboards, and they have been in the band since 1990. We are the core of the band and we have had several drummers and several bass players but we have David Hood right now on bass, and I don’t think you can have anyone better there. We do basically R & B stuff that is classic - Al Green, Delbert McClinton, and David is just great on that stuff. He has played on so many of those classic records that he can’t remember. (laughs)
In the past couple of years I have been turned onto Eddie Hinton. Can you tell me something about him as an artist?
Eddie was not living in the world that we live in, mentally speaking. He saw things from a different perspective. He was as he was and there was not much he could do about it. He was a wonderful talent, and one of the blackest white singers I ever heard.
There is no question that most people hearing him think he is black. He did so much for so many guitar players by sort of pioneering the parallel fourth. He taught Glen Frey how to do that and then The Eagles had a hit on the song called “I Found Somebody To Love.” You can go back and listen to that song and see if it doesn’t sound like Eddie Hinton playing guitar. That is because Eddie had showed him the parallel fourth. I am not sure if there is anything I can tell you that others have not already revealed. I do remember right before he did the Very Extremely Dangerous album he came to Macon and did some janitorial work in the studio. He would come in and clean the floors, empty trash and ashtrays, and I remember seeing him in there when we were working on the third Cowboy album. I talked with him and asked him to come up and play on the album with us. He was saying to me that he wanted to just stay in the position of cleaning at that time. He just had a different way of looking at things than anyone on the planet. He deserved much better than he got.
Tell us about the new Cowboy album.
Basically Carl (Weaver) came to me and I have been doing Capricorn Rhythm Section thing for the past few years, well, during that time he has mentioned me doing another Cowboy album. I was basically doing other things and not even in a position to respond to it. The fourth or fifth time he asked me I told him that if her could get it all together Tommy and I would be up for it. We have planned to get the original band members together and record with some other folks that we are playing with currently.
The music that Tommy and I are working on are some new tunes and then we have some songs that Tommy had written in the past we may use. Then there are some other songs I have written that I may be able to choose from, and another song from Bill Pillmore. We have a potential of about 30 songs to pick from. We will probably record in November and have it done by the end of November. I have not talked to Johnny about it because there is a lot to get coordinated, getting the songs together and people here. And Carl said something about wanting a spring release. I have done lots of albums and it never happens as planned, but I am not saying that won’t happen.That’s an awful lot to try to get done, but it’s doable. Rock and roll has a way of changing it’s own schedule.
Read our account of the making of the new Cowboy album HERE.