Vinyl Memories #9 – Herschel Bernardi’s Show Stopper

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This Vinyl Memory is not about a record from my past.  My distant past, anyway.  The first time I listened to it was less than a week ago.

I was in my basement, where the turntable sits and spins when I am either free-writing by hand or doing some other arranging, organizing, or sorting through the collection of memories beneath the ground level of both home and mind.  This evening, it was putting a few items out on the Internet’s largest garage sale.  As I worked, a couple of Monkees albums played, followed by a Frank Sinatra LP.  With a few items left to list, I decided to sample a freebie.

The record store I frequent – Weirdsville Records in Mount Clemens – will package records by the dozen that they just can’t sell, and give them away for free in the form of a “mystery box.”  The caveat being you can’t bring them back.  Herschel Bernardi’s Show Stopper was one such album I discovered in a mystery box I took home one day from the store.  Tonight, I thought I’d give it a spin.

I’ve never been one for musicals, though that is changing.  Since our first trip to New York City and seeing Rock of Ages on Broadway, my hopes for the next trip there are 1) staying in one of the boroughs so not to spend so much time on the train in and out of the city, and 2) to take in a Broadway show at least every other night during the vacation.

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I put Bernardi’s record on.  It’s a live performance of him singing a variety of songs from musicals, explaining that he was raised in the theaters of New York and was different from the other kids he grew up with.  He sang, and I listed items on the website.  Side One concluded, it wasn’t terrible, so I got up and flipped it over to Side Two.  While working, a song played which made me stop.  The lyrics struck me.  I rose, walked over to the record player, lifted the needle and gently lowered it back to the beginning of the track.

Damn.

South Pacific is a Broadway musical which premiered in 1949 by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Based on James A. Michener’s book, Tales from the South Pacific (1947), the story’s theme is racism as two characters become involved in romances that cross racial boundaries, and the decisions based upon their conflicts.  I have never seen this musical, but I’ll be on the look out for it.

The song struck me, at first, because of the lines:

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Yeah.  At first I thought that I did a good job of ignoring what I had been taught.  And though I was able to disregard the specifics, I was still taught how to hate.  The words of this song had come to me less then a week after MLS Cup 2015.

On December 6, 2015, the Columbus Crew SC hosted the Portland Timbers FC in the MLS Cup in Major League Soccer’s 2oth season.  Since 2002, I’ve traveled down to Columbus to catch the occasional match – the Crew being the closest MLS team geographically to Detroit.  I’ve grown to become a fan of the Crew.

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When Portland entered the league in 2011, I enjoyed watching their home matches on television, as their supporter group – The Timbers Army – was a powerful force of fan enthusiasm.  The team dates back to 1975 in the old North American Soccer League and three years later, I was introduced to professional soccer through the Detroit Express.   Then, in 2012,  Detroit City FC was born, from which emerged the Northern Guard Supporters.  It is my understanding that the NGS had roots to and were inspired by the Timbers Army.

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That said, the prospect of a Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew MLS Cup was a no-lose proposition for me.  The Crew are my favorite MLS club, and the Timbers my third (NY Red Bulls became #2 when Thierry Henry joined them in 2010).

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The thing about Supporters Groups is that the focus is all about supporting the team, and contempt for every opponent.  Sunday reminded me of this.  In a place where I would be happy with either team winning, there were a few NGS folks at the game rooting for the Timbers and hating on Columbus and Ohio, not just the team, but the whole state.  You see, some Michiganders are taught to hate Ohio (and I’m sure vice versa), most likely through the sports rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. (Another view is that Ohio is the state Michiganders are forced to drive through in order to get to where they really want to go).

I’m not exempt from such sports-driven hatred.  I could have chosen the Chicago Fire to follow, however my hatred of that city and all of its sports teams guided me to Columbus.  There are three hockey teams I root for – the Avalanche, the Devils, and whoever is playing the Red Wings.  Even distance doesn’t prevent the growth of hate, for as an Arsenal fan of the Premiere League, I’ve come to hate the Manchester teams – both United and City.  The hate for these teams and locations did not emerge from me at birth, but emerged from experiences with their fans and organizations.

With all that is going on in our country right now, where we have one 2016 Presidential candidate whose campaign foments with fear and prejudice, first against Mexicans, most recently stating he would ban Muslims from entering the United States; where a county clerk in Kentucky refused to carry out her duty to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples; and with the unending institutionalized racism against African Americans, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught strikes a chord which still rings true today.  And though the message of the song speaks to racial prejudice, we learn to divide ourselves and cultivate hatred on many levels, which include sports rivalries.

Hatred is one of the three poisons the Buddha warned us about.  Because we want our life to be pleasant, comfortable, and satisfying all the time, we create conflict with those who would disrupt that.  Obviously, if we have a strong bond or connect our identity to our sports team, and another team defeats ours, we’re drawn to disliking them, perhaps even elevating our feelings to hatred depending on the stakes of the game.  It’s as if it is a personal blow against us.  The Buddha identified the poison, and provided the antidote: loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  If we’re open to the complete experience of life, there will come times of defeat and loss.  Yes, it is the other team that delivered that blow to our team, however hating them is not going to eliminate the pain we feel from it.  It may, instead, amplify it.  Being patient and forgiving the errors that were made which resulted in the loss is more effective.

I still have work to do on this when it comes to the teams I hate.  But I’ve come a long way by letting go of the hopes of winless seasons for Chicago teams, the Manchesters of the Premiere League, and the Red Wings.  My energy is better served rooting for and supporting the teams I love.

You never know what you’ll uncover in a free “mystery box” of record albums.  Teachings manifest everywhere.

Vinyl Memories #8: Rocky

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In the previous Vinyl Memories, I wrote about the music I brought to my college roommates.  I became exposed to new music, as well.  One of those slices of vinyl was The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I was familiar with tunes “The Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite,” through the Dr. Demento Radio Show I listened to on Sunday nights back in high school.  But I had no clue where these tunes came from.

On a Saturday night, my Romulus suite-mates, Dan and Rob, brought in their friends, Ralph, Stu, and Joe, as they were going to the Briarwood Theater in Ann Arbor for a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It was, I discovered, a regular event for them.  I could relate in that I had seen Star Wars three or four times.  But they went to this movie almost every week, which completely baffled me.

Based on the Richard O’Brien play which opened June, 1973, in London, the movie premiered at the UA Westwood Theater in Los Angeles, CA on September 26, 1975, and was released in the United States on September 29, 1975.  It had a very brief run in limited markets, and was considered a failure.  Then, on April Fool’s Day in 1976, the Waverly Theater in New York – popular for its midnight showings of cult classics – ran the film, where it became the birthplace of the audience participation with the film.

I was a “virgin,” they declared, having never seen it, and they were eager to change my status.  I might have gone, however there was something that I wasn’t comfortable with.  These guys dressed up as the characters in the movie.  Rob went as Rocky, Ralph was Eddie, Stu was Riff Raff, and Joe was Dr. Frank N Furter.  A couple of girls that Stu and Joe were dating at the time took on the roles of Magenta and Columbia.  Having come from a sheltered, conservative Plymouth upbringing, I was hesitant about joining them on their midnight adventure. After seeing Joe emerge from our bathroom dressed as Dr. Frank N Furter, well, I passed.

Cosplay was not common back then.  Outside of Trekkies (Star Trek fans), the Rocky Horror phenomenon must have been near the roots of the history of Cosplay.

I finally saw the movie on cable years later.  Perhaps on the small screen it lost its grandeur, because I was unimpressed.  The music was good and fun.  Discovering that Meat Loaf was in it (subject of a future Vinyl Memory), increased my interest.  But yeah, I just didn’t get the reason for the hype.

Yet, I feel I’ve missed something.  A lot of good people I know have recommended it.  It sounds like it’s about the movie AND the experience with those in the audience.  I can relate to that thanks to the Detroit City FC/Northern Guard Supporters experience (And nothing…will ever be the same).  A few years ago I purchased tickets for the live musical performed at the Baldwin Theater in Royal Oak.  However, my wife’s uncle passed and the viewing was the night of the show.

This year is the 40th Anniversary of the cult classic.  New York will be hosting a 40th Anniversary convention from September 25-27, and will premiere a film, “Rocky Horror Saved My Life.”.  I don’t need to go to that extreme for my virgin viewing of the full experience.  But maybe, somewhere around here, I’ll be able to partake in that late night, double feature, picture show; in every day casual wear.  Can’t really see myself in fishnet and garters or a gold Speedo.  I don’t think you want to, either.

SIDE A
1.  Science Fiction/Double Feature
2.  Dammit Janet
3.  Over at the Frankenstein’s Place
4.  The Time Warp
5.  Sweet Transvestite
6.  I Can Make You A Man
7.  Hot Patootie-Bless My Soul
8.  I Can Make You A Man Reprise

SIDE B
1.  Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me
2.  Eddie
3.  Rose Tint My World
A) Floor Show
B) Fanfare/Don’t Dream It
C) Wild And Untamed Thing
4.  I’m Going Home
5.  Super Heroes
6.  Science Fiction/Double Feature: Reprise

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Patricia Quinn (Magenta) at the 2012 Motor City Comic Con

Vinyl memories # 7 Maynard Ferguson

DSC081201980.  High school now behind me, it was on to college.  Though I had played the trumpet the previous seven years, as I wrote in Vinyl Memories #6, the instrument was behind me.  But the music, not completely.  Maynard Ferguson albums joined me on the journey to Eastern Michigan University.

The popular trumpet players of the time were Herb Alpert, Doc Severson, and Chuck Mangione.  I have no recollection on how I was introduced to Maynard Ferguson, but I preferred him and his band over the others.  I think it might have begun with the album M.F. Horn, because it featured “Eli’s Coming” and “MacArthur Park,” two numbers I had played at some point in band.  Hints of India’s influence slipped into his arrangements, and in some cases were more pronounced, such as “Chala Nata” (M.F. Horn) composed by Vemu Mukunda who played the veena on the piece.  The albums which followed tended to have arrangements of more popular tunes, such as “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (Maynard Ferguson), the theme from “Shaft” (M.F. Horn Two), “Spinning Wheel” (M.F. Horn Two), and “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky (Conquistador).  Here’s a sample of an appearance on the Mike Douglas Show.

Maynard Ferguson was born in Verdun, Quebec, and attended high school in Montreal.  A member of Boyd Rayburn’s band in the late 1940’s, he moved on to Stan Kenton’s band from 1950-52 before becoming the leader of the Birdland Dream Band at the popular New York City jazz club for ten years.  He moved on to play in Las Vegas and Hollywood before spending a couple years in the valley of Rishi in South India.  In October, 1967, he formed his own band in Manchester, England.

In the fall of 1980, I moved into my dorm room on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.  My room and suite mates were a random draw, as I knew no one else who was attending the school.  Obviously, there was some concern on how receptive these guys would be to Maynard Ferguson on the stereo.  My roommate was a kid from Akron, Ohio who wasn’t even attending EMU.  He was enrolled at Washtenaw Community College to bring his grades up so he could then make it into EMU and play on the football team.  To the turntable he brought a group called The Michael Stanley Band, which did about as much for me as Maynard Ferguson did for him.

My suitemates, however, were much cooler.  Students from near the top of the class of Romulus High School.  They played Dungeons & Dragons, using miniatures, (something that the guys I played the controversial role playing game with in Plymouth didn’t use, which maybe we should have to avoid controversies such as a giant’s ability to throw a boulder around corners).  They read comic books.  But they weren’t “nerds” from where they came from.  Rob had played football at Romulus High, and Dan was smooth and charismatic, especially with the ladies.  By the second term, Rob had left campus for the army, and I moved in with Dan.  Yes, my Maynard Ferguson albums were mocked, however I remember returning to the dorm after a weekend visit home, to freshly painted walls which included his favorite band’s logo and “Maynard Ferguson,” prominently displayed.

Maynard Ferguson made the twenty mile trip with me from Plymouth to Ypsilanti as a tie to the past, a little bit of familiarity in my new environment.  And as it is with a new journey, discoveries are made.  Some were left behind (like The Michael Stanley Band), but others become a part of the soundtrack of my life.

ALBUMS:

M.F. Horn
Side One
Eli’s Coming
Ballad to Max
MacArthur Park

Side Two
Chala Nata
If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind
L-Dopa

Maynard Ferguson
Side One

Movie Over
Fire and Rain
Aquarius
The Serpent

Side Two
My Sweet Lord
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Your Song
Stoney End
Living in the Past

M.F. Horn Two
Side One

Give it One
Country Road
Theme from “Shaft.”
Theme from “Summer of ’42”

Side Two
Mother
Spinning Wheel
Free Wheeler
Hey Jude

Primal Scream
Side One

Primal Scream
The Cheshire Cat Walk

Side Two
Invitation
Pagliacci
Swamp

Conquistador
Side One

Gonna Fly Now (Theme from “Rocky”)
Mister Mellow
Theme from “Star Trek”

Side Two
Conquistador
Soar Like an Eagle
The Fly

The Best of Maynard Ferguson
Side One

Gonna Fly Now (Theme from “Rocky”)
MacArthur Park
Theme from “Star Trek”
Birdland
Give it One

Side Two
Stella by Starlight
Theme from “Battlestar Galactica”
Pagliacci
Main Title from “Star Wars.”

Vinyl memories #6 – Plymouth Centennial Educational Park Symphony Band, live at the First Western International Band Clinic, 1980

DSC07725 This vinyl memory focuses on my senior year of high school; a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon in January, 1980, in sunny San Jose, California.

No.  The needle cuts deeper than that, revolving around a formative period of my life, which began on the threshold of entering the sixth grade at West Middle School, when I was asked which instrument I wanted to play.

Memory is a tricky thing.  When I think back, I do not recall wanting to play a musical instrument.  I don’t recall if the question posed to me was “Do you want to be in the band?” or “Which instrument are you going to play because you’re going to be in the band?”

In a previous “vinyl memory” I wrote about my dad and aunt’s musical pursuits during their youth.  Aunt Shirley’s kids – my cousins – were both older than me, and had taken up musical instruments.  Robby played the trumpet, and Al the drums.  I suppose it was natural or expected of me to follow along.

I randomly chose the trumpet.

At West Middle School, the band director was Mr. Driftmeyer. Early on I became motivated to practice not because it was a joy to sit in my room and blurt out notes from an elaborate brass bugle foist upon me, or that I had a desire to become the next Herb Alpert.  No.  Fear motivated my practice.  Fear of being embarrassed and humiliated by Mr. Driftmeyer before everyone else in the room.  I was that shy, quiet kid that stayed out of the spotlight.  I practiced out of emotional self-defense.

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In the 7th grade, I was a teacher’s aid for Mr. Driftmeyer.  Myself and two other students were charged with the task of setting up the chairs for the band that was scheduled for the following hour, and to practice.  The extra practice was noted and Mr. Driftmeyer moved me up into the 8th grade band.  There was one piece of advice he gave to me which I should have taken at the time.  He suggested that I change to the baritone, because he felt my embouchure was better suited for the larger brass horn’s mouthpiece.

Yeah, like that was going to happen.  At the end of sixth grade, my parents shelled out to buy me a Bach Stradivarius – a top-of-the-line trumpet that only two other kids in the school had.  And they had been paying for weekly private trumpet lessons for me with a University of Michigan trumpet player.  Switch to the school-provided baritone after all that initial investment?  Wasn’t going to happen.

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So, in 7th grade, instead of having lunch with the kids in my class, I, and a handful of other 7th graders, had 8th grade band.  Then we had lunch with the 8th graders.  In 8th grade, I sat among the top three or four trumpets in the band.

High school was a different beast.  The big leagues of the Plymouth musical programs.  There were four bands – Symphony, Concert, Varsity, and Cadet.  Each year, you had to tryout to determine which band you would be placed in.  Symphony was the top band, and once you placed there, you didn’t have to tryout ever again.  Concert Band was the second best, Varsity the third, and Cadet the lowest.  The Cadet Band was so low that it did not participate in the annual “Variety Is…” end-of-year band program which featured the other three and the two extracurricular bands – Jazz and Marching.

Everything seemed to be in my corner.  I had done well in middle school.  The person judging the auditions for the trumpets was Mr. Driftmeyer.  It should have been anxiety-free?  But for some reason, I choked.  I was horrible.  I was so nervous that I lost all composure and cried through the audition.

My freshman year of high school, I was in the Cadet Band.

The two other extracurricular bands in the high school – Jazz Band and Marching Band – also had to be auditioned for.  I had no interest in being in the Jazz Band.  It was a smaller, select group of skilled musicians that improvisation came to them as easy as meter and rhyme to the poet.  It was difficult enough to play the music before me and blend well with the larger group.  But to give me a spotlight and a moment to let unrehearsed music flow from me?  Not my scene, man.

Marching Band I did try out for, and was accepted.  This started with a week at Band Camp just before school began, in Northern Michigan.  That was hell.  See, I’m the kind of guy that thinks roughing it is staying a hotel without WiFi.  And I prefer my privacy.  Bunks, dorms, woods, communal showers and bathrooms?  Oh holy hell.

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Then, every week during the football season, it would be practice after school to prepare for the show we’d put on for whichever high school’s team had a football game – Plymouth Salem or Plymouth Canton.  Then it became more challenging when the band went into the Marching Band competitions.  Plymouth entered the competition realm in either my sophomore or junior year, and they would take place on the weekends at different sites around the state.

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The Cadet Band was directed by Mr. Endres.  James R. Griffith, the legendary Plymouth High School band director, worked mostly with the other bands, most importantly the Symphony Band.  Mr. Endres’ was responsible for the high school’s orchestra.  Because I showed during the year that I was a better trumpet player than what was expected of a Cadet Band musician, I was asked by Mr. Endres to join the Symphony Orchestra.  The orchestra consisted of a string ensemble – violins, violas, cellos, and bass – and a few brass and woodwinds that Mr. Endres was able to recruit.  I did so, and it was good experience.  It even opened the door for me to perform in the pit orchestra for the school’s performance of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Tryouts came at the end of my freshman year, and I vaulted into the Concert Band.

The Plymouth Centennial Educational Park’s Band program was heavily supplied with trumpet players.  However, there was a scarcity of baritone players.  Two of us – Mark Zamarka and I – decided to take on the challenge to learn the baritone.  He was a freshman and was in the marching band as well.  At the end of the year, we auditioned and earned our spots as the baritone section in the Concert Band.  We remained trumpet players in the marching band, and after a full year of finally following Mr. Driftmeyer’s advice, I made it into the Symphony Band my senior year with the baritone.

I don’t know what it was about the baritone.  Maybe because I could hide behind its more massive brass piping and tubing.  I did find it easier to play.  There was also a relief from the competition from all the other trumpet players in the school.  And baritone solos?  The baritone was not one of the key instruments called upon by composers to feature.

scan0005If there was anything more terrifying for me than being embarrassed by Mr. Driftmeyer in middle school, it was to be humiliated by Mr. Griffith.  Perfection was expected.  Except for Marching Band, I had yet to have him as my band director.  It was Mr. Endres in Cadet Band my freshman year; Mr. Brownlee in Concert Band my sophomore year; Mr. Battishill in Concert Band my junior year; and I’d go out my senior year in Mr. Griffith’s Symphony Band.

Mark returned to the trumpet in Concert Band, so I was partnered with a sophomore girl named Darcy Johnson.  A dose of additional teen-age anxiety.  Me, the guy who discovered that girls in Plymouth weren’t allowed to date until they were sixteen-years-old or out of high school (at least that’s what they’d tell me the few times I muscled up the courage to ask), was to be paired up for a full year with the attractive underclassman.  But wait, there’s more.  It was my sister, Marie’s, freshman year in high school, and she auditioned and brought her alto saxophone into Symphony Band, too.  Making the Symphony Band in my senior year set me up for the trifecta of complete and catastrophic humiliation and embarrassment.

Our focus was the clinic.  The Symphony Band was invited to a three-day band clinic in San Jose, California on January 17-19, 1980.  There were ten pieces of music that we prepared and labored over leading up to the trip.  On January 17, 1980, we performed the concert at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium, for parents and to give us a dress-rehearsal and sending off before flying to the west coast.  We were scheduled to be the final performance at the clinic, which featured eight bands from around the country, on Saturday the 19th.  Then, as a group, we toured San Francisco Sunday and Monday, taking the red-eye out of San Francisco, returning home Tuesday morning.

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SIDE ONE
Apocalypse by Robert Jager
Parade from Pacific Celebration Suite by Roger Nixon
Concertino for Marimba and Band by Paul Creston

SIDE TWO
Dreams of a Psychopath by Mike Francis
Come, Sweet Death by Johann Sebastian Bach

SIDE THREE
Tribute to Rudy Wiedoeft arranged by Gunther Schuller
Zebulon by John Oneschak

SIDE FOUR
We Are Coming by John Philip Sousa
Children’s March (“Over the Hills and Far Away) by Percy Grainger
Wedding Dance from the Pictorial Suite, Hasseneh

An interesting and challenging variety of pieces.  The marimba solo on Side One featured Martin Jabara, a Plymouth graduate who was performing with the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra, the San Gabriel Symphony, and doing freelance work in Los Angeles.  Within Dreams of a Psychopath (Side Two) there were three improv solos which featured Mark Thrasher on alto sax, John Upton on trombone (who worked in the tune Do You Know the Way to San Jose? into his solo), and Ted Hennig on tenor sax.  The Rudy Wiedoeft tribute (Side Three) featured Mark Thrasher as soloist, and to this day, when I listen to that piece, I still shake my head and wonder, “That’s really a high school kid?”  Mr. Thrasher was quite gifted musically.  Not surprisingly, he’s in New York City, now, performing in musicals on Broadway with all variety of reed instruments.

Shockingly, Mr. Griffith selected two pieces that included a few measures for a baritone solo.  Zebulon and Children’s March.  Darcy and I split them.  I had the few bars in Zebulon, and she took the measures in Children’s March.

The performance went well.  Being able to hear this music again, thirty-five years later, was cool and telling.  We really had a damn good band.  And I enjoyed San Francisco – my first experience of a “big city.”

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Graduation came in the spring, the baritone returned to the high school, and the trumpet enclosed within its case, never to be played again by me.  My daughter tried to get into the band in sixth grade with it, but she had less desire to play the thing than me (though the band director certainly wanted the old Bach Stradivarius in his ensemble).  We didn’t push it, and she went on to writing for the high school paper and the swim team.

One double-album record has so many layers of memories embedded into it.  Some fond, others, not so-much.  Our kids didn’t pursue music, even though my wife was the band president of her high school in Romulus, and went on and played a year in Eastern Michigan University’s marching band.  And though my sister’s music career ended in high school like me, Marie continued the tradition with her family.  All four of her kids were or still are in the Fort Mitchell, Kentucky school band programs.

Marie and her husband Rob, attended a Kenny G concert in Cincinnati a few years back.  They also had backstage passes where they got to meet the musician.  I remember Rob telling me that he asked Kenny G about getting a kid to practice.  He told him that the music was either in the kid or not.  If it is, you’ll never need to tell them to practice.  They’ll do it because they want to, because they desire to make music.  If it isn’t, forcing a kid to practice would make him or her less inclined to do what they aren’t inspired to do in the first place.

The music was not in me.  Maybe there was a brief time, when I took up the baritone and felt its protective armor before me.  But fear and embarrassment kept me from being mediocre, not the desire to make music.  It would be folly for me to prognosticate how my teenage years, and subsequently life, would have been if I had nurtured my desire for writing or photography back then, instead.  Can’t go back there anyway, and doubt very much that I’d really want to.  I can listen to this record, remember San Francisco, my first airplane flight, Alcatraz, Whack-A-Mole, fresh crab, and “the baby gang” (Sorry, folks, that’s only for those who remember), and think, “Damn, I was part of a pretty good band back then, and look where I am today.”

Not to toot my own horn, of course, but it’s all good.

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Would you like to hear a little?  Below I recorded The Wedding Dance, the final piece we played.  Enjoy.

Vinyl memories #5 – Sha Na Na

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It’s the 1970’s.  In the sheltered world of suburbia – Plymouth to be precise – I was growing up.  Bicycle riding in the neighborhood, trading baseball cards with kids at school, and cutting the lawns of my grandparents and the homes of two other senior citizens on our block.  Television was limited to two dials, with our CBS-affiliate (Channel 2), NBC-affiliate (Channel 4), and ABC-affiliate (Channel 7) on the VHF dial with a CBC-affiliate, Channel 9 out of Windsor.  On the UHF dial were channels 20 (WXON), 50 (WKBD), 56 (PBS), and 62 (WGPR).  Compared to today, a much simpler time for a kid growing up.

After discovering The Monkees (see Vinyl memories #4), there was nothing else that drew me musically.  I listened to 800 AM, CKLW, which played popular music.  On the FM dial, friends were listening to WRIF, Detroit’s legendary rock station.  But I found the music to be too dark and scary for me.

In 1974, the television show Happy Days hit the air.  This introduced to me the 1950’s era of music.  I discovered 580 on the AM dial, WHND, Honey radio, which played the hits of the 50’s and 60’s.  It was the station I locked in on in the first car I got to drive after getting my license – a 1964 Mercury Comet with a red body and white roof, despite the razzing and challenging of friends who knew the power behind the Comet’s V-8.  Four or five guys I knew would take their cars late at night onto M-14 as it was being constructed, and raced.  They wanted to test their Mustangs and other vehicles against my Comet.  But yeah, I was a nerd, and the fear of getting caught outweighed the street cred I may have earned by taking up their challenge.  Richie Cunningham I was not.

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One day in the record store – most likely Harmony House – I found them.  Sha Na Na.  The modern day 50’s band.

The band emerged in the late 1960’s, and was actually the spark that revived the music of the 1950’s when they appeared at Woodstock, preceding Jimi Hendrix.  According to the June 16, 1972 issue of Life Magazine, in an article about “The Nifty Fifties,” it was Sha Na Na that kicked off the craze, bringing forth the television show Happy Days, and the musical, Grease.

Sha Na Na covered classic 50’s hits like “Get a Job,” “Earth Angel,” “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” and “Good Night Sweetheart.”  The charismatic bass, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, tended to be the face and leader of the group.  My favorite had to be Johnny Contardo.  He could sing all the sweet, heart-felt ballads like “Tell Laura I Love Her” and “Chances Are.”  But you’d never catch me in one of those gold jackets exposing my chest, and gold tights.

It was somewhere between my junior and senior year in high school when fellow trumpet player, Mark Zamarka, asked if I was interested in joining him and his parents to a Sha Na Na concert at Pine Knob.  Everyone else I knew in school was going to concerts of the rock bands of the times – The Stones, Van Halen, Eagles, Kansas, Foreigner, etc. – but my first concert was Sha Na Na.  Grease for Peace, baby!  Then, later when dating my wife, Sha Na Na returned to Pine Knob, and I took her to see them  (and to think, she still married me!).

It seemed only natural that Sha Na Na would find themselves with a variety television show in the late 70’s.  The show would feature a classic 50’s artist.  I found this YouTube clip of a show, bringing back fond memories of the group.

Sha Na Na is still around today, with some of the members from the band I remember still in the group.

Spinning these records today sh-booms me back to a simpler time.  Sha Na Na From the Streets of New York is a live concert recorded August 28, 1973 in Central Park.  The mix of tunes on Hot Sox varied from the classic covers of these songs.  And the rest, well, if it’s spinning on my record player then I’m likely singing along as I did back in the 1970’s, listening to the 1950’s radio station in my 1960’s car.

Sha Na Na: From the Streets of New York

Side One
High School Confidential
The Wanderer
Splish Splash
Ring Around Your Neck
Get a Job
Sh-Boom

Side Two
Tossin’ and Turnin’
Earth Angel
Summertime Summertime
Come Go With Me
Chances Are
Goodnight Sweetheart

Sha Na Na: Hot Sox

Side One
Maybe I’m Old-Fashioned
Romeo and Juliet
Hot Sox
Easier Said Than Done
Stroll All Night
Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)

Side Two
You Talk Too Much
Bad Boy
Too Chubby To Boogie
Don’t You Just Know It
Dreams Come True

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Vinyl memories #4 – The Monkees

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Growing up in the 1970’s I listened to CKLW -800AM out of Windsor, Ontario as my source of music.  Some of my favorite songs at the time were Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun,” Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and Don McLean’s “American Pie.”  But I had no favorite band or artist worth wanting an album from.  Terry Jacks came the closest because I also liked his song “Christina.”

And then I saw their show.

On the UHF dial of the television was WKBD-TV Channel 50.  During the after-school and dinner time hours, they aired shows from the past in syndication.  Lost in Space.  Batman.  Gilligan’s Island.  The Flintstones.  The Addams Family.

And The Monkees.

The show was fun, but it was the music that hooked me.  The Monkees Greatest Hits album above was, I believe, the first album I owned from a band.  I know this is blasphemy to many music lovers out there, but I connected more to Davy, Mike, Micky and Peter than I did to John, Paul, George and Ringo.  Yeah, I was not a very deep kid.  Perhaps it was generational for me.  The older kids I knew leaned toward the Beatles, but the Monkees reruns came on during my formative years.

They were not a band formed by the members, but by producers in Hollywood.  The first season of shows generated the more popular Monkee’s hits.

It was the second season, where the boys – under Nesmith’s and Tork’s pressure – were able to have more creative influence on the music.  They pushed away from having to wear uniform clothing during performances to a more individualized expression of attire.

As I am writing this, one of my favorite albums, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is playing in the background.

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Side One:
Salesman
She Hangs Out
The Door Into Summer
Love Is Only Sleeping
Cuddly Toy
Words

Side Two
Hard to Believe
What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round
Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky
Pleasant Valley Sunday
Daily Nightly
Don’t Call On Me
Star Collector

The Monkee’s Headquarters, included what I considered the band’s best selections:

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Side One
You Told Me
I’ll Spend My Life With You
Forget That Girl
Band 6
You Just May Be The One
Shades of Gray
I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind

Side Two
For Pete’s Sake
Mr. Webster
Sunny Girlfriend
Zilch
No Time
Early Morning Blues and Greens
Randy Scouse Git

I did not have these records at the time.  The only Monkees’ album I had was the greatest hits.  But I wouldn’t be denied Monkees music.  I would take my portable cassette tape recorder, put in a tape, placed it on the floor in front of the television set, and watched the show, poised to begin recording when a song began.  Primitive, yes.  Unlike burning a CD, the tape would have the character of the background sounds, such as mom washing dishes or someone coughing in the room.  And any sound effects in the show that occurred during the music also came through.

Something clicked in my mind with The Monkees, and still continues to this day.  I best relate to music with an image or tangible experience.  For quite a spell I was a fan of movie soundtracks.  I’ve heard it said that The Monkees were the pioneers of the music video, which holds some truth for me.  When MTV came on the scene, it was the music videos that attracted me to the music and bands I liked.  In the 1980’s, I discovered that after The Monkees disbanded, Michael Nesmith continued to combine music and video in his movie, Elephant Parts.

In the 1980’s, Dolenz, Jones and Tork went on tour together.  They came to Pine Knob that summer, and it was the third concert I ever attended (you’ll have to wait until my next vinyl memory to learn the first two).  To this day I still enjoy this quartet and their songs.  We lost Davy Jones on February 29, 2012, and the remaining members toured recently to sold out venues.

I recently saw on Facebook a petition for The Monkees to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  My feeling is that if The Monkees aren’t in it, it’s not a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To this day, I’m still a believer in the music of The Monkees.

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The first Monkee’s album signed by Tork and Dolenz.

Vinyl memories #3 – The War of the Worlds

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I had written previously about my grandparents and father who grew up on old-time radio shows as the source of their entertainment.  This record of Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was another that had been passed on to me because I enjoyed listening to it so much whenever I visited.

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles played the ultimate Devil’s Night prank on America with this adaptation.  Neither television nor the internet existed back then, so it was the radio that connected people to the broader world than their communities.  News, sports, comedy, suspense, and music emerged from this new magical box which engaged the theater of the mind.  Welles, with script writer Howard Koch, chose to create a version of Wells’ classic that came across as if it were actually happening.  A musical program interrupted by breaking news reports of unusual gas explosions on the planet Mars.  The music continues, then a new update about something crashing to the earth near Princeton, New Jersey.  The music returns, then a cut back to the site where a flying saucer had landed, its pilot emerging from it and firing a heat ray at the witnesses, cutting the reporter’s commentary and connection to instant silence.  The radio station is then taken over by the government for use of a coordinated effort to put down the invasion.  Act One does not end well for us Earthlings.  In Act Two, Welles, who is playing the character of Professor Richard Pearson, an astronomer from the observatory at Princeton University, narrates a monologue of what he, as one of humanity’s last survivors, witnesses.

Act One was so realistic it created a panic in the country.  The back of the album provides samples of Associate Press reports such as:

Pittsburgh – A man returned home in the midst of the broadcast and found his wife with a bottle of poison in her hand, screaming, “I’d rather die this way than like that.”

Indianapolis – A woman ran into a church screaming:  “New York destroyed; it’s the end of the world.  You might as well go home and die.  I just heard it on the radio.”  Services were dismissed immediately.

The video below is a BBC interview of Orson Welles and some of the after-effects he experienced due to his dramatic program.

As a kid, first hearing it on a record album, it was thrilling.  Unlike the stories portrayed on old time radio, it was intentional on the part of Welles and Koch to present the story in a realistic way.  The second act reveals its fictional nature with Welles’ monologue, but by then, the monster was loose on the public, and hysteria commenced.

This is a masterpiece of horror.  It didn’t rely on blood and gore and sudden shocks to create fear.  It was a slow and subtle build up to the end of the world as it was happening at a particular place, with the belief that the martians would soon appear in your town, and brought to you through the most intimate and powerful media of the time.

As you watch the BBC interview, at the end of it Welles shares that he had intended to provoke Americans this way.  The media holds power.  The internet, television, and back then, radio, has the power to sway our perception of reality.  In the video Orson Welles confesses that this was his attempt to shake Americans into not believing everything heard on this new, magical box called the radio.

This message is relevant today.  Just because a story is on the news or on a news commentary program on television or radio, or reported on a website, doesn’t mean it’s true.  It is being presented for some reason and from a viewpoint.  Question it.

You may wonder how people back on October 30, 1938, could have fallen for a story about a martian invasion.  How many irrational beliefs have you encountered that people profess because they read it on the internet or saw it on TV?  Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?  Kenyon-born United States presidents?  The Newtown massacre as a hoax?  Climate change deniers?  Creationism as science?  The list goes on.

When it comes to things reported in the media, trust little, question a lot.

I didn’t realize how early in my life skepticism of the media had originated until I listened to this album again.