Tag Archives: Bill Plott

“Don’t Take Your smell To Town”

9 Sep
cover by Robert E. Gilbert

cover by Robert E. Gilbert

I’m embedding some audio and lyrics in this post, but first some background:

In 1958 Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” was #1 on the country charts for six weeks. It’s a lugubrious little ditty about a young cowboy who decides to go to town, ignores his mom’s advice to leave his guns at home, and ends up getting gunned down. (This was back when a country act could release an anti-handgun song without kissing his or her career bye-bye.) Around 1962 Howard Shockley, a teenage science-fiction fan from Opelika, Alabama, wrote “Don’t Take Your Smell To Town,”a parody to be sung to the same melody as Cash’s song. In SF fandom such tunes are called filk songs, and I think Shockley’s was a gem. It concerned a young sanitation worker who lived in the city dump and ignored the advice of the song’s title.

The protagonists of both songs were named Billy Joe, and Shockley presented his composition to his buddy at Opelika High, Bill Plott, who himself went by Billy Joe. Plott was fellow SF fan, and quicker than you could say “Great Ghu!”, published Shockley’s filk song in his fanzine, Maelstrom. Plott, for reasons too numerous and largely unspeakable to mention, is actually now somewhat of a legend in SF fandom, but around 1968 he left that subculture for what was to prove many decades. He got drawn back into the fold only in 2012 when he was invited as Guest of Honor at Deep South Con 50. That happy trip inspired him to revive another of his fanzines from long ago, Sporadic, and he has published it bimonthly since. By coincidence, around the same time, Plott reconnected with his old pal Howard Shockley, now a Presbyterian minister in South Carolina. In Sporadic #20 Plott reprinted “Don’t Take Your Smell To Town” much to his old friend’s dismay surprise.

I like to think–imagine, say some–that I can play guitar and sing, and when I saw the lyrics in Sporadic, thought, “Gee, I should record that.” Like most thoughts requiring effort from me if acted on, it was promptly forgotten. Then a few weeks ago, out of the blue, I found myself going into The GarageBand app on my Mac and recording “Don’t Take Your Smell To Town.” Personally, I think The Devil made me do it.

If you want–and how could you not?- you can click on the hypertext below to hear the result. For the record (no pun intended) I’m playing everything on the song except the snare drum. That, I talked my wife Dorothy into playing. Howard Shockley’s lyrics are below the recording.



By Howard Shockley

A D.S.* boy named Billy Joe grew restless in the Dumps.

He looked across the sea of trash while sitting on a stump.

He said, “I think I’ll leave today to see the whole world ‘round.”

But then he heard his partner say, “Don’t take your smell to town, boy.

You’d better stay at home, Bill.

Don’t take your smell to town.”

Bill just smiled and said to him, “Your boy’s become a man.

“I’ll take a bath, use Listerine, and roll myself in Ban.

“This Air-Wick, too, will help a lot to keep the odor down.”

But again he heard his partner say,

“Don’t take your smell to town, boy;

They’ll run you out of town, Bill.

Don’t take your smell to town.”

Bill jumped in the garbage truck and gave the switch a turn,

The wheels dug in the greasy muck and caused the stuff to churn;

As he drove along the trail, he said “At last, I’m City bound!”

But then echoed the words again, “Don’t take your smell to town, boy;

You’d better stay at home, Bill;

Don’t take your smell to town.”

Bill rode in the little town, a smile across his face;

And of that smell that used to be there wasn’t any trace.

But later on that afternoon, the folks began to frown;

Again he heard the warning words,

“Don’t take your smell to town, boy;

“Leave it here at home, Bill,

Don’t take your smell to town.”

Bill walked in a small saloon to get himself a drink;

A cowpoke cried aloud to all, “Say, what the hell’s that stink?”

Bill put down his drink and saw that no one was around.

Again, he heard the fateful words,

“Don’t take your smell to town, boy;

You’d better stay at home, Bill.’

Don’t take your smell to town.”

Walking to his faithful truck, young Bill began to frown;

He’d left the Dumps to see the World, and it had put him down.

Riding off, he looked around and wondered with a sigh,

Who’d wrote the posters with the words:

“Take your smell from town, boy;

Don’t leave it here with us.

And please don’t take the bus!”

Toward the setting sun he rode, not ever looking back;

Nothing of the job he held could anything detract.

He’s there today, out in the Dumps, his Destiny fulfilled.

His watchword is that sound advice:

“Don’t take your smell to town boy;

You’d better stay at home, Bill.

Don’t take your smell to town.”


The tune’s more fun if you’re familiar with Cash’s original, and you can hear that and read the lyrics at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A74Wq0B1WrI.

Artist Robert E. Gilbert (REG)

13 Jul


Alien landscape by REG

Robert E. Gilbert, who signed his work REG, was arguably the most prolific and popular illustrator of SF fanzines in the 1960s. His covers and interior illos were nearly ubiquitous, particularly in midwestern and southern zines. They appeared everywhere from popular regional zines like IscariotMaelstrom, and Double Bill to Hugo-nominated zines like Yandro and Amra. And he regularly won “Best Fan Artist” in the egoboo polls of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance.

With their generally bold simple lines, his drawings were perfect for the

An REG fanzine illo from the Sixties.

zines of the day, most of which were mimeographed. The mimeograph has gone the way of the VCR, but it was the way most zines were done in the 1960s, and art had to be traced laboriously onto a mimeograph stencil with a metal stylus. So the relative simplicity of REG’s drawings was a plus, but his work was hardly crude; it was well-designed and frequently hinted at some story.

A few years ago I rejoined the Southern Fandom Press Alliance (SFPA), after having been away a mere four decades, and as SFPA’s 50th anniversary approached, some discussion arose about how to commemorate it. I suggested to the group’s official archivist, Ned Brooks, that a portfolio of REG

cover from, Amra, a Sixties Sword & Sorcery fanzine

covers would be an excellent thing to include in the 50th anniversary mailing of SFPA. He demurred–perhaps shrinking from the prospect of rummaging through his 12,000 fanzine archive for REG covers. He did, however, dig up two REG covers and printed them in his zine, The Newport News, using one for the cover of issue.

Having thought of Robert E. Gilbert for the first time in years, I Googled him. I didn’t find a lot, but I did get two surprises. One was that REG had made three professional sales of SF stories. (These can be found at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/34313) Another was that a gallery had purchased over 400 of his drawings and paintings. Paintings? I never knew REG painted. I found all that interesting but soon forgot about it.

November, 1952 issue of Galaxy, in which REG's story, "A Thought for Tomorrow," appeared.

That’s because, unlike my old friend, Bill Plott, I’m not a seasoned professional journalist. Back when he was in his teens and early twenties, Bill Plott edited a couple of now legendary zines, Maelstrom and Sporadic, before he left SF fandom behind for a distinguished career as a journalist. Much like myself, he was recently drawn back into publishing through SFPA, after four decades away, and resurrected his zine, Sporadic. As he relates in the latest issue (#18) of that zine, this eventually prompted him to delve into his boxes of old fannish material, where he discovered a trove of some 20 unpublished REG illos.

Once he stopped doing backflips around the neighborhood, he got curious: Maybe Robert E. Gilbert was still around. So he Googled him, as I had done, and found the site with all of REG’s paintings at http://www.folkartisans.com. Unlike me, though, he didn’t think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and shrug it off; he eventually contacted Folk Artisans, a gallery in Mentone, Alabama. First, he went to their website, where he saw that REG, a Tennessean, had died in 1993. Bill sent that information to his friend, genealogist and fellow SFPA member, Larry Montgomery. Larry got back to him with the information that REG was born May 26, 1924 in Sullivan County, Tennessee and died April 4, 1993, seemingly in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Further REG had served in the US ARmy from January 31, 1943 to August 9, 1944.

That was pretty much all they had, until Bill reached one of the gallery owners, Matt Lippa, by phone. In Sporadic 18, Bill writes:


Another strange landscape by REG, 1964

He [Matt Lippa] said that they bought the paintings sight-unseen via auction.

“It was very last minute. We got a call from a friend who was going to the auction. We literally had our topcoats and hats on and were heading out the door for a trip when the phone rang. I answered and was told about the art. It was not catalogued, put on at the end and never advertised. I told my friend to bid up to a certain amount–sight unseen. Got a call from him the next night that we got the bid and he would bring it to us.

“We did finally speak with the auctioneer who could give us NO info, and said he tried to get it. He said the family was very uncooperative with information about Gilbert. He was something of an outcast, apparently, and they wanted nothing to do with him. Our Friend took one of them to dinner and a bar and was not able to break through that,” Matt related.

The gallery acquired the collection in 2003.

Later in Sporadic 18, Bill writes:

I have speculated a lot on the estrangement from his [Gilbert’s} estrangement from his family. Living in that mountainous region, I wondered if his family was very fundamentalist and found pictures of scantily clad women sinful. I wonder if it was science fiction, being something just too weird for them to relate to. Or some behavioral situation totally unrelated to his art. We will likely never know.

Like Bill, I’m curious about REG’s black sheep status. I’m also intrigued by the picture of REG that emerges. Estranged from his family, living in a small town in the rural South, creating hundreds of illos for fanzines, writing the occasional SF short story, and painting hundreds of unearthly paintings, few of which, it would seem, ever sold. It’s an archetypical image of the lonely artist, toiling in obscurity.10reg_big

What parts of the picture are we missing though? Does anyone have any more information on Robert E. Gilbert?

To view more of REG’s artwork, go tohttp://www.folkartisans.com.


6 Jul


           Last August I rejoined SFPA, which stands for Southern Fandaom PressAlliance.  A couple different times back  in the mists of prehistory, I was in SFPA, the first time, when I was fifteen.  (Dave Hulan was OE first time I joined.) I said it was in the mists of prehistory. I was never the most active (or illustrious) member, but man, SFPA was great for me, growing up in the sixties.  Not only did it connect me to other SF fans, it sort of connected me to the wider world beyond my home town of Metropolis,Illinois (population 6,800), and it introduced me to a lot of people way cooler than just about anybody I knew personally.  I mean, as far as I was concerned (and still am) Dave Hulan, Bill Plott, Al Andrews, Dick Ambrose, Hank Reinhardt, Joe Staton, who once stenciled  an entire issue of my fanzine Outre’ for me, and all the rest…

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