Wednesday, February 19, 2014 12:02 AM
Book describes 'Wilson's Band of Brothers'
John Harris tells story of Sherlocke
By Lisa Boykin Batts | Times Life Editor
It took John Harris several years to gather his information with lots of emails and a fair amount of nagging.
In order to tell the story of the band Sherlocke he needed his band mates to tell what they remembered about their early gigs, the clothing they wore, the instruments they played and a mid-1960s Ford Econoline van they named Black Jack.
But it all came together, and now there’s a 291-page book, "Sherlock: Wilson’s Band of Brothers,” that chronicles the wild musical ride of a group of Wilson teenagers who first started playing together in the 1960s.
Harris, corporate director of special projects for Capitol Broadcasting/ WRAL-TV, did the newsletters for the band back in the day.
"I kind of felt like this was my responsibility to tell the story,” he said.
The book was a way to put a history of the band on the record and to fill in the blanks for family members who might not have known what was going on.
He also knew the tale of the band was a good story.
"I’m a writer by trade,” Harris said. "I felt like I’d been sitting on a good story for a long time.”
So he wrote the book and tells the story about a group of young men who did more than make music.
"They ended up being my best friends,” he said, "and we made a lot of music and had fun doing it.”
A little history
Harris said The Beatles were responsible for many local teen bands soon after their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show” 50 years ago. One of those combos was The Inspirations, started by Duran Broadhurst and Johnny Hackney when they were in eighth grade in 1966; Doug Boone and Keith Hamm joined soon after. Harris came on board with his tenor sax, in the middle of ninth grade.
The Inspirations played at parties, for the grand opening of the John Hackney Agency insurance office, at the Junior Teen Club at the Rec Center and at Stunt Night when the band members made it to Fike High School.
The first evolution of the band came in 1970 when The Inspirations joined with Soul Dimension to create the integrated group Southern Soul, which won the local Battle of the Bands competition.
That band became a symbol of diversity in a time when schools were integrating and played at Fike’s Stunt Night and Darden High School for its annual talent show.
Southern Soul received an offer from a booking agency wanting to represent the band. It was a big step for these young men, who were high school students during the week and paid musicians on the weekend.
"Playing for money on a regular basis was a pleasurable new experience,” Harris wrote.
The next change with the band was when the members graduated from Fike and headed to college. Southern Soul had run its course, and the next band name was Sherlocke. Harris came up with the name while reading Sherlock Holmes mysteries. They added an "e” to avoid sounding like a British band.
Over the next few years, new band members were added, including Steven Leder as lead singer and later his brother Sheldon on keyboard.
Sherlocke played some top 40 hits, but the band mostly played music they liked. At a Sherlocke performance you might hear anything from "God Bless the Child” by Blood, Sweet & Tears to Paul McCartney’s "Maybe I’m Amazed.” Harris said the hardest song they ever learned was "Your Move/ I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes.
Sherlocke stayed busy, and played 100 gigs in 1974, but in 1976, most of the band members were graduating from college, and it was time to move on. They held their farewell gig at the Rec Center.
They ended the set with "Stairway to Heaven.”
Sherlocke didn’t play again for 13 years but has played some off and on since, including class reunions and the Whirligig Festival.
Current band members are Johnny Hackney, guitar and vocals; Duran Broadhurst, drums; Keith Hamm, bass; Steven Leder, vocals; Doug Boone, keyboard and vocals; and John Harris, saxophone and vocals.
Time to tell the story
Harris knew it was time to get moving on the book when Sheldon Leder died in 2003. It was a major blow to Sherlocke members, who are all close friends.
Leder’s death stole the innocence from the band, he said.
"We didn’t want to think about what life would be like when one of us was not around anymore.”
It also made Harris realize he didn’t have time to waste. He needed to write the book.
Gathering information had its pitfalls. For one, more than 40 years had passed since the band first played, and it was hard to nail down specifics of a story.
Some of the guys had better memories than others, Harris said.
They relied on collective memory as well.
Harris said they gathered information for the book like they approached music: "We did it as a group.”
One fact would spark something else among the others, and they’d reach a consensus on how something happened.
"They were very good, very helpful in doing this,” Harris said. "After a lot of discussion with the guys, I think we got it pretty accurately.”
But it was hard writing part time with a busy life working for WRAL and living in Wilson.
In 2010, Harris took early retirement and moved to Wisconsin with his wife, Janet, to manage a small ABC television station. They were very isolated, and the winters were harsh.
"I had a lot of time I had not had prior to that,” he said.
He wrote most of the book in the two years they were in Wisconsin and finished it last year. When he was finished, he sent it to co-worker Bill Leslie who proofed it and sent it back for suggestions. By this time, Harris was back at WRAL.
Sharing favorite stories
One of the appeals of "Sherlock: Wilson’s Band of Brothers” is the many stories and adventures Harris shares, including how they each got nicknames.
A classic band story involves the purchase of double-breasted jackets from Beau Rabil department store for the 1969 Stunt Night at Fike.
"It wasn’t so much the outdated style, or the shiny, canvas-like material, or the baggy, ill-fitting cut; it was the color that set these jackets apart,” Harris wrote. "Green. Phosphorescent green. Green that puts Shrek to shame. Green that could not possibly be reproduced today under existing EPA standards.
"To this day, we’re not sure what possessed us to plunk down $11 each and walk out of Beau Rabil’s with a jacket that ugly, but we did, and we wore them on stage that year at Stunt Night. We have a picture from the Fike yearbook to prove it.”
Another favorite "band legend,” as Harris calls it in the book, involves one of the band’s first bookings. The boys, who were around 13 at the time, were hired to play at a birthday party. As the story goes, they were paid with all the ice cream and cake they could eat.
"More than four decades later we still use the phrase ‘ice cream and cake’ to describe a low-paying or no-paying gig, so there may have been some truth to the tale.”
No super stars
Harris has received positive feedback about his book, so has band mate Johnny Hackney, who said he’s also gotten a little bit of ribbing.
Hackney said it was odd to read through the book and know the story but not know how Harris would put it all together.
He enjoyed reading the book and remembering all the things they did as a band — the places, the people and the events.
"That was the most interesting thing to me,” he said.
The band members have stayed good friends over the decades. Both Harris and Hackney said their similar interest in music turned into great friendships.
"Music was always the thread that kept us together,” Harris said.
He said they cared very much about music and what they could accomplish together.
"We were overachievers as a band. The sum was greater than the parts.”
There was no absolute super star in the band.
"We were all pretty much equals and made our contributions to the band,” Harris said. "The band was the star.”
Music continues to be very important to Harris.
"It’s what I turn to away from work and all the other things we face in life,” he said. "Music is always there, it’s a way to express yourself.
"And with Sherlocke, it was a way to make music together, which is one of the best things you can experience in life — to make music with other people.”
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