Monday, April 25, 2016


Victoria Hallman

April 2016

     Back in 1975, a couple of brothers making fourteen dollars a night setting up chairs at a Birmingham supper club would never have dreamed they'd end up working with music legends like the Temptations, even if such a thing had crossed their minds, which it didn't. Until it happened.
     Years later, when it was right before my eyes, I still found it hard to believe. There I was, standing in the wings, grooving to the Temptations songs, and wasn't that my old friend Tommy Finley playing trumpet in the horn section, and earlier in the evening, didn't I hear Little Richard's manager asking Tommy's brother Donny for permission to take his famous client backstage? 

Donny Finley with the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards
     It all started when the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards found themselves in need of a tour manager. Dennis Edwards, Grammy-winning lead singer for the Temptations from 1968 to 1989, is from Fairfield, Alabama, hometown of the Finley twins, whose buddy John Taylor played trumpet with the Temptations Review. So when John heard Donny Finley was retiring from Bell South, he knew he'd found the tour
manager Dennis Edwards needed. If you're wondering how Donny's work history with the phone company translated to job experience for a tour manager, the fact is it didn't. No, the Finleys' story is one of following your bliss, and Tommy and Donny's  bliss was music.

Tommy Finley with the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards
     Which was how I met them. That club where they were moonlighting for fourteen dollars a night back in 1975 was the Bachelors' Sho-boat on Morris Avenue and I was the female vocalist with the Bachelors. As Tommy Finley tells it, one night he was having a beer at the Sho-boat, when Bill Robinson, the club's manager, asked him if he'd take fourteen dollars to lend a hand setting up chairs.
     Tommy says, "I figured if I was going to be there every night anyway, I might as well make some money."

The Bachelors featuring Vicki Hallman c.1972 (l-r) Bobby Daye, Al Rocco, Ray Rachels, Vicki, Vince Ceravolo
  Pretty soon, brother Donny was running the spotlight, and the twins had become an indispensable part of the Sho-boat crew, doing everything from collecting cover charge to shepherding me safely to and from work. But the Sho-boat wasn't the only nightclub the Finleys frequented. The two brothers spent equal time at the Canebreak and following local favorites like the Tikis from showroom to showroom, until they were as well-known on the Birmingham night-scene as the musicians they followed. Those were the "Glory Days" Springsteen sang about, but sometimes glory days don't pass you by, sometimes they become a glory road, and old friends go along for the ride.
     Like when the Finley twins invited me to Memphis for An Evening of Soul, Celebrating Peabo Bryson's 60th Birthday, presented by David Gest. Not familiar with David Gest? Well neither was I, but let me tell you, the man knew how to throw a party, which isn't surprising since he produced Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration: The Solo Years, said to be the highest-rated
Victoria Hallman and Percy Sledge at rehearsal for An Evening of Soul
television special in history, and if An Evening of Soul had been televised, it would have ranked right up there. I can't possibly list all the legends who appeared that night, so I'll just name a few of the Alabamians: Eddie Floyd (Montgomery); Candi Staton (Hanceville); Percy Sledge (Leighton); and of course, Dennis Edwards (Fairfield) and David Sea (Birmingham) of the Temptations Review.
     Needless to say I felt plenty comfortable, not only because I was with homefolks, but because I was warmly welcomed by everyone, including the host, David Gest, to whom Tommy Finley introduced me, adding, "Victoria used to be on Hee Haw."
     "Hee Haw?" Mr. Gest exclaimed, "I love Hee Haw! I even have Hee Haw overalls."
     Now if that didn't make me feel right at home, I don't know what would, because Hee Haw overalls were made by Liberty Trouser Company in Birmingham, and I'm betting that's an Alabama-Nashville connection you never made, even though it was right there on your TV screen every week for twenty-five years.
                                           RIP David Gest, May 11, 1953-April 12, 2016.
David Gest at An Evening of Soul