Winter Storm and Winter Songs

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According to the calendar, it is still officially Autumn.  There are still colored leaves on the trees here in Michigan.  Many people haven’t even started raking them yet.  This, however, may be the shortest Autumn I can remember as we were hit today with quite the winter storm!

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I guess we broke the record today for “most snowfall” on November 11th.  The record (for the Detroit area, anyway) was set back in 1984 – 4.1 inches.  That record was surpassed as early as 1pm today.  The snow continued to fall throughout the evening and made for one hell of a ride (3+ hours) into work!

The snow brings out a lot of anger in people.  People waste no time talking about how much they hate the snow.  “It’s too early,” they say.  It’s not like we haven’t had snow early in November before, we have.  As a matter of fact, it was one year ago I posted about it snowing on Facebook.  We’ve certainly seen snow as early as late October, too!  While I don’t necessarily like having to shovel it, or drive in it, I do like the snow.  I marvel at the beauty of it when it has first fallen on the ground.  Someone posted this on Facebook yesterday, and it is SO true:

“If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

Sometimes, in life, we need to look for the positives instead of focusing on the negatives.

At any rate, all the snow brought me back to a thought I had while writing a recent blog about Christmas music (Is It Too Early? – on November 2).  Some radio stations (both local and on Sirius XM) have started playing all Christmas music.  On my drive in, I was flipping around and stopped on the local station, because they were playing a song that would be considered a Christmas song, but actually worked because of the weather.

Here I am driving 30mph while the snow is falling, and Dean Martin’s “Let It Snow!  Let It Snow!  Let It Snow!” is playing.  It was the perfect song for the weather.  Which brings me back to the thought I had in the previous blog – why can’t stations play “winter” songs before Christmas, and after Christmas?  I compiled a list of songs that could certainly be played as just “winter hits”.

Let It Snow!  Let It Snow!  Let It Snow!

Winter Wonderland

Snowfall

Winter Weather

Snow

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

Marshmallow World

Song For A Winter’s Night

Snowbird

Hazy Shade of Winter

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Jingle Bells

There are SO many more.  Jingle Bell Rock could easily be a “winter song”.  Frosty the Snowman is a “winter song”.  Sleigh Ride is also a snowy “winter song”!  It doesn’t have to be Christmas for me to enjoy those songs.  Am I forgetting any?  What can YOU add to the list?

Too Early?

I should mention that my wife listens to Christmas music all year round.  AND she likes to be able to enjoy the decorations, so when we have our first snow, the tree goes up.  Yes, it is up and decorated…and the cats are already enjoying it.

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I guess I should make sure the snow blower starts when I get home ….

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Three Birthday Tributes

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Today I would like to salute three of my closest friends.  I guess, in a way, I am taking the easy way out by including all three of them in one blog.  I am doing it this way because they all celebrate birthdays this month.  So here are some thoughts on three great guys.

Joe – October 15

Joe is my Polish brother.  He says that I am his Italian brother.  The great Red Buttons used to joke that “there is only one difference between the Polish and the Italians – One year of high school!”  We truly are like brothers.  Joe and I met in junior high school.  We had band 1st hour.  It was in this class that I also met Steve K, who you will hear about shortly.  We all hit it off immediately, and have been friends ever since.

In high school, I used to pick Joe up and drive him to school.  He used to run out of the house with a bowl of cereal in his hand.  I remember that cereal was Fruit Islands.  They don’t make it anymore, but the commercials had some guy saying “Ayumma yumma”.  Not sure why, but I will always remember that.

All of the guys I am talking about were in band.  Steve K, Joe, and I all graduated the same year.  Steve M, graduated before us.  Joe and I were band officers.  We were both librarians.  That meant we were responsible for all the music.  We copied it and made sure the parts were placed in the right folders for band members.  Our senior year, Joe was head librarian and I was band president.  We spent many hours after school working on music and hanging with the band director and custodian.  We were probably more of an annoyance than anything!

Bill, the custodian, was such a cool guy!  He invited us to his wedding!  We used to pick a day and he would make sure not to bring lunch that day.  We’d order a pizza from Sorrento’s and eat it in the band room.  We’d sit around telling stories and laughing.  Such fun times!

There was a brief period where I switched from trumpet to tuba.  Joe was the lone tuba player.  I played tuba at the commencement ceremonies for the class of 87, and then played it briefly for marching band.  I was asked by the band director to switch back to trumpet.  He said we needed more trumpets – but now that I think about it, maybe I was just a real crappy tuba player!

It seems like Joe and I have been golfing and bowling together for as long as I can remember.  I remember bowling at this little hole in the wall dump in St. Clair Shores with Joe.  It was always such fun there, and we are still friends with many of the folks we met there.  Eventually we joined a league at Pastime Lanes.  It was there we made more friendships, and I watched him bowl a 300 game.  Pastime is long gone, but we still have many memories there.

Steve K, Joe and I all golfed for Senior Skip Day.  Steve borrowed our buddy Wayne’s golf clubs.  On the first tee, he hit the ball, but the club head broke off the driver.  The club head went farther than the damn golf ball!  Joe and I laughed like hell!  One time Joe and I were golfing in Lapeer and there was an electrical wire that went across the fairway.  What are the odds that one of us would hit that?  Joe did.  He teed off – it hit the wire and dropped like a stone in the fairway.

We used to play pinochle over at Joe’s parents house till all hours of the night.  Their house was just one of many houses that hosted pinochle nights.  Eventually, he and his sister moved into their own place and the card games moved there.  We’d sit around drinking Bud Light listening to 580 CKWW or WCXI and play cards all night.  So many nights of crazy conversations about music, movies, and TV.

Steve M – October 19

Steve and I had probably met before, but we really got to know each other because of Alumni Band.  I remembered that alumni had played once or twice at homecoming while I was still in school.  When I graduated, I wanted to make sure that the tradition continued.  So I bugged the band director and we threw it together.  The first year was a small group.  The second year it was a little bigger. It was a way for us to get together and play and have fun.

Steve and I hit it off immediately.  We both were trumpet players.  I knew his younger brother, Jeff, because he was my brother’s age.  He was also a DJ and did weddings and we loved to talk music.  He hosted some alumni band BBQ’s and was a key part in the success of the group.

I am not sure exactly how we ended up DJing together.  I think it was because he had a light show and I didn’t.  I brought him along and we ended up having so much fun, we kept doing it.  Little by little we added things to the gigs we did.  We both did this stupid Blues Brothers intro to kick off dancing.  I had this bad Elvis wig and would go out and sing to a female wedding guest (story about the wig in a sec).  We had blow up instruments and silly cardboard things we’d hold up while we danced.  We had a friggin blast!!

One time, Steve had his truck backed into the garage.  He had the tailgate glass up and I went inside to comb the Elvis wig down.  I used to put it on my head and comb it down before I put it on this stupid Styrofoam head I had.  I was in his bathroom combing and I heard the truck start and all of a sudden a huge crash.  I walked to the door of the garage and saw that the tailgate glass had caught the garage door and shattered all over the place.  I stood there, wearing that dumb wig, and asked what happened.  At the time, it wasn’t funny (It was raining, we were running late, when we got the gig, Steve had forgotten his shoes, so I went to Kmart to buy him a pair, it was a mess!).  We look back now and Steve will still laugh, “You were standing there wearing the King’s hair!”  After weddings, it was tradition to grab White Castle hamburgers!  Some of my favorite gigs were DJing for cancer benefits or VFW steak outs. When Steve M was living in his apartment, his crazy neighbor (who we called Fruit Loops) used to always come out when we were loading or unloading for DJ gigs.  I wonder what happened to her….LOL

Steve M, Steve K, Joe, and I spent many nights singing karaoke.  We used to have so much fun.  We’d go to these two dive bars – McGee’s and Grady’s.  We’d drink, sing songs and laugh like hell.  We all had specific songs we used to do.  We used to have these guys who’d get up and sing that we’d make fun of.  There was a guy who looked and sounded like Bela Lugosi!  He’d sing Let Me Call You Sweetheart with that accent!  Then there was “Opera Man”.  We called him that because every song he sang, he’d sing it like he was one of the Three Tenors! I would sing harmony for Steve M on Losing My Religion a lot.  We’d have such a fun time!  Now, he is actually hosting karaoke every week at a few places.  I’m over due to get out and sing!

Steve K – October 28

Steve and I became friends in junior high, in the same class as Joe.  Here’s the thing – we almost didn’t stay friends.  Admittedly, we all kind of picked on Steve.  We razzed him – a lot.  Steve and I both played trumpet.  Now I am not sure why he found my trumpet to be better than his.  I do know that he would often switch his with mine.  Well, one day he was walking in the band room and he dropped “his” horn and bent the bell.  I laughed.  We all did.  I probably said something like “You idiot!  Nice job!” or something like that.  He looked at me sheepishly while I laughed and said, “Uh, Keith….this is YOUR trumpet.”  My laughter stopped and I grabbed him by the throat!  Our band director, Mr. Mest, came running over and pulled us both into the office.

Steve and I were in 2nd hour with each other.  After the “incident” we went to the next class.  I was still upset about the whole thing and kept egging him on throughout the class.  I was calling him names, and just being an ass.  He finally got up and walked over to me as I was talking to our buddy Warren.  He grabbed the desk I was sitting in and literally flipped it over – with me still in it!  It totally took me by surprise! Needless to say, we both were sent to the office.  I don’t know if detention was given or not, but I know we both got “yellow slips”.  This was bad, I just don’t know or remember how bad.

I think our dad’s ended up having to talk to each other about the incident and arrangements were made to take care of the horn. I think we both got a “talking to” by our dads and we stayed friends.  We always seemed to be together.  We sat next to each other in band for as long as I can remember.  I often call Steve “Norton” because he reminded me so much to Ed Norton on the Honeymooners.  He’d say some of the silliest things.  We’d laugh all the time.  That Senior Skip Day, he even golfed like Norton did in that episode of the Honeymooners!

The only real time I got in trouble in band class was with Steve.  The other trumpets always waited for us to bring up our horns.  They never seemed to count the rests.  So Steve and I were talking and saying “Let’s bring up our horns early and fool those guys.”  Well, we were rehearsing for band festival and the band director was in no mood for jokes.  He stopped the music and asked what we were talking about.  When I told him he simply pointed to the door and said “Bye.”  We were told to wait until after rehearsal and then talk to him afterward.  We both felt like crap.  You just didn’t tick off the band director – not when festival was the next day!  We were allowed back to rehearsal shortly afterward, but we both still felt stupid!

We’d spend hours in the car driving around.  I would make “driving tapes” and we’d pile in and spend the night driving around the neighborhood.  We’d cruise Gratiot and look at girls.  We’d drive with the windows down, jamming to our favorite songs and singing at the top of our lungs.  We’d harmonize to Huey Lewis & the News, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Ford, and so many other artists.  It was what we did!

He was with me when I got my first speeding ticket (on my way to Sam’s Jams) and he was with me when I had my first car accident.  I was driving in my ’79 Caprice Classic (ok, my dad’s ’79 Caprice Classic) and it had rained.  I was going to his house to drop him off.  I made the left turn and the roads were wet.  I began to go into a skid (rear wheel drive).  I remembered Driver’s Ed class “turn into the skid”, and I did.  Too bad I was literally in front of a parked car when I turned into the skid.  I slammed into the front of this car!  Steve’s mom called my dad.  I was in shock.  I knew I was a dead man.  My dad drove over and walked right past me and looked at the car.  I heard him mumble under his breath “There’s about $1500 worth of damage here.”  I later said, “You didn’t ask about me at all!” to which my dad replied, “I saw you standing there – I knew you were ok!”

I don’t recall if it was our senior year or not, but we had a band trip to Cedar Point.  I am not a ride person.  Steve, me and Chris walked around most of the day probably looking at girls.  We stumbled on this “You Be the Star” booth.  This was LONG before karaoke was a thing.  You went into a sound booth, put headphones on and sang to an instrumental track of a song.  Then, you got a cassette tape of your recording.  I think we did Twist and Shout, Steve did Mack the Knife (which would become his karaoke theme song), and we all did Hip to Be Square by Huey Lewis.  The song had just come out and he said he knew it, so he sang lead on it.  Chris and I sang the “Hip.  Hip.  So Hip to be Square” lines in the background.  I think I may still have that tape!

At my graduation party, my dad and some of his band buddies set up and played music at the party.  My dad had typed up the lyrics to Weird Al’s parody of La Bamba (Lasagna) and his band played it while me, Joe and Steve all sang it.  Steve was leaving to go to basic training soon after we graduated.  It was sad to know my buddy was going to be leaving.  I’m not sure what happened, but he never ended up staying in the navy.  He did, however, move to one of the Carolinas for awhile.  I’d get in trouble for long distance calls to him talking about stupidity…LOL.  He would tell me all about these silly sweepers he’d hear on a station called The Frog out there!

When he moved back to Michigan, Steve also used to DJ with me.  He would bring these crazy songs I had never heard before and want me to play them.  Sometimes they’d work, sometimes they didn’t.  One day, Steve M and I were DJing at the VFW right by Steve K’s house.  He came to the event.  He was dancing like crazy on the dance floor.  I think his wife wanted to go home and he wanted to stay.  She left and went home.  He had to call her later to come pick him back up because while he was out on the floor dancing he split his pants!  Typical Steve.  Stuff like that happened to him all the time!  That is one of my favorite Steve stories.

He was always my pinochle partner when we played with my grandparents (and when we played with Tonya, Michelle and the gang).  You could always count on him having the Ace of Clubs!  A trickless is when you and your partner take every possible trick in the hand.  Steve and I pulled one against my grandparents once.  It pissed my grandpa (who was very competitive) off!  The next hand, we pulled another one!  That was the end of the card playing that night!  Grandpa was done!  Somewhere, I still have the yellow legal pad with those back to back trickless hands written on it!

One day, we were all playing cards at Tonya’s house and the “F You’s” were flying around the table.  Steve meant to say, “F You and the horse you rode in on”, but instead said “the horse you rode on in.”  I am not sure why that made us all laugh so hard, but it did.  To this day, I say it wrong – because of Steve!  I am sure I could devote an entire blog to some of the silly things Steve has said.

He recently had a stroke.  That being said, he is recovering well.  I have to tell you though, when I heard the news I was scared!  This is my buddy and I can’t imagine not having him around.  When I went to the hospital to see him, I was like all emotional.  I hid it very well, but here is a guy, one of my closest friends,  who was my age (not even 50!) and this happened to him.  I was happy that he was ok, and that the prognosis was good, but just knowing that it could have been a very different outcome freaked me out.  It was an eye opening experience.  I guess that’s why I am writing this blog.

I want these three guys to know how glad I am to have their friendship.  We all share a love of music.  We all have the same taste in movies.  We all love a funny joke or pun. We have all shared silly conversations, as well as deep serious conversations.  I have one blood brother, but I am blessed to have these guys as brothers and friends.  In 30+ years, I have been lucky enough to share laughter and tears with these guys.  All of them stood up in my first wedding and I stood up in Joe’s and Steve K’s weddings.  We can go months without chatting and then pick right up where we left off.  Conversations always include laughter, movie quotes, and a whole lot of love.

Even though two of them have already celebrated theirs, and one is a few days away – Happy Birthday, Boys.  I love you guys!  Thank you for being such amazing friends for so many years!

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Joe, my brother Chris, Me, Steve M. Jeff, and Steve K at my first wedding.

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Beers are overdue!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tune Tuesday – Guitar Man

It was 52 years ago today, on September 10, 1967, that Elvis Presley recorded the song “Guitar Man” in the RCA studios in Nashville.  The song was written and originally recorded by Jerry Reed (who went on to act in Smokey and the Bandit and other films).  Jerry’s version reached only #53 on the country chart that year, and Elvis would see much greater success with it.  Jerry enjoyed that success, too, because he was playing on the Elvis version.

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One of my favorite interviews I ever did was with Jerry Reed, shortly before he passed away.  I asked him about his connection with Elvis.  He told me that Elvis was in the studio trying to record the song.  He was unhappy with the way the guitar part sounded.  He kept telling the guitar player “That don’t sound like Reed’s record.”  Jerry’s version of the story is that the guitar player told Elvis, “If you want it to sound like Reed’s record – you better get Reed in here!”  (Another version of the story says that Elvis said, “Get me that redneck picker who’s on the original tune!”)

Jerry told me that he was out fishing or something and someone from his office was finally able to reach him by phone and said that Elvis wanted him in the studio.  Jerry said that he hadn’t shaved in days and walked into the studio looking a bit shaggy.  He said Elvis looked at him and said, “Lord, have mercy!  What is that?!”  Jerry went on to tell me, That he never thought of himself as a Nashville recording musician. He called himself a stylist. He said he had his own way of tuning.  He said “they were trying to record Guitar Man, and they couldn’t make it feel like my record.” He said that those players use picks, and he uses his fingers.  He said that once he “wound up his guitar” and got it all set he told me that “as soon as we hit the intro, you could see Elvis’ eyes light up he knew we had it”. (Jerry also played on other songs in that session including Big Boss Man)  It was so cool to hear Jerry tell this story!

In 1981, the song was re-recorded with Elvis’ vocal left intact.  That version went to #1 on the country charts.

Here is the song from 52 years ago:

Here is Jerry Reed’s original version:

Guitar Man

Guitar Man”

Well I quit my job down at the carwash I left my mama a goodbye note
By sundown I’d left Kingston with my guitar up under my coat
I hitchhiked all the way down to Memphis got a room at the YMCA
For the next three weeks I went a hauntin’ them night clubs
Lookin’ for a place to play
Well I thought my pickin’ would set ’em on fire
But nobody wanted to hire a guitar man

Well I nearly bout starved to death down in Memphis
I run out of money and luck
So I bummed me a ride down to Macon Georgia
On a overloaded poultry truck
I thumbed on down to Panama City
Started checkin’ out some of them all night bars
Hopin’ I can make myself a dollar makin’ music on my guitar
Got the same old story at them all night piers
There ain’t no room around here for a guitar man
We don’t need a guitar man son

So I slept in hobo jungles bummed a thousand miles of track
Till I found myself in Mobile Alabama at a club they call Big Jack’s
A little four piece band was jammin’ so I took my guitar and I sat in
I showed ’em what a band would sound like with a swingin’ little guitar man
Show ’em son

So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile
Well make it on out to the club called Jack’s if you got a little time to kill
Just follow that crowd of people you’ll wind up out on his dance floor
Diggin’ the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico
And guess who’s leadin’ that five piece band
Why wouldn’t you know it’s that swingin’ little guitar man yeah

Tune Tuesday – Queen & ELO

I have to admit that I almost picked a Ringo Starr song today, because of his birthday this week.  I didn’t because I really couldn’t decided whether to pick a solo song or some of his Beatles stuff.  I am guessing that’s a future blog – I’ll add it to my “blog topics” list.  Instead, the picture below was posted on Facebook this week and prompted the songs I am writing about.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I did my share of recording songs off the radio.  I cannot remember how old I was when I got my first “boom box.”  I do remember getting it for a birthday gift.  I remember buying tons of cassette tapes to record songs on, and I spent many hours listening for my favorite songs.

Not knowing that I would eventually become a radio DJ, I remember how difficult it was to record a song without the DJ talking over the intro.  You would hope to catch the song coming out of a jingle or sweeper – that was usually a good way to catch it with a “talk free” intro.  Guys like me got pretty good at timing and using the pause button.

I can distinctly remember being the listener that would eventually drive me crazy!  I spent many hours calling up the radio station asking for songs.  When I didn’t hear them, I would call back and ask again.  Of course I didn’t know how radio worked and that with each call, I was just pissing off the DJ!  The more you call, the more likely the DJ will NOT play your song!  I also did the “kid disguising my voice to sound like an adult” thing, which every DJ can hear immediately!  (You’re not fooling us, kids!)

At any rate, there are two songs that I can distinctly remember trying to record on tape.  (Let me interject here that I am sure I had my paper route at this time, and why I just didn’t go buy the record is beyond me).  I guess I remember these two in particular, because I have two specific memories to accompany the songs.  On to song #1:

Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love

I remember calling over and over to ask for this song.  I remember I was in elementary school and my friend Billy used to get his mom to give us a ride home.  This song always seemed to play on our ride home (I know this probably was not the case now, knowing how music is scheduled and such).  I remember us both asking his mom to turn up the radio when it played.

The story goes that Freddie Mercury wrote this while the band was touring in Germany.  He wrote it on an acoustic guitar and it didn’t take him long to do it.  He said it “took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It’s a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn’t work through too many chords and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think.”

Some sources say he wrote it as a tribute to Elvis. Roger Taylor said he wrote it while lounging in a bath at a hotel during one of their extensive Munich recording sessions.  Some stories say that Freddie also played the original guitar solo, but it was lost and Brian May then played it for the single (Not sure how true this is).  Brian played the solo on a Telecaster guitar (Perhaps to make it sound like an older song.  Many artists played Telecasters).  Brian, however, didn’t really care for the Telecaster and when playing the song live, he’d play the solo on it, and go back to his favorite guitar (his Red Special).

One of my favorite parts of the song is when the bass guitar has its solo moment toward the end.

This thing called love
I just can’t handle it
This thing called love
I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love

This thing (this thing) called love (called love)
It cries (like a baby) in a cradle all night
It swings (ooh, ooh), it jives (ooh, ooh)
It shakes all over like a jelly fish,
I kinda like it
Crazy little thing called love

There goes my baby
She knows how to rock-n-roll
She drives me crazy
She gives me hot and cold fever
She leaves me in a cool, cool sweat

I gotta be cool, relax, get hip
Get on my tracks
Take a back seat, hitch-hike
And take a long ride on my motorbike
Until I’m ready
Crazy little thing called love

I gotta be cool, relax, get hip
And get on my tracks
Take a back seat, hitch-hike
And take a long ride on my motorbike
Until I’m ready (Ready Freddie)
Crazy little thing called love

This thing called love
I just can’t handle it
This thing called love
I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love [repeat to fade]

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The second song I have a distinct memory of is from ELO.

ELO – Rock and Roll is King

The reason why I remember recording this song off the radio is simple – I screwed it up the first time I tried to record it! It has what we call in the radio biz a “fake cold.”  A cold ending is when a song doesn’t fade out, it just stops.  This song has a point before the last line, where the song stops….there is silence….and then the band comes back for the final line and the real cold ending.  I remember it because when the fake cold happens, I hit the pause button on my cassette player and messed up the recording because I missed the end of the song!

The song could be found on ELO’s 1983 album Secret Messages.  I read an article that said the song was originally called something else and had an entirely different set of lyrics before it was re-worked.  The song reminds me a bit of their 1981 hit “Hold on Tight,” as it has the same sort of feel to it.  The song only made it to #19 on the charts in the US.  This was one of the first songs I heard from ELO, and it made me start picking up more of their stuff.  I really thought it was cool how they used string instruments in their songs.

“Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King”

 

Listen everybody let me tell you ’bout the rock ‘n’ roll
Feel that rhythm and it’s really gonna thrill your soul
She said come along with me, to a land of make believe

She said wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king

She loves that rock ‘n’ roll and she plays it all night long
That’s all she ever tells me when I call her on the telephone
She says feel that jumpin’ beat, and git up on your feet

She says wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king

 

[Chorus:]
Oh let those guitars play
Play for me play for me
Oh let that song ring out

That’s how it’s meant to be

It rolls like a train that’s comin’ on down the track
She rolled over Beethoven and she gave Tchaikovsky back
She loves that drivin’ beat, she goes dancin’ on down the street

She said wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king

 

[Chorus]

When she comes around and I’m listenin’ to the radio
She says you can’t do that ’cause all I wanna do is rock ‘n’ roll
Now here I’m gonna stay where that music starts to play
She says wamalamalamalama rock ‘n’ roll is king
Jeff Lynne wrote the song and I love the line “She rolled over Beethoven and she gave Tchaikovsky back.”  It is obviously a nod to Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven (which ELO covered, and is awesome!).
Jeff, continues to tour with his current version of ELO, and also was a member of the Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison.
What songs do YOU remember taping off the radio??
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Tune Tuesday – Don’t Let Go

When I first started working in radio, it was at an oldies station.  My dad, who was my biggest musical influence, took advantage of the fact that we had an extensive library and asked me to throw some of his favorites on a cassette for him.  This was how I was introduced to the music of Roy Hamilton.

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Roy Hamilton would have been 90 today.  He started singing in his church choir and eventually landed a record deal at Columbia Records, which quickly sent him to their new subsidiary label, Epic.  He recorded You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel, Ebb Tide, and an amazing version of Unchained Melody (which reached number 1 on the R&B charts).

In mid-1956, he developed a lung condition which forced him to announce that he was retiring from the music business.  When was well enough, he got back into show business, but there had been quite a change in music – rock and roll music was big and the standards he was recording before his retirement were on the way out.  In 1957, Epic Records coaxed him into recording “Don’t Let Go”.  The song was produced by Otis Blackwell, who had just produced “Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up” for Elvis Presley.  It became a top 15 record for him and the song is said to be the first Top 40 record recorded in stereo.

He was Epic’s first major star and they treated him very well.  He released 16 albums for them.  He was a big influence to singers like Sam Cooke and Elvis.  In 1969, while at home, he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  He spent a week in a coma before his family took him off life support.  He passed away at the young age of 40.

Working at WHND Honey Radio, we played music exclusively from the first decade of Rock and Roll.  I got to play quite a bit of Roy Hamilton’s music.  You Can Have Her and Don’t Let Go still sound fresh and fun today.  His voice is powerful and even though it shined on ballads, I am partial to his uptempo stuff.  In honor of his 90th, birthday, here’s Don’t Let Go….

ROY HAM

 

 

“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!

 

 

 

Uncontrollable Laughter

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When I started this blog, I often questioned whether or not I would have things to write about.  A friend of mine suggested subscribing to a “daily writing prompt” site.  These prompts can be helpful as “thought starters,” but I haven’t really ever received one that immediately made me want to sit and write – until today.  Today’s prompt simply said, “Write about a time when you couldn’t stop laughing.”

There are two stories that instantly come to mine and they both involve my best friend of over 40 years.  Jeff and I have known each other since 2nd grade.  For years, we’ve been able to make each other laugh with stories, jokes, gibberish and sound effects.  As you know, there are times when laughter is appropriate and there are times when it is not.  Both of these incidents fall into the latter.

Story #1

You know that uncontrollable laughter that you get when you know that you absolutely should not be laughing?  The laugh that no matter how hard you try not to laugh, and try to stifle that laughter, you just cannot seem to stop it from happening?  Remember the Mary Tyler Moore when Mary can’t stop laughing at the funeral of a clown?  No?  Here is the clip:

My first incident falls into that category.  Jeff and I had an English class together.  As I remember it (and Jeff can correct me if I am wrong), we had a substitute teacher and we were working on vocabulary words.  This meant looking up words and writing the definitions down on a work sheet.  Well, you know how it is when there is a substitute teacher … we were screwing around.

In this class we sat next to each other.  I don’t recall who started it, but we began looking up words, circling them, and passing the dictionary to each other with a bookmark marking the page to be looked at.  You can imagine the words we were looking up.  If you can’t, they were words like “penis”, “anus”, “testicles”, “feces”, “turd”, etc…

The more the dictionary went back and forth, the more we both began to laugh.  The final two passes that got us in trouble was when one of us looked up the word “fart”.  This in itself was funny.  The following word that was looked up was an adjective to describe the fart – “raunchy”.  The words were scribbled in a sentence: “A man let a raunchy fart under downtown Las Vegas.” (“under downtown Las Vegas” was something that Telly Savalas said in Cannonball Run II, which we found funny for some reason).  By this time, we were snickering and doing every thing we could to hold back laughter and just couldn’t.  I remember being called out by the teacher and not really being able to explain myself because I was still laughing.  Jeff was laughing too.  The sub stood at the front of the classroom shaking her head and said to me, “I’m still trying to figure out what planet your friend is from” and without missing a beat, Jeff yelled out, “Uranus!”

We both may have been sent to the office for that, but I can’t recall.

Story #2

One of the cool things about TV series on DVD is that most of them include a Blooper or gag reel.  Many of the flubs are performers or actors forgetting lines and many are because other actors are laughing or can’t stop laughing while recording the scene.  Those gag reels will show take after take of an actor cracking up before the funny line of the script is even said.  There were no “retakes” with my second story, as it happened live on the radio in Detroit in 1991.

I was working a weekend overnight shift one Saturday night at WMXD.  I remember before I left for work, I was searching for something to take for lunch.  My dad had recently been to some army/navy surplus store and bought a bunch of MRE’s.  MRE stands for “meals ready to eat”.  They are made so that no matter where a soldier is, they can rip it open and eat it.  Some of them are actually quite good.  He gave me one to take and I left for work.

Jeff came up to hang out in the studio that night and when I got ready to eat, I pulled out the MRE.  It was barbeque pulled pork.  First of all, when I opened it, it reeked!  The smell was awful – almost like vinegar and cat food!  I squeezed it out onto a plate and it looked disgusting!  I can’t even begin to describe it to you.  It was stringy and orange-ish red (the so-called “barbeque sauce”).  I am sure that while the microphone was off we were laughing and describing just how gross it looked.  Then I had to go on the air.

I remember opening the microphone and backselling the song I had just played.  I was getting ready to go into commercials and had to read a liner card.  Liner cards usually contained information about contests, concerts, or promotions that the station was involved with.  I remember getting a line or two into the card and out of the corner of my eye I noticed Jeff moving around.  As I continued to read the card, he waved a fork loaded with that gross pulled pork in front of my face.  This made me crack up as soon as I saw it.  I really hope that the information on that liner card wasn’t important, because the more I kept reading, the more I laughed.  If I had been smart, I would have just quit and fired off the commercial, but I was determined to finish that liner card.  It was reminiscent of when Elvis started laughing while singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”  I can’t even imagine what the listeners thought as I laughed and read through that!!  (I am chuckling as I am typing this, just remembering the incident!)  Thank God it happened on the overnight shift, I probably would have gotten called into the bosses office!

If you are unfamiliar with Laughing Elvis – here is the clip (with the story):

Final Thoughts

The laughter continues with each phone call and visit from Jeff.  We send each other silly pictures daily and leave voice mail messages that are incomprehendable for each other.  We can still make each other laugh with a sound effect, movie line, or some made up song lyrics.  Though we are approaching the half century mark … we still are like teenagers looking up “fart” in the dictionary … and I am ok with that!

I would love to hear your stories about laughing when you shouldn’t be ….