A native of Adel who was the former drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis and member of The Alabama State Troupers has experienced many obstacles in his life starting at a very young age — the fame, drugs, alcohol and sex. Now, saved and at the “young age of 69,” he says, his desire is to share his testimony with children, teenagers and adults, as well as give advice about music, in the Tifton area.
Robert Morris Tarrant, better known as “Tarp” after Lewis gave him the nickname because he couldn’t pronounce “Tarrant” when they first met, is currently a resident at Golden South Assisted Living in Sycamore. He said the nickname stuck and he’s been known as “Tarp” to the music world ever since.
Tarrant played for Lewis for 12 years. He also has a laundry list of other performers he has had the pleasure of working with, including Chuck Berry, Charlie Rich, Liza Minnelli, Elvis, Little Richard, Albert King, Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Aretha Franklin, Mac Davis, Mary Wells, The Isley Brothers, Conway Twitty, Neil Young, Lonnie Mack, O.B. McClinton, Isaac Hayes and his group The Soul Children, and many others.
Tarrant noted that he was the first white drummer to play at the legendary Apollo Theater.
He returned to his hometown in 1993, while in his 50s, to help take care of his very ill mother, the late Cleo Tarrant. He had an article written on him by Kelly Whiddon of the local paper when he returned to Adel.
Unfortunately, Tarrant lost his home in a fire two years ago and due to his health (titanium replacements were put in both of his knees), he decided to move to an assisted living center in Adel. After six months, he moved to Golden South in Sycamore and has been living there for three months now. He says that he’s blessed to be at the center, and he has the greatest admiration and respect for the staff, especially Cotina Parsons, who he calls his special angel; Mary Hausler; Iris King, who he calls his special lady; Gloria Edwards, “the best and sweetest cook;” Octavia Green; Nikki Graddic; and Mrs. Judy.
Tarrant said his reason behind moving to Sycamore was because of a very good friend, Davy Davis, who is the owner of Davis Music Company and Cousin Dave’s Homemade Instruments in Tifton. He said that Davis is a very good drum teacher, guitarist, bass player, arranger and a committed writer. Tarrant said he’s assisting Davis in producing and arranging his latest efforts on his new album.
“However, I will also in essence, by the grace of God and for God, make myself available to use my speaking talent and my being a musician to speak to younger people in schools, churches and special events by sharing my testimony about rock and roll, hip hop and rhythm and blues — about how great it really is but also the pitfalls that go along with it, such as drugs, alcohol, sex and crazy behavior,” he stated.
“As a young man of 69,” he smiled, “I have experienced all of the above. I’ve always found the bottom of the bottle and the bottom of the bag to be empty and dry. If I can just get to one child, teenager or adult and share with them what God has done for me...it’s by trusting and allowing God to do for me what I can’t do for myself.
“I realized that if He had not had His hands on me that I could not have led a good career, sometimes notorious. That’s when I looked down and saw only one set of footprints. So, I’m saying, trust, love and set a good example.”
As he talked while sitting in a sofa chair, dressed in jeans and a black vest as if he were about to perform, framed posters and black and white clippings with autographs from Johnny Cash, Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton, Ruth Fox, Ken Fox and a Jerry Lee Lewis album cover (which Davis got for him after the one he had was destroyed in the house fire) popped off of the wall behind him, as well as two posters with the word, “WOW,” in big, red letters. He said that many of the autographs were luckily at a friend’s house because everything he originally owned was destroyed in the fire.
Tarrant comfortably sat back in his chair and began to dig into his history, remembering the time as a small child when his career as a musician started.
“When I was 5 years old, I had a passion to play the drums,” he said.
He laughed and said that he would beat on his late mother’s pots and pans, leaving dents. He went from beating on pots and pans to having his first real set of drums at the age of 14, when they were given to him by his father, the late Quitman Tarrant.
This led to Tarrant starting a band in high school with some friends, Roy McLendon, Ranze McClelland and Lance Roberts. They called themselves “The Suedes.” They were managed by Junior Roland.
However, his big break came at the age of 17, when he was invited by Eddie Bond to travel to Memphis, Tenn. Tarrant said Bond and his band visited the Adel area after hearing about him from Sonny Barfield of WNGA radio station in Nashville. The band’s drummer had become ill and Tarrant filled in for him.
During this time, he also met John Hughey, a steel guitar player who taught him how to play with a metronome. Tarrant described Hughey as a “very big influence on me.” He said Hughey knew that he had great potential to do well as a drummer.
Bond, who owned a night club called “The Little Black Book” in Memphis, Tenn., ended up hiring Tarrant and had him come play at the club. Tarrant said his mother didn’t want him to go because she was aware of the drugs and sex that came along with the lifestyle, but his father didn’t mind because he would be somewhat living his dream also through his son by letting him go.
“I was heavy into drugs and alcohol. It started when I went to Memphis, Tenn. That’s when I got introduced to drugs," said Tarrant.
While playing at Bond’s club, Tarrant said he met many famous people, including Sam Phillips, the president of Sun Records. He stated that Phillips was a frequent guest at the club, and he had no idea who he was until one day he sat down at his table and Phillips asked him if he would be interested in a studio job.
Tarrant, thinking that Phillips meant cleaning the studio, was shocked when he learned that he actually wanted him to be a Studio B drummer.
He went to work for Phillips in 1959 and was getting paid well.
“I would have done it for free,” Tarrant said. “It was a blessing to get that job. It was all up hill from there.”
He stated that as a Studio B drummer, his beats were on the demo records. He cut demos for Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Albert Collins, Albert King and Al Green, to name a few. From there, he took a step up and became a Studio A drummer. He went from cutting demos to cutting master tapes — the finished product. He noted that this was a step in prestige and salary.
Other accomplishments by Tarrant include playing with Don Nix and The Alabama State Troupers and recording an album at Elektra Records, which was founded by Jac Holzman; playing at the Mason Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and also Madison Square Garden; he was in six to eight episodes of Route 66; he was in the original “Walking Tall” movie (he had three lines); he was in a movie called “High School Confidential;” and he’s played at the Fox Theatre many times.
He says the height of his career was when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tenn., in 1985, and when he played a command performance at the palace for the Queen of England.
The greatest moment in his life, however, was when he got saved eight years ago.
“It changed my life completely,” Tarrant said.
He added, “God has had his hand on me. I’ve been in 45 automobile accidents, two airplane crashes and two motorcycle accidents and a fire. I feel like God has a purpose for me.”
Tarrant said he’s been clean and sober going on eight years.
“I went to treatment center after treatment center,” he said. “Parents can pay for it, but until that child gets sick and tired of being sick and tired, they’re wasting their money.”
He said once he was sick and tired of being sick and tired, he asked God to pick him back up. He finally decided that it wasn’t worth the pain and heartache.
Tarrant said he’s always loved the city of Tifton and has many friends here.
“For the benefit of the community, I want to be available,” he stated. “I love the community and I want them to love me.”
Tarrant said he will be working with Brenda Callaway of Tifton to do seminars.
He stated that he recently played on a gospel album called, “Surrender,” by lead singer Henry McGill, at Studio D in Moultrie, owned by Gary DiBenedetto.
Tarrant rides his mountain bike at least five miles a day, which doesn’t bother his knees as much as walking. He’s been rehearsing and writing, assisting Davis, at The Shellrock Station in Tifton, courtesy of Sonny and David, who he thanks for donating the hall to them to have a place to work.
Tarrant said Davis has drum lessons available at his company located at 325 Commerce Way.
“I will be there to simply give advice about music and maybe a chance to drop in a line about God,” he stated, noting that to get in contact with him, people can call Davis at 382-1145 or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tarrant has three children, Sean Christian of Riverside, Calif.; Lisa of Memphis, Tenn.; and Denise of Duluth, Minn. He said they’re all successful in their careers with Sean following in his footsteps as a drummer.
To contact reporter Latasha Everson, call 382-4321.