Asheville’s ‘60s Garage Rock Scene: An Oral History (Part 4)

From left to right, David Plemmons, Carl Mott, Gary Carson, Earl Fowler

Name: Carl Mott
Band: The Royal Spades
High School: Lee Edwards High School (now Asheville High School)
Band Members: Carl Mott (vocal/guitar) – Class of ‘65
              Earl Fowler (lead guitar) – Class of ‘66
              Gary Carson (bass) – Class of ‘65
              David Plemmons (drums) – Class of ‘66
Years Active: 1964-1966
Recordings: None
Current band(s): None

Forming the Royal Spades

Carl Mott: We all met at high school, at Lee Edwards. Most of the bands came out of Lee Edwards. I don’t know why. I guess because the county schools were all pretty small at that time.

We came along the exact same time the Satrys came along. Bucky Hanks and I both graduated in the same class together. The Satyrs, they went more the route of the Beatles and the English bands. We went more the soul and dance band direction. For us, there was a lot more call for that type of stuff. All that great soul stuff that was coming out about that time. And we saw that there was much more of a likelihood if we were going to make it in music, that that was a much bigger market.

We were doing “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” a lot of the Otis Redding stuff. And we did a lot of the Temptations and the Platters songs. [Rufus Thomas’s] “Walking the Dog.” We did some English type stuff for slower songs, like “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers, songs like that. But the soul stuff was much faster. Everybody was doing the Mashed Potato and the Twist, you name it. [Laughs.] They were 5 million different dance tunes. So we learned all those numbers. Out of popular demand, ‘cause people always asked for those.

There were a lot of black bands, soul bands, coming out of Atlanta and places like that, that used to play at a place right outside Asheville called the Royal Pines. They had some great groups come through there. It was a real big deal for everybody in ‘63, ‘64, ‘65, on Saturday nights to go out there and dance.

And we were doing a lot of black music. But we had to go outside of Asheville to get even close to some black bands, so we could figure out what they were doing and how they were doing it. Because there wasn’t anything like that going on inside Asheville. Asheville was very segregated at that time. So we had to go to Royal Pines or Atlanta or Myrtle Beach, or places around the big colleges, like Carolina or Duke, to actually get to see a black band.

I wrote a couple songs. I wrote a memorial to John Kennedy. That was right about the time he got shot. It ended up in the Kennedy Library. It was more of a folk type thing. We could never figure out how to make it rock song. And I wrote a couple of others that were more like an English-type thing, like Freddie and the Dreamers-type stuff.

No, We never cut any records. That was the thing, if you were going to record, the nearest studio anywhere even close by was in Greenville, SC. And then you had to pay for it. [Laughs.]

Playing Live

We were fairly dressy. We had certain set uniforms that we liked to wear to try to look alike: mock turtlenecks and that type of thing. [Laughs.]

The big thing during that era was the high school talent shows and hootenannies. Because [the TV show] Hootenanny was big at the time. And we did several Battle of the Bands-type things, where we competed directly against other bands. We also did a couple of on-air things for WISE radio, where we went down and played at the studio. WISE radio was the only real radio station in the area that played rock and soul.

We played a lot of camps. This area is really big for camps, so we did a lot of that during the summer. We played at Kanuga, which was a big Episcopal camp. And we played a Presbyterian camp, and a Baptist camp.

And we played a lot of bars. [Laughs.] The place we played at the most was a place called the Blue Note, that was almost all the way to Hendersonville. Maybe it was in Hendersonville. It was on a little lake. And I think we played out there for … shoot, I’d say we were there for about six months. That was probably our longest gig. We were there just about every weekend. We ended up playing with the Tams, the Atlanta soul group, there one night. That was really wild.

Then there was the Brown Derby. And we also played the Sky Club. That place constantly got raided. [Laughs.] There were some huge fights that ended up out there. So you had to go up there prepared to run. It was a pretty rough place.

We played a bar on the Swannanoa River, going up toward Marshall, that I can’t even remember the name of. That place disappeared a long time ago. It was a wonder they weren’t torn down. [Laughs.]

Casa Loma, that was another, very wild bar. To say the least. If our parents knew we were playing in those kinds of bars, they never would have allowed us to go. [Laughs.] I had some women hit on me down at the Casa Loma that were my mother’s age.

But our best gigs were the junior and senior proms at the Grove Park Inn and The Park Hotel. The Grove Park Inn used to be closed except for the summer, and The Park Hotel had a large ballroom on the west side. I remember playing a senior prom in white tails, and the rest of the band in black tux

The ‘60s Scene

There was a group of us. We kind of ran with each other, and stuck by each other, because no else understood what we were doing. There was about 12 or 15 of us that were serious about music. About learning how to play, learning how to sing.

Bucky Hanks was probably the most professional musician. He played a lot of different instruments. And David Plemmons was probably the best drummer out of that whole group. He’s a master chef at a resort down in Florida now, but he was the lead drummer in the high school band for years. And he was really good. He had a drum solo that would about knock your socks off.

I was the only one that had a choral background. So I could really sing harmony. Each one of us had something, so we’d trade back and forth to try to learn what we’re doing, because there was no place else to pick it up, other than going out to the Royal Pines to try to listen to groups out there, try to watch and see what they’re doing. Course, you had to get close enough to the stage. [Laughs.]

The Casa Loma Car Wreck Story

Bruce McTaggart [from the Wunz] used to fill in quite a bit. “Sugar Bear.” That’s what everybody used to call him, because it was around when the cereal came out, Sugar Crisp. “You bet your booties, Sugar Bear!” [Laughs.] Or something like that. And Bruce looked like a Sugar Bear, since he kind of had a round face and everything.

I forgot Bruce was in the car when we [wrecked it.] The way I remember it was, our bass player [Gary Carson] was the one that was out. So Earl played bass that night, and Bruce sat in on lead guitar. And on the way back, they had some firecracker in the back seat. [Laughs.]

David Plemmons, our drummer, was driving. It was his dad’s car. And Bruce is throwing firecrackers out the window, when Earl decided he’d light a fuse, and he’d throw the fuse — without the firecracker — into the front seat. [Laughs.] So needless to say we were going around a corner about that time, and David thought for sure it was lit. So he tried to grab it. And we went flying over this corner and rolled down the bank into a woman’s vegetable patch.

So we came up out of the garden, after we rolled the car in there, and we knocked on her door. We’re all bloody, standing on her front porch. And I remember the woman, she wasn’t so much concerned about us as she was concerned about the fact that that we had rolled over her vegetables. [Laughs.] Wild times, wild times.

The End of an Era

By the time ‘66 hit, the draft was becoming pretty big. So a lot of guys were going into the service. I went into the Marine Corp in April of ‘66. Gary Carson went into the Air Force around May. David Plemmons went into the Marine Corp in June. And Earl graduated in ‘66 and went to Carolina Law School. He became a big time judge here in Buncombe County.

Most of the groups of that era all kind of disappeared around then, because of the Vietnam War and other things. That was probably the last era, coming out of the early ‘60s, that was really … this was before things really started to fall apart with Vietnam, and the Cold War, and all those other things.

So that was kind of the last year that kids grew up in high school thinking that they could make it rich and not have to work, not have to fight a war. They were pretty footloose times back in those days. Those were the days when gas was 25 cents a gallon. [Laughs.]


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One thought on “Asheville’s ‘60s Garage Rock Scene: An Oral History (Part 4)

  1. Kenergy599

    Good article Miles!!! That was very interesting and informative.
    A nice snapshot of Asheville.

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