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.