Wednesday, April 29, 2015
James Wayne and Eddie Ray - Borenstein's Law (A True Story)
If James “Wee Willie” Wayne is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. I was not acquainted with this artist until he was bought to my attention by my friend Eddie Ray just last week. He had recounted the tale to Veronica, his right hand at the NC Music Hall of Fame, and she went home to look up the details of the story. What she found shed a light on this artist which gives truth to the lyrics in the song above.
At about 1 minute and 20 seconds he sings about doing “time in California, for a crime I did not do.” And it’s true; he did serve time for an attempted burglary there in 1950. But that’s nothing compared to what happened to him later.
Born in 1920 in either Houston, Texas or New Orleans; there is no clear evidence for either; James Wayne’s early years are simply not available. At a time when African-Americans in the south were regarded as less than people, records were often not kept. And if the family had no Bible, or book learning, then there was simply no way to record the history of your own family.
His later youth can only be recalled from the stories he told about it. He claims to have been in the Army, at least through boot camp, and received training as a commando. This would be at the same time he was serving time for that burglary, which means he may not have served in Korea. But in the lyrics to the song he sings about wanting to go to Korea and let the Koreans “take a hand to me.” He follows that up with the puzzling line stating that being in Korea would be preferable to “living here in misery.” Coming on the heels of that burglary conviction I have to wonder if he meant that he would rather be a casualty of war than go on living with the Jim Crow injustice so prevalent at the time.
He seems to have no musical past before the time he served in prison, but he was fluent on guitar and even played the drums on some of his recordings. His first record is reportedly “Tend to Your Business” in 1951 on the Sittin’ In With label out of Houston. It was on the charts for 14 weeks. His biggest hit was in 1952 with the somewhat iconic "Junco Partner” also titled “Worthless Man”. That was on the Shad label out of Georgia. It was an old song which he reworked for the recording. It was considered to be "the anthem of the dopers, the whores, the pimps, the cons. It was a song they sang in Angola, the state prison farm, and the rhythm was even known as the 'jailbird beat'.”
He went on to record 4 more singles for Sitting In with, 3 credited to James Waynes, rather than Wayne. It is not known why this was down, unless it was to keep royalties from accruing to his account. At the time the labels and managers were less than honest with most o their artists; particularly in the South, where many of the artists could hardly read or write.
In the mid 1950’s he appears to have skipped from Aladdin Records to Imperial and then Old Town, befor retirning to Imperial in 1955 when he began recording as Wee Willie Wayne. “Travelin’ Mood” and “I Remember” was a double sided single of note for him. This was around the time when Eddie Ray worked with him as A and R man for Imperial. By 1961 he sort of disappeared until 1967 when he surfaced at a motel in Los Angeles. The events of that night would have a profound effect on the next 7 years of his life.
In February of 1967 he showed up at a motel in an agitated manner. He claimed to have witnessed a contract killing and needed a place to hide. The manager of the motel chased him out and fired shots at him. Wayne returned a short time later with a h soda pop bottle filled with gasoline. He tossed that on the roof of the motel and was arrested. He was convicted of arson, declared insane and sentenced to a psychiatric prison. The details of this story will shock you. But it’s not my story to tell.
At this point I am going to link you with a man named Mortimer Borenstein and his blog, “Borenstein’s Law.” Mr. Borenstein was the Public Defender who received the assignment which led to Mr. Wayne’s eventual release. But it is best to let him tell it his way.
If you have read the whole story you will have to admit that is troubling. Imagine being declared insane for telling the truth about your own life. And then imagine the shock you would feel as the Thorazine kicked in and you found yourself agreeing with the lies in order to be set free! The saner he was, the more they doped him up. And, when he was truly delusional as a result of the drugs, the experts all declared that he was getting well.
They say that the truth is stranger than fiction, and the story of James Duncan Wayne proves this to be true.
Note: There is nothing available that I could find about what happened to Mr. Wayne after the 1980's. If anyone does find out the ending to this story, please let me know. And many thanks to Mr. Borenstein who just couldn't let it rest until he got it right.