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Interview with Nick Ponos, April 30, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Nick Ponos, April 30, 2002
April 30, 2002
In this second half of his interview, Nic Ponos discusses the local music scene during the Big Band era, along with an overview of his encounters with and admiration for various musicians.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Ponos, Nic Interviewer:  Dutka, Andy / Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  4/30/2002 Series:  Arts Length  59:45


Hayes: Tell us who we are.

Dutka: This is- Good morning. This is Tuesday, April- no, Tuesday, May- April. Tuesday, April 30th. We're at Mr. Nic Ponos' house, on, what is it, Hawthorn Drive?

Ponos: 1401 Hawthorn Road.

Dutka: Great. And I'm Andy Dutka, and Sherman Hayes is running the camera today. And we're going to do Part 2 of the Ponos interview. And we are going to start talking to Mr. Ponos about his scrapbooks and some of the big band greats that are in the scrapbook that we would like to talk about. So what have you got here, Mr. Ponos?

Ponos: Well, I think we got 'em back about this far.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: With Artie Shaw. This is Jay-

(crew talk)

Ponos: Hickenbottom. Played uh... I mean uh....

Dutka: Now did- when these- did these guys come into town, or did you see 'em like in Raleigh, and stuff?

Ponos: Uhm.. They came into town back in those days.

Dutka: Uh huh.

Ponos: To the Lumina.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: At Wrightsville Beach, to uh...Carolina Beach at the Pavilion.

Dutka: Uh huh.

Ponos: Uh... And uh....

Hayes: Does the scrapbook say each date that they came in, for example?

Ponos: No. No. These are just songs that I took out of the song magazines back then, and put 'em in. Oren Hot Lips Page played with Artie Shaw. And uh....

Hayes: Do you remember which venue they came into that you saw them at?

Ponos: Which specific place?

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: Artie Shaw came to uhm... Lumina, I know.

Hayes: Good.

Ponos: And uh...I don't know about the Barn. I can't remember. There were so many. And this is uh...Glenn Gary and his Casa Loma Band, which was another great, famous band.

(crew talk)

Ponos: Uh... This is another great band leader, James Sievert, Freddie Slack. Freddie Slack uh... did a lot of boogie-woogie.

Dutka: Now, what was the difference between like boogie-woogie and big band? What's the difference?

Ponos: Well, the big bands performed both.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: It's just a different style of music, like Latin American.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: And rumbas, and uh... uh... Bocce Novas, things like that. Yeah.

Dutka: Great.

Ponos: And Bob Chester was another uh... very good band leader. uh... He didn't get the fame that uh... Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and the Dorsey brothers got. This is Dinah Shore, who was very famous. And Jenny Sims sang with Kay Kyser's band. And Kay Kyser was uh... came out of the University of North Carolina.

Dutka: Oh, right. Right.

Ponos: And he had a couple of real funny guys. When Ish Kabibble on trumpet cut his hairs all kind of funny ways.

Hayes: Now how would you get these photos? Would you buy these photos?

Ponos: No. I happened to uh... go to a lot of these events, and Paul T. Marshman, who uh... was a booker back then, had a little grocery store, 6 and uh... Chestnut Street.

Hayes: Interesting.

Ponos: The store is still standing, and it is a grocery store run by other people. But Paul T. Marshman was a booker, and then uh....

Hayes: What does that mean, a booker?

Ponos: He would book bands.

Hayes: Oh.

Ponos: He would- he would be one of the principal uh... people to bring them to the Lumina according- uh... They would notify his office there, the uh... publicity agents of the bands, and tell him that we're on our route, southern route, going to Florida. uh... We'd like to play at uh... any places you can book us on the way. See they'd pick up for extra stops. And that's the way the big bands worked it. Uhm... Then there was uhm... Don Watts, who was uh... secretary of the local, the musicians' local, we had a musicians' local back then in the uh... '30s, '40s, '50s. Then it disbanded. But we did have uh... the uh... Musicians uh... Union under Petrillo. He was the uh... uh... head man of the Musicians uh... Union in the United States. uh...

(crew talk)

Ponos: And I would go with Don Watts and then uh... I'd get pictures and would uh...

(crew talk)

Ponos: And then uh... I would put 'em in a scrapbook. And it was a real pleasure. Sometime I'd get them autographed as I will show you as we go on.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: And this is Louis Armstrong, one of the great ambassadors of jazz and big band. Helen Forrest was an excellent vocalist. She sang with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Harry James. uh... Helen I think fell in love with uh... Harry James, but Harry James married Betty Grable.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: Yeah. And this is Harry James here.

(crew talk)

Ponos: This is Perry Como, another great crooner of that time. And this man here, as far as I'm concerned, Lionel Hampton was as great a musician as ever walked the face of the earth.

Dutka: Uh huh.

Ponos: If not the greatest. He played three instruments, but on vibes, vibra harp, uh... he- he was awesome.

Dutka: Um hm.

Ponos: He could play with four mallets.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: And flip 'em in the air. And he uh... played drums and piano. And he played piano just like he played vibes with one finger.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: And he'd move so fast you could hardly see his fingers move. On drums, he had those tom-toms specially built, and he'd jump on it and dance on it and play. He was uh... quite a- quite a fabulous musician. I think his aunt, it was his aunt who helped him and pushed him, because she saw how talented he- he was as a natural musician. But uh... he plays- he played drums. He was excellent on drums. And he made several recordings on 78 rpm records. Quite a few on 78 rpm's. This is Jimmy Larson [ph?], who had a great band also. Came to Wilmington at the Barn.

Dutka: Now where was the Barn again? What?

Ponos: The Barn was on Dawson Street back then.

Dutka: Now was that a colored only? Or was it a mixed club?

Ponos: No. It was a blacks.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: Yeah. There was also blacks, and uh... I forgot the fellow's name. I think it was Willy something that ran the Barn. And I'd go over there with the uh... Musicians' Local uh... secretary.

Dutka: Right, right.

Ponos: And this is Jack Leonard, who sang with Tommy Dorsey before Frank Sinatra got into the band.

Dutka: Uh huh.

Ponos: And this man had a far superior voice the way I heard him and listened to him, because he made some great records with Tommy Dorsey, "Marie", uhm.. "Whispering", uh... there were a couple more, very popular tunes that uh... Jack Leonard made. But he had a- as far as I'm concerned, superior voice to Frank Sinatra. But Fra- Frank Sinatra had a lot of charisma, too.

Dutka: Oh, yeah.

Ponos: That carried him through the many years.

Hayes: So did Frank come here to the Lumina as far as you know?

Ponos: I don't remember him.

Hayes: Where did you see him then?

Ponos: Unless he- well, he probably came with Tommy Dorsey. I saw Frank Sinatra at the Military Ball when I was at NC State.

Hayes: Oh, great.

Ponos: The band came there and uh... Tommy Dorsey had uh... Frank Sinatra, Connie Haines, Joe Stafford, uh... Ziggy Elman on trumpet, and quite a few more uh... great side men. Buddy Rich was on drums. And I have those pictures in my other album. This is Tommy. This young man here, Corky Corcoran, was very young when he started playing, and he went into the Harry James band. Corky was about 14 or 15. He had to get uh... written permission from his parents to play in the band because the Union wouldn't permit it.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: Now here, where I have- These are pictures here of the...

Hayes: Of Benny.

Ponos: Movie.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: That's the movie.

Dutka: Well, good. O.k.

Ponos: That's the Benny-

Dutka: Benny Goodman Story. Yeah.

Ponos: The Benny Goodman Story. Yeah.

Dutka: Now who is this?

Ponos: And uh... this is Johnny Hodges. Oh, that was the- he was the greatest alto sax man of the era, played with uh... Duke Ellington. And Duke Ellington's band, and side men stuck with him through 35 years.

Interviewers: Wow. Wow.

Ponos: They never left him. Harry Carney on uh... baritone sax, uh... There was Ben Webster on uh... tenor, outstanding. Sonny Greer, drums. They stuck with him through all those years.

Hayes: Now when you talked about, uh....

Ponos: That's Willy Smith, another great alto saxist. When I talked...

Hayes: When you talked about touring, were you ever there when the band would show up? I mean, what was it like? Did they come in a bus, or how did they?

Ponos: They came in sometimes separate vehicles, sometime in buses, or a couple of buses for their equipment and for the personnel of the band. Yeah. And it was uh... something to watch 'em load and unload. And, of course that's what I've been doing now for uh... some 67 years. I load up my drums. I travel. I- I load up my drums. I travel. Then uhm.. I unload. I set up. We perform. Then I dismantle. Load up. Travel, and unload.

Hayes: So what-

Ponos: And it takes about ten hours to play a four-hour job.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: And most people don't realize it, and whenever I uh... do tell 'em the prices, I write down there all those steps so that they will know what goes on and why it costs. This is Les Brown and his Band of Renown. And that was personally autographed. I think we saw them. It was in 1955. uh... I don't know where we uh... Doris Day sang with him. He had a very good band. Doris Day went on later and became a very good actress. And she sang in films, too. This is Louis Jordan, who uh... had a band called The Tiffany Five, and uh... he was quite a showman. He was uh... played great horn and uh... the songs that he wrote were funny. And they were humorous. I don't know how they thought up the words and put it together. Sarah Vaughn, another great vocalist. And this is Doris Day that went on to become an actress. She was singing with uh....

Hayes: Andy.

Ponos: Uh... Les Brown and his Band of Renown.

Dutka: That's good. Now did you cut- you collected these pictures as a teenager, as a young man?

Ponos: Yeah.

Dutka: Yes?

Ponos: I was a teenager.

Dutka: Now when I- you were a teenager in Wilmington at that time. How did you hear the music? Was it on the radio or did you go- how did you first hear about all the music usually?

Ponos: I would buy the records.

Dutka: O.k. Where were the records?

Ponos: And anywhere you would go, in any city in the United States.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: If you walked by a soda shop or a business or a café, uh... juke boxes, you'd hear the big bands. That's what you heard. You didn't hear rock and roll. There was no such thing. And it was wonderful music. You'd go in a café and they'd have a juke box. People put nickels in and uh....

Dutka: Was there one café that was more popular? Like where was it downtown. What were some of the places you went.

Ponos: It- it was everywhere.

Dutka: Everywhere.

Ponos: Everywhere.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: At the hotdog stands, hamburger joints, drug stores. Didn't make any difference where you went. You walked by a place and it had a radio on, you'd hear big band music.

Hayes: Yeah, yeah.

Ponos: That's what was a national craze.

Hayes: Where did you buy your 78 records then?

Ponos: I would buy them from McGrath Music Company. The building is still standing on Market Street. There's a- it's an old antique shop now, but it's closed. It's right there at uh... Front and Market, the first building after the corner building.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: And uhm.. I would buy the uh... records from Yacht Music Company on Princess Street, between uh... Second and Third Street. uh... Then they were uh... the uh... music uh... distributors that had the juke boxes, the juke box people. And those companies I would get up with them, Mr. McCormick was one. And uhm... I would go to his place and he'd have used records that were taken off the juke boxes, and he'd sell 'em to me for a nickel each.

Dutka: Huh.

Ponos: And that helped me build the collection that you've got now.

Dutka: Right, exactly. Exactly.

Ponos: Yeah. And it's amazing uh... the uh... Mr.- Mr. McCormick's son and Miss McCormick's, uh... they are getting married and I believe the band is going to play for their wedding.

Dutka: Your band.

Ponos: My band. Nic's Orchette.

Dutka: Full circle.

Ponos: Now this is uh... Chick Webb, the great band leader. He was a hunchback drummer.

Hayes: That's good.

Ponos: And he was the one that found Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald uh... was an orphan when uh... Chick Webb found her, and he took her to his home and uh... Chick and his wife helped bring her up. And then he realized that she had a voice. So he trained her and with his band.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: She was 15 when she hit the stage at the Apollo Theater, and she was singing "A Tisket A Tasket." It was unbelievable. It uh... the public went wild. Every- anywhere you walked, you'd hear that record being played. I don't know how many of those records that my daddy wore out. He had a café at Carolina Beach, and uh... operating that uh... at the same time that he had the uhm.. New York Cleaners and Hatters downtown Wilmington.

Dutka: Huh.

Ponos: And uh... daddy-

Hayes: Now tell us about that café. We hadn't heard about that. Why did he?

Ponos: Well, he uh... bought property at Carolina Beach, and back in those days uh... Carolina Beach was offering uh... if you bought a lot for $50, they'd give you a lot free.

Dutka: Oh.

Ponos: And you know that was going on at Myrtle Beach, too. I remember it.

Dutka: Um-hm. Um-hm.

Ponos: But daddy would uh... tell the juke box man put- put- trip the machine and let it play Ella "A Tisket, A Tasket." He'd say it in broken English, but he loved Ella and so did my mother. And uhm.. uh... he wore out those records. He put nickel after nickel for "A Tisket, A Tasket" and uh... he'd wear the records out. Juke box man had to put new records on a "A Tisket, A Tasket." Chick Webb was very talented. As you can see from that picture, uh... the different uh... percussions that he had on his set.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: This is another one of Louis Armstrong and uh... my wife and I saw him February the 13th, 1957, at North Carolina State Coliseum, the Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. And I have a picture with him, which I need to bring and let you see it. Shall I get it now?

Hayes: Sure. Sure.

Ponos: You want to?

Dutka: Now who's that? That's you and Louis Armstrong.

Ponos: Louis Armstrong. That's in Raleigh at the Reynolds Coliseum when he came there for a concert.

Hayes: Wow.

Dutka: And was he signing an album for you here?

Ponos: Yeah.

Dutka: Yeah? That's great.

Ponos: And that album, you've got.

Hayes: Great.

Ponos: Uh... And it's signed.

Hayes: Excellent.

Ponos: By him.

Dutka: Excellent.

Ponos: So that's a collector's item.

Dutka: Oh, sure. I will put that down.

Ponos: O.k. You need to know that. That's o.k.

Dutka: That's great.

Ponos: Put it right here.

Dutka: Alright.

Ponos: Now we'll go on through here. uh... This is Erskine Hawkins, who had a band of his own also. And he came to the band- to the Barn. I know.

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: This is personally autographed. Butch Stone sang with Les Brown and the Band of Renown.

Hayes: Good.

Ponos: There's another picture of Louis Armstrong.

Hayes: Did Louis come later when- to the Azalea Festival? Did he ever come back for?

Ponos: I don't think he ever made the Azalea Festival.

Hayes: 'Cause there's quite a few great jazz people that came in for the Azalea Festival, right, later on? The one you're- who is the one that your son was with? That was...

Ponos: That was Louis Armstrong.

Hayes: That wasn't here? That was down at...

Ponos: That was a special concert in uh... what was the date on that thing? That Louis Armstrong came to Brogdon Hall for a concert.

Dutka: Right, right. Brogdon Hall, yeah. Yeah, that's what we talked about. Yeah.

Ponos: Now this is Dizzy Gillespie, who brought in uh....Be- Bop.

Hayes: Now what's Be-Bop? Tell us what Be-Bop?

Ponos: Be-Bop was a variation of jazz.

Hayes: Good.

Ponos: Uh... I never went in for it. And this is Hal Macintyre, who played with Glenn Miller, then left Miller and had a band of his own. He was at the Policemen's Ball at Lumina in 1955, July the 2nd.

Dutka: Excellent.

Ponos: This is Mac Roach, another very good drummer. I think he's still living. Another Louis photo. This is the Benny Goodman Story, when uh... Glenn uh... when Benny Goodman played with Ben Park. And that's a picture from the movie.

Hayes: Now what about, where would you have seen that movie?

Ponos: Where would I have seen it?

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: Here in Wilmington.

Hayes: What's the- was there a-

Ponos: Oh, I think it was at the Bailey Theater that I saw that. And this is a group that I played with, John D'Angelo Trio. This was in 1952. This was Blue [ph?] Brown, another band leader. He didn't get to the heights of a Miller and Dorsey Brothers, or Artie Shaw.

Hayes: Now wait a minute.

Ponos: This is Les Brown again.

Hayes: Many of those are signed. Is that to you and your girlfriend there? Or what's the...?

Ponos: No. This is my wife.

Hayes: Alright.

Ponos: This is to Eva and Nic. Eva is my wife.

Hayes: I know. Did she go with you then to the...?

Ponos: Oh, yes.

Hayes: So she really enjoyed that, too. That was...

Ponos: Yes. She liked those things, too. Yes.

Hayes: Now what about when you were playing bands and going here and there, and weekends, and so forth? She didn't travel all over with you then?

Ponos: No. She didn't go to all. She used to at the beginning, but it got old hat and she stopped. This is Woody Herman. That's uh... Flip Phillips there, a very good sax man, that played with Woody Herman.

Hayes: And the Thundering Herd.

Ponos: This is Ray McKinley, uh... and it's uh... signed, autographed Ray McKinley. He's a drummer. He played with the Will Bradley Band that did a lot of boogie woogie. And then he fronted the Glenn Miller Band after Miller, he- he died.

Hayes: I see.

Ponos: Yeah.

Hayes: Now why do you think Glenn Miller's band became the icon of all bands? Why were they so...?

Ponos: Because of the combination of sound that he had. He had four saxophones and one clarinet. He took that fifth sax out and let the guy play clarinet. And he got a tonal quality that was unlike any other band.

Hayes: I see.

Ponos: And that's what clicked. And he looked for that sound. When you uh... look at the uh... Glenn Miller s- Glenn Miller Story, I think Jimmy Stewart played that part and Donna Reed. Was it Donna Reed? Or-

Dutka: June Allyson played the wife.

Ponos: June Allyson. That's it. uh... There's another Louis photo. And this is my so-called idol, Gene Krupa. And it's personally autographed.

Hayes: Now when did that happen? When did you?

Ponos: That- let's see. Does it have a date on it? No, it sure doesn't. But Gene Krupa, to me, was the pinnacle of drummers. Now, Buddy Rich and Krupa were the same era. Krupa uh... died before Buddy Rich.

Dutka: Um-hm.

Ponos: But uh... this man here was- had a great personality. And he was very versatile on the drums, more versatile than Buddy Rich. However, Buddy Rich had the fastest hands in drumnastics. Did I tell you all this before?

Dutka: Not about the- Buddy Rich.

Ponos: Now, Buddy Rich, his parents were vaudevillians. And when he was born, they had him in a little bassinette backstage. And they performed while he was there in the back, and as he heard the music he started doing this with his hands. And so at three years old they got him a trap outfit, a drum outfit.

Hayes: Wow.

Ponos: Small one. And at five he got so good on the drum outfit that they had gotten him, that they put him in their act.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: And he went on from that. But he had the fastest hands in drumnastics. Krupa was more versatile. Now Buddy Rich was ornery. He'd- he'd strike a fight in a minute, in a second. As a matter of fact, when he was with the Tommy Dorsey Band they called that the fighting band because they'd get in a argument. uh... Some- one guy in the band would say something to another guy and uh... that'd get him hot, and at intermission they'd go out and fight and then come back in and play some more. I don't know how they kept from busting their lips playing their horns. But uh... Gene Krupa went to Hollywood and he made several movies and had his band in it. And Krupa, as you can see, is a very handsome man. And Hollywood wanted Krupa as an actor, but he wouldn't give up the band. He wouldn't give up the music.

Dutka: Hey. Did you- now you heard him play. Did he ever hear you play at all, or not?

Ponos: No.

Dutka: No.

Ponos: I met him four times.

Dutka: Uh-huh.

Ponos: In New York at the uhm.. uh... New Port Jazz Festival, New Port, Rhode Island twice, and uh... at the Metropol Café in New York, and he came over to the table and sat down with my wife and I.

Hayes: Oh, great.

Ponos: And uh... we uh... he had a drink with us. And he was- he was very uh... sociable. He was- he was just a sharp man.

Hayes: Great.

Ponos: And this is Louis again at the concert in nine- in November, 1967 at Brogdon Hall.

Dutka: So that's here- that's here in town.

Ponos: Here in Wilmington.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: Yeah.

Hayes: Did they pack that place that night?

Ponos: Oh, yeah. It was full. And this is the Benny Goodman Story again.

Dutka: That's the film, right?

Ponos: Yeah. This is the film picture. Now this is where the- the first color line of the musicians was broken. Benny Goodman hired Lionel Hampton.

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: Who was the awesome musician I told you about, and Teddy Wilson, who was on piano. And I think Krupa is in here. Yeah. I think this is Krupa right here. This is Billy Ekstine, who was- had a awesome voice. He was just super. Now let's see. I think I got some more in here.

Hayes: Great.

Ponos: You all want to see some more?

Interviewers: Sure.

Hayes: That's great.

Ponos: O.k. This is "to Nic, Louis Armstrong." And that's at the Brogdon Hall concert, November the 11th, '67.

Hayes: Now he had the- later in life had developed a really husky voice. By that point was he- is that how he sounded when you talked to him?

Ponos: Yes, sir. Yeah. He was uh... he was unreal. I don't know if I told you all before. I think I did. But if Louis a- Louis amba uh... Louis Armstrong was really an ambassador.

Hayes: Right.

Ponos: Of this nation.

Dutka: Um-hm.

Ponos: Wherever he went. I believe that if he walked in No Man's Land between two armies, they would stop fighting and let him play and walk through No Man's Land. He was really. He spoke with his trumpet and his voice. He didn't have a good voice, but it was infectious.

Dutka: Um-hm.

Ponos: It was uh... sincere. He felt what he did. And that's important in music. So many musicians don't do that. They don't apply themselves uh... physically, along with their God-given talent. And you see a lot of musicians up on a bandstand. And they're not smiling and they act they're in another world sometime. I know I had musicians come on the bandstand drunk, and uh... I mean, you're in the limelight when you're on stage. When you're performing, you're in the limelight and you need to be transmitting the joy you get from your instrument, your talent, your God-given talent, to the people. And you have to smile a little bit. And every now and then I'll holler at my musicians, smile a little. I'll holler at one of my- Benji, smile. Hey, Janet, smile. And they- they should be smiling. I try to do that all the time, 'cause it's important. People are watching. This is the Benny Goodman Story again, and right here, this is where the trio that got to be- I mean, the quartet got to be so famous uh... let's see. This is Lionel on the vibra harp, vibes. Gene Krupa on uh... drums. Benny and this is uhm...

Hayes: Wilson.

Ponos: Uhm.. Teddy Wilson on piano. And that uh... quartet became very famous nationwide. Everybody knew 'em. I don't know if uh... I was wondering. I don't see them in here, in this picture. O.k. I'll put it here. And this is another picture of the Benny Goodman Story. This is one signed to Don Watts and me, by Duke Ellington.

Hayes: And who is Don Watts?

Ponos: Don Watts was the uh... Musicians' Union secretary.

Hayes: Oh. What was his instrument that he-?

Ponos: He played a guitar.

Hayes: Guitar.

Ponos: This is Illinois Jacquet, one of the wildest sax men you ever heard in your life. He was awesome. And this is the Benny Goodman Story again. This is Art Mooney, and I think we saw him in Chadburn.

Dutka: Now what was the venue in Chadburn? Was it a club?

Ponos: Uh... Chadburn had uh... strawberry festivals.

Dutka: Aha.

Ponos: Chadburn had strawberry festivals. Whiteville had them. And so did Wallace. Glenn Miller, the closest that I remember Glenn Miller getting to Wilmington was at the uh... Wallace Strawberry Festival.

Dutka: Really.

Ponos: Yeah.

Hayes: It must have been what, late '30s then that he came there? Late '30s?

Ponos: Time in the '30s.

Dutka: Late '30s?

Ponos: Yeah. I think it was uh.... 'cause he...

Hayes: 'Cause he died in the war, right?

Ponos: Yeah.

Hayes: He died.

Ponos: It was in the '30s. Yeah. This is Ray Antoinette [ph?]. It's autographed. He came to the Moose Hall uh... downtown Wilmington, at uh... Third and uhm.. Grace Streets, that building has been torn down, and a parking deck's going up there. That was back in 1951.

Dutka: Great.

Ponos: Ralph Flannigan to Eva and Nic, and I think that we saw him in Chadburn. That was in '52. This is Tex Beneke, who brought the Glenn Miller Band here. He was fronting it after Miller was lost. And then Ray McKinley fronted it, and so did Johnny Desmond. This was back in '53, and I think this was at the uh... high school auditorium, New Hanover High.

Hayes: Wow. Well he's a very famous name, Tex. I think he's studied more and more today, isn't he? Tex.

Ponos: Tex Beneke.

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: Yeah. And here's another one from Krupa. And it's signed. And this is Flip Phillips and Dave Tuff on drums. They were playing with Woody Herman. This one is uh... personally autographed. And my son and I saw him and Eva, and he signed to Eva, Nic, and Little John. Count Basie.

Dutka: Now where did you see...?

Ponos: Sixty-eight.

Dutka: Where was that? Here in town?

Ponos: Sixty- it was here in town somewhere.

Dutka: Um-hm. Good.

Ponos: Probably Brogdon Hall.

Dutka: Um-hm. Um-hm.

Ponos: Sixty-eight.

Hayes: Now when they had these concerts at Brogdon Hall, was this just a promoter who set those up, or was it?

Ponos: Yeah.

Hayes: Through the school?

Ponos: Yeah. The- the promoter or bookers. This is Joanne Greer. She sang with Les Brown after Doris Day. This is Stan Kenton at the Lumina, 1955.

Hayes: Wow.

Ponos: And this is Stan Kenton again, and uh... June Christie on vocal, very good vocalist. This is the 1955 Strawberry Festival, Ralph Flannigan.

Hayes: Now what was the setting for that Strawberry Festival? Was that indoor or outdoor?

Ponos: It was in of- in a- a tobacco warehouse.

Hayes: Aha.

Ponos: Yeah. That's where they'd have 'em, 'cause they had huge crowds. Here's Bill Ekstine again, and I'll tell you if this man had been white, he would have uh... surpassed Como and Bing Crosby. He had a great voice. 'Course Doris Day was the greatest. Billy Ekstine.

Dutka: Think we did this pile already.

Ponos: Oh, we've done this.

Dutka: Yeah, yeah. Ended right with the auto- yeah, that's it.

Ponos: Alright.

Dutka: These are amazing. These are- the autographed ones are pretty cool.

Ponos: Right.

Hayes: You know. Well, and how many came through this area? Whoop. There's your phone.

Ponos: Need to go through these.

Dutka: Check and see.

Ponos: Now, we'll let that.

Dutka: Alright. Alright.

Ponos: O.k. That's it for- we did the album here, with the pictures of the uh... musicians, the great musicians of the most awesome musical era the world has ever known. No question. The most awesome popular musical era. Those big, big bands went all over the world. The people may not have understood the words of the songs, but the music mesmerized 'em. What they did for the United States, there's no way to be measured, no way.

Dutka: Um-hm.

Ponos: But they played the- did I- did I mention this before?

Hayes: No. Go ahead.

Ponos: Well, anyway, when you- when you think of Tin Pan Alley, and those famous song writers and lyricists and composers. Now they're having at UNCW this Johnny Mercer thing.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: Johnny Mercer was like I showed you in the book, a awesome song writer, lyricist. He was an entertainer, too. He sang some with uh... Bing Crosby, with Armstrong. They did uh... they collaborated on records and tunes that he had written. And then you go on and you- you- Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, uh... Count Basie, Duke Ellington, one of the greatest composers. uh... Nat King Cole, you had George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Kahn, Gus Kahn, and I could- you could just go on and on. And these people were put on this earth by God, 'cause those songs will never die. They will never die. Tunes like uh... uh... "Stardust" Hoagie Carmichael composed. Ho- Hoagie Carmichael was a great composer, and he was also a piano player and uh... he made movies. And uh... it's just amazing how the Lord brought all these people together and- in- at that time and that era.

Hayes: What would you say is the era that you're talking about for our listener? What do you consider the...?

Ponos: It's from the teens to the '60s.

Hayes: About the '60s.

Ponos: Yeah. From the teens to the '60s.

Hayes: Now when did the big bands really start to roll?

Ponos: Oh, they started.

Hayes: In the '20s?

Ponos: Oh, they started- they started- there were some of 'em formed black bands back in the uh... late 1800's and- and uh... uh... 1900's. Yeah. But uh... it's uh... that music, "Moonlight in Vermont", "Stars Fell on Alabama", "Stardust", like I mentioned. That's immortal. Uh... "Unforgettable". These tunes, they'll never die. There's no way. "New York, New York", "Autumn Leaves", "Laura", "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", uh... "Sunny Side of the Street". There's so many great tunes. I ought to get my list out and read you all the five or six hundred names.

Dutka: Now what's this scrapbook about here?

Ponos: This scrapbook here, I didn't show you this one?

Dutka: No. This we have.

Ponos: This is uh....

Dutka: We didn't see this one, did we? I don't think so. You didn't show it 'cause we didn't talk about it.

Ponos: No.

Dutka: You briefly mentioned it, but we didn't get into the whole discussion of it.

Ponos: Well, this is uh....

Dutka: So you put this together.

Ponos: I put this together, but it's very slip-shodded near the end, because I uh... I didn't keep it up.

Hayes: Yeah, this is the-

Ponos: This is uh... the first band-

Hayes: A photocopy.

Ponos: That I played with in Raleigh. And uh... this is where I sat in with Dean Hudson, which was a famous uh... band in North Carolina, along with Hal Kemp and Skinny Innis from Salisbury.

Hayes: Oh, good.

Ponos: Uh... Skinny Innis is a street, the main street in Salisbury, and Innis Street cross, that's the center of Salisbury. And it was named after Skinny Innis, the band leader.

Hayes: That's great.

Ponos: And then I have here uh... that I sat in uh... let's see. Also Hal Thurston was another one, that I sat in with him. And uh... then I go on and name some uh... other bands that I was in. And uh....

Hayes: Andy, I think (inaudible).

Ponos: Then up around Salisbury, North Carolina.

Hayes: Get a photograph (inaudible).

Ponos: And all- and I- I played with Gene Smith and his band. And these are just some ads. This goes back to 1946.

Dutka: Now where was this at? This was...

Ponos: This was in uh....

Dutka: Where- Rowan's [ph?] leading- where Rowan, North Carolina?

Ponos: That- That is between uh... uh... Salisbury and uh... Kannapolis.

Dutka: O.k. Oh, o.k. O.k.

Ponos: Yeah. And this is some more of the Gene Smith band. And uh.... that's the band there.

Dutka: You look pretty young.

Ponos: Well.

Dutka: You look like a kid.

Ponos: And uh.... this black man here was a professor at this- at Concord High School. He was in charge of the music department, and he was uh... a teacher of accounting.

Hayes: Really.

Ponos: Van Foster. This man would come to a band job and he would get there on the minute and leave on the minute, because that's the way the- the black people did. And uh... he would walk out on the dance floor with his vest, playing his trumpet. And people would put dollar bills in his vest pockets.

Hayes: Ah.

Ponos: Yeah. This is uh.... with Larry Taylor and his band here in Wilmington at the Cabana Club, which has been torn down.

Dutka: Was that- that was here in Wilmington?

Ponos: The- the Sheraton [ph?]. Yeah.

Dutka: Where was that?

Ponos: That was uh...on Oleander, uh...there's a shopping center there now near Flip's Barbecue.

Dutka: Oh, o.k. O.k. And that- o.k.

Ponos: On the right hand side.

Dutka: Sure.

Ponos: Out on the beach. That's Larry Taylor again and the band. And this is where my band uh... was playing, March of Dimes.

Hayes: Now what was your first band called?

Ponos: My first band?

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: Nic Ponos' Orchestra.

Hayes: His orchestra, o.k.

Ponos: Yeah. We played at the Famous Club, and the Plantation Club, uh... the- the uh... Famous Club was run by- by Mike Patellis, a Greek, and the Plantation Club is as fine a club as this state ever had. Did I tell you about it?

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: O.k. And this goes on.

Dutka: So did you have a standing kind of contract with Plantation Club, or were you there, was it? How did it work?

Ponos: We played at the Plantation Club two straight years, and then it burned down.

Hayes: Oh.

Ponos: Yeah. This is uh... my group. Bob Standard, the trumpet, played with Woody Herman, but he had a accident and broke his teeth out.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: But he still played good. This was Don Watts, the Union uh...

Dutka: The guy in the guitar.

Ponos: Secretary.

Dutka: O.k. O.k.

Ponos: With the guitar. And this is uh... Don Coen [ph?] on piano. I know he's passed on. And I don't know where these two are. This guy's still living. And swinging. Oh, yeah.

Dutka: That's the VFW?

Ponos: Yeah, o.k. This is Gene Smith again. And uh... Ed Lawhorn [ph?]. This was a real fine man. I played quite a few years with him. I played in Jack Pate's band. Uh... And uh...

Dutka: Is that you on the drums in this picture?

Ponos: Yeah. That's-

Dutka: You see that, Sher?

Hayes: Yeah. O.k.

Ponos: I sat in with this group. Let me see. Now- now this is uh... where we were playing at the Moose Lodge at Third and Grace Street.

Dutka: Hey, you're tossing your drumstick.

Ponos: Yeah.

Dutka: Look at that. Oh, yeah. That's awe- that's a great picture.

Ponos: This is the Jack Pate Band, and that's Jack right here on the violin.

Hayes: Violin?

Ponos: Yeah. He played violin.

Hayes: That's kind of unusual, isn't it? For-

Ponos: Well, he- I played with him 12 years. uh... This guy, here, Norman- Norman uh... uh... Norman Vann, he was uh... an extraordinarily gifted musician. I begged him to go to school to learn the technical part of the guitar. He would hit chords that I would twist my head, in- in disbelief. He was really great. The trumpet player is Clarence Fails. Jackie Black is on the sax. And uhm.. this fellow here, his name was Wilding, on the keyboard. And he was a pilot from Southport.

Hayes: Really.

Ponos: Yeah.

Dutka: So now, they are all local folks then? These are all...this is a local band.

Ponos: Yeah. That's a local band.

Dutka: And what was the JP stand for again?

Ponos: Jack Pate.

Dutka: Jack Pate. O.k.

Ponos: Yeah.

Hayes: O.k. But how did he play jazz violin? What was-?

Ponos: He would- he would play it.

Hayes: Oh. Unusual.

Ponos: That's him again. And then these are just pictures that, well, I need to- to work on it as you can see. But uh...

Dutka: That's terrific.

Ponos: Well, thank you. I'm glad you feel...

Dutka: Oh, no. It's ama- it's real history. It really is. That's good. Yeah, that's good.

Ponos: Well, we were- you know it's history, I'll tell you.

Hayes: Dad's café.

Dutka: Oh, we would like to talk a little bit about your dad's café. Now he owned the New York-

Ponos: He owned the New York Cleaners and Hatters.

Dutka: And the Pressing Club, right?

Ponos: And the Pressing- yeah, New York Cleaners, Hatters, Pressing Club.

Dutka: O.k. That was here in town.

Ponos: That was here in town. The first location was on Princess Street.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: Between Front and Second. That's right where that he had a prime location where the beach cars would come in and stop.

Dutka: Sure.

Ponos: And load up and unload people going to the beach. And then he bought the property on Grace Street, behind Spillman's [ph?] Camera Shop, that is now, I think it's called the Assembly uh... Coffee Shop.

Dutka: Oh, o.k. Sure.

Ponos: Yeah.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: Front and Grace.

Dutka: Sure.

Ponos: And uh... he built a building and uh... that's uh... where we uh... that was our last location, was at uh... 105 Grace Street. The number on Princess Street was 109 Grace Street. But dad had the café at Carolina Beach, because he bought property there, and he would rent it out. He had three stores in there. And the biggest part of it, in the smallest area, and this was on the uh... second boardwalk from the waterfront. And diagonally across from his corner, was the Ocean Plaza, which was another famous place. People danced. Very famous.

Hayes: Didn't know that.

Ponos: And uhm... dad uh... put the re- the restaurant in there, because he saw possibilities of uh... you know, making some more income.

Dutka: What time was this? When was this, was it the '30s or the '20s or '40s?

Ponos: This was the '30s.

Dutka: O.k. And how long did it last out there?

Ponos: Well, the first building he built caught on fire when the beach was burned.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: And the entire beach went down. That's when the Pavilion was uh... destroyed, too.

Hayes: Oh, really. God.

Ponos: Yeah. And uh... Dad did good. He was- dad was uh... a chef. He uh... in this First World War, he fed 5,000 men. He was the chief chef at Camp Jackson, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And he could hardly write his name in Greek, let alone English. But he did, and uh... he was very good, very good at it. He was very economical, because from the place in Turkey and Greece that he came from, you- people were economical. They were just careful with the...

Dutka: Oh, sure.

Ponos: Food.

Hayes: Yeah.

Ponos: I don't know if I told you this part of him, but at uh... Camp Jackson, South Carolina, in the First World War, the- as he served 5,000 men three meals a day, the stockroom, where the supplies would come in, began to s- to fill up. And they didn't understand what was happening. So the brigadier general came in and had everybody in the kitchen at attention, and then they uh... he said, at ease. And he said, John Ponos. That was my dad. Present. And uh... he- he said, explain to me what's going on here. Why is this stockroom filling up with food? You- what do you do? How do you feed the men? And dad says, I fix food. And uh... they eat. And I take the food, and we uh... fix it again for another meal. And he says, you're not supposed to do that. When you feed the soldiers, throw what food is out. Throw it out. And that's how he was so economical.

Hayes: By gosh.

Ponos: The stockroom was filling up with stock, food right- and they couldn't figure out what was going on. But he was that economical, and from then on, of course, he had to obey orders. And he was on the train heading to New York to go to France, and uh... this First World War, and Armistice was signed.

Hayes: Whoa.

Ponos: And they headed back to Wilmington.

Hayes: So, did he start that restaurant up again after it burned down, or did he just let it go?

Ponos: Yeah. He set it back up.

Dutka: How long- I guess how long was it in business? When did they close the restaurant, after the war?

Ponos: Well, he wasn't in it uh... let's see. That's uh... Yeah. It was- it was- he had that during the war.

Dutka: Uh huh.

Ponos: And a little after the war, and then he got out of it. It was too much for him.

Dutka: Yeah. And what about the businesses downtown? When did that finally close?

Ponos: Well, I operated that for 47 years by myself.

Dutka: Wow. Oh, o.k. I see. I see.

Ponos: And then- then uh... in his latter years, I was running it by myself, and uhm.. when he got uh... sick, he went to uh... the Federal Veterans' Hospital for uh... three times. The last time he died there. And uh... I had the responsibility of it, and I remodeled and made changes because we stopped cleaning hats. uh... People weren't wearing hats. And then the hats that were coming out, they'd be made out of paper or cardboard instead of felt. And uhm.. we uh... Then I had my heart condition. I had my heart condition. And uh... I sold the business and uh...

Hayes: When was that. What year did you sell it?

Ponos: That was in '80- '83, when I had my- I had to go to Duke, had a triple bypass and that was when they were just beginning the bypasses.

Dutka: Uh-huh.

Ponos: And mine was very successful, as you can see.

Dutka: Yeah. Obviously, still drumming.

Ponos: And uh... Yeah. And uh... after that, mom- mom owned the building, and she sold it and uh... I got uh... out of that. And I was trying to recuperate. Then uh... when momma sold it, of course, she took uh... that money to live on.

Dutka: Yeah.

Ponos: And she would help me while I was recuperating. Thank God. Anyway, uh... we got through those years and mom and I got very close, as always, but even closer. I would take her places. We'd go eat together at little breakfast places and uh... uh... small, little restaurants, and I would take her to the beach, and I'd- we'd go around and it was a- it was a good time.

Dutka: Sure.

Ponos: It was a good time. We- we were like brother and sister. And she was a sweet lady, very s- very petite lady. She uh... would wear her gloves, you know, and fox. And she was a very feminine lady. She was a good Greek dancer. She could dance and she was a pretty lady, very pretty lady. And uh... ought to bring you pictures of my dad and momma and let you put that others.

Dutka: O.k.

Ponos: Picture.

(crew talk)

Ponos: His name is John Angelo Ponos. And her name is Taisha [ph?] Gardellis Ponos.

Dutka: Oh, this is a great picture. Holy moly. Look at this stuff.

Ponos: This is my daddy when he uh... and mom and I got here from Greece.

Dutka: That's you in the baby carriage?

Ponos: That's me.

Hayes: Oh, ho ho. That's great.

Hayes: What a terrific picture.

Ponos: Yeah, that's daddy. uh... You notice he's wearing a pistol. When he had that uh... business over on Nixon Street, he had to wear a pistol.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: 'Cause it was that rough.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: And this is daddy in his Army uniform. And he loved this country.

Dutka: That's great. Now, who's all those there?

Ponos: And these are my grandchildren from uh... my son, John and Lisa. And this is uh... Nicholas, John Ponos the Second, named after me. That's the oldest of the grandchildren. This is Grace Lynn Alexandra Ponos. And this little fellow, he's about seven months old, John Bradley Ponos. And they're all blessings of the Lord.

Dutka: Good. Now our final question is, what keeps you playing? I mean, what keeps you drumming all these years? What's your inspiration? How do you keep going?

Ponos: You want me to tell you?

Dutka: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I asked the question.

(crew talk)

Ponos: I give all the credit to my being alive to my performing and doing the drumnastics, to Jesus Christ. He is the one that performs through me. He is my booker. Jesus books the band. He performs through every member of the band. And we have a little prayer before we kick off on every event that we perform for. But I give Jesus all the credit. He's the one that does the drumnastics.

Dutka: Right.

Ponos: And uh... I have to give him the credit because he is the supreme power. He's tops.

Dutka: Great. Well, thank you very much for a wonderful interview.

Hayes: It was great.

(crew talk)

Dutka: Alright. So just tell us who these pictures are. Go.

Ponos: O.k. This is Mark, my youngest son and his bride, Rhonda Ponos. They got married in Greece on the Island of Patmos. They went all the way there. She's from Tennessee. This is Mark.

Dutka: Good. And who's this?

Ponos: And this is John, my oldest son, and his bride, Lisa. Lisa Grace Snow Ponos.

Dutka: She was Miss North Carolina?

Ponos: She-

Hayes: Mrs. North Carolina.

Ponos: Was Mrs. North Carolina in 1995.

Dutka: Wow.

Ponos: In 1992, she was Miss Rhode Island.

Dutka: Wow. That's terrific. That's wonderful. Good.

Ponos: And the three children, these are their children.

Dutka: O.k. Good.

Ponos: They are their children.

Interviewers: Got it. Got it.

Ponos: You got it?

Hayes: Got it. Thanks a lot. We got the whole group.

Hayes: Did she go to school here?


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