Memories of The Monzas

By Don Baker

Early R&B Influences

The first R&B song I ever heard was "Mama, he treats your daughter mean" by Ruth Brown. I was 11 years old, and soon became addicted to the R&B sound more than anything else. Prior to that, all we ever heard was Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole (of whom I am still a huge fan), Frank Sinatra, etc. But when THAT song came out, everything changed for me.

I remember as a young boy sneaking into the tobacco warehouse on S. Heritage St. in Kinston, NC and watching one of the many "revues" that came through town. Artists such as Li'l Richard, The Clovers,Fats Domino, and one of my old favorites, "The Turbans". (When You Dance). I was "killed" by that music, and wanted to play it for the rest of my life.

Later on the major influences in music, for me, were Jerry Butler, the Impressions, The Intruders, Everything Motown and Stax. This was the music that I enjoyed hearing from Andy Lawson and "the Hot Foot Club"on WELS - 1010AM every afternoon at 4:00. He played all the R&B hits and this was the only station in the area playing them. When I moved to Raleigh, NC in 1962, WKIX and Charlie Brown (Eddie Weis) was the big thing then.

Playing With The Monzas

The Monzas started in 1961 with Ward May, Skip Henshaw, Nelson Miller, Roger Mercer, Sharon Henshaw, Linda Quinlan, and Bing Greeson. Their primary goal was to play dances at local high schools and private parties. A very simple beginning to an extraordary era. There were several changes in personnel over the 10 years together. Big John Thompson came in around 1963 to lay the bass track down on "Hey I Know You" and he just stayed. Mickey Coombs and Johnny Andrews came in around 1963-64 and Rick Mitchell came in around 1966. Mike Griffin was added on Sax in 1965, and I still consider him as the premier sax player in the Carolinas today. Sammy Fowler came in around 1966, with Billy Carden, myself, and Nelson rejoining in 1967-68.

I started playing with a group called the Four Winds from Durham, which included myself, Archie Durham, Jim Toddy, and Nelson Miller, who wrote "Hey I Know You". I'd have to say that the four of us had the best vocals I've ever heard, which is why Ward May of the Monzas offered to take Nelson, Billy Carden and myself into the Monzas. Nelson had been with them at an earlier time, so it was an easy fit.

Frat parties were our bread and butter. I always thought it was interesting that every time we played for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at USC, they had to move the party out of Columbia because they were usually on probation. (If I'm wrong about this, then we'll say it was the KA's.)

One thing I will always remember about those days is traveling down I-85 towards Atlanta for a frat party at GA. Tech. A white van pulled up beside us on our left and I looked at it and suddenly realized we were being "mooned" by members of "the Calabash Corporation". Ted Keaton w/ShaggieMaggie will attest to this. (He was one of them!)

Another memorable night was at the Joker's 3 in Greensboro when we were playing "Hey Girl Don't Bother Me" and the band was in Bb while I, for some strange reason, was playing in B. That song never sounded the same for me after that.

Of course, in those days the Embers set the tone for everyone, but since the band was from Burlington, NC, we paid more attention to groups such as The Inmen, Bob Collins and the Fabulous Five, The Magnificents -- all local. Nationwide, our collective favorites were The Temptations, the Four Tops and anyone with Motown, plus The Tams, Intruders, Eddie Floyd, Clifford Curry, Archie Bell & the Drells, The Dells ... I could go on and on and on. There were many songs which I always considered my favorites. Two in particular were "A Love That's Real" by the Intruders, and "Girl You're Too Young" by Archie Bell.

There were no clubs in Kinston that played Beach or R&B, but when I moved to Raleigh in 1964, I liked to hang out at The Cat's Eye at five points in Raleigh. They had a sunken dance floor that was really unusual, and the college crowd filled it every Friday and Saturday night. The Monzas played there occassionally, but I'd have to say our favorite place to play was the Pawley's Pavilion at Pawley's Island.

We played at the Coachman & 4 at Bennettsville, SC, The Joker's 3 in Greensboro, the Castaways in Greensboro, Williams Lake in Dunn, NC, Pawley Pavilion at Pawley's Island, The Cat's Eye in Raleigh, The Hayloft in Durham, NC, plus varoius clubs in Virginia, Greenville, SC, and Greensville, NC. We backed a lot of national groups such as The Showmen with Norman Johnson, Arthur Conley, Dee Clark (that one was UN-BE-LIEVABLE!!!!), the Drifters, the Shirelles, Billy Joe Royal, just to name a few.

"Hey I Know You"

Our best known song of all time, of course, is "Hey I Know You". It was written by my old friend from the Four Winds, Nelson Miller -- also known as "Salty". He'll tell you today that even back then he wasn't too impressed by it, and that "Instant Love" was a better song. I'll have to say that I agreed with him, but it just didn't get the air play that "Hey I Know You" received. I believe that was partially due to the trend toward psychedelic music at the time. To this day, however, I still get e-mails from strangers asking me if I have a copy of "Instant Love" (which I do).

"Hey I Know You" was originally recorded on our own independent label, "Pacific". This occured a short time before I joined the group. When it was picked up nationally by Scepter-Wand, we all all got really excited. Then they later told us they had "shelved" it. Strange, but we used to listen to AM stations in Pittsburg, Cleveland or Fort Wayne while returning from a gig in Atlanta, Athens, or wherever. We'd hear the song at 3:00 in the morning, and wondered "where did these stations get that song which was reported to have been 'shelved' by the label?" To this day, that remains a mystery to all of us.

Being Honored at the Pawley's Pavilion Reunion

I got a phone call back in January/February 2004 from Chip Collins asking me if I was the same Don Baker that played with the Monzas. I told him I was and the next thing I knew I was being filled in with information involving the group being honored as "Guests of Honor" at the Pawley's Pavilion reunion in May of 2004. I couldn't believe it. It absolutely blew me away to think that for all the times we played that storied old building, there were people who remembered us and wanted to somehow say "thanks for the memories".

If my memory serves me correctly (which is sometimes doubtful), there were eight of us there: Billy Carden, myself, Mike Griffin, Sammy Fowler, Linda Quinlan, Sharon Henshaw Copeland, Ward May, and Bing Greeson. We were all deeply moved by the reception and applause we received when they introduced each of us individually.

As a result of that weekend, we have now made plans for another reunion performance. In addition to this, there have been some discussion about perhaps going back into the studio again. I guess we'll have to wait and see how that exciting possibility plays out.


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11:52 PM  
Blogger Machiko1 said...

Thank you for sharing the memories of Andy's Hot Foot Club on WELs. I telling someone about it and I could not remember the name of the station. But I did remember the name of the show. I will never the forget the sound of Andy's voice coming over the radio and the way he would enunciate when he talked. This brings back some good childhood memories.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Keith Wooten said...

Does anyone know the name of the morning prayer that came on @ 9 : 00 on the Hot foot club show on Saturday or Sunday morning ?

11:59 PM  

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