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
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
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