Chattanooga’s Live Music Scene – Fast Cars, Harleys, Loud Music

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - by Bob Payne
Bob Payne
Bob Payne
- photo by Not A Good One

When I was but a yute, around 15-18, I was a car guy. I loved cars and racing. I used to go to Cleveland Speedway on Saturday nights and watch Joe Lee Johnson race one of his brother Hubert’s cars. Hubert lived not too far from me on Signal Mountain and it was always fun to go to Hubert’s shop and watch him work.

When I was 16, I was at the drug store in my 1952 MG-TD. A man named Ellis Smith saw me and asked me if I would be interested in going to an autocross. After he described what an autocross was, I said sure and that Sunday headed down to Scott’s Go-Kart track on 23rd Street. I took my 1968 Firebird 400 to the autocross and won my very first race. I remember it well since I blew an air conditioning hose, much to the chagrin of the other racers there who thought I was an idiot for driving in a race with my A/C on.

I loved autocrossing and went on to participate in one almost every Sunday afternoon for many years. We ran at the Eastgate and Northgate parking lots then, since Blue Laws then were in effect that kept stores from opening on Sunday.  Sometimes we would run on the Chatt State parking lot, and sometimes we would venture to Knoxville, Huntsville, Gadsden, Atlanta, or Nashville. 

I was either very good or very lucky, as I became the first local member to win 100 races and won several points championships in the Interregional Series and other challenge series races. Over the years, I drove a Datsun 510, the Firebird, a Honda Civic, a Corvette, a Z28, and a few other cars from time to time. 

I also loved motorcycles and got a Yamaha when I was about 14. A few years later I would get my first Harley Davidson by being in the right place at the right time. I was visiting a friend at Gregory Datsun on Rossville Boulevard on a 35 degree, rainy day. A guy rode up on a Harley and said he wanted to trade it in on something – anything – with a heater. The car dealer didn’t really want the Harley, so I bought it at the great price of $1,500. It was the coldest ride home of my life. It was raining downtown, but as I headed up Signal Mountain, it starting snowing and sleeting. I had no gloves and only a lightweight jacket. It was that day that I tried to solve the age-old question - is it better to go fast in weather like that to get where you are going quickly, or is better to go slow and not freeze to death from the higher wind speed? I tried both and never got an answer. 

Along the way, I bought and sold many Harleys. I had Sportsters, Fat Boys, Heritage Softails, Low Riders, and Dyna Glides. My last one was a Fat Boy and I miss it a lot. My arthritis made riding too painful and so I traded it for a boat. 

My buds and I used to ride to Myrtle Beach every year, usually about 10-15 of us. Memories were made there that I would always carry with me. I saw my first David Allan Coe concert in Myrtle Beach at Bike Week. I am still a fan.

Somewhere in my life I became a music fan. My Brother Bill had a band and they used to practice at our house sometimes. The Fabulous Furies. He can still play a mean guitar, but I could never hit a lick. But I did learn to listen.

I loved going to concerts and went to see many at the Memorial Auditorium when I was a teenager. I saw The Who, Roy Orbison, the Guess Who, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and many more. When I was old enough to sneak into nightclubs with my trusty fake ID, I would go to the Playlate Club to see the Viva-Tones or Bobby Boyd & The Playboys.  One of the best live concerts I ever attended was at the Castaways Club when Roy Head played there. He had a 10-piece band with a horn section and I fell in love with the horns. Mitch Rider & The Detroit Wheels was another great one at the Castaways, but I was more enthralled with a local band that was the opener, also with a horn section and a front man named Jimmy Tawater. Maybe that was the best show ever. I think he had 12 in the band, including 2 drummers and of course the horn section. 

A couple years later I found a new group to like at Yesterday’s. It was called Overland Express and Chattanooga loved them. They may have gone on to be Chattanooga’s biggest stars that came the closest to going big-time without actually making it.

Not much has changed in my life. When I see a pristine 67’ Chevelle or 69’ Hemi Charger, I still get goose bumps. There will never be a sound like a Harley. The brass section in a band still rules.

Speaking of Jimmy Tawater and Overland Express, you can see them perform live in the next month or so. Jimmy and his band will be headlining the Unum Stage at Riverbend on June 12 as the Chattanooga All-Star Band, since they are as all-starry as they get.

On June 29th, Overland Express, Roger Alan Wade, James Rogers, Jimmy Tawater, Lou Wamp, Musical Moose and more will celebrate the life of the late Keith Sherman. All proceeds will benefit Keith’s charity, Healing Hearts Horse Camp for Kids. More details will follow soon, but make plans for that Sunday.

Bob Payne grew up in Chattanooga and graduated from Baylor School. He is the Entertainment Editor for the and assistant talent buyer for Friends Of The Festival.

Email Bob Payne at or catch him on Facebook at

Lee To Host Faculty Brass Concert

Lee University faculty members Drs. Gordon James, Bill Pritchard, Doug Warner, and Nathan Warner, along with Lee student Matt Kelly, will present a brass concert on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Lee Chapel.  The evening will feature a variety of Christmastide selections and will invite all in attendance to participate in a carol sing-a-long.  As principal horn of the ... (click for more)

Courtney Holder And Mark Kelly Hall To Play At Puckett's On Friday, Roger Alan Wade On Saturday

Courtney Holder and  Mark Kelly Hall, both singer/songwriters from the Chattanooga area, will bring the Nashville experience to Puckett’s Chattanooga on  Friday . Starting at  9 p.m ., the two will performing their original songs along with a few familiar tunes in an all-acoustic writers round format made popular at well-known venues in Music City. Admission ... (click for more)

Residents Concerned Over 7-Story Building On The Southside

Downtown Chattanooga residents expressed their concerns with the proposed seven-story apartment building on Cowart Street on the Southside at Tuesday night’s City Council Meeting. The apartment building, originally zoned at four stories before Belle Investment petitioned for seven, has not been adequately publicized, residents claimed.   Architect and planning professional ... (click for more)

Commissioner Graham Chides Chairman Bankston For Shredding Arts Cigarette Tax Letter; Says Sunshine Law Violated

County Commissioner Joe Graham on Wednesday chided Chairman Chester Bankston for shredding a letter related to the proposed cigarette tax to aid the arts. "Have you shredded any other county legal documents?" he demanded. Chairman Bankston replied, "No, I have not done that." He said the letter did not get the necessary six signatures to forward to the Legislature. ... (click for more)

An Extra Helping Of Gratitude

After being thankful for the grace of God, my family and good health, this year I have an extra helping of gratitude to live in a special place called Chattanooga.   We endured the trauma of terrorism on July 16 and emerged more united and stronger than ever before.  We claim our heritage and celebrate our diversity like no other city in America.  We honor our ... (click for more)

Why I Am Thankful, 2015

I can’t really remember when I first started this – sometime in the 1970s – but my favorite column every year comes during Thanksgiving when I literally pause and use my fingers to thank God for all His richest blessings. The year 2015 has been bountiful so here are just a few of the things I will carry in my heart as I take my place at today’s table: I AM THANKFUL that tomorrow, ... (click for more)