Asheville’s ‘60s Garage Rock Scene: An Oral History (Part 3)

Asheville’s ‘60s Garage Rock Scene: An Oral History (Part 3)-attachment0

Name: Steve Stewart
Band: Bee Bumble and the Stingers
High School: Lee Edwards High School (now Asheville High School)
Band Members: Bill Coffey (guitar) – Class of ‘68
              Bill Privette (guitar) – Class of ‘68
              Steve Stewart (drums) – Class of ‘68
              Bob Merrill (bass) – Class of ‘69
                Mike Davis (electric piano) – Class of ‘69
Years Active: 1965-1970
Recordings: Yes, but none that were ever released
Current band(s): The 95.6 House Band (Steve Stewart)

Forming Bee Bumble and the Stingers

Steve Stewart: I think we started about 1965. I was 15 or something. Bill Coffey and Bill Privette had gotten electric guitars for Christmas. We learned “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” Remember that song? That was the first song we ever learned as a band. And I didn’t even have a drum at the time. I just had a pair of drumsticks, and got a pot and put some duct tape on it. And we’d sit up there in one of the guys’ bedrooms, and just play that thing for hours. Until we got blisters, you know? [Laughs.]

Well, we were just thinking of names one day, stupid things. And we were thinking about Bumble Bees and the Stingers. And then I think Bill Privette said, “Let’s call it Bee Bumble and the Stingers.” So that’s how it came about.

Then we started to play out using the name in the Asheville area, and somebody pointed out to us that there was a national band that had a record out called “Bumble Boogie” that was B. Bumble and the Stingers. But we didn’t know about that until after the fact, after we had named the band. It was just purely coincidence that that turned out like that. It’s pretty weird.

We did some Beatles tunes, of course. We did The Animals and The Rolling Stones, and we did a couple of Roy Orbison tunes. And of course we did some soul tunes. But the English rock was what we concentrated on. Jay and the Americans, Paul Revere & the Raiders, you know? It was a sign of the times. The Beatles had just come out, and that’s all that was on people’s minds, you know?

I was at [the Paul Revere & the Raiders show at the old Civic Center]. That place was packed, man. Everybody was there. I think that was probably the first real rock concert that came to Asheville. They’d had Jerry Lee Lewis and some other rockabilly stuff, but not real, young rock, you know what I mean? That was one of the first shows that came to Asheville that opened the kids’ eyes. It inspired everybody. After seeing that show in person, I think that solidified it for me about playing music.

I got to go backstage and meet ‘em. I didn’t get to meet Mark Lindsay—the singer—but I met the rest of the guys, which was pretty cool. I was, like, 15, maybe 16. I don’t even know if I had a driver’s license yet.

I can remember practicing at the house I grew up in in North Asheville. We had Bee Bumble practicing in the den, and then my younger brother’s band practicing in the living room. And all the windows in the house—it was springtime—were open. So all this great music was coming out and all the kids in the neighborhood were down there. And there was a woman from up the street who called my mother and said, “Do you know how loud it is up here?” And my mother said, “You think it’s loud up there? You ought to come down here!” [Laughs.]

We wrote some songs. We probably had 12 or 13 songs written. And actually, we had a showcase at Central Methodist Church one time. This guy called our manager and said, “Hey, we’ll set up a showcase, just come on in.” So we played the songs for him. And we never heard from him again. [Laughs.] It must have made a big impression, you know what I mean?

We recorded some, but we never put out anything. We’ve got tapes. They’re around here somewhere. And actually, they sound pretty good for back then. We thought we were playing loud, but it wasn’t loud. Not in today’s standards. But we thought we were blasting, buddy. [Laughs.] And so did our parents!

The Battle of the Bands

The old Asheville Civic Center was the only place that had big shows. They had the very first Battle of the Bands there. And I don’t know how many bands there were. God, there must have been 20 bands. And Bee Bumble and the Stingers, we won it. That was pretty cool. That was a feather in our cap, you know?

It was just spontaneous [to play the drumbeat on the microphone during “Wipe Out.”] We were just playing, and I thought, Man, this is boring, just playing on the tom toms. I’m going to do something different. And I just got up and thought, This will be pretty cool, and I started playing it on the microphone.

I broke the microphone. I remember the sound guy saying, “Man, you busted a microphone, man!” And I said, “Well, I’m sorry.” [Laughs.] It was in pieces when I finished. I mean, I was playing the shit out of that thing. Just beat the hell out of it. And it brought the house down.

Our manager was a big member in the Cancer Society, and the Battle of the Bands was for the Cancer Society. And people said that just because of him we won. But that’s not true. I mean, he didn’t have anything to do with the voting. And he didn’t influence any of the judges at all. He wasn’t even sitting with them. That’s just a little bit of jealousy there, I think. Because I tell you what, some of those bands were better than we were. I know that. But we just had it that night, everything clicked. It didn’t happen all the time. [Laughs.] But that night we were on our toes. 

And we had go-go dancers on stage with us that night. We probably had two of the best looking go-go girls, man, let me tell you. [Laughs.] That helped us a lot, too.

Playing At Bars

Back then the drinking age was 18. And there were clubs everywhere. There were probably seven clubs in Asheville that had live music, six nights a week. And we were, like, 15 years old and playing them, man. [Laughs.] It was pretty cool. 

There was a place called the Casa Loma. It was out on Sweeten Creek. And The Hideaway. That was a pretty big place, and it was always packed. There was the Iron Gate, which is where Big Lots is now. There was the Sky Club, which was up on the mountain where condominiums are now. And a place called Chez Paul on Merrimon Ave. And there was The Trails End. That was an after hours place where people just went to drink beer.

Our parents knew we were making money, so they were happy with it. We didn’t have to ask for anything. We bought our own cars and equipment and stuff. By the time I was 18, I was playing every weekend. So we kept pretty busy. And at least we had a goal. We had a goal, and we were really trying to do something. [Laughs.] ‘Course, I didn’t know about pot back then.

So we did quite well. Like I said, there were a lot of places to play. And we didn’t play just here. We’d go to South Carolina, we’d go to Daytona Beach and Myrtle Beach.

I remember after winning that Battle of the Bands, we played on a float for the Christmas Parade. In fact, two years in a row we had our own float. Which was pretty cool. Because back then everybody went to the Christmas Parade. It was fun.

The ‘60s Scene in Asheville

I tell you what, that was the best era to grow up in. The whole atmosphere in high school and around the area, it was music, man. That’s all anybody talked about. I mean, everybody was in a band. And no matter where you played, you always had a good following.

We all knew each other and we’d all go jam with each other and share ideas. It was really pretty cool. And there was no animosity. It was just a really friendly atmosphere.

The Satrys, man, they were big. They were the ones that started it here in town. They were one of the first high school bands that got on the ball and put an actual band together. We had a lot of respect for those guys, let me tell you. We did several shows with them, and they were always great. They always brought the house down.

The Fabulous Wunz, they were hot, too. They put that little record out, that “If I Cry,” and oh man. They were stars. ‘Cause there was only, like, two radio stations, and they played their record on there. They were actually stars in town.

I also played with that band for a short time, maybe about a year. I think it was probably 1967, 1968, something like that. When I played for them, we opened for Tommy James and the Shondells, Jay & the Techniques, and some other big name national acts. And I can remember sitting down in Greenville, after we had just finished playing, opening for Tommy James and the Shondells. And their lawyer and their manager came up and approached me, and said “We’d like to sign you guys. Because we think you guys have got something going here.” But the bass player [Coleman Ramsey] wanted to get married and stay in Asheville. And that was that. [Laughs.] I don’t think he realized that these guys were serious!

Coleman Ramsey, he passed away. He called me two weeks before he had a heart attack. He was living in Myrtle Beach. And I hadn’t talked to him in, man… probably since the Wunz broke up. We had a nice reminiceful night that night, saying “What if? What if we would have signed the papers?” It was definitely an opportunity missed.

I have a twin brother [Mike Stewart], and he was in a band called the Shaydz. I played trumpet for those guys. Because back then, the Shaydz was the only band in town that had a horn section. They were a great band, I tell you, man. Richard Perkins was the guitar player. And Richard Perkins son, Justin, he plays with Toubab Krewe. [Laughs.] That’s pretty cool, man, that’s pretty cool.

The first guy that sang with the Shaydz was a guy by the name of George Hatcher [aka Eddie Holland], and he had the nickname “Butch.” He later went to England and he did very well over there with his own band, the George Hatcher Band. He’s still playing today, they still play around Charlotte. He’s a good singer. And he’s a great frontman. He played with [‘70s Asheville rock band] Flat Rock, too. [Flat Rock also included local ‘60s garage rockers like Bruce McTaggart (the Wunz), Woody Hoyle (the Shaydz), and Danny Keylon (the Centurions).]

Flat Rock, now that was a band that could have made it. They had the material, they had the chops. They had some great original tunes. But they had no management. That’s what the problem was. They could have been as big as anybody, because they were that good.

[Laughs.] Man, I bet you all those guys from the ‘60s wish they still had some of the amps and the vintage equipment that they had back then. Because it would be worth a fortune now. 

The End of the Era

Everybody just grew up. A couple of the guys went on to college, and a couple of them got married. I think it was probably 1970. So we were together about six years.

Of course, back in my impetuous youth days—when I was, like, 19 or 20—I hated Asheville. I thought it sucked. So I got a job playing with a band on the road, and I left town and I was gone for about 20 or 30 years. Then I wound up coming back here in 1983, and I fell in love with it again. I remembered how cool it was to be in Asheville, you know? It’s just the best place to grow up, man. 

And you know what’s really great? All the bands from back then, we all have kept in touch all these years. And a lot of us are still playing and keeping the tradition alive, you know? I played music all my life, and I’m still playing. We just keep going. It’s a disease, man. [Laughs.]

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