Rockin' Jon 1973-1975

A few months before high school graduation in 1972, I met some other musicians in school who were a year behind me.  They already had a band called “Volunteer” and they had lined up a few gigs for the summer at their neighborhood pool.  Their group had Steve Poteet on guitar, Lynn Samples on drums and vocals, Brad Legrone on keyboards, and Donnie Tate on bass and vocals.

Lynn’s girlfriend’s brother played in a folk duo who were preparing to make a record.  Lynn had been asked to play drums on the session and he asked me to come along and play bass.  We rehearsed with Henry Doss and Charlie Haines on a Saturday and the next day we went into Reflection Sound Studios in Charlotte and recorded two songs for their record.  The next weekend I moved into my dormitory at Western Carolina University.

Steve, Lynn, and I kept in touch during the summer of 1972 and we got together on occasion when I’d come home from college on the weekends.  I also came by their rehearsal a few times at their bass player’s house.  On their breaks, Donnie let me play his Gibson EB-O bass through his Vox Essex amplifier.  Once, I started playing the bass part to a Grand Funk Railroad song that I knew, and Lynn came over and got behind his drums, then Steve joined us on guitar.  We made a great noise together!  The next day I went back to Western Carolina.

We kept getting together on weekends to hang out and I even went to a couple of “Volunteer” gigs.  Towards the end of the summer, Steve sent me a letter saying that he, Lynn, and Brad wanted to start a band with me.  Being in college and trying to stay out of Vietnam would make that difficult to do at any point in the near future, but we all liked the idea very much and we stayed in touch.

On one weekend in February of 1973, Steve and Lynn’s graduating class put on a humorous “Senior Follies” show at the high school. I was asked to play bass in one of the musical numbers.  But because I was no longer attending the school, I couldn't be seen on-stage and as a result, I had to play my bass from the wings, using a very long cord that reached from my bass to my bass amp which was out in the middle of the stage!

There was an afterparty at a friend’s house that night.  I didn’t know many of the people there, so I grabbed a beer and went out onto the back porch and sat by myself.  Eventually, this very cute girl came out to get away from the crowd and we had a nice chat.  Her name was Patti Walker.  We would be married in 3 ½ years!

The Vietnam war ended in March 1973, and I decided to leave Western Carolina at the end of the spring semester so I could start a band with Steve, Lynn, and Brad.  Brad brought in his friend Rick Blackwell as our lead singer.  We called that group Rockin’ Jon.

We were a bunch of teenagers out of Charlotte, NC who loved loud rock n' roll!  While our look resembled The Allman Brothers and The Marshall Tucker Band, we were not a "Southern Rock band".  In fact, we sounded more like English bands at that time, like Uriah Heep and Humble Pie. 

As a teenage regional favorite, Rockin' Jon was the first desegregated local band to play a concert in Union County, North Carolina, which was a very big deal at that time. While not part of our original career strategy, we did benefit from the distinction of having a black lead singer.  In 1973, we calmed racial tensions (which were largely encouraged by the parents of some of the white students) by playing Home Coming dances and Proms at high schools all around Charlotte. 

During the summer of 1973, one of our favorite gigs was playing inside the semi-open poolside clubhouse at Starclaire Pool.  One Friday night, about 30 minutes before we were to perform, Lynn Samples, our drummer, and I were returning from a Heineken beer run and heading back towards the pool.  It was an early summer evening and there was a nice breeze blowing.  We stopped at the top of the street that overlooked the pool’s parking lot driving down the steep, descending driveway and into the parking lot.  

With the car windows down, Lynn and I could hear the sound of many excited voices coming from the area of the pool.  At first, we thought it was just kids playing in the pool, but as we got closer to the clubhouse where the band played, we saw hundreds of kids oozing out of the clubhouse and standing in the parking lot!  Wow!  It seemed as though we were starting to get a following!  

Lynn and I finished off one more Heineken and then drove down the hill and into the Starclaire parking lot.  As we got out of the car, a bunch of cheering kids ran up to Lynn’s car to see us.  We got as close as we could to the clubhouse and then jumped out of the car and ran into the little pumphouse room we used for a dressing room.  Steve and Rick showed up about 15 minutes later asking “Hey!  Did you see all those kids out there?”  “Yeah, we saw ‘em”, Lynn said nonchalantly.  "They’d been lining up to get in for over an hour!” 

We also liked playing at a large rock club called The Crash-Landing Lounge. We did a few opening sets there for well-known regional acts. Once we had developed our own following there, we made a deal with the club owner for 100% of the door admission charges versus a guaranteed amount.  We ended making around $1,500 for a Friday and Saturday night one weekend.  That was a lot of money for a club gig in those days! 

In the early fall of 1973, we rented a and house together.  At first, this was great because we were all in one place and we could rehearse and write whenever we wanted to.  It was also easier to coordinate loading up and going to gigs because we were all in one place. But eventually, friends and fans found out about the house and tons of people started hanging out there.  Patti and I would come in after a date to find half naked people sitting at the kitchen table eating our food.  The band house became a cross between The Monkees house and Fellini’s “Satyricon”!  Pretty soon though, the police got wind of this big party house and they shut us down.  Overall though, it was a great experience for us.  Not only did it make us better as a group faster, the wild publicity that was generated help our image tremendously. 

People constantly asked us about who "Jon" was in our band name.  So, we decided to make Jon a visual part of our act by loading up a real, glitter covered porcelain toilet with flash powder stuffed inside and then blowing it up at the end of our show!  The effect was always good for appreciative cheers from our audience. Also, the fact that we were all multi-instrumentalists meant we could add and switch instruments every few songs which kept our audiences engaged.

 Sometimes our roadie, soundman, and pyrotechnic maniac, Nelson Minnick, got a bit carried away with the amount of flash powder he used.  Once, while performing at a private function in Charlotte’s South Park Mall, our exploding toilet caught the nearby wallpaper on fire, which the audience quite enjoyed as an added spectacle to an otherwise predictable ending to our show! 

1974 seemed to be “our year” and we rode that train as far and as fast as it would take us.  The group recorded a few songs with Wayne Jernigan at Reflection Sound Studios in Charlotte; a place that would made nationally famous in a few years by the band R.E.M.  We got a good recording of our best original song, OnlyThe Road, written mainly by Steve.  It was a fun song to perform and was always a crowd favorite.   

What fun we used to have at those gigs!  We were so young and such a great band and we damn well knew it.  The confidence that came through our playing was incredible.  We trusted each other’s musical sense so much that we would try anything on stage on a whim and our audience just ate it up!  That’s the stuff I really miss the most now. 

As 1974 turned into 1975, we could all sense a group unrest.  We were all about twenty years-old but we had been in the fast lane non-stop for the past 18 months and we were tired.  Had we gone as far as we could go as a band in Charlotte?  Some of us were starting to feel that was the case. 

Rockin' Jon actually had two lives with a four-month break from June through September 1975.  Seeking greener pastures by May of 1975, I left the group to join a band in Wisconsin called "Crux".  After Crux crashed in September 1975, the former members of Rockin’ Jon came back together for the 2.0 version. 

It was great fun while it lasted, but too many gigs and not enough brass rings broke up the band in late 1975.  We had all aged well beyond our teenage years by playing tons of shows the past three years and failing to get Capricorn Records (The Allman Brothers label) or anyone else to pick us up.

 

Club Gig, Atlanta, Georgia, 1974

Club Gig, Atlanta, Georgia, 1974

Nelson Minnick - Our Sound Tech, Road Mgr. and the band's Best Friend

Nelson Minnick - Our Sound Tech, Road Mgr. and the band's Best Friend

Rick Blackwell, Brad Legrone, Lynn Samples, Steve Poteet & Bruce Moody - 1973

Rick Blackwell, Brad Legrone, Lynn Samples, Steve Poteet & Bruce Moody - 1973

Bruce - 1973

Bruce - 1973

Steve - 1973

Steve - 1973

Rockin Jon - Christmas Party, 1973

Rockin Jon - Christmas Party, 1973

Rockin' Jon posing for a post-concert photo - March 1, 1974.  Bruce, Lynn, Steve, Nelson (with our "Jon"), Brad & Rick

Rockin' Jon posing for a post-concert photo - March 1, 1974. Bruce, Lynn, Steve, Nelson (with our "Jon"), Brad & Rick

Brad, Bruce and Nelson, March 1973

Brad, Bruce and Nelson, March 1973