“T-Bird Lounge”

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CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

T-BIRD LOUNGE

My professional life had become primarily dedicated to various executive responsibilities lacking show-biz flair. “P&L’s”, budget-planning, sales-recruiting, marketing sessions and agency liaison with our radio representative firm in Detroit, Chicago and New York took up most of my time. Staff memos, problem-solving and constant organizational coordination also filled my schedule. I also became quite active in community affairs and was appointed to a number of charitable boards. Participation in the Flint Area Advertising Federation consumed a certain amount of my average month and daily department head meetings also became part of the routine. Much of this may seem tediously boring. Might I assure you that it was. I believed in balance.

In his early youth, Brian Jones was poor White trash.  He shined shoes at the age of seven in front of the Greyhound bus terminal in downtown Flint. It wasn’t for spending money, but survival.

He excelled in school and joined General Motors upon graduation. He was a hard, dedicated worker and became a skilled tradesman with Journeyman status. He had become a strikingly handsome man and many often noted a strong physical resemblance to Warren Beatty. He was uniquely talented.  He made friends easily, particularly with females who caught his eye. Eventually, he married well. His wife was the daughter of a high-ranking General Motors executive who gifted the newlyweds with a fine home in one of Flint’s better neighborhoods. The divorce was as gracious as such things can ever be.

Brian branched out with initiative into new entrepreneurial areas. He bought old, abandoned houses and hired crews for restoration. He dabbled in other real estate ventures and even bought a bar. He believed in balance.

The T-Bird Lounge was on South Lippincott between South Dort and South Center Road, right near the railroad tracks. It had been a small, quiet neighborhood gathering place prior to Brian’s purchase. The original crowd moved out within the first week of new ownership. Brian hired local rock groups and catered to bikers.

The “Fraternal Union of Casual Knights/Integrity Tomorrow” crowd signed-on immediately. Other clubs quickly followed suit.  It was understood that the T-Bird Lounge was “neutral-turf”. Brian had made that known from the start. Any resenting such policy were politely asked to assemble elsewhere. The “Fly-In Wheels” also came to favor the establishment, as did the “Devil’s Disciples” and “Iron Dogs”.

Rules of conduct were rarely ignored, and then only for the briefest of interludes before fierce enforcement restored calm. Although located in the heart of a Black neighborhood, neighbors visited only by accident. They were never hassled, but rarely returned. Although notorious by reputation, The T-Bird Lounge never saw police officers cross the door. All problems were quickly resolved internally. The crowd knew every narcotic and undercover agent within two hundred miles, also being able to spot outsiders with a single, measuring glance. I was not an outsider.

I was now a clean-shaven, short-haired, white-collared, three-piece-suited  “executive”. I had known most of the clientele for many years. For pure personal pleasure, extraordinary conversation, genuine brotherhood and excellent Rock ‘n Roll, I now only hung-out at the T-Bird Lounge. It was my home-away-from-home. Other than fellow T-Bird regulars such as Mr. Goodbar and Billy “B.C.” Coleman, I never worried about seeing other members of the Flint business or broadcasting community within the walls of the establishment. Even when invited, they would not come. They found it a scary place. One man’s hell is another’s heaven.

“Pass the whiskey, Roy Boy, and fire-up another one! I think I see Jesus!!”

Lines of coke on the T-Bird bar were as common as cocktail napkins elsewhere, but then cocaine was everywhere in Flint in the late ’70’s. I had snorted with clergymen, stockbrokers, attorneys, judges and police. Its usage crossed all social, racial and demographic boundaries. It was fashionable and becoming fundamental. Flint was a “money town” and home of the highest paid factory workers in the entire industrialized world.

The general attitude of the day was that cocaine was as harmless as marijuana. We all knew how we had been deceived in our younger days about that. In entertainment circles, coke was the “real thing”. Convention suites would commonly offer sugar-bowls filled to the brim or, for the more skittish, an ounce or two conveniently available on toilet-tops in bathroom stalls. No one every worried about theft of quantity. There was too much around for that. In a few years, attitudes would shift and sharp distinctions drawn. Meanwhile, Eric Clapton expressed group consensus of the times:

“If your day is long and you want to run on………Cocaine!!”

Most ignored Eric’s subtle warning:

“Just remember this fact; you can’t get it back…..Cocaine!!”

I considered my own use “recreational” in nature and restricted expenditure to discretional sums accrued in my “Peter C. Rock ‘n Roll Presentations” fund. Eileen received my weekly paychecks for family-funding and I was given an “allowance” which, through time, would accumulate in my relatively dormant account. Every so often, I’d dip-in for a few hundred and stay awake several days. I thought of it as “maximization of vacation time”. In many ways, it certainly was.

WTAC maintained a drug-free status as far as usage on the property or within the building were concerned. Professional propriety means protective perspective. Everyone understood my thoughts on the matter. Other radio facilities were much more casual in approach and it was widely known that some stations operated on a wide-open basis, as did a number of major record companies.

Another cardinal rule at WTAC was avoidance of anything remotely resembling “payola”. Through all the years I was Program Director, all records chosen for broadcast  were selected based on musical merit alone. All “adds” to the station were determined with established criteria and weekly “lists” were submitted to  Fuqua Communications and our Washington attorneys. Everything was available for inspection. I had been particularly sensitive to potential accusations regarding conflict of interest due to my promotional activities and had established reviewable guidelines in conjunction with my appointment as Program Director. I had turned-down many opportunities to receive favors as a matter of basic business. I didn’t want to owe strangers. Why put your balls in a meat-grinder? Besides, as Coach Woody Hayes once said, “If it’s easy, it ain’t worth a damn!” Go, Ohio State!

Specifically, all the record promoters knew that any offer of cocaine to any member of our staff would result in being banned from the building. A call would be placed to their corporate President explaining why. There was too much at stake and I deeply resented thoughts of subversive, external corruption. If anyone was going to corrupt employees, it would be me.

In June, WTAC sent six coaches filled with nearly two hundred listeners for a day at “Cedar Point”, an amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland. Five of the buses returned on schedule. A sixth didn’t return until dawn the following day.

The original driver had been ticketed on the way down for speeding. Everybody was hooting on him and making fun of his professional skills. He was mighty mad. He spent the day drinking in Port Clinton. After he loaded his group for a return to Flint and started weaving in and out of traffic, Jay “Jammer” Johnson properly ordered him to pull off the road. He did so. They were all in the middle of nowhere. The driver reached for the public-address microphone and made a brief farewell address to his passengers.

“Fuck Everybody!!!!”

He then left the bus and walked-off into a swamp.

It took four hours to bring another driver down from Flint and three more to get the folks back home. The driver still hadn’t been heard from two weeks later. That’s the last time we checked. Jay “Jammer” felt, in spite of the inconvenience, that the driver’s last words were eloquent and profound and he considered himself fortunate in having heard them. I tended to agree, as did Mr. Goodbar.

Being  General Manager, I handled several dozen complaints from irate listeners who demanded to know where we got our drivers. In best managerial form, I amiably told them “the bus company” and courteously passed-along the number.

It was a busy summer. WTAC was again all over everywhere, but I never expected that Labor Day Weekend would provide the facility with more national exposure than any other radio station in the history of Flint.

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