Craddock Boyd is in a talkative mood this afternoon.
His friend Ray McIntyre has brought over a box of Popeyes chicken, and they’ve just finished lunch.
Outside on this chill Thursday, the temperature is plummeting. It’s expected to dip into the 20s overnight.
The purring gas space heaters throughout the raised cottage on South Second Street keep the place cozy warm. The house belonged to Boyd’s grandparents. He’s lived here since childhood.
Boyd moved to town after he contracted polio as he was entering the second grade in New Hope.
“That was right before the sugar cubes,” he said referring to the vaccines given to every school child.
After one of his many surgeries, he could only blink.
Another time doctors told his parents if their son made it through the night, he would live.
“I fooled them,” Boyd said.
For a short while, he could get about on crutches. Boyd, 78, has been confined to a wheelchair since grade school.
Hoping it would be a welcome distraction, his mother suggested piano lessons. That lasted about a year.
“I hated the practice,” Boyd said. “Kids were out playing, and I was practicing.”
The next time he would take up a musical instrument was his senior year in high school. He wanted to play the music he was hearing on the radio. He bought a guitar.
Boyd’s first semester at Mississippi State as a history major did not go well. He transferred to East Mississippi Junior College at Scooba.
While at Scooba, classmate Hudson Adams heard him playing his guitar and asked if he wanted to play bass in a band he was forming.
The nameless band played a few gigs in nearby Meridian.
Then one morning at daybreak as the band was driving to Columbus after a gig in Meridian, drummer Perry Barker had a flash of inspiration.
“I’d been thinking about the band the Dawn Breakers,” said Barker, a former piano tuner who owns a music store in Tupelo.
“Here comes the sun,” Boyd remembers Barker saying. “The Pre-Dawn Five is coming home.”
A band was born. The group included Boyd, Barker, Adams, Don Mosley, Clayton Gilliam and Gene Holmes.
The band covered the pop music popular at the time, high-school standards like “Ebb Tide,” “Misty” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”
In the summer of ’63 or ’64 the band played a gig at Gus Stevens Buccaneer Lounge, a popular Biloxi supper club. Boyd remembers opening for Johnny Rivers.
Not long afterwards Gene Holmes left for California where he became a studio musician. The band dissolved shortly thereafter.
Boyd’s days as rocker appeared to be over. He concentrated on his studies and eventually took a job as a draftsman at Ceco Building Systems where he worked for 27 years.
Sometime in the mid-1960s, Mickey Guyton, lead singer for The Blades of Grass, persuaded Boyd to fill in for Dean Swartz during the bassist’s tour of duty in Vietnam. Boyd joined Guyton, Carl Edwards, Steve O’Callaghan and Reed Smith for the time Swartz was away.
In the early 70s, Boyd got a phone call from Johnny Coleman wanting to know if he could sit in on a gig that night. The two musicians liked each other and Coleman asked Boyd to join him in a group he was forming, Podunk.
The band, composed of Coleman, Boyd, Art Christopher, Mahlon Vickery and Steve O’Callaghan, would be the house band at the Southernaire, a honky tonk on what is now The Island.
The “‘Aire,” as it was commonly known, was notorious for its spirited clientele. Fist fights on the dance floor or outside in the gravel parking lot were not uncommon.
“I was scared to death the first time we played the Southernaire,” Boyd said.
That arrangement came to an abrupt end in 1975 when a newly elected sheriff began roadblocks at the Tombigbee River bridge, Boyd said.
“We got the door (cover charge) and they (the club) got the beer sales,” he said.” When they stopped coming, we couldn’t make any money.”
Aside from a few battered snapshots, Boyd has only one tangible relic of his band days.
Podunk practiced on Monday nights. Coleman, a biology teacher at Columbus High, would bring a large reel-to-reel tape recorder and a single mic to record and critique the band’s practice sessions.
Boyd has a CD made from one of those sessions.
Every so often he reaches for one of the remotes that clutter his bed and hits “play” on the one that controls his CD player.
“I listen to it to bring back the old memories,” he said.
As for all those long nights playing for teenagers in dingy high school gyms, National Guard armories and American Legion huts, Boyd has fond memories.
“All in all, I loved it,” he said.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.