“A good life is a collection of happy memories.”—Denis Whatley, American motivational speaker, writer, and consultant.
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“Hey James Paul, got a couple of hours to go through your scrapbook memories with me for a story …”
Those closing words in a January 21, 1986, column I wrote about Shelby County native James Paul Wilson stirred up many memories when I revisited the piece last week. James Paul, or “Squirrelly” as he was better known to his friends, was a member of a late 50s and early 60s quartet from Center called The Four Mints. Look them up. You’ll find numerous stories about the group that made their mark on music some 60 years ago.
A young Elvis Presley may have dominated music, movies, and the fascination of young girls then. Still, groups with names like The Four Aces, The Four Lads, and The Four Mints, Center’s singing sensations James Paul Wilson, brothers Noah Eugene and Alden Lee Warr, and Aubie Jean McSwain (and later Roz Stevens after McSwain left the group), also got their share of radio airtime and record shop sales.
The group performed in Nashville, Birmingham, Biloxi, Mobile, Chicago, and Atlanta, to name a few places noted in historical accounts. Plus the Palace Theater in New York City and the Sands Hotel during the heyday of the Las Vegas strip, where their name shared marquees with Elvis and performers like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
Following his Four Mints career, James Paul returned to his roots singing gospel music with Louisiana’s legendary Governor Davis. After many years in music, and even more traffic lights driving across the country from one engagement to another as reported by his wife Lola, he settled into the radio business in Center. I still remember his opening every morning on radio station KDET: a memorable rendition of a rooster crowing. He also introduced Mattie Dellinger’s “Party Line” program with “Here’s Mattie.
James Paul and I became friends in the late 70s when I landed in Center. My favorite story about him involves a group from Center, including James Paul and his wife Lola, at a live music show in Longview one night. You know the kind; the singer walks through the audience, extending the mic toward random patrons to sing a few words. When the mic wound up in James Paul’s face, he took it from the startled singer, stood up, applied some Four Mints stage presence, and finished the song to a rousing round of applause.
“It always crossed my mind that a copy of something by the Center quartet would pop up in my old record searching,” I wrote. “He had hared the name of the group with me, but my feeble memory faltered one afternoon amid thousands of vinyl discs at Fantasyland Records in Atlanta, Georgia. The Four …?”
It takes imagination to picture Fantasyland Records. It was in far north Atlanta on Peachtree Street in a rundown area between a drug store and a secondhand clothing store. It needed painting inside and out. What Fantasyland Records had going for it, though, was the best selection of old records in the South.
With a stack of records by various groups claiming four members, I boarded a plane toward Center the next day. “Back home,” I wrote, “A call to James Paul tendered the question, ‘What was the name of that group you sang with in the 50s? The four …'”
“Mints,” he finished my sentence.
“I have a 45 with ‘Hey Little Nell’ on one side and on the other …”
“Teenage Wonderland,” he finished my sentence again. “Where did you find that?”
I told him and he responded, “NRC was a brand-new label at that time. Our record was the first one cut in their studio. You would be surprised to know who some of the backup musicians are on the ‘Hey Little Nell’ side,” he continued. “Unheard of kids at the time playing backup for groups in the area. Names like the piano player Ray Stevens. A couple of guys playing guitar by the name of Joe South and Jerry Reed.
“That record did all right regionally,” he continued. “But it never caught on nationally.”
James Paul Wilson died January 1, 2019, not long after his childhood sweetheart and wife, Lola, on November 13, 2018.
I never wrote that story to which I alluded in the 1986 column. But that’s all right. Numerous others did, and their stories are easy to find in the internet age.
But it did my heart good to find those weekly ramblings from 35 years ago that included many good memories.
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