by Randy Reynolds

My brother, when he was in his young teens in the mid-1960s, said he got mugged after mistakenly walking into the black side of town but I’m not entirely sure it was a textbook mugging.  African-Americans were so rare in our Covington (and Lee Road) world that my brother might have seen the other youngster coming and preemptively pulled out his empty wallet and told him to take it.

Overall, it seemed to me that whites and blacks got along very well together in the Covington, Louisiana, of the 1960s.  They had their “quarters” to live in and we had the rest of the parish.  They had their schools and we had ours.  The black shoeshine man at the barbershop was a favorite of the all-white clientele; kept us laughing, in fact, by his responses to white men’s barbs.  A black ex-con once known as the Pink Bandit because of his choice of facial wear during his robberies became the most popular gardener in town.  And those are the only black people that I remember seeing or hearing about while growing up around Covington except for Louis Prima’s wife Keely Smith.  There were rumors that she was part black, but she got a pass, them being rich and famous and owning their own country club and golf course and all, out on Highway 190 near the radio station.

I started working at WARB in early 1965.  The Billboard Top 100 that year had numerous black artists on it, but we didn’t play their music.  We did play popular black holdovers from the 1950s including Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, but none of the new stuff that white program directors called “race” music.  (We couldn’t play white “race” music either, as I discovered when I aired my own copy of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” on my Saturday show. The boss said that was “an integration song” and forbade me to play it on his station again.)

Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Pt. 1, by James Brown and the Famous Flames was #33 on the end-of-year Billboard Top 100 chart of 1965.  If we had played a song like that, we might have gotten some negative feedback from sponsors, certainly from our wannabe Congressman John Rarick, who sometimes bought blocks of airtime to rant against Civil Rights.  Playing Hold What You’ve Got by Joe Tex (#85 that year)?  Out of the question. Other Top 100 songs of 1965 by black artists that we didn’t play:  I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,) by The Four Tops; My Girl by The Temptations; Shotgun by Jr. Walker & The All Stars; Nowhere to Run by Martha and The Vandellas; How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) by Marvin Gaye. Radical stuff, huh?

The Billboard Hot 100 songs we did play for our Covington audience in 1965 were:  Jolly Green Giant/The Kingsmen;  A Walk In The Black Forest/Horst Jankowski; Red Roses For A Blue Lady/Bobby Vinton; Red Roses For A Blue Lady/Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra;  Cast Your Fate To The Wind/Sounds Orchestral; Goldfinger/Shirley Bassey; The Race Is On/Jack Jones; Crying In The Chapel/Elvis Presley; King of the Road/Roger Miller. 

Those white songs don’t seem as cool now as they did then.  When I think of 1965, I don’t start humming something from Horst Jankowski, Bert Kaempfert or Jack Jones. I think of Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, James Brown—all those artists I couldn’t play at the time but who became the soundtrack of my memory.