Brushes with Near Greatness: Ben Brogdon

Small-town radio guy…studio musician in Nashville…bright lights of Broadway… Ben Brogdon has kept busy doing what he loves: playing music. He’s had his share of Brushes with Near Greatness and was kind enough to share a few of them.

AUDIO: Interview with Ben Brogdon 30 min MP3

The neon lights are bright on Broadway

A few days ago I posted on getting an email from Ben Brogdon who used to work in radio down in my neck of the woods (Northeast Arkansa/Southeast Missouri). As I always do, I Googled Ben and got a hit on the Broadway musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It ran from 1978 until 1982 (later made into a movie starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning et al) and Ben played in the Rio Grand Band, part of the original Broadway cast. I pinged Ben to see if he was “that Ben Brogdon”:

“Yassir, tha’s me. We had a western swing band in Nashville for the fun of it, and a friend of ours who produced Asleep at the Wheel (and some of Bob Wills later stuff, and Willie Nelson’s early stuff, and who also played with Buddy Holly when he was killed) hooked us up to the powers-that-were, and we went to New Yawk on a trial basis and just stayed a while. It was a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I honestly didn’t like living there very much. I will have to say, though, there sure was a lot of great music to hear, and some incredible restaurants. The play, by the way, was a lot better than the movie. I still sorta keep in touch with one of the authors of the play, Larry L. King. He lives in D.C., and still writes some. Great guy with a great mind.

In case you’re interested, I’ve worked with some kinda big name acts, but most of them were country. (Stonewall Jackson, Dottie West, Donna Fargo, Barbara Mandrell, and others). I did work a club in Nashville where we backed a lot of different people doing showcases, or even just settin’ in, and got to play with Tony Orlando, Lou Rawls and others. All in all, I’d say I’ve played bass for about 150 name or near name acts. And the number of great instrumentalists I’ve been fortunate to pick with still amazes me. I don’t know if you’ve heard of some of them, but Lenny Breau and Danny Gatton, as well as Roy Clark, Chet Atkins and some others are some who I’ve gotten to pick for. Now, please, I’m not name dropping, but I’ve been in the bidness a long time and have been very lucky.

If you saw The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas in New York at the 46th street theater in ’78 or ’79, I was probably playing bass. I left and went back to Nashville after about two years. You’ll also see me on a blues website, I think, and I’m on a lot of steel guitar things.”

Talk about your brushes with near greatness! Ben has agreed to let me interview him and we’re working on the details but it sounds like he’s got some great stories to tell. Stay tuned.

Hollie Farris and the Senath Light

I recently received an email from Ben Brogdon, a long-time radio guy (KLCN, Blytheville, AR) who stumbled across one of my websites:

“I Googled my old hometown radio station, KLCN, Blytheville, AR, and found a link to your Early Days At KBOA site. I sat and read every word of it, looked at every picture, and finally went to bed at 6am.”

Ben is a musician at Dollywood and played in a jazz band in college with Wendell Crow (Sheryl’s daddy). We bounced emails back and forth for a few days before he brought up “the Senath Light.” This is (was) a well-known paranormal phenomenon (that I never witnessed).

“Actually, I never saw the light. Oh, we’d drive up from Jonesboro when I was living there playing in bands, working at radio stations, and attending class on occasion, and we’d sit patiently, not making a sound, those who smoked wanting a cigarette REALLY bad, and wait, but it never came out while I was there.

Others told me they had seen it, though. One of my jazz mates at school, Hollie Farris, a trumpet player who has the distinction of being the only white musician James Brown has ever had, and who QUIT a gig with Steve Winwood to go back with JB after he got out of prison, DID stand under that tree in the middle of the road and supposedly got KNOCKED CLEAN OUT COLD by the light hitting him in the head, which most assuredly changed his life and his thinking process from that moment on.

I also worked with a piano player from Caruthersville who could talk to spirits, and was told that he had actually TALKED to the light, which surprised me, since we all knew if you made a sound, it would disappear. BUT, having him sit in my house and tell me it was inhabited by spirits, which I had suspected, and then say once when we were watching a storm that it would kill 35 people, and it DID kill 34, I somehow believe he may have talked to the light.”

Why do I blog? So I can “meet” people that played with Holly Farris, the only white musician to play with James Brown.