The city of Grambling, Louisiana is a much different town now than it was in the past. The now sleepy downtown once had a thriving entertainment and music scene inspired by the sounds of Motown, and the Grambling State University football team was at the pinnacle of its dominance in the 1970’s under the watch of coach Eddie Robinson, who would later become the all-time winningest coach in the history of Division 1 NCAA football.
My father, Everett Carl “Pooh” Patterson, a native of Grambling, experienced the prime years of the city firsthand and actually made a considerable contribution to the music scene during his childhood. All of my life I’ve only known him to be the analytical chemical engineer that spends most of his free time doing online shopping, but as it turns out he actually had a much different past than what most people would expect.
Even though he was a solid student and a competitive basketball player at the Grambling State University Laboratory School, Everett developed his first true passion during his 7th grade band class, “The first experience was in 7th grade… band was the first exposure to playing drums.”
Despite having no previous playing experience, he instantly learned the intricacies of the drums, as only a year later he was named to the Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas All Star band. This instantly earned him the reputation as one of the best drummers in the area, despite just being in 8th grade.
While learning to play the drums, he never received official music lessons, “It just came naturally, it was really all just self-taught.” says Everett. But his quick emergence as a skilled drummer didn’t come as much of a surprise, as his family had a strong musical background. His older brother and my uncle, E.K. Patterson, was considered to be a top drummer in the area during his high school career and was one of the founding members of an R&B group called Leach and the Gang, where he became one of the group’s lead singers. Everett’s other brother, Eric, also was in the school’s stage band.
The legacy of his older brother, E.K., helped pave the way for Everett’s drumming career. In eighth grade, Leroy “Leach” Hawthorne, Jr., the founder of Leach and the Gang, granted Everett the position to replace Vincent Rawlins as the group’s lead drummer, while a year later he became the drums section leader for his high school marching band.
While a prominent member of his school’s stage band and marching band, Everett’s fondest moments as a drummer occurred with Leach and the Gang. The group already had notoriety in the Grambling area thanks to the group’s previous members, which included his older brother E.K. When asked about the pressure of filling in his brother’s shoes, Everett responded by saying, “There wasn’t any pressure, it was all just fun.”
Leach, who at the time was a student at Grambling State, was the only remaining member from the group’s original line-up (and the only member that was not in high school), and the revamped Leach and the Gang continued to expand their brand.
During Everett’s time in the band, they never produced any original content, but instead focused on performing popular R&B songs such as “Brick House” by the Commodores and “Got to Give it Up” by Marvin Gaye. “This was before iTunes, so we just had stacks and stacks of albums that we’d listen to,” says Everett.
However, he also was a member of the band’s subset group, a jazz quartet, which featured three other members of Leach and the Gang, including Leach, that did produce their own songs, “Even though we were in high school, we sounded like professionals.”
On the weekends, Leach and the Gang would typically perform at gigs around Grambling Saturday nights from 10:00 to 1:00 at night. They would most commonly play at the Renaissance Center, a local night club.
Balancing his school work with the band never was an issue for Everett, as his senior year he was invited to the international science fair in St. Paul, Minneapolis thanks to a project measuring nitrate levels in local water sources, “I cannot remember studying in high school… but yet I ended up being an honors student. My school didn’t have honors or AP, so that’s probably why I did so well.”
In Grambling, the band became more and more popular, “It was kind of weird because we were just in high school, but people would ask us for autographs… after some performances people would run after us, and we would have to hide in the dressing rooms,” explains Everett. They eventually found themselves playing all over Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Leach and the Gang backed up other professional bands such as Sister Sledge, Ray Goodman and Brown, and The Temptations. “The biggest venue I ever played at was when we were opening up for the Temptations at the the Monroe Civic Center… it had a capacity of about 10,000, and it was completely filled… we would go to places as far as Dallas, so we all would get in a van at about noon Saturday, and won’t come back till four or five in the morning on Sunday.”
Despite his success and him traveling such long distances, Everett’s parents never went to his gigs, “My parents were very attuned to getting a good education. They didn’t believe in the entertainment business.”
Everett could only recall one time when his parents showed up to one of his gigs, “Of course the only time they came was when we were playing at a bar and some sort of altercation happened which lead to a big fight breaking out, which rarely ever happened… My parents just got up and left… our band director had to convince my parents to let me stay with the band.”
Despite his parent’s disapproval, during the summer going into his junior year in high school, Everett developed aspirations to become a professional drummer. He inquired other professional artists, such as famed jazz pianist Chick Corea, about how to make it in the music industry. However, he soon found out that his parents had other ideas about his future.
Later on, Everett earned a band scholarship to LSU, “I was talking to the band directory and had earned a scholarship… I was pretty much all set for LSU.” But that all changed when his older sister convinced him to attend an engineering summer camp at Iowa State, “I had always been interested in science, so I said why not… but at the end of the camp I remember calling my dad, and he pretty much told me that I wasn’t coming back home… He didn’t want me to go to LSU because he thought there would be too many distractions.”
Going from a small town in northern Louisiana to Iowa was no easy adjustment for Everett. “I went from pretty much all black to all white and really hot to really cold… in my first year there was a snowstorm of 23 inches, and I didn’t have a coat.”
After realizing that his dreams of becoming a professional drummer were over, Everett focused on earning his degree as a chemical engineer. In his fall of his freshman year at ISU, Leach and the Gang did receive an offer to be the opening up act for the Commodores for their upcoming tour. However, since Everett and the rest of the members had begun to concentrate on college, they had to decline, “If we went on tour with them, God knows what could’ve happened, but in college I pretty much stopped playing the drums.”
As the years went on, Leach and the Gang slowly dissipated, and Everett began to adapt to his new surroundings. Coming from a poor educational system in Louisiana, chemical engineering was a difficult career to pursue, “In my first year I pretty much had to take all the class that I should’ve in high school… I was able to transition culturally and academically because I had to succeed… I essentially was in the middle of a corn field, so the only thing I could do was to study.” Despite his original challenges, Everett went on to become the first African-American to graduate as a chemical engineer from Iowa State.
All photos are courtesy of the Patterson family.