A NIGHT IN THE BIBB COUNTY JAIL
MY BAND LAW developed several regional strongholds early on in our career, including Hot ‘Lanta. Our first week-long stand at Funnochio’s in 1971 with the original three-piece band (then called L.A.W., short for Lawrence Acker and Williamson) was memorable for several events.
Funnochio’s on Peachtree Street was the hottest small club in one of the hottest music markets in America. Each night, they would close the club at midnight and re-open after hours at 1:00 AM for select clientele. These were the hours when musicians from all over town would convene at Funnochio’s after their own various gigs and recording sessions for free-for-all jam sessions often lasting until sunrise. Artists we jammed with that first week alone included members of the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Michael Des Barres of Silverhead, and Mother’s Finest. One major disappointment came when a black guitarist who was the spitting image of Jimi Hendrix asked to play. Well, of course! But he was horrible. He didn’t even tune up. He just started shredding in a world of his own with absolutely no clue. “Hold up! Hold up!” I shouted into the mic. I stopped the “music” cold. “Dude, you got to go,” I told him. Hey, sometimes you’ve got to be cruel to be kind. We also made friends that week with the local Warner Brothers rep, Dan Davenport. Dan later discovered the country singer, Travis Tritt, and steered him to stardom. Unfortunately, that did not end well for either one of them. Things seldom end well when stars start believing their own hype. A WEEK AT GRANT’S LOUNGE By early 1973, L.A.W had become LAW, with Ronnie Lee Cunningham (who replaced Mickey Williamson), Steve Lawrence, and me. We had played a few shows at the newest Atlanta hot spot, Richards, before a week-long residency at Grant’s Lounge in Macon. Members and crew of Wet Willie and the Allman Brothers showed up the first night to welcome us to town. They were all leaving in the morning for a two-week excursion up North together, and they graciously introduced us to their girlfriends who, they said, would help to make our week comfortable.
That they did. Wet Willie’s road manager was particularly kind, introducing me to his gorgeous Japanese girlfriend, Kiko. It was all very innocent, just one band’s hospitality to another. I had no intention of breaking that trust. I believe it was Friday night when the girls threw a big party for us at the Wet Willie house. I remember taking a couple of “reds” that night, i.e., Tuinal, and drinking my fair share of Tequila. And that is the last thing I remember until morning. I woke up naked in Kiko’s bed. Kiko was on the phone, talking to her boyfriend. Through the fog of my hangover, I heard her tell him, “Steve Is here in bed with me.”
“WHAT??? You’re telling him I’m in bed with you? OMG! I don’t even remember how I got here.” “Well, he deserves it,” she said, “He’s mean.” Oh shit, I’m thinking. Now I’m gonna have the Wet Willie crew gunning for me. Great. The hell of it was, I’m pretty sure nothing happened between us. I sure as hell didn’t remember if it did. Later that day, the other girls reassured me. “Don’t worry about it, they’ve got problems, he’ll understand.”
UNINVITED GUESTS The last show of the week was on a Sunday night. The roadies, Lefty and Louie and a huge guy named Tiny, packed up the gear while we retired to our rooms at the motel in Macon. When the roadies returned, they rolled up one joint for each room. No big party scene. Just a bunch of tired musicians chilling after a hard day’s night. SUDDENLY…BAM! The door bursts open. A plain clothes cop leaps into the room, followed by a dozen uniformed cops. They have a warrant. “What’s going on here?” the plain clothes cop demands to know.
“Nothing dude, we’ve been working. What the fuck???” The warrant says that the Bibb County Sheriff’s Department had been informed that a major drug party would be happening in our rooms on this night. It was Ronnie Lee’s bad luck to be holding the roach from the only joint we had the moment the cops burst in. Taking it from his hand and placing it in plastic bag, the head dude ordered us to sit and be quiet while they searched our two adjoining rooms. All they found was that roach and a few pills. That was enough to haul us all in a paddy wagon down to the Bibb County Jail. All told, between the band, the roadies, and a couple of friends from the club, they booked nine of us. Somehow, someone was able to make a couple of calls (I don’t remember who) to someone at the club and to our manager in Ohio. During the process, while they were taking my mugshot, one of the cops told me “Your wife is here to see you.” “My wife? But I’m not married.”
“Well, you’d better tell her that.”
Leading me out to the main room, I saw Kiko through the plate glass window, pleading with an officer. “Oh crap,” I thought, “did I marry her, too?” IN THE BULLPEN
Without getting to speak to my “wife,” the guards led us all to a large room surrounded by two tiers of cells. They called it the Bullpen. But Ronnie Lee—our only black member at the time—they led elsewhere. They segregated Ronnie. I watched as they led him away to God knows where. So, there we were, surrounded by the dregs of Bibb County, jeering us from their cells overlooking the bullpen. “Look what we have here, a bunch of hippy freaks.” It was not a particularly hospitable welcome. Nevertheless, by morning we made friends with the natives. One even agreed to smuggle a note to Ronnie Lee, wherever he was.
Around noon, we were all released without charges, all but Ronnie Lee. He was arraigned before a magistrate for possession of marijuana and released on bond. The bond was paid by the owner of Richard’s. Our manager, Gary LoConti, called him after he got the call about the bust and he drove down from Atlanta to bail us out.
With our tails between our legs, we drove back home to Youngstown, Ohio. For most of us, it was over.
A month or so later, Ronnie Lee flew back to Macon for a hearing. We had learned that the informant for the warrant was the assistant manager of the motel. He overheard Ronnie Lee on the phone in the lobby tell his girlfriend, "We'll be taking another trip on Sunday." He was referring to our trip home. The assistant manager thought he meant we'd be having an acid party in the motel. The manager fired him for it.
The attorney Gary hired assured Ronnie that if he plead guilty, he’d be released with only a misdemeanor possession charge on his record. But after he plead guilty before the judge, the judge sentenced him to a year in prison.
Ronnie nearly fainted. The judge enjoyed drama, I guess, because it took him a minute to add, “Suspended.” Ronnie Lee came home a free man, and we never went back to Macon, Georgia again. Nor did I ever see my “wife” again, either.