George "Chocolate" Perry, Agoraphobic Rock Star, on TK Records, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Musical Wishes That Came True

Bass player George "Chocolate" Perry was on tour with Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield), riding in a private 75-foot turboprop luxury airplane, when the pilot had a seizure at 34,000 feet.

Amid the rock star excess of plush couches, and TV screens, the pilot lay shaking on the floor, foaming at the mouth. The 4 engine Viscount's nose turned down and began plummeting to Earth. It was the co-pilot's first day on the job, and he damn near had a heart attack himself.

The band and crew would certainly die a fiery death like so many musicians before them. The co-pilot screamed, "Help! Anybody know how to fly this thing?!" And that's when George stepped to the controls. Thanks to years of flying lessons at North Perry Airport during high school days in his native Hollywood, Florida, not to mention a racing fixation afforded by packing stadiums around the world, Choc stayed calm, cool, and collected. He grabbed the controls, eased the co-pilot's angst, and together they safely flew and landed the plane.

Perry says, "I'm from Carvers Ranches, Hollywood. Born and raised in the city of Hollywood. When I was little, I made a wish to play with the biggest and best musicians on the planet. Little did I know it would come true. I got more than I expected."

"I started at TK Records in Hialeah. I co-wrote and helped produce Rockin' Chair for Gwen McCrae when I was about 16 or 17 years old. I was going to school and hearing Latimore on the radio, then I started working with him. That was a height in itself. Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone gave me a key to the studio and my own office. I was just a kid waiting outide the studio trying to get on records. They didn't have to do that. I learned camaraderie, family skills, and how to play all kinds of different music."

"I started touring with Stephen Stills in the mid 70s. I got asked to play on a session with him in Miami, and then I joined his band. Later on, I was working another session and Maurice Gibb heard me and freaked out.

"That's how I ended up with the Bee Gees. I toured with Crosby, Stills & Nash. I toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I was on the road with Joe Walsh. I played with Don Felder, Al Kooper. I programmed drums for 2 Live Crew. I did three songs with Michael Jackson. I played on so many hit songs and albums.

"That's me with Dolly Parton on "Islands In The Stream," with Dionne Warwick on "Heartbreaker," with John Cougar on "Jack and Diane." I was in the three biggest bands in the world at one time and playing sessions on the side. We used to pack stadiums 2 or 3 nights in a row."

"Why ask for a dream, if you not gonna do it when you get it. I could not say no to anybody. For someone to even give me an opportunity I felt blessed. I left home and did not come back for 40 years. I was on the road."

"I had seven Corvettes and seven boats. I never worried about bills. Ever. I started buying little speed boats, then got faster and faster, then got bored of going fast, bought a cabin cruiser, and said fuck it, I'ma go fishin'."

"My favorite show with Crosby Stills Nash & Young was at Madison Square Garden. I mean I played all over with them, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Red Rocks in Colorado, Pine Knob in Michigan, but that Square Garden show was just so iconic."

"I was on the road with the Bee Gees in 1989. We played Berlin, Germany the day that the Berlin Wall came down. We played a real historic concert that day. I felt like we played some small part in it being a peaceful event. I would say that was pivotal."

"I remember playing with Joe Walsh and Boz Scaggs in Hawaii. That was a lot of fun. I just talked to Joe Walsh last week. He say he's gettin ready to go back out with the Eagles. I remember one time he rented a barge and shipped all his recording equipment to Catalina Island. He rented the casino and we stayed there and recorded an album. Stephen Stills used to do that at Caribou Ranch. Recording was like a vacation."

"I just wanted to play on all of everybody's tracks. People liked me because I could play so many styles; rock, blues, funk, soul. That's a versatility I got from Henry Stone's TK Productions, working with so many different musicians everyday. It was easy for me to play a lot of stuff. It was easy."

"I left the road for medical reasons. I have agoraphobia. It was always with me. Even in high school, when I played football and was a platform diver. I used to have these panic attacks from all the people around. I thought it was just butterflies.

"The whole time I was on the road, I was throwing up constantly. They made provisions for me. I had my rituals I had to do before I went on stage. Not everybody knew, but people knew. I lived with it till 1992. My last show was the Hurricane Relief Concert at Joe Robbie Stadium with the Bee Gees in 1992. I retired that night and taught the new bass player all my licks and little nuances.

I went to the doctor. I went through 6 psychiatrists and they all said the same thing. I didn't know that what I had was real. It just got to a point where I couldn't take that feeling anymore. I'm on medication now. Agoraphobia led me off the stage."

"I always had the sickness, but my drive to be a musician was just too strong, to where I wouldn't let myself wimp out. I kept it to myself for so many years. The last thing I ever wanted to do was make people aware of it. I didn't even want to discuss it. It was too big a can of worms.

"The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell the Bee Gees I had to retire. It changed my life. No more big house. But I felt gifted and fortunate that my dreams had ever been answered in the first place."

"Any other agoraphobic musicians out there, try to get medication for it early, and don't ever stop playing. Stay out there as long as you can. Keep getting on that stage and playing in front of people. I miss it."

"It's not about the money. It's about the memories. I used to love to make a hit and then hear it for the first time on the radio. That's amazing. Every time I hear one of those songs, I remember everything about recording it. I see the studio, where I was sitting, who was sitting across from me with the guitar, sitting on the west side facing east... I relive the moment. That's priceless. And it means so much more than whether I have that Corvette or not."

"It's strange, when I think about these older guys that are still playing, it's not necessarily a plus. They have to keep playing to stay how they're living. At some point it becomes a job. In a way it feels good to just think about music and not problems."

"I love encouraging people to play music. I acquired that at TK, where they were so willing to teach anybody that was willing to learn. And I'm glad I took flying lessons."

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Jacob Katel