Forgotten History the Memphis Fire Department Band
In 1943 The Memphis Fire department realized that something was needed to get the attention of the adults when it came to teaching fire prevention. Children were always receptive to learning about fire prevention but teaching adults was then, and now, a difficult task. Adults think they have all the answers and are a difficult group to educate about safety.
The Cowboy band was formed with the musical members of the Memphis Fire department. Members were from all ranks. Usually the highest-ranking member oversaw the group. The first band had two guitar players, a steel guitar, an upright bass fiddle, an accordion player, and a drummer. As members retired or left the band, others joined. There was a period when no one wanted to be in the group.
In the late 50’s, L.D. Lackey, Fiddle, and Larry Manual, Guitar, started playing when they were at Fire HQ ( Front and Union ) and they got some others interested, and the rest is history. Captain Bill Bomar who was Justin Timberlake’s grandfather played the guitar and was instrumental in helping Justin’s musical career. Captain Bomar was put in charge of the band. Through the 1970’s, some of the best musicians ever were members of the band. During this period Lt. Sonny Williams was the leader. He played guitar and was a vocalist. Sonny once had a radio and television show in Arkansas and had performed on the Grand Ole Opry and was like all the band members, an accomplished musician as well as an excellent fire fighter. The band played country/western, bluegrass, rock and roll, and popular music of the day. Fire Department mechanic, Troy Castleberry was an award-winning mandolin player. In 1971 he placed first in a 5 state Mandolin playing contest. He also served as a session musician for several record labels. When he was not working for the department, Private Jim Sallie played bass for the Coachman’s Quartet a gospel group, as well as working with other musicians at their recordings. Engine 21 Pumper Driver Danny Wahlquist played with Ace Cannon, Gene Simmons, Charlie Rich, and the Bill Black Combo, as well as a sessions drummer for Satellite Records. The fiddle player was Lt. Langston D. Lackey, who was the father of a firefighter, son Robert Michael Lackey and grandson Kevin Lackey. Lt. Langston D. Lackey was also a session musician and played with and for Elvis, Johnny Cash, Eddie Bond, and the Blackwood Brothers. Lt. Reese Byrum of Engine 25 played lead guitar, Tillerman on Truck 10, Maury Tennyson, Tenor sax, Private Terry Dunn, Truck Company 20, and Private Gary Hamrick Truck 17, guitar. Terry May, Engine 32, Bass, Paramedic Jerry Tatum EMS Unit 2, Vocalist, Fire Fighter Fire Squad 6, Brett Tatum, vocalist. The group even made a popular record in the early 1970’s called “Emergency”.
At the time the band played for the Mid-South Fair, and at all Department events. During the late 60’s and into the 70’s, Beverly Wilkes, the wife of Driver Wade Wilkes was their singer. Her dad retired as a Captain and her two brothers were both Fire Officers and her brother in-law was a District Chief. Memphis music was well represented within the Fire Department and hopefully they caught the ear of the community by using their talents to teach Fire Prevention.
18 thoughts on “Forgotten History the Memphis Fire Department Band”
I’m so proud that the store was finally done about the Memphis fire department band. I would love to hear my grandfather Lt L.D Lackey play his fiddle just one more time.
Thank you for writing and posting this great article, Joe. My dad, Sonny Williams, passed away on August 8, 2010 and I miss him everyday. Dad loved being a firefighter and singing country music and he loved the Memphis Fire Department Band and this article and pictures bring back good memories for me.
Teresa, thank you for writing. Even though it’s been 9 years since your father’s passing we know memories can bring back a range of emotions. We hope the article helped to remember the great ones!
Yes it does, it brings back good memories that I am blessed to have. Thank you, Mark
This is Amazing! I have this album. It belonged to my late father in law Maury Tennyson who played the sax. What is ironic is that I remember listening to this band play at the Mid-South Fair for the TN High School Rodeos for many years. And much to my surprise in my adult years I had the honor of having both Maury Tennyson & Sonny Williams in my life as my Father in Laws. I have very fond memories of both of them and cherish the times spent with them very much!
Maury was in my class. Class of ’62. If I’m not mistaken, he was married to Carolyn Gaither who was also in our class. I believe that he was a driver for the Fires Department and that his leg or foot was badly injured in an accident and he had to leave the department. I’d like to know if my memory is correct, so if you know, please post a reply.
Hi Dale, thank you for your comment and question. We’re doing a little research on that and will respond. Thanks again!
Thanks for a great article! I have great memories of many of these men growing up and have the album also!
Great write-up. I never knew the history. Thanks for sharing. I miss your dad. He was such fun and very entertaining (without the band). He was such. Character. Wonder, always encouraging to me. A great friend always to me. He was the best. I ride by your old house ever so often, just a memory of Faxon Ave. Memories of days gone by. Take care. Wish I could see you sometime, just for old grins. Blessings.
Yes, maybe we could come for 50th Central reunion 🙂
This is Terry Dunn, I played the trumpet in the band and have great memories playing at the Fair every year. We got pretty funky there for a while and had some great crowds at the fair. I would like to know which guys are still around. I saw where Amazon sells the record when they have any and the songs are being streamed on places like spotify. I guess we signed all of our rights away as musicians, but I would like to know about that if anybody has that information. It was good to find this and hear all the names again in one place and the old history. I am still playing trumpet in the Houston area.
Wow! My name is Rusty Castleberry. My father was Troy Castleberry. I was a little snot back then, but I remember going to the fair and listening to you guys. I would play with Sonny William’s son Keith. Those were the days!
Hey Rusty! We all had those days, thanks for your comment.
Hey, this is Terry Dunn, I played trumpet in the band when horns were added. I am still playing trumpet and live in Texas. I retired from the La Porte Texas fire department at the end of 2008. I remember those days with the fire department band very fondly. We had some really good gigs at the fair and during fire prevention week. I still have two of the albums that we cut.
It would have been nice if it had been mention in the article what instrument I played, the trumpet. I remember the Fireman annual parties took some endurance to get through 🎺
My grandfather played bass with the original band . I was giving one of Sonny’s fender guitars back in 1977 .
Thanks to all of your comments. Danny was not only a great drummer but there was no better Pumper Driver on the MFD. He hand drew his entire first and Second Pumper response territory and cared the 3 ft by 3 foot map behind the seat of Pumper 21. Wonderful guy. Ill guys in the band were not only great musicians but all were better than average Fire Privates and Officers. By the way Mike and Kevin Lackey helped me put this together.
Thanks! Dad loved his maps!