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Psychedellic Drummer A Modern Renaissance Man
10/23/2013 12:50:42 PM

Frederick M. Bailey

By Barney Blakeney

It’s been twice in recent weeks that I’ve been fascinated by the artisanship of Frederick M. Bailey.

Many of you may remember Bailey as Bep Bop Bailey, the Psychedelic Drummer. Back in the late 1960s, Bailey was a record hop drummer whose unique lighted drum set earned him a colorful spot in the history of the local Black community.

I’ve known Bailey most of my life. Our families lived around the corner from each other in those days- we lived on Drake Street, the Bailey’s lived on America Street.

Bailey is a few years older than I am. I used to hang out with his younger brother Francis. I was learning to play drums and Bailey’s family had a drum set in the house. Vander Polite and I would go over to Francis’ house to fool around with the drums.

Vander played drums with Frankie, The Big Bopper back in those days. We all were just teenagers. Vander and I also took music lessons from Mr. Rueben Rhett at Mitchell Elementary School in the afternoons. Those three other guys were proficient drummers on the set. I ended up playing in marching bands.

I always admired Bailey as a drummer. He was cool, not a lot of unnecessary movement. I never saw him sweat, but he got the job done.

And he was clean! Bailey emerged as one of the better dressers from our era as well. A tall, slender, good looking light-skinned guy, Bailey was suited for the modestly clothes.

Years later I’d see Bailey driving around town in a vintage 1929 Model-A Ford Roadster with a rumble seat in back. He said he’s had 21 old cars over the years. His sister who lives in Sumter now drives the 1929 Ford and a 1938 Chevy he owns. He no longer indulges the hobby.

I run into Bailey sometimes on the Eastside. But it was a couple of weeks ago at the Hot Spot Record Shop on King Street that I again was impressed by this unique individual.

I drop by the record shop sometimes to chat with owner, James Jenkins who is a historian, musician and former leader of the Soul Sensations Showtime Band. Bailey was there working with Jenkins on some electronic equipment.

I saw several pieces of African attire laid out on display cases in the store, but I paid them no attention until Bailey picked up a couple of them to show Jenkins.

The stuff was really nice, fancy stuff. But I was unimpressed until Bailey revealed he had made the clothing himself. I’ve seen that quality of stuff at my friend Chuma’s African Gallery. My Nigerian friend carries some of the best stuff. Bailey’s stuff was comparable. He sells the stuff to friends on special order.

I was amazed that this guy whom I’ve only seen as a record hop drummer who likes clothes and old cars was a talented tailor. He said he learned the skill, as well as his musicianship, from his father.

I don’t remember Bailey’s father from the old neighborhood. In fact, I only know Bailey and his brother Francis. Bailey told me in addition to the drum set at his parents’ house on America Street, there also was a piano and organ. That’s when I recalled Vander and I also fooled around on the keyboards while at the home.

I was impressed after that conversation, but not so much that I remembered to put together a story about this unique guy. That came last week when while doing an interview for a business story, I viewed some paintings Bailey had produced.

I was interviewing Ernest Murray who bought some of Bailey’s paintings to display at his new East Cooper store. The afro centric art is off the chain! Particularly impressive are the rhinestone appliqués Bailey used to simulate jewelry in the paintings.

One of 14 kids in the family, Bailey who grew up on Norman Street on the west side of the peninsula truly can be described as a modern renaissance man. He proudly credits his father, James Bailey, for his outlook on life.

His father raised his kids to understand they could produce anything they need including food, clothing and entertainment.

I never knew much about Bailey until he told me he’s a retired Charleston Naval Shipyard employee who also worked as a longshoreman. He’s studied and taught martial arts and still works as a DJ.

Talking with Bailey about his background and interests reminds me there are some tremendously talented people in the local Black community - people we see everyday and never consider as uniquely talented. I guess we all should remember that old saying about judging the book by the cover.

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