Remembering O.J. Bailey Music Store and Orchestra

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley

If you lived in the Chattanooga area from 1951 to 1974, you probably heard of O.J. Bailey.  You may have been a band student and thus, his customer, at Bailey Music Company.  Ever watch the March of Dimes Telethon, with emcee Roy Morris announcing a new pledge total heralded with a fanfare?  That was the O.J. Bailey Orchestra.  Did you love to go dancing on a Saturday night at a local club where O.J.’s group was performing?  He was indeed “The Music Man,” as the title of an interview in the April 6, 1964 Chattanooga Times was headlined.

Owen Joyce Bailey (he preferred to be called “O.J” according to the interview) was born on June 5, 1922 on a farm near Hixson.  His musical inspirations started early in life.  His mother played a pump organ at home as well as for services at Jackson Chapel Methodist Church in the Dallas community.  His father led the Sunday School choir.

At Hixson High, O.J. did not find an organized band like the school eventually had.  However, math teacher Everett O’Neal played several instruments, and taught students how to play.  Bailey’s mother bought him a trombone from the Sears and Roebuck catalog for $9.95.  The trombone became his primary instrument.

Attending the University of Chattanooga after high school, O.J. joined the band, and even did some arranging for them.  He had to put his studies on hold due to World War II, and joined the U.S. Army in 1942.  Bailey split time between performing with the military band and rolling out on combat missions.

After the war, he completed his studies at UC, and signed on with musician Billy Butterfield to travel to gigs around the country.  Returning to Chattanooga, O.J. formed the Bailey Electric Company with his brothers.  They soon changed their business from appliances to musical instruments, and started Bailey Music in 1951 at 1046 McCallie Avenue.  By 1955, the store moved to 619 Cherry Street, and eventually expanded down the hill into a vacated storefront at 624 Market Street. 

I joined the band in seventh grade at Lookout Jr. High, and recall going to Bailey’s for a First Division band method book, drum sticks, and practice pad.  I later switched to trombone, and my first horn also came from Bailey’s.

Becoming a music retailer did not end O.J. Bailey’s music performance career.  He played for many years with the Chattanooga Symphony, and served as a business agent with the musicians union.  Many Chattanoogans heard performances by the O.J. Bailey Orchestra, particularly in the heyday of live local television programs and night clubs with live dance music.  As shown in the accompanying photographs, O.J. and his group frequently played at the Pan-O-Ram club on Scenic Highway overlooking Chattanooga.

Local musician and retired band director Don Worley recalled his days with the O.J. Bailey Orchestra.  “I played with O.J. from about 1966 -- 1970.   The front line consisted of Jack Lindsay and later Ed Leamon on tenor sax, Bob Gibbs on trumpet, Barry Jones on alto sax, O.J. on trombone, and me on bari sax.  Paul Lohorn usually played piano, Bob Watkins or Norman Woodall on bass, and too many drummers to name them all.  Chet Hedgecoth and Henry Ocstell (spelling) were the best drummers we had.  Barbara Malloy sang with us.  When we needed to pick up another musician because of minimums, we usually used Norman Blake on guitar.”

“We had a night with Billy Butterfield at the Elks Club. That was when it was downtown at 7th and Walnut.  He sent his entire library from the big band days to us and we met to read over those charts one night a week for several weeks so we would give a great performance.”

“When Claude Thornhill the piano playing bandleader died, because of our reputation for playing with all those former big and leaders, we were picked to replace him in Atlanta for an affair like the Cotton Ball here in Chattanooga.  We played that affair for several years in the Phoenix Ball Room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta”.  Throughout his time with the band, Don Worley noted, “The band played every country club and fancy hotel ballroom in the city.”

The last listing for Bailey Music appears in the 1972 city directory.  After closing his music store, O.J. Bailey became a district manager for the Aeolian Piano Corporation of Memphis, TN.  His sales territory later required a move to the Pennsylvania area.   In 1981, O.J. Bailey died at age 59 at New Holland, PA.

If you have memories of O.J. Bailey and either his music store or orchestra, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update the article with some of your memories.

Thanks to the reader who shared the photographs of the O.J. Bailey Orchestra.  These are great moments in time.

Reader Feedback

I remember O J Bailey and his music store well.  I still have a 1966 Gibson electric guitar that I bought from him when he was located on Cherry Street a few doors up the hill from the Home Plate.  My buddies and I were guitar aficionados as a result of the British invasion, and never missed a chance to visit the local music stores to "try out" the guitars of the stars.  After leaving Baileys, we would continue up the hill to Al Miller's store and repeat the exercise.  Later on, O J Bailey would move to Market Street and Al Miller would move to Eastgate. 

Another stop on the guitar tour was Tawny Allen's on Dodds.  The folks at Bailey's were always kind to our mostly window shopping and drooling over the instruments, which is why I went to O J when the time came to actually make a purchase.

The folks at Bailey's were always kind to our mostly window shopping and drooling over the instruments, which is why I went to O J when the time came to actually make a purchase.

 

I was privileged to know O J Bailey from very early in my life. My dad was a professional musician and high school band director in Chattanooga. Some of my earliest memories were visiting Bailey Music on Cherry St. with my dad. I remember the brass instruments and saxophones hanging on the wall. We also spent a lot of time in Al Miller's from the time he wasin the basement of the old Tepper Clinic, the old white house across on McCallie Avenue which is now the State of Tennessee building parking lot, and his large store on Cherry, just down from Bailey Music.

Most of the customers who made purchases at Bailey Music never knew what a generous person O J was. In 1967, Dr. Masterson, former University of Chattanooga Chancellor, decided to upgrade the university band with new uniforms, new music and a new director. He hired Barry Jones who at the time was directing the Red Bank High and Junior High bandsand was a member of O J's professional band. The university in 1967 was small and Barry wanted a larger band made up of local high school grads that could play more contemporary tunes in a jazzy style. He did not have the funds, however,to recruit many of the musicians necessary to accomplish this task. Up stepped O J, donating his own money to offer a substantial number of people financial aid as an incentive to join Barry's new band.

One of these musicians was about to have to leave town because he could not get enough part time work and go to school on his GI Bill funding. O J found out about his plight and loaned him enough money to keep him in town and at the end of the school year the student paid O J back in full. I am sure there are other stories like this, but O J was not one to "toot his own horn" unless he was playing trombone with his band. And he did this well to the delight of many audiences.

When my dad was band director at Kirkman High, the city built a new auditorium behind the old building. It was beautiful with wonderful acoustics and comfortable seating. Not every high school could boast either, much less even have an auditorium. When my dad mentioned pricing an organ for the facility to O J, Mr. Bailey in his usual generous style said he wanted to donate an organ to the school which he did. My dad played it for many graduations including the night school graduations when Mabry Armstrong was principal of the night school.

Because of O J Bailey's support of the University of Chattanooga band and subsequently the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga band, many graduates  went on to be successful band directors or professional musicians.

Because of O J' s generosity in providing the seed money for financial aid for Barry's new program, many of the above named people went on to train more musicians who would contribute to the music community of Chattanooga and far beyond.

All of this continues at UTC and beyond because of people like O J Bailey who loved music so much and wanted future generations to have a chance to love it as much as he did. It should be a lesson to all of us in how our generosity to schools and colleges can influence the lives of untold numbers of people well beyond our lives.

 

     - Ralph Miller

 

What a pleasant surprise to see your article on the OJ Bailey Band. I grew up around those guys. My dad was the alto sax player Barry Jones. Bob Gibbs, OJ and Ed Leamon were some of my dad's best friends. Bob played taps at my dad's graveside service at the Duckpond when we lost him to melanoma at age 49 in '79. Dad was the band director at Red Bank high AND Jr High from '59 till '67 when he left to become director of bands at the University of Chattanooga which of course became UTC shortly thereafter. I have stories to numerous to count about "the boys in the band".

      - Andy Barry Jones

 


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