Jimmy Coleman and I graduated high school in Carlsbad, New Mexico in 1960.
While I was off at college, and its afterlife, Jimmy metamorphosed into J. Paul Emerson, a radio legend.
It was the end of the 1950s and the dawn of whatever came next, still a debate, or fistfight, depending on venue. Jimmy's Radioland persona became the masked mauler of top 40 radio, controversy his cornerman. Here's a glance back at my always-upbeat classmate.
Jimmy's parents were active in the Baptist church, his dad, Paul Edward, worked at U. S. Potash Corportation. They later ran a repair shop for bicycles, and sometimes lawn mowers. His mom, Alyne Surritte Coleman (1921-2006), worked with the Red Cross, and was active in local civic groups. He had a brother, Paul Edward Jr.(25 Oct 1948- 25 Jun 2019), who, after a stint in the Army, became a licensed practical nurse, and a sister, Joy Annella Coleman Moore.
A few years before Jimmy died, his dad went into a nursing home in Arkansas, and Jimmy went home to Carlsbad to care for his mother. He suffered a fatal heart attack and is buried in the Carlsbad Cemetery.
I know these things only because I looked them up. I didn't know him well, but we were in Junior High band together. He liked the stage, in fact was always on stage, and sometimes appeared as a singer with school groups. Periodically, he suggested I play trumpet with him in a "combo," as little bands were called in those days. I'm sure he approached others with the idea. Since my brief musical stint left no residue of trumpet virtuosity, I always declined.
My many memories of Jimmy are dominated by two, my favorite and my last.
My favorite memory of Jimmy formed in 1956 when we were both ninth-graders in Eisenhower junior high, Carlsbad, New Mexico. A lunch-time celebration involved musical groups on the playground, and classmate Johnny Bill Davidson, saxophonist extraordinaire, led a group through several numbers. Jimmy took the stage with them to sing "Shake, Rattle and Roll."
It was a passably adequate performance, assisted by a marvelous, understated break by Johnny Bill. Jimmy's corpulent shaking to the rhythm of the song, it was the Elvis era, provoked what I took to be mock cheers from the girls crowding the bandstand. I was standing beside my friend Woody Smith, later Judge Woody Smith [See Here] in Albuquerque , who observed, "He's eating this cheering up. He thinks its real."
Many years later I happened to see a 1954 video of Big Joe Turner doing the same song, and recognized Jimmy's inspiration. I'm pretty sure he pictured himself as Big JT, moving skillfully, and lustily to the coolness of the scene. You can see nearby a TV screen capture of Turner's performance, which may have formed the self-image of many would-be rockers of the innocent 50s. Or, another nearby link will play the audio, as most of us would have heard it on the radio.
My last memory of actually seeing Jimmy came during our high school graduation night in 1960. The basic drill was to walk two-by-two from the Multipurpose Room onto the football field where folding chairs were arranged before a temporary dais. Our parents would watch from the home stands as we picked up our sheepskins. We were assigned partners, and we'd practiced marching out in a dignified, and decorous manner in keeping with the solemnity of the moment. "Pace and deportment," we were admonished.
On the grand night the Multipurpose Room disappeared into the fog of war. Deportment succumbed and pace hastened. We arrived on the football field in the order of our ejection out the back door. Whomever I was slotted to march with, I've forgotten, disappeared at the ultimate moment, and I doubt I've ever seen them again.
Jimmy and I found each other deserted, at the end of the line, and we marched out together to get our hard-won diplomas.
A strident organ hallooed through the tinny PA, prompting Jimmy to observe, with his best irreverent cool, "Sounds like Bill Haley and the Comets." It’s my last clear memory of him.
Jimmy becomes J. Paul Emerson
Jimmy worked around town. A couple of times I saw his name on a local hotel marquee announcing his trio. I believe he was called J. Cole in those instances. I lost track of him. Now, I find he made his mark. I can't improve on the story, as related by those who knew him later. I'll just link to their words. At left is a commentary by author, Claude Hall. Claude was inspired by his memory of Jimmy to write a book about the invention of Top 40 radio, titled, "I love Radio." There's a link in the left column above the news clippings. Jimmy, known to Claude by his stage name of J. Paul Emerson, is the main character. Claude mentions Jimmy several times on his Vox Jox site, linked nearby. John Tierney of the New York Times weighed in a couple of decades ago. You'll also find a little blurb about Jimmy at "Where Are They Now?" There's even a Wikipedia entry, and an entry in the Wikipedia Academic biographies. They have some typical Wiki nonsense about his early public forays (he probably didn't tour with adult bands, coast to coast when he was 13), but it's nice to see him noticed.
Several websites have sprung up about radio stations of various genres. The nearby picture of J. Paul Emerson comes from a tribute site (now behind a firewall) to WQHT in New York, where he was apparently the newsman. He's listed as an alumnus of Denver's KIMN. He's mentioned in a book about personalities from Eddy County, New Mexico.
Johnny Williams on his web site "440 International" (http://www.440int.com/) gives us this summary of Jimmy’s, aka J. Paul Emerson’s, career in radio. Johnny doesn't mention the Carlsbad station where Jimmy apparently worked when he was out of work.
One of his colleagues, Charlie Hughes, Carlsbad High School class of 1963, had these reflections about Jimmy: "I remember Jimmy very well. We worked at KCCC together in the early 70's when I was a rookie and he was an old pro. He came up with the popular program "let's trade even" and when the local news was too boring, he had no qualms about spicing it up off the top of his head...he was a trip to work with.
"He worked the major markets all over the country and when he would get enough of the pressure he would return to Carlsbad and work a few hours at a local station and work on a novel and I think he had the talent and imagination to be a good writer. When Rush Limbaugh caught on out in Sacramento with his conservative talk show in the late 80's and brought AM radio back from near extinction it brought a hoard of talk shows all over the country.
"CBS was doing a piece on the phenomenon and focused on some new shows and lo and behold there was Jimmy out in San Francisco doing a far right political show that he told me later got him run out of town with death threats. So he came back to Carlsbad and was doing his show by means of telephone line out at the Bull Ring. I kind of doubt very many stations were carrying the show...it was as far right as the bicycle path on the Autobahn. Anyway, he was a good friend and I hated to hear of his passing....he was only 58, but he crammed a lot into his short life."
Jimmy was fired in San Francisco for comments about race, gender, and immigration that more than one commentator found racist, homophobic, and misogynous . Author Henry Giroux included thoughts on Jimmy in his book "Fugitive Cultures: Race Violence and Youth."
Where did he get the name J. Paul Emerson? We don't know, but it's not entirely unique. There was a J. Paul Emerson (1916-2000) in the 1939 graduating class at Clemson A&M in Clemson, South Carolina. He became a Lt Col in the Army and Professional Estimator. No known connection to Jimmy Coleman. Let's debunk the Wiki version of his name. Emerson wasn't his middle name. He was christened Jimmy Edward Coleman, using his father's middle name. Paul was his father's first name, and his brother's.
While we've digressed, we should also note, there were two Jimmy Coleman's in Carlsbad High School at the same time, relationship unknown. Jimmy Jr. was a year behind our Jimmy, and, among other things, was interested in drama and participated in the annual Billy the Kid pageant in Lincoln New Mexico.
I was in Carlsbad in 2014 for the memorial of an old family friend, Jim Rucker. My sister and I walked through the local cemetery, which I believe is where I picked up a scary looking spider bite, and came across Jimmy's grave. He's buried near his mother, who passed a few years after him. I knew him as a good natured young man, for whom life was a fun adventure, not too serious, but seriousish. He was always on stage, looking for the lines that would get him noticed. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I'd practiced that trumpet a little more.