Now I'm eight and one half months pregnant and I want to produce a healthy baby. My labor pains were just beginning and boy was that kid kicking! Dr. Roscoe had examined the patient and was preparing for a natural delivery. This specialist had hopes of allowing the whole world to view his operation and my proud achievement.
This is about how I felt with only 10 days to lift-off. Ben was arranging news coverage, pictures, press and the things he did so well. My job was organizing a team of qualified persons to help me not only get through the marathon, but to make it go smoothly. Filming, recording, still pictures, instruments, song lists and signs were only a small part of what I had to be responsible for on May eighth.
Dennis Hamby scheduled the filming with a port-a-pack video camera plus the 16mm work was to be done by an associate. He and Loretta were put in charge of this department. So my worries were over as far as the filming was concerned.
Recording the entire event was another matter. It required changing the reel to reel audio tapes every 2 or 3 hours and I couldn't do that while continuously playing music. To my rescue came a couple I'd only known about six months. Jim and Sam Locke were almost the heads of my local fan club. Their faces were as much a part of the lounge during my show as I was. Many people had asked me if they were paid members of my entertainment show.
Jim and Sam quickly volunteered their services for recording my marathon as verification and for sentimental value. Jim had arranged to use a large reel to reel unit and stay the entire time to insure a reliable job. To both of them I owe a debt of gratitude for their moral support as well as their faithful job of recording on May 8 and 9.
The instruments were all in my possession before the event. I decided to use an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric organ, electric piano, bass pedals, trumpet, harmonica, banjo and several percussion instruments. I had representatives from the keyboard, string, brass and percussion families. Since the music stores I had approached all refused to volunteer to loan me any extra equipment for this one day, I made do with what I owned and borrowed from fellow musicians. With co-operation, I could have had on stage lots of other instruments to play from the families already mentioned. But there was really no more room to put anything else.
Using my card files of song lyrics and chord symbols from many years, I prepared an emergency kit of tunes in case my mind went blank after 12 hours. Luckily enough, 90% of the songs played in the marathon were off the top of my head. No more than 20% were instrumentals and I only repeated songs that were requested during the entire 18 hours and 16 minutes. God gave me a good memory bank and I really needed it for this challenge.
The week of the marathon, my stage was covered with informative signs and promo material for this Day of Days. Announcing the event every hour, I made sure I wouldn't be alone on Saturday night. People really don't listen to what you say until they've heard it 100 times. TV has brainwashed us into this type of habitual human flaw by its subtle, subconscious, repetitious, subliminal advertisements... advertisements...advertisements...advertise....Whoops!! There it goes again...See?
This last week I also had to pace myself in order to be ready for Saturday's chariot race. Unfortunately, my accelerator was hung and when the audience was cooking, I put out full steam ahead! Always trying to prove myself to responsive patrons, I stayed true to my Cooksey characteristics. I'm either all or nothing! My only sensible move was to begin taking my prescribed sleeping aids every other night of that week. My anxiety got stronger and stronger as the week progressed.
Also during the last week, Ben had set me up as a part of a special charity called Help Them Walk Again. Since his son was confined to a wheelchair, he was a member of the board of this organization designed to create motivation and to do further research for a cure for afflictions that impair the mobility of the legs. This included many persons struck by various calamities from accident to disease.
Already informed of my previous childhood ailments, Roscoe'd scheduled my marathon to correlate with awareness for the Help Them Walk Again campaign. He knew that for several years as a child, I was sidelined from walking due to Leg Perthis disease. My spinal cord had become detached from my hip and I truly appreciate today the privilege of walking. Ben also knew that I did all kinds of charity benefits along these lines each year. My support obviously could be obtained by just asking.
Wow! I'd not only be helping my career with my marathon, but more importantly I'd be assisting in building national awareness for many persons not as fortunate as I in regaining their mobile freedom.
Ben set up meetings for me with the originator of the charity, Joanne Toadvine. We met at the Peppermill Restaurant next to Silver City and reviewed both of our situations relating to helping the cause. Joanne had a son who was confined to a wheelchair and her motivation was sincere and dedicated. We seemed to agree on many ideas expressed at this afternoon luncheon.
The charity had planned a big function at the Convention Center on Saturday night to coincide with my marathon. Many quadriplegics as well as noted celebrities would be in town for the event. Tickets were sold and much advance publicity preceded the kickoff.
On Wednesday before the big weekend, Ben Roscoe had scheduled a news conference at Silver City to announce the correlation of all these events on one specific date. Not only handicapped persons and charity personnel were present, but also the TV, radio and print media were all out in force to cover this full scale program. At exactly 12:00 noon, on stage in the lounge Lt. Governor, Bob Rose, approached my microphone and commended all the participants for their generous contributions of involvement in assisting such a worthy organization as the Help Them Walk Again foundation. Ben Roscoe also spoke and introduced the other dignitaries present. He may have introduced me as the last speaker, for fear I might anxiously go ahead and begin the marathon right then. Having been around performers all of his life, Roscoe knew someone with the name Wild Bill could tend to be unpredictable. Ben also was aware of my paranoia about Lucas just up and calling the whole thing off!!! But Ben boldly shouted out my name and my turn at bat brought the undivided attention of every member in this selective audience.
I must say that I've never followed a Lt. Governor, but I knew the subject matter well. So I took the liberty to briefly explain how my marathon would supplement the publicity for the overall campaign. A complete two hours of questions and answers followed along with 20 or so interviews. The city would certainly be aware of what was going on this coming weekend.
Those last three days before the big event, I really don't remember much except I slept all day Friday. And most of Saturday I was totally zonkered out of this world in my bed thanks to the prescription for twilight time tablets. Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention that on Thursday I ran into my friends Tom and Ellie who operated a wedding chapel on the Strip. After telling them what I was going to do, they agreed to conduct their own real wedding Sunday at noon during my marathon on stage in the lounge at the Silver City Casino. Now that's got to be the wildest thing yet. But it was all set up with a preacher and everything! You understood that correctly!!! This couple, who had been living together without a marriage license for quite a number of years, made their living convincing hundreds of lovebirds every month the way to go in life was to get hitched. Obviously, the idea that some bearded hippie they knew was going to attempt to set a world record in a Vegas casino by casting away all common sense and rational thought served to be the dynamic catalyst for them to look at each other and say, "Oh, Darling, this marathon of Wild Bill's has plunged my heart into such a romantic desire to wear a wedding ring that I can wait no longer to become your eternal mate!" Either that, or maybe they'd heard "Here Comes The Bride" one time too many while inhaling the rice they were supposed to be throwing at the customers. Excuse me, but my experiences in this life have led me to believe that 9 out of 10 folks running wedding chapels are coo coo for cocoa-puffs.
On May 8, 1976, I arrived at Silver City around 8:45 PM. I had a conference with Ben Roscoe and Tommy Fresch, another casino shift boss. With much professional experience on stage when he used to play a big stand up bass fiddle while swinging across the stage on a trapeze, Tommy agreed to do my introductions for the filming at the beginning of the show. So checking out all equipment in advance, I departed out of sight from the lounge area.
At two minutes until 10:00 PM, Tommy asked for a drum roll and then dashed on stage. Welcoming the audience that was packed to the walls for this world record breaking event, he stirred them up into a passionate frenzy. In the distance I could barely hear him, but I knew the cameras were already rolling in preparation for his big announcement. Finally, the moment for the gladiator to enter the arena had arrived. And at the top of his lungs little Tommy produced a first class P.T. Barnum impression. That was my cue to run across the casino with mustard on my sword!
"And now, Ladies and Gentlemen! Silver City is proud to present, in an effort to break the Guinness Book World Record for a continuous one-man musical performance of 16 hours, -----the fabulous WILD BILL COOKSEY!"
The whole crowd went wild! All rising to their feet while cheering and screaming the signature line I used endlessly on stage, while commanding that imaginary little two-inch man I invented inside my electronic percussion box to play harder and faster----They mimicked me by yelling "Get'em Drummer!" "Get'em Drummer!"
As if time had stopped and I was floating in slow motion through the air, my whole body, mind and spirit absorbed every drop of this triumphant ecstasy. I simply nodded my head in regal acknowledgment towards my adoring subjects. Who was I kidding? These people wanted blood! Powerfully raising my hands above my head and forcing my way through the crowd towards the stage, I knew this was my moment to be "Rocky". And I was determined to relish every pleasureful, exhilarating second!
With the veins in his neck about to explode, Tommy's face was red as a beet. Over and over, he kept shouting my name to incite the crowd. When I was only inches away from mounting my launch pad, my enthusiastic friend, Tom, reached out and aggressively shook my hand, slapped me on my left shoulder and with a sincere, lowered voice spoke directly into my ear. "Go get'em Wild Bill! You can do it!!!"
Finally, jumping on the stage and throwing on my guitar, I felt this flow of energy inside of me was going to ignite and send me off into orbit right through the roof of this casino. But with the kind of control I held over these fans, there was no way I was leaving this stage and breaking their hearts.
You're probably asking yourself what song did I play first? Are you kidding? I was so shaky I have no idea. It was just loud and furious enough to excite this already emotional audience. I seriously doubt if the crowd cared either. To them this was history in the making. And history makes its own music. Baby, that audience and I were tuned up together to make Beethoven roll over one more time!
Releasing hard-driving, ear-piercing sounds for the first 30 minutes, I quickly remembered my pacing theory. I backed away to something mellow and laid back. You'd think that the audience would catch on and be disappointed. No way, Jose! If I played the musical scales on a fish's back and hummed "Jingle Bells" through a Kleenex and comb, this die-hard bunch would have still done head stands for me. They came to encourage one of their own. And the home team could do no wrong.
As I alternated this slow song, fast song process, it wasn't long before Sam Locke put up a sign saying One Hour Completed! The crowd cheered and I smiled so big I almost broke my jaw. But big deal! I had 17 hours and 16 minutes left to go. Was I crazy or what?
The second and third hours went quite well. People stayed and applauded my non-comedy show with only continuous music allowed to be emitted from the stage in order to stay in accordance with the rules of the marathon. But by the end of hour number four, some fans became bored and began to depart. They proposed to return the next day for the big finish. Let's hope there was a finish.
By 4:00 AM we'd dwindled down to 10 or 12 people including our own staff helping with the marathon. But certain other lounge entertainers started dropping by to cheer for the local persistent idiot with the black hat. Ben Roscoe would come on stage periodically and read telegrams of encouragement from stars like Dean Martin, David Brenner, the casts of the Dunes Hotel's Casino De Paris show and the Stardust's Lido show plus numerous hotel executives and employees. But most important of all were the large number of just good friends who'd sent their best wishes for someone they believed in.
A highlight of the 5:00 AM segment was the appearance of the fantastic Imperials from the Sahara lounge. Since Little Anthony had left the group a number of years earlier, this talented trio continued to win acclaim everywhere they performed. No longer just the vocal backup group from those classic recordings of "Tears On My Pillow" and "Hurt So Bad", the Imperials could stand alone as a top notch headline act on anybody's stage. Without any big buildup, they quickly grabbed a mike and started singing background harmonies behind my lead voice as I sang some super soul goodies. My favorite was their addition to "The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me." It gave me cold chills and revived my every spirit. I'll be forever indebted to them for their unforgettable contribution to my event on that early Sunday morning.
I could see the BIG RED coming up through the side window and felt that other Big Red showing in my tired eyes. Playing piano with one hand and bass and drum with my feet, I still could drink beverages and take my vitamins. I began to get punchy and giggle a lot, but I realized that I had to keep cranking out the music. Perhaps with the crowds returning in a few hours, now would be a great time to set my mind and body on automatic pilot. Never allowing myself to miss one beat, the music kept on flowing as I took some deep breaths. Right here would have been the ideal time to just shut down and go home. c Ben Roscoe had joined a friend, Darryl Dryer, of KBMI the all news station, in observing my 6:00 AM antics. They sat watching and waiting for an immediate collapse or a quickie trip to the little boy's room.
Oh! But I had already taken that into consideration from the beginning. If Nature called, I was prepared to answer. If necessary, I'd page a security guard to monitor me as I made my trip to the little boy's room. Surely Bob Dylan, Jimmy Reed and Neil Young all qualified as making music when they played guitar and harmonica at the same time. And I had my trusty Harmonica holder that fit around my neck handy at a necessary moment's notice. Believe me, nothing that simple was going to stop me now.
As usual, my determined mind didn't even think about leaving the stage the whole time. In fact, the truth is that I became so caught up in the event that Sunday afternoon, I left the casino, went home to bed and never answered Nature's call until 12:00 noon on Monday May 10. One entertainer friend in Florida was joking about my never leaving the stage for five or six hours and said, "I finally figured out Wild Bill's secret. He talks in vapors."
Nevertheless, all those years of not taking breaks were only training for May 8 and 9, 1976. And this was nothing. Just think, I could have been an astronaut. I wonder if NASA knows I'll be available after this is over?
You know, at 7:00 AM regular people eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Why not me? So Ben brought me a bowl of soft scrambled eggs and a spoon. At this time I was stretched out on the floor playing a reclining version of "Malaguena". As I saw Ben approaching with my most important meal of the day, I quickly arose and went back to the keyboards, never missing even one note. Notice, I never claimed they were always the right notes. I placed the eggs above the surface of the top keyboard and proceeded to allow my tongue to lap up this fowl feast in true musical animation. It was the perfect combination. Some little chicken had given us the eggs. And Yours Truly added the ham. Sorry, I couldn't resist it.
A lot of pictures were taken of this, but it was basically the only food I really consumed during the entire marathon. Mostly liquids gave me the physical strength to carry on. Slurp! Slurp!
About 8:00 AM a very unique and friendly, black gentleman stuck his head through the open window of the lounge. My mind was beginning to fade, but here was what I needed to resharpen my wits. In the midst of playing New Orleans style songs on a keyboard instrument that were directed to my new friend, I began to question this Louisiana tourist and got some perfect comedy set-up lines. We did at least one half hour of pure nonsense and delight! Comedy's rough enough, but to have a casino roaring at 8:00 AM in the morning is unheard of. I sure enjoyed it! It put some gumbo in my get up and go. Merci, beau coups, my Cajun comrade!
By 10:00 AM I began my Sunday morning religious hour. All songs were inspirational in keeping with those who couldn't attend church because they were sitting through my marathon. I always loved Gospel music and could think of no better time to play it than now. Amen, Brother!
I believe my eyes were beginning to dim by 11:15 AM when the wedding party started stumbling in. They looked tired and they'd been to bed! What did I look like by now? Probably like shag carpeting in Atilla the Hun's mobile home!?!
Flowers, the preacher and all the wedding necessities were present. Uniquely, Joanne Toadvine and her son were maid of honor and best man, respectively. While I continued to play softly in the background, everyone was lined up for the noontime ceremony.
Tom and Ellie had requested that I sing "Tender Loving Care" for the service, so I gladly obliged with a very hoarse throat. Followed by "Here Comes The Bride", rice and lots of kisses, this was a touching sight in the lounge of a casino conducting a marathon with a guy about 12 feet away yelling, "Okay, hard six" or "the house wins".
An interesting footnote is that the participating minister had his own claim to fame. At the time of our big event, he held the uncertified record of being the only official licensed preacher around to have married a couple or couples in a plane as it flew above Las Vegas during the legal ceremony. So I guess you could say this marriage was a little below what he normally was used to.
By 1:00 PM I was wiped out! Forget it, man. This was the stupidest thing I've ever done! Lucas, the General Manager, was right. My fingers hurt. My head hurt. I was dead! And now that the wedding was over, I just knew I'd be all alone again until the end. Wrong!!!
Not only did the wedding party begin the honeymoon right there with liquid refreshment, but everyone from the night before returned each bringing their six most rowdy friends. It was reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral during Mardi Gras with all the revelers marching around, laughing and greeting each other with a feeling of unity. Sure these people on top of people had all come to view the body for better or worse. Depending on my ability to endure or not to endure, they were prepared to celebrate with either champagne or embalming fluid.
My voice got weaker and weaker. I turned up all the volume available on the amps. I played more instrumentals, but people started to request my hardest vocals. They had already begun to celebrate my victory three hours too early. They were to put it nicely----bombed!
"Look, Bill," Ben Roscoe said. "It's only 20 more minutes until you break the old record of 16 hours. You can do it!" Ben probably saw I was going down the drain fast and without his encouragement maybe I would have pulled the plug.
Whoopeedo! Man, I've had it!! Okay, I said in my mind. I'll break that record, take my bows and go home! Minutes seemed like hours. My voice was no longer discernible. My singing tones would remind you of Rice Krispies without the snap and pop. Oh, God, just one more minute!
At 2:01 PM, Roscoe jumped up on the stage and made the big announcement. These two hour alcoholics went wild! Yelling! Hollering! Ohhhh, my head hurt soooo bad. But maybe since they were so happy, now it would all be over at last. Hurry up, folks, with all your celebration noises. Let's go home. This one's in the record books now. But wait a minute!
Somebody tell Roscoe to sit down and get off that microphone. Ben, please stop! "Bill, just broke the old record," shouted Ben. "Can he make it two more hours and 16 minutes?" The Red Sea reopened! Everyone but Howard Hughes and Jimmy Hoffa shouted approval. So what if Neil Armstrong landed on the moon! They hadn't been there and if they had, they'd probably have tried to talk him into walking on the sun in Bermuda shorts!
"Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!," a furious crowd chanted relentlessly.
Are you kidding ? I was dazed as I still stood there strumming that dumb guitar. Well, maybe just a few minutes more. You know, to reach an even number. Then they really did it! They found the little button in my mind that jumps the starter! Boom! I jumped up and down and they went crazy. The more hyper I became, the more insanity this audience displayed!
Playing unbelievable blues licks on my guitar and falling on my knees to the floor, I realized that I was responsible for starting mass hysteria. Their energy poured into me and I was wired back to 220 once again. I knew I had them going and my ego wouldn't let my poor, tired body stop now. After 15 more minutes I remember complete dizziness hit me real hard. Hoping not to pass out, I sat down at the piano to play a few more instrumentals.
This bunch would have clapped if I had played a funeral dirge in A-flat minor. Everytime I'd get a little draggy, some yo-yo would stand up and give a cheer. It was then I realized they wanted me to die. Either someone had forged my signature on a million dollar life insurance policy or the Vegas sports books were taking bets on whether I'd drop dead before the seventeenth hour. Great! A wedding and a funeral within four hours under the same roof! Only in Vegas.
I love 3:00 PM because this part of the afternoon is so peaceful and calm. You're so close to evening's sweet bliss. But that's when the ultimate panic hit the pit of my stomach and my marathon almost ended completely. Guess what I finally lost? I couldn't even tell anyone. That's right. The old voice went "BYE-BYE". Now what would I do?
This was a time for creative originality. a la Cooksey!!! So looking at all those smiling faces screaming at me, I put one hand on the keyboard to play, and with the other hand I wrote a large note. The note said, LET'S SING!
A good old community sing-a-long would be just what the doctor ordered. I wished there was one in the house. So I began to play the first part of the tune instrumentally so could everyone to catch the name of the song. Then we'd all sing together. Well, they sang. I just moved my lips to form the words. I played everything I thought they'd ever heard in their lives. Still in my distorted whisper, I mumbled what I could on the microphone rather than push my voice by trying to sing. It was hilarious!
These people were really into it now because they knew that without them, I might not make it. Then 4:00 PM finally arrived and I only had 16 minutes to go! Oh, God, give me strength! People started clapping hands, dancing around and screaming in my ears.
"You're going to make it Wild Bill!", they yelled as they pierced my head with commands. "You're going to make it!" When the clock ticked off 10 more minutes, I came alive like Lazarus. I jumped ---I screamed---I killed what little was left of my raw throat! I was Richard Petty in the last lap! I was Roger Maris hitting his sixty-first homerun! I was Wild Bill Cooksey and I couldn't let my people down! If I had died right there, I felt it would have been worth it! That time in history was MINE!
I went into--"United we stand, divided we fall...and if our backs should ever be against the wall...We'll be together...Together...You And I"!!!
People were standing up with hands joined together held up high in the air. Bouncing up and down on top of chairs and tables, these uncontrollable Basket Cases were tripping out to real-life enthusiasm! Excitement personified itself into another dimension! Only three minutes left! They were about to explode !!! And so was I!!!
Here came "God Bless America". And, if possible, we all went even higher emotionally as the Bicentennial, patriotic pulses pounded with unlimited expectations! By now the whole casino had stopped. All the bosses were right there. It seemed that the whole world was watching ME!
Only thirty seconds left and I just banged the two bass strings on an A chord for 30 licks 30 29 28 27 My mind wondered off to the time in Daytona when I had performed on stage with Guy Lombardo, God rest his soul 19 18 17 I remember thinking, "Could even a legend like Guy ever have experienced this much excitement on New Year's Eve in Times Square playing "Auld Lang Syne?" 12 11 10 I'm Elvis! I I'm the Beatles! I'm Superman! 6 Can this really be happening to little Billy Cooksey, that cripple kid from Ahoskie, North Carolina??? 4 3..Look at these people! Everyone's kissing everyone! 2 Oh, no!?! This is it! 1 One? Did somebody yell, "One"? We made it! 17 hours and 76 minutes! I can't believe it! Thank, God! It's true! It's over! Hallelujah!
Not just one man had done something...No! It was a team effort all the way! Breaking this world record wasn't everything...It was the ONLY thing. The victory was not mine to glory in alone. This thing was bigger than all of us. It encompassed every living soul who ever tossed an encouraging word my way or acted as a positive role model by creating that endless desire in my heart to reach my greatest potential through persistence, determination and hard work. My mind flashed back to those early childhood years that I laid in bed all alone day after day with my leg in traction. The doctors at Duke University told my parents I'd never be able to walk, run or jump like other kids. But we were blessed to have a TV for me to watch while my folks were busy at work trying to get the money to pay all the medical bills. Now I realize that the images I saw and the ideas I received from that black and white television set then helped me to envision a day when I could rise above the reality of my physical limitations by setting goals. Simply put...I learned to dream! At last only two decades later walking was no longer the problem. The dream had come true! Today I was flying so dangerously high that I might never be able to come down to earth again. Wonderful! This is where I want to stay forever!
Instantly, Fred Crosley, a shift boss, ordered drinks for everyone. This was like the moments of triumph he had personally experienced many times as a very successful jockey. The General Manager, Gene Lucas, and Ben Roscoe were both on stage posing for pictures with me. There were tears of joy flowing from everyone! This was the happiest gathering of people I'd ever witnessed! Hallelujah! It's over!!!
Only one poor man, a dear friend from the Stardust named Don, sat through the entire marathon with the exception of those on our team with assigned duties. Needless to say, by then, old faithful Don was bombed! Thank you for staying Don!!! I sure hope you sampled some of that good, strong Silver City coffee before you headed home.
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