Northside band reunites for Apology Tour

Loud music blares from an empty office building in west Jackson.

Five middle-age men play songs from their childhood – the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones – all their favorites.

The men are members of the Upper Level, a high school band that dispersed 38 years ago. They are now practicing for their much-anticipated reunion concert.

Four original members, Clark Hudgins, Steve Cook, Bo Roach and Jimmy Spell, and new member Johnny Hubbard, are gearing up for the “The Apology Tour.” a one-night event. 

The concert comes nearly four decades after the group went their separate ways. Clark takes the blame for Upper Level’s abrupt breakup and said the event is aptly named. 

“We played New Year’s Eve 1981. That’s the last time we played as a group,” Clark said. “We’re calling it the Apology Tour. It’s my apology for bailing out.

“I’m apologizing for all the good times we could’ve had, and to the fans.”

Clark graduated from Woodland Hills Baptist Academy in 1981. After that, he went to the University of Mississippi, graduating there in 1985 with a degree in business administration.

The financial technology consultant who now lives in Nashville, kept up with Jimmy Spell (guitar) somewhat, but lost touch with his other bandmates.

He, Jimmy and Bo were reunited in 2017, when the ran into each other at a funeral.

The three started talking about putting the band back together, but one piece was missing – Steve Cook.

“We found him on Facebook. He was living in Jackson and gigging every weekend,” Clark said. “He is an active member of the musician community in Jackson.”

Clark and Jimmy founded the band back in high school.

“Jimmy taught me how to play guitar,” Clark said. “He’s always been known as the guitar player in the group.”

The two would play at lunch in the school’s parking lot and later would play on the weekend, when the two would meet on the upper level of the Fondren Corner parking deck.

Eventually, the two were joined by Bo (keyboard) and Steve (drums).

“When we put the group together in the spring of 1980, we decided to call it Upper Level, after the name of the parking deck,” Clark said.

The band lived every high schooler’s dream, playing gigs at several popular Jackson hangouts, including the Lamar, Skidmarks, Poets at the Quarter and the Dock. They were also hired out for private parties.

“We developed a pretty good following,” Clark said. “We’d often have a crowd of 200 or more.”

They say concerts were an excuse for students from various high schools around town to get together. The four even set up a stage on vacant property at I-220 and U.S. 49, where they sold tickets for $5 a pop.

But the fun didn’t last. The group disbanded following their 1981 New Year’s Eve concert.

Bo and Jimmy formed another band that concentrated on the music of The Doors.

“We called ourselves ‘The Doorjams,’” Jimmy recalled. “We were a Doors cover band,” Jimmy said.

The two played several juke joints and had the rare honor of jamming with Blues legend Eddie Raspberry.

“Jimmy got to play with him quite often,” Bo said. “He went to the studio and recorded with him.”

Jimmy, also a 1981 Woodland Hills graduate, went on to work for UPS. In his spare time, he took up barefoot water skiing and eventually became the American Barefoot Club national champion.

Bo, a 1981 Murrah High School graduate, had a professional racing career, driving on the Rolex Sports Car Series. He also owned a National Hot Rod Association drag racing strip in Tulsa.

He moved back to Jackson recently, in part because he missed home. “I always missed my friends,” Bo said.

Steve was graduated from Jackson Preparatory School in 1982. He went on to Mississippi State University, where he played in the college’s stage band and a local band there that performed Ozzie Osbourne covers. He then studied music at Millsaps College and later at the University of Miami.

“After music school, I decided to go into the asphalt business with my dad. I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

He started his own gravel and sand business in 1990, which he ran for six years.

After being out of music for about a decade, Steve had the opportunity to come back to Jackson, where he played in churches and with several bands. He has opened for country and pop superstar Taylor Swift, and was featured on Amped and Wired alongside country music star Vince Gill.

Johnny was recruited to the group recently after playing a gig at the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Bo and Clark had gone out to the gig to see Steve and ask him to rejoin the band, when they heard Johnny play.

“Bo stopped and said, ‘listen to the base player,’” Clark recalled. “’He’s our base player.’”

Johnny, a 1990 Lanier High graduate, has played with Meet the Press and is currently teaching music at Jackson State University.

“He can play jazz. He can play anything,” Clark said. “He’s going to make us look really good.”

“The Apology Tour,” is slated for 7 p.m., August 3 at the Hideaway.

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