Joe Noojin, well-known local piano player, Part 3

April 3, 2015 chris
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  Last week, The Vagabond talked about the late Joe Noojin, a Gadsden native who had been a musician for many years. He is pretty famous across the U.S., and he finally wrote his biography. In reading Joe’s biography, one cannot help but chuckle or downright start to laugh! He continuously makes fun about his shortness (at 5’-6”) and is not shy to share all the craziness in his life. One learns that Joe is a character and is a real hoot in his own right. Never will there ever be another Joe Noojin, and The Vagabond must expose the world about him. Now, to continue for Joe in his own words:

Post World War II

“My old friend George Hawkins, who was a pro-minent attorney in Gadsden, wanted to go in with me building houses. He was providing the financing; I was doing all of the construction and building stuff.

“I got into building in Camp Sibert building houses. I built all the houses on the right side of Brown Avenue and scattered them all the way through, but I got into a pre-sold thing. I was going along – we had a worksheet defining all of the particulars about the construction, paint colors, and so forth. 

“The day before we were supposed to close out, I said, ‘Bonny, is anything wrong with the house? Now’s the time to tell me while I can correct it. I’d like to close out tomorrow.’ Well, this woman started complaining. So I said, ‘I’ll sell this house to somebody else.’ The next day, we closed, and that was the end of that song.

“I got into apartments on Pleasant Valley Road. First, I built a 12-unit trailer court. I’d buy old, burned trailers and use the frames and put them back like houses. I used two-by-fours studs and I’d do it in the wintertime when my help was caught up. We’d build the trailer in my shop and then put wheels underneath it and roll it down and place it in the trailer park. I had 12 trailers, and a little laundry there that paid itself off three times in 10 years.

“Then I bought the old firing rifle range of Camp Sibert. It had some concrete rooms where they stored ammunition and targets. I made rooms out of those, and it was all very profitable. Then I sold my boys some land to build some more apartments up there.

My Family

“To continue, this next segment is about my family and my wife’s family. My father was named Joe E. Noojin, Sr. He was one of nine boys and four girls of the Noojin family. Apparently, they didn’t believe in contraceptives or didn’t have any back in those days. Anyway, Grandpa Noojin made corn whiskey and peach brandy on Sand Mountain near Sardis. At a later time, he had a saloon in Gadsden. The boys tended bar. He would go in the back and knock out the plug in a keg of whiskey and drink it.

“The story goes that one of my great-great-grandfathers had a still up there on Sand Mountain near Sardis. At that particular time, they had a still tax. A man came out of Washington to collect the tax on the still. He would check the quantity of whiskey and also the proof of the whiskey. He then tells the still man how much he owed him. Well, he got into a discussion with my ancestor about what he owed him. My ancestor said he didn’t have any money. His name was Leatherwood. He came back and told him, ‘When I come back tomorrow, I’ll have an ax and I’ll destroy your still.’ My grandfather said, ‘If you as much as lay an ax mark on my still, I’ll kill you.’ The story goes that Leatherwood came back up there and started tearing down the still and my grandfather killed him. My grandfather led his horse down the mountain, down to Duck Springs and tied him up to a tree down there. My ancestor stuffed his body in a fissure where an underground spring ran, and they never found the body.

“The Noojin family was brilliant; they all had good minds. My daddy had a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama and was captain of the track team in 1910. His brother Gus also was a graduate of the University of Alabama. He was a smart man who worked for TCI in Birmingham. Lonnie Noojin was a brilliant man. He had a degree from the University of Alabama, taught school and made a lot of money in the hardware business.

“My first wife was Betty Owens Noojin. My second wife was Nell Joe Roberts Noojin. I was married to my first wife 53 years. When she was 40 years old, she had melanoma cancer, and the only way I got her cured of that was to take her to Houston, Texas. She underwent a radical therapy called hypothermal – it was tying off the artery in the infected leg and put it on a heart and lung machine and pumping a heated chemical and heated blood in there. The leg swelled up tremendously and turned black, but it killed the cancer. Later on, when she got to be 73, she started coughing, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She’d been smoking since we were married. I married her when she was 20 years old. She was smoking then and never gave cigarettes up.

“In my second marriage, I married Nellie Jo Roberts in the Curtiston Methodist Church. Rather than trying to get a musician to play the wedding march, I rolled the church piano up close to the pulpit and told Nellie Jo when she came through the back door, I would give her this sign, “Dum da da da dum dum – the beginning of the wedding march. I played the wedding march; she opened the door and walked in. I quit playing and I got up in front of the altar in front of the preacher, Ken Cooper, and we were married. Nellie Jo’s family and my son Jon and daughter-in-law Becky were there, and we all enjoyed the ceremony.

“The other thing is that Nellie Joe’s husband, A.B. Roberts, also died with lung cancer from cigarettes. Tobacco is a curse among the American public today. Back in the early 30s and 40s, nobody ever mentioned lung cancer. Everybody smoked. It was very fashionable to smoke back in those days.

“I had three boys – Joey, Owen and Jon. When I was 75 years old, I sold the boys the store. They ran it for 10 years and made money with it. They also started building houses and apartments and so forth. I have two sons left, Jon and Owen Noojin. Jon has a wonderful wife Rebecca and a boy named Benjy. Owen has a nice wife and two kids named Todd and Lisa, very fine kids. In fact, Todd graduated from Jacksonville State University magna cum laude, which is by no means an easy accomplishment.

“I’m getting close to the end of the road, but I just want to say this: one of the great joys of my life was playing with big bands and small combos. The sound of the chuck of the sock symbol, the melodic base strings and the brushes on the drums and the instrument section. I liked to play Glen Miller-type music where the clarinet had the lead note and the baritone had the bottom note. It is very beautiful and very enjoyable music.

“I played with Slim Stanford (on bass), Rip Reagan, Jimmy Chastain, Marty Gilmore, John Federico, Al Laser, Joe Keracher, Deleath Rives, Sam Douglas, and Earl Miles, who is a good friend of mine who lived in Mobile. He had a very good trumpet and a good trombone who died recently of prostate cancer.”