In honor of Mr. Boles' 85th birthday this past June, here is an interview I did with him exactly two years ago, on September 15, 2015. I organized our two-hour conversation into somewhat chronological categories, but tried to preserve Mr. Boles' manner of speaking. [contains explicit language]
Fats Waller actually came to our house. I was living in a place called Black Bottom, in a house down on Riopelle and Antietam. He used to come to the house and play the upright piano when I was four or five. I didn’t start lessons until I was five. There were no clubs down there, very few, maybe something on Chene.
Me and Pistol Allen and Charlie Gabriel got into a big argument about who’s the oldest. Were almost to fighting, and somebody says, “well what month were you born in?” and I say, “well, I was born in June.” Pistol was the oldest, now, because he was born in April. Charlie Gabriel was born in July. Donald Byrd was the same year, all of us.
I came to live with this family in 1934, when I was two years old, and I stayed there until 1941. About four days before I was nine, we moved on the North End, which would be around in the New Center area, just to the east of the New Center area. I lived there 25 years. What happened [was] my adopted father passed away in 1939, so my mother got a little bit of money and bought a house on the North End, so we moved out there. Wasn’t too long after that that they kind of shut down the Black Bottom, so to speak. I still drive by there now. If you go down Gratiot, just before you get to Jay Street, used to be called Riopelle, and I lived in the second house from the corner, upstairs. They called it urban renewal, but it still sits there and nothing’s there. People own that land. but no houses are there. When I was a youngster, it was mostly Italians and blacks and Jews.
I lived on Cameron and Robert Barnes lived on Russell. We were all North Enders. The North End is beginning at the Boulevard. There was a theater on Woodward called the Alhambra Theater. All that’s considered the North End now. There was the Bizerti Bar, Sonny Stitt used to play there. I’d go sneak around outside. Lefty Edwards played at the Royal Blue Bar. Man, the North End was going on then, back in that day.
I lived on Cameron in the North End, and Claude [Black] lived on Mount Vernon. Donald Byrd lived on Mount Vernon, Sonny Red lived on the North End, everybody that you could think of, well of our group. (Paul Chambers was an east-sider.)
Claude Black had a very tragic story. I lived down the street from him when that happened. Claude was getting up to go to school and his [step-]Dad shot and killed his mom and two sisters. He called me up about a month or so before he died… I had known this man since the 40s and he had never ever mentioned this to me until he was close to dying. He said “I’ll tell you why I think my [step-]Dad killed my mother. Because he was jealous of her.” His mother was movie-star material, good-looking woman, and you know If you marry one of those kind of women, don’t think that you’re gonna marry them and ain’t nobody gonna look at them. You married her because you looked at her. So his grandmother raised him in the 8 Mile-Wyoming area. I went out there many times and he would show me stuff on the piano. But he had switched, he was playing trombone.
There wasn’t a whole lot of bars on 8 Mile. There was the Log Cabin, and there was the bar that Joe Thurman used to play at all the time, there was the Wyoming theater here, and right down the street was a bar. My wife [Helen] would probably know. My wife was a jazz singer, she sang in clubs. I don’t think she sang in that club, but she would know. There’s was a different kind of situation down there. Pat Flowers, who was at Baker’s for 25 years, stayed right across the street from Claude .
Willie Bolar, this is a weird story. I was in high school, in summer and Willie Bolar was a waiter at a club in the Fischer Building. I went in there as a busboy and I was the world’s worst; there was no busboy ever worse than me. I actually dropped an ice cube down a woman’s blouse, and I tried to take the ice cube out. I got fired on the spot. But my mother called in and said “How dare you fire my son, my son deserves to have a job, you better hire him” and he actually hired me back. But then he needed to find a reason to fire my ass so I came in a couple of days later with a bowtie just like his and he said “you can’t own a bowtie like me, boy, so you’re fired again” so he fired me. Willie Bolar was a waiter there, at La Leglam. He’s done very well financially, by the way. He’s in very, very, very good shape. I’ve known him sixty years. About that, sixty-five years. Wonderful man, and a historian.
Bobby Barnes with Roland Hanna and Gene Taylor, that’s who was over there every day. Gene Taylor was a bass player, he ended up with Nina Simone, and I think I saw a video the other day with him with Horace Silver.
The same shit that went on in Barnes’ house went on at Barry Harris’ house, same shit. The only difference is the level of ass-kicking. They would tolerate you a little bit more, although Roland Hanna was there, at Robert Barnes’ house, and he was no joke. Tommy Flanagan didn’t go over there. Barry was living off of Stanford. He lived down the street from a guy named Clarence Beasley, who went on the road with Illinois Jacquet. Beas was 86 when he passed, I believe, about three years older than me.
People came to Joe Brazil’s house, Coltrane, everybody. Anybody that was anybody went to there, you wanted to get your ass kicked. Alto player. I can’t remember where his house was, but it wasn’t North End. 50s, 60s. I was in Seattle playing with Moms Mabley, and I tried to find him. We got into Seattle that Friday and we left that Monday morning, so I didn’t get a chance to call the union and see perhaps if I could find him. But he was another great musician and there was always some shit going on at his house. Those are the three houses: Barry’s house, Robert Barnes’ house, and Joe B’s house.
I played in Hastings Street until ’59, and in ’59 they took the freeway away and made it an expressway. That was the end of the red-light district. Hastings Street, it just disappeared into thin air; it disappeared into I-75. You know Hastings Street actually starts at the Boulevard. That’s the beginning of Hastings Street, and I guess it zig-zags down, and when you get to around Milwaukee it stops. There was so much bullshit going on down there. They really messed up a great area. See, what happened was when they cut the Hastings Street off, all the prostitutes went over to John R and Woodward, they went over to that area.
I always contend that most people get the boundaries of Black Bottom and the boundaries of Paradise Valley, and the boundaries of Hastings Street mixed up. If you start at Hastings Street, there was a club there called Sportrie’s Bar, and right next door was a theater called the Arcade Theater, and then there was Adams Street, down past Sportrie’s bar until you get to John R, Paradise Valley, that’s it. Now, on Hastings street, to the side there was the Turk Bar, the Three Sixes, the 606 Horseshoe Lounge, those places some of that might be there.
Claude Black was down in there playing with Paul Baskin’s band, at the Turk Bar. Upstairs there was a place called the Bellman’s and Waiter’s Club, where everybody went after the gig and hung out.
Anything that you thought you wanted to do, you could do it on Hastings Street. If you wanted to get some booty, you could get some booty; if you liked to gamble, you could gamble; if you wanted to turn a trick, you could, whatever you thought you wanted they did it on Hastings Street, up and down that street.
It was mixed, it didn’t have anything to do with race. Because most of those clubs on that street, you couldn’t tell who owned them. You didn’t know if a black person owned them. But a lot of times if a white guy owned them if he was cool with the black community then you’d know he was white. If he wasn’t cool with the black community or he didn’t want people to know that he owned it, he would put a black person in charge, and to you, you would feel like he’s the owner. You couldn’t tell.
I don’t ever remember seeing a white band on Hastings Street, in fact if I ever saw any white people down there playing it was very little. The clientele was mixed, they called it black and tan. Now, when you went up to John R, it was a differed ballgame. There was the Flame Showbar, the Frolic Showbar, Sportrie’s now had graduated to John R. Now the bands would be integrated there. It was more divided in those days because there were certain clubs that blacks played at and certain clubs that whites played at.
I was musical director at the Playboy Club back in the 70s. Dan [Pliskow] was in Matt Michaels’ trio. Dan left with Matt. Matt wanted to leave and do industrial. I don’t know how he happened to get me the gig but he liked me, so he said “I’m giving you the gig.” I was there two years, six nights a week, Monday through Saturday. Bill Rogers and Bill Steed. When you drive down Jefferson, you’ll see a thing called the Michigan Bell Telephone Company, that was the Playboy Club. It was an old-style house and it had two floors—it was very big—it had two floors and it had a penthouse upstairs, so most of the shows were on the weekends, by the time I had come there, it was already on its way down. Anyways, the penthouse we did shows on the weekends. The weekdays we did Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday downstairs.
Any band that I had, everybody was usually younger, but when I was coming along I was always playing with old guys, they would be in their 80s then. Babe Borders, who was a drummer. Big John, he was a drummer. Emmett Slay. That’s becoming so strange to be the oldest guy in the band. Except when I play with George [“Sax” Benson], George would be older than me but most of the time, I’m the oldest guy in any band.
Emmett Slay was a guitar player. He came and got me the day after I graduated from high school, and he carried me on the road. And I went to North Dakota, South Dakota, I went to the Badlands, I went to Milwaukee, Green Bay. I played piano and sang parts with Emmett.
Jack the Bellboy, he had a DJ show, but he used to have a dance show back in the 60s, people would come there and dance on TV. Channel 50, I think, I can’t remember now. I played there, and sang, used to play a thing called the organo, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the organo. I played this organo with a guy named Dave Hamilton, he played vibes, I think, vibes or guitar. And he had an organo, and so did Emmett Slay, he had an organo. You hooked it up to the piano and you put your knee up against it and it would give you a bassline. That’s how I learned how to a walk a bassline. You could hear it, it would give a bass sound, a pulse. The right hand was a piano, and you walked the bassline. In fact, most of the gigs I played in those days would be saxophone, drums, and piano.
I played for mafia people, I played for Jack L, he was the nicest guy. I was playing at a club called the Indianwood Golf Club, and I played there like six years solo piano. It was almost in LaPier, you had the pass the Silverdome, can’t think of the name of the city though. But I played there six years and the people who were members there, people like Ray Lane, who was a sportscaster for the Tigers. Which I guess is how I met Ernie Harwell and Al Kaline, in fact I played for Al Kaline’s retirement party. I was working with Mel Tormé and he was doing the national anthem. He carried us with him, not to play because he was singing it with a recording. But we also played for Al Kaline’s retirement party that night.
A lot of the people I ended up working with because I was on a show gig, like say the Elmwood, or a gig like the Show Palace, the Roostertail, where they would bring these acts in, and if the act didn’t have a piano player, you’re it. I remember I was playing there with Vic Damone, they came in there and they did that whole show, and two days later Vic says “I can’t hear the band” and so they had to turn the bandstand around and the conductor, who was the piano player, said “Charlie, you’re it.” And I had to sight-read that book. But actually Vic Damone and I because good friends and I worked with him later on with Eddie Nucelli’s band. So you know, it worked out great. Those kind of gigs, you end up working with people like Vic Damone, Lola Falana, Milton Berle, you work with them for one week because you play their show. And then that was it, they leave town. So I got a chance to work with all of those people. Milton Berle was probably the biggest asshole of all of them. The worst.
Now, people like Johnny Trudell and them, they were way ahead of their time because they would hire black musicians like me or Earl Van Dyke, but most of their musicians were not black guys. They would hire us, and that’s how we got a chance to work those gigs. Otherwise, you’d be relegated to playing in only black clubs. But those clubs, like Flame’s Showbar, that was white-owned, but they had Maurice King’s band in there, that was an all-black band, and at the Frolic, now I played at the Frolic solo piano, by myself, I was 21 years old. I couldn’t play shit, I was horrible. I don’t know how I got away with that shit, don’t ask. I was able to get away with a lot.
There was a lot of playing with black and white people together on the jazz scene. There was a house over here on Burns that was a jazz house, I guess a doctor owned it. You could go over there and you could play there on a Friday or a Saturday night, 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and they’d always be jumping. It was one of those houses with jazz in the basement, prostitution on the second floor, cocaine on the second, weed on the next floor. It was all that kind of shit. This was back in the 50s. There were tons of places people played after the gig and people always played the gig and went somewhere else to play free. And you stay there, three or four in the morning and they’d always have booze.
Like this guy Jackie Leonard, I played for him and he gave me a $50 tip. He got sick here, and we were at the Michigan Palace. In fact that’s how I met Billy Martin, I was in the bar over there, and they didn’t have a bar per se in the Michigan Palace so everybody would go to this little bar on intermission and drink. So Billy Martin was in there one day. He didn’t know me but I was a, I’m a baseball nut. He says, “Who’s band?” I said I’m over there with Tony Bennett, I wasn’t playing with Tony Bennett but I was in the band. He says “I’m gonna go with you. But you can’t mention my name.” I said ok. So he bought me a drink, and he and I went over there, but we ended up hanging out, we went down to this other joint and hung out til 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning drinking, talking a bunch of bullshit. He was a nice guy. He was ok, Billy Martin was ok.
Moms Mabley was a comedian, and she made more money in her later years, like me. She made more money in her later years because they got her to tone down her shit, you know she was filthy. Her and Redd Foxx, they couldn’t get on no TV. I tell you that story about Helen taking her kids to see Redd Foxx? She got there, she thought she was going to see Sanford and Son, and the old Redd Foxx came out and she was so humiliated. The man had told her, “You sure you want to take your kids to see this guy?” She said “Oh yeah, Sanford and Son, going to be great.” He was cussing man, she was embarrassed.
Moms was a sweet lady, she paid me while I was off. I stayed at her house in Westchester. I was her music director. She only carried a piano when I was with her. I would always end up hiring a bass player, a drummer. And most of the time I would, on the tours that I’d be on, there would be Wes Montgomery, so I would hire his brother. He and I got to be good friends. Can’t think of his name now. Monk Montgomery. I would hire him, give him some money just to play her show. It was always a bunch of, I remember Nina Simone being on that tour, Sun Ra, there’d always be several acts on the show. I’d get one of the guys that played bass in some other band that I knew. You’d get to know the same people, you’d see them all the time, and so then I’d get Monk, or somebody like that. And she didn’t, she had dumb shit, man. You’d do some sound effects on the piano, and she’d tell a joke.
I never lived in New York. I’d always go in there and stay about a month, two months, but I never lived there. The only place I ever lived other than here was California and Nevada. In the 60s.
I played with Harold Land and I had my own gig, I ended up with the band, I don’t know how in the hell I ended up with the band in Reno, in Las Vegas. And I worked a lot of clubs in California, the It Club and Memory Lane. Memory Lane was this woman used to be on a sitcom called Room 222, years ago. You know Michael Cady? His aunt, you know his mother was a singer and an actress. The guy that was on the door, baldheaded guy, older guy, I don’t know if he’s still around or not, that’s Michael’s dad. He was the doorman there, like the manager. See I played at Baker’s all the way back, Sully Hartstein owned it back in the 60s. But his mother was actress, this guy Michael Cady, and also his aunt owned that club, it was called Memory Lane. Memory Lane, and I played in there.
These were the type of clubs where Art Tatum would go and play, so you’d end up with some shit like Art Tatum would be in there then Erroll Garner would be in there. I don’t remember being in there when that happened but I heard stories. I heard both of them play. My favorite is Erroll Garner. Not better than Art Tatum, I don’t mean that, it’s just that I got to know Erroll. I met him and I hung out with him and smoked weed with him. He was about my height. He loved Erroll Garner. If you don’t think Erroll Garner was great, ask Erroll Garner. He was so good, this guy. How I got to know him, this was weird, I was working with Damita Jo, she was an Ella Fitzgerald-type singer married to a guy, she was in movie with Sammy Davis, I got tons of pictures, my scrapbook is ridiculous.
But anyway, I was playing at the Hollywood Playboy Club and the drummer, who I can’t remember now, this was a guy, this guy was so over the top. We were down south and they had just passed this law where black people could go in the swimming pool. In this hotel, the pool was theoretically out there where that lot is, and we were staying up on a level like this. He jumped off the edge of the balcony and jumped two or three floors down, just jumped right onto the pool on top of a whole bunch of white people. And when he jumped, and he was real dark, when he jumped into the pool, the pool emptied out. He would do shit like that because he didn’t give a shit.
So anyway, I checked into this hotel and can’t think of the name of it now, and I heard Erroll Garner was staying there and I wanted to meet him, so then the drummer came by my room and I said “I wanna meet Erroll Garner” and he said “Come on, let’s go.” And of course when we got there he was playing Erroll Garner records. “Listen to that, you hear that shit?” He was talking about his shit. He was playing his own records and grooving.
And these motherfuckers, they had some weed. No ordinarily, if you have some weed, you pass the weed around a circle. So they put me in the middle. So Erroll, he handed it to me, then he handed it to the drummer. Now instead of the drummer handing it to Erroll, he’d hand it back to me, so I’m getting high twice as fast as he is. But I hung with this guy for an hour just that day, just listening to his shit. I’ma tell you how good this guy was, he could be playing and somebody, you know they used to have these things in the club like knockers and shit, hit the glass, and if they knocked and he heard it a different key, he would change to that key, he was that good, he was that natural. You know, he had a brother who played piano too, Linton.
Willie Anderson, played with Bobby Barnes most of the time in later years. The only person I ever knew that had—I didn’t know Willie Bolar had some recordings of him—but Jim Gallert may have one, and Alma [Smith] had some, because every time I would go to her house she would say “Would you sit there and listen to Willie A?” But this chick [Alma], she had so much technique, you could not appreciate her in later years, because she had started to wane in the later years. Her sister—she went through the same shit I’m going through now—her sister was sick for twenty years and she took care of her. You know she played vibes, organ, and played them very, very well. She could really play the vibes, really play the organ, and she had a lot of technique on the piano. I’d go to her house and she’d always get on the phone and call me and say “Guess who’s on that?” and I’d say “I don’t know” and she had all that, she could really play. You’d start playing something and she would say “change it, change that, change this.” I don’t know if you ever hear that group that she had with Herbie Williams, that was her friend. Alma was wonderful.
We’re all around the same age. The only difference is that Barry was just so far ahead musically, and Tommy Flanagan was so far ahead musically, and so was Kenny Burrell, who didn’t hang with us at all. They were so far ahead musically, and they had degrees in music, we sluggers just came along and learned how to play some chords and learn how to play some lines and that was it. I knew at him, I knew Tommy Flanagan better later on, because he would come in Baker’s and he knew about me, for heaven’s sake I don’t know why, but he knew about me so whenever he come I would go see him, me and Kenny Cox, in fact one year Kenny Cox and I devised a little plan.
We gave Tommy a birthday gift. So Kenny Cox says we’re gonna give Tommy a gift, so you know what we gave him? Teach Your Little Fingers To Play, you ever see that book? That’s a John Thompson book, it’s somebody like six years old! We wrapped this shit all up, put a bow on it, carried it on down to the gig and give him a drink and said, “Tommy, we’ve got…” He was a subtle humorist. So he’d say off the cuff kind of, well he took it as a joke, he was cool. He would say very strange things without cracking a smile, he was the kind of guy who would tell a joke and he wouldn’t laugh, he would look at you, wait for you to tell the joke. I played for his funeral. His sister called me. I knew his wife, but I didn’t see her here, she didn’t come here but I knew his wife. I knew her from New York.
I was tighter in those days, in the 40s, with, you couldn’t be around Tommy, Tommy was studious. His brother used to live right down the street here, his brother played piano too, Johnson Flanagan. You couldn’t touch Tommy when he was around, he was the elite type of guy in those guys. Barry was that soulful brother, living over a grocery store and they kept that bullshit. They kept that shit going til twelve o’clock. Cut it off at twelve o’clock, every fucking night.
Always in the front room, just like Kirk Lightsey’s house, man you go in there, there’s a drum set and a piano. Well, at Barry’s house he had furniture. All Kirk had was an icebox. He didn’t have shit on that one-up on John Lodge. He lived upstairs over the Frolic Showbar. He had nothing in there but just a icebox, a piano, a baby grand piano, he had that.
She would bring in, she brought in the big names. She brought in Cannonball Adderley, ‘cause I would always run into Joe Zawinul, who I knew. ‘Cause he came to my house, and Barry send him around, now why would you send that guy to my house? That’s a bad motherfucker. He’s dead now, but was a bad motherfucker. You know he died? He came to my house, and I had some Bach shit on the piano. He looked at it and he started playing it in another key, and I said “Fuck you. Fuck you.” He wasn’t no joke. He was not a joke. Him and Jan Hammer, you ever know Jan Hammer? Piano player, I don’t know where he’s at today. Kind of a out, like them guys, like Weather Report-type. Them guys, man. Well that’s about it, doc.
Leonard Townsend, my dear friend. He got my divorce for me. I knew him before he was a [judge], I knew him as just a lawyer. I know his wife very well, and his sister-in-law, a sister named Laura, not a sister-in-law. He’s good people.
You ever hear of this guy? Earl Van Riper, he used to be with Earl Bostic. This guy, Jesus Christ. Them guys played so much piano, man, scare you to death.
Harold McKinney, he would like overrun you. He had—almost like a showboat type guy—but he had technique to burn. But he was a monster musician though, he wasn’t no bullshit, you know. He would forsake ideas for some technique but he was a hell of a musician though, he knew his shit. I think he had relative pitch at least. All of them guys, man.
Stanley Cowell, I don’t know if you ever met. He used to come up to my gig when I played at, when I was playing with Aretha I used to play at a place called the Falcon Lounge in Ann Arbor. And Stanley Cowell would come in there and so would Bob James.
Bob James can really, really play. I don’t know what happened to him, that horseshit he’ playing now. The shit he was playing then, he could play, man. I don’t know, shit went out the window. Them guys change up, I guess, make some money.
If you’re gonna talk about your history, where you came from, like this guy Fats Waller was my mother’s cousin, but that wasn’t really my biological mother. My biological mother died when she was 19. I saw her only when I was like two months old, and they put me in an orphanage. She was only twelve years old. I wouldn’t say she got raped by her mother’s boyfriend, [but] her mother’s boyfriend is really my dad who I never saw either. Never saw none of these people. So the only mother I really know is my adopted mother.
In fact, I had a sister and I didn’t find out she was my sister until I was twenty. We were members of the same church. We grew up in this church in Greektown [Second Baptist] and she got married. I knew her; I used to take piano lessons from her mother, supposedly her mother which wasn’t her mother. She invited me to her wedding, so, women do a better job of picking wedding gifts, so I gave my mother some money and said go buy Josephine a gift, and she did. I can’t remember what the gift was, because that was back in 1952 [sic], because I was 21 when I found out she was my sister. Some smart-ass lady in the church said, “your brother certainly gave you a nice gift.” And she said, “what brother?” and that started all this shit. She said “what brother, I don’t have a brother?” She said, “Oh, well I’m not going to tell you who he is then, but he’s short and he plays the piano.”
So she called me the next day and said “I think you’re my brother, and I think you’re adopted, and I want to talk to you.” (She’s 16 months younger than me.) We got together and had lunch at the place in those days, which was the cafeteria in Hudson’s basement. She just told me what the lady told her, and of course we were both afraid to say anything. So I wrote this letter and she wrote a letter too. I wrote it that night and put it on the dresser, and left! My mother said in a very stiff manner, “I got your letter and I’ll talk to you about it soon as the kids leave.”
I had two foster brothers, two other kids that lived in that house that were from the Children’s Aid Society. See we were all from the Children’s Aid Society including Curtis Fuller. It used to be on 71 West Warren. So my mother spoke us up, she didn’t tell me everything because she didn’t know everything. She told me what the court said. All she knew was what the court said.
Me and my sister were the ones who dug up all of the information, but we didn’t get the rest of the story until around the 80s. We dug up the complete information from probate records. It’s two books and my sister went to court and they said, “well that book’s not a circulating book,” and she said “OK.” So the minute the lady turned her back she just took the damn book and brought it over to my house. And I had a copy machine back in those days.
I got the picture of my mother in 1989. I had never seen what she looked like. In fact, the way I got that picture was I found out what my mother’s real name was, and then the probate court told me that she had got married before she died, and they gave me her married name. And we kept going and asking, trying to get the birth certificate of the wrong name. Because our real name is Chaney, that’s my name: Charles Chaney.
Anyway, I found out that she had married a guy named Sandy Young, and when I found that out I went back down there and got a death certificate that they had. I never did get a birth certificate, but I got a death certificate. And once we got that, I looked in the phone book—I was desperate—and I found Sandy Young in the phone book, so I called his house. I said “I gotta talk to Sandy,” and his wife says “he’s dead, who is this?” “well, this is Catherine’s son,” and she said “get over here right now!” and I said “can I bring my sister” and she said “yeah.”
So we went over there a couple of days later and when I walked in then she handed me the picture. And she told me a lot of stuff. My mother’s husband married her after my mother died in 1938. This is weird, Sandy Young was at the Bluebird, he was a jazz fan, there hanging out. Years ago they used to wear these black bands when somebody died, as a sign of mourning. He had this black band on and he had met this lady, Fanny Young. She lives in England and I call and talk to her all the time, she just turned 100 on June 26, she was born the same day as my wife was.
When I met her in ’89, she was living on Log Cabin, I went her house and she became a great friend of my wife’s, she became a great friend of my sister’s. When I had my 60th birthday, she came to that, her and my sister. Her daughter, who’s Kate, she got sick about a year ago, and she had a son who was a dopehead, this guy dragging his grandma to the bank, making her cash checks and stuff. So her son in England came here and he said the best way out of this is to give him the house and take my momma back to England. His name is Dave, and he calls me his other brother. So anyway, he came here after his sister died, and they signed the house over to this guy, which he’s already lost the house. But he carried his mother on back to England. At that time she was 97, and she just turned 100. Very, very sweet lady. Great, great lady. The rest of the story I didn’t find out from probate court I found out from her and from people like that, there was tons of folk.
My sister and I went down to Macon, Georgia but it was the wrong city. And I never believed in fortune tellers, and then my wife is really religious, but my daughter insisted. I said, “I gotta find out where my mother came from,” so my carried me to this fortune teller. I went in there, and this lady says “you want to know where your mother is, where your mother came from?” she said. “Go back home and look at the top of the form.” I had a school record of my mother, she came here in 1925, and I had a school record but I looked at the record wrong. Me and my sister went to Macon, Georgia, but it was Americus, Georgia. So she said “you go back and look at it again and you’ll see the word right there, at the top.” And I never believed in that shit, it was right there!
And I went to Americus, Georgia and I found the guy! I found the house that my grandfather lived in. I didn’t meet him, he was dead by that time. Everybody that was involved, the whole area had changed by that time. But I did find everybody. I’ve got all of the information and found the guy, there was a guy down there that was a historian. My great-grandmother died on a plantation, and he carried me to this damn plantation. He researched and carried me to this plantation, and then he carried me to where my grandfather would have lived on Taylor Street, he carried me to that house. He carried me to the area where my grandmother…how she got with this guy. It’s a long story, but anyways he carried me there and that’s how I found the rest of the story.
My grandfather was married, going with a 14-year-old girl, one of these typical-type stories, you know, across the tracks. He lived on this side of the square, he was a well-to-do undertaker and the girl he was going with, of course she was black. She lived across the track and he started going with her, but he was married, but he ended up giving her a baby. But he couldn’t escape that shit, I found his ass. This guy here, my grandfather Nat LaMaster he died in 1931.
It’s a hard story for me, a really difficult story. I hate that story, because it brings back a lot of memories. If you grow up your whole life thinking that this is your mother, although I had looked at my mother I keep trying to figure out, I said “this lady is way too old to be my mother.” She wouldn't tell her real age, because she was 81 when she died. She was way too old to have a son my age.
You know what threw me off is that my sister played piano, and my adopted mother played piano, and all of the people on my grandfather’s side played piano in Georgia. In fact, I found these people—I shouldn’t call them hillbillies—I’m serious, this guy sent me a bunch of CDs when he found me. You know cause I found these people was I went online and I kept looking for Chaneys. And I kept sending out letters, I’d go online and you know how you’d search for people in certain areas and I found out that I was really from Americus and so I wrote to all the Chaneys I found in Americus that you could find online.