Robert Eller


Sometimes, things get started in the most unlikely way. A musical phenomenon that can rightly claim it created a multitude of romantic relationships actually got started in a local basement. Looking at the musical heritage of Hickory, we must travel back to the early days of rock’n’roll.

Just after Elvis sparked the imagination of teenagers across the land, thinking they could do what he did, a band in town, the Hi-Tones needed a place to practice. It just so happened that one of those band members, Mickey Bowman, turned to his aunt and uncle for help. They offered their basement and the Hi-Tones plugged in their guitars and cranked up their amps.

With a steady drum beat to keep the sound going, the band began to draw listeners. It didn’t take long before Carolyn and C.O. Miller, Jr. had a happening going on downstairs. Mr. Miller was quoted as saying that he noticed all kinds of kids coming with black leather jackets “with 20 zippers on ‘em.” He had a warning for them if they showed up. “No drinking and no fighting,” he said.

Early Days Of Rock ’n’ Roll They paid attention.

Starting in 1958, a Hickory version of the sock hop was born. Word got around and by 1963 the dances outgrew their basement origin. The phenomenon that the Millers had inadvertently created, needed a place to grow. As fate would have it, C.O. was growing tired of working in his father’s grocery business and doing tax returns. The director’s position at the Hickory Community Center had come open and “out of the blue,” Miller wrote a letter, expressing interest. He got the job.

It was the perfect place to stage dances for the youth of Hickory. However, some remained skeptical. When he booked Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, who had a No. 1 hit with “Stay,” for $550, he was told the center would lose money. The Miller’s “sweated blood” that week before the appearance, wondering if teens would come. They showed up in droves. In fact, at $2 a head, the Hickory Community Center made a significant profit.

From there, the Millers scheduled all kinds of events, more dances, sports programs, “Fun Day” at the pool, card tournaments. C.O. once said, “I’d hold cockroach races if I thought the kids would enjoy them.”

All of those attractions brought the youth of Hickory to the center. As Carolyn Miller remembered during the days she and her husband were scheduling events, “we know many couples today who met or danced at the hop and later got married. Their kids come to the center.”

Since those days, the Foundation Center named its teen center in honor of the work done by C.O. Miller, and we can thank the Millers for bringing all those couples together. And despite what their parents might have said, rock’n’roll deserves some credit, too.

Photo: Carolyn and C.O. Miller, Jr. and the building for which they created a need.