Fadulu: What was the name of your group?
Butler: Sankofa. The night kind of lifestyle wasn’t for me. So I wanted to change gears, and the first job I saw in the newspaper was for a coffee shop.
Fadulu: Let’s go through the tons of jobs you had. What was the first one?
Butler: I had a paper route. I worked for The News and Observer. Imagine this 10-year-old kid biking around the neighborhood, doing his papers, and then at the end of the month, knocking on doors, collecting everyone’s money that they owed me. That was the tough part, because a lot of folks thought they can get one over on a 10-year-old kid, and be like, “Yeah, I don’t have it today; come back next week.”
Fadulu: What next?
Butler: My dad got me a job working at a gas station. The gas station was near the fairgrounds and it was owned by this family. You actually paid at the window, and the window was a part of a trailer, and the family lived in this trailer. My job was to clean up the parking lot.
And that guy was also a carpenter and he needed an assistant. He would fix floors. He would replace carpet. He would fix whatever a mobile home needs. Like the fake wood panels inside of the trailer, he would replace those, if someone kicked a hole in one or something. So I would go around with him, fixing up trailers.
That was my introduction to country music, because that’s all he listened to. I got into country a little bit, the whole summer. I was 13 at that point.
Fadulu: I’m just thinking about 13-year-old you walking around, listening to country music with this guy in a trailer park.
Butler: I had a pretty afro, too. It’s like, this big white dude, he weighed probably 300 pounds, and this little 13-year-old kid with an afro from the hood, listening to country music, going to fix up mobile homes.
There was this older white guy who lived in this stone house across the street. He would always sit out on his porch, and whenever I’d finish, he’d call me over. He had these apple trees, and he would give me a basket of apples if I just sat there and listened to him. He liked to tell me the history of Raleigh and how it’s changed.
Fadulu: Then what?
Butler: The banquet hall was at 14. That was when I “got the big bucks rolling in.” I was making $3.18? I remember putting food out, burning my hands, and standing along the wall with the other folks, waiting for everyone to finish eating. And then we would go collect their plates for them and send them to the dishwasher.
Fadulu: I’ve been to a couple of events where there’s food, and I’ve definitely been at tables where people were very sloppy eaters. Did you encounter any of that, where it was sort of, “Really? Come on,” when you were collecting the plates?
Butler: I think it was more of, like, “Wow, you didn’t eat all that steak? That’s messed up.” I would’ve crushed that. Things were really hard to come by with my family growing up. So I would always notice how wasteful people were.