Remembering the rock band SHOCK: The end of the beginning . . . and a memorable conversation with Dad
Editor’s note: This is the third part in a three-part series to be included in the personal memoir now being assembled by Ozark County native Sid Pierce, a Navy veteran, retired teacher and Branson sound technician and drummer who for many years traveled extensively with country music recording artist Roy Clark. His dad, the late Herman Pierce (1922-1994), served as Ozark County Sheriff for 20 years. In the first two parts, published in the April 21 and May 26 editions of the Times, Pierce described how his love for creating music began in 1971 while standing in the lunch line at Gainesville High School, where he met Randy Thorburn and Kelly Edwards, who invited Pierce to join them in starting a rock band. They named it SHOCK. Kim Ebrite became the manager. Different band members came and went. The band played at dances they hosted in what is now the Lions Club building and also at a school banquet, where, after a dramatic guitar-smashing finale, school administrators shut off the lights and told everyone to go home. When Randy Fish joined the band, SHOCK practiced at Clinkingbeard Funeral Home, where his dad was the funeral director and embalmer.
Our family enjoyed going to the lake the summer before my senior year. One Sunday afternoon my dad, Herman Pierce, asked me if I’d go into town and get Butch Smith out of jail. Dad was Ozark County Sheriff, and Butch had been an inmate in the jail, which was in the courthouse then, for almost eight months while awaiting trial for murder. He was a guitar player who had gotten strung out on drugs and been beaten up by a club owner. While under the influence, he’d shot and killed his assailant. While waiting for his court date, he had become a model inmate.
I drove dad’s big black Ford to the backdoor of the courthouse and unlocked the door. Then I climbed the two long flights of stairs and unlocked the sheriff’s office door. I found the large black steel jail door key in Dad’s top desk drawer. By the time I opened both steel doors, Butch was in the common area to see what was happening.
When I told him Dad wanted to know if he wanted to go to the lake for the afternoon, he nervously started walking backward and asked, “Are you sure Herman knows about this?”
I assured him that Dad just wanted to know if he wanted to spend some time on the lake with our family.
He hesitated and then asked once more, “Is this really Herman’s idea?”
We spent the beautiful late-summer day water skiing and boat riding, and when it was time to go home, Dad asked Butch if he’d like to spend the night at our house. My mom, Lessie, fixed a home-cooked meal of fried chicken with all the fixings, and then the family watched television.
Later, Butch and I listened to my record collection. He had grown up in northeast Arkansas and knew a number of the Black Oak Arkansas band members. Dad had let me visit him in jail, where he had his Gibson SG guitar. I had never seen someone as proficient as Butch. Even without an amplifier I knew he was a professional.
Butch spent the night in my bedroom, where we had a bed and a cot. I offered him my bed because I knew he had been sleeping on the jail’s hard metal bunks with worn-out mattresses. We talked late into the night about music and how drugs had destroyed many lives in the entertainment industry.
The next morning after a big breakfast, Dad and Butch went back to the courthouse. Butch was eventually sentenced to prison, and Dad stayed in touch with him. Two years into his sentence, Butch was jumped and killed by another inmate.
‘The lecture’ at the backdoor of the courthouse
Our rock band SHOCK was going strong, and with high school graduation looming, Dad became concerned I was too engaged in my musical “hobby” and wasn’t planning enough for my future beyond high school. About once a month, Dad would park at the backdoor of the courthouse on the empty square and give me “the lecture” in his patrol car:
“Entertainers have a tough way of making a living,” he would say. “To be successful, you’re always away from home, smiling and acting happy when you’re not happy.”
The lecture would usually end with his warning that “only one in a hundred thousand can make a living at it. You’ve got to get serious about your life.”
Dad was scared to death that I was seriously considering a career in the music industry.
Sensing the end of the lecture, I would ask, “Who is giving me this talk, my dad or the sheriff?”
“Whichever works,” he replied. And then he repeated himself: “Whichever works…”
Our own homecoming dance
On a whim, Kim Ebrite, Kelly Edwards and I decided to show up at a school board meeting. We walked down the long hallway and opened the library door to the meeting, which was already in progress. We startled the board members, but they acknowledged us and asked us to take a seat. Once they finished their business, the president turned to us and asked, “What can we do for you boys?”
As brave as we thought we were, we realized we were probably in over our collective heads. Kim spoke first and got fired up about the dress code and the fact that dancing was not allowed at school. I realized that I needed to be more diplomatic and explained to the board that we were members of the student council and that most of the student body felt like we did.
Kelly was the smart one and didn’t say a word (but he hadn’t been smart enough to stay home that night).
One of the board members spoke up and said, “Well, we represent the community of taxpayers, and this community does not support public dancing.”
I countered his point by saying, “Sir, I respectfully disagree. Our community’s largest annual public event is Hootin an Hollarin. Square dancing draws the largest crowd of the three-day festival.” Looking at the board members’ stern faces, I was thinking to myself, Well, Sid, you’re right. But being right doesn’t change people’s minds.
Walking back to our car, I turned to Kim and Kelly and said, “We’ll have our own homecoming dance if they won’t allow us to have one at the school.”
Kim and I got busy immediately looking for a venue that would hold a large crowd. This dance was going to be much bigger than anything we’d ever attempted before. After school we would look at different locations, and one day someone suggested we talk to J. R. Evans. He owned the gas station next to the high school, and his son Steve was in my class. J. R. just happened to own a huge warehouse north of town (now Wilson Industries). J.R. gave us permission, and Kim and I got busy preparing for the first non-sanctioned homecoming dance.
When asked to help, the other members of SHOCK didn’t have the time. So I made a deal with them. I would guarantee them a flat rate if they didn’t help get things ready for the dance. Any money over their guarantee I would keep.
Then I had another idea: I wanted another band in the area to play as well. Ozark Speed Press was made up of Wayne and Rick Littlejohn and Mike Friend. They agreed to play for the same flat rate as SHOCK.
The homecoming dance was very successful! Afterward, some of the guys were upset that I made a lot more money than they did, but they realized that I’d been working every day for the past two weeks sorting out the details.
SHOCK’s final performance
We played a few more dances in Gainesville and Isabella, and I booked us at a teen center in Mountain Grove. But it was getting harder to get the guys to want to play music as jobs and girlfriends took more of their attention and time.
Once again SHOCK was asked to perform at the GHS junior-senior banquet. With Randy Fish joining us, we added a couple of Eagles songs and mellowed our performance to insure the lights stayed on – unlike the previous year when school superintendent Benton Breeding had shut us down after what he considered an objectionable finale.
After performing for the second time at the banquet, one of the teachers, John Ault, came up to us and said, “Boys, this was so much better than last year. You guys are really improving.”
That was SHOCK’s final performance. But it wasn’t the end of my time playing music in a rock band. A little later, Randy Thorburn, Randy Fish and I joined Bruce Ward, Tony Fouts and Kris Norman from Ava and played a few shows there – including the opening of the new Wal-Mart store!
Early one Saturday morning I got a call from Hoppy Batterton from Viola, Arkansas, asking me to play drums with his country band later that night at White’s Tavern, the largest tavern on the state line. I put Hoppy on hold and went to ask Dad if I could play in a tavern.
He said, “You might as well go make some money. You’re too young to drink beer.”
I was excited to be playing music two nights a week.
The Levi-Walker Band
After graduating from high school in 1974, I went to work at Baxter Lab and met Tony Chastain, a bass player who, along with Randy Fish, Wayne Littlejohn, Shane Crisp and I, started jamming together. Once again, we needed a place to play. Much to our surprise, I got an offer from school superintendent Benton Breeding to use the Gainesville Elementary gym. (That was when the elementary school was still in town; today’s Gainesville post office is in the building that was the old elementary gym.)
For years we had thought Benton was against us, but he really surprised us when he gave us the key to the gym and told us just to keep the volume down after 10 p.m. The Levi-Walker Band was born in large part because our former superintendent gave a bunch of long-haired southern rockers a place to play their music.
Next we moved the Levi-Walker operations to the former Red Barn Theater in Theodosia, where we could stay set up and practice anytime day or night. The clerk at the adjoining liquor store said he loved our music, but he had trouble keeping the bottles on the shelves because of our rumbling bass notes.
One of the Levi-Walker Band’s first shows was an afternoon slot at Hootin an Hollarin – but it was a short performance. We’d only played a few songs when Deputy Roy Carr shut us down because the dispatcher, who was based in the courthouse then, couldn’t hear the phone or the radio.
That was Levi-Walker’s first and last appearance in Gainesville – but not in Ozark County. Everytime we played as Levi-Walker, we would draw several hundred people, but my dad, in his role as sheriff, would always make an appearance to address the parking and noise complaints. We had several interesting conversations…
Ready for the reminder
A couple of decades later, after serving in the Navy, I was working full-time for country music artist Roy Clark, touring with him and his band – or sometimes just with Roy when he performed with military bands or orchestras. We traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as Central America and Europe – even the former Soviet Union. Looking back, I never dreamed I would be flying in a private jet doing music shows. I never could have dreamed that big.
One time while I was traveling with Roy, I invited Dad to join us at an event that put us in a room full of celebrities and famous musicians. I reminded him then of his lectures in my youth at the backdoor of the Ozark County Courthouse when he had said, “Only one in a hundred thousand make it.”
He leaned over and said, “I wasn’t wrong, was I? You’re the one.”