Tail of the Weak 2.52
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
The incessant knocking on the front door of the first home that I had ever purchased was beginning to piss me off. It was the first day of 1993; and, I'm sure I had been carousing the night before. I stumbled through the house that held many memories, once belonging to my old friend and next door neighbor growin' up on Doghill, James Cocke.
Opening the door, John Randall Smith and Billy Ray Herrin burst inside, John waving a cassette tape wildly around with a big grin on his face. “You have got to hear this right now!” Lookin' back, I'll have to say he was right.
John and I have played in various bands all around the country from 1976 all the way up to the present. We both share the same irreverent sense of humor and have witnessed some classic comedic moments throughout our friendship.
We are big fans of Andy and Barney's antics in black and white Mayberry; and, in many a late night or early morning motel room, we've laughed and we've cried watching Moe, Larry, and Curly—the best assemblage that the Three Stooges ever committed to film.
The comedy act, formed in the mid-1920s by Moses Harry Horwitz, better known as Moe Howard, and Ted Healy, was later joined by Moe's brother, Shemp (Samuel Horwitz), and Louis Feinberg (Larry Fine). In 1932, Shemp left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by he and Moe's younger brother, Jerome Lester Horwitz, the most-lovable Stooge, Curly.
Now, being the astute aficionado of comedy that I believe I am, it was no surprise to me that this combination of Stooges was able to produce over 90 short films while enjoying the peak of their popularity. Actually, all I knew was Curly made me laugh so hard, soitenly so much harder than did Shemp or, God help us, Curly Joe DeRita, the Stooge from the late 50s movies.
Growing up with movies and television in the 50s and 60s, we were rewarded by the zany film comedy of Jerry Lewis and the tremendous talents of Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton with their weekly TV shows.
On CBS, Sunday night's Candid Camera, hosted by Allen Funt and sidekick Durward Kirby, was a step outside scripted humor and into the realm of the practical joke—which brings me to the reason for this story.
Long before television, there was the telephone. And where there was a phone, there was certainly somebody on one end of the line willing to make someone on the other end the butt of a calculated practical joke. Thus, the origins of the prank caller.
We all practiced the prank call as kids. “Hey, do you happen to have Prince Albert in the can?” “Yep, we do.” “Well, you better let him out.” Silly little kid stuff. As we grew older, we got a little braver—until we learned our lesson. My older brother, Gary, a comedy lover with a memory like an elephant, reminded me the other day of one such prank call performed by our cousin, Larry Wildes, in which he dialed the operator.
Operator: “Operator, may I help you please?”
Cousin Larry: “Hey, honey.”
Operator: “Who is this?!!”
Then, brrrriiiiing...brrrrriiiiing...brrrrriiiiing! Cousin Larry hesitantly picked up, “Uh, hello? Yes, ma'am...yes, ma'am...yes, ma'am.” It weren't too funny at the time; but, 53 years later, I chuckle out loud at the thought of Cousin Larry's swift admonishment.
As the art of the prank phone call advanced in the decades that followed, you might have heard about the Jerky Boys—or Jim Florentine of the Crank Yankers—or Roy D. Mercer, a character cooked up by a couple of radio disc jockeys out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jerry Lewis even had a penchant for pranking, recording a staggering 50 years worth of calls.
The best of the best, though, was John Bean, born in 1951 and diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19. After a heavy round of radiation treatments, his health improved over the next ten years. Around 1980, the sickness returned. The doctors gave Bean only weeks to live; but, he outlasted that diagnosis by living four more years.
Stuck at home, bored and unable to walk, John Bean started making prank calls and taping them. He would take on a variety of aliases, including Roy Mullins, Leroy Mercer, or Bill Morgan from just this side o' Maynardsville. His sister, Betty, said that, often while making his prank calls, he would have a stopwatch running just to see how long it would take him to make whoever he was talking to cuss.
John Bean passed away August 18, 1984 at the age of 33 due to respiratory failure brought on by resurgent cancer. He is legendary for his comedy because it was totally unscripted and as real as it gets. He has legions of fans around the world, among them Jeff Foxworthy, who claims Bean's tape was a big influence on him.
That tape has been recorded and re-recorded over the years, making its way into the hands and hearts of comedy lovers everywhere. It was especially well-received in the musical and law enforcement communities. That original cassette tape with the three titles—“Eddie's Auto”, “C and C”, and “Thom McAn's”—is the Holy Trinity of Prank Phone Calls.
Thanks to John Randall Smith and Billy Ray Herrin spreading the joy on New Year's Day, January 1, 1993, John Bean still lives on. Happy New Year, by God!
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Dills, T. (February 10, 2009) The Real John Bean. Retrieved from http://www.overdriveonline.com
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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