I went back home to Georgia over this past weekend to attend a memorial service for Jimmy “Meatball” Bell, who was the original fiddle player in my first country music band, The Avondale Playboys.
He passed away a couple of weeks ago, and those of us who knew and loved him wanted to come together one more time and say goodbye. It wasn’t a memorial “service” nearly so much as it was a “memorial gathering.” Three of the other founding band members were there along with their wives, Jimmy’s two daughters, and a bunch of other relatives and friends. We shared some scripture, listened to some music, told stories and laughed as Meatball would have wanted us to do. We also ate lots of good home-cooked food, which would have also made him smile. With a nickname like “Meatball,” you’d have to believe he’d have wanted us to eat. Downing my second piece of cake and my third glass of lemonade, I could almost feel him reaching over my shoulder to steal a bite!
For those of you who don’t know, the Avondale Playboys was a group of classmates that I organized into “Georgia’s Youngest Hillbilly Band” when I was in the tenth grade at Avondale High School outside Atlanta. We were all just kids, but we ended up with our own radio show on two metro radio stations (one a 50,000 watter), and eventually our own television show five nights a week on WQXI-TV. All while we were going to school, playing sports, and chasing girls. I have no idea how we did it.
“Meatball” was there from the beginning. I told in my autobiography about the night we auditioned for our first radio show. We rehearsed for days, and went down to a small station located in the basement of the stylish Georgian Terrace Hotel on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta to present ourselves to the program director.
Everything went well, so well, in fact, that we were offered a Saturday afternoon slot on the station after only playing a few songs. But Meatball nearly got us fired before we ever hit the first note on the air.
“How powerful is this station?” he asked the program director moments after we had been told we had the job.
“Two hundred and fifty watts,” the P.D. answered.
“Good Lord,” Meatball exclaimed, “is that all? I’ve got a light bulb at home that powerful!
I cringed. I thought for sure we’d be invited to leave and told to never come back. Fortunately, though, the program director had a good sense of humor. He laughed and hired us anyway.