3 to enter Museum of Gulf Coast

Published 7:56 pm Friday, May 4, 2018

By Ken Stickney


Don Rollins knows well what induction into The Museum of the Gulf Coast means for musicians in Southeast Texas and beyond.

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“I played a concert that opened the music wing in 1989,” he said. That was the year he wrote a song that County Music Hall of Famer Ray Price covered, “Love Me Down to Size.”

Many songs have followed since, including, most recently, “Stars in My Eyes,” recorded by Judy Collins for the film, “Drawing Home.” It won Best Theme for a Drama at the Garden State Film Festival in March.

Rollins delivered some of his awards for presentation at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, which will induct three musicians, Rollins among them, into the Music Hall of Fame at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The public is invited, free of charge.

Museum director Tom Neal said Smiley Lewis, New Orleans rhythm and blues singer and guitarist; Charles Brown, blues singer and pianist; and Rollins, who won a Grammy for song writing in 2003, are the inductees.

Lewis and Brown are deceased; Rollins, after a career of writing songs and playing behind leading musicians, has returned to his native Vidor in 2014 as director of fine arts for the Vidor Independent School District.

DeQuincy to New Orleans

Neal said as a teenager Lewis, born in 1913 as Overton Amos Lemons in rural DeQuincy, Louisiana, hopped a slow-moving train in his hometown with some friends. They jumped off at the edge of town as the train picked up speed; he stayed aboard and rode to New Orleans.

There, a white family in the Irish Channel took him in; he later took their last name of Lewis.

Neal said Lewis recorded a host of songs, some of which earned him local or regional attention but most of which were later turned into bigger hits by more popular artists like Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker and, decades later, Aerosmith.

He was best known for his recording of “I Hear You Knocking” in 1955; “One Night of Sin,” later recorded with more subdued lyrics by Elvis; and “Shame, Shame, Shame,” recorded in 1956 for the movie “Baby Doll.”

He died of cancer in 1966 and his body was returned for burial in DeQuincy.

West Coast blues

Charles Brown, born in Texas City as Tony Amos Charles Brown, enjoyed happier circumstances. Raised by grandparents, he was trained in classical piano in his hometown, graduated with a chemistry degree from Prairie View and eventually moved to the West Coast, where he launched his music career with rhythm and blues hits that included No. 1 hits like “Trouble Blues” and “Black Night.” His star faded for years with this exception of his seasonal hit, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” which sold more than 1 million copies by 1968 and earned a gold disc.

The song was later covered by the Eagles, Bon Jovi and Willie Nelson, among others.

A version by Southside Johnny was in the movie “Home Alone.”

Brown enjoyed a revival playing warm-up for Bonnie Raitt in the 1980s, began recording again and earned Grammy nominations. In 1996 he entered the Blues Hall of Fame; he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Five O’Clock Somewhere

Rollins, a 1983 graduate of Lamar University, earned a Grammy for co-writing “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” first a country and then a crossover hit that topped the country charts for Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. But he’s also written songs covered by Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Ronnie Millsap, Ricky Scaggs and Neal McCoy.

As a saxophonist he has played behind The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Little Anthony and the Imperials and Bobby Vinton.

As a music educator, he has been a guest speaker at the Berklee School of Music, was director of Lamar University’s Jazz Band and in 2014 was named director of the fine arts department for the Vidor Independent School District.