December 7, 2009
Moondog Rex still howling at the moon
By MARSHALL WARD - SLAM! Wrestling
As southern-rock band Molly Hatchet sings in the opening line of the song Mississippi Moondog: "Crawling through the swamps and you hear me moan..."
But the swamp, I recently learned, wasn't in Mississippi, where The Moondogs filmed that classic Memphis wrestling promo back in the '80s. It was in Tennessee. "That was one nasty place," Randy Colley, a.k.a. Moondog Rex, said with a laugh from his home in Alexander City, Alabama.
"They had us climb into an awful swamp on Jerry Jarrett's farm, close to where (country music singer) Bobby Bare lives, and golly -- that was indeed a swamp and it was one bad-smelling place to be."
These days, though, Randy Colley isn't climbing around in murky swamp water, but rather enjoying retirement after decades of wrestling all over the world, both in singles competition and in tag team action. This coming Saturday, he'll be a V.I.P. guest as part of the upcoming K&S Wrestlefest: December to Remember meet-and-greet event in Carteret, New Jersey.
As a big Moondogs fan growing up, I traveled to Maple Leaf Gardens and the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium to see my favourite tag team on several occasions. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to speak with Colley recently to gain insight on his life as a Moondog and several other personae. I told him my introduction to Moondogs Rex and Moondog Spot (Larry Booker) was through an '80s VHS video titled Madmen, Maniacs and Lunatics, which featured footage from their bloody and violent hardcore feud with The Fabulous Ones in Memphis.
"People still talk about those matches," said Colley. "I'd seen Lance Russell, the guy who used to do the commentary in Memphis, and the first thing he said to me was, 'Boy, those matches that you guys and The Fabulous Ones had were somethin' else.' It wasn't anything we planned, it just kinda turned out in that way, and as long as we were sellin' out every week, nobody complained. It sold out a lot of places, like Bowling Green, Kentucky, I think it was a $12,000 house there one night -- and if it was a $1,200 house, they were happy."
Indeed, those brutal and chaotic matches that left the ring apron stained with blood night after night were revolutionary, as Rex and Spot garnered their hardcore reputation across the country. But it was years before, in the WWF, where The Moondogs captured gold in 1981 as WWWF Tag Team Champions, after Rex and Moondog King defeated then-champions Rick Martel and Tony Garea. Shortly after winning the titles, Moondog King was replaced by Moondog Spot.
Colley explained: "My first partner was a guy they called Sailor White, and he was actually from Newfoundland. He came in as Moondog King and I didn't know him but he was good for the gimmick and he had the look. But he was unpredictable and he had this attitude where if he woke up one morning and he was champion, it was fine. And if he wasn't, it was fine too. Then he was replaced by Spot (Larry Booker), and I sure was glad to see him come in. Me and Spot got along much better than me and Sailor White did, both of us being Southern boys and all. Also, we were more alike in the way we worked hard, tried to succeed and make things happen."
And make things happen they did, as The Moondogs engaged in memorable feuds with the Wild Samoans and, later, The British Bulldogs (The Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith). On a 1984 episode of Maple Leaf Wrestling, Moondog Rex earned a title shot against WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan. "Me and Hogan were actually tag team partners for a while, years before, when my partner Moondog King was out. I had many different partners who filled in at that time -- Hogan was one night in Pittsburg, Sgt. Slaughter in Washington, DC, and even Lou Albano in some towns."
"That was the last time I'd seen him, back in 1990 and it was just before I started going over to wrestle in England and Germany. The way I saw it, was I guess one 'Moondog' being advertised meant just as much as two, and it was half the expense."
Larry Booker, while working as Moondog Spot, died in the ring at the Mid South Coliseum during a tag team match on November 29, 2003. Colley remembered hearing the news: "A friend of mine called and I couldn't believe it, you know. Larry was like two years younger than me. He was like 50 years old when it happened, and I was like, 'What?!'
"And in all of the towns too, for him to die -- Memphis, Tennessee -- that was his favourite place to be. He'd rather be in Memphis, Tennessee than in Madison Square Garden any day."
Hailing from parts unknown, Moondog Rex had plenty of success as a singles competitor, and found himself immortalized on the WWF Coliseum Video (and later WWE produced DVD), Andre the Giant, where he battles Andre in a 1981 bout from the Philadephia Spectrum. It was also during a match with Andre that Moondog Rex lost his favourite bone, Colley explained: "I had two or three back-ups in a situation where I might lose a bone. Actually, the one that I carried for so long, somebody threw that thing into the ring and it still had meat on it, in Totowa, New Jersey. I took that thing and laid it out by the garbage dump and the maggots cleaned it -- I'm talkin' smooth. It looked better than the one I had that I actually boiled to work with, but it weakened, and this new one was a lot stronger. So I hung it up to cure for a while and it was my favourite and then somebody stole it one night in New Jersey when I was wrestling Andre.
"I remember Andre was laying on top of me -- and when he lays on top of you, there ain't nothin' that you're gonna do -- and I looked up to see some kid snatch the bone right off the ring post where I hung it. By the time I could get up, the kid was gone. A week later I was in the Boston Gardens and a guy comes up to me with a paper sack and says, 'A kid gave me this paper sack and says something for you is in it.' And I'm thinkin', 'What the hell is this? Did somebody s**t in a sack or something?' I was gonna throw it in the garbage until I felt it and thought, 'What the hell is so hard inside this sack?' Then I looked inside and there was the damn bone," Colley said with a hearty laugh. "I went out and there was the kid, and he looked up at me and said, 'My mama said to tell you that I'm sorry.' I took a couple steps toward him and he took off, you know. It amazed me that he must have told his mama that he stole my bone, then she whooped his ass and made him bring it back. I had always thought that I'd lose that bone sooner or later, but I never did."
But Colley did lose something arguably more important: the opportunity to have a run as Demolition Smash, even though the Demolition gimmick was his idea. "I had known Bill Eadie (Demolition Ax, The Masked Superstar) for a long time, and I had come up with the idea for Demolition, and I was gonna be Smash," said Colley.
But Colley doesn't waste much time dwelling on the past, and feels fortunate for the adventurous roads he had the privilege to travel. "When I first went to New York, my name there for my first TV taping was Ripper Hawkins," recalled Colley. "Everybody who came up to me said, 'You look just like Lonnie Mayne,' who went as Moondog Mayne. So, I said, 'Yeah, I met Lonnie Mayne one time.' But I didn't know what had happened to him -- maybe he was dead or somethin'. But people would keep tellin' me, 'God, you look just like Moondog Mayne.' Vince (McMahon Sr.) was there and said, 'You know, we should take advantage of that,' and I said, 'Fine with me, I'll be Moondog and the very next TV taping, I had a partner."
But long before his success as a Moondog, Colley wrestled in a tag team with his good friend Jody Hamilton during the 1970s. "I knew Jody Hamilton from a long time back when I first started wrestling as Jack Dalton," said Colley. "I was Jody's partner doing the Assassin thing. Him and Tom (Renesto) had split, when Tom got to a point where it was time for him to go. Jody was a great in singles matches, but he was much better in a tag team -- and I fit the part." Together, Colley and Hamilton went on to hold the NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship on two occasions.
"And when me and Jody couldn't get together, me and Roger Smith took the Assassin thing to Tennessee and around Alabama, and they used to call us the Assassin Brothers, and it was really good," said Colley.
In the decades to come, Colley would take on various personas, from Moondog Rex and The Nightmare (in Mid South) to Detroit Demolition and Deadeye Dick (in WCW). "Being Deadeye Dick was enjoyable," said Colley of his time in WCW, as part of stable known as The Desperados. "Black Bart and Dutch Mantel were good guys to work with and everybody there was real nice. When we came up with the gimmick, everybody loved it except for one person, of course -- Jim Herd. And it was Jim Herd who decided how far everything went and he just didn't like it, even though everyone who had seen the (promo) loved it. He had no idea what the hell he was doing there."
As Colley's career began to wind down by his early 40s, he traveled often to wrestle abroad, primarily in England and Germany. "My very first match was in Jackson, Georgia, and my very last match, I was 45-years-old and it was in Jackson, Mississippi," said Colley. "I remember it well. I was on the way back home when I stopped to get me a cold drink somewhere and everything hurt so bad. I said to myself, 'It's time to let it go.'"
And let it go he did, as he retired to his home in Alexander City, Alabama, working in the bail bond business for two years before finding an enjoyable career remodelling houses. "All the people I knew pretty much are gone," said Colley with a touch of melancholy. "And you know, it was like 10 years after the wrestling business was over with, at about 7:30 at night I'd start to pace the floor because it was bell time. Now it's bedtime. It's gone from bell time to bedtime -- and I guess it's just one of those things."
I asked Colley if he keeps up with wrestling today. "Wrestling today -- everything's always changing," said Colley. "When I was doing some of the stuff I was doing in the ring, I'd have old timers come up to me and say, 'You know, in my day...' and I'd go, 'Well, you know, it's not your day anymore.' And now it's not my day anymore, and when it's time to go -- you go.
"It's hard to find anything to take the place of something that you just love to do -- like how I loved rasslin'."
Randy Colley, aka Moondog Rex, will be on hand as a V.I.P. guest for K&S Wrestlefest: December to Remember at the Radisson Hotel in Carteret, NJ on December 12, 2009. Other V.I.P. guests include wrestling personalities: Dory Funk Jr., "Superstar" Billy Graham, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, "Dangerous" Danny Davis, Skandor Akbar, Outback Jack, Brad Armstrong, Tim Horner, Ron & Don Harris, Jack Victory, Simon Diamond, Johnny Swinger, Clarence Mason, and "Superstar" Bill Dundee.
K&S Wrestlefest vendor guests (but not part of the V.I.P. lineup) include: "The Boogeyman" Marty Wright, "Sweet" Stan Lane, "Headbangers" Mosh & Thrasher, The Iron Sheik, The Honky Tonk Man, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Jerry Brisco, Larry Zbysko, Brother Love, Christy Hemme, Awesome Kong, Sonjay Dutt, Steve Blackman, David Sammartino, Rodney Mack, Jazz, Angelina Love, So Cal Val, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, and several more. For more information visit www.kandswrestlefest.com or call: 516.473.4944.
Marshall Ward is a visual artist, independent filmmaker, and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle. Email is welcome at email@example.com.