I was Barry Roberts once. Full Circle with the Colonel's Tap House Band

I was Barry Roberts once. Full Circle with the Colonel's Tap House Band

Published by: David Cate
January 16, 2023

For those who don't know the story, I changed my name to Barry Roberts once.

Barry Roberts at Jeff's Morrell Music Store - December 2022

Hardly breaking news, some of my friends know parts of the story, but I borrowed somebody's name before - for three years.

One evening just before Christmas, Jeff's Music store in downtown Kingsport was open late. Jeff Hashbarger has been operating the place since Skelton's Musicland sold it to him back in 1975.

Every small town has a favorite music store. If you play music, that's one of the best gathering places for the region's musicians. It doesn't matter how old you are or where you moved from - unusual connections happen at any music store.

Working my way through a maze of guitar amps and boxes packed coming and going ahead of the holiday rush, he was - wearing a black Rush tee shirt, right about my height. Gray hair in a ponytail and goatee and eye-to-eye contact.

His favorite song, he answered, was "Xanadu." That's a cultured choice for this Canadian power trio, who was the Spirit of the Radio for most rock stations for 40 years.

Our small quickly turned serious when he stopped and said, "you look familiar for some reason."

Here in the South, a statement like that can turn out in many ways depending on the situation.

The most disarming response is to state your name. It only takes a few characters to know somebody and connect the dots - even with a stranger.

"David Cate. Do I know you?

He replied, "I'm Barry Roberts."

It's hard to remember whether he paused for a moment to let that sink into my head. I stopped listening, and more than likely looked stupified. I borrowed this guy's name to get a job at a radio station once.

One of my first jobs was working as a part-time disc jockey at WKPT-AM while in high school. The top-forty station at AM 1430 was a great place to play 45 records in the late seventies as my love for music continued to grow. My dream at the time - was to work at an FM radio station.

FM Radio stations were still new and opened music up to the airwaves for free that was crystal clear stereo. For a radio announcer, WQUT was the place to be, and the music was louder and more important than ever in the lives of the early 1980s. This station had some of the most well-known personalities in the region, including the Tennessee Midnight Rambler, Bergeron, Worm, Candy, Mark in The Morning, and evidently, too many "Daves."

During the interview, the program director said, "one more thing." He paused, looked at my hopeful minimum-wage face, and said, "Would you be willing to change your name?"

It didn't take long to answer. Lots of disc jockeys had a stage name, and it sounded cool. Especially when he said I could pick the name.

Fortunately, I had the weekend to think about it. Somewhere along the way, I must have seen a cover band, too, because I remember the name of their guitar player - "Barry Roberts."

For a moment, my mind staggered back to Barry's statement, "I'm Barry Roberts."

The good news. Barry seemed to have fun with it. He told me that during the early 80s, his friends heard him on the radio, and sometimes he played the game, and we both were part of a minor altered state of identity.

As odd as this conversation seemed, the question of what to do next was answered when he said he had a gig coming up at Kingsport's Model City Tap House. The name of the band is Colonial Toms Tap House Band. Going to see Barry's band would undoubtedly bring this full story circle.

A couple of weeks later, the Model City Tap House in Downtown Kingsport was aglow with the holidays on a Thursday night. Many folks were taking their coats off from yet another cold, windy day, and the band was just getting started.

Singing up front is Denny Hurley, a Veteran who recently retired after 38 years as a Tennessee Highway Patrolman. He's played in many bands over the years around Johnson City and was flanked by some of the best vocalists in the mountains.

As the band started to play an Aretha Franklin song, Missy Clous didn't hesitate to find every one of the sweet notes and then some to "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman." Missy owns one of the most successful local karaoke companies.

Together with Clark Park, a local choir and theater director - their three-part harmonies were deliciously welcoming in the rowdy room. They certainly have good taste as their diverse set list of an old soul, R&B, and high-brow studio rock from the seventies. They would later call their music "Yacht Rock."

Keyboardist Kim Barnes and drummer Ben Cassell round out the rhythm section along with Sheldon Clark. He's the former owner of Model City Tap House, and now his son has taken over the reins of this local meeting place down by the tracks.

All of these guys and gals have had rich connections to the music in the Tri-Cities for decades.

And then there's Barry Roberts.

As the band started to play Boz Scaggs's Lido Shuffle, I remembered why I changed my name to Barry Roberts.

As he held the blue strat, Barry had a hat on tonight, and when the chorus ran through the model city tap house, Barry's love for music and guitar was memorable. He stood out then and stands out now - some 42 years later and counting.