The King is Gone

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May 1977.  The month I turned 7 years old, two movies were released that would have major influences over my childhood, and adulthood.  The movies were Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit.  I can recall exactly where I saw each movie, too.

I saw Star Wars at Hoover 11 when the movie theater was still in the complex.  I don’t recall the exact date I saw it, but it was within a month of it’s release.  Eventually, the theater closed and became a TJ Maxx.  It was a one screen theater, and I remember the line was long.  I remember waiting in line for what seemed like forever and it being a full house!  I also remember not being able to sleep for a week, because Darth Vader scared the hell out of me.

I do remember the exact date I saw Smokey and the Bandit. August 16, 1977 – 42 years ago today.  I believe my folks had a station wagon at the time, and we drove to the Gratiot Drive-In in Roseville.

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When you saw a movie at the Drive-In, you always got their early.  You found a good spot where you could see the screen without obstruction.  The spot also was ideally close to the bathrooms and concession stands.  You had to pull up to the pole that held the speaker that you would hang from your window, so you could hear the audio of the movie.

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The movie never started until it got dark, so I remember bringing a baseball and mitt to play catch, or we’d go to an old playground that was up near the screen.

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As the sun began to go down, we’d go back to the car and dad would usually turn on the radio.  We had an AM radio in the car, and Dad turned on Honey Radio (where I would years later have the honor of working).  I remember the DJ (I don’t recall who it was) coming on and saying that Elvis had died in Memphis.  He was only 42.  They played Elvis music for the remainder of the time we listened.

I remember the news sort of putting a damper on the night.  My dad was a big Elvis fan.  I remember him watching the Aloha From Hawaii concert in the living room. I remember the many albums he had (including the Moody Blue album on blue vinyl). And I remember how he recorded the song Way Down on 8 tracks that we listened to on the drive to Caseville.  Dad would often put Elvis songs on the stereo and play his guitar along with them.

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I’m glad that we were at the movies to see a comedy.  I recall my dad being visibly upset by the news.  I don’t know that I had ever seen him that way before.  Once the movie started, I knew he was ok.  I recall the hearty laughter from him as Jackie Gleason shouted out profanity into the CB microphone.  Those scenes continue to make dad and me laugh out loud today – no matter how many times we’ve seen them!

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I remember in the days before VCR’s.  I used to record movies on cassettes so I could hear my favorite scenes.  I had no idea that in the future you’d be able to go out and buy your favorite movies on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Smokey and the Bandit was on cable one night at like 12:30am.  It was the last time that month that it was airing.  To me, it could have been the last time it ever aired!  I asked my dad to record it for me on cassette.  When I listened back to it, I could hear dad laughing at all of the Jackie Gleason scenes.  I was probably mad about it at the time, but looking back, I know I’d have done the same thing!

In everyone’s life, there are events that become etched forever in your mind.  For some, it was when they heard Buddy Holly died.  For others, it was when JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Those become memories that when you look back on them, you remember exactly where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.  I have a few of those memories – President Reagan being shot, the Challenger explosion, and, of course, 9/11. The first one that is forever etched in my mind, though, happened 42 years ago today.

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“Cleveland Rocks!”

For our anniversary, my wife and I wanted to plan a little getaway to celebrate.  Neither one of us had too much PTO in our “banks” at work, so we decided on a weekend trip.  During the planning the destinations changed frequently.  Originally, we had hoped to head back for another trip to Florida, but due to the lack of time available, we decided on something a bit closer to home.

There was talk of going to Nashville and maybe catching a show at the Grand Ole Opry.  Then there was talk of Gatlinburg, where my mom so often talked about.  I think we even chatted about Pennsylvania, too.  Eventually, we decided that Chicago was where we wanted to go, but then realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and we figured it might be just a tad crazy (although seeing the river turned green would have been cool.

Cleveland??

To be honest, I am not even sure how we decided on Cleveland, Ohio.  I had mentioned that my dad had gone to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and said it was cool.  I started to look at things in Cincinnati.  There was a lot to do there, but why wasn’t the Hall of Fame coming up in any of my searches?  I knew that Cincy was close to Louisville, KY and thought that we could maybe do something there, too.  I had gone as far as to drop a radio buddy a note to say we were gonna be down there and asked for good restaurants to eat at … only to then realize the Hall of Fame was in Cleveland!

Now that we had cleared that up, we were set for Cleveland.  Now, I will be the first to admit “Cleveland,Ohio” as the answer to “Where did you and your wife spend your first wedding anniversary?” is not at all romantic.  Many people laughed when I told them.  Here is the thing about my wife and I, the destination really didn’t matter – it was simply the fact that we were going to be together.  To me, this is just one of the reasons I love her.  We can be content with just having time with each other, no matter where we are, or what we are doing.

We have made it a tradition to go to restaurants that local wherever we go.  If we can go there at home, we’ll go there at home!  By doing this, we have really been treated to some amazing food.  We always try to find a good steak house or something very unique to the city we are in and we have yet to be disappointed.

The Hall of Fame

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Personally, I think Sam loves watching me get excited about stuff like this.  We both love museums, but I must have been like a little kid on his birthday during this trip!  I had, of course, seen pictures of the Hall of Fame, but it was something else to be standing in front of it.  The big red block letters that sit upon the sidewalk read “LONG LIVE ROCK”.  As I walked up the steps, there are phoney concert speakers erected by the hand rails. The excitement builds as you walk in.

As you enter, you walk into a huge foyer/lobby.  The gift shop is to your right, to the left a cafe/coffee shop, and in front of you there is an escalator to take you down to purchase tickets.  After buying our tickets, you get ready to enter and above the doors the perfect AC/DC quote to welcome you: “For those about to rock …”

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Walking into the main exhibition hall, the first thing I noticed were pictures of John Lennon and Ray Charles on the wall.  The first thing I am drawn to is a glass case containing Bill Haley’s guitar.  Bill is often credited as being the singer of the first “rock and roll” song – Rock Around the Clock.  There is a picture of him playing it in the case as well.  I am not sure why I was so taken in by it, but I was.

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The next thing we saw was a line of bass guitars that belong to Geddy Lee of Rush.  I didn’t count , but there had to be like a dozen of them.  The information said that this was only part of his massive collection.

The Roots

One thing I was thrilled to see here was the fact that the “roots” of Rock and Roll were well represented.  Rock really evolved from a combination of Gospel, R&B, Bluegrass, Country, Folk, and Blues music. Each of those genres was represented here.  Among my favorite things I saw:  a suite belonging to Hank Williams Sr.; Louis Jordan’s music folder with his music and cue sheets; stuff from Muddy Waters, BB King, and Mahalia Jackson; Ray Charles sunglasses; Carl Perkins Guitar; salutes to Johnny Otis, Big Joe Turner, and Sam Cooke and so much more.   The roots of rock were so well represented.  Without these people and the genres of music, there would be no rock and roll.

Elvis

There is a pretty cool section devoted to Elvis, who was one of the first 10 artists inducted into the Hall of Fame.  The Hall has a standing agreement with Graceland in Memphis (which is a museum in itself) and they send memorabilia to them often, so the exhibit changes often.  There was a very cool motorcycle that was custom-built for Elvis.  His gold sequins suit is there, and a jukebox which was given to him as a gift from RCA Records – it contains only Elvis records.  Also on display was a double Gibson guitar which he played in his film Spinout.

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The Summer of Love

With the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love”, there were some very cool things here.  I saw groovy outfits from the Mama’s and the Papa’s, clothing from Jimi Hendrix, and the HUGE mixing board that was used to record some of Jimi’s music.

On thing I really liked to see was the various things that song lyrics were written on.  There were quite a few original pieces of paper where the beginnings of songs were scribbled.  There were also plenty of hotel pads of paper with lyrics on them.  Loved seeing where changes were made to lyrics.

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Cities and Sounds

I loved that there was a section of the hall that saluted cities and sounds.  There was a section devoted to Memphis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Liverpool, Seattle, and of course, Detroit.

In the Memphis section, there were plenty of neat things from Sun Records.  Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all recorded there.  To stand in front of Roy Orbison’s glasses and guitar was pretty awesome.  My earliest musical memories are of my dad playing Roy’s music for me.

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A nice tribute to Motown is here with stuff from Barry Gordy, The Supremes (you can see some of their dresses), Smokey Robinson, and the Temptations are all here.  They were playing the episode of To Tell The Truth with Barry Gordy as we walked through this section.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones each have a nice section at the Hall.  I thought Mick Jagger of the Stones was taller, but standing by some of his outfits, he’s shorter than I thought.  There is the Asher family piano that Paul McCartney donated, some of John Lennon’s outfits, and the handwritten lyrics to “In My Life”.  A very cool documentary was playing in their section as well.

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I jumped ahead a bit because the next section was London and Liverpool.  There were some very neat things from the Yardbirds, Peter and Gordon, Herman’s Hermits and the Zombies too.  All in all a nice salute to the British Invasion.

San Fran featured stuff from The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, while LA featured stuff from The Eagles, Jackson Brown, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.  One cool thing here was a duffle bag full of hotel keys.  I don’t recall, but I think it said it belonged to one of the Eagles.  They basically kept the hotel key (and keychain) from every place they stayed while on tour.  The bag was stuffed full of some very cool looking keychains!

This section also had tributes to grunge music, punk music and a section called “Rave On” which focused on the “pioneers” of rock.  Those pioneers included Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly.  Soul Music was also spotlighted here with some awesome suits from James Brown, stuff from Aretha Franklin, pieces of the wreckage from Otis Redding’s plane crash, and Sam and Dave.  Featured in the soul section were two amazing things – guitars from Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve “The Colonel” Cropper.  They played on almost every Atlantic and Stax record.  They were members of Booker T and the MG’s, and also played with the Blues Brothers.  Very cool to see!!!

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Don’t worry metal heads, there was a section for Heavy Metal too. Oh, and a section for Rap, as well.

Protests

When Rock and Roll started to make waves, it wasn’t too popular with folks.  We tend to forget the hatred toward the genre, but they had plenty of newscasts about burning records, and protests that happened.  It was weird to watch the hatred toward the Beatles and read hate mail to the Rolling Stones.  Other artists that were discussed in this section were Frank Zappa and ELO.

On the Radio

As a radio guy, it was cool to be able to walk up to an interactive touch screen and select a region of the US and then listen to old airchecks of DJ’s from different eras.  Naturally, I had to listen to some of the Detroit personalities:  Dick Purtain, Robin Seymour, and The Electrifying Mojo!  There were plenty of familiar names from all over the states and it was nice to get to listen to their stuff too.

The Power of Rock

On the third level, there was a wall with each “class” inducted into the Hall of Fame by year.  You could also go to a touch screen and search by class, by year, or by artist, and listen to their music.  SO many great songs!!!

The Power of Rock is a short film by Jonathan Demme which features many performances from past Hall of Fame inductions.  So many stars and so many great songs were in this film.  The theater had a light show and great sound for the film and it was almost like you were watching a concert live.  The film ends with Prince’s guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps – WOW!  Forgot how amazing that was!  They also had some of the great quotes on the walls of the hallway that you left the theater by.  Prince’s outfit from that show and other outfits were there as well.

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Rock on TV

It was also very cool to see some of the TV show memorabilia on this level.  You could go and record something about your favorite singer or album in special booths.  It was pretty cool to stand in front of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand podium!  His microphone was in a glass case with other things like the set design for the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan.  They had TV cameras there, Don Cornelius’ suit from Soul Train, outfits from the Jackson Five and Sonny & Cher and the coat worn by Davy Jones of the Monkees that he wore on The Brady Bunch.  There was also some cool musically related stuff from Saturday Night Live, and from various music videos we all watched on MTV.  It was neat to see Paul Shaffer’s keyboard that he played for so many years on the Late Show with David Letterman.

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On the Radio – LIVE

One thing I didn’t realize was that Sirius XM broadcasts their “Classic Vinyl” station out of the Hall of Fame.  Rachel Steele was on air when we went through.  There is a glass window that allows you to look into the studio and watch them broadcast.  I actually felt bad for her.  One thing radio people like is the fact that they can go in to work without really worrying about what to wear, because….who is going to see you!?  Whoever is on the air here, really has to “doll up” every day.

Over all, I loved every second of my visit here!  Any music lover would enjoy themselves!!  If you have never been …. you have to!

Christmas in March

The final stop on the trip was The Christmas Story House.  It is the house featured in the holiday classic.  They renamed the street “Cleveland Street” in honor of the movie.  The Leg Lamp proudly sits in the front window and the Bumpass House is next door.

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This is such an inexpensive treat!  The house looks a little different on the inside, but they have restored much of it to be exactly like it looks in the film, which took a bit because there were a few owners since the movie.

We were allowed to take as many pictures as we liked.  There was a guide who took us through the house and told some stories.  You can see the bathroom where Ralphie solves Little Orphan Annie’s secret message, you can see the many plugs the tree was plugged into, pick up the phone that Mrs. Parker calls Flick’s mom on, see the boy’s room, and see the damper in the kitchen that billows black smoke because of the “clinker” furnace.

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From the backyard you can see the steel mill (still in operation), which helped Jean Sheppard (the author) pick that particular house for the film.  Across the street is a museum with the actual Red Rider BB gun used in the film, outfits from the cast, Darren McGavin’s plaster life mask (used for make up and such), plenty of behind the scenes pictures, and the Old Man’s car.  The gift shop is full of great items and yes, you can purchase a pink bunny suit or a leg lamp (in various sizes).

Sam told me she’d buy me a bunny suit, but only if I wore it every Christmas!  Incidentally, if you have the $$, you can spend the night in the house or next door at the Bumpass house.

The trip was short, but full of good memories.  I love that we were able to do it and I love that we got to spend time with each other. It was the perfect anniversary trip.

Cleveland, does indeed, ROCK!

 

 

 

“A long, long time ago….”

There are some days I sit down and wonder what I am going to write about, today is not one of those days. Today is the “day the music died” – 60 years ago. The phrase comes from the classic Don McLean song “American Pie.”

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The Winter Dance Party Tour

In January of 1959, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts set out to do a tour of 24 Mid-West cities in 24 days. The first problem was that no one had really thought out the tour stops and instead of circling from town to town, the tour was zig-zagging from state to state and sometimes the travel between cities was over 400 miles!

What made this even more difficult was that almost all of the travel was done on buses and there were break downs, and some didn’t have heat. The artists and band members were the ones loading and unloading the buses. Due to the cold, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens were starting to feel ill, complaining of flu-like symptoms. After driving 350+ miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin, the tour arrived at Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2 to play the Surf Ballroom.

When they arrived it became clear that Buddy Holly was over all of the bus issues. After the Surf Ballroom show, the next stop was over 350 miles away in Minnesota. Because of the poor planning of tour stops, this meant that the buses would have to pass through towns they had already played. Buddy decided that he needed some rest and so he chartered a plane to take him and his band (which included Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch) to Fargo, North Dakota. They would rest there and get picked up by the buses when they came through town on their way to the gig.

There are a few versions of what happened next, but the widely accepted story is this: The Big Bopper, who was feeling the effects of the flu, asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. Waylon agreed to let him have the seat. (Some say that Waylon gave him his seat voluntarily.) One story says that when Buddy found out that Waylon was taking the bus instead of flying, he said “I hope your old bus freezes up” to which Waylon replied, “Well, I hope your old plane crashes”. In an interview later, Waylon said that even though the response was meant as a joke, his words still haunted him.

Richie Valens asked guitar player Tommy Allsup if he could have his seat aboard the plane. (There is some question as to whether Valens or the Big Bopper was the one with the flu.) It was decided that they would flip a coin to see who would get to go on the plane. A radio DJ who was working the show that night flipped a coin in a room off the stage and Richie Valens won the coin toss – and the seat. Ironically, Richie, at one time had a fear of flying.

The Flight

After the show, the manager from the Surf Ballroom drove Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper to the airport. At the time the plane took off, there was light snow falling. The weather was supposed to get worse along the planned flight path. At 12:55 am, the plane took off from the airport. At 1:00, pilot Roger Peterson was supposed to radio to the airport to check in, but didn’t. The airport continued to try to reach him, but there was no answer.

In the morning, Hubert Dwyer, the owner of the flying service and the plane, took off in his own plane to retrace the path of the plane carrying Holly and the others. At about 9:30, less than 6 miles from the airport, he spotted the wreckage of the plane carrying the singers and pilot. The sheriff’s office was immediately dispatched to the cornfield where the plane had crashed, in Clear Lake, Iowa.

It is estimated that the plane hit the ground at almost 200 mph and did cartwheels before coming to a stop. The bodies of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens were thrown from the plane and were close to the crash site. The Big Bopper was ejected and thrown over a fence into a cornfield. The pilot’s body was wrapped up in the wreckage of the plane.

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Afterward

When this happened, there was no protocol for withholding names of victims before notifying their family. Because of this, Buddy Holly’s widow found out about her husband’s death from a TV news story about the crash. They had only been married 6 months at the time of his death, and she was pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage shortly after because of “psychological trauma”. She did not attend her husband’s funeral and has never visited his gravesite. She blames herself for him getting on the plane, stating that if she had been with him, he would not have got on the plane.

An investigation into the crash found that despite the fact that the pilot had passed his written flight test, and had flown many hours, he was not prepared to fly in situations where he must rely solely on instruments (Which he would have had to do on this flight because of weather conditions). Another possible factor is the older equipment on the plane may have cause the pilot to believe he was ascending, but instead was descending. He was also not properly briefed on the weather conditions that he was flying into.

The tour continued for a couple weeks afterward with Waylon Jennings taking on the role of lead singer. Bobby Vee came to national attention due to the crash, because he was brought onto the tour because he basically knew all the words to the songs.

The Legends

22-year-old Buddy Holly left behind some songs that, despite his short career, have become rock and roll classics. Peggy Sue, Every Day, That’ll Be the Day, Rave On, True Love Ways, Raining In My Heart, and “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Any More” remain on the play lists of oldies stations across the country. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has released an album of his music with his original vocals with a more orchestral background (they have done this with Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and Roy Orbison), giving the songs a fresh new sound.

The Big Boppper, AKA JP Richardson, will forever be remembered for his classic hits Chantilly Lace and The Big Bopper’s Wedding. He had a career as a radio DJ and also had great success as a songwriter. He wrote George Jones number one song “White Lightening” and Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear.” He was only 28 at the time of his death

Richie Valens was a mere 17 years old when he perished in the crash. His career was only just beginning, having begun just eight months earlier. He left behind three songs that remain fixtures in the first decade of rock and roll: Come One Let’s Go, Oh Donna, and, of course, La Bamba.

Like Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Jim Croce, John Lennon, and Stevie Ray Vaughn – all who left this world too young – we can only sit back and ponder how the face of music would have changed if they hadn’t died so young. Each of their careers cut short by a tragedy. Three voices silenced by fate.

Remembering Them

Every year, there is a memorial concert held at the Surf Ballroom to honor the memory of these three rock and roll icons. Outside the venue is a four-foot tall monument that had the names of the pilot and the three singing legends. This was placed there in 1988. At the crash site, there is a large steel structure which looks like a pair of glasses (much like the ones Holly wore), which stands as a memorial.

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The most popular tribute is Don McLean’s 1971 American Pie. The song refers to the date of the crash as “the day the music died”. While some take this song to be about Buddy Holly, McLean insists that while the crash is referenced in the song, it is not really about Holly – it’s “about America.” He states, “Buddy Holly’s death is what I used to try to write the biggest possible song I could write about America. And not a ‘This Land Is Your Land’ or America, the Beautiful” or something like that. I wanted to write a song that was completely brand new in its perspective.”

The song will no doubt be played many times on radio stations across the country today.

Final thoughts

60 years later, artists such as The Beatles, Elton John, and Bob Dylan have all cited Buddy Holly as a musical influence. His songs have been covered by numerous artists including Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen and Martina McBride. There have been movies made surrounding the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. And the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra album with Holly’s original vocals is available now, too.

So has the music really died? I don’t think so. Today, as we remember the 60th anniversary of their tragic deaths, we must also look back and remember their music and the mark that they left on musical history. Their voices may now be silent, but their influence continues to trickle down through music today. Rave On!