Thoughts About a Departed High School Friend

This is a very personal blog, and for most of the people who read it, the person at the center will be unknown. However, for those of you on my "Friends and Family" list, and then for a subset with whom I went to Princeton High School in southern West Virginia, you will recognize this as a tribute to our since departed classmate, John Madison Goodwin III, better known as Sonny. My novel, "Reunion," covers quite a bit of my association with Sonny, the irrepressible fan of all things rock and roll - and a really good person.

Sonny Goodwin was the drummer in the band that made up quite a bit of the story ... the Roadster as I recall was the name in the book. I think their real name was The Nebbishes or perhaps the Road Runners.... I am no longer sure. Since I'm in the "real name" mode, the band included Ched Yearout on lead guitar, Larry Watkins on piano/keyboard, and Ron (Sleep) Lively on bass/rhythm guitar. In addition, Arnold Palmer was the lead singer and could play any of the instruments if needed. In the book, Sonny became Buddy Lewis, or formally Thomas Jefferson Lewis III, an attempt to disguise a remarkable person. In fact, the real Sonny went on to play drums in a series of very good cover bands until his heart attack in late September 2002. He survived that but his health was tenuous after that. But back to the story....

In January of 2009, I was surprised to receive, completely out of the blue, a DVR from Sonny. This item somehow became lost in the maelstrom of daily life; I don't know how such a treasure trove of memories could have been set aside. Fortunately, it was not lost forever and popped to the surface of my life in the past several years. To be honest, I'm not sure I ever contacted Sonny to thank him for such a priceless token from our past and how much I appreciated his act of generosity and kindness. He died not long after that, at the end of May in that same year. I will never be able to repay this trip back into magic memory land, so Sonny, if you somehow are listening or aware of this, thank you and God bless!

The DVR cover sports a photo of the band Transit Time (great name, huh!) playing live at the outdoor 2002 car show at the Pipestem State Park in southern West Virginia.

By this point in time, Sonny was the only one of the original members of that high school band still active locally in music, which he did in addition to working for the state in terms of business licensing matters. Ron Lively still lived in the area, was a prominent real-estate broker and served as mayor of Princeton for a while. Larry Watkins lived in another state (the fog of memory wants to tell me Northern Virginia but I'm not sure), and Ched Yearout had moved to near Nashville, TN where he was a senior manager in engineering for a large tire manufacturing company after attending, as I did, Virginia Tech. Arcie, or Arnold Palmer, remained in Princeton after a day job at the local hospital and an active and serious career in music combined with years of touring and recording. He had settled down with a lovely and loyal wife and family and we remain in touch to this day.

The gem of Sonny's DVR is a warm handwritten note and also a complete (handwritten) list of every single song, with the titles and exact times to the second.

There are .... wait for it now .... eighty-one songs from Transit Time and later the Emeralds, a six-piece band. The recordings all were live, and to be honest, range from excellent to not very clear since the microphone pickups were not positioned well. The recordings were made at various locations: The BPOE (Elks Club) in Princeton (12/31/2000), the 40th Princeton High School class reunion (2000 in Bluefield), the Princeton Douglas Center (12/31/2001), the Bluefield Moose Hall (2/2002), the City Park in Princeton (6/9/2002), the Moose Hall again (6/15/2002), and finally the Car Show at Pipestem State Park (8/10/2002) - only seven weeks before Sonny's heart attack. This gem of compilation runs an astounding 6:56, nearly seven hours and is a musical and cultural treasure trove and trip down memory lane. In addition to the songs and music, several conversations were recorded, above or just barely above the crowd noise at breaks, which bring Sonny back to the present along with a strong dose of the accents prevalent at the time, and for the most part, still.

So .... what's on the DVR you ask? Of the eighty-one recordings, Suzy-Q is the winner with four entries, individual times ranging from 1:49 to 3:27. Mustang Sally is a three-fer, ranging from 3:40 to 4:40. Several others are three-fers as well. There are many single entries such as Little Bitty Pretty One, Run Around Sue, Will You Love Me Forever, Turn the Page, Sea Cruise, Walk of Life, Fannie Mae, Love Hurts, The Midnight Hour (remember Wilson Pickett?), Sweet Home Alabama, and others.

In a shameless bit of self-promotion regarding the book, Reunion, I had an up-close and personal opportunity to spend time with and get to know the original group, which was by any standard a very good cover band. I also served as the "door man," and collected the per-head money (usually one dollar back in the day) that people paid to get into the live-music gigs. Since "Arcie" (Arnold Palmer) did not have a car, I drove him to the gigs and of course had a wonderful opportunity to get to know him well. As a black man, newly part of the integrated high school in Princeton back in the late fifties, it was unusual to be able to spend a lot of time getting to know him. We remain very good friends, and in contact to this day.

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Enjoy life; it's the only one we will get.

J.K. (Jim) George


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11 Responses

  1. Another great story for us--thanks Jim! It brought memories of my high school days which were dominated by ham radio and various bands in which I played the French horn (my favorite for our concert band) and trumpet for the dance band. I often skipped gym class, if the focus was on something I didn't enjoy as much as soccer, to hang out in one of the practice rooms to get my part down well. Another focus was our ham radio club at Jamesville DeWitt High School in a suburb of Syracuse NY. I moved away to open the first Radio Shack in Michigan just four years after my high school graduation. I never returned to live in the Syracuse area where I first started working at The Shack when they had just nine stores. That move kept me from staying in touch with most of my high school friends. My wife and I returned for my 50th reunion. I was proud of what many of my classmates accomplished and more so of what our school offered and still does--an excellent secondary education, mostly not found where I now live. My closest long-term friends are ham radio operators, most of whom I met while stationed in Eastern NM at Canon AFB in 1978 and, except for a year in Turkey, into the fall of 1987. A group of us, all from out of State but one, formed the New Mexicans Engaged in Radio Discussions, the NERDs. Earlier this morning a couple of us gathered on 40m SSB to chat and reminisce about those old, fun times. Old stories about friends, family, and fun times are great to read and experience! 73, Bill, K8TE
  2. Wow, what a prize! It's almost like finding a Renoir at a garage sale for $5. We all move on with our lives, but the heart stays at our childhood home. And we all gain other friends as we tread life's trail, but your best ones are the ones from high school.
  3. Hi Jim! Sounds like a real treasure. Heck, even I feel bad you didn't get to thank him.
  4. JK James George
    From Anon-1: You are such an interesting writer. I think I have read Reunion at least 3 times and each time find something new. One of my daughters bought and read the book and really bragged about it....that's from a NJ Italian semi-brat. That's supposed to be a compliment. I hope you are doing well. Life certainly keeps us wondering, doesn't it. I keep saying I am in the final chapter of my life and didn't expect to spend as much time as I do visiting doctors and most of them look like they are the age to go to Scout meetings and not as a leader. Please tell Diana that I send my love. We were so lucky to have all grown up in such a wonderful time.
  5. JK James George
    From Anon-2: Very nostalgic,and hearing the names of all those songs, really brought back the music ? to my mind. Like you said I’m sure when you played them you felt transported back in time. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful remembrance for and about Sonny. I’m sure everyone is going to be touched that you did. Plus, as always you did it so well! Keep up the good work my friend.
  6. JK James George
    From Anon-3: Hi Jim, I read your blog entry about your late friend Sonny. You are blessed to have that DVR compilation. Sadly, I am now at the age where similar stories of my high school friends are becoming more common, although no DVRs received from them (yet). I have bid farewell to several former faculty colleagues at University of New Hampshire just in the past two weeks - it's still a shock to the system to reconcile death with the vitality I knew in them not that long ago.
  7. JK James George
    From Anon-4: Yo JK! Nice post on your blog regarding Sonny. I too have great memories of him and have truly missed him since he died. I've always had a special fondness for characters, and Sonny surely was one. His enthusiasms and animated presentations were great contributions to life. One of my great blessings was fate's having placed me just two doors down Princeton Ave. from Sonny's house. We became fast friends and shared many pleasures during grades 3-5. Related to your comments re Sonny's love of music and devotion to organizing it, at one of our reunions Sonny was providing the Friday night music from his collection of cassettes. When I went over to him to chat, he launched into his usual upbeat presentation of his cassette collection. He eagerly asked something like "What's your favorite song?" or "What would you like to hear?" Easy question: I said "Money" by Barrett Strong. Of course he had it, so he quickly located the cassette, determined which track was "Money" and proceeded to fast forward towards it with only the track number, not the footage measure (or whatever those spinning numbers were). He makes his guess and hits "Stop" then "Play." Damned if he didn't nail it. It starts as tho' he had cued up a 45-rpm record. As you might imagine, he reacted as tho' he had won the lottery. I can still see and feel his excitement. I believe that throughout the evening, he related this to a fair number of classmates. Typical Sonny. So, thanks again for your blog tribute to a real "oner." BTW: As I read your list of song titles, my reaction to "Will You Love Me Forever?" was "I'll bet he means 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?'" Sure enough, check #24 on your reproduction of Sonny's song list. [and pardon my editorial instincts] (JKG editorial note, Good ol' Anon-4 is right on the error in the name of that song. Will go in and edit that correction.) Take care; stay well. Keep on rockin'.
  8. JK James George
    From Anon-5: Neat and well-done blog, Jimma. (editor's note ... Jimma is not a miss-typing; it's a family nickname)
  9. It wasn't my intent to travel incognito on your blog. Had I known, I would have given my family nickname, Jimma. However, it looks like that may have just added confusion. Who knew that blogging could get this complicated? (:-}
    • JK James George
      For anyone who ventured this far down into the comments, as you might know, especially if you know Carl Thomason, who ... by the way apparently lost his name to the Internet Gremlins, he's quite an intelligent dude with a wicked sense of humor. At any rate, we have been going back and forth and he finally posted this to the blog site "in plain view" but of course without a name!! So here 'tis. JKG
  10. JK James George
    From Anon-6: I enjoyed your blog about your friend “Sonny”. Hoping you and Diana are well.

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