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BARRY LEVINE: Georgia rockers deserve recognition for achievements

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column about Harry James, an iconic Big Band Era leader who was born in Albany in 1916.

A superb trumpeter, James enjoyed an outstanding career, collecting 54 Top 40 hits, 29 Top 10 hits, six of which reached the top of the charts.

During the 1940s and early 1950s, James was riding the top of the music world.

Yet his musical acumen never has been recognized by the city of his birth.

James is not the only musician or singer from Southwest Georgia who has not received his just due.

Born in Clarksdale, Ga., in 1939, Ray Stevens spent many of his teen years in Albany and, in fact, went to high school here.

Stevens arguably is the most successful singer of novelty songs in rock ’n’ roll history.

Among his 11 Top 40 hits, Stevens had two No. 1 smashes – “Everything is Beautiful” in 1970 and “The Streak” in 1974. He also had two other hits that made the Top 10 – “Ahab, the Arab” that peaked at No. 5 in 1962 and “Gitarzan” that reached No. 8. in 1969.

Stevens was a regular on The Andy Williams Show during the 1969–1970 season. He then hosted Williams’ replacement summer show, The Ray Stevens Show, in 1970.

Stevens has had 11 Grammy nominations and won twice, one for “Everything Is Beautiful” and one for the arrangement of his country and western version of the jazz standard “Misty” in 1975. Stevens was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, both in 1980.

Despite his musical accomplishments, Stevens never has been acknowledged for his accomplishments by the City of Albany.

Born in Dawson in 1941, Otis Redding developed into a major soul and R&B performer.

After appearing at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Redding wrote the iconic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with Steve Cropper. Called by Rolling Stone magazine one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time, Cropper was a member of Booker T. and the M.G.’s as well as the Blues Brothers Band.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous No. 1 record on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. Redding died in an airplane crash in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 19, 1967, at age 26.

Redding received many posthumous accolades, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1988, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994.

In addition to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “Respect” and “Try a Little Tenderness” are among his best known songs.

Five of Redding’s albums were ranked by Rolling Stone on its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

Redding and his family left Dawson and moved to Macon when he was 3 years old.

In 2002, the city of Macon honored Redding by unveiling a memorial statue in the city’s Gateway Park. The park is next to the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge. The Otis Redding Memorial Library is also housed in the city.

Yet Dawson, the city of his birth, has done nothing.

While Lee County has been fortunate to have Luke Bryan and Phillip Phillips gain stardom on the national stage — Bryan, 37, as one of the hottest country singers and Phillips, 23, as the 2012 American Idol winner — they are not the first from the sector to earn musical fame.

Born in 1929 in Leesburg, Roy Hamilton was a superb R&B singer who charted three songs — “Unchained Melody” which rose to No. 6 in 1955, “Don’t Let Go” which climbed to No. 13 in 1958 and “You Can Have Her” which topped at No. 12 in 1961.

When he was 14, Hamilton and his family departed Leesburg and moved to Jersey City, N.J., where he launched his music career.

His first national song was Rogers & Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in 1954. He followed with “Ebb Tide” later that year before hitting with “Unchained Melody.”

Hamilton died of a stroke in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1969.

Most people don’t realize Hamilton came from Leesburg.

Dave Prater of Sam and Dave fame was born in Ocilla in 1937. The duo enjoyed their best success in the late 1960s when “Help Out I’m A Comin’ ” hit the charts at No. 21. They had their biggest hit the following year when “Soul Man” reached No. 2. The song surfaced again in 1980 in the “Blues Brothers” movie starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. “Soul Man” was used as the title and title track in the 1986 movie featuring C. Thomas Howell.

They had their final chart hit in 1968 when “I Thank You” rose to No. 9.

Prater was kiilled in an auto accident on April 9, 1988, when returning to Ocilla to visit his mother.

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

Buster Brown was born in Cordele in 1911 and played local clubs in Georgia and Florida before moving to New York in 1956.

In 1959, Brown recorded the rustic blues, “Fannie Mae”, which featured Brown’s harmonica playing and whoops. It went to No. 38 in the Top 40 charts and to No.1 on the R&B chart. His remake of Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” reached No. 81 on the pop charts in 1960. “Sugar Babe” was his only other hit, in 1962, reaching No. 19 on the R&B chart and 99 on the pop chart.

He died in 1976 in New York.

While Albany has done an excellent job remembering Ray Charles, it has not done enough for James and Stevens. Dawson should have remembered Redding. … Lee County should honor Hamilton. … Ocilla should recognize Prater. … Cordele should do something in Brown’s memory.

These performers have brought honor to the area and need to be recalled by their cities.

Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.