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Publisher is Nantucket bound

by Charles Womack

There are a few moments in my life that were so perfect to me at the time, they have stuck with me and live forever in my mind.

The first is when I was 12 years old, playing shortstop for my little league baseball team on a beautiful Friday night.

Even though I can remember nothing specific I did in the game offensively or defensively, who we were playing, or even what inning it was – there was this brief moment in my mind where I looked at the scoreboard, we were winning, the night was just the right tone of black, the temperature was perfect and it was a Friday – no school tomorrow! Everything just clicked into place at one time’… creating one perfect moment.

Then this euphoric, indescribable feeling swept over me and I had this amazing mind burst. “Life is great! This is great! Wow! What a perfect time!”

My first moment lasted a few seconds and faded. But I remember it well.

I would have another one a few years later in a Roxboro nightclub.

On any given night, I was far too young to get into the Sand Castle on my own, but tonight I was playing rhythm guitar in my rock-n-roll band – Cloud 9 – and we were opening for Nantucket, a band we idolized.

Nantucket had recently toured with AC/DC, another band covered on half our song list, and opening for Larry Uzzell, Tommy Redd and the boys of Nantucket was my first brush with greatness.

A little band history: Nantucket’s genesis was in the early 1960s, when Mike Uzzell and his brother Larry were Jacksonville High School students. They joined up with Maysville guitarist Tommy Redd to form a beach-music band called Stax of Gold and began playing parties and clubs in the area. In the early 1970s, two East Carolina University students, drummer Kenny Soule and saxophonist/keyboardist Eddie Blair, joined the band, along with guitarist Mark Downing. The group changed its name to Nantucket Sleighride after a song by Mountain.

They began earning a reputation in the region as a fun party band, and their name was shortened to just “Nantucket.”

Guitarist Redd began writing some original songs, like “Born in a Honky Tonk,” which the band would drop into their sets from time to time. They found that the fans responded to the originals with more enthusiasm than they did to the cover tunes, so Redd and the other band members kept writing more R&B-flavored rock songs.

In 1977 Nantucket played a showcase in Florida and earned a recording contract with Epic Records. Their first album, “Nantucket,” sold more than 200,000 copies and broke onto the Billboard charts. The band’s popularity soared. They released a second album for Epic in 1979 and toured the country with such rock acts as AC/DC, KISS and the Doobie Brothers.

Heck, these guys had it all! They had the talent, the albums, the hits, the looks, the girls’… the whole damn dream. I watched and I studied. Larry Uzzell had these really cool bandanas tied all up and down his left leg. “Cool” I thought to myself. I would emulate the look over and over in many of our performances and it even carried over into my attire in school. Growing my hair long and talking rock and roll and who was hot (and not) in the music scene was how I spent my entire high school career.

But on this Saturday – it was Sept. 26, 1981 – at the Sand Castle nightclub in Roxboro, I stood in awe as lead vocalist Uzzell grabbed the mic and started to swagger and Tommy Redd began the guitar intro into to my favorite song, “Long Way to the Top.”

I remember the date and the opening song well, as I removed that night’s set list from the stage and wrote the information down in what became my Cloud 9 scrapbook. I still have it today and pulled it out recently when I heard of Nantucket’s upcoming performance in Greensboro at the N Club.

Back then, being 15, in a night club and rocking out to our own songs and begging my parents to let me stay hear Nantucket all contributed made this night very special. My folks conceded, and not only did I get to see my favorite band up close, and before they hit the stage, we got to hang out in their dressing room afterwards listening to their tales of rock and roll folklore. We were far too nervous to say anything.

I’m anxious to see the band again after these many years and have heard great things about recent shows. The years may have aged their looks – sorry, guys – but I’m sure these same years have also given room for their talent to increase and blossom into something more.

We had the good fortune to open for Nantucket on as many as six occasions before my dreams of being a rock and roll star were put on the back burner for college and job in the newspaper business.

But two years ago, I purchased the amp and guitar I always wanted as a 16-year-old – a Marshall stack and 1972 sunburst Les Paul.

Who knows, maybe I’ll bring along my Les Paul and Tommy will let me hook up and crank away on “Long Way To The Top.” Or let’s all really hope not.

Besides, the song’s too good and I know I’d enjoy it more watching Uzzell do what he does best and take me “Riding down the highway’… going to a show’… stopping all the byways’… playing rock and roll.”

I’ve always felt like the newspaper guy who always wanted to be a rock star’… but Friday night I’ll be the fan who’s always happy to watch Nantucket.

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