Partial to Home: On the Road with The Pre-Dawn Five

Birney imes

VSraddock Boyd is in a chatty mood this afternoon.

His friend Ray McIntyre brought a box of Popeyes chicken and they just finished lunch.

Outside, on this freezing Thursday, the temperature is plummeting. He should dive into the 20s overnight.

Purring gas heaters throughout the elevated South Second Street cottage keep the place warm and cozy. The house belonged to Boyd’s grandparents. He has lived here since childhood.

Boyd moved to town after contracting polio while entering sophomore in New Hope.

“It was just before the sugar cubes,” he said, referring to the vaccines given to each schoolboy.

After one of his many surgeries, he could only blink.

Another time, doctors told his parents that if their son stayed overnight, he would live.

“I cheated on them,” Boyd said.

For a short while he was able to move around on crutches. Boyd, 78, has been confined to a wheelchair since elementary school.

Hoping it would be a welcome distraction, her mother suggested piano lessons. It lasted about a year.

“I hated training,” Boyd said. “The kids were playing outside and I was practicing.”

The next time he was introduced to a musical instrument, it was his last year in high school. He wanted to play the music he heard on the radio. He bought a guitar.

Boyd’s first semester at Mississippi State as a history student didn’t go well. He transferred to East Mississippi Junior College in Scooba.

While at Scooba, his classmate Hudson Adams heard him play guitar and asked if he wanted to play bass in a band he was forming.

The unnamed group performed a few concerts in the neighboring Meridian.

Then, one morning at dawn, as the band drove to Columbus after a concert in Meridian, drummer Perry Barker had a flash of inspiration.

“I was thinking of The Dawn Breakers,” said Barker, a former piano tuner who owns a music store in Tupelo.

“Here is the sun,” Boyd recalls, telling Barker. “The Pre-Dawn Five is coming home.”

A group was born. The group included Boyd, Barker, Adams, Don Mosley, Clayton Gilliam and Gene Holmes.

The band picked up popular pop music at the time, from high school standards like “Ebb Tide”, “Misty” and “I Feel Good” by James Brown.

In the summer of 63 or 64, the group performed at the Gus Stevens Buccaneer Lounge, a popular Biloxi supper club. Boyd remembers the first part of Johnny Rivers.

Shortly after, Gene Holmes left for California where he became a studio musician. The group disbanded soon after.

Boyd’s days as a rocker seemed to be over. He focused on his studies and eventually accepted a job as a designer at Ceco Building Systems where he worked for 27 years.

In the mid-1960s, Mickey Guyton, lead singer of The Blades of Grass, persuaded Boyd to replace Dean Swartz during the bassist’s period of service in Vietnam. Boyd joined Guyton, Carl Edwards, Steve O’Callaghan and Reed Smith during Swartz’s absence.

In the early 1970s, Boyd received a phone call from Johnny Coleman who wanted to know if he could attend a concert that night. The two musicians liked each other, and Coleman asked Boyd to join him in a band he was forming, Podunk.

The group, made up of Coleman, Boyd, Art Christopher, Mahlon Vickery and Steve O’Callaghan, are said to be the house band of Southernaire, a honky tonk on what is now The Island.

The Aire, as it was commonly called, was renowned for its lively clientele. Fistfights on the dance floor or outside in the gravel parking lot were not uncommon.

“I was scared to death the first time we played Southernaire,” Boyd said.

This arrangement came to an abrupt end in 1975 when a newly elected sheriff established roadblocks on the Tombigbee River Bridge, Boyd said.

“We got the door (cover) and they (the club) got the beer sales,” he said. When they stopped coming, we couldn’t make any money.

Aside from a few damaged snapshots, Boyd has only one tangible relic from his days as a group.

Podunk trained on Monday evenings. Coleman, a biology professor at Columbus High, would bring a large reel tape recorder and a single mic to record and critique the band’s workouts.

Boyd made a CD of one of those sessions.

Every now and then, he grabs one of the remote controls that clutter his bed and presses “play” on the one that controls his CD player.

“I listen to it to bring old memories back to life,” he said.

As for all those long nights playing for teenagers in drab high school gyms, National Guard armories, and American Legion huts, Boyd has fond memories.

“Overall I loved it,” he said.

Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.

Birney Imes III is the outgoing editor of The Dispatch.

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