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Sherman Tate and The Blazers

by Charly Mann

The story of The Blazers began in the foothills of North Carolina in Rutherford County when in 1963 Sherman Tate got his first guitar. He soon became enamored by the music of the Rolling Stones and their charismatic front man Mick Jagger. Sherman's first band was called December's Children, which was the name of a 1965 album by the Rolling Stones.

The Blazers with Sherman Tate
The original Blazers: left to right - Rodney Underwood, Ronnie Taylor, Sherman Tate, Jimmy Weaver, and Joey Earth

In 1967 Tate came to Chapel Hill and established himself as one the central figures in the town's emerging rock 'n' roll music scene. In 1969 he put together and fronted the legendary band Frog Level with two of other of the best musicians in the state, Spiral Spurlin and Granny Grantham. In 1970 the band relocated for two years to Toronto so Tate could avoid the draft. In Canada the band really took off and might have made it to the big time if Sherman had not decided he wanted to return to Chapel Hill. When the band returned to Chapel Hill they became regulars at Fat City (now He's Not Here), and Sherman took a job in a store I managed, The Record and Tape Center. Later that year Frog Level broke up and Sherman took a brief hiatus from being a performing musician.

Sherman Tate - Mr Rock n Roll
Sherman Tate - Born to Rock 'n' Roll

In 1974 guitar wonder kid and marketing savvy Rodney Underwood convinced Sherman he was the man to front a polished rock and roll band with a strong rhythm and blues undertone, and the Blazers were born. The other original members of the group were Joey Earth (a nom de plume for Joey Sinreich) on bass, and long time Chapel Hill resident Ronnie Taylor on drums. The band quickly established a loyal following and remains the best looking foursome in Chapel Hill's history. Despite Sherman taking off a couple years to enjoy the serenity of northern California, the band revived in 1977 with the addition of Jimmy Weaver on keyboards. It was this line up that I saw several times at the Cat's Cradle and Town Hall music clubs in Chapel Hill. They impressed me so much that I signed them to my record label Cream of the Crop Records.

Cream of the Crop Records
Logo of my record company, Cream of the Crop Records, on which the first Blazers album was recorded

What made the Blazers an exceptional band was the amazing transformation of the mild mannered Clark Kent-like Sherman Tate into the outrageous bundle of energy known as Shakin' Sherman when the Blazers took the stage. To the trained eye the only visible difference were the dark glasses that were his trademark when performing, yet his personality was so different that it always seemed miraculous when he metamorphosed into a cross between James Brown and Little Richard.

Legendary Chapel Hill band Frog Level in 1974 featuring Sherman Tate (photo by Ric Carter) 

I produced the Blazers first album and the recording was done at Mega Sounds in Baily, NC in 1977. Besides the Blazers the album featured guest vocalist Adele FosterJim Henderson on tenor and alto sax, and Spiral Sperlin on harmonica. Richard Royal served as the engineer. The album was titled Store Bought and the cover photograph was taken inside the Record Bar on Franklin Street. On the cover the five members of the Blazers are surrounded and embraced by fourteen of Chapel Hill's most beautiful women. The album had many highlights including, I think, the best cover of the J.J. Cale song, They Call Me The Breeze as well as what several critics have hailed as the best rendition of  Wilson Pickett's 634-5780. My own favorite is their Southern rock treatment of Billy Joe Shaver's I've Been To Georgia on a Fast Train.

The Blazers Store Bought
Cover photo of the Blazers album Store Bought

The Blazers Store Bought album sold well in Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill and was reviewed favorably by all the local media. One local newspaper even rated it one of the top 15 albums of 1977 along with albums like Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town, Billy Joel's 52nd Street, Dire Straits debut album which included the song Sultans of Swing, Tom Waits's Blue Valentine, Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus, The Cars debut album, and The Who's Who are You. Even though the Blazers did not tour in support of the album, it found pockets of success nationally and around the globe. It was a hit throughout France, sold very well in Italy where it got great reviews, and even had decent sales in England where the prestigious New Musical Express made favorable comments about it.

The Blazers STORE BOUGHT produced by Charly Mann
Back cover dedication of the Blazers album Store Bought

The Blazers stayed together for more than ten years with original members Tate and Ronnie Taylor. They were joined by Rick Miller in 1979 and went on to record their second album called How to Rock. Miller later had a successful career under two different monikers,  Rick Rock and Parthenon Huxley. Many people who knew the Blazers believe if they had relocated to Los Angles, New York City, or Austin in the late seventies they would have also been able to achieve national prominence.

The saddest part of writing this piece was discovering that Rodney Underwood had died on June 4th, 2009. He was the vibrant force of the Blazers and an incredible human being. He had a successful career in advertising in both New York City and Pittsburgh. Just prior to his death he finished making a documentary film on the Pittsburgh blues scene called Getting to the Bottom of Our Blues. Rodney's wonderful vocals can be heard on the third track on the music player at the top of this article singing "I Ain't Got You." 

Rosney Underwood
Rodney Underwood (1951 - 2009)

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Comments:

moodymoose77      1:48 AM Thu 3/12/2015

I have both Lps by The Blazers. I think I will transfer them on to CDs. Anyone who wants one contact me
 

Darrell Edwards      12:53 PM Wed 7/21/2010

I work at a record store in Nashville, Tn. We have what appears to be an unplayed &quot;Store Bought&quot; LP. I&#39;m trying to figure out a price for it and stumbled across this page. Would gladly sell it to any of you guys. Make some offers or I&#39;ll put it on eBay. email me at edwardsrecordings (at) gmail (dot) com<br \><br \>Thanks!
 

chris chamis      10:07 AM Sun 5/16/2010

This is a great article - I met Sherman in 78 - a really sweet and talented guy.<br \>You should correct your error about Rick Miller. He isn&#39;t the Rick Miller of Southern Culture. He went on to be known as Rick Rock and now Parthenon Huxley.
 

Michael Hicks      12:08 PM Mon 3/1/2010

Is that Jaki Shelton Greene kneeling on the counter with her arms around Rodney Underwood in the photograph of the Blazers?
 

Robert Marin      12:05 PM Sun 2/28/2010

I really enjoy these songs, especially the BALLAD OF LITTLE RICHARD. Are there any recordings now available by the Blazers?
 

Pat McMann      1:52 PM Sat 2/27/2010

I am so sorry to hear about Rodney. Do you know the circumstances of his death?
 

John Thomas      1:17 PM Fri 2/26/2010

For decades I have heard about this amazing Chapel Hill band called FROG LEVEL. Are there any recording by them? If so could you post a few?
 

Dan Newhouse      10:04 AM Fri 2/26/2010

I paid $35 a couple of years ago for a not so perfect version of the Blazers - Store Bought album on eBay. Someone should re-release the album with bonus material.
 

Christiane Kelly      8:50 AM Fri 2/26/2010

I recall seeing the Blazers once in Raleigh and really enjoying their performance. Your article mentions that Adele Foster was on their album. She was a fantastic vocalist that I often saw at the PIER. Do you have any information on what she is doing today?
 

Bill Harrison      7:39 PM Thu 2/25/2010

I lost my copy of STORE BOUGHT years ago. Is it available on CD.
 

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Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.

 

 

What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt

 

 

Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".

 

 

Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies
oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com
http://oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

 



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There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.

 

 

The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.

 

 

 

 

The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.

 

 

 

 

William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.

 

 

The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.

 

 

Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.

 

 



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.

 

 

Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.

 

 

The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.

 

 

Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.

 

 

Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.

 

 

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