E: You’re Nap-town born and raised right?C: Yes, I was born in Indianapolis. The only music in the family came from my dad trying to sing like Nat Cole. My grandmother had a piano so my mom played a bit. But outside of the home, my family wasn’t into music professionally.

E: Where did you get your start?
C: I got into the horn around the 5th grade. Doing those days they had tonettes - plastic wind instruments that were passed around, so everyone in class had to participate. From the class, the instructors chose certain people to try out for instrumental music. That’s how it came about. It wasn’t something I started out to do.

E: So you started on the sax?
C: In the instrumental class, I said wanted to play a trombone. I had wanted to play a trumpet - but I had the names mixed up. My arms were too short to slide the arm, so the teacher gave me a clarinet. I started on that.

E: The Highlighters began as a school band, right?
C: The Highlighters began in high school. The original members were “Boola,” “Porkchop,” a trumpet player called Clifford Ratliff – we’re still buddies today, we grew up three doors from one another. We didn’t have a lead guitarist. The bass player was Richard Corbin. This was in the mid 60s. I graduated in ’65, so this must have been ’63 or ‘64.

E: So you didn’t start out as a funk group, of course.
C: We were playing jazz. We looked up to Wes Montgomery and the local talent. But I loved “Cannonball” Adderley and the Crusaders. During that time, that was what was mostly available. We were into the soulful jazz.

E: You didn’t record any examples of your music at this time, did you?
C: We became a recording group around ‘68.

E: By that time, the group had reformed.
C: Right, Boone and Brantley came through “Boola.” They went to the same church. Boola might even have taught Boone how to play bass. Dewayne came though the time that the majority of the group were drafted. We made a commitment that once everyone came out of the military we would have the same people back (into the band). Garvin took “Porkchop’s” place ‘cause he had to do the military obligation.

E: And how about your lead singer?
C: Bell came in through Boone, I think. I guess ‘cause Boone never went to the military. He was in Indy holding things together – I was in the military. When I got back Boone had brought him into the group. Me, “Porkchop” and Brantley went to the military. The funk thing came in, I was listening to James Brown.

E: What lead to the recording of “Poppin’ Popcorn?”
C:You know, the transition from jazz - we’d won a lot of awards locally. When Brantley and Boone came into the picture we changed to r&b and funk. And influences like James Brown. We played a lot of songs that were on the records we bought. We’d do covers.

E: And the actual recording?
C: We had reached the point in our career that we felt we could do some recording of original material. We all were at a rehearsal - and after rehearsal you kinda kick around different ideas. That’s how it developed. I came up with a horn part, Boone put the bass line to it. We were just kicking around. Nothing was set like we were gonna do a composition. But we got the feel to it.

E: And, in a true reflection of your jazz roots, you arranged it like a jazz tune – establish a head, take solos, return to the head. All in the compact 3 minutes of a funk song. And you convinced Paul Major to release it on his fledgling Rojam label.
C: During that time, Paul was connected to radio. How we met was a little foggy. The popularity of the group itself lead to Paul Major. Boone was the leader of the group so he orchestrated some of these things. We did a lot of things with the radio station, freebie type things about anywhere we could do a gig.

E: Do you remember anything about the studio? Midwest Studios?
C: I only remember that it was a garage. “Boola” put the organ outside – it didn’t fit through the door. He sat outside. The song wasn’t tracked, we were using fairly primitive equipment. And I don’t remember the mix. But I do remember egg cartons all over the walls to dampen the sound.

E: Do you remember if you pressed a good quantity of copies? Were you able to distribute the record outside of Indianapolis?
C: I don’t remember. Outside of Indy? It was definitely sold outside of the city, but not to my knowledge. I didn’t follow those sort of things. We just tried to deal with things as we knew of them. I heard different people from different parts of the country that said they heard that song years ago.

E: How about the second record The Highlighters recorded, “The Funky 16 Corners?”
C:The second record was created the same way as the first. Just at rehearsal - after we did what we could do we kicked around ideas. It was a group effort. Every one added in parts and added to what it came to be.

E: Your two regional hits were both based on dance crazes.
C: Well, the funk stuff in that day - a lot of times songs were developed from dances. There was a dance called the “Popcorn” and once called the “Four Corners.” We said, “They have theirs, we’ll do ours.” We performed them live too. For groups like Jr Walker - we were the opening act.

E: When you performed, did you play mostly your original compositions?
C: It was a mixture of covers and originals.

E: After “Porkchop” resumed his place in the group, The Highlighters recorded for Chess Records.
C: Yes. “Lulu” was recorded in Chicago. We had taken some songs to Chicago for Chess on our own. We just knocked on the door. But they listened and said they couldn’t use them. We had brought up “Poppin’ Popcorn” etc. Independently. But then Jerry (Hermann, owner of Lulu Records) came along as a manager and with his connections he got us in. Chess recorded “Lulu” and six other songs. By this time “Porkchop” was back. Garvin wasn’t happy about having to leave his post. Bell left too.

E: The Highlighters ended up undertaking a rather large tour around this point, correct?
C: Right. We were gonna go on the road, so we got a booking agent out of New York. But Bell had a good day job in Indianapolis, so he stayed. We went to Washington DC. Then we went to Buffalo, Rochester, Windsor in Canada. We played two weeks in Canada – we sold records and pictures at the shows. And we were the headliners. We had an agent that also did Ohio Players. We ended up doing some of the same gigs.

E: How were the shows?
C: Packed. Everywhere we went, we drew. In DC, we played downtown seven nights a week. We got broke in real good. We originally stayed for two weeks, then the club extended it another week. It was amazing! In your young 20s, you can keep up with the beat. They guaranteed us to go back. This was around the time we went to Chicago to record. That was after the first road trip.

E: When did you end up leaving the band and why?
C: I quit the band in ‘70. I left ‘cause we were traveling and I was married with a daughter. I wanted to work in the Midwest – up in Michigan, around that area. This put me closer to home – I could get home a little more often. Man, I spent my first wedding anniversary in DC. We all did a lot of sacrificing. After the East, I wanted to try the Midwest. But the guys wanted to go back to the East – Boston or somewhere. I ended up paying rent in Indy and for hotels on the road. All of the money was out of the pocket. We were carrying trailers on the back on the car and traveling.

E: So you struck out on your own?
C: I came back and formed several different groups. But I didn’t record anything anymore. I’ve worked at the phone company for 24 years.

E: Do you have fond memories from that time?
C: It was a great time. I knew other people – knew all of them. But the Highlighters were, during that era, the number one band. People were playing the records. We had the number one record on the charts. We wereright there, it was a great experience. I got to talk with Jr. Walker – he was a great inspiration.

E: Yeah, I forgot to ask – what saxophonists influenced your style?
C: King Curtis, of course. My style comes from a jazz and funk combination. And I was listening to a lot of Maceo. As a matter of fact, a drummer around town still calls me “Maceo!”

E: You live in Virginia now, but were you born in Indy?
J: I was born in Indianapolis. I started on the trombone in elementary school. I just went to the teacher and asked to play an instrument. I got into guitar because my father played one around the house.

E: And how about your musical career?
J: The Highlighters were the first major band that I was a part of. I came in through “Boola” and Palmer while I was in high school. I’d leave my high school, go to their school and then practice with them. So I was a bit into the first band. I also went to church with “Boola.”

E: What year was all this happening?
J: Around ‘65.

E: Am I right in stating that you and James Boone joined the band at around the same time?
J: Boone came in later than me. We had a bass player at first, Boone came in, but not much later. Maybe a year later.

E: And you’re featured prominently on “Poppin’ Popcorn.”
J: “Poppin’ Popcorn” – that was the first thing we recorded. But we did a lot of covers. We hooked up with Herb Miller - he was our manager when we did “Popcorn.”

E: Why didn’t you release it on Herb’s label then?
J: Well, he didn’t have LAMP yet. He was the first manager for us, though.

E: How did the song come about?
J: It was a James Brown thing. “Mother Popcorn,” do you remember that? This was a reply, but a completely different sound. I don’t remember exactly how we came up with it. But it was a song that was suitable for doing the popcorn dance.

E: Was it a hit for y’all?
J: Locally, it got a lot of radio play. I think it went to number two. I was a real young guy back then – I was right out of high school when I recorded that.

E: How about Dewayne Garvin?
J: I had just returned from the service. Dewayne came by and I told him that the Highlighters were gonna get the band back together. He said he wanted to be a part of it. He is a bad drummer now, but he wasn’t at the time – he hadn’t played drums, he played keys! He came by, we got to talking about the group. He had never been in, but he knew we played. I said, “We already have a keyboard player – ‘Boola.’ ” He said, “Well, what do you need?” I said, “We need a drummer – Jimmy’s in the service. But you can’t play drums.” He said, “I’ll learn!” He learned how to play drums to get into the Highlighters band. He became and excellent drummer, real fast. He was excellent by “Poppin’ Popcorn.” That took maybe a year. He went to his mother and told her he needed a set of drums. All that he had ever played was keyboard! He was from my neighborhood, he used to come by my house. He used to strum on my guitar a little bit, he could play that a little bit too.”

E: And eventually, he had to leave the group.
J: Dewayne wasn’t in the group when we went to Chicago. Dewayne didn’t express it so much, but I knew he was upset. I hated that it happened that way. But we had all made a promise that we would get together after the service. In 1970, after the Chess sessions, Cliff left group. Bell left group – he never went on the road. He had a good day-gig in Indianapolis.

E: “Boola” was the last to leave, correct?
J: “Boola” left around same time as Cliff, for similar reasons. His family was on him - he wasn’t making enough money and he had bills. So he had to come back to Indianapolis and get a regular job. We added new members to replace them. We picked up a guy from Boone’s hometown, Louisville. Matter of fact, I think he’s Boone’s cousin - Julius Mack. He played tenor sax. For drums, we picked up someone before Robert Dikus. Robert was the main drummer with the Rhythm Machine though.

E: Can you give me an order of the songs you recorded AFTER the Highlighters separated?
J: We did Spider’s gig (“Beautiful Day”) in between other things. The Rodan record (“Freakish Love”) was next. “The Kick,” I can’t remember how that came in there.

E: How long did you stay with the band?
J: I was with the Rhythm Machine ‘til about 1974 or ‘75. Once the group broke up, I went to Toronto - where the group played - for two years. Then I moved to Washington DC. I never played. I’d decided I’d had enough of traveling. I got away from playing. I went back to an old trade – fender repair and painting. I’ve been with that quite awhile.

E: But you must think back to those days – you did music full time for nearly 10 years!
J: We were trying. There was a lot of competition. We would catch every band in town and try to compare ourselves. I specifically liked all of Indianapolis’s entertainment - we all knew one another and we’d go to see each other play.

E: Now it’s my understanding that you started playing bass immediately before you joined the Highlighters?
J: I first started bass around ‘65 or ‘66.

E: Any particular reason to jump into music?
J: My cousin made “Twine Time.” He was in The Crawlers with Alvin Cash. His name was Eddie Mack and he was a bass player. I was a basketball star myself. I used to play in front of thousands of people. I got into music a year after I got out of high school. My cousin got my interest. Then “Boola.” We had a quartet with Brantley and another dude in our church.

E: And it was through “Boola” that you joined the Highlighters.
J: “Boola” was already with Cliff and “Porkchop” and the Highlighters. Their bass player was messing up, so they asked for me. “Boola” told me he’d teach me how to play bass. The first song I learned was “Come See About Me” by The Supremes. Then that started it all. I got into the Highlighters in the end of ‘65.

E: And how about the funk side of things?
J: I got into funk about ‘68. “Poppin Popcorn” came out then. We had played for a year before we started recording.

E: You took over leadership of the group, correct?
J: I became the leader ‘cause I had a car. They used me to get them around. I was the oldest one, I had some experience in business. The guy at the 20 Grand Club - Danny Raye - that was my mentor. All of the stars would come in. We became the house band.

E: And what lead to “Poppin Popcorn?”
J: A vamp lead to “Poppin Popcorn.” Just messing around with Cliff, doing call and response. We got with “Boola” and put it together with the solos.

E: And the connection to Paul Major, Cliff said you fostered that.
J: I knew Paul Major, he came from Gary, Indiana. He was at WGEE radio. We met up and hooked up and became friends. He and I did a concert with BB King. We paid BB $600. I was always a business man. I was a young dude. Wasn’t nobody in the audience but big old fat women and tall guys with conks. I was way out of line, I didn’t know what was going on. Me and Paul started doing shows together. I went to him, and told him, “We got a little song we want to record.” We started talking and he said he’d start a label. He put his name backward. He financed it, and got paid back with proceeds form records.

E: Tell me about Dewayne Garvin – you and he fit together beautifully.
J: Dewayne came in ‘cause Jimmy was in the service. Dewayne was a keyboard player. Oh man, he went on to be with (Marvin) Gaye for six years. Marvin loved him. To be Marvin Gaye’s drummer. “Funky Buzzard” was bad, man!

E: And “Poppin’ Popcorn” was a certified hit right?J: It was a hit in Indianapolis – “Oh Happy Day” by Walter Hawkins was the only thing that kept us out of number one. We was number two for three weeks in a row. Spider played it. I handed him the record, got him to play it. Paul was playing it. We had all kinds of kids calling the radio station. Kids flooded the station. They didn’t have call waiting and all that back then, they had to take off the line!

E: Is it true that James Brown heard about the song?
J: James Brown heard about the “Popcorn” in Indy through Jerry Herman’s brother, who was in Cincinatti with the second of two record stores. He was friends with JB’s manager. We had the “Popcorn” out five or six months before Brown came out. We had it out first. The first one in the country. Check the library of congress for the first registration of the “Popcorn.” I’m telling you now, Jerry Herman’s brother and JB’s manager were tight. Because of Jerry’s brother, they knew what records were selling.

E: Jerry connected you guys with Chess records too.
J: We got with Chess ‘cause Jerry knew Leonard Chess. We recorded six songs, but only put out two. The Dells were in the studio and they cheered us on. That mistake that Clifford made in “Lulu?” We were gonna take that out, but the guy from the Dells was like “No, No leave that in!” And that mistake, Clifford got more play offa that than anything else we ever did. The Dells - they saw something in us, and one of ‘em said “Hey, you guys are bad man!” They stayed in the studio with us. They were in Studio A, we were in B. They came over when they were on our break and hung out with us. They knew we were new artists on Chess and they liked us.

E: By this time, Garvin was no longer playing with the band.
J: “Porkchop” was back. I was the type of person that always kept my word. Although he wasn’t half the drummer that Dewayne was. But that was the way it was. I hated to do that. I didn’t have any choice. “Boola” and Clifford was in the band before I was. It was a vote thing - Bell and Dewayne was the only ones that wanted him to stay.

E: How big did these records get? Do you remember how many you pressed?
J: Jerry said he sold 30,000 copies of “Poppin Popcorn,” but I don’t believe that. But we had to sell quite a few to make it number 2 on WTLC. Back then, you had to sell records to be on the top ten chart. “Funky 16 Corners” wasn’t as big as “Poppin Popcorn.” We only made 1000 or 2000 copies. But people played it. I knew disc jockies - Paul and Spider were DJs and they were my best friends.

E: Tell me about the changing of the guard – the Highlighters became the Rhythm Machine.
J: Julius Mack took Cliff’s place. Mardie Williams was on alto. He’s dead. Robert Dikus was on drums. He might have been with (Billy Ball and) The Upsetters at the time. Brantley was on guitar and Kevin Farrell was the main singer.

E: Your first record with the group was “Freakish Love” on Rodan Records.
J: We recorded out of Kalamazoo, Michigan ‘cause we played up there. Some big group out there told us about this studio in Kalamazoo. It was unclie dirty and he was dirty. We used his studio.

E: Then came “The Kick.”
J: “The Kick” was after the Rodan record. People played “The Kick” in Des Moine. It was number one there. We had a dance, Kevin made it up.

E: The Rhythm Machine was one helluva touring ensemble.
J: We toured the states, went to Canada. I did music 13 years straight. We did the album (in 1975) in Des Moines, some of it was recorded in Kalamazoo. We finished it in Des Moines. We did the album to document was going on.

E: You released a single from that album – your last – “Brenda And Me.”
J: “Brenda and Me” was about this young lady I met. They loved it in Indianapolis. I would be coming home, driving down the highway and I’d hear it. They loved that song. We got a lot of play on that one. Jerry loved it, we would have gotten that on a national label if Jerry hadn’t gotten sick.

E: What lead to the demise of the Rhythm Machine?
J: We had taken a two month break. Me, Merdie, Hobie Johnson and Robert were out in California with Quincy Jones at A&M records trying to sell it. I had a wreck on my way home, I kinda got banged up. So I checked into the hospital in Omaha on the way back to Indianapolis. I stayed there a year and a half going through therapy. I got an apartment - Robert stayed ‘cause his lady was there. Merdie went back to Muncie, Indiana to take some courses. We were gonna cool out. Then Merdie’s mother passed, in 1979. His kinfolk were trying to get his money. I said, “Come on out here man, to Omaha.” He came out and had a new Continental and everything. He was on crutches, he’d hurt his foot. I told him, “I’ll drive you back to Indy and fly out to Omaha.” We were that tight. So we drove out, on a Friday. We got there Friday at 5 o’clock. He drove to Muncie at 6. I got on a plane to get back to Omaha at 11. As I was going to storage to get some stuff at like 1 in the morning, I got a call to the storage from my answering service. It said I needed to call. I called Robert - Merdie had been killed that previous night. That blew my mind. He went to Muncie, then he went to Anderson to sit in with some musicians. On the way back, in 30 miles, he hit a tree. So after we saw him in a casket - me and Dikus, we didn’t play no more. We hung it up. From then on I started doing stuff in Omaha. I started a program feeding senior citizens for free. For 13 years. I put on concerts and fed them. And I started a restaurant, with entertainment for seniors every Thursday. “Alexanders’ ” has been around for ten years. I started “Go Ahead” magazine in 1980 with Dikus. I also had free concerts every Sunday – our biggest crowd was 18,000 people in the park

E: You had one helluva career.
J: Like Dikus will tell you, we couldn’t understand why we would draw. When we went to Canada people would drive 100 miles to see us. I couldn’t understand it - it was unbelieveable, man, I just couldn’t understand it. We just didn’t have the big records. We were more into surviving on the road then we were into trying to make records and being in the recording business.

E: You were a late bloomer, musically…
R: I started drumming around age 20, I’d never played any other instruments. My brother started playing guitar so I started playing because I thought it was something easy to do. I figured I’d stick to drums - get by easy.

E: What kind of music were you into?
R: I was listening to Elvis Presley, The Beatles. There wasn’t no funk stuff around, none of that. This was probably the mid 60s to about late 60s.

E: How’d you get your professional start?
R: My first real gig with a band was probably with Billy Ball. I’ve only been in maybe five bands over my entire career, Billy’s was the first.

E: You recorded his monster “Tighten Up Tighter.”
R: I recorded many songs with Billy Ball. We even did “Funky Nassau” over. Billy kept track more than I did. Billy already had a band before I got there, but they weren’t recording.

E: How many songs did you cut with Billy altogether?
R: I did 4 songs with him.

E: How’d you meet him?
R: I met him playing around in town. I knew who he was, so I went to check him out. One time they needed a drummer, so we hooked up. We did an after-hours joint and a couple regular gigs. The Surfside Seven was one. I got into funk with Billy Ball.

E: Were The Upsetters mostly a funk and soul revue?
R: Everyone was basically playing the same thing. We might have done a little blues, but nothing much.

E: After The Upsetters, you hooked up with James Boone in his newly formed Rhythm Machine.
R: Yes. I knew the Highlighters. James was a hustler – he always had something going on with his bands. But before the Rhythm Machine I was with Ebony Rhythm Band.

E: But I thought Matthew Watson was their drummer during that time?
R: Matthew Watson, that’s my boy there! By playing around, talking back and forth, I got into the band. At the time I was married – but I got to traveling, so the marriage didn’t last too long.

E: This is with the Rhythm Machine? Boone said the touring was constant.
R: Right. We recorded “Freakish Love.” I’ve always been a drummer who plays by ear - I didn’t really practice that much. But I used to drive my parents crazy, beating around the house. The Rhythm Machine, that was my band right there. If I could do it all over again, with those guys, I would do it. Basically, we just had a lot of fun. I met a lot of interesting people, especially up in Canada.

E: Did you know Meridie well?
R: Meridie – that boy there was phenomenal, that’s my little brother. He was real quiet, real talented. We roomed together all the time. He was in Omaha. I stayed there too. I’ve been in Salt Lake City for nine years come summer 2001.

E: Right, what have you been doing since Meridie’s death? Boone said after that tragedy, you all hung it up.
R: First, I opened a detail shop in Omaha. I also got into pictures – I helped Boone start Go Ahead Magazine. I set up the dark room. Lately, I’ve been working with Chevrolet – I’m the head of in-house detailing. They do me pretty good on the pay.

E: You must look back at your tenure with the guys, man you did music full time for so long!
R: I always look back on the Rhythm Machine days. We stayed out there so long; we were always working. We had to beg to get off. That was our life, that’s all we done. There wasn’t no in between, everything was music, music, music.

E: You’re nearing 63 now, so you’re a bit older than the other folks in the Highlighters
J: I’m older than everybody by at least seven years. I’ve been involved with music since I moved to Indianapolis at age 11 from Leland, Mississippi. . I used to listen to the radio and sang along. I took my lunch money and bought a 78 of Billy Eckstine’s “Black Magic.” I practiced ‘til I could sing it. I went to teenage clubs with the talent shows when they would give away transistor radios. I won so many my mom said, “Don’t bring no more home!” This was in the 50s.

E: What kind of music did you listen to?
J: I was listening to r &b and pop. I wanted to be a ballad singer, but Jerry Butler was popular and that was what everyone liked. I liked The Coasters, but I liked Eckstine the best. But that wasn’t that popular. Doo Wop was bigger.

E: How’d you get into the Highlighters?
J: Back in Indianapolis I was hooked into a company called Showtime productions. They had a band that played behind all the acts and I was doing a show at a hotel near the airport. James Brantley had just gotten out of the service and he heard me sing. He liked what he heard, and he asked if I would like to join the band that was coming back together. We started rehearsing in August of 1968. In September we started working at Days’ Country Club. We worked steadily every weekend.

E: What did a Highlighters performance consist of?
J: We had a set pre-made, before we hit the stage. We did “Funky Broadway” by Dyke – everything that was popular.

E: You and Dewayne Garvin got to become pretty close.
J: Yeah, he heard the band and wanted to join. His father and mother were keyboard players. He had never played drums before. He went and got a set of Whitehall drums. That was when we started getting things together and started thinking about records.

E: Why not stay on Rojam? Didn’t “Poppin’ Porpcorn” sell quite well?
J: It was some stuff that went down with Paul Major. I didn’t want to go with another other person making the label. We were gonna be in control of everything – the finances, how many records ordered, this that and the other. I didn’t know at the time that Paul was ordering records too. You learn as you go.

E: And the “Funky 16 Corners” was the first record on that label.
J: I was at work, at Ford Motor Company at the time. I was a production checker at the time, so I could always get away and take a break, then catch up. So I went into the bathroom, blocked the door, got some cardboard and sat on the toilet. I wrote the “Funky 16 Corners” in like ten minutes. I write on ideas - if something comes to my head I write about it. I’d completed the song while I was on the line, singing parts.

E: Was that record a hit for you guys? You say at the beginning that “Poppin’ Popcorn” was a big hit.
J: WTLC played James Brown, Dyke and everyone that was popular. Our song was put against those and it still made number one. “Funky 16 Corners” made number two.

E: The next record on the 3 Diamonds label is actually a big record on the Northern Soul scene in England – and it’s your feature.
J: “Trying to get Chosen.” That was the same group, but Dewayne wasn’t drumming anymore. That song was from a saying. You see a guy you knew going down the street and you’d say, “ Hey potna, what’s happenin’?” He’d say “I dunno, trying to get chosen.” I said, “Why not write about it, everybody’s saying it.”

E: So Dewayne wasn’t on that record – did you notice any difference?
J: At that point, Dewayne Garvin had stuff worked out with me. He was an extension of me. He knew what I was doing and he accented it. (But the band) said they had promised each other before (going into) the service that everyone could get their job back. My argument was, “You hadn’t done anything then, you were a high school band.” Dewayne is as much responsible as anyone else in this group. We always did everything by vote – it was a very good band, I enjoyed being with the band. Everything was done business and democratically. We did it like everything else, we put it to a vote. But my theory was, “What vote?” Dewayne had one vote. I’m the only new guy in the band. But they did and replaced Dewayne with “Porkchop.” But Jimmy wasn’t ready, we all grew together. Dewayne learned to play drums with the Highlighters. I wasn’t able to hear them when they were kids. But they matured in the Highlighters that started in August of 1968. Listen at the drum parts, you can tell. Nothing against (Jimmy Edwards) but he wasn’t familiar with our style of playing at the time. It was “tappy-tappy-tap.” I decided to leave immediately after that.

E: What have you done since?
J: My group, the Naptown Players, are still around to this day. We do funk and soul, but we’ve never recorded. I quit my Ford job. I’m now a retired plumber - retired when he was 40. I stayed away ten years and traveled. Then, I started getting requests to do houses in ritzy areas. This lady was bugging me, she only wanted me to do her house. Then her friends did the same thing, I ended up working for about five years and then I retired again. Retirement for me is being in control of what you do and when.

E: And what do you make of this resurgence of interest in funk music from the 60s and 70s?
J: I think it’s very rewarding to know that something you did 31 years ago has a renewed interest. It makes you know you were doing something right. The mental side is more important than the money side.

E: Where were you born, and when?
D: I was born and raised in Indianapolis in 1942. I was a keyboard player to begin with but I always had drum aspirations. I wasn’t good enough on the keys to have anybody hire me.

E: Your family is rather famous for its excellent musicianship.
D: Both my mother and father were musicians. My father was a keyboard player, and he was with BB King for 24 years. My mother was inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame – she was a jazz pianist and singer. She recorded a song in 1950 on King label, “I’m On The Outside Looking In,” under the name Flo Garvin. My dad recorded with BB, “After Midnight.” He stayed with him quite a while. He’s mentioned in BB’s Book, as Millard Lee.

E: And how about your beginnings in music?
D: I got into keyboards naturally. I played by ear, both my parents did too. Probably got most of it from my mom, when she was carrying me in her stomach she went to work. So I got a chance to hear all that good music. It stayed with me.

E: What music was your first love?
D: I got into jazz first, following piano players and horn players. The first instrument I learned was the trumpet, then I learned the sax. I moved around a lot. In high school I started with the drums. I heard rudiments and learned them early. In school, they taught me how to read them. So I honed those skills. That stuck with me through the (military) service, I was in the Presidential Drum and Bugle Corps team. I was a Marine. So I got a lot of rudimental drum experience there.

E: How did you get involved with the Highlighters? It was pretty much happenstance, was it not?
D: The way I got in the Highlighters… I was at a rehearsal and the guy that was playing drums was leaving. They said, “Can you play drums?” And I said, “Yeah.” What they didn’t know was that I hadn’t played on a set of drums, I was used to playing a (single) drum. It went from there. They said, “OK”, tried me out, did a couple jobs together and we clicked. We grew together.

E: You add a helluva beat to those Highlighters records. What funk drummers were you listening to?
D: I was listening to funk, James Brown... Everybody. Curtis. Bernard Purdie - he really had a profound impact on me ‘cause I had a chance to meet him and I liked the stuff he did on (Aretha Franklin’s) “Respect” and those songs. I met him back then. I was listening to the drum and bass players. The rhythm. And that’s the style I play - I don’t just play what the drums play. I play what the guitar plays sometimes and I play what the bass rhythm plays sometimes.

E: How did you get your first drum kit?
D: My mother bought the first set of drums I had. They were Whitehalls. Those were the drums I used through the Highlighters.

E: And how did you get to be so damn funky? Pardon my inability to phrase that question any other way.
D: I was listening to records, going to shows. I had some good teachers here too. Joel Carter, Harold Caldwell

E: Ah! Billy Wooten’s drummer…
D: Matthew Watson, those guys were really good drummers.

E: Matthew’s an amazing drummer too, the tracks he laid down for Ebony Rhythm Band and the Vanguards and all that are well ahead of their time.
D: Matthew helped teach me. He and I and Joel spent a lot of time together. We had rival groups. I later went to be a drummer with Ebony Rhythm Funk Campaign.

E: And what recorded drummers were you listening to?
D: On record it was Bernard, Max Roach, Lennie Williams. Nat Jones, who was with James Brown for a time, sat me down and taught me stuff. I was practicing every day. I practiced every day by myself and the group practiced everyday too. I took my set home (after band rehearsal) and rehearsed on that.

E: How long did it take for you to start gigging with the Highlighters at shows and all that?
D: It was instantaneous with the Highlighters because they had shows they were already committed to, so I just started playing. Matter of fact, when I started with them they were in a club. It was called Dave’s Country Club on Highway 67 on the way to Anderson, IN.

E: How long were you in the band before you recorded “Poppin’ Popcorn?”
D: Before “Poppin’ Popcorn,” I had only been with the band for 6 months. So I had only been drumming 6 months. (Interrupted) James Bell says it was 4 months. I wasn’t satisfied with the work I did on that song. At that particular time my confidence hadn’t built up yet and the guys I was hanging out with, I felt were much better drummers than I was. I was nervous.

E: Shit, it sounds good to me! Did you play that whole thing live, or track out the rhythm, go back for the horns etc?
D: That song was done all in one take, we had been playing the song well. Oh man, we did it in a garage, I think it cost us $450. The organ couldn’t come through the door, so (“Boola”) had to sit outside on his organ. He had headphones, but it was really low budget. It was an energetic session. I think we did two takes, that was all. The first one hit and everyone felt good about it.

E: Tell me about that monstrous drum break.
D: I was going for the James Brown style. Clyde (Stubblefield’s) “Cold Sweat” style. That’s where I was coming from.

E: I love how in the mix down, the engineer boosts the break by, like, four DB!
D: That was Jan Eaton. He recorded it. He had been recording a lot of people - my mom, Jimmy Coe.

E: Boone was saying that even James Brown was affected by “Poppin’ Popcorn.”
D: James Brown had the number one and number two record in the nation at that time, but as soon as “Poppin’ Popcorn” came out, it went to number one in this area. The idea for “Mother Popcorn” came from our song. Our manager played it for Brown, and he wanted it.

E: Did you do a good amount of live gigs?
D: We played all over the city. At St. Ritas, at the 20 Grand, behind a lot of the acts they brought there.

E: Tell me about the “Funky 16 Corners.”
D: By that time I had developed my drumming. I’d gotten a little better by that time. That was recorded in ‘69 or ‘70. I remember recording that song, we put (the party shouting) in it after we recorded it. We’d gotten a little more money by then, we could go to a better studio.

E: Actually, Ohmit recording studios, where Herb Miller recorded all of his LAMP projects.
D: We laid the rhythm first, then we did the horn parts, background and voices.

E: And of course, “The Funky Buzzard” gets called for another monstrous drum break!
D: James Bell labeled me “Funky Buzzard.” We had a lot of rivalry going around with girls - he’s four years older than I am. There was a young lady we were both interested in and I ended up tagging her after he let her fall. He said, “Boy, you are a funky buzzard!” It stuck with me ever since then.

E: In the “Funky 16 Corners,” Bell yelps that “Poppin’ Popcorn” had been a “big hit.” Were you confident about your follow up?
D: I knew it would take off ‘cause we had been doing it at the 20 Grand. That gave us the idea to put it on a record. The people liked it, we said, “Let’s put it on the record.” For me, it was less frantic than “Poppin’ Popcorn.” I’d adopted a different style of drumming – I was trying not to be so nervous. That’s why “Poppin’ Popcorn” was so frantic. I had learned to relax a bit by the “Funky 16 Corners,” and just hold the beat.

E: Now I heard that you actually play drums open – meaning you don’t cross your hands to play the hi hat and snare.
D: I broke my wrist when I was younger, so I wasn’t able to do the snare drum. There is a chip in it and it would move in and out of place sometimes and lock. So I couldn’t do the things I needed to do with the snares. And then it was a thinking process to me. The way they taught drums in the service was backwards because they had you doing the most intricate things on the snare drum with the left hand, a hand you weren’t used to using all the time (if you’re right handed). It was easier for me to do with my right, especially ‘cause I had to do those things in a hurry with the Highlighters. So I started riding the drum with my left hand - it was just easier. People say I look like I’m playing in the mirror. I set the drums up for a right handed person but I play left handed. And I’m playing right footed.

E: Unfortunately, the “Funky 16 Corners” was the last song you would record with the Highlighters.
D: It wasn’t unknown that that was going to happen - they had already decided that (after “Porkchop” Edwards returned from the service he would resume his place in the band). But I wasn’t pleased with the decision. I thought they were making a mistake, but there was nothing I could do about it. They had promised “Porkchop” he could have his job when he came back.

E: Luckily your ability was documented at the turn of ’70 by James Bell when he went in to record a demo “The Funky Buzzard.”
D: That was another one of those things… We were rehearsing and we started fooling around with it. The Turner Bros had recorded previously, they had a couple good songs. We had hooked up to make the promotional thing work – to make people want to come see us. They were popular at the time, and James was still popular so we hooked up and made a new group.

E: And what was your musical trajectory after the Highlighters?
D: I stayed in Indy, and then had a chance to meet George (Clinton) and the Funkadelics. I had a group called The Pushers Showband - doing hard rock like the Funkadelics. They came into town, stayed at my house for a couple weeks. Tiki Fullwood was the drummer then, he had gotten into a little mix up and I had a chance to do some gigs with them.

E: Seems like you and Matthew Watson were heavily influenced by that Funkadelic sound.
D: Matthew and them, they were into the same style of music. I went on to be their drummer at one time. I got with them after Marvin (Gaye).

E: You played with Marvin Gaye?
D: The guy who was the valet for Marvin Gaye was the valet for the Spinners. I knew some guys that played with the Spinners. He knew that Marvin was ready to go out on tour – this was 1974 – and he needed a rhythm section. We were doing a lot of Marvin’s songs, he said Marvin would like that. Marvin listened to us, called us up and paid our way for an audition. If he liked us we could name our price, he said. If not we could go back. We played 8 bars of “What’s Going On,” and he said, “How much do you want?”
 The first tour was for 28 days, then the group fell apart. The guys wanted to go home; they were homesick. I couldn’t understand why they would leave the gig with Marvin - he was starting to take interest in us!

E: But you stayed on…
D: I was with Marvin as his drummer for 4 years. Then I quit as drummer, because I wanted to learn another part of the business. So I became assistant road manager. I was still doing a lot of creating, but I had moved to the keyboard more so then. I was really fascinated with Marvin’s style. You couldn’t have been around him and not have had it rub off. I had told him that one day, while we were at Radio City Music Hall. He was listening to a song that I had put together and he used it on one of his albums. I told him, “I can write for you ‘cause I studied your style.” He took an interest in what I was doing.

E: What did you do after you parted ways with Marvin?
D: I started writing stuff and I took a break. I went back to Louisville, Kentucky with William “Roach” Cochran. I played drums with Ceasar Frazier; he had played with Marvin. And he lived in Indy. This was after ’79. Through the 80s I did some local stuff, with Jimmy Coe and other groups. I was doing music full time. You could do it back then, but not now. Not in this city.

E: What gigs are you playing today?
D: I’ve done dates with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. And I go out every once and a while. I’ve had a few medical problems, but I’m looking forward to doing this thing with James again. I had a problem with my arm, but I can still lay a beat down!

E: What do you make of this funk resurgence? And people calling you one of the funkiest drummers ever?
D: That really surprised me. All of us in the group thought the records could do well if they got the exposure. But in my wildest dreams I didn’t think that it would come back 25 years later. Looking back on the Highlighters, if I did it now, I would have the same energy and intensity with better technique. I’m glad you like those records, but my ability is sharper now. I didn’t feel like a drummer then - I feel like a drummer now.

E: You were there for the beginnings of funk. And you were there for that horrible period in American music when funk fell by the wayside – when rhythm fell by the wayside.
D: James and I were talking about that. The style of music from back then has been left out. The people living back then have been forgotten musically. But those types of songs can still come back. And the people that reminisce about that time will buy them ‘cause it’s their thing. People are using the later funk stuff - when rap came back they went back and got ideas from James and Clinton and those people

E: Before I let you go, what other recorded examples of your drumming can we hear on those local Indy releases?
D: Well, I played on “What is This” by Allison and Calvin (on Lulu). I did two 45s with them. “Memories” was the other one on Lulu. I did an album with Jimmy McDaniels, which produced by Jimmy Coe. I’ve done stuff with mother and a guitar player called Floyd Smith. But only one record got released.