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Segregation, Integration, and the Sounds

of Soul with John C...

Sat, 05/25 11:45AM 29:09


florida, people, book, music, black, tampa, records, soul, project, george, story, otis redding, call,
gorgeous, chubby checker, ray charles, chart, performing, song, singular focus


Damian Radcliffe, John Capouya

D Damian Radcliffe 00:03

Hello, and welcome to the Demystifying Media podcast. I'm Damian Radcliffe. And today
I'm joined by John Capouya, a journalist professor at the University of Tampa, and a
former editor of publications such as the New York Times, Newsday and Newsweek. John
is the author of Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band and
Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Invented Pop Culture. I'm
delighted he's able to join us today. Welcome, John.

J John Capouya 00:27

Hi, thanks. Good to be here.

D Damian Radcliffe 00:28

So thank you so much for joining us. I'd love to just start by talking a little bit about your
new book, or relatively new book Florida Soul. Could you just describe to the listeners
what the book is about?

J John Capouya 00:39

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Sure. Well, you know, it's not new to me since this has been like a six-year labor of love
working on this project, but it is basically it is a history of soul music in the state of Florida,
which I feel has been sort of an overlooked capital of soul music in this country.

J John Capouya 00:56

And the way I make the case is a series of profiles arranged chronologically, starting with
Ray Charles in the mid 1940s, when he was first became a professional musician in Florida,
and working up through other artists such as Sam and Dave. And lastly, ending with KC
and the sunshine band in the late 70s. So in the aggregate, I'm trying to make the case
with all of these singers, musicians and producers' work that Florida is a major soul music

D Damian Radcliffe 01:28

And that might come as a surprise to some people. It's not the first part of the states that
many people think of when we start talking about soul music.

J John Capouya 01:35

No, not at all. I think people rightly think about Motown and Detroit...Memphis because of
Stax Records, High records, Sun Records...and of course, New Orleans is a great soul
music, a rhythm and blues capital also. But I don't think Florida was on anybody's radar,
including mine, until I moved down there from New York, sometime ago to start teaching
at the University of Tampa. And I began to realize, piece by piece, it came to my attention
that people I admired and grew up listening to, starting with Ray Charles, had roots in
Florida. And even if, for example, Sam and Dave became most famous when they
recorded for Stax Records in Memphis, but they met in Florida, they formed their duo in
Florida, they got their musical training in Florida. So they had Florida roots as well. So that
happened a series of times. And it finally dawned on me that there was something going
on there.

D Damian Radcliffe 01:37

Right. And this is almost like a forgotten history then that you're kind of unpacking in this
book that people had forgotten about the Florida influence. Is that also the case in

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J John Capouya 02:44
Absolutely. Yeah, I think it's a completely overlooked cultural legacy that no one's
claiming. Part of it is, you know, Florida is not a city that's so self-contained, like Memphis,
it's a big state, it's quite long. And people in Pensacola, for example, in the panhandle
don't necessarily have much in common with people in Miami. And so they don't think of
themselves, I don't think, so much as Floridians as they do people who live in the
panhandle, or people who live in Miami. So I think that's one reason why the legacy really
never cohered. And people really never understood it.

D Damian Radcliffe 03:24

And have you had therefore, a positive response to this story in your new home state as a
result of unpacking it and telling it?

J John Capouya 03:31

Yeah, the response has been good. I mean, I think at best I've given Florida, something to
be proud of. For example, the Florida Humanities Council seems very interested. And you
know, I'm doing a lot of speaking engagements, including at some of the historically black
colleges and universities there. And so I think people will seem to appreciate that I'm kind
of naming and claiming their heritage for them, even though I'm a Yankee.

D Damian Radcliffe 03:58

They don't hold that against you.

J John Capouya 04:00

Not right now.

D Damian Radcliffe 04:03

And given that this was a recent discoveries, like a sort of hidden history, something that
seems to have been forgotten by many people. Did that make it challenging to find these
stories in terms of identifying sources, the kinds of records like physical, rather than kind of
vinyl that might be available to help tell that story and track down sources?

J John Capouya 04:25

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It was quite difficult. And by contrast, for example, my previous book, which is you
mentioned, a biography of Gorgeous George, everything I read, and everyone I spoke to
was about him. And so it was not an easy task since he died in 1963 and I couldn't speak
to him and many of his contemporaries were gone also. But, you know, there was a linear,
singular focus to that research. But in this case, for example, to just use the two cities I
mentioned before, what happened in soul music and Pensacola in the 1950s has nothing
to do with what happened in Miami and sold music in the 1960s. The same people aren't
involved. And it's completely different. So each one of these things was its own research
project, so that it was kind of a multiplier, compared to something that has a more
singular focus.

D Damian Radcliffe 05:17

So given that complexity, how did you approach building this book? Did it always start as
a book? Or was it just something small to start with?

J John Capouya 05:27

I actually started with the story that when I first came to Tampa I started hearing this
urban legend, that the song and the dance The Twist, which was a huge--probably the
biggest song and dance craze of my lifetime in the early 1960s. That they originated in
Tampa. So on the fiftieth anniversary of Chubby Checker's Twist hitting number one on
the pop chart, I did an investigation of the urban legend for our local newspaper, the
Tampa Bay Times. And what I found was that Hank Ballard, who wrote the song, "The
Twist," was in Tampa, and apparently saw some teenagers on Central Avenue, which was
the heart of the black neighborhood in Tampa, doing this crazy little dance. And he asked
them what they were doing and they said, well, we made this up, but we call it The Twist.

J John Capouya 05:27

So he then went to Miami, and recorded it for a producer there named Henry Stone, but
then as it turns out, he had no business recording it for Henry Stone because he was under
contract to King Records in Cincinnati. So he then cut it for King Records became a minor
hit on the rhythm and blues chart but didn't cross over into the pop or mainstream or Hot
100 chart. And then Dick Clark, who had the TV show American Bandstand,
commissioned Chubby Checker, his protege, to cover it and put Chubby Checker on
American Bandstand. And the whole thing blew up into an international dance craze.

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J John Capouya 06:54
President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy were doing The Twist in the White House, people
were Twisting in the Soviet Union. I mean, it was a pretty amazing thing. So I concluded
that The Twist actually did come from Tampa, and I found people who attested to that. So
just soon thereafter, I had [coincidentally] run into an editor at the University Press of
Florida. She had seen the piece and she asked me if I had considered turning it into a
history of soul music in Florida. I had, but I told her I hadn't, because I think it's better
when editors think it's their idea. So I...but I was agreeable. And that's the genesis of the
book project.

D Damian Radcliffe 07:34

And when you kind of said yes to this, to the publisher and the editor, as a conceptual
idea, did you have any understanding of real understanding of how complex it would be
and how time consuming a project?

J John Capouya 07:50

I think I did actually, because I had to do quite a bit of preliminary research to submit a
proposal that convinced them. So I had to lay out what each chapter would conatain. I
was also looking for geographical distribution. I didn't want everything to come from
Miami, which Miami sort of the center of music there, like everything else in Florida. I
wanted female and male protagonists and my stories, so it was pretty clear to me even in
the proposal stage, like the scope, you know, of the project.

D Damian Radcliffe 08:25

What was your kind of methodology for exploring those different cities, and also, the
different decades that you cover in in the book? Did you do it sequentially, or out of
sequence? I'm really curious about just the methodology of putting together a book of this

J John Capouya 08:43

Well, I had like a detailed plan to carry this out, which immediately fell apart as plans
often do.

D Damian Radcliffe 08:52

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They always do...

J John Capouya 08:54

I basically lurched from one to the other and, for example, at each stop, I would find out
something from a source who I knew was important to Florida soul music, tell me
something that I had no idea about, that then sent me off into another direction. The
positive aspect of that is, once I sat down with people, and I tried to do as many
interviews as possible in person, then they would vouch for me with the next person. And
often they would just call them up when I was sitting there with them and say, Hey, this
professor wants to do a book, and he seems like he's for real and knows what he's talking
about, you know, so here, here, you talk to him, and then they would set up the next
appointment for me. So that really helped out because these people didn't know me from

J John Capouya 09:39

It also...some of them were not that easy to find. But their peers, their friends had their
contact information, but you know, just looking online, and looking in public records and
looking at published articles, you know, it was not easy to find these people. Some of
whom...they'll lead kind of chaotic lives, and they're getting older--some of them were in
you know, medical facilities, and you it was very hard to find them.

D Damian Radcliffe 10:01

And I guess also, a lot of these people who have moved, so they're not necessarily in
Florida now. They'll have been known by stage names, rather than real names and trying
to unpack that it is a challenge. And then you also talked a bit about the sad and rather
tragic case, I think of Linda Lyndell, and the challenge of getting her to talk...I mean, you
want to say a little bit about her history, because I think it's a really interesting...

J John Capouya 10:29

Sure, thank you. I think it's, it's one of the best stories in the book, but it is by no means a
happy one. She was a unicorn as we say, these days, in that she was a white soul singer on
the black Chitlin' Circuit which was, in the days of segregation, the series or sequence of
venues in the south where black entertainers perform for black audiences. And but she
grew up singing in the black church and she sang soul music, and was very good. So she
actually found a place in the black Chitlin' Circut and had some success, and so much so
that she was invited to come and record at Stax Records in Memphis, which is the home of

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Otis Redding and Sammy Davis--sort of the soul--she described it as the promised land.

J John Capouya 11:15

And she said when she realized she was going to record in the same studio that Otis
Redding recorded that it was like she went to heaven. And she did a song called "What a
Man," which has this very catchy refrain, "what a man, what a man, what a mighty good
man." And it was a minor hit on the rhythm & blues charts, but it came out right at the
time, when Dr. King was assassinated, and race relations got very inflamed and very
volatile in the south, including in Memphis. And she started to get threats. When people
found out the person who sang that song was white she got threats from white racists who
didn't want her hanging around with black people and singing a black music. And she also
got threats from black people who didn't want her integrating their music and their studio.
And she was very shaken by this.

J John Capouya 12:04

And she actually basically ran away to California and pretty much retired from the music
business. So she was still kind of skittish and reluctant to talk. Luckily, a very good friend
of hers vouched for me, but she still would not allow me to come and talk to her in person,
and she wouldn't be photographed. But, you know, I sent her the story before it was
published her chapter on her, which I usually don't do. But I felt it was so sensitive because
of the racial aspects of it that I wanted to make sure she was okay with it. And she was.
And yeah, she's a great lady. There is some good news there in that her song was recently
used in a Chase Bank commercial that went nationwide. And she's actually getting paid
for the first time, she apparently got nothing to record the song and never got any
royalties. And this is now, let's see--1968, what is that 50 years later, she's finally getting
paid. And she's hearing herself on TV, which is kind of nice.

D Damian Radcliffe 13:05

That's great. And you touched on there, some of the issues around segregation and race
relations, which really kind of run like a, as a thread, through your book. And I think it's
impossible to sort of extricate the two really the music from this period and the kind of
wider political and socio-economic landscape in in the US. You grew up through some of
that period? How does it feel to use sort of revisiting it now--50, 60 years down the line?

J John Capouya 13:40

Yeah. You know, it was a real-- it was a flash from the past, or actually more than a flash,

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it was sort of a re-immersion. And as I said to some of the students yesterday, I kind of
realized, anew that in my lifetime, black people could not use the same facilities as white
people in this country. And you know, you couldn't drink from the same water fountain
couldn't use the same gas station. I mean, it was apartheid. And that's kind of a
staggering fact. And, you know, we're still obviously living with that legacy. It came back
to me also that the issues that we were dealing with at the time, many of the riots that
happened in the 1960s, they were sparked by white police officers shooting and killing
unarmed black men. And obviously, we've had that recur over and over again.

J John Capouya 14:38

I guess the more positive aspect of this kind of re-immersion in the past is, I wondered
again, and I reacted again, and thought like how great this music is, you know. I dove back
into it, the music that I grew up on, and you kno. I think it really endures. There's a reason
why we're still listening to this music 50 years later.

D Damian Radcliffe 15:00

Yeah, so much of it is timeless. And some of it still sounds like it could be recorded today,
which I think is extraordinary. At the same time, you also talked a little bit yesterday about
how this music played a really important role in actually helping to shift cultural values
and perceptions and create opportunities for integration, which I thought was really
interesting. Could you say a little bit more about that?

J John Capouya 15:26

Yeah, thank you. Well, you know, I discovered and I played this great quote, for your
students yesterday from Dr. King himself, who, when he was addressing a convention of
television and radio announcers said, You know, I want to thank you, you know, you have
created a positive cultural bridge between white and black and, and mostly sticking in
terms of youth. And because soul music became the music of young America and it
crossed over and became mainstream music, whereas before, it was, like society, it was
very segregated. There was black music on the rhythm and blues charts, or the "race
records" charts, as it was called before that, and there was the Hot 100 or the pop chart.
But people like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, and Sam and Dave, you know,
completely crossed over. And he said, literally, integration has become that much easier
now that they are listening to the same songs and doing the same dances.

J John Capouya 16:22

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So I think it works in a couple of ways. It, I think it definitely inspired black people to
continue in the struggle you gave them so messages of empowerment and self esteem. In
fact, I played James Brown's "Say it Loud, I'm Black, and I'm Proud." And I do remember,
speaking of going back into the past, that was shocking at the time, I mean, it you know, I
took it in a very positive way. But when I was growing up, I never heard that expressed in
that, way, those sentiments expressed in that way by black man, in my life, you know, and I
think it was a wake up call for a lot of America, black and white. That's pretty amazing
achievement, that became a hit on both the white and the black music charts. So yeah, I
think it there were there were explicit messages. Like, I'm black, and I'm proud. But I also
think there was the implicit or the more subtle effect of black musicians and singers
becoming stars, for both white and black consumers and people who love this music and

D Damian Radcliffe 17:31

I appreciate it's hard to generalize, but did your interviewees did they see the stuff that
they were doing as revolutionary, as supporting that kind of wider cause, or many of them
just trying to get by, and this is just about putting enough food on the table?

J John Capouya 17:46

They didn't talk about it so much in terms of either putting food on the table or advancing
the cause. What they were saying to me was more like, I was a musician, had the music in
me and I wanted and needed to get it out. And I love singing and performing, and I love
playing, you know, my guitar. And that was really the focus. And they didn't seem to, at
least now, to dwell much on the impact of their music.

J John Capouya 18:19

And they certainly did need to put food on the table. And many of them had day jobs too.
They weren't full time musician. So it's hard to make a living then, as it is now. But there
were a couple of people, though, who, whether through their music or not, they became
activists. In fact, I mentioned there was a gentleman named Ernie Calhoun, who was
actually lives in Tampa, where I teach. He was sort of an activist, by day and ran a jobs
program for minority youth, and then played his tenor saxophone at night. But for the
most part, they were really focused on the days when I would go on stage, and the days
when I would go into the studio, and how much they loved it.

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D Damian Radcliffe 19:02
And still do from what I can gather. So many of them still performing, if they're able to do

J John Capouya 19:06

Yeah, quite a few of them are. And the ones who aren't really miss it--want to get back.
Sometimes they asked me, you know, can you help me get a gig? You know, I really can't,
you know, it was kind of sad, but you could see how much they love that. I mean, I guess if
that's what you do, and it meant a lot to you, some of them would love to do it again.

J John Capouya 19:29

They are some of them mentioned that sampling of their soul music by hip hop artists has
a way of bringing attention back to them. And there are some nostalgic and old school
music tours. Some groups are making money and performing, and especially in Europe,
where they're still very popular. So it's not out of the question.

D Damian Radcliffe 19:49

I remember, a few years ago, seeing Solomon Burke perform at the Royal Albert Hall and
he was unable to walk. And he was brought on stage on this huge dramatic throne; this
giant sedan chair. But his voice was still incredible. His instrument still was just faultless.

J John Capouya 20:10

Well, you folks from the UK are a huge soul audience, there's, you know, fanatics over
there, the northern soul people as you know. So I am actually trying to reach them and sell
them by book. So I hope that works out. I'm talking to somebody who's a Brit, who lives in
the United States about maybe going over there and doing some events there.

D Damian Radcliffe 20:29

That sounds great. And we'll talk about what you'll you've got next in a moment. But I also
just wanted to touch base briefly on your previous book. Gorgeous George sounds like a
very flamboyant character. You touched on a little bit, about the how that process was
was different, a single person's kind of single story. But I'm curious about the lessons and
learning from that project that perhaps helped inform Florida Soul, and also to
understand what's happening now with that story, because as I understand it, is both a

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documentary and a film in the works.

J John Capouya 21:05

Well, thanks. Well, the project was somewhat similar in that, you know, George was a
professional wrestler. And there were people of his generation who survived, but there was
also... they were dying off as the soul musicians are, unfortunately. So it was a race
against time as it was with the soul music project. I got very lucky though, in that in my
research on Gorgeous George, everyone in the wrestling community told me that both of
his ex wives were deceased. And while I was searching frantically in Oregon, actually, for
his children, one day I made a call and and the woman picked up the phone and she was
his widow. And she was not deceased, she was alive. She was living up in Seaside, Oregon.
And she turned out to be, you know, the most impact source for the book because she was
married to the guy for 13 years.

D Damian Radcliffe 22:04

And it sounds like he kind of was a self-made man. I mean, he kind of invented and
created this persona.

J John Capouya 22:11

Along with his first wife who, at least in her telling to me, took a lot of credit. And we do
know that for example, she sold his flamboyant robes. She was a tailor, so she made them
and she bleached his hair blonde and put it up in women's hairdos. So they created this
act together, which is I think, it's a good part of the story. There's a love story in it that I
think is going to make it a good motion picture. You know, it's inherently a visual story,
because of the way he transformed himself. And it's a kinetic story, in that there's a lot of
motion in this motion picture because he's wrestling and fighting and drinking and
womanizing and gambling.

J John Capouya 22:51

I just saw a third draft of the screenplay for the feature film about Gorgeous George, I
thought was quite good. Maybe one little sentimental turn at the end that I didn't agree
with that George look like a nicer guy than he really was. But you know, it's not up to me.
And actually, the screenwriter was nice enough to consult with me and show me the drafts
because he really didn't have to. But the executive producer and the screenwriter have
been great. So you know, now we got to take that script, or they do, and try to find actors
to attach to it and a director to get financing. So we're a long way away. I mean, I feel like

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we have the script. But that's a long way away from actually somebody saying, okay,

D Damian Radcliffe 23:34

And how is that process for you as a writer having invested so much time in that original
book and project, and then you kind of have to let your baby go, and somebody else takes
control of it? And as you said, they interpret it in different ways. It's a different medium, it's
not going to be factual in the same way as your book, it's the kind of will be presumably,
inspired by real life events, and so forth. Is that an easy process for you as as a writer?

J John Capouya 24:00

Well, it is because they are paying me enough money to make it okay. Yeah, I got very
lucky. And, you know, book writing is not a very lucrative profession, at least if you're me.
And I have made so much more money selling the movie rights to this book than I ever
made writing. It's also subsidizing all my other money-losing projects, or labors of love, I
should say. So I'm fine with whatever deal, it but the truth is, in the screenplay that I've,
that I've seen, and that I made suggestions on, it's very accurate, and it hews pretty
closely to my book, and you know, I think it's terrific.

D Damian Radcliffe 24:39

Great. And it also sounds like there's such a clear lineage between his sort of story and
style, and the world of professional wrestling today. I mean, it feels like he's a he's a very
contemporary character in many respects.

J John Capouya 24:53

Well, and you know, through his influence on Muhammad Ali, he also influenced
generations of professional athletes who have taken to calling themselves the greatest
and bragging and whatever... many of whom think they owe a debt to Muhammad Ali, if
they even understand that, but rarely do they ever think that Muhammad Ali owes this
debt to Gorgeous George.

J John Capouya 25:19

You know, and there's even there's, there's a corollary, which I touched upon in my book,
which is at this point is about seven, eight years old, to President Trump. In my book, I call
him another outrageous faker with improbable hair. And you know, this guy, I mean, no

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matter how you think about him politically, basically, he just kept saying, he's a genius
businessman over and over again, even while he's declared six bankruptcies and NBC
gave him a TV show that projected that. And he says whatever he wants, and most of its
not true, and this is these are all things that George did with great success. So regardless
about how you feel about the President... and his hair is ridiculous, just like George's. So I
just so I made that parallel some time ago before anyone understood that Trump would
be running for any office.

D Damian Radcliffe 26:12

So a very prescient prediction and analysis clearly. You talked about labors of love: can
you give us a quick indication just as we wrap up about some of the other things you're
working on, and kind of what's next for you?

J John Capouya 26:24

Thank you. Well, I'm, I'm actually, I'm working on what will be my first foray into art and
fine arts. My wife, Suzanne Williamson, is actually is an art photographer. And she is
working on a project where she's going around the state of Florida with me, and she's
shooting Native American heritage sites. For example, the burial mounds, earthworks,
things that are made out of sand and shells, and they still survive in Florida to a greater
extent than they do in other places in the south. So she is taking, not documentary, but
arty photographs of these things that remain--the ruins. And she is printing them on huge
sheets of fabric, and we're going to hang them in the gallery museum space. And I have
written little vignettes of creative nonfiction about the places that we visited. And we were
going to project them on the walls of the museum. And so we're having a show at the
Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida, in summer. So I'm working on that.

J John Capouya 27:31

I also have in mind, I'm thinking about writing a craft book about the art and the
techniques of creative nonfiction or nonfiction narrative, including the use of screenplay
writing techniques in non-screenplay writing, which I had found to be very helpful and I
learned a lot about from talking to a couple of screenwriters who worked on the Gorgeous
George project.

D Damian Radcliffe 27:52

Excellent. That's a great tip, one we actually use in the audio space often talk about: you
know, what's your establishing shot? What's your close up? How can you kind of take a lot

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of that language and apply that to to audio storytelling? And I think there's so much to be
learned from screenplays in terms of just how lean they are in many cases and the
techniques they use to tell stories.

J John Capouya 28:16

Well, we say we want to write cinematically, and we want to show not tell and that's what
people who write cinema do.

D Damian Radcliffe 28:22

Yeah, that's great. Excellent. Well, we'll look forward to to your exhibition John. And also,
hopefully a couple of years down the line, we can talk about your your new craft book
that you're kind of noodling around with, and we'll look forward to talking more and wish
you the best of luck with all your future ventures.

J John Capouya 28:38

Great. Thanks a lot.

D Damian Radcliffe 28:40

So just a quick reminder that you can catch John's full talk and other materials related to
his presentation and visit here to the School of Journalism and Communication at the
University of Oregon on our website: that's And in the
meantime, just reminds me to thank our guest John Capouya once more. Until next time,
thanks for listening.

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