The UNBELIEVABLE and TRUE story behind
By Shelly Garrett
© 2014 Shelly Garrett
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America
The UNBELIEVABLE and TRUE story behind
Copyright © 2014 by Shelly Garrett
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, including photocopying and recording or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission, in writing, from Shelly Garrett, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
dam-three, see the lady on the corner of Baseline and Mt. Vernon about a belligerent husband. Adam-three - ten four.
It's about ten o'clock in the evening and I am working the swing-shift in San Bernardino, California, as a patrolman with the Police Department. How many times did I ask myself, how did I end-up here? Oh yeah, now I remember; my dad worked for the mayor and he was assigned a project, and gladly accepted, which was getting more blacks on the city's fire and police departments. I'm not sure how many blacks were with the fire department, but before me, there were only four; count them; one, two, three, four; four blacks on the San Bernardino Police Department. When my dad approached me about it, I just could not see me being a policeman; since I was a leading radio disc jockey in the city. That's right, better known as "Shelly the Music Man" on KFMW radio, 99.9 FM, rocking the city with the current R & B tunes; now how on earth could I give that up and become a police officer? The other D.J.'s were "Billy the Playboy," "The Jazz Witness" and "The Reverend Cecil Neal." My dad said, "Why do you have to give it up? Why can't you do them both?" I said, really? I can do both? Never thought about that? He said, "Just take the test and see what happens." I agreed to do so. "There is really nothing to study," he said, "Just go and take a test." Well I did that for my dad and low and behold, would you believe I passed?
Next, the in-person interview was scheduled a few days later. I appeared for that interview and passed again. Wow, this is all happening too fast. The next step would be a physical examination and then the police academy for a few weeks. For some reason, I was beginning to get excited about this whole police officer thing. Okay, I went through the academy and passed it with flying colors. Now this is the part I was getting excited about; riding around in the police car all by myself and turning on the lights and siren. For some reason, it would seem to give me a strange power. The next step was to purchase my uniform, gun belt, gun, handcuffs and shoes. The only thing the department supplied us with was the mace. Believe me; this was getting very expensive, especially since my gun of choice was a .357 magnum. I was to the point I just couldn't wait to get in that car.
My first day of work, I was to report to the daily briefing. This is where the shift sergeant gave us descriptions of stolen vehicles and wanted suspects, etc. After the fifteen minute briefing, the sergeant introduced me to the other officers; that’s when I was told I would be assigned to a training officer. Damn, I didn't want to be with anyone, I wanted to be by myself, so I could play with all of the buttons and knobs in the car. But that was not to be; I was with a training officer for about four weeks. Actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought, until we actually got into the car and got out on the beat. Then I found myself not liking him, because he was a true bully. This guy would talk-down to the public, push them around and just overall, mistreat folks. But the first rule I learned in the academy is you never, ever squeal on another officer. It was pounded in our heads on a constant basis, but never in writing. That meant, when he and I would approach a drunk man, sitting on the sidewalk or leaning on a wall; I couldn't and wouldn't say anything when my partner would demand the drunk to stand-up and dare him to weave to the left or right. Never could I say anything about my partner, who is supposed to be training me to be a good policeman, to protect and to serve, but instead, I have to witness his stomping on the drunk's foot, as hard as he could, causing the drunk to yell in pain and get off-balance. "Ooops, you leaned; you must be drunk. You're under arrest for 647-F," my partner would blurt-out, which was the California Penal Code for being drunk in public. Okay, let me say this; most of the times, they actually were drunk, but there were a few occasions when that was not the case. My "training" officer would keep a bottle of cheap wine in the trunk of the patrol car, tucked in his duffle bag and force the fellow to drink from the bottle, so the smell of liquor would be on his breath. Then he would pour some of the cheap wine on the man’s clothes, causing him to smell like alcohol, or in his words, “drunk." I must say, it didn't matter to him what race a person was; my partner was an equal opportunity abuser. By the time we would get the guy to the police station, the victim certainly reeked of alcohol. Anyone would think he had been drinking for days, even if he hadn't. During those times, when the fellow had actually not been drinking, caused him to be so angry, simply about what was wrongly, being done to him, that he would naturally lash-out at us and, as expected, become very belligerent. My partner would call him all kinds of names and degrade his mother and family, just to make him angrier; therefore by the time the fellow was to be booked, the innocent guy would be so irate, the other officers and booking personnel would just look at him, shaking their heads in disgust. I'm thinking; only if everyone knew what happened to his guy; a person who was on the street, minding his own business, not bothering anyone, not disturbing anyone and my "training" officer is causing so much grief, for absolutely no reason at all. How many times did I wonder what on earth is he training me to be; an asshole like him? But again, "silence is blue" and that's something I had better remember. I couldn't discuss it with my dad or anyone else. Actually, I wanted to quit after my first week. I just couldn't believe what I was witnessing. I figured he is doing all of this nonsense, just to test my loyalty to him and the department; I thought probably everyone goes through this in their early days.
After two weeks with that fool, I was assigned to another training officer, by the name of Tom Baker. Now he was completely different; a true professional. Baker did teach me about police work, out in the field. I had so much respect for him, I guess simply because he never, ever disrespected the public, unless they got out-of-line with him. He was more than fair to the general public. When we were called to someone's home, he sincerely cared about their problems. This is the same officer who taught me to write good, detailed police reports and explained to me why it was so important for them to be clear and concise. Both of my training officers were Caucasian; but they were as different as night and day.
Finally, I was assigned my own police car. I can remember that being a very thrilling day; no one to watch over me, to tell me what to do anymore, no one to check my reports… it was like freedom. I had certainly learned the right and wrong ways of police work. I was determined not to disrespect anyone, not to call anyone out of their names; I just wanted to be the ultimate professional. Actually, my first day in the car alone, I decided I wanted to park my car on Baseline Avenue, in the 'wash' area. The ‘wash’ is a long stretch of road, that almost everyone would violate the speed limit. I probably stopped about twenty vehicles that day, just to ask the drivers to slow-down and try to drive safely. The people were not only shocked by not getting a ticket, but I think they were more shocked about how nice I was toward them. There was no need to approach them with anger. This was fun for me for two reasons; one to watch the expressions on their faces and two, I got to turn-on the lights and sometimes the siren to get them stopped. It was a win-win situation for me. Pretty soon, I was known as the nice cop. For some reason, my sergeant didn't like it, so he gave me another beat, but it didn't matter because I was going to be the same everywhere. It soon became apparent that I wasn't liked very well, within the department, especially after the other officers found-out I was a radio disc jockey, as well as a policeman. I never understood why that made them so angry; then I figured it was just jealously. They began saying things like, “You’re not a policeman, you’re Shelly the Music Man,” but I was cool with it and didn't really let it bother me. Keep in mind, there are only four other black policemen on the department, one juvenile detective (Willie Clark) and three other uniformed patrolmen. (Walter Jones, James Owens and Claude Diggs) Two of the guys would always tell me to just ignore the little comments, its better that way. So I tried it their way; at least for awhile.
There was one German officer, and it was very obvious that he didn't like blacks, and he truly resented the black police officers. The other black officers had already warned me about him. They would always say, "Just ignore him and try to stay out of his way." I thought, what kind of advise is that? Well one night the city had a riot in the black neighborhood, which is where I lived as well. The riots were centered at Baseline and Muscott streets. (Muscott has now been renamed to Medical Center Drive) We were being divided into several units of about ten officers each. Well my unit met at in a vacant field on the corner of 19th street and Muscott; about a mile north of the center of the riots and this officer, whom I knew hated black folks, was also in my unit. Every unit was led by a sergeant or lieutenant; my unit's leader was a sergeant, who happened to be Hispanic; Sergeant Gonzales. Everyone else was white, except me. The sergeant was giving us a plan to go into the riot-torn area, and what we would do when we got there, which was basically nothing, but block the streets to keep it from spreading any further. After the briefing, we were to all check our weapons and mace canisters. Just before we broke-up to do this, I heard someone say, "I hope we get to shoot some niggers tonight." Everyone got very quiet and of course, looked at me. I turned and looked to see who made the comment and sure enough, it was "Mr. Prejudice" himself. As I looked at the sergeant, I saw him look at the guy, then look at me, but never uttered a word to him, not even a verbal reprimand; the only thing that came-out of the sergeant's mouth was, "Okay guys, let's get going." So now, there are two things I couldn't believe; this fool had actually made that prejudicial comment right there in my presence; and the sergeant, who's supposed to be a leader, just ignoring it! Now, I'm thinking we're about to have a police riot, literally, right there on the corner, between all of these policemen, but I knew I had to be smart. Since it didn't seem like anyone was on my side and knowing everyone there had loaded guns on their hips, I needed to be cool, and not a fool! But this stupid-ass sergeant wants me to go out here and mace and beat, with my nightstick, and if necessary, shoot these rioters, who were all black men and women, for this very prejudice police department. Hard decision, right? Well it was an easy one for me; I'm not doing it! As everyone got into their police cars and began rolling toward the riot area; I rolled right over to my parent's house, which was two blocks away, on 20th street, just off of Muscott. I thought, I'll be damned if I'm going to fight for this police department. I told my parents I was there for a “code-seven,” which was the police code for a "dinner break." My dad asked me how the riots were going and I told him, I didn't know. My mother always had her little radio that picked-up police calls. A dinner break was an hour, so afterwards I got back in the car and just listened to the radio chatter. I just wanted "Mr. Prejudice" to head-back to the station, because I wasn't; I mean I just couldn't let him get away with that comment.
About three hours later, I'm hearing on the radio that the streets were basically cleared of rioters and the dispatcher was calling everyone, on my shift, back to the station. This is the moment I had been waiting for. Apparently no one noticed that I had not been to the riots. My assignment was to block the corner of Muscott and Gilbert Streets. Well that didn't happen. In my head, my only assignment was to confront that fool, and it couldn't happen soon enough. As I drove to the station, I noticed he was already there and parked with his head stuck down in the trunk of his car. As I was parking, he began walking into the rear door of the station. The rear door takes you through the briefing room, then into the report room and finally, into the booking area. No one lingers in the booking area with a weapon; you must check-it in a gun locker, if you are going to be in the booking area for any length of time. I hurried and rushed through the briefing room. Apparently some rioters had been arrested, because there were about seven black fellows sitting on a bench, handcuffed with their hands behind their backs. While walking through the report room, I could hear "Mr. Prejudice" in the booking area degrading the prisoners saying, "Their mothers were whores" and "All niggers should be sent back to Africa where they belong." One of the prisoners made a comment back to him and "Mr. Prejudice" sprayed them all with mace, while they were handcuffed. When I came around the corner and saw what was going- on and that’s when I totally lost it. I noticed he had placed his weapon in a lock-box, so I placed mine into one, as well. The prisoners seemed to be pleased to see me. In fact, two of the guys I knew from the neighborhood. I remember saying, what the hell is going-on in here? The prisoners all began trying to tell me what was happening. "Mr. Prejudice" didn't say a word. I turned and asked him about his comment at the briefing. He said, "Fuck you nigger!" From that moment on, all I could see was red… It must have been the first blow I threw that broke his nose, but I knew I was determined to beat this fool, until he died. After he fell to the ground, I just couldn't stop hitting and kicking him in his side. The prisoners were all yelling and suddenly policemen were coming from everywhere, trying to pull me off of him. He laid there and didn't move; I think that's when I spit in his face, while he was still on the ground. An ambulance was called to transport him to the hospital, while the shift sergeant ushered me into a private office; yes the same sergeant that was out in the field with us, when the comment was made. Well I don't have to tell you I had some choice words for him too. I didn't care about that job anymore; I was ready to be fired, it was okay with me. All of this was wrong and I knew I didn't want to be a part of it anymore! Eventually, I was sent home and was told not to report for work, until further notice. The next day, someone called me saying, come to a meeting in one week, after "Mr. Prejudice" gets out of the hospital. They told me he had a broken nose, broken jaw, two cracked ribs and one eye is closed completely. You know what I said? Good and hung-up the phone! I was ready to be belligerent to everyone connected to that police department. I hated them all! I was always taught to never hate anyone for any reason, but this is a rule I had to break; I just couldn't help it.
I remember one of the other black officers telling me that I could actually go to jail for battery, due to this incident, so when I get into the meeting, just say that he assaulted me first. Now, as a policeman, I learned that assault means, anyone who acts as if they are going to hit me, even if it's just raising their hand in the air, is an assault. But the moment they do, it now becomes battery. So, I have to say, he raised his hand, in an assault, as if he was going to commit battery on me and I defended myself. Now what can they do, after all, there were no witnesses, other than the prisoners that were sitting there and they had already been sprayed with mace, so, this was pretty much in the bag for me.
Well, he stayed in the hospital longer than one week. In fact, it was more like three weeks, due to the fractured ribs. I got the call and was advised that my punishment for the incident was to be a suspension without pay for two weeks. Now you know I acted a fool on that phone, but they told me to hold-on, because "Mr. Prejudice," as I refer to him, was being suspended without pay for four weeks, twice as long as I. I didn't have a problem with being suspended without pay; but I told them I wanted a meeting, either with the chief of police or the assistant chief, as soon as possible. Well the meeting was set-up for the next day. Since Officer Baker taught me how to write a complete, detailed and concise report, I decided this was a good time to put my experience to work. I wrote a twenty page report as to what occurred at the briefing, as well as in the booking room. I even purchased a nice folder for it. Everything was very professional. I wanted to be armed with that report, when I went to the meeting the next day. It was the best writing I had ever done; I must say so myself.
When I arrived at the station, many of the other officer's attitudes had changed. It was more like they were giving me the cold shoulder; now ask me if I cared. Screw them! My meeting was going to be with the chief and the assistant chief, which surprised me. Apparently they thought I wanted to meet with them, because I was upset about being suspended, without pay for two weeks. But quickly and shockingly, they learn that my meeting was requesting they terminate the other officer. I placed the report on the chief's desk and said to him, everything that happened is in that report; then briefly told them what happened during the riot briefing, but it was quite obvious, either they didn't believe me, nor did they care or both. My vote would be the latter. So I asked them to call the sergeant into the meeting, since he was present and had witnessed the comment. They sort of resisted that request, however I was insistent on having him in there to prove my point. Finally, they called Sergeant Gonzales into the meeting. When he was confronted with the comment that was made by the other officer, can you believe this fool DENIED this ever happening, saying I had a chip on my shoulder, and I was making the whole thing up, simply because I didn't like the officer. Then I remembered; this all goes back to not squealing on other officers; the silence of blue, remember? I'm now thinking, okay now I've gotten caught-up in this mess. I remember calling the sergeant a "yellow-bellied coward and a bold-faced liar." Believe me, the chief and assistant chief had to know I was telling the truth, because why would I go to this extreme if I was lying? They had to know the sergeant was lying, but what difference did it make; he was a sergeant and I was just a patrolman, who had only been on the department for two and a half years, so who was I? I knew when I called him a coward and a liar, I would be resigning. I could never work with any of them again, and I'm supposed to count on these same people to protect my back, if ever in a gun battle? Hell they would probably shoot me in the back and blame it on one of the criminals, who knows, so I quit right on the spot! The sergeant was dismissed from the room and that's when the chief told me they needed a written resignation within seventy-two hours. I told them I would give them a written resignation right now. There was a pen and pad on his desk; I used it to write: "I quit," signed Shelly Garrett, with my badge number and the date. I placed my badge on top of the note and walked-out the room, never looking back. When I went through the lobby, there stood the coward sergeant, huddled with some other officers, gossiping about what had just happened in there. He heard me say, I quit, before they asked him to leave, but he's probably out there telling the others that I'm inside getting fired. At that point, I could have cared-less.
Okay now see if you can believe this? At that time I was driving a silver Porsche 914 and was on my way home from the police department, when a police car got behind me and put the lights on. So I pulled over, thinking this is one of the black officers stopping me, wanting to know what happened in the meeting. As I looked in my driver's side-view mirror, a white officer got out of the car. I knew him by sight, but I didn't know a lot about him, since he was not on my shift; he worked the day shift. The officer approached my car, as if he had never seen me before. When I let my window down, he said, "Mr. Garrett may I see your driver's license please?" Okay, I'm thinking he's joking, so I smiled and said, get out of here; what's going-on? He said, "What's going-on is I need to see your license." I detected this little tone in his voice. So I asked why do you need to see my license? He said, "Because I asked you." My response was, are you serious? He said, "I couldn't be more serious." So I actually went into my wallet and gave him my license. He took it and said, "I'll be right back" and walked back to the hood of his police car and opened his ticket book. I could see all of this through my side-view mirror. I got out of my car, walked back to him and asked what he was doing. He said, "I am issuing you a citation." I said, a citation? A citation for what? He said, "You were exceeding the posted speed limit, which is 35 miles per hour." Now I'm getting really agitated, because I know I was not speeding, but more so because he even stopped me. Police officers just don't give other police officers a ticket. That is a departmental courtesy. I asked him how fast was I going and he said, "You were doing 36 in a 35 mile zone." That's when I really blew-up! I just went "pure stupid" on him. He got on the radio and called for a back-up unit. I realized this was nothing more than harassment. Damn, I just quit fifteen minutes ago and was on my way home; now he's stopping me. This is all planned and I'm sure the shift sergeant was behind it all, because I called him a coward and a liar in the presence of the chief and assistant chief. About three minutes later, the back-up unit arrived and guess who got out of the car; Walter Jones, one of the black officers. He walks over to us and I was just going-nuts on this other cop. Officer Jones asked me to please calm-down and pulled me aside, away from the other cop. He advised me that this is all a plan to arrest me; so don't touch the cop, just take the ticket and leave, he said, "Because now a sergeant is on the way." He continued, "They are going to try and harass you for about three months any time they see you on the streets, so be prepared for it. They want you to have a criminal record, so you can't work for another police department." I said, hell I never wanted to be a policemen in the first place. He begged me to take the ticket and go straight home, now! I did so, thinking they would be stopping me all the way home, but that didn't happen.
Instead, I went to my parent's house and told my dad what was going-on. Now remember, he works for the mayor. My dad was outraged; he immediately got on the phone with the mayor and told him what happened, all the way back from the riot briefing, up until now. He and the mayor were very good friends, plus my dad campaigned for him for the black vote during the election. The mayor told my dad he would take care of it.
The next day, one of the black officers called me at home and advised me that in the briefing today, before they went out on patrol, everyone was warned, not to harass me or stop my vehicle or any other vehicle I was in and there is to be no contact with me, unless they have witnessed me committing a felony; otherwise leave me alone. They were further advised, it was a direct order from the chief of police, which was handed-down from the mayor, and if anyone violated this order, it would be cause for immediate termination or long-term suspension, since they were placing the city at risk for an enormous lawsuit, and the mayor will not tolerate it.
Strangely enough, when I would ride down the street, almost every time I saw a police car, they would quickly look the other way. Never did I have any more problems out of the San Bernardino Police Department. That's when I quickly learned; it's not what you know, it's who you know.
Remember those prisoners who witnessed my altercation with "Mr. Prejudice? Well later, they had spread the word all over the 'hood' what had taken place in the police station and how I took a stance against a prejudice and unfair cop. The word got around very quickly that Shelly Garrett is not an "Uncle Tom."
I think the only good experience I received from being a police officer, within those two and a half years was learning how to write a very good report, and those writing skills would always stay with me throughout my future career. Good for me!
n the meantime, as I was still on the radio doing my show everyday; I thought it was time to go into another direction. Since this entertainment business was really my first love, I was intent on finding a way to make more money than I was getting at the radio station. My show was extremely popular throughout the city, so I decided to put together a musical revue. At that time, "Revues" were very popular. I wanted to try and emulate what they were doing. San Bernardino was full of talented singers, so I contacted them and advised them as to what my plans were and asked if they wanted to be a part of it. I think the fact that my name was so popular in the city, just from being on the radio, everyone I asked basically jumped at the opportunity to be on my revue. It was going to be called “The Shelly the Music Man Revue – Soul Show." Yeah I know, the title is a bit long, but I needed to get it all in some kind of way. I had one singing group of five guys, who actually gave you the feeling of The Temptations; a single male vocalist with a true velvet voice by the name of Peter Dixon; A female singing group, that gave you the feeling of The Supremes; a really young guy, who would come-out and dance just like James Brown; and a full-figured female vocalist from Banning, California by the name of Cordelia Stewart. This girl could give Aretha Franklin a run for her money, because she sounded just like her. Now keep in mind, none of these people were over nineteen years of age.
I now had a show, but where was I going to put it? After checking around several places, I decided to have it in Riverside, California at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium. Now let me give you my reasoning on having it in Riverside. First of all, my radio show blanketed the city of Riverside, which is about twenty miles from San Bernardino. They are known as the twin cities and even though San Bernardino was actually the main city; Riverside was known to have the prettiest girls, so this is how I figured it; I knew the people in Riverside would rarely come to San Bernardino to party, but as it stood, the people in San Bernardino would quickly go to Riverside, because of the pretty girls and where there are pretty girls, guys will automatically follow. My advertising was absolutely free, since I would talk about it and run commercials on my radio show; I also had the other jocks on the air with me to run the commercial, as well.
It was on a Saturday night and the placed was packed. I had a large banner, about ten feet long, printed and hanging on the outside of the auditorium. People were still coming from everywhere, until finally the off-duty police officer I was required to hire said, he couldn't allow any more people inside, due to it becoming a fire hazard. It was just too crowded. All of this was a good thing. The acts were excited, since none of them had ever performed in front of so many people in their lives. When I got on stage and started the show the audience was ready. It was something new to them, since this had never happened in either of the twin cities. The first act was the little boy who dances just like James Brown. The audience went crazy over him. His parents were so proud; in fact I think he's the only one of all the acts, who wasn't nervous. By the time I got to the middle of the show, I knew I had something special, with this musical revue thing. It puts you in the mind of the movie "The Five Heartbeats." Remember how everyone was competing against each other and how the crowd was going berserk? Well, that's what I had and guess what… I didn't have to pay anyone. Everyone wanted to be on my revue, as they felt it gave them some validation and some type of prestige. Well that was just fine with me. After all the acts performed, it became a dance for three more hours. I rented the place from eight in the evening, to one in the morning. It was the biggest party in the twin cities. "Billy the Playboy," my on-air co-worker would do the D.J. duties, during the dance. I would pay him fifty dollars and that's it. The auditorium was five hundred dollars to rent and that included the off-duty police officer. I had approximately seven hundred paid people in the building, at seven dollars a head, so you do the math. Let's just say I was a happy camper. In fact, I was so happy I began doing them every other week, at the same place.
The show became so popular I was contacted by a prison, who wanted me to bring my revue there for the prisoners. We did the youth and adult men's prisons in Chino, California. It was really wild and quickly became apparent; those inmates were starving for entertainment. I think the guards enjoyed it, just as much as the inmates. Before we left, the officials asked if I would bring the revue back again in one month and I agreed. It was nice to perform to an audience that was so appreciative.
As the revue continued at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium for about three more months, I was beginning to notice that the attendance was beginning to drop-off. It had dwindled-down to about four hundred people. The word was they just got tired of seeing the same show over and over again. The people that continued to come were now mostly there for the dance afterwards; not to see the singers. On the other hand, the acts were not blind and could see what was going-on and how much money I was making. Apparently they did do the math, so they had a little secret meeting, which was to demand money from me for being on the show.
Now it just so happened that the little James Brown boy's mother called me and told me what was going on, behind my back. She said she was telling me this, because she and her husband are so thankful for what I was doing with their son and how I had made him a "star" within the twin cities. Everyone knew him now as "Little James Brown," which is how I referred to him on the show and on the radio. She went-on to tell me how her son's self-confidence is over the top and how well he is doing in school now, especially since he is the "star" of his school, as just a fourth grader.
After learning that the other act's secret intentions were to come to the next scheduled show, in four days and if I didn't agree to pay them, they would refuse to perform; which they felt would leave me between a rock and a hard place. Well for some unknown reason, they decided not to wait until show night and came to me the very next day, demanding I pay them one hundred dollars per person. Now I didn't know if they had all gotten together and gotten drunk or smoked some drugs, but I certainly knew that was not going to happen. As a matter of fact, I thought they had all lost their minds, especially since there were about twelve of them all together. To their big surprise, I dropped everyone, except "Little James Brown," whom I paid one hundred and fifty dollars, per show, just to open. He was good at getting the crowd hyped and he was only on-stage for ten minutes. His parents were not only thankful, they were elated. But I was thankful, as well, just for giving me a heads-up, as to what was getting ready to take place.
Anyway, after finding this out, I immediately went on the air with an all new commercial, announcing there would no longer be a revue, with a bunch of singers, but instead a big dance party. I named it "Shelly Garrett’s Twin Cities Dance Party" and the success started all over again. I was back to seven hundred folks in the house at seven dollars a head, so yes, I did the math again. What a beautiful thing it was.
Now just to show you how things seem to always work-out and it does not pay to be demanding; a few weeks later, I was contacted by a cable channel in San Bernardino, who was well-aware of this big dance party I was doing over in Riverside. They asked if I would be interested in hosting a weekly teenage dance show on television. I met with the folks there at the station and the deal was as follows: If I would sell my own television air time, I would not have to pay them a dime. They would furnish the entire production crew, including editing and three cameras and it would be shot right in their studios. They felt it would bring a large audience to their channel, which was sluggish at the time. Whatever I made on the ads, I would keep. Now I'm thinking; how on earth can I beat this? This is the deal of a lifetime. The only thing I would have to do is contact the same people who are advertising with us on the radio, which were mostly local businesses and tell them they can also be on television, with a visual commercial. Everyone jumped at the opportunity to advertise on my television show, which had not even aired yet. So the deal was to try the show for ten episodes to see how it would work-out and if successful, we would re-new the agreement. That sounded fair enough to me. The name of the show was called: "Doing It with Shelly" (Hosted by Shelly the Music Man) and it was on every Monday night at seven o'clock, for one hour.
At that time, I was driving a canary yellow, Pontiac 2 + 2. It was stunning with the metal-flake and webbing paint job, the pretty rims (as rims were during that time), the car was lowered to the ground; I mean, come-on, I was Shelly the Music Man; I had to have the prettiest car in town. There were no door knobs on the car; I would push a button under the left front fender and the driver's door would pop open. I won every car show in the area. Inside of my ride was a lighted bar down the center, from front to rear, but there was no liquor. The ginger ale bottles had lights under them and they would light-up at night, when the headlights were on. I was sporting a record player, an eight track tape player and believe it or not, I even had a mobile telephone in my car. Then, mobile telephones were more like two-way radios through AT&T and everything was operator assisted. I would pick-up the phone and talk to an operator and give her the number I wanted; she would dial it and connect me to the person I was calling. This was without a doubt, "Big Pimpin’." Hey, trust me; the only other folks that had a mobile phone in their cars were medical doctors and a few attorneys. The only draw-back was the large antenna on the car; some folks still thought I was the police. But after people started seeing inside my vehicle, they knew it was for a telephone and they were absolutely amazed. I mean come-on, how do you ride around in your car and talk to people on the telephone. It was unheard of, at the time. Now look how things have changed.
Knowing of the vehicle, the television crew wanted to use my car in the opening shots of the production. So the show would open with my car coming-up the street and stopping in-front of the television station. The camera would pan-up, showing the call letters of the station. Then cut-away to me getting-out of the car wearing a fur cape; yes that’s what I said, a fur cape. There were two stunningly beautiful girls waiting for me on the sidewalk, acting when I arrived. As I step-on the side walk, they each grabbed my arms and embrace me, while I’m walking toward the front door. The camera was getting front and rear shots of the entire scene. Two security guards would open the front glass doors to the studio lobby and allow me to enter; girls in tow. Inside, the girls and I would turn right and walk-down a long hallway to "Studio One," which was printed on the double doors. Underneath, a sign reads, "Doing It with Shelly!" The camera was in front of us, showing the walk to the double doors, and as we arrived, a sign lights-up saying, "On the Air." The doors swing open and there would be about one hundred teens dancing in the studio, to my theme song, which was "Shaft" by Isaac Hayes.
After entering the studio, the two girls would simultaneously kiss me on the cheek, before allowing me to walk away to the bandstand. I must say, it was a dynamic opening and extremely popular. Now keep in mind, "Soul Train" was on the air, broadcasting from Los Angeles during the same time, so the shows were more-less the same format. My show would play the same music, instead I would have local talent on my show; and guess who wanted to be on the show? You guess it, the same group who decided to demand money from me. And guess who did not appear on my show; right again, none of them! You see, it doesn't pay to "burn your bridges." Do you think you could guess who did become a continuing guest on my television show and got paid for it? You're right again, "Little James Brown," which now made him an even bigger "star" in the area, since the show now reached Ontario and Pomona, California. It was really a popular thing and I was still doing the dances in Riverside. Man I was on top of the world. I ended-up renewing the contract six times, until finally the station went belly-up. They actually had no other interesting programming. The only time anyone looked at that channel was to see the dance show. Oh well, life as it may be, I still had the radio program and of course, it was even more popular now.
It became time to find another source of extra income, so I decided I was getting a little tired of playing records; now I wanted to produce them. I went into Los Angeles and registered a record label name called, "Shelly Records," with a publishing company I named "Cisco Publishing." I approached a local vocalist named Jimmy Conner, who had a beautiful voice, about recording on my label and he was excited to do so. I found a recording studio in Los Angeles on Melrose Blvd., by the name of Harmony Recorders. The studio was just down the street from Paramount Film Studios. We would be in the studio for hours at twenty-five dollars an hour and finally came-out with a song called "I Want to Get Married." I would play that song over and over on my radio show and anyone who wanted to buy it, could do so, at all of the local record stores in San Bernardino and Riverside. The largest record store at that time was Alvin's Music Center on Baseline Avenue in San Bernardino. There was another store on Highland Avenue, just West of Muscott in a shopping center, but I can't recall the name. Anyway, they just couldn't keep the record in stock. I had the records in the stores on consignment; meaning whatever they sold, they would keep fifty cents and hold the rest for me. Jimmy Conner was making fifteen cents on each copy sold, so he was more than happy, plus his record was being played on the radio with heavy rotation. He used to tell me, every girl in San Bernardino and Riverside has offered to marry him now. I think he was saying it as a joke, I hoped. I remember how I would go to Los Angeles to a record printing press and watch them make records. I always thought it was so interesting. Of course they had their charges too.
I went to the radio stations in Los Angeles to try and get airplay for my single, but the only station that agreed to play it was an AM station called KGFJ, 1230. This was an extremely popular radio station there. They agreed to place it on their "Sneak Preview" list of new artists, which they would give some limited rotation. Two new artists a week, for two weeks. Then they would check with the records stores to see if the record was selling or being requested. That meant I had to have plenty of supply in all of the record stores in Los Angeles. Do you know how many record stores there are in L. A.? I didn't know how I was going to do this, until the program director, “Big Jim Randolph” at the radio station advised me on how it was done. He said, I had to make a deal with a record distributor and they would pay to have the records printed, labeled and place it in their warehouse, where all of the program and music directors, including record store owners would come and stock their stores. It was something to see. Mostly all of the distributors were located on Western Avenue, just East of Adams Blvd. When you walk inside, there are nothing but boxes and boxes, even cases of 45 rpm records on the floor, from which to choose. I made a deal with one of them for thirty-five percent of the gross and I would keep sixty-five percent. The record hit the air about two weeks later in Los Angeles and it began making some noise. The station agreed to keep it on its "Sneak Preview" list for an additional two weeks and it kept selling, but never got pass number fifty on the R & B music charts. So after the second run, it was dropped, but I was just grateful it ran at all, especially for one month. The good thing about it is I made some great contacts at the radio station, the distributors, the record pressing plant and the recording studio, as well. I now considered myself, not only a radio disc jockey, but now a genuine record producer.
My next effort was to record another singing group called "The Tribulations." The lead singer's name was James House and he sounded just like David Ruffin from The Temptations. I'm telling you, anyone listening would not be able to tell them apart. I took the group to Harmony Recorders and recorded two songs, "I'm Gonna Build Me a Man" and the flip side was "A Mama's Love." I shopped that record with almost every record label in Los Angeles, but everyone turned me down, saying the lead singer sounded too much like David Ruffin. I thought that was a good thing, but apparently they didn't. Finally, I got a call from a fellow named Bud Dain, who was vice-president of Liberty Records. Bud Dain was also married to popular vocalist, Petula Clark. I knew Liberty Records was the largest record company in the world and I was also familiar with one of their other labels; Blue Note Records; which was their jazz label. They asked me to come-in for a meeting regarding my record submission. While driving to Los Angeles, I was so excited to even get a chance to walk-into Liberty Records. It was located on Sunset Blvd, right across the street from Hollywood High School. I got there very early, because I didn't want to be late, so I went into the IHOP right next door and drank some coffee. By this time I was a nervous wreck. After about forty-five minutes of coffee, I entered the office and was amazed at all of the gold records on the walls, hoping mine would be up there one day. I didn't see anyone black during my visit. A lady came and retrieved me from the waiting area, escorting me to a very large and plush office towards the rear of the building. There was a guy sitting in a big, high-back chair, with his back turned talking on the telephone about a record. She invited me to sit in one of the black leather chairs and before leaving, asked me if she could get me a cup of coffee or a soda. I promptly declined and thanked her, before her exit. I knew I didn't want to see or even smell any more coffee for the remainder of the day. I just sat there and listened to his conversation about some record with sells of over three hundred thousand. I knew it wasn't a black artist, because when he named the artist, I had never heard of them. Now you know this really intimidated me and excited me at the same time.
Finally, he hung-up the phone and turned around to face me. If you could have seen the expression on his face. The first words out of his mouth were, "You're black!" I smiled and said, yes sir. I remember my mother teaching me long, long ago not to ever say "sir" to a white man; it signifies slavery, but I was so intimidated, I said it before I knew it. I'm sorry mother. Now I didn't know what his comment meant, but I was ready to find-out. He picked-up a copy of my record, which was sitting on top of his desk and held it in the air. He asked, "You produced this?" I said, yes sir. Oooops, sorry mother; I did it again. He said, "This is one fine recording." I replied, thank you. (No sir this time.) He continued with, the only problem with it is, it's not in stereo and everything now has to be in stereo. I didn't say a word. He then asked me, what I wanted to do with it. I told him I wanted it to be played nationally on all the radio stations and I hoped for it to be a hit. His response was, "Well let's see what we can do." He asked, "How much do you have tied up in it already?" I said, just studio cost of about five hundred dollars, plus the printing of about fifty promotional copies. He said, "Then why don't we give you an eight hundred advance and we send it to our studios and have it "sweetened," plus re-engineered in stereo. I almost fell-out of that soft, leather chair; I couldn't believe the largest record company in the world was interested in my little record that I had done down on Melrose Avenue. The only thing that came-out of my mouth was 'okay, thank you.' He did some quick paperwork and got-on his intercom and called the same lady back into his office. When she entered, he instructed her to take me to accounting with a contract. She agreed, as he stood and shook my hand, saying "Welcome to Liberty." Oh yes, I was on top of the world then. As the lady and I were walking to accounting, she turned to me and said, "Congratulations, that was fast." After reaching accounting, I was asked to have a seat in-front of the nerdy-looking man. He asked me to look-over the contract and sign it. I didn't even read it, I just signed it. He handed me a check for eight hundred dollars and as simple as that, I was on my way out of his office, and out of Liberty Records. After telling the group, they were so excited that they were going to get airplay all over the country. About two weeks later, I received in the mail about ten copies of my record, in stereo and yes, it had been sweetened. I mean, it sounded so much better, I just couldn't believe it.
From that point on, once a week I would receive paperwork in the mail about how the record was doing, what cities and markets it was receiving airplay; how it was doing on the national charts and so on. After finally reaching number sixteen on the national R & B charts, I was told it had peaked and was getting ready to rescind and I would get a final accounting once it dropped off the charts. This would happen in about three weeks. Well it did and after the final accounting arrived, it showed that I didn 't make a dime; not even a penny. After Liberty Records deducted their studio time, engineering time, mastering costs, national printing costs, graphics costs, shipping costs, and every other cost you could think of, the record lost money, according to them. So what could I say but… well actually nothing! I was just learning the record business and according to everyone I spoke with, that is normal. The record company must re-coup all of their expenses before there are any profits distributed, plus their expenses are always going to be elevated. I guess the good thing about it was I got my expense money returned to me and I received national airplay, all across the country. That's not bad for a first-time record producer. Actually, later Liberty Records offered me a job as a Staff Producer, which meant I would receive a monthly salary and I would produce whomever and whatever they wanted me to produce, but I would not receive any royalties from anything produced by me. That was a bad thing, even though I would get a label credit. I might produce three to four records a year, but when I was not producing I would still receive my monthly salary. It definitely had its pros and cons, but I decided not to take them-up on their offer. They already had several staff producers who had accepted that type of offer, but I guess I wanted to be doing something creative all the time, not just sometime, when someone else said it's time to go to work. Being an independent record producer was just fine with me, plus I was learning the business and all of the aspects of it. I knew driving from San Bernardino to Los Angeles about three times a week was taking a toll on me, as well as my car, so I was going to have to make some kind of change and real soon. Now I didn't know what it was going to be since I was on the radio real strong, but maybe I could get on the air in Los Angeles or something. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing until something breaks; after all, my twice a month dances are still going real strong in Riverside. And of course, that is… Good for me!
s I continue with my radio show and the dances, "Billy the playboy" and I are invited to host a James Brown concert at San Bernardino's Swing Auditorium on the National Orange Show grounds. We knew it was going to be big because the promoter came in the station and bought-up all of the available radio time and I do mean all of it. It seemed like we were running James Brown commercials on every single stop-set. The day of the event, they were having a mid-day sound check, so Billy and I decided to go and check-it out. I must say, we were very excited. The show was already sold-out.
When we arrived at the venue, there were several stagehands working diligently moving speakers and microphone stands, setting-up drum stands; I mean just busy to the point they were almost bumping into each other. We sat out in the empty auditorium and watched the action; and then it happened; I mean it really happened; Mr. James Brown himself walked onto the stage. Billy and I began elbowing each other, without saying a word. He said something like, ya'll ready? One of the guys said yes-sir Mr. Brown. As a matter of fact, we quickly noticed anyone that addressed him or answered him, always said, yes-sir or no-sir Mr. Brown. Wow, what respect I thought. He was strictly business. There was no laughing or fooling around; it was let's take care of business. The band began playing a song and I can't remember which of his songs it was, but in the middle of the tune, Mr. Brown gives the band the cut-off sign and they quickly stop. He turns to the drummer and asks him what the problem was. The drummer said, "Nothing Mr. Brown." James chastised him and told the drummer he is never to take his eyes off of him, as long as he is on the stage, never! Mr. Brown asked the fellow if he understood, and again he answered, "Yes-sir, Mr. Brown." James Brown said, "You know what I can do, now don't you?" And the drummer said, "Yes-sir, Mr. Brown." "Okay, now let's try this again," blurted the Godfather of soul. Then they started the song all over again. For months, I always wondered about that incident and sometimes still wonder what was Mr. Brown talking about, when he asked the drummer, "You know what I can do, now don't you?" The only thing I can come-up with is the drummer knew he could fire him. But that doesn't make a lot of sense; I think they all knew that, since he was the boss. So there must have been something else and I've decided not to rack my brain about it anymore.
They finished that song and went right into another one without any pauses. Billy and I noticed that not only the drummer, but every single band member never took their eyes off of him for more than a second or two. Finally I understood why; James Brown makes so many motions with his hands and body, the band members must watch him, so as not to miss those cues. For instance, if he would make a certain motion with his hands, the drummer hits a hard beat and the entire band gets lower or maybe louder, whatever the situation is warranted at the time, but the problem is no one really knows when he's going to make that hand motion, so everyone must be watching him, especially the drummer, since he is the time-keeper.
We watched about six songs, until finally Mr. Brown said, "Okay, that's enough." Then he turned and asked the fellow, who is the M.C. of the show, "Who the hell is that?" Then he turned and pointed to Billy and myself. I don't mind telling you that my heart dropped into my stomach. It scared me silly. The M.C. mentioned that we were disc jockeys from the radio station and James said, "Oh, okay" and sort of waved to us sitting in the seats. We both waved back to him, but he had already turned his back to leave. Then he called someone's name and said, "Let me see you in my dressing room." After Mr. Brown left, the M.C. called us onto the stage and more or less apologized for being called-out like we were. We both assured him that it was not a problem. He also reminded us that the show started at eight tonight and he would like for us to be backstage at seven-fifteen sharp. We both said okay, without even asking why. Then he told us we would come-out and welcome the show to San Bernardino. I think Billy said something like, "You mean you want us to M.C.?" The guy said, "No, that's what I do. You guys just come-out first, in front of the curtain and introduce yourselves, talk about your station a little bit, then welcome James Brown to your city, then we will take over from there." We said, "Okay." I was so excited, I was almost trembling; you know what, maybe I was. We immediately left the auditorium and once outside, we yelled. I was glad to see Billy was just as excited as I. He was always the cool one, since he was about seven years older than me. But he lost his cool that day. We went to our homes and tried to find the fanciest clothes to wear, since we both were going to be in front of a sold-out auditorium tonight. You know, we had to represent!
Billy and I rode together to the auditorium and people were already in line trying to park for the concert. We went to the backstage door, as directed, but our names were not on the list and the guard was not going to let us in, even after we explained to him who we were and why we were there. We didn't know what to do, until one of the band members, who saw us there earlier, stopped and came to the door, asking what was going-on. After we told him, he ordered the guard to let us in, we were opening the show. The guard still seemed a little hesitant about allowing us through the door. He said something to the band member like, "Okay, you're going to be responsible." The band member said, "Yeah-yeah, whatever man," then told us to follow him. He took us to the stage-right wing and said, "Wait here." A few minutes later the M.C., who told us to be there came over, apologizing for not leaving our names at the door. He must have apologized five or six times. We didn't care, we were just happy to be backstage at the James Brown show. I was hoping Mr. Brown would walk-by, so I could see him up close, but that didn't happen. We just stood there in the wings for forty-five minutes doing nothing and watching all of the action backstage. At exactly eight o'clock, we were handed microphones and told to go open the show. We had already planned on what we were going to say; Billy did his speech about what was happening at the station, which basically was nothing. Then he looked at me, signaling that it was my turn. I thought I was going to freeze, but I didn't. I asked if everyone was ready to see a great show and the audience screamed back at me, "Yeah." Then I asked if they were ready to see the godfather of soul and they screamed louder, "Yeah." I said; well let's get this party started! While the audience was yelling with anticipation, we walked-off the stage and then the band hit! Once the band lowered, from backstage we saw the M.C. getting ready to introduce James Brown. When he called his name, the audience went berserk and the curtain quickly went-up. However, Mr. Brown didn't come right out. The band played one of his songs, and about three minutes later, he walked-on the stage wearing all-white. There was nothing but bedlam in the audience. It was quite an experience. When the M.C. finished introducing Mr. Brown, he came-over to us and placed seventy-five dollars in each of our hands. Okay now this is just too much; I'm thinking, I'm having the time of my life and now I'm getting paid for this too? The M.C. said, "Mr. Brown thanks you and wanted you to have this as a token of his appreciation." I'll never forget it, as long as I live. I was just elated. Not at getting the money, but the fact that it was coming from James Brown himself and with a nice message. I mean come-on, how could I forget that?
After that, there were other times when we would go to the world famous 'Whiskey-A-Go Go' with our little tape recorders and interview celebrities and play them back on our show. Then we would get "drops" from the entertainers and play them on our show, as well. A "drop" is something like, "Hi this is James Brown and when I'm in town, I listen to Shelly the Music Man, on the big 'K', 99.9 FM, K-F-M-W." I'm sure you hear those all the time on the radio stations you listen to now; those are called "drops," simply because they can drop-it between songs, or even at the beginning of a song, over the musical introduction. When the celebrity stops talking, the vocalist starts singing. We did quite a few of them; I think the last interview Billy and I did together was from John Lee Hooker. If you don't know who that is, he's a down-home, blues singer; however one I never played on my show, since it was geared to a younger audience, but Billy did play the blues on occasion.
There was one night Ike and Tina Turner were going to be at 'The Whiskey,' so Billy and I planned on going there to get an interview. However, when the show arrived in town, he was very sick with a cold, to the point, he was losing his voice, so I had to go and do it all by myself.
As usual, I got there very early and Ike and Tina were led into the interview room by a very pretty lady. This is the same room where we always did the interviews. The lady's name is Rhonda; now I didn't know who she was, but she seemed as if she had some kind of control. Ike and Tina sat down on the couch in-front of me and Rhonda left. I vaguely remember how very nice and accommodating they both were. I mean, there was no ego at all; they didn't brush me off, like some big stars are known to do. I introduced myself as one of the disc jockeys at the radio station. We all shook hands and got comfortable. I already had my little tape recorder out and ready to begin. I don’t' even remember any of the questions I asked them, but they were basically the same ones we would ask everyone. The interview took about fifteen minutes and just as we were wrapping-up, Rhonda came back in to get them; so they could get ready to perform in thirty minutes. I asked if I could record a "drop" for my show and another jock, but Rhonda said they were running late and had to get ready to perform. Everyone could see I was devastated, so Ike told Rhonda to have me come to the house and do it. Then they said, "Goodbye" to me again and rushed out.
Now I know I didn't just hear Ike Turner tell Rhonda to have me come to Ike and Tina Turner's house. Rhonda gave me a business card and told me to call her on Monday. I looked at the card, but it did not have her title on it, nor an address. I said, okay. I asked if there was any particular time I should call and she said, "Anytime," assuring me that she would be there and would probably be the one to answer the call. Okay now I'm excited again, just as I was with James Brown. After our conversation, I went into the audience, stood in the back and watched the entire show from start to finish. The audience was very excited. I was thinking I can't believe I just sat-down and had a conversation with the both of them. I didn't want to call it an interview; I preferred to call it a conversation. Now I'm invited to their home? God is so good.
On Monday, I called Rhonda about noon. Actually, I wanted to call her at nine, but I didn't want to seem overly excited, even though I was exactly that. Hello may I speak to Rhonda please. "This is Rhonda." Hi Rhonda, this is Shelly Garrett, the disc jockey, who did the interview at 'The Whiskey' Saturday night. "Yes, how are you Shelly?" I'm fine, thank you; you told me to call you today, so I could get a "drop" for my show. "Yes, thanks for calling; what radio station are you with?" I told her all of the particulars. She mentioned she had heard of the station and asked was it in Los Angeles? I said no, the station is in San Bernardino. She responded, "San Bernardino… that's an hour or so away isn't it; are you sure you want to come all the way up here just for a drop?" Now she's not aware that I drive to Los Angeles about three times a week anyway. I said, Oh it's no problem at all. Rhonda said, "Well okay, would you like to come tomorrow?" I said sure. I'm hoping she didn't hear the eagerness in my voice. She said, "Let's say around three o'clock tomorrow." Fine I said, and she proceeded to give me the address and directions. Now I knew I had just died and gone to heaven; I was going to Ike and Tina Turner's house tomorrow. I told a few folks, but of course they didn't believe me, so I didn't tell anyone else. I could hardly sleep that night. Wait-a-minute, I forgot; I had to make arrangements for someone to take-over my show tomorrow. I asked Bill McCloud, better known at the station as "The Jazz Witness" and he readied agreed. Okay, so I was all set.
The next day, the time seemed to go so slowly. I remember leaving San Bernardino at twelve noon. Normally, it only takes about one hour and fifteen minutes to make the sixty mile drive, but I didn't want to be late for any reason. Now I must say, I didn't tell "Billy the Playboy," because he may have wanted to come with me and I wanted to experience this all by myself. As I was going west on interstate 10, I made sure to drive very carefully, as to not get into an accident or anything that would stop me from getting to the stars' home. I kind of knew the area where they lived, which was View Park. It was higher-up the hill, past Baldwin Hills. I was not familiar with Olympiad Avenue, which was the name of their street. After asking several people at service stations in the area, they said they didn't know where it was either. Finally I asked a lady walking-down the street on Crenshaw, near 42nd and she said, "Yes it's a couple of blocks up and you're see it on the right. That's all I wanted to know; I figured the rest would be easy finding the address, since all I had to do was just follow the numbers. I did that quite often as a police officer.
I still had another hour to kill, so I rode down to Western Avenue, near Adams to the original Fatburger stand. I mean, I was a regular there. It was hard for me to come to Los Angeles and not go by Fatburger; however I would usually do so on my way back to San Bernardino. They were the best hamburgers on God's green earth, that's for sure. After getting my burger, I headed-back toward my destination. It was about two-forty, so I knew I had twenty minutes to find the address. As I turned on Olympiad from Crenshaw, I thought I would be coming-up on the address very quickly. Little did I know the Turner address was basically at the top of the hill; I guess that's why it's called View Park. I mean, everyone can't afford to live in View Park. I finally see their address on this really nice one story home. There was a Rolls Royce parked in the driveway. I was quite surprised that the house was not behind any security gates or high shrubbery; nope, just a normal-looking pretty house in the neighborhood with very expensive cars parked in the driveway. There was another car also parked in front of the garage; I think it was a Ferrari or something like that. I parked on the street and walked to the front door. The first thing I noticed was the security camera looking at me. I looked-up at it and quickly looked away, so they wouldn't think I was staring at it. There was an intercom out front and a voice came over. It said, "Yes?" I replied, Hi it's Shelly Garrett from KFMW radio. The voice said, "Oh yes, please come-in." Suddenly the door buzzed and I walked-in. Oh my God, the first thing I saw was a built in the wall fish aquarium on my left. There was a short walkway directly to the left of the front door. I heard footsteps coming from that area and there was Rhonda. She greeted me with a handshake and said, "Hi, it's nice to see you again." I said, thank you; you too. Rhonda walked in-front of me down the walkway, passing the aquarium and turned left into the living room. I remember it being very spacious. There was a small glass room in a corner. I had no idea what it was, but I would eventually learn that it was a recording studio. That's right, a recording studio right in their living room. Now I knew this was big-time. She invited me to have a seat and mentioned something about some work to finish, and that she would be back shortly.
I sat there and looked around the room in admiration. Suddenly, from another hallway came walking the largest dog I had ever seen in my entire life. The dog slowly walked into the living room, stopped for a second and looked at me, then walked through an opened sliding glass door to the back yard. Do I really need to tell you that my heart stopped, just after it skipped several beats? As quickly as I was getting myself back together, another one, the same size came trotting from the same hallway and right on outside through the door. This one never even noticed me sitting there and I can't tell you how glad of that I was. Can you imagine me getting-up to go close that sliding door, so they wouldn't come-back in? Well as bad as I wanted to do so, I didn't. Instead, I just sat there praying that they wouldn't come-back into the house.
About two or three minutes later, I hear footsteps coming-down the "doggy" hallway. It's Ike Turner. Boy was I glad to see him for several reasons; the first being to protect me from those big horses, I mean dogs. He said, "Hey, how you doing?" He walked-over and shook my hand. I said, I'm fine now, but I wasn't a few minutes ago. He asked, "Why not?" I mentioned those big dogs. He just chuckled and said, "Oh they won't bother you." He said it so easily. I asked what kind of dogs they were and he replied, "Great Danes." He continued with, "I know they look threatening, but they wouldn't hurt a flea." Now I'm thinking I'm not worried about the flea; it's my ass I'm concerned about. He went into the kitchen, which was just behind where I was sitting, on the other side of the dining room. He hollered out, "You want a soda or something?" I said, no thank you, Mr. Turner. "Call me Ike," he said. Oh okay, I replied. He came back into the room with a cold drink and said, "Look, Tina is on her way here in about thirty minutes; are you in a hurry?" I said, oh no; not at all. He said, "Come-on and make a run with me." Wait-a-minute, Ike Turner wants me to ride somewhere with him? This is unbelievable. I said, sure. He went into the garage, which is where Rhonda's office was. She was on the phone talking to someone about booking The Ike and Tina Revue somewhere in another state. He told her that we would be back in a little bit. Still on the phone, she waved her hand in the air, signaling "okay."
I followed Ike outside and we got into that Rolls Royce parked in the driveway. Yes, it was my first time in one; nice ride, really nice ride.
During the short ride, there was a little small talk, such as what was the name of the station where I worked; what part of the city did I live in, you know, just small talk. When he found-out I lived in San Bernardino, he appeared quite shocked that I would drive all the way to Los Angeles to get a "drop." Why is everyone so shocked about me driving to L.A. to do this? Actually, I would have driven here anyway, just to hang-out with these superstars. Minutes later we pull into the parking lot of an older office building in Baldwin Hills, which is about fifteen minutes from the house. Getting-out of the car, he said, "Come-on." Ike never said where we were going or anything else, until we walked into the building and into a small, two room office. A tall man came from the other room. He and Ike shook hands and the fellow said, "Come on back." Ike followed the guy and I followed Ike into the small room, which boasts a few gold records on the wall. There were some other awards and plaques scattered through-out the room too. Ike still hasn't introduced us, until he stutters while asking me, "Do you know who this is?" What an embarrassing question, because I had no idea, so I had to say no. He said, "Well I just wanted to see if you two were related; this is Vernon Garrett," then turns to Vernon and says "His name is Garrett too; Shelby Garrett." I almost let it go, but I corrected him and said Shelly. Vernon extended his hand for a handshake. We did so, just before Vernon asked me if I was related to some Garrett's in Mississippi; I assured him that I wasn't, since he kept asking if I was sure. Anyway, Vernon handed Ike some rolled money bills from his drawer and just like that, the meeting was over. Vernon walked-us to the front door and we were off. From there, we made another stop at a private residence, not far from the office. Ike said, "I'll be back in a minute," or something to that effect. I waited in the car and watched him go inside the residence. Approximately ten minutes later, he was on his way back to the vehicle. He never said another word to me all the way back to his house, but instead had the radio blaring. As we pulled into the driveway, nothing had changed there; meaning Tina was probably still not home.
As we enter, Ike stops-by Rhonda's office. She hands him a couple of pieces of paper, which appeared to be messages. They never said a word to each other; he turns and walks into the living room and I follow like a little puppy. He didn't say sit-down, but I did anyway. Awe hell, here come those big-ass dogs back in the house, but Ike quickly called them over to the sliding glass door and ordered them out, then closed the door. Thank God!
I hear footsteps coming from the hallway. High-heel footsteps; it's her, its Tina Turner. She looks at me and glances at Ike saying, "Hi." Tina never breaks her stride, as she heads for the kitchen. Ike asks her, "Are you ready to do this?" She says, "Yes, just give me a second." Tina continues into the kitchen. From there she yells, "How are you Shelby?" I reply, Oh I'm fine, thank you. As she enters the room with a glass of ice water in her hand, Ike corrects her saying, "His name is Shelly." Tina says, "Oh Shelly; I'm sorry." No problem, I replied, it happens all the time. They both sit-on the couch facing me, just as they did at 'The Whiskey.' I have my trusty tape recorder ready to record. Tina asks, "What would you like for us to say and how long should it be?" It can be as long as you like, was my reply. I would like for you to say when you're in town, you always listen to Shelly the Music Man on KFMW, 99.9 FM. She said, wait-a-minute, let me write that down. Ike handed her a pencil from his pocket and there was some scattered papers on the coffee table she used to write the call-letters and the frequency down. Tina then orchestrated the whole thing, even rehearsing the "drop" three or four times, before recording it. She suggested it the following way: Ike says, "Hi this is Ike…," Tina says, "And Tina Turner…," Ike says, "And whenever we're in town we always keep our radio tuned to…," Tina says, "KFMW…," Ike says, "99.9 FM…," Tina says, "And our good friend Shelly the Music Man…," Ike says, "Don’t you move that dial!"
Now believe it or not, this took about thirty minutes to do, because they both wanted it to be perfect. Actually, he wanted it to be right more than Tina. I didn't care, because I knew I had them on tape and I was going to run this "drop" to death. There would be no doubt about that. Afterwards, I remember Tina asking "Is that it?" I thought about asking them to do one for Billy, but mine took so long, I was embarrassed to mention to them about doing another, so I said, that's it. Tina said, "Thank you Shelly; who named you Shelly anyway?" I said, my mother. "That's a nice name, she replied." Thank you, I said and she walked-back down that hallway. Ike yelled something to her, as she was in the hallway, about a rehearsal later that evening and she yelled back, "I know." Ike asked me if I was in a hurry and I said no; he invited me to stay for the rehearsal that evening. I asked where would it be and he said, we rehearse right here in the living room, then pointed to that little glass room and mentioned it was a recording studio. He said, mostly every thing we do, is done right here in this room. I was amazed. Okay I have a "drop" from Ike and Tina Turner and on it, she is calling me their friend, plus I am in their home and now I have been invited to stay for their rehearsal. I'm just wondering; can life get any better? Good for me!
t's around six o'clock now and the doorbell rings. Rhonda makes her way to the door and a couple of guys enter the room. She introduces us; this is when I learn they are members of the band. Within the next five minutes or so, the bell constantly rings and people continue to enter. During one of those arrivals, a lady enters, who looks very familiar to me. I know I've seen her before, but I have no idea as to where it was. I learn she is one of the "Ikettes." Soon everyone is there and Tina emerges from the backroom.
There is no doubt that Ike Turner is in-charge of the rehearsal. They begin playing some very familiar tunes; but soon after, they go into some songs I had never heard before. He interrupts the rehearsal quite often, instructing the guys how to play a note on the guitar, or bass, or drums; I mean it seems he knew how to play every note on every instrument in the band, but why isn't he playing his? He came into the room with a guitar, leaned it against the wall and never picked it up. He was like an orchestra leader during the rehearsal. Tina was belting-out the songs, just like we see on television or during one of their concerts. She was using a microphone, I guess so as to be heard over the loud band and believe me, they were very loud. The three "Ikettes" were all sharing one microphone, which was stationed on a mike stand near Tina. There was one time, Tina stopped the girls and said something like, "No girl, we changed that." One of them said, "Oh yeah, I'm sorry, that's right." They started again and the song was completed. It sounded good to me.
As the evening progressed, Ike seemed to be getting a little irritated with his guitar player. He stopped the song and said something to him like; man can't you hear that you're playing those notes wrong? Ike picked-up his instrument and played the song without any other accompaniment. "That's the way it's supposed to be done," he blurted. Then Ike ordered the band to play the song again, with Ike playing the guitar, while the band member listened and watched Ike's fingers on his instrument. The strange thing is I could not tell any difference in the two, but I guess it's because I'm not a musician, however the original guitar player gestured that he had it now, and they started over. When they got to the part that had been irritating Ike, the guy played the part perfectly and Ike yelled over the loud music, "That's it, that's it!" They kept playing. Finally, about three hours later, they stopped and the rehearsal was over.
As they all began placing their instruments in cases and putting things away, I told Ike how much I appreciated he and Mrs. Turner doing the "drop" and how I enjoyed the rehearsal. He mentioned that I should come-by and hang-out sometime. I told him I would be glad to.
I thought the conversation was over, but before I got to the door, he said, "Why don't you come-by Saturday?" Wow, I was being invited back to the home of Ike and Tina Turner; this is just too much in one day. After I agreed, he told me to just call Rhonda and set-it up. Okay and thanks again, I said. Rhonda walked with me to the door, while I was thanking her; she told me to call her on Friday to set-up a time for Saturday. Alright I said, and walked-out the front door. After I got into my car, I remember taking a deep breath, so relieved that the visit was over. I was pretty much a nervous wreck during the entire visitation, including the Rolls Royce ride, always thinking I was going to say or do something wrong, while in their presence. I started the car and left and as I was driving down the hill, it was rushing through my mind of all the people I was going to tell and guess what; I had a tape to prove it; a tape saying I was their friend. Now that may not have been a big deal in a big city like Los Angeles, but trust me, in San Bernardino, its Hugh!
I remember telling Billy about the entire experience and while doing so, I could detect a hint of jealously. He asked me if I had gotten a "drop" for his show, but there was no need in trying to sugar-coat it; I had to tell him no, quickly giving him the reason why, but that didn't set too well with him. He just didn't believe my story and from that moment on, he and I were never, really close again. The "hellos" were always flat and dry toward each other; it was just totally different now, but oh well, life goes-on. I apologized more than once, but they were not accepted, so that's all I can do; nothing else.
The week went by very slowly. I couldn’t wait to get back in View Park. On Friday, I called Rhonda and we set-up a time when Ike would be there. On Saturday, I was there like clockwork. When I parked on the street in front of his house, he was walking outside getting ready to get into his car. He saw me and said, "Come on." I jumped in the Rolls again and we were off. There was something a little different about him this time. I didn't know what it was, but it was just different, until I found-out during the ride. After he pulled-out of the driveway, he went the opposite way; in other words, we didn't go down the hill, instead we went up. At the first corner, he turned left, going further-up in View Park. "That woman makes me so damn mad," he mumbled. I didn't open my mouth. I wanted to ask him who he was talking about, Tina or Rhonda, but I felt it was best to keep my mouth shut and just let him vent. He never said another word about her, whoever that was, nor the situation. Ike then asked me if I had ever been up there before, meaning View Park and I said no. He turned left on a street called South Ridge. As we were going-down the hill, he pointed toward my side of the window, to the right and said, "That's Nancy Wilson's house." I said, really? Then about two or three houses down, on the same side of the street, he pointed toward my window again and said, "And that's Ray Charles' pad." No kidding, I replied. It was a very large and modern home. I think it was the first time I had ever seen a tennis court on a private residence. Remember, I'm from San Bernardino. I'm turning all around in the car just staring at the house. It was something special. Then he just drove around the neighborhood saying nothing, until we came to a stop sign, which was not too far from his house. On the corner was another very nice home. Ike told me whose house it was, but I was not familiar with the person; I just remember him saying that the guy was a successful mortician. Even though the man had a stunning home from the outside, I was not trying to hear anything about a mortician. I didn't say a word. Finally, he went back-up the hill and turned into his driveway. We got-out and I followed him in the house. The moment he walked-up to the front door, it buzzed and he just pushed it open, so I knew someone inside was watching on the camera. I thought that was so cool. I thought one day, when I have a home like this, I'm going to have cameras everywhere; front, back, side; I mean all around my house.
As we entered the living room, those two, big dogs came running-out from the hallway. He ordered them back to wherever they came from and I was very relieved. I sat down, as he went in the back, through the same hallway. Shortly I could hear his voice and a female voice, which sounded as if they were arguing. I assumed it was Tina, but I learned long ago, never to assume anything. I could not understand what they were saying, but soon the voices stopped and not Tina, but Rhonda came storming from the hallway. She looked right at me, but did not acknowledge my presence at all, not even a smile. About fifteen minutes later, Ike came-out wearing a white Karate uniform with a black belt tied around his waist. I'm thinking, okay this is getting a little weird. The dogs followed him out, along with two young boys. Now I'm nervous again. The boys opened the sliding door and let the dogs out, and then they followed and closed the door. In the meantime, Ike is in the middle of the living room, where I am sitting. He begins doing these Karate moves for long periods of time. I could do nothing but watch. He never said a word, just some grunts with some of the moves. After a while, he looked at me, while breathing hard and asked, "You know any Karate." I said, no but it looks interesting. He was telling me how he could reach inside a person's body and snatch one of their organs out. I tried to pretend interested, but he was actually scaring the hell out of me. I began thinking, now why did this man invite me back to his home? And why is he, without saying a word before now, practicing Karate in front of me? He must know it looks very intimidating. Does he think I was staring at his wife too long or too often the other day? Why is he doing this and I know he's already pissed-off at Rhonda; at least I'm assuming that's who it is. There I go assuming again, but hell, she looked pretty pissed-off herself. And just like that, he starts again doing those moves.
Even though I had not been there long, I knew there was tension in that house and I was ready to get-up out of there, but I'm thinking he might think it was disrespectful to leave, while he's doing these moves. I could see him saying something like, "Nigga you ain't going nowhere!" I shouldn't even be thinking like that, because he has never done anything to me or said anything disrespectful to me, so I need to stop this right now, but nevertheless, I had my hand on my car keys and he was going to have to beat me to that front door. After a few minutes, he was out- of-breath, so he sat-down on the couch, but not on the same one I was on. He said, "That's good exercise; I have to do that three or four times a week, just for the exercise. I ain't doing it to try to hurt nobody; it's just good for the body and the mind." Okay, now I felt some relief. Getting-up from the couch he informed me they had rehearsal that evening and wondered if I was going to stay. I humbly declined, citing I had to be back in San Bernardino by a certain time. After some small chit-chat, I stood and said I should be heading-down the highway. He said, "Okay" and told me I'm always welcome; come-by anytime, someone is always here. Am I really hearing Ike Turner telling me I'm always welcome to their home, and to come-by anytime I'd like? That sounds to me like we are all very good friends. While I was thinking this, he surprised me saying, "Hey man, Tina and I really appreciate you playing our stuff and the more airplay we can get; the more we appreciate it." I told him I love their music and will continue to play it as often as I can. He shook my hand and thanked me.
I left the house and while riding down the hill I began feeling a little guilty, because I was not playing their music, at all; just the "drop," but you can bet your life, I was going to start playing it immediately. We were free to play anything we wanted. During that time, there were no program and music directors at our station. We didn't have a play list or anything of the sort. We would simply receive demos in the mail, which were sent to the station by the distributors. We would listen to almost all of the demos to see which ones we wanted to play or not play.
Over the next few months, I would visit the Turner residence often; I mean I was a regular, even to the point that I didn't have to go through Rhonda anymore. I could just show-up unannounced and it was always fine. It had gotten to the point I was usually invited to have lunch with them at the house, but always declined.
There was one time I was at the house; it was late morning and Ike insisted I have breakfast; to my amazement, Tina was actually cooking the breakfast. She was in a housecoat and house shoes. I did have breakfast there; the very first time I had ever eaten at the home.
During that breakfast, an incident happened between Ike and Tina, which I felt was not appropriate, especially in my presence. However, since they both had always treated me extremely well and always welcomed me into their home, I will not write or speak about the incident in this book or any other medium; I feel that's the least I can do to show and return my respect. However, I will tell you this; soon after the incident, I left the residence and never, ever returned or called there again. That was 37 years ago… 'Nuff said! You saw the movie!
There was a point, while looking-back on my life that I had to ask myself; why am I still living in San Bernardino, when the field I love and want to be involved in is in L.A.? I mean, why not just move to Los Angeles, after all I'm driving here quite often and it sure would be less wear and tear on my car. I really need to think about this.
Years later, I decided to make that move. Yes it took me that long, but I have made a definite decision. I am doing this. Now I have to go-up there, focused on finding a place to live. So I picked-out a day and drove to L.A. I knew the only place in L.A. that I really wanted to live was in West Hollywood. There was so much glimmer and glamour there. All of the record companies had offices in West Hollywood on or near Sunset Blvd. Later Motown would move to an office high rise at Sunset and LaBrea. I mean, the area was booming.
Tower Records was on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Horn Ave. At the very top of Horn, there was an apartment building. In fact, the street dead-ends at this building. I noticed it was a very steep hill. I parked and went inside to check on an apartment. When I walked into that large lobby, it was about the prettiest apartment complex I had ever seen; remember now, I'm from San Bernardino. There was nothing like that where I'm from. I was already sold on the place and never looked at any others.
I moved-in a month later and spent most of my time decorating my place. I had to get that together, so when I had a lady over, she would be in awe; first at the lobby, just as I was, then at my place. Finally, I was actually living in Los Angeles. I felt like I was on top of the world. About a month after I moved there, I met my neighbor, a pretty lady by the name of Saundra White. She was so mysterious to me; I would always ask her what kind of work she did, but she would never tell me, always avoiding the question. It got to be a running joke, sort of the same as "Tommy" on the Martin Lawrence show. She and I remained neighbors and friends for quite a while, without me ever knowing, until one day she invited me to a listening party for a new album. I agreed to go, but we wouldn't be going together, because she had to be there very early. So Saundra gave me the address and the time. If I recall, I think it was in Sherman Oaks or somewhere in that area.
When I pulled-up to the house, I noticed it was very nice. I saw a couple of people going around the house to the backyard. In fact, there was a sign on the front door directing visitors to the back. After reaching the rear, there was this large rear yard, with a pool, a guest house, I mean the works. Now I didn't know whose house this was, but I knew they had to be somebody with some money. I will tell you, it was much nicer than Ike and Tina's place. Saundra spotted me and quickly came-over to greet me, asking if I had any trouble finding it. Then other people interrupted us, as they began talking to her. Everyone seemed to know Saundra White. There were speakers outside and some nice music was playing; it was a voice I was very familiar with, but I just couldn't place who it was. Oh my God, when I turned around and looked at the person coming-out of the house into the yard, my mouth just flew open. It was the one and only Barry White, and directly behind him was his wife Glodean. Now while I'm trying to quickly put all of this together, Saundra grabs my arm and takes me straight to Mr. and Mrs. Barry White. Saundra says, Barry, Glo, this is my friend and neighbor, Shelly Garrett. I thought I was going to fall in the pool. They both shook my hand, as one of them said, "Welcome to our home." After thanking them and telling them how beautiful it was, they left to greet others at the affair. I turned and asked Saundra, with big-eyes and an opened mouth, Barry White is your father? She laughed at me and said, "No silly, my brother." Trying to get-over the shock, I asked her why she never mentioned that to me and she said something to the effect of, I don't tell anyone, because they seem to want to treat me differently and I don't want that." I said, oh okay, I can see that happening. She then asked me if I was going to treat her differently now? I said, yeah because I want some free records. We both laughed, before I told her I was just kidding. But actually I wasn't; I did want some free albums. Ironic as it may be, before leaving that day, everyone in attendance received the album from the listening party. What a nice experience it was.
The very next day, Saundra knocked on my door and when I opened it, there she stood, with an arm-full of albums and singles by Barry White and "Love Unlimited." Can you even imagine how surprised I was? It was a beautiful gesture and I must have thanked her ten times, until she finally stopped me and said, "See there you go trying to treat me differently." Okay, okay; but I do appreciate it Saundra. She said, "I know you do, and I knew it would surprise you." We remained friends until she moved from the apartment complex. She said that she was moving into her brother's guest house, because the rent kept going-up and was too high there. Now she was certainly right about that. After her move, we just slowly lost contact with each other.
I remained in the complex for about four more months, until eventually moving about half a mile away to Holloway Drive, just west of La Cienega Blvd. It was another complex which was situated closer to the entertainment night life. The apartment I rented was perfect; located in the front, right on the first floor. It was a one bedroom, plus a den. The den had a balcony, which was about fifteen feet from the sidewalk. I could stand on my balcony and talk to the pretty girls that constantly walked-by. Since La Cienega was just about fifty yards away, the girls would walk-to the seven-eleven store on the corner of La Cienega and Holloway Drive and I had the view of it all.
Later I learned that I had some pretty famous neighbors too. Across the street and a little to the west of my complex was a set of strange-looking apartments. Janet DuBois of television's "Good Times" was a resident, along with actor Mickey Rooney. I would always look-over there to see if I could see them, but never had any luck doing so. Now I knew they really lived there, because several people told me, but it wasn’t' to be for me to lay eyes on them.
Learning my way around Los Angeles was fun. There were just so many people there, it was unbelievable. I began making friends, who would take me to Venice Beach, Long Beach, San Fernando Valley and other places of interest. I think the thing I loved about Los Angeles the most was how scantily dressed the girls were, and there were always loads of pretty women just walking-down the street, which is something I never witnessed while in San Bernardino; it was like a culture shock to me. So many black people, which many were extremely attractive and weren't ashamed to show their bodies. It was a trip! Sometimes I would be in my car and see a beautiful girl; I mean so fine that I would have to make the block, just to take another look. I would ride by them very slowly just staring, and the thing that struck me the most is; when they would see me, they would just smile and keep walking. Many times I would pull-over and ask them if I could talk to them for a minute. I'm guessing, seven times out of ten, they would walk-over to the car and talk. Of course I would be trying to get that phone number; sometimes I was successful and sometimes not, but nothing beats a failure but a try.
Now just to show you how times have changed; now, if a lady was walking-down the street and a car slowly rides beside her, it would probably scare some women to death; and don't even think about calling her to the car for some conversation; she is thinking about kidnapping, rape, being found dead somewhere, I mean the whole approach situation is drastically different these days. Most women are terrified, as they rightfully should be, since there are so many "kooks" out there, just looking to harm someone and many times, just for the hell of it.
Other than the pretty girls, I think the other most noticeable thing about Los Angeles was the number of expensive cars driving on the streets. Everywhere you looked, there were Mercedes', Rolls Royce's, and Jaguars. It's crazy! You cannot drive two blocks without seeing one of these vehicles; mostly Mercedes. That seems to be the vehicle of choice, still to this day. It's more or less an image thing, because everyone in L.A. knows, and I quickly learned, if you have an expensive and pretty car, the ladies will flock your way or at least, they did then. But wait-a-minute; has that changed? Isn't it the same way today? I think the only difference is now-a-days; the ladies themselves now own and drive those big, pretty, expensive cars. Yep, times have really changed and for the better, I might add.
Remember all of that money I was making doing the dances in Riverside, California; well it's beginning to dwindle-down now. I need to get serious with my life and find something I want to do here in L.A. I am in the entertainment capital of the world and I have been in the entertainment business for a while now, even while living in San Bernardino, so what would be more fitting than to find something in what? You guessed it; the entertainment field. But what would I do here; Los Angeles is a lot different than "San Berdoo." I used to be a "big fish in a little pond," but now in L.A., I suddenly became a "little fish in a big pond." I had to find a way to change that. There were so many stars and important people in this big city, I always wondered how would I compete? I knew I was smart and loved competition, but I'm not used to this much; it's everywhere! There must be numerous opportunities here, simply by looking at all of the expensive cars and many are driven by my own people. That is certainly encouraging to me.
I have a couple of friends who are "extras" in television and the movies. Maybe I'll look into doing that for a while; at least everyone in San Bernardino would see me on television. Whenever I go back home to visit my parents, folks would think I was a star, because I was walking or sitting in the background of some popular television program or movie. Yeah, that might be the thing to do; I think I just came-up with a great idea; I need to seriously explore that! Good for me!
t's a beautiful day in Los Angeles. The temperature is 77 degrees and there's a slight breeze coming from the Pacific Ocean. I am on my way to do what I’ve been doing for the last six years; acting. Well, not really acting, but doing ‘extra’ work in some of the most popular televisions shows on the air right now, not to mention some feature films, as well. I mean this is what you have to do if you want to say you’re “In the business.” I really want to be an actor, but I just haven’t gotten that “big break” as of yet. I look for it everyday, but I can’t seem to find it! I will, I know its coming; it’s like the old saying goes, “Everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame.” The only problem is I’m looking for more than fifteen minutes; how about a lifetime of fame and fortune and the big home and fancy cars? I know that it’s coming; I just wish it would hurry and find me. Well enough of my dreams for now.
Let me stop and pick-up a “Drama-Logue.” (That’s the fairly new industry paper showing actors who is casting what, when and where). You can’t live in L.A. and call yourself an actor and not have the “Drama-Logue” next to your side. Oh yeah, I’ve done most of the right things any real actor would do… The answering service that you have to check 10 times a day hoping a casting director or agent has called you for an audition. The black and white, 8 x 10 headshots taken by one of the best photographers in Hollywood. I mean he has to be good, since his studio is right next door to Capital Records. Yes, he’s expensive, but hey, I’m an actor. You do what you have to do to make it to the “big time.” I often wonder why I don’t have an agent as of yet, I mean all actors have an agent, that’s just part of being in the business. Well actually I know why I don’t… they keep telling me they already have someone they represent who’s “my type.” Actually, that’s what the agents tell actors when they are not interested in signing and representing you. Whatever!
Back to this Drama-Logue thing; it’s something I do each and every week, buy the darn thing, but the only difference is, today I am actually going to get enough nerve to go on one of these auditions; after all, actors do have to audition for parts and I am an actor…uh I mean ‘extra,’ with six years of experience, so why not go on an audition, right? Okay, I’m going to do this! Oh-oh, the audition is at 3:00 p.m. and I’ll probably still be on the set of “Baretta,” but you know what, there are so many people on that set, I’ll bet I can leave and they won’t even miss me; I mean come on, everyone else does it, I see them doing it all the time, I’ve just never had a reason to do so. But now I do and since “Baretta” is shot at Universal Studios, which is 10 minutes from Studio City, I know I can do this… see now I’m getting excited.
It’s 2:00 p.m. and I’ve only been on camera twice since 10:00 a.m.; just a couple of ‘crosses’ (walking behind the “principals”…of course, that means the “real” actors) Let’s see, who can I ask to cover for me while I’m away on my audition? Covering means asking another ‘Extra’ to tell the ‘A.D.’ (Assistant Director) that I’m in the restroom sick, when asked my whereabouts. I think I’ll ask one of the females, since I don’t trust the guys to do it; you see, in this business, it’s everyone for themselves and God for us all. Plus, one of the girls likes me; yeah I’ll ask her.
Wow, I have a little over a ¼ tank of gas, but I’ll make it to the audition and back; then back home to Inglewood, yeah it’s all good. As I drive through Studio City, I search for the address where the auditions are being held. Okay, there it is…but wait-a-minute, look at that long line outside. I don’t have time to stand in line; I have to get back on the set. Wait-a-minute; why is everyone in line white? This must be a mistake; I don’t see any black guys standing in line for this audition. Now if I go get in that line, what are the others going to be thinking, while they are staring at me? I could care-less, I want to be “Sgt. Goods,” and after all; I’m here now and I certainly don’t have gas to waste. Oh by the way, “Sgt Goods” is the name of the character I’m going to read for. Yep, that’s me!
It’s 2:55 p.m. and I’m still at the back of the line. They’ve only seen four people. Wait-a-minute, I remember hearing ‘real actors’ say, when they go to an audition and they have to be on the set, just ask the people in line if they can go ahead of them and the answer is almost always yes… it’s just professional courtesy.
Let’s see, there are about 40 people in line… I think maybe 15 allowed me the “professional courtesy,” while the others claimed they were in a hurry too. Oh well, I’m going to be late getting back and that’s that!
Okay now it’s been 45 minutes and there are still 10 people ahead of me, what do I do? No-no, I can’t concentrate on that right now. I have to focus on being a marine drill sergeant and what they look like and sound like. Oh yeah, now I remember, mean and ugly and of course, certainly loud! That’s what I’ve seen on television and in the movies. That’s all I have to go by, since I was never called for the armed services. Well actually I was, but they didn’t take me, since I was the only surviving son. Did I mention, no sisters and brothers?
“Shelly Garrett!” Did someone call my name? Did someone call Shelly Garrett? The big white guy behind me nudges me, “You’re next dude.” Oh okay thanks. As I move into the room, I keep thinking, man that guy who nudged me was huge…. must have been 6’5” or so. Hey I’m 6’3” so maybe they’re looking for a big guy, yeah maybe, but probably a big, white guy.
As I walk into the room there are 4 serious-looking white guys who all look like drill sergeants themselves, except not as large as I am. When I enter, they glance at each other, probably saying, “why is this black fellow here?” The one guy in the middle speaks, with a little attitude, I might add, “Your name Shelly Garrett? I called you twice!” So I stared him directly in his eyes and answered, with my own little attitude, I might add, “Only my friends call me Shelly, but since we’ve never met, I’d prefer that you call me by my real name!” Everyone looked at me with surprise and then at the guy in the middle, as he leaned back in his chair. “And what might that be,” he growled. Never taking my eyes away from his, I blurted, “Sgt. Goods!”
The four men looked at each other and forced a smile. I was actually shocked, but I didn’t smile with them, because I’m “Sgt. Goods” and I don’t smile in public. Got it? Good! So they hand me the “sides”… (A few pages from the script that I’m going to read, in character for them.) I glance over it for a few seconds and the guy in the middle asks, “Are you ready?” Yep, I reply, in my deepest voice. Suddenly I find this person in me that I never knew was there and he and I glide through the lines with total perfection. I was so loud; I think I really shocked them, because I never heard the guys before me doing their lines with any volume. I knew since I looked different, I had to sound different. Honestly, I think I did sound like a marine drill sergeant, if I may say so myself.
When I finished the reading, I didn’t look at them and pause for a critic of my short performance. I learned long ago, by listening to ‘real actors,’ you never, ever do that; it’s a real “no-no.” You read, you place the sides on the table, you say thank you; turn and leave, praying they stop you, before you get to the door. I hear a familiar voice… “Hey Sgt. Goods…” As I exhale, I turn to face the voice, “Yeah,” I answer, still in character of course, with a deep frown on my face. “If you want the role, it’s yours!” Now I can’t keep from smiling. “Are you serious?” “Congratulations,” he states and they all applaud with big smiles. So now I say something stupid, before I even think about it. “Are you sure, I mean there are a lot of guys out there, what if you find someone better?” One of the other guys says, “We won’t!” “I don’t think you will either,” was my arrogant reply. Now the ‘real actors’ have said, “You must always be confident, while in front of casting directors and producers.” I’m thinking, did I sound confident or arrogant? Well, who cares, I got the part, so now I’m a real actor; at least that’s what’s in my head.
After verifying my contact information and availability for a six week rehearsal schedule, I leave the room. The other guys are really staring at me; I’m thinking it’s because I was really, really loud in there. Immediately after I walk-out, one of the guys from the panel, steps-out and makes an announcement, “Anyone auditioning for “Sgt. Goods” needs to look at one of the other eleven roles, because that role has been filled.” I can hear some moans and groans, but I never look around as I stroll to my car. I even heard one guy say, “Ah damn man, I really wanted that part!” My walk gets faster, so I can get in the car and smoke a “relief cigarette” and just stare at the guys in line. I see about three of them leaving, so I assume they really did want the part and decided not to read for any of the other roles.
We rehearsed exactly six weeks and I never missed a one. I don’t know why, but I really enjoyed the rehearsals. I always looked forward to them, however while they were in progress, they seemed to go on forever! Sometimes I would get a headache from all of the yelling, but “actors” have to do the best they can, at all times. There was no such thing as “mocking the lines.” Everything had to be done full-out, at all times. Sean, the director, was not having it any other way.
Well there are only two rehearsals left before the big opening night, and these were “dress rehearsals.” We all bought our uniforms and props needed for the show; we would use them in these last two rehearsals. When I put on that drill sergeant hat with the dark sunglasses, I really did feel like a marine drill sergeant, whatever that feels like in real life.
Now it’s opening night and time to perform for a four week-end run, which happens to be in the same little theatre where I auditioned. It’s a 99 seat equity-waiver theatre. Anything over 99 seats, we the actors, (that’s what I am now, remember) would have to be paid equity-scale salaries, however that’s really not the case today, but back then, it was pretty much the law. Equity wavier theatres in Los Angeles seem to be on every corner in North Hollywood and Studio City. It’s where actors perform their craft and showcase themselves, hoping a casting director will come and see them, like them, but more importantly, remember them and cast them in a television show or film. No, there is no pay, so get use to it; that’s the way it is in this crazy world of Hollywood!
On the other side, the playwright wants the performance to go well, so the “right person” will see his or her work and make it a feature film, or a television show or even a Broadway play, however, lets be for real; it rarely happens, but who can fault a person for wishful thinking. After all, when you stop dreaming; you stop living, right?
The name of the play was “Shout” and doing this show was when I first learned the true meaning of promotion. The playwright, who was also the director, went through the trouble and hassle to get a permit from the city of Hollywood to drive a rented army tank down Sunset Blvd., near San Vicente, with the name of the play and the performance dates posted on both sides. We, the actors walked on each side of the tank in our marine costumes. If one could have seen the stares and pointing we were getting. In fact, I think we truly enjoyed all of the attention. The permit was only good for four blocks, but within that short distance, there was enough press and television coverage you wouldn’t believe. Yes, I quickly learned marketing is everything. What I learned is you can have the best product on earth, but if no one knows about it, then what difference does it make? Absolutely none! You must advertise in some form, shape or fashion. There’s just no getting around it. Every Monday I became sad, because I had to wait until the next weekend to do three more shows. Even though most of the audience was white, I seemed to be their favorite character in the play. Now that taught me a valuable lesson; if people think you are a good performer, actor, singer, dancer or whatever… your color really doesn’t matter, as long as you are entertaining most of the folks in the audience.
On the last Friday of our four week run, the director gathers us all together and advises he would like to add two more weekends to the run, which of course would be a total of six weeks. I can’t tell you when I have felt such joy and elation. “I can’t do it,” echoed a voice from the rear. Everyone turned to look. You could have heard a rat piss on cotton. “I’m going out of town with my parents next week, so I won’t be here.” It seemed at that moment, everyone’s feathers dropped with disappointment. Now the first thing you must understand is the voice was coming from the third leading character in the play, so I’m sure everyone there was thinking the same as I; well there goes our two week extension. That’s when I heard the director’s voice say, “No problem, I understand.” Okay, I’m thinking, what the hell do you mean, “No problem?” This guy is knocking us out of six extra performances and I want to do them! In fact, I think we all want to do them, so how could this not be a problem? We are all looking at our “No problem” director, just waiting for him to say something like, well fellows I guess we can’t do the two extra weeks. But wait, that’s not what he just said, it was something else; I turned to the guy next to me and asked him what Sean, the director, had just said. “He said, he would play the part himself,” whispering back to me. Himself? Now wait just a Hollywood minute! How on earth is the director going to be playing a part in the show; I mean, he’s the director, not an actor. Directors direct and actors act! Am I missing something here? Now let me analyze this for a quick moment, because he is still talking, but I can’t concentrate on anything he’s saying, because I’m hung-up on him playing a role in the play! Ugh! To me that is like walking-in on your parents doing the nasty! Double ugh!! Hold-up a second, he’s talking about money; I need to focus now. Something about during the two week extension, we will receive twenty-five dollars each weekend. Wait-a-minute; you mean I’m going to get paid for this? He is actually going to pay me fifty dollars for the two weekends for doing something that I totally love doing? Hell, he can play any part he wants in his show, as long as I get the “duckets” every weekend! Uh, for those of you that don’t know, “duckets” means “money.” Gas! Gas! Gas! I can still hear me saying it to this day… Fill her up please! “Maybe I can talk my parents into delaying the trip for two weeks,” sounded the voice from the rear. For some reason everyone laughed, but it actually pissed me off! This fool heard money, now he wants to stay! Hell no! Take your ass on your little vacation with mama and papa; we don’t need you, the director is going to play your part! I can get use to saying that very quickly. Sean, the director replies, “No, we’ll be okay; enjoy your trip.” To hear him say that was like music to my ears. So what I quickly learned is “One monkey don’t stop no show… the show must and will go on!” It’s something I will never forget and will use throughout my theatrical career. The other thing I learned is there are a lot of monkeys in this business, who will definitely try to stop the show, if they don’t get a banana. The question is… are you, as a professional, strong enough to stand-up to that monkey and not give-in to them?
Now that I have a little experience under my belt, I think it’s time to get an agent; after all, any good actor has an agent, don’t they? Sure they do. But wait-a-minute, do I really know how to act? I just finished a six weekend run, which were actually eighteen performances of “Shout.” But now it’s time to move-on and get the Drama-Logue again, so I can search for bigger and better things. Looking through it, I see another stage production entitled “Earth Angel.” Hmmmm, wasn’t that a popular song or something, back in the day? The description says it’s about the life of Mr. Dootsie Williams. Who? I have no idea who that is, but it says it’s a black production, so now I will be around some black actors. Well what do you know, its being cast in Studio City again. Now I’m thinking; if this is a ‘black production,’ why is it being cast in Studio City? Ain’t nothing black about Studio City, well not at that time anyway. Usually, the black productions were cast at The Inner City Cultural Center and later on, The Marla Gibbs theatre. Marla Gibbs? Didn’t she play ‘Florence the maid’ on the hit, television show “The Jeffersons?” Yes, she sure did. Though I have never been to her theatre or The Inner City Cultural Center, I would always see their listings and casting notices in The Drama-Logue. But I wasn’t an actor then, remember?
Yes, but now; wow, I am an “experienced actor.” I just played the lead role in an all-white production. I’m the man, so I will go anywhere to read for anything! I have credits… okay, well I have one credit. If a person never learns anything from acting; at least it is a true confidence builder, that’s for sure. Oh yes, back to Dootsie Williams; after going to the audition, I learned that he was a well-known music producer in the record business, way back in the day, and the first black millionaire from Compton, California. This play is about his life story. Dootsie had his own record label and recording studio, both called Dootone Records, and one of the well-known acts on his label was Redd Foxx. Of course, this was well before the very popular “Sanford and Son” television series.
So, as I stroll into the equity-wavier theatre, of about 45 seats for my audition, I was greeted by an older man, who looked to be in his late 60’s. He handed me a script (about 25 pages) and told me to look it over. After doing so, he sat in the empty venue on the first row and waited for me to begin. I asked, what part of the script did he want me to read, and he said, “Anywhere you’d like.” So, of course, Shelly Garrett, with all of my confidence and “experience,” decided to read the role of Dootsie Williams, which happened to be the lead, duh! As I was reading, I wondered if he was going to ever stop me. Well guess what; he didn’t! I read the entire role of Dootsie to the very last page. I felt since he’s not stopping me, this must be a good thing. Afterwards, he asked, “So what do you think?” Okay, now I’m thinking, what do I think? I’m wondering what you thought about my performance. I said, I think it’s great, when in all reality it was the most horrible thing I had ever seen or read. There were words misspelled; I mean the whole gamut. But who cared; I just want to be on stage again; well it’s wasn’t really a stage, but we’ll just call it that. Just like the director in my first show, they just rent these theatres by the week, to do as they wish in them. So I assumed this guy was doing the same. Anyway, I’ve already learned, the show must go on, right? After finding-out he was also the playwright, I decided to ask, why there were so few pages in the script and he said, “Because there are seven songs in the show, which takes up most of the script. Okay, now I’m confused; I’m wondering who’s going to be singing these songs? When I asked, he said, “You are.” “Huh” was the only way I could respond. “Oh yeah, everyone will play two roles in the show,” he blurted. He said, “I want you to play ‘Dootsie’ and also be a background singer in one of the groups.” But I don’t sing, I told him. “Don’t worry about it; everyone is going to pantomime the songs.” I’m thinking, Lord what have I gotten myself into? But it’s okay, this is a black production and I want to be in a black production… I think.
There will be NO rehearsals, “We’re going to just do the show,” I’m told by the severely graying man. Really? I couldn’t think of anything else to say? The show was in a week and on opening night; there were about 6 people in the audience. It is, by far, the worse theatre experience I have ever known, still to this day. He would sit on the first row and watch the show with his assistant. If anyone would make a mistake during a performance, he would verbally correct you, with a lot of anger, right there in front of the audience. For some unknown reason, he never, ever corrected me and Lord knows I made some mistakes, but he would seem to ignore them. It was humiliating to the other actors and I absolutely felt sorry for them, especially when their family members were sitting in the audience.
I had previous plans to go to Las Vegas doing the second weekend of the show and asked if someone else could play the role in my absence? He BLEW UP! This certainly wasn’t like the last show I was in, when it was no problem. The last thing I remember him saying to me was, “This show does not have a revolving door; if you leave don’t come back.” It was the very first time this man had ever raised his voice to me, but at least it wasn’t in front of an audience. Well, let it be known, I did go to Las Vegas and had a great time. I was fired, during my absence, but it’s not like I was getting paid. This man talked to me so bad, over the phone, I’m really surprised I didn’t get an ear infection. From that point, I developed a serious attitude and told him, I could care-less; I will write my own play! I also informed him how unprofessional he was by correcting actors, while an audience was present and how it was so ridiculous to be doing a play with no rehearsals! He said, “Yeah right, go to hell” and hung-up on me! By the way did I mention that his name happened to be Dootsie Williams? Yep, he was doing a play on his own life.
So, there I sat on my bed at the Las Vegas Hilton, hurt and humiliated; not to mention mad as hell! How dare he fire me; I'm a "polished" actor with "experience." No, I haven't been to acting school, but I'm polished." No, I don't have an agent, but I'm "experienced." I decided to call one of the other actors in the show, Kelvin Reese, and tell him what just happened. I needed to vent. Kelvin laughed and informed me that there were only three; count them... one, two, three people confirmed to see the show that evening. I shared with Kelvin that I was going to write my own play, just out of spite. He made me promise that he would have a part in the show. You have my word, I promised and I always keep my word... Good for me!