February 21, 2001





 


Frank Melfi raced out of the gate on May 11,1948, and continues to charge ahead with the advent of www.frankmelfi.com. Here is a small portion of his story:

Frank spent his early years in Nashville Tennessee, working in Melfi's Restaurant and House of Honda motorcycle shop. In 1967, he married Theresa Tetreault and sired a beautiful daughter named Marlo, otherwise known as Buffy. Heading west, he took a job as "financial adjuster" in Jackson, TN. Little did he know, his life would soon change forever. One day, while on the hunt in Brownsville, Tennessee, he chanced upon a rundown juke joint on the outskirts of town. From out of the doors, a "searing sound" struck a deep nerve and literally reached out and grabbed his soul. The music he heard "told tales of broken vows and jaded love, of lost hopes and vengeance, happiness and sorrow, it spoke of salvation & damnation." For Frank, it told the Story of Life, yet in its most simple and meaningful form--a far cry from "all the Bible-thumpin' do-gooders that God, who surely must have been asleep at the wheel during this part of Creation, put on this Earth." Completely mesmerized by these sounds, Frank wandered in and was greeted by the first of many a Soul Crooner to come: "They call me, Sleepy. And who might you be?" Sleepy was in fact Sleepy John Estes, the great Bluesman himself, who later told Melfi one of his sidemen said he looked, "Like a kernel of corn in a bowl of raisins." From that day on Frank frequented the Black joints of Western Tennessee & Mississippi. Frank gravitated to a small black club in Humboldt called "CD's." Establishing a rapport within the black community, the owner eventually took Frank under his wing, and introduced him to all the West Tennessee black clubs, scattered throughout the area. Frank says that, "musically, this was a new dawn for me." "I grew up listening to a lot of great performers, but nothing grabbed me like the Blues from this part of America. Touring juke joints, Frank was able to see and heard the likes of B.B. King, Jackie Wilson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Ruth Brown, Johnny Shines and many more, known and unknown alike.

UNFINISHED TALES

This came to be know as "The Chitlin' Circuit." "I didn't spend much time at home during this period, I was working long hours & learned how to schedule my collection route to be in certain sections of Mississippi or Tennessee when & where whoever was playing that night. I was always dressed, for the company, in sharkskin suits with a razor-cut haircut do, it was policy & being of a young impressionable age, I enjoyed the look I was sporting at the time. I remember I was at a fairly decent club somewhere on Highway 18 in Tennessee where Jackie Wilson was playing & people keep asking me where we were playing next. I was dress like Jackie with the sharkskin and all, them thinking I was part of the Show. A token white boy if you will." The next move for Melfi was to Memphis. Here he got to see & meet some of his earlier musical heros. "Many hours were spent at Vapors Club in south Memphis seeing Jerry Lee Lewis sing, prance,& transfix the Ladies at the afternoon so called "Tea Dance". If you stood in the doorway of the club at 4:45pm you'd literally be trampled underfoot by the women, madly rushing for their cars to get home before their Hubby's did.",Melfi recalls." Old Charlie, who was the owner of the place, always said he should have built a motel connected to the club so the ladies could dance from the floor to the bed with the "Man of the Moment."

Club Paradise was the next discovery. This was a brutal place for performers. B.B.King once said playing for white crowds was a snap compared to Club Paradise. Once you got on stage, you were commit to play for hours on end to a very eager & insistent crowd of mostly blacks than demanded the best & most of any act. " This was the first I ever witnessed door searches for weapons. That night was one of the most frightening & exhilarating times I can remember. I was there to see B.B.King and, once again, found myself to be the minority, but as soon as the music started, there was no Black, no White, no colors what so ever. There was only the unity of all with the music, a spiritual event to be sure. And that's before I ever tried drugs." In mid '69, Frank tried for the first time, marijuana. "It was the summer of '69, I was visiting my older sister, Ginger, in Miami when she introduced pot to me for the first. I didn't want my wife, Theresa, to know what I was doing, so when she asked why everyone was smoking the same cigarette, I lied like a dog. I told her it was some rare Turkish tobacco that was very hard to come by. She took the bait, I was in the clear, but at the same time, I didn't know what to expect so I didn't realize how high I was until after going to see the Everly Brothers at the Seven Seas Hotel in Miami. I should have had a clue because Theresa kept asking way I was only doing 45 mph on the interstate when the legal limit was then 75! Needless to say, I thought the Everly Brothers were the best thing since cream cheese. They were absolutely fantastic, as was I, being just a little over the top at the moment. After I got back to Memphis, I hadn't a clue where I could "score" some pot. It was just by luck, I ran into a old schoolmate of mine from Nashville, who was going to college in Memphis, and told him my plight. He said, by the end of the week, he & his roommates were expecting some Alaskan thundersomethingorother, and I was welcome to come by. The end of the week came, I went to the address he gave me, knocked on the door, and was greeted with skepticism & suspicion from his roomies. As I reflect on this, I understand their fears. Hippie college students getting high, fearful of anyone outside their circle, and all of a sudden here comes a guy, dressed in a snappy dark suit with short hair riding a Cruise-Air, which was a Sears version of the Vespa scooter, wearing RayBand sunglasses, asking if the "stuff" came in yet. What's not to fear! Luckily, my friend pulled up while I'm trying to convince these jokers I'm not the "Law" and settled the ruckus. After appropriate introductions were completed, I must say, without a doubt, I got hammered to the gills. I remember sitting in a older stuffed chair, while the guys lit incense, fire up the candles, put on King Crimson's " In the Court of the Crimson King" which I had never heard before, and passed the joint around. As I was trying to grasp just what the hell is going on, I slowly began to feel as if my fingers, that were gripping the soft arms of the chair, were growing like roots of a tree, into the chair itself. If that wasn't enough, my toes proceeded to root into the hardwood floor as well. The music, or pot, or most likely, the combo was carrying me to strange places I had never been before. Sensing my ensconcement was heading in a not to favorable position, these wonderful guys jump up & turned ALL the lights & candles out, grabbed the Hoover up-right vacuum cleaner w/lighted hood, and proceeded to chase me & each other all through the house, as far as the cord allowed. I'm sure this one act of mercy from these, Band of Gypsies, saved me from a fate worst than death, not to mention being forever planted in their living room as the "TreeMan" as I was later called. Now, I'm not condoning the use of drugs, pot, or any other mind-altering substances, I'm just relating the times as they were &, as Hunter S. Thompson once said, "They worked for Me." To say the least, it changed my life."

As Melfi climbed the financial latter, something kept calling him further away from the work he was doing. Being the company man, helping to find ways to relive the masses of their hard-earned money, either by late charges, interest rates, or some other new scheme devised by the "company", was no longer a option in his life. "Music opened new doors of thinking and had desensitized my Corporate attitude. I'm sure pot also played a role in this saga of life. We were young, had a cause. Tired of the mechanism, by which ideas, impulses, and all around freedom to enjoy life the way we wanted, we rebelled against the Repressor. Music made me more aware of the people around me. "That company had trained my young mind into doing things that, an Angel among Women, my Mother, had raised me not to do. The company taught me to treat people with indifference, to only think of ways to make money for them, not to care for anyone. I woke up one morning, knowing it was time for a change in life. As I pondered what to do, an earth-shattering thing happened. My sister, Ginger, 4 years my senior, who was the first to turn me on to Buddy Holley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, etc., not to mention got me high the first time, developed cancer. In less than a year, she was dead at age 30. To compound things even more, my other sister, Margaret, a fair and brilliant sweetheart of a gal, who taught me Chess, turned me on to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and faced more trials and tribulations, being a rheumatoid Arthritic from the age 4, suffering more than anyone I've ever known, died on the operating table during her 23rd operation, at the tender age of 27, barely a year after Ginger. These things shooked my whole belief of the "Big Picture" of life. What finally "baked my noodle" completely, my sweet Mother, who was a Saint of a woman, also developed cancer, and died of heart complications. After these 3 major losses in my life, looking back at their suffering, I decided I needed to take a hard look at the rest of my life. What I did next was not of a rational man. I bought a Harley, paid off all our bills, put money in the bank for my wife and child, said my painful goodbyes and took off for God only knew where.

I was headed West.

.............to be continued

FFrank Melfi raced out of the gate on May 11,1948, and continues to charge ahead with the advent of www.frankmelfi.com. Here is a small portion of his story:


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