It was nine years ago Sunday since Terry Melton died and as I spent a Sunday afternoon, as he and I often did, in front of the television watching sports and drinking a beer or three I couldn’t help but think back on thirty years of friendship and some of the adventures we shared.
Although I’m sure that our paths must have crossed before. the first time that I remember us interacting together was at the hippie gas station on the Macon Highway in the spring of 1971.
My brother Johnny and a couple of his friends were running the station and were trying to stage free Sunday afternoon concerts. Terry was supposed to play one Sunday, but of course as soon as the first band started, the police came in and told us that we were making too much noise and we had to shut it down. It was my duty to represent Johnny and friends with the police and after my attempt to negotiate a compromise proved fruitless, the police drove off assuring me that somebody (guess who?) would be arrested if we turned the amplifiers back on.
As the police drove off, Terry stepped forward, guitar in hand and sat down on a stool. “I don’t need no stinking microphone” he growled and he kicked into “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” I was always a Dylan fan and right then I became a Terry Melton fan. He played a set of music and the police car sat on the other side of the road about fifty yards away, and never moved.
It wasn’t long after that that Randall Bramblett dubbed him Mad Dog and they formed Mad Dog Melton and the Laughing Disaster along with Davis Causey, Arch Pierson, and Ed Dye with Moi Harris, Cleon Nalley, and Brian Burke coming to the band later. They played Between the Hedges in Normaltown and Your Mother’s Mustache downtown and it was listening to this band that led to me realizing how great music could be.
A few years later I found myself working at Normal News and Terry was working next door at Allen’s and that’s where we got to be friends instead of just acquaintances. Then along about 1983 or so I was living in the Hogan’s Hollow area of Normaltown and my neighbor Joe Barnes decided to move on to greener pastures. Terry was the first person I told about Joe’s impending move and he jumped at the chance to move into a house in Normaltown that rented for $85 a month.
So we were neighbors, but it was more like we were roommates. We watched movies at Terry’s house, he taught me to appreciate the old gritty westerns. Yellow Sky, Bend of the River, Winchester ’73, Red River, The Searchers. These are the movies that Terry liked. No special effects please. Hard, tough men and pretty women who weren’t afraid to slap a hard tough man. I don’t know for a fact, but I’d be willing to bet that Terry never saw a Star Wars movie. It just wasn’t his style.
We’d go to my house for music. I had a good record collection heavy on blues and rockabilly. But Terry told me right away that the term rockabilly sucked. It was all rock and roll. Get into that kitchen and rattle them pots and pans. My mind could never wrap itself around what made music music, I just loved to listen to it and if I liked it I liked it, I didn’t care how it was made. But Terry never tired of trying to explain it to me. This is the way the Beatles did it, this is the way Dylan did it, this is the way Jerry Lee Lewis did it. I’d blow on a harmonica and he’d bang on his guitar and try to get me on key. We had some great times exploring music for hours on end. He even liked some of my New Wave/Punk stuff. He particularly took a liking to the band X and when I brought home an album on which they covered a bunch of old rock and roll songs, he made me play it every day for a month.
It was also while we were living in the Hollow that Terry had a couple of close encounters with the animal kingdom.
The first came on a Saturday afternoon when Little Mary was having a party at her house which was about three miles straight out the Jefferson Road from Hogan’s Hollow.
Now Little Mary had a house full of dogs and cats and one of her cats, becoming filled with wanderlust, decided to go home with Terry. The cat, unbeknownst to the Mad Dog, climbed on top of Terry’s car for the ride to Normaltown.
To the dismay of a yard full of partygoers, Terry pulled out onto the Jefferson Road with the cat holding on to the top of his car.
He proceeded down the highway at 60 mph with the cat holding on and Little Mary in pursuit. The cat must have seen all nine of its lives flash by before Terry fortunately stopped at the Golden Pantry for cigarettes. When the car stopped, the harried feline bolted from the roof, and it took 48 hours of Little Mary led searches of the neighborhood before she found the traumatized animal and returned it home.
It was shortly after that that Terry became even more closely involved with the wildlife of Normaltown.
There were several large oak trees surrounding Terry’s bungalow in Hogan’s Hollow. He used to frequently sit out front and enjoy the great outdoors. One evening shortly before dusk he was having his supper while enjoying the sunset under one of the great trees. He set his plate down on a little table and went inside the house for another PBR. Upon returning to his front door, he was surprised to see a raccoon helping himself to Terry’s sandwich.
Terry’s surprise turned to fascination as he watched the dexterous little animal make short work of his supper. The raccoon sauntered off and Terry wondered if it would return.
The next evening Terry put some bread out on the table and anxiously waited. Sure enough the raccoon returned.
The perfect pet. No visits to the vet. No grooming. No hassle if Terry wanted to go away for the weekend. And those little hands. People had always said that Terry’s fingers were too short to play the guitar, he could probably teach the raccoon to at least play a few chords on the ukulele. This could lead to a new band: Mad Dog Melton and Rocky Raccoon. Endless possibilities.
The raccoon became an instant Normaltown celebrity with an ever increasing crowd gathering in Terry’s house at sundown every day for the show. The bread evolved into fruit, the raccoon had never eaten so well.
This went on for over a week, then one evening the crowd was waiting in eager anticipation for the raccoon’s visit. There was a full meal set out for him and a festive atmosphere inside as Terry bragged to his visitors, extolling the virtues of raccoons as pets. Then, as the darkness encroached upon the Hollow, they spotted something outside at the dinner table. But there was no soft fur, no cute bandit mask, no neat little hands or bushy tail. Instead, there was an ugly pointed nose, greasy, dirty fur and a long, hairless rat looking tail. Terry’s raccoon had turned into a possum!
The raccoon was history and I suppose that Terry is too.
But it seems to me that Terry is living history. He formed the first rock and roll band in Athens in 1958. He owned the Last Resort (which was the first downtown Athens live music venue) in 1968-69. Mad Dog Melton and the Laughing Disaster led Your Mother’s Mustache in opening up downtown by being the first place that you could buy alcohol and dance to live music in downtown Athens in 1971. He, along with Randall Bramblett, Davis Causey, and Harold Williams were the four forefathers of the Athens music scene, even if they are rarely recognized as such today.
Nine years gone hell, MAD DOG LIVES.