A Wilkesboro musician played guitar and sang on an obscure 45-year-old record album that is trending because of an online article published Wednesday.
Don Story was briefly in a band called The May Street Tops that recorded a single album in 1974 called “It’s a Nice Place to Live but I Wouldn’t Want to Play There.” It was recorded at Harry Deal’s Galaxie III Studios in Taylorsville and is also known as “Sold Out” because of the prominence of that title and placement above the actual album title.
Only 300 copies of the album were pressed onto vinyl, making it a rare commodity, especially in good condition. Today, it’s achieved somewhat of a cult following due to its deft blend of Southern rock, psychedelic rock and country rock.
Jonathan Kirby writes, in the “Come Hear N.C.” article, “Considered a grail by a global consortium of psychedelic rock enthusiasts, this informal Southern rock masterpiece fuses the melodic motifs of the Allman Brothers, blades of bluegrass, and a high/lonesome sensibility that is uniquely Appalachian.”
Story played in the band with Jack Fulk, Steve McCord, Tom DeVoursney and Steve Owens. Fulk, who died in 1998, was the son of Jack Z. Fulk Sr., who co-founded the Bojangles’ restaurant chain in 1977 after developing the famous made-from-scratch biscuit at the Hardee’s he owned in Wilkesboro.
In 1974, the band members except for Story were students at Wilkes Central High School. Story had already graduated from Central and lived in Chapel Hill. He saw the band play at the North Wilkesboro National Guard Armory and liked what he heard.
Story soon joined the band, allowing them to perform with two drummers, a keyboardist and two guitarists, just like the influential Allman Brothers, who practically invented the Southern rock genre. “We were almost like the Almost Brothers,” quipped DeVoursney, who now resides in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
DeVoursney told Kirby the band got its name from the house on May Street in North Wilkesboro where they would party and jam on their instruments. The musicians used Top brand rolling papers, too—the other piece of the band name.
Story took out about a $1,000 loan from a local bank to pay for the recording session at Galaxie and the pressing of the 300 record albums. Most all of the songs on the album were recorded in one take over the course of an eight-hour session, he told Kirby.
Album tracks are on Side A are “Trying Hard to Get Away” (3:13), “Nirvana’s Child” (3:58), “Southern Lady” (5:28) and “One of These Days” (4:09). Side B consists of “Picture Window” (4:04), “When the Well Runs Dry” (2:00) and the lengthy jam “Hometown Band” (9:36).
The song “Southern Lady” can be heard in stereo at youtube.com/watch?v=9hMUAFzWuns. I wasn’t able to locate other album tracks online.
Story told Kirby that the song, in a lot of ways, “sounds like 20-year-old kids that are still learning how to tune their guitars. But there were some interesting bits. The writing was, I won’t say derivative, but we wore our influences pretty heavily. But there was something there. If we could have kept going and leaning in that original direction, I think there was some promise.”
The label is listed as Death Valley Records, which also released a test pressing of the album that included two 4×5 black and white prints of the band.
The album was published by Existential Music, recorded at Galaxie III Studios in Taylorsville and mastered at Nashville Record Productions.
Galaxie opened in 1968 and is owned and operated by brothers Harry and Jim Deal. Galaxie Studios was primarily an outlet for the Deal brothers’ beach music band, Harry Deal and the Galaxies. Formed in 1959, they released over 30 albums and singles from 1964 to 2000.
A copy of the Tops album in “very good plus” condition was sold on the collectible music website discogs.com for $600 on March 4, 2019. Another copy of the album was auctioned off on Roots Vinyl Guide for $423.51 on Aug. 9, 2018.
The band was together for less than a year. DeVoursney called it quits after converting to Christianity, right about the same time the records arrived from the pressing plant.
Today, Story regularly performs classic soul and R&B with the Tin Can Alley band and plays with other bands. He’s one of the first names that pops up when students need a guitar teacher or bands need an accomplished guitarist in the studio.