April 2, 2019

King David reigned over soulful 1960s band

             In 1964, Liverpool had Beatles bragging rights. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Jesup had its own band-bragging rights. My hometown was the birthplace of a “mostly blue-eyed” bunch of entertainers, singing rhythm and blues music.
My generation rubbed holes in the bottoms of our Weejuns, dancing to the tunes you’d expect from a black band. As we slid our leather-soled shoes across the terrazzo floor of Cracker Williams Recreation Center, we knew our friends—King David and The Slaves—were going somewhere.
And they did.
            They became a mainstay on fraternity row at the University of Georgia and college campuses across the South. Jekyll Island’s Aquarama was another popular venue. Once, the group opened for the Drifters at Vanderbilt University.
Myrtle Beach, the shag mecca of the Eastern Seaboard, loved King David and The Slaves. A regular gig for the Jesup group was warming up for famous acts, such as the Tams, the Platters, Jerry Butler, Clifford Curry, the Dells and “Mr. Excitement,” Jackie Wilson.
Today, there are more than holes in my generation’s penny loafers. The death of “King” David Harris, 71, has ripped holes in our souls. Without warning, a heart attack claimed the life of the band’s namesake and one of its founders. Days earlier, David had been skydiving and basking in the joy of being “Papa” to his grandkids.
In elementary school, I walked by the Harris home on my way to Orange Street Elementary. The living room of John Henry and Ida Harris is where the band was born. Years later, David would marry Stacy, daughter of Orange Street’s principal, Tom James.
In 1964 Jack and Denny Brinkley were talking to Moi Harris, a drummer, who said his brother, David, played guitar. Another friend and founder, Randall Bramblett, told me: “We liked the name ‘King David.’ And so we were being funny and added The Slaves part.”
When Randall wasn’t singing, he was playing the guitar, saxophone or piano. In time, he would become an Athens-based music legend. Randall remembers David as “creative and funny, but quiet.” In the beginning, Randall recalls, “David had a guitar and an amp. And we loved him.”
Even though the “King” didn’t stay for the duration of the band’s rocket ride of popularity, Denny was shocked to hear of David’s death. “He was quiet, but David got along well with others,” Denny said. “People liked him. He was such a good person, so connected with family.”
Band members came and went. Lee Riggins, a classmate of mine and Randall’s, was the original keyboardist. The future classical pianist talked his mother, Gladys, into letting him trade his Chickering baby grand for a Farfisa organ, which could be played through David’s Fender amplifier.
“It was interesting,” Lee said, “to have a bunch of white boys, who wore burgundy blazers, white turtlenecks and khaki chinos, playing the music of James Brown.”
Butch Peede would eventually take Lee’s place. And when David joined the Army, Wayne Scarborough came in, playing bass guitar. The early brass section was Randy Replogle on saxophone, with Russell Martin and Eddie Peede on trumpet.
There were three sets of brothers in the band: David and Moi, Denny and Jack, plus Butch and Eddie, drum major of UGA’s Redcoat Marching Band. Eventually joining King David’s soulful band were Davis Causey, Harold Williams, Eddie Middleton and Scott Piotrowski.
I am not a musician, but I love music, especially the genre played by King David and The Slaves. And I remember David as Randall does.
Several weeks ago—in Jesup—David and I exchanged good-to-see-you pleasantries at Dr. Larry Bennett’s memorial service. Gripping my outstretched hand like vise-grip pliers, David’s mouth twitched, as he made a soft, wry comment. I could see the mischievous glint in his bespectacled eyes. We laughed and walked away.
I had no idea that would be the last time that I would see my friend.
And that rips a bigger hole in my soul.