Past Tense

Bill Lowery was a disc jockey who went on to work in the music industry as a manager, producer and publisher. He became known as “Mr. Atlanta Music.” You might be surprised to know that in the late 1950s he operated his record business, National Recording Corporation, in the old Brookhaven School building.

In 1924, the Brookhaven School opened along North Druid Hills Road just east of the railroad tracks, on what was then known as Fernwood Drive. When the school moved down the road in the late 1940s, where the Boys and Girls Club is today, the old building became commercial office space and was known as the Gearhart Building. The building was named for Walter V. Gearhart, who purchased it in January 1949.

I wrote about Brookhaven School for the Dunwoody Crier in August 2016 and Nancy Carolyn Scruggs contacted me recently to share her memories of working at the Gearhart Building. Nancy worked for Bill Lowery at the National Recording Corporation from 1958 until 1960, while she and her family lived on Drew Valley Road.

Bill Lowery was born in Louisiana, ended up as a disc jockey in Tennessee, then came to Georgia to run the new WQXI radio station. Lowery moved to rival station WGST in 1948. In addition to his work as a disc jockey, Lowery began broadcasting Georgia Tech football games.

He started his own music publishing company, Lowery Music Company. The company had a gospel hit in 1953, and a million-seller in 1956, but the biggest hit for the company was a song called “Young Love.” Movie star Tab Hunter, Sonny Davis and Donny Osmond all successfully recorded “Young Love.”

When others encouraged Lowery to move his business to Nashville, New York City, or Los Angeles, he refused. Instead, he started a music recording business, National Recording Corporation. His artists included Jerry Reed, Joe South and Ray Stevens.

In 1958, Jerry Reed recorded several songs with the National Recording Corporation, including “Little Lovin Liza,” “Soldier’s Joy,” and “Have Blues Will Travel.” Joe South’s 1958 song “Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor” hit the Billboard charts. Later, South wrote such hits as “I Never Promised you a Rose Garden,” “Down in the Boondocks” and “Games People Play.” Ray Stevens went on to have many hits, including “Everything is Beautiful” in 1970.

Nancy Scruggs remembers others who had offices in the Gearhart Building, including Dr. Owens. The insurance company that her family used also had space in the building. Lowery’s National Recording Corporation used the old school auditorium as a recording studio. A garage behind the building held the presses that were used to make albums. The records were distributed by a business on Spring Street in downtown Atlanta.

The company shut down in 1960 and Nancy went to work for local attorney, Theron Matthews. Bill Lowery continued in the recording business as Southern Tracks, moving to a location along Clairmont Road. Clairmont Road carries his name, with the honorary name of “Bill Lowery Highway.”

Maybe these songs bring back memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s for some, as they did for me. Another Lowery published song was “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. In 1969, I was playing this 45 RPM record just a few miles away from the Lowery Music Company. I can still hear it- “I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning. Like a whirlpool, it never ends.”

Other sources cited include: Willig’s “Story of Brookhaven,” DeKalb History Center, lowerymusic.com, New Georgia Encyclopedia.

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