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Posts Tagged ‘Terry Funk’

Monday night Memphis wrestling memories featuring Jerry Lawler, Terry Funk, Eddie Gilbert, Austin Idol…and Elvis Presley?

March 12th, 2012 No comments

Eighteen years ago, I was a skinny college senior finishing my BA in journalism at the newly christened The University of Memphis. (It was years before I stopped saying, “Memphis State,” when asked about my alma mater. Even then, I felt silly saying the new, apparently more prestigious name.)

This photo appeared in the U of M yearbook. I love the caption: Scott Bowden, journalism senior, prepares to make a ruling. Then it quotes me mentioning how getting hit with chairs is an inherent risk of the job.

In addition to a full class load (desperately trying to cram in all those math courses I’d put off for 4-plus years) and my part-time jobs as a writer for the Memphis State University  The University of Memphis (Alumni) Magazine during the week as well as a tug driver/plane loader for FedEx on weekend afternoons, I was a working as a referee for Saturday morning rasslin’ and at the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday nights.

Of course, I had to pass an accelerated course in Referring 101 by Jerry Lawler backstage after the promotion had fired Jerry Calhoun in spring 1991.

While it may seem odd that journalism led to my brief but exhilarating run in the business, in a way it made perfect sense as I was a voracious reader of not only comics books, but also sci-fi novels and any books on larger-than-life subjects such as the Loch Ness Monster, Alcatraz and the Bermuda Triangle as well as the newsstand wrestling magazines (a.k.a., the Apter mags) since I was about 7 years old.


I considered myself lucky to be in the right place at the right time to live my dream of appearing alongside the same heroes and heels I’d cheered and jeered as a kid, not to mention the voices of Memphis wrestling, Lance Russell and Dave Brown, who helped guide me through my initial interviews when I eventually turned heel. (And trust me, it wasn’t always easy being a heel in your hometown, especially when you’re feuding with Jerry Lawler.) OK, so one promo with Brown turned ugly….

But my heel turn was still months away on Saturday morning, March 5, 1994. On this day, the live Memphis TV show was geared toward promoting a reunion show with not only the regular crew but also special appearances by legends Sputnik Monroe, Don & Al Greene, and Jackie Fargo as well as the return of classic in-ring performers from the territory’s heyday, such as Terry Funk and Austin Idol.

Handsome” Jimmy Valiant had come in early for the show, and just as Dave Brown described him years later, he was subdued before exploding through the curtain to hype the biggest card in Mempho in years. One of the fondest memories of my peek behind the curtain of the business: Lawler and Eddie Gilbert standing side by side at the backstage monitor (where most of the comedy happened), laughing hysterically as quiet “Handsome” Jimmy morphed into his boisterous, lovable Mempho persona on camera. It was a special moment–one that felt like the old days when I was a young fan watching at home yet somehow privy to this backstage experience.

At that point, the promotion was still hoping Jimmy Hart would make a cameo Monday night. Although it was not to be (scheduling conflicts, though Hart tried to the bitter end to make the show), the Mouth of the South quickly arranged a song saluting the Monday night mayhem that made him–and countless others–a damn good living in the age before cable TV. (Let’s face it: It’s not easy to come up with a lyric following “Tojo Yamamoto.”) I realize this likely comes off cheesy to those who never had the Memphis experience. To me, though, I nearly get teary-eyed every time I see it. Truly came off like a love letter from Hart to, ironically, the people who hated him for years. (I recall the spot in the following video when Tommy Rich punches Gypsy Joe and covers him: Lawler and Gilbert almost simultaneously bellowed, “Back then, that was a finish!”)

The nostalgia paid off-literally. Instead of the 2,500 regulars, more than 8,000 fans (paying more than $32,000) showed up, which was was reflected in my paycheck. (I made $75 instead of $50.)

Still, it wasn’t about the money. I’d practically begged to work the show, as I was anxious to meet Funk, one of my favorite performers. I confided in Eddie Gilbert (my first mistake, as Hot Stuff was a great ribber) that Funk and I had a mutual friend in actor Red West.

West was Elvis Presley’s former bodyguard and best friend, who’d forged a successful career as a character actor, including an appearance with Funk in the classic (ahem) Patrick Swayze vehicle ROAD HOUSE. West, a former member of Presley’s Memphis Mafia, had turned part of his home into a makeshift actors’ studio, located near my hometown of (ahem) Germantown, Tenn.

I had been a student at the Red West Actors Studio for a few months, adding to my busy schedule.

I later learned that Eddie had informed Terry that a nervous rookie ref would be approaching him, using the West connection as a way to break the ice. As I hesitantly approached Funk in the dressing room, his eyes widened before he said, “Who the hell are you?” I quietly introduced myself as the ref and quickly offered up Red West’s name. He looked at me incredulously, slowing saying, “I don’t know any Fred West.” I looked at the ground, shuffling my feet, before speaking up, “Um, no sir. I said, “Red West.” Funk’s reply: “I already told you: I’don’t know any Fred West!” Needless to say, I was scared shitless. I looked over at Eddie, who began shaking his head and waving me off. Undaunted, I pressed ahead, a little louder this time: “No, sir! RED West!” Funk stared me right in the eyes before he cracked. He began laughing, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Oh, Red West! I know that guy! He’s a helluva guy!” We then talked for a bit about Red, as I noticed Eddie with a broad smile on his mug. Clearly, I’d been set up.


Following the six-man tag introductions, I made my rounds to all the participants inspecting their boots and tights for foreign objects. Growing up in the kayfabe era, I’d seen refs perform the frisks to add to the realism, but given this was 1994—with six wrestlers in the ring, no less—I probably should have let it go. By the time I got to Idol, the boys had been standing in the ring for about two minutes. In that classic throaty delivery, Idol says to me, “Mr. Referreeee…have we rung the bell yet?” I mumble, “Um…no, not yet.” Idol glared down at me checking his boots, saying, “Well…why don’t we ring it then?”

Oh. Right. Yessir!

To give you an idea of just how highly Idol’s work is still regarded today, the Rock never saw much footage of the Universal Heartthrob until the late ’90s—Dwayne Johnson reportedly was blown away at just how brilliant Idol’s promos were.

Later that evening, Tommy Rich piledrove me in the ring, signaling the end of the six-man tag involving Funk.

Even though I was supposedly knocked out from the piledriver, selling it like the Kennedy assassination, Funk picked up my lifeless body by the hair, screaming, “C’mere, you sonuvabitch!” The former NWA World champ punched me before putting the boots to me. Then Rich scooped up my prone body and gave me my second piledriver. Brutalized by two ex-NWA champs in the same match–dream come true, really.

Monday night memories to last a lifetime.

Former NWA World champions Harley Race, Terry Funk, Ric Flair and the NFL bounty controversy

March 7th, 2012 No comments

The hunted becomes the hunter: Jerry Lawler convinces Ric Flair to turn the other cheek.

In news as shocking as 20/20′s stinging, ear-ringingexpose” on professional wrestling in 1985, reports surfaced earlier this week regarding the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints’ policy of aggressively hitting vulnerable quarterbacks and wide receivers, knocking them out of the game (and possibly the season…or perhaps the remainder of their career) in exchange for under-the-table cash payments in the hundreds and/or thousands. To millionaires. (Anyone who thinks this is anything new in the sport should watch any game involving the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers from the ’70s. Just ask Lynn Swann, who now sips steak dinners through a straw.)

Bounties, of course, have been a staple of professional wrestling since the ’70s and ’80s–even among the kingpins of the sport. Seven-time (eventual 8-time) NWA World champion Harley Race makes his stance perfectly clear on the issue in an effort to avoid facing former champion Ric Flair at Starrcade ’83 in a rematch for the vaunted 10 pounds of gold. (I can only hope former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams carried himself with the same subtlety and class when he barked, “Somebody take the damn money!”)

I mean, really, why should we hold Super Bowl champions to a higher standard than NWA kingpins of the ’80s era? (Rhetorical.) Former NWA World titlist Terry Funk had a bounty on Lawler in the late ’80s, long after their first encounter for the NWA strap in 1976. And when Ric Flair found out the hard way that the Lawler was not just a pauper in a long line of pretenders to the NWA throne, the Nature Boy unabashedly wrote a $10,000 check to Jimmy Hart, brazenly offering in front of live TV cameras “to bring him a piece of Jerry Lawler” and knock him out of contention. Where was NWA president Bob Geigel then? (Most likely making low payoffs to the boys in Kansas City.)

Ah, well. Let the boys be boys, I say. (And yes, for the record, I’m a Steelers fan, so I can vouch for James Harrison when he says every hit he’s made in the last two years have been perfectly legal. Absolutely perfect. OK, except maybe this one.)

A nose by any other name: Hit-maker, body-breaker Terry Funk records a Jimmy Hart ‘classic’

October 26th, 2011 4 comments

The Gentrys formed in Memphis in 1963 as a seven-man band, including one skinny kid who would go on to become the Mouth of the South: the city’s own Jimmy Hart. While the Gentrys’ debut album, “Keep On Dancing,” barely made the Top 100, the title cut climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard charts.

The group originally featured Larry Raspberry as their lead singer, with early keyboardist Rick Allen later joining The Box Tops. Riding their small wave of fame, the Gentrys opened for such bands as the Beach Boys, The Shangri-Las and Sonny and Cher. (I’m unable to confirm if Sonny inspired Hart to grow a mustache.).

The Gentrys disbanded in 1966; however, Hart reformed the band in 1969. With Hart now on lead vocals, the Gentrys recorded an album for the legendary Memphis-based Sun label, which also released early recordings of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. The Sun album, a turn-of-the-decade, hard-rock record, generated another three Top-100 hits. (For more on Hart’s transformation to pop star to rasslin’ baddie, click here.)

Hart’s greatest lyrical work, however, might have been a 1983 tune that was a touching tribute to a an old flame who was perfect…except for one flaw (well, three, if you include Librace’s smile and Herschel Walker’s thighs): She had Lance Russell’s nose. Appearing on the album Outrageous Conduct, the singles “Lance Russell’s Nose” (an Al Yankovic-type parody of “Bette Davis Eyes”) and “We Hate School” actually received a lot of airplay on local Memphis stations FM 100 and Rock 103, as Memphis wrestling was one of the city’s hottest commodities at the time. (And yes, that is WWE Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware, “Nightmare” Danny Davis and Ali Hassan serving as Hart’s band–the original rock ‘n’ rasslin’ connection.)

In his excellent bio, Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore, the Funker wrote that he was he so over in Japan in 1983 that he was signed to record an album. He admits that because he didn’t want to pay for the rights to cover well-known songs, he simply called in a favor to Hart, who had managed the former NWA World champion in his Memphis appearances against Jerry Lawler.

In his book, Funk writes: The record I made in 1983…contains some of the most godawful singing you’ve ever heard. Jimmy Hart wrote the songs for me because I was too cheap. All the songs on the album had one thing in common–they all sucked. One of them was called “I Hate School.” Can you imagine? Who in the hell would think it would be a good idea to have a 35-year-old man singing, “I hate school!”

Because I was familiar with the original, I howled when I read that, trying to imagine Funk’s voice singing those goofy lyrics, which somehow Jimmy Hart got away with because he was pretty much playing an immature brat on Memphis TV. I often wondered if Funk had recorded a version of “Lance Russell’s Nose” and what the Japanese fans thought of it. Turns out that Funk did indeed record a version of the song..with the lyrics altered to feature a female celebrity singing sensation.

 

The audio from the album, Great Texan, recently popped up on YouTube, and all I can say is…it’s like having your ears wrapped in barbed wire and dynamite. Pretty damn funny hearing Funk confess his love in song to a woman with Librace’s smile and the thighs of the former Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Georgia. (Dime a dozen in West Hollywood, or so I have read.) Sadly, while “I Hate School” is also posted below, Funk’s off-the-cuff rendition of “Lucy’s Got a Pussy Like a Javelina Hog” has yet to resurface–sort of an ’80s-era “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”