Literary godfather of soul

by Jenny Yarborough
Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clyde Edgerton                     Lumina News file photo

Clyde Edgerton on his latest novel, "The Night Train"

In 1963, Clyde Edgerton, award-winning Wilmington author and University of North Carolina Wilmington professor, joined a rock and roll band. At the time, he was 19óa freshman in college. He played piano with six others known as the Seven Keys.

All of the band members were white, Edgerton made clear. But they were learning the album "Live at the Apollo" note by note.

"The lead singer (Dennis Hobby)," Edgerton explained, "wanted to be James Brown. He wanted to use the cape. He wanted to do everything so he was making us memorize that album."

Until he heard the 35-minute-long album played on radio stationsóboth black and whiteónonstop as if it were just one song, Edgerton admitted he didnít quite appreciate Hobbyís urge to learn the entire rendition.

But, he said, "When I started playing it, I realized what all the fuss was about."

A couple of years ago, Edgerton began writing about some guys in a bar. Trying to make the story work, it wasnít until he went back to 1963 that he found the energy for his latest novel.

Edgerton is driven by memory. When several memories begin to fit together, he said, "I start inventing and make them all mesh into something that might work as a story. And the longer I invent, the less like the real people the fictional people seem. In other words, I might start with something based on somebody, or an instance, but pretty soon the story demands I change the characters around from what they were in real life."

One of the main characters in his 10th novel, "The Night Train," Larry Lime Nolan, who Edgerton has fictionalized, is based on a true-to-life Larry Lime Holeman, who Edgerton remembers from high school.

"He and I were acquaintances," Edgerton said. "We would meet out at the country store where we both went occasionally and we would talk and kid each other. But the norms of that community (Durham, N.C.) were such that we couldnít become close friends."

From this idea grew the underlying theme of Edgertonís latest book.

Essentially, the author explained, "Itís about music bringing a black and a white boy together in 1963 for an attempt at friendship which was impossible given segregation. There are so many ways in which segregation in the í60s is not different from the segregation in 2011. The laws have changed but thereís so much about life in America that makes it difficult for people who are black to form relationships with people who are white and vice versa. Many of the feelings and norms are still there. So there are many ways in which the times are similar, and thatís the reason I wrote the book, in thinking about all that."

Throughout the novel, Edgerton weaves memories of his own musical talents including a white guy (Dwayne Hallston) who wanted to be James Brown, and his own first televised performance on WTVDís "Saturday Night Country Live" hosted by Jim Thornton, with memories heís heard others tell.

In fact, Edgerton said, Wrightsville Beach alderman Bill Blair just so happens to be a good storyteller. Edgerton used Blairís story about a meat run as humorous "ammunition in the book." But alongside the musical tone of a novel that will have your belly in a bunch from its dancing chicken and its dog-food-eating television host among other characters, Edgertonís message is about society as the crow flies.

Ready to feel the storyís effect on other people, Edgerton began his book tour this summer.

In the meantime, he laughed, "Iím just trying to get my mind on something else ícause I canít do anything else to this one."

Edgerton will make a musical and literary appearance at Two Sisters Bookery at 7 p.m. on Aug. 19.

To view a book trailer filmed by local Mark Teachey and featuring a Wilmington cast, visit


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