Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hey, ya wanna hear a great song?

During my tour of duty in Vietnam there was time for entertainment and some of my
Khe-Sahn Vietnam
buddies did a great job entertaining the troops. They were not only my buddies; they were employed by me as a group called the Southern Playboys. As owner of the band (I am not a musician, but I know business opportunity when I see it.) I was able to book my band twenty-seven nights per month. We played at just about every Officer and NCO club in the Saigon area occupied by the American military. The popularity of the band was obvious and I was contacted by various other military units to arrange for the Southern Playboys to play at special functions such as promotion parties. I can recall one special request to perform at a General’s promotion party at the U.S. Army’s 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. Another which I was very proud of, was a request by someone over at USAID (United States Agency for International Development) to have the guys do their thing on Armed Forces Television because the band depicted a segment of American life that could be viewed by the Vietnamese people who had access to the broadcasts.

It was not always easy to keep up with the scheduled events.  Usually I had to sign a contract with the various club mangers as to the number of band members who would be performing. This normally consisted of a lead singer (who also played the guitar), a drummer, bass guitar, and a steel guitar. Sometimes I would have a fifth member who played the fiddle.  Now this is a war zone and everyone is not always on the same schedule.  Movement around the streets of Saigon by members of the military was at times very dangerous. There was the time when the entire city was off-limits to military personnel.  With a contract to perform I had to be a bit creative at times so I had the members transported in a cracker-box ambulance with an MP escort. I once did a favor for the Military Police NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) but that’s another story.
The name Southern Playboys may not have any special connotation to the average person, but for trivia’s sake it was an attempt to connect it to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys…Wills was known as the King of Western Swing.
Now the Southern Playboys lead singer and band members knew most, if not all, of the popular country and western songs of the time…including some from times long ago. But what was most popular was one that was written locally in Vietnam…I was but a small part of that, but a part none the less. It was the most requested song in the Saigon area even topping the Green Beret song by Barry Sadler which was topping the charts back stateside.  There was no one person that could take credit for the lyrics and none of us ever copyrighted the song.

Somewhere along the line we had enough requests to cut a record of the song but no money was available…and that’s were my creativity stepped back in.  I was able to sell 5,000 records before one record was produced.  I took orders from the various clubs with promises to mail the finished product to anyone who was shipping back home.  For brevity’s sake, I ended up having to mail about 300 records the remainder were hand delivered.  By the way, postage was free for G.I.’s in Vietnam. 
Meanwhile, our lead singer, Hank Dauphin, a member of the U.S. Army, tour was about up and he received orders for Okinawa.  What were we going to do now?  The record was not even cut yet.  Well Hank had some buddy musicians at his new assignment and he put together a five-piece band and recorded our special song…not near as good as it sounded in person but an OK job suitable to satisfy the record buyers.  There was a Capitol Records subsidiary on Okinawa where the recording took place.  Rather than use the Capitol Records logo each record had the oval shape familiar to Capitol Records but with the initials HD…and I don’t believe an HD label was ever produced after that.  A buddy of mine and me took a 5 day leave and flew up to Okinawa to obtain the 5,000 copies, returned to Vietnam and made good on our promise.

The band continued to play but without Hank it was never the same.  Our replacement singer was also an Army guy and his repertoire of songs numbered over 100…maybe 125, heck, I might know three or four songs by heart.  We also had a back-up new singer that shared the spotlight for the remainder of my tour.  The big guy’s name was Neil and I’ve forgotten the back-up guy’s name.  Neil did a great show but something was missing when it came to our favorite. 
A Vietnam Medic
Not all country and western songs are tear-jerkers but the way hank sang “The Medic” it would be hard pressed not to fall in this category.  Yes, The Medic, was written in Vietnam by a bunch of us and it goes something like this: (from memory)

The Medic
A young G.I. soldier on leave in Saigon
Was stopped by two MP’s, they said pardon young man
There’s blood on you cap
There’s blood on your sleeve,
And we may have to cancel your seven-day leave.

The young G.I. said, Sir, now don’t take me wrong
For I’ve just returned from a place call Khe-sahn
Where the hardships are many and the comforts are few
And brave men are dying for me and for you.

Don’t have much money ‘cause I don’t draw much pay
Just came into Saigon to spend a few days.
Won’t bother your women or drink up your wine
Just write’n a few letters for some friend of mine

Ya see, last week my best buddy got shot in the chest
And, as I held him he told me with his last dying breath
Please write to my mother
Please write to my girl
And tell them I loved them as I left this world.

He left those two MP’s with tears in their eyes
Stayed there three days and went back to his guys.
For he was a medic and his future was made
The dying and wounded would need his first aid.

Now this story is not quite over.  Just for the heck of it, I Googled The Medic song and sure enough there it was on YouTube by a guy named Neil…Neil Ray to be exact.  No, that’s not the same Neil that took over Hank’s job, unless maybe he’s using a different last name.  I forgot the original Neil’s last name but it definitely was not Ray. 
Neil Ray does a pretty good job with The Medic despite the fact that some of the words/locations were changed. For example, he replaces Khe-Sahn with Haiphong which takes a little away from the line, “Where the hardships are many and the comforts are few” …to the best of my knowledge, Haiphong is a harbor whereas Khe-Sahn was a fire-site; “Fire” as in gunfire where many G.I.’s saw much action, not to mention those that never made it back.  ~ Norman E. Hooben
Ps: If you wondered why I referred to some as, “an Army guy”… I’m Air Force


Anonymous said...

Norman, I I truly enjoyed detaching story about the song The Medic! It's interesting, how you nor any of your and guys took credit for the song. Yet Neil, saw an opportunity to steal the glory and took it oh. But at least it got out there and could be heard.

I too love the Bob Wills era!! All who heard your band were blessed and were immensely grsteful! It was a ray of sunshine,and brought joy if but only for a little while. :)

I hope you're putting all of these wonderful stories into print, as they would make wonderful heirlooms for your family if nothing else!

And, it was quite an interesting video about Hillary going ballistic behind the scenes. It's such a shame her sheep like followers don't know that side of her! And I'm surprised anyone that goes up against her, doesn't come up missing!

Anyway, keep your helmet on, head down & type away!! Your friend, Beverly James..Seaford, DE


Great post!