2012 Legend Member
         Bob Farlow
 

Celebration of 50th anniversary of first recording of the song that launched the music career of "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson. The song, of course, was "City Lights", first recorded on the TNT label.

 

Photo:
Drummer, Johnny Web
Singer, Bill Anderson
Steel Guitarist, Bob Farlow
Bob's son, Mike Farlow

Bob Farlow’s music education began when he was about 15 years of age. He had a teacher, Dean Byrom, who taught the Hawaiian Guitar course from Oahu Publishing company. Dean went to his home once a week to teach at a price of $3.00/wk, and that included the lesson material from Oahu. The guitar, which was also furnished, was a flattop acoustic with a raised nut. Not much of a guitar, but it served the purpose for the time being.

He finally acquired his first electric steel. It was a six string Supro lap steel with a small 15 watt amplifier. He played the Supro a couple years, then traded it for a Fender eight string double neck and a Fender 30 watt amp. He now had two tunings, E7 and C# minor to enhance his playing.

It was 1952 when Bob recalls playing at his high school talent show with a nice-looking red-headed classmate who did some Hawaiian hula dancing. It was then that he realized he really liked playing in public, even though he was initially nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

A couple or so days after the talent show, Bob received a telephone call from someone he had never heard of. He said his name was Bill Anderson, and he was trying to form a band to play country music, and he needed a steel guitar player. When asked why he called someone he didn’t even know, Bill said a friend of his was attending a high school talent show where Bob was playing, and gave him the name. Bob decided to give it a shot. Even though country music playing was new to him, he admitted liking it very much. This newly formed band was named the “Avondale Playboys”, because Bill lived in Avondale Estates and attended Avondale High School.

It wasn’t long until the new band began getting small gigs in and around Atlanta. Mostly college fraternity houses, high schools, and even one political rally. They did a few shows at the well-known Saturday afternoon radio show on WBGE=FM, and some opening gigs for Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others who had booked shows at local venues in and around Atlanta.

A few years later in 1954, the first UHF TV station, WQXI Ch36, started broadcasting in Atlanta. The Avondale Playboys were invited to play three shows a week. Even though there were probably no more than three or four hundred homes with UHF reception capability, they receive cards and letters from viewers requesting songs. Bob doesn’t recall exactly how long this gig lasted, but says it was definitely fun and educational, adding it had to be less than a year, because WQXI shut down the UHF TV operations in 1955. (Bob jokes that maybe they should have played only once a week! ? )

The band would be back to beating the bushes to get more gigs. (As a side note, under Bill’s band leadership, it was decided that they would not play any bars, taverns, or any other place where alcoholic beverages were consumed. The band agreed. I think it was a wise decision.)

It was 1957, and with the first Georgia Public Television station being installed at the University of Georgia, the studio there was busy getting things ready to go on the air. Having become fairly well-known around the Atlanta area, the Avondale Playboys got a request to come to Athens and play at the new studio so the engineers could check out their audio equipment. (The TV part of the studio had not yet been installed.) They decided to go and do whatever they could to help out the studio.
They played the whole afternoon, and had just about ran out of material to play. So, when the engineers asked them to keep playing so they could make some recordings, Bill Anderson reached in his guitar case and pulled out a song he had written recently, but the band had not heard or played. They went thru it with Bill a couple times and then recorded it. The name of the song was “City Lights”. Later, Bill sent the recording to a small recording company in Texas by the name “TNT” (Tanner “N Texas). Once they received the 500 or so demo records, they hit the road visiting all the radio stations and interviewing and asking (actually begging) them to play the record on the air. Most all of them complied with their request. It wasn’t long until the big break came. Bob recalls they were invited to do a guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, after which, Gordon Terry carried the whole band out for dinner, and they had a blast!

A short while later, Ernest Tubb encouraged Ray Price to record City Lights, and in 1958 he did just that. The song immediately became a number one hit, staying 13 weeks at the top. This was the break that set Bill’s successful career as a songwriter in motion. Bill moved to Nashville the following year and that was the end of the Avondale Playboys era.

Billboard Magazine wrote that City Lights was among the top 20 country songs of the last 35 years. Bob says he is so pleased to have been a small part of that journey.


Below are a couple links about the song:

ATHENS ON LINE - UGA NEWS

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