Kingsport native Victor Simon played at Jenna Bush's wedding last weekend as part of the Tyrone Smith Revue. I profiled Vic in the Times News two years ago. Here is that column from March 4, 2006:
Victor Simon was in the seventh grade at Sevier in the mid-1960s when his older brother talked him into going out for football. "My cousin Tony Horton came running over with his helmet off and a big cut on his lip. He said, ‘You coming out for football?' I took one look at him and I said, ‘No, I'm going out for band.'"
And that's how Vic came to be the first black member of the Sevier band. And it's also how Vic launched his musical career, a calling that has found him traveling the world with Harry Belafonte, playing with the Drifters and Mary Wells and Larry Coryell, and endorsing a signature line of bass guitars for Waterstone Guitars as well as amps for Madison Amp and guitars for Dean Guitar.
But it all started at Sevier on that fall afternoon 40 years ago.
Kingsport had just integrated its schools, and Vic was in the first group of students to come over from Douglass. "Things were pretty tough at first, but then I met Mrs. Gail Shields." She was his first musical mentor and the mom of Jim Shields, who would soon be one of his best friends and a band mate.
"She took her time to let me know I was good enough to do something with my music. She was a white lady that took an interest."
Music began to overshadow integration, and Vic was soon settled in. "That's when I made some of my best friends."
He was playing drums in the Sevier band, but on the side he was working on his first love, the bass guitar. Then a friend from the neighborhood, Arthur Flack, invited him to join his group, Kingsport's legendary party band The Scat Cats.
Vic says he and Arthur formed a bond. "He told me how to project. If it feels good and sounds good, go with your instincts. It was a good education, and I got that R&B feel."
There would be other inspirations in Vic's musical career: local bass player Ray Horton; Marshall Davis of the Drifters; childhood pal Skip Templeton ("We never thought about black and white, just the music we made together"); sax player Thomas Jackson; singer Curtis Springs ("one of the greatest singers I've ever heard"); and Mark McMillan.
But Arthur Flack, who died two years ago, was his first inspiration.
After graduating from D-B in 1971, Vic knocked around in various bands. "I had the opportunity to be in all sorts of crime." He chose another direction. He enlisted in the Navy where he was a corpsman and played in Triple Threat, a Navy band.
His big break came in 1992 after he had left the Navy and moved back home to work as an electrician. "I was working at Tennessee Eastman. I got home from work, and there was a message on the answering machine. This guy said, ‘This is Norman Riley. I work for Harry Belafonte Enterprises.'"
Riley said he had seen Vic play bass, and they wanted him to join Belafonte's world tour. "At first I thought they were joking. The next day I told my foreman, ‘I've got to make an important phone call to Harry Belafonte.' They laughed me out of the shed."
He sneaked off and made the call during his lunch break. "They told me, ‘We want you to join the tour.' They told me the pay scale, and I started shaking."
When his wife, the former Greta Maxwell, got home that night, "I told her, ‘Honey, I made that call and I'm going to be playing with Harry Belafonte.'"
He toured the world with Belafonte for a year. When that ended, he signed on with the Tyrone Smith Revue, an 11-man group that is one of the hottest party bands in the South. That was nine years ago. He's still with the Revue performing under the name Vic Danger.
Vic was in town earlier this week for the funeral of his mother-in-law.
He hopes to come back this summer for Fun Fest. It's a matter of matching up his band's style with another act.
Vic really wants to play for his old hometown. Not just to show what he can do. But to show what can be done. "I want young people here to know what they are capable of doing. I feel like I'm highly favored by God. He has thoroughly blessed me. That's the reason I'm here talking to you now. I know the power. Get in there, and Jesus will get your back."