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The Garfeel Ruff Story

by Michael Buffalo Smith

From the book Carolina Dreams, 1997.

When Rick Godfrey was six years old, he was playing the piano at his Grandmother’s house in Greenville, SC. Always a little bit ahead of his time, Godfrey could easily master the kinds of things like all kids do, “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks,” but he would always go that extra mile to pick out things like “Duke of Earl” on the keyboard.

Born in 1956, both Rick and his brother Ronnie have been blind since birth. Ricky started at the school for the deaf and blind in Spartanburg in 1963.

“They give all the students a test,” says Rick. “And if you can tell high notes from low notes, they tell you that you are gifted, and must have some musical talent. So I started playing the piano in the fall of ‘64 when I was in the first grade. Basically classical piano stuff. We integrated a couple of years before the regular schools, so I was exposed to soul music a few years before the other kids were. I started in public school in 1970, and went into the 8th grade at Tanglewood Middle School in Greenville in 1971. Now, the Battle of the Bands was a really big thing back then, and the band that everybody was talking about at the time was a band called The Fresh Licks. They had won the Battle of the Bands in Greenville. My older brother Ronnie had just started playing around town, in fact, he was playing at a place called The Four Winds, out on Augusta Road. One of the guys he was playing with was Mickey Fowler, who later had a  band called The Variations. Actually, a year before The Four Winds they were playing at the AMVETS Club in Spartanburg. This particular AMVETS later became Hooley’s Underground, in the basement of the Franklin Hotel on Main Street. At the time a fellow named Tony Heatherly was playing the bass, who at one time played with Toy Caldwell, among others. The drummer’s name was Tony Lane. I was in Greenville, and really wanted to join a band.”

In 1971, Rick found a classified in The Greenville News  that spoke of a  soul band that was being put together. Both he and brother Ronnie applied for jobs with the band.

“We both joined the band, and began playing all black clubs for about six or seven months,” says Godfrey. “ Then Ronnie joined another band and started playing at the AMVETS  in Spartanburg. I kept playing with this soul band, playing piano and organ. Mean time, I kept hearing about this other band, The Fresh Licks. They were winning contests and getting a good reputation. Then in December of ‘71, I got this $20 guitar for Christmas. Before then, I was more into soul than rock and roll. By the fall of ‘72, my brother’s band had moved to The Four Winds, and one of the more advanced guitarists in the Upstate, Johnny Westmoreland, had joined them. Johnny and Rudy Wyatt were considered the best guitar players in the area in 1972.”

One of the members of the Fresh Licks was Jimmy Westmoreland, Johnny’s younger brother. In the fall of ‘72, Jimmy asked Ricky Godfrey to join the band, and they started playing gigs around the area. In 1973, The Fresh Licks hosted the state Battle of the Bands. Jimmy quit that band in late ‘73, and Rudy Wyatt joined for a while. In December of ‘74, Ricky quit the band.

“I started playing in some of the roughest joints in town, playing keyboard for country bands. The Variations were doing real well at the time, playing outlaw country music and classic rock and roll.”

In September of ‘74, Ronnie Godfrey joined a band called Lovejoy, which was lead by Moses Dillard playing guitar. He had established quite a following, having released several singles as Moses Dillard and the Textile Revue.

Joining Ronnie in Lovejoy was bassist Franklin Wilkie.

“After the Toy Factoy and the death of my father, I had moved to Atlanta and had gotten into the retail business, with a mens clothing store,” says Wilkie. “I started doing real well with it, and before long they started letting me help open stores for them. That’s when  I talked them into building one at McAlister Square in Greenville, so I could be back closer to home.  So we built the store in Greenville and I moved back home to run it. One of the first people I hired on was Leo Adams. I hadn’t seen Leo  since the days of The Rants. Leo said, are you still playing? He said I’ve got a band and I need a bass man. It was an all black band except for me and Michael King, the guitar player. Michael teaches at Fifth String Music, and has a band called Jitterbug Antenna. Leo’s band was called Kudos.  We used to actually practice in the clothing store. We called in Redrock Edwards to play the drums, and we decided that since we had all these connections with Capricorn Records and The Marshall Tucker Band, our objective would be to get a recording deal and do our own original music. Then I got a call from  Moses Dillard, who said that his bass player and his keyboard player had gotten fired from the place they were playing, and asked if I was interested. I told him to let me call Ronnie Godfrey and see if he was interested. So Ronnie and I kind of shelved the project we were working on and went to work for Lovejoy. That’s where we met Allen Pearson, who was the drummer. I didn’t know anything about him except that David Pearson was his uncle and his dad had been into racing some too. He was a groove monster. he always played all the right things, and he never seemed to have to rehearse.

One of the lady singers in Lovejoy was Kim Morrison- she was a great singer and a songwriter. Allen lived with her during Lovejoy, and today she is living with Ronnie, writing songs in Nashville.”

Moses Dillard had an investor, but somehow the money all went away without ever furthering the band’s success. When the money ran out, Ronnie Godfrey was the first to leave. He decided to re-group with Jimmy Westmoreland, Tony Heatherly, Mickey Fowler in a band called Carolina. When that didn’t work out, Allen and Franklin called up Ronnie and suggested they just go for it.

 Allen knew a guitar player he had worked with before named Buddy Strong, who came in and began daily rehearsals with the group.  It was really starting to sound good.

“One day I asked Ronnie what he thought,” says Wilkie. “ He said the only thing that would ever make him leave this band was if he a had an opportunity to have a band with his brother. He said that it had been a dream of theirs since they were kids. Ricky Godfrey was taking classical guitar lessons at the time, and Ronnie mentioned that maybe one day Rick could play with the band. I said why wait, let’s get him in on the ground floor. We began to work real hard, and after Rick had graduated from school, we began to put out some tapes and try to get some bites. That’s when we decided we would do all original music and just keep plugging at it until somebody noticed. We had several clubs we played in on a regular basis, all around the area, including The Andiron in Spartanburg.”

“So Garfeel Ruff was really formed around November of 1974,” says Godfrey. “We decided we were going to do as much original music as we could, so in December we got our first gig at The Palace over on Stone Avenue (in Greenville, SC), making $190 a week. We played there for about a month, until we came in one day to play and the doors were locked on the club. We had to get in touch with the guy to get our equipment out. They didn’t give us a notice or anything. After that, we started playing a lot around Spartanburg. We thought it was going to be easy, and we’d have a deal within two months, because Frank Wilkie had grown up with Toy Caldwell and the other guys from Marshall Tucker. But it just didn’t work out that way. We were one of the few bands that stayed together long enough to make it. That’s the key. If you’re going to make it, you have to stick together, no matter if times get rough-no matter how disillusioned the wives and girlfriends become. Just staying together was the key.”

Rick attended Wade Hampton High School, and graduated in 1975. It was during his senior year that Garfeel Ruff went on the road with Billy Joe Royal.

“ We had just come up with the name, which at the time was spelled Garfield Ruff. Our photographer, Jim Campbell, was the one who actually picked it.”

“ I’ll never forget the big outdoor show in Greenville during the Summer of ‘76,” recalls Godfrey. “ Marshall Tucker, Wet Willie, Outlaws, Grinderswitch, Charlie Daniels...We came on at about one in the afternoon, and then it started raining. Grinderswitch got to play, and then the rest of the show was rained out. I guess we got the most exposure out of that one.”

Things were really beginning to look up for Garfeel Ruff.

“Then we got word that Marshall Tucker was coming home the next day, and they had an offer for us to do a Pepsi commercial,” recalls Wilkie. “ It  seems Pepsi needed a band just like us. All we had to do was sign a contract with Jerry and Doug giving them X-amount of dollars. The band wouldn’t do it. I don’t think Doug and Jerry ever really got over that. There was always that little thing between Garfeel Ruff and them  after that. But Joe McConnel, their business manager, loved what we were doing, and helped to make us some business connections. He helped us get the chance to play in Atlanta, where The Allman Brothers came out to hear us. We did some tracks at Capricorn, and Toy came in and played steel guitar on some cuts. Well, they passed on us. But Joe said hang in there and we’ll make something happen. So we went down and talked to Bill Lowery.”        

Lowery liked what the band was doing, and he got them hooked up with Polygram Records, who in turn made the band an offer. We were all excited. Garfeel played a huge showcase down in Atlanta for Polygram.

“ Bill didn’t like it because we wanted a group of lawyers other than his lawyers to look at the contracts,” says Wilkie. “ So we contacted Ron Taft, who was Marshall Tucker’s lawyer. He read the thing, and said there were a couple of things in there that they were not following through with that they said that they would do. Well, Polygram wouldn’t bend. They refused to work with us. So we passed on the Polygram offer. Buddy Bowie, who was doing The Atlanta Rhythm Section, asked what it would take to make us happy. He said that for  20 percent he would get us a bus and a deal, and we could  come out to my lake house and we’ll write some together. Well, something about that rubbed the band the wrong way - we didn’t want to cut someone else in on our original material, so we passed on that. In retrospect, it would have been a good thing for us to have done, because he would have been involved, the record company would’ve spent more money. We would’ve done better signing with Polygram  because we would have been working local out of Atlanta.  So Ron Taft said, pass on this deal, we’ll get you something else. He set up some auditions and some showcases for Capitol Records. All the big executives for Capitol from all over the world came to Hooley’s Underground in Spartanburg to hear us play. Joe Mac brought them all up there. We signed up with Capitol that night, and they sent us off to Muscle Shoals to do our first album. They pretty much left the choice of material up to us. One of the songs was “Sister Mary Suicide,” about this nun that had been raped; “Bad Motorcycle,” “Ride On Purple Satin Lady.” The only disadvantage was that they were in Los Angeles and we were in South Carolina. If you’re not right up under a record company, it’s tough. Well, the label wasn’t pleased with our choice of material, but they did like us enough to give us a shot at doing the soundtrack for the movie “The Hitter.” It was on Kaleidoscope Records. Well, Capitol got all excited about the soundtrack deal, so they asked us to come back into the studio and re-cut the album, which we did. We did the same material, but with a different sound.

“When we signed with Capitol, there was an artist that was real popular at the time for being so secretive. He would never let anyone watch him work. His name was Garfield, and our name at the time was Garfield Ruff, so to avoid any confusion, we changed it to Garfeel.”

One of the long-time supporters of Garfeel Ruff was Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer and Spartanburg County hometowner, Artimus Pyle.

“When I was with Kudos, and had the men’s clothing store, Artimus came over one time,” says Wilkie. “He  introduced himself and said, “Hey man, I’m a drummer. Let’s get together sometime and jam. It wasn’t six months after that he was working with Lynyrd Skynyrd. We stayed pretty close. His wife and my wife were pals in high school. But he always liked Ronnie and Ricky’s style a lot. He paid for us to go down to Studio One and cut some tapes. He said he would call us the next morning. We were working at The Agora Ballroom in Atlanta, and we had one of those suites in the hotel there above the ballroom there on the corner. So we recorded. He said he wanted to be there, but they were playing Greenville that night, and flying out for Louisiana the next morning. That was the night of the plane crash.

“That same year we opened for Marshall Tucker in Wheeling, West Va. The Lowery Group was still trying to work with us, but things seemed to be moving very slow. In ‘77, we went into the Capricorn studios to record. Paul Hornsby was producing. He had produced the MTB. We had hired  a manager named Reg Reeves, a good friend of MTB manager Joe McConnel. The conflict was,  should we go with Lowery or the MTB thing with McConnel. We went with MTB. Their lawyer, Ron Taft helped us get signed to Capitol. I think Capitol wanted to use us as bait, because MTB was between labels, but they went with Warner instead. Our record came out in ‘79.”

According to Wilkie, Garfeel Ruff actually recorded three albums.

“The first one, Garfeel Ruff, we did it twice.  First in  June of  ‘78. We recorded it at Muscle Shoals. They didn’t like it so we did it again, with Craig Leon producing. In Aug ‘78, we went to Wishbone Studios in  Muscle Shoals to record the soundtrack to The Hitter.  It was a movie starring Ron “Superfly” O’Neal. It was a B-Movie geared to big audiences. It Grossed a lot of money, which of course we never saw. We were paid a lump sum.”

“When we recorded our second album, Born to Play, we sent the tracks off to Capitol,” says Rick Godfrey. “We recorded it in 1979, but it wasn’t released until early 1985. That album was called Born to Play.  Well, they passed on the band, saying they didn’t want to put more money into the group. At the time, they were putting all their money behind a new group called The Knack. (“My Sharonna”)

“When  Rick left the band, Ronnie followed suit, and as replacements we got Steve Hill and Greg Bridges,” says Wilkie. “ We started working with two drummers, Allen and Steve.”

“This was right before we broke up,” says Godfrey. “ Ronnie and I left the band right after Capitol turned us down. Six months later Tommy Caldwell was killed and Franklin was asked to fill in for him. My brother joined them early in 1981.”

Ronnie Godfrey, who’s  been in Nashville since ‘87, was quoted in a 1985 Spartanburg Herald Journal interview, just prior to a temporary Garfeel Ruff reunion,  saying:

“I’ve played with The Marshall Tucker Band, and all sorts of pretty successful bands, but this was the tightest unit I ever worked with. One of the reasons is that we all tried. In a way, you work at it the same way you work at a marriage. You tackle the money problems together, or whatever problems come up. Multiply that by five - the number of sensitive artists in the band- and you’ll see hat it’s like tryin' to keep a band together. That doesn’t keep us from being friends, or picking up our instruments to play together though, because in that respect, Garfeel Ruff will never break up and will never die. We’re too close for that.”

Article Dedicated to the Memory of Allen Pearson

Read our 2002 Interview with Ricky Godfrey Here.

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