As best I can recall, the rain was pouring down in buckets during the early a.m. of Thursday, February 16, 1989. But, hey, maybe it was just sprinkling. The mind plays tricks on you sometimes, when you get a little bit older. What's left of mine should be on the carnival circuit.
One thing's certain, though. Four of us were on the streets wearing ponchos that pre-dawn, and there were puddles everywhere. We were out delivering some 50 clunky green newspaper boxes all over town, chaining them to posts at traffic intersections and storefronts. People couldn't yell at us and tell us to go away, for the excellent reason that they weren't up yet. We were young, but we weren't completely stupid, you see.
Today, remarkably, many of those boxes are still standing at exactly the same spot where they were placed in 1989. We've repainted most of them, but every now and then I see a graying old soldier, a little the worse for wear but still functional.
That's just about the best that can be said about those of us who were "present at the Creation," so to speak. Maudlin is nobody's favorite color around here, but there are four survivors who deserve special mention this week. Whether they like it or not.
There's the legendary Tim Sampson, whom most regular readers know as the gonzo genius behind the We Recommend column. Those under 30 may not be aware that Tim was actually the first editor of this newspaper, from 1989 until 1992, when the rigors of that job drove him stark-raving, er, sensible, and he moved on to bigger and better things. But like a bad dream that never ends, We Recommend has proven to be his undoing. Tim can't shake it, and it can't shake him. Thank God.
Then there's Jerry Swift, senior advertising exec extraordinaire, who showed up here one cold day that winter of 1989, after just getting his marketing degree from Memphis State. Jerry was no rookie, though; he was a veteran of the Memphis club scene, having booked major performers at clubs like Lafayette's Music Room, the Ritz, and P.O.E.T.'s, before deciding he wanted a day job. Ours was a match made in heaven. We needed his years of after-hours experience to make payroll, and Jerry came through, in spades. Somehow he convinced his old music-business buds that the Flyer was a good advertising buy. Don't ask us how he did it, because it certainly wasn't, at least not in 1989. But Jerry kept the wolf from our door, and with the support of our many longtime friends in the Memphis music biz, we've never looked back.
Then there's Cheryl Bader, since the beginning the Flyer's production director and jack-of-all-trades. As I recall, Cheryl was driving the second of our two U-Hauls on that famous first night (kudos to Steve Haley and Joe Afuso, as well, for riding shotgun with us). I do remember Cheryl and I getting into a big fight. We've only had, oh, a couple of thousand more since, but believe me, if anyone ever tells you the Flyer could have gotten from A to B without her, they're lying. Trust me.
And then there's Dovye Perriguey, our comptroller then, our comptroller now. Bean-counters don't usually get any respect, but let me tell you: when you can count all the beans you have on the fingers of two hands, you need all the help you can get. Dovye, you're still the best.
Above is a copy of the cover of that very first issue, the one that filled those green boxes a few hours after we put them out. The first cover story was on Velsicol, one of Memphis' many polluters back then, in the good old days; it's still an excellent article, written by David Lyons, a man who still plays a mean game of poker. The inside pages are filled with more than a few other names you probably know: Tom Prestigiacomo of FM-100 fame -- still the easiest byline to misspell; Dave Woloshin, voice of the U of M football/basketball Tigers; Roy Haithcock, founder and publisher of RSVP, the society monthly; and the late, great Lydel Sims, longtime Commercial Appeal columnist.
I love the ads in that first issue -- all 22 of them. In fact, I love the ads in this issue. Never forget, folks, that without this kind of community-wide business support, none of us here would have jobs, and you wouldn't be reading this newspaper. Exactly half of our "charter advertisers" -- 11 hardy perennials -- have survived these 15 years right alongside us: Breakaway Athletics, Doug Carpenter Advertising (now Carpenter-Sullivan), Cottland Bedding (now Otherlands), Flashback, Huey's, Memphis Drum Shop, 1910 Frameworks, David Palvado Cleaners, Henry Turley Company, and Zinnie's. Thanks, guys. We literally could not have done it without you.
-- by Kenneth Neill, Publisher
Two men go into a bar ...
A lot of jokes start out that way. This isn't one of them. Or maybe it is. Depends on your point of view.
The bar in question was in Miami. It was 1991. I was the editor of a magazine published in Pittsburgh. Kenneth Neill was a publisher from Memphis. We were both attending a convention -- a magazine convention, believe it or not. Late of a Saturday night, we found ourselves seated next to each other in a blues joint located just south of South Beach. Not a pretty neighborhood. And the blues sucked too. We'd been dragged there by a fellow conventioneer who claimed it was the only "real" blues joint in Miami. (Why any of us thought going to a blues joint in Miami was a good idea is lost in the mists of time.)
Like I said, the blues sucked, so we talked magazines and music and baseball and whatever the hell else comes up between two strangers in a bar in a strange town. Three hours later, we closed the place down and walked outside.
The night was hot, steamy, like a Turkish bath. It was late and there were no taxis to be found in south South Beach. Our hotel was, oh, six miles away. But it was good night for a walk, so walk we did. And we talked some more. By the time we reached the hotel, Ken had convinced himself that I needed to move to Memphis and work for him. He almost even convinced me.
A few weeks later, in April, I came to visit Ken in Memphis. Back in Pittsburgh, the snow was only starting to melt. We hadn't seen the sun since October. In Memphis, I sat on Ken's Cooper-Young porch and watched a mockingbird build a nest in an azalea bush. I sipped a beer and stared up at the immense leafy oak branches painted in evening light. This, I thought, isn't bad.
Within a year, I had managed to move to Memphis. I've been performing various editorial duties around here ever since. It's been a fulfilling run and the time has flown by faster than seems possible.
You'll read a lot in the following pages about the history and legend of the Flyer. What else would you expect from an issue we've themed "It's All About Us"? This, of course, in brilliant ironic contrast to the CA's new "Appeal" sections mantra: "It's All About You!" (A more accurate slogan might be: "It's all about verbatim press releases about potential advertisers and mislabeled photographs!" But that's just me.)
Yes, history is important, and the old days at the Flyer were wild and woolly. (There used to be a joke that the Flyer drug-tested all its reporters. If they weren't on drugs, they were fired. Bada-bump.) On page 44, former reporter Paul Gerald writes about his experiences back in the day, including getting an assignment to write about the Grateful Dead for six weeks.
It's different now, to say the least.
History aside, the current staff, without question, is the finest ever assembled under this leaky roof. We've two veteran pros -- Jackson Baker and John Branston -- whose multitude of sources and contacts and dead-on reporting instincts are irreplaceable. Staff writers Mary Cashiola and Janel Davis demonstrate their talent and versatility each week. They can cover literally any subject -- school board, City Council, crime, day-care, fashion, you name it -- and do it without missing a beat. They are the heart of the editorial staff. Chris Davis is the hardest-working man in show business, putting his unique and entertaining spin on theater, art, music, and media. And he's gained a cult following for his Fly on the Wall column. Chris Herrington came to the Flyer as a music editor and in short order transformed our music coverage into a section that is second to none. In his spare time, he covers the Grizzlies, a subject also dear to his heart. (Who else do you know who can name the 12-man rosters for every NBA team?) Bianca Phillips (better known as our "perma-tern") has carved an irreplaceable niche on the staff by finding stories in places where no one thought to go before.
Managing editor Susan Ellis deserves special mention. Without her steady and tireless direction, the Flyer would never get to press. And Susan has created a Steppin' Out section that is the envy of alternative weeklies nationwide. Senior editor Michael Finger, another long-time staffer, shepherds the potpourri we call City Reporter, shaping and cutting each story to fit, even when they won't.
I would also be remiss in not mentioning our intrepid copyeditors, Leonard Gill and Pamela Denney, whose skills make this copy readable and whose patience is the envy of all.
Special kudos also go to art director Carrie Beasley, assistant art director Amy Mathews, and advertising art director Tara McKenzie, who create something out of nothing more often than they would like to admit -- and do it with no time left on the clock.
We've worked hard on the issue. We hope you like it. And we hope you'll stick around with us for another 15 years.
Jeanne Seagle got her foot in the door the classic way: She knew someone. That someone was Cheryl Bader, now an associate publisher, who got her an assignment illustrating the second issue's cover. Seagle has continued to do covers and other stories through the years, but her steady Flyer gig has been illustrating News of the Weird.
Seagle also illustrates children's books and paints murals, landscapes, and portraits. In addition, she is currently involved in the UrbanArts Commission's Trolley Stop Project, helping to create mosaic murals at two stops on Madison Avenue.
Mike Niblock began cartooning while attending Murray State University. He approached the Flyer's first art director, Risâ Ramsey, and showed her his work shortly after the paper's first issue. He's been doing our editorial cartoon ever since.
The 43-year-old cartoonist has been married for 14 years to his wife, Judy. They have two sons: Kevin and Patrick.
1. Denny Crum and Bob Huggins home and away
2. Anfernee Hardaway in his prime
3. Arts in the Park at Overton Park
4. Movies that make Memphis look good
5. Harold Ford Sr. working a close election
6. Michael Wilson dunking
7. Topless-bar raids
8. Cheap beer specials at minor- league baseball games
9. A new John Grisham book set in Memphis
10. Dennis Freeland on our staff
11. Lee Baker on guitar
12. Burton Callicott on canvas
13. Hernando's Hideaway on the weekend
14. Sam Phillips on the origin of rock-and-roll
15. John Daly on his game for good