Rhythm Vet Jehovah Guy


Jehovah Guy, drums

Had he not been on an errand for a teacher, Jehovah Guy would have been the tenth senior at Dudley High School to join band director James Parsons in the U.S. Navy B-1. “I was downtown for another teacher,” he recalled. “We were going to have a school party and I was downtown getting something for the party. The band director tried to find me but the recruiting officer couldn’t find me so I lost out on that deal.”

He grew up in a family of singers, with his father playing guitar. “We used to have a quartet of all four brothers,” he said. One of those brothers, Arthur, made it into B-1 and was an occasional fill-in with the Rhythm Vets; they both attended Arthur B. Price Elementary School.

Like Lou Donaldson, Carl Foster, and countless other Black musicians, he trained in the Navy’s Great Lakes Experience in Chicago. But so focused was I on learning about B-1 and the Rhythm Vets when we talked that I did not follow up on what he remembered from his other duty stations, at a shipyard in Wilmington and then at Guantanamo Bay, where he would have served with Alton Adams, Jr., whose incredible journey as a Black Navy bandsman began prior to World War I, pre-dating by decades that of B-1. I had thought, at the time, that documenting B-1 was so essential I hardly paid attention to the other Black Navy bands at all. It wouldn’t be until after completing B-1’s history that it dawned on me: in documenting the Navy’s most forgotten integration-pioneering band, I had made them the most documented of such bands, and it had become too late to document very fully all those other bands–realizing even today that there must be dozens more that remain totally undocumented.

Jehovah Guy gave me a blueprint to do such documenting back in the 1980s as he listed the other Greensboro musicians who joined the Navy hoping to become bandsmen: Louis Jenkins, trumpet; James Potts, trumpet; Chandler Gibbs, clarinet; Robert McNair Jr., French horn; Charles Lawrence, trombone; Clarence Mosby, clarinet, and his brother Charles, trumpet.

Guy was medically discharged from the Navy, hospitalized from 1944-46 and again in 1950-51. He graduated from A&T in 1953. He played with the Max Westerband orchestra as well as the Rhythm Vets and was a regular at jams on the A&T campus and at the Artists Guild.

During the post-war period, racial barriers began to fall, he said: “Before segregation was real deep, we used to go play in one another’s clubs, you know. They had little clubs we could go in and we’d jam together. Of course, we had that going on at the school, too; fellows from down Carolina and State would come up to A&T and we’d have jam sessions on the stage, you know, for the students, and it was a beautiful thing. Nobody said anything about it. There was a [White] club on Davis and Sycamore Street we’d carry our wives, have a good time, nobody thought nothing of it.”

So after the war, the Artists Guild was almost a natural evolution of that music scene, featuring regular jams with locals as well as traveling performers. “It was a learning thing, those jam sessions,” he said. “This is where you learn, this is what it’s all about. They don’t look at color, they look at the ideas and the fun that’s in doing these things. You don’t think about things like that. You got your mind on the good things.” Sundays, he recalled, often featured “a mixed group.”

Guy had some chances to travel as a musician–he traveled for “about a week” with Candy Carter, but, he said, “I decided I was going to get married; professional music and a married man ain’t got no business playing music, but I played a little while I was still single, that’s when I played at the clubs, the Guild, El Rocco.” In addition to the Westerband orchestra and the Vets, he backed up traveling stars such as Ruth Brown and Pigmeat Markham when they came to town. With Westerband, “There was a lot of old musicians, I was about the youngest thing in the group, and I started traveling and playing. But traveling and married life and trying to work is not good.” He took a job at the post office, from which he would eventually retire, “and I just turned the music loose.”

However, he relished recalling his Rhythm Vets days and their role in making “Pitch a Boogie Woogie,” and after naming them all, I said, “And you?”

“Me, I’m the drummer,” he said. “I guess I started playing drums in high school. I wanted to get in the band, and I had a teacher told me to get some drumsticks, so I got me two old limbs and made me some drum sticks out of ’em, and then I had to end up buying sticks, but that’s the way I started out.”

On his influences, he said: “My man was a drummer with Count Basie, an old drummer, Joe Jones. And Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, all those drummers, but I guess I was a Joe Jones fan–he was s man had a steady drive. He kept a solid beat all the time. That’s the most important part of it, keeping the beat. If you got the beat, you don’t worry, but if a man can’t keep the beat, you in a world of trouble. So you don’t try to follow what they do, you take some of their things and put your stuff together and you come up with something that nobody else has and that’s your own. But by you falling in behind the same thing playing the same thing they play, you not helping yourself any. and that’s what I’ve always been told, don’t ever use the same thing, use a little bit of him and a little bit of yours, and then come up with something new. That’s where you get your beats from.”

He continued playing drums, however, with a local Shrine Drum & Bugle Corps, and he was quick to agree to re-join the Rhythm Vets for a reunion jam in Greenville, NC in 1987. “It was a great experience,” he said. “We had a beautiful time–I really enjoyed it.”

Being reminded that he had played on a movie soundtrack was a delightful memory for him, one that he’d not expected to have: “I was very much surprised and when I heard the music we played behind it, to me it sounded great, for during the time and to that day, it was real good. It made me feel pretty good to say I appeared in a movie–it was a great thing–at least my sounds appeared in a movie. That made it nice. As far as local bands doing such, I’d never heard of it till we did it, so that put us somewhere, didn’t it?”


Guy, Jehovah. Telephone interview. 8 April 1986.

—Personal interview. Greensboro, NC. 8 Oct 1986.

—Personal interview. Greensboro, NC. 5 July 1987.


–27 February 2024