Questions and Answers #2

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In my current full-time job, sometimes you get called off because patients cancel their appointments.  This can really suck, especially when you’ve slept all day in preparation to work all night long.  At any rate, on nights off, I usually read or write.  I had a bout of writer’s block and so I went to my Facebook friends and asked for questions they’d like answered.  They never fail to ask questions that force me to think, dig deep in my memory, or get creative.

Question #1 – Denise

Denise’s question is radio related.  “On average, how many of the songs you spin (love that she is speaking DJ here!) take you back to an exact moment in your memories and is there one particular song you avoid playing for that exact reason?”

ANSWER:  One of the things I love about music is that there are many songs that so exactly what you state in your question – “take you back to an exact moment”.  With the station I work on today, I would guess that 2-4 songs a show can do that.  If I were at a different format (like classic rock, country, or oldies) it would be more.  We play a lot of current songs where I am now, with a sprinkling of 80’s and 90’s.  The older songs can certainly do that, for example, a song from 1999 or Little Red Corvette by Prince can take me back to a high school dance.

I did country radio for almost half of my radio career, so there are plenty of songs that I can remember hearing for the first time.  I was the music director and had a hand in helping the program director pick the songs to play on the air.  My job was to listen to every new song that an artist put out.  It was exciting to hear a song and get a gut feeling about whether it would be a hit or not.  Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong.  I would think many of those songs I can remember hearing them for the first time while sitting in my office.

Now regarding the second half of your question, all stations have a play list.  Sometimes, you have the freedom to play requests, but usually, you are playing from the list of songs that was scheduled for you on your shift.  That being said, there is one song that I have to turn down the volume when it plays – Daniel Powter’s Bad Day.

That was the song that was the ring tone on my mom’s cell phone in the last few month’s of her life.  I guess she used it as an anthem.  She battled breast cancer for 10 years.  She’d been through it all – chemotherapy, radiation, and countless painful procedures and tests.  She had good days and bad days – more bad than good.  She would still keep that positive attitude and often say “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, but cancer isn’t small stuff.  She related to that song.  “You had a bad day”… but she kept fighting.  She was one of the bravest and strongest women I have ever known.  I have to turn down the speakers, because when I hear it – I hear mom’s phone…

Question #2 – Marcia

Marcia and I have known each other since elementary school.  Our mom’s knew each other and it is no surprise that her question is about my mom.  “What’s your favorite memory of your mom?”

This is really a difficult question.  Maybe for some people they could pick just one, but for me, there are so many special moments.  I could mention the many nights that she stayed up with what my dad called “The Warren Boys Club” and played pinochle until all hours of the night or how she used to stay up late on Saturday nights watching terrible Kung Fu movies on Channel 20.  I could also mention her falling asleep in the waiting room at the hospital as she waited for Dante’ to be born, a moment that is caught forever on film.  Instead, I have narrowed it down to three.

These three memories, in no particular order, are definitely in the top ten memories of mom.  To answer your question, I allowed myself to jot down three memories and stopped there.  Perhaps there are others that just weren’t lucky enough to pop into my head on command, but these three did immediately, so they appear as the answer to your question.

Mom memory #1 – I was 20, soon to be 21, when I moved to Ludington for a radio job.  I had ever been away from home before.  It was scary and yet my folks were supportive of the move.  Mom was pretty strong, even though I think it bugged her more than she let on.  After the first week, I think she missed me more than she wanted to tell me.  She used to send me a letter or a card a week.  It was usually something silly just to say she was thinking about me and that she loved me.

I remember the first night I was there.  I had a small apartment and every single noise kept me awake.  I remember the second day I was there, she called to ask how I was.  As much as I tried to keep it together, I couldn’t.  She listened to my cry and told me she was proud of me and that everything was going to be ok.  I remember coming home from the radio station at night and having messages on the answering machine from her.  What I wouldn’t give to have those letters and cards (ruined in a flooded basement) or the answering machine tape!

Mom memory #2 – Dante’ was 4 and loved trains.  He watched Thomas the Train all the time.  When mom found out that Thomas was coming near my house, she bought tickets for all of us.  This was probably in August, so it was two months before she passed away.  She was sometimes using a walker or a wheel chair to get around, but she was not going to let anything stop her from going for a ride with Thomas and Dante’!  As tired as she was, she sat next to him and sang the Thomas theme with him.  The day was captured in some of my favorite pictures, and even though the day is foggy for Dante’ today, he still looks at those pictures and remembers grandma.

Mom memory #3 – One year after mom passed away, my brother came home.  We were all going to go to the cemetery on the anniversary.  While at my dad’s house, I believe it was Chris who found a stack of envelopes.  Each envelope was addressed to members of the family.  They were letters that mom had wrote to each of us.  The letter to written long before Dante’ was born, so he wasn’t mentioned in it.  There was, however, a wonderful message from mom to me.  “Know that I love you” was the first line written to me.  It was a wonderful message from beyond the grave, that I still have locked away, so that I can read it whenever I need to.

Question #3 (in two parts) – Stephanie

Leave it to my friend Stephanie to give me a serious and silly question.  (1) “What comedy or drama movie would you make into a musical and what would be the name?” and (2) “What is something you recently realized that you can’t believe you didn’t realize earlier?”

Part 1 – As I thought about some of my favorite movies, I laughed at the possibility of them being made into a musical.  As you know Young Frankenstein was made into a musical, and so was Monty Python and the Holy Grail.    The Blues Brothers already is considered a musical, so I started to look at a few others.

Smokey and the Bandit would be hard to make into a musical. However, I think it would be fun to have Buford T Justice sing “Sum Bitch” in a song!  Airplane! is a comedy classic, but how do you make this into a musical.  Animal House might be one you could do as a musical – I could see Flounder singing about Bluto giving him that name or Dean Wormer singing a rant about Double Secret Probation.  I guess if I had to pick one, it would be Johnny Dangerously…because the name of the show would be easy:  Johnny Dangerously: The Fargin’ Musical!

Part 2 – I have an answer to this question that is kind of obvious, but because I am a bigger person, I will not use that answer.  What I will answer is this:  I realize now, just how fake some people can be.  It is sad to see how people are quick to judge you on the thoughts or stories of others.  They make their judgments based on those things without ever coming to you to see if they are true or hear your side of the story.  It is sad that so many people will pretend to be your friend and then as soon as you leave the room, begin to talk about you, label you and judge you.

I realize now that there are some people who are not happy unless they are making others unhappy.  I realize now that there are people who feel the need to be in control of every situation, no matter what, and have to get their way.  They will say things to make you believe things that will work in their favor, even if it means alienating you from friends and family.

The biggest realization I have had recently is that before you can make others happy – YOU have to be happy.  It is not worth living a life to make others happy while you, yourself, continue a downward spiral into sadness, unhappiness, and depression.  You must weed out negative people in your life and live happily and positively!  You should be happy in your job, happy in your relationships, and happy with yourself.  The hardest, and best, decision I ever made was to find happiness and surround myself with it.

Question #4 – Connie

Connie asks another question that is difficult to answer.  Connie and I often spoke of Stanley nickels and Schrute Bucks in the office, and now she asks “What is your favorite episode of The Office?”

While there are MANY episodes that continue to make me laugh out loud, it is hard to pick just one.  At the same time, some episodes consist of brief moments that make me laugh like hell, but the rest of the episode isn’t as strong.

If I had to name a few episodes off the top of my head, I would start with Diversity Day.  We truly get a sense of Michael Scott and just how awkward he is in this episode.  The uncomfortable situations that he often creates really start to show with this episode.  Next I would say The Deposition.  Classic Michael/Jan tension.  The Dinner Party is also a great episode – the awkward relationship that Michael and Jan have is showcased here (snip snap snip snap!).

The Dundies is just a great episode!  The thought of an office party – well, an awards show – and Chili’s while real customers are trying to eat is hilarious.  So many great things about this episode.  Threat Level Midnight is another one I liked because it showcased some cast members who hadn’t been on the show for a while, and it shows you the incredibly bad movie Michael wrote.

Scenes I could watch over and over and over:

  • Michael screaming “No” over and over when Toby returns
  • Jim’s spot on impression of Dwight – Bears, Beats, Battlestar Galactica
  • Kevin’s famous chili
  • The Fire Drill scene (“save Bandit!”)

Question #5 – Hope

Hope and I talk music a lot.  She’s a Beatle fan and played trumpet in band.  It is no surprise that her question is musical. “Are there specific songs that remind you of your childhood?  If so, which ones and why?”

Absolutely!  Growing up, my dad played in a wedding band, so I heard him play a lot of songs and was exposed to a lot of genres of music.  One of the first songs I remember was “Dream Baby” by Roy Orbison.  My dad had it on a vinyl LP and I asked him to play it all the time.

My friend, Jeff, had this album of novelty songs called “Dumb Ditties”.  Every one of those songs cracks makes me think of when we were kids listening to it.  Dumb songs like “I’m a Nut”, “Gimme Dat Ding”, “Ahab The Arab”, “Purple People Eater” and “Charlie Brown” were on it as I remember.

Anything of Willie Nelson’s Stardust album and  Johnny Paycheck’s Greatest Hits (Volume 2) makes me think of summers at my grandparent’s trailer up in Caseville.  There is a blog I wrote about an old 8 track that is full of songs that remind me of road trips to Caseville, too.

I remember many songs from 1988 and my senior year of high school – Wild Wild West by Escape Club, Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin, and Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi Come to mind.  I remember buying Huey Lewis and the News Sports album for I Wanna New Drug.  Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, Need You Tonight by INXS, Rock Steady by the Whispers, and The Final Countdown by Europe were all songs I remember from high school dances.

I remember the first slow dance I ever danced to was Crazy for You by Madonna.  I remember wondering if I was doing it right.  I mean, I was literally swaying back and forth.  “Is this right?!”  We used to go to dances and just stand around and BS.  When I was asked to dance, I really had NO idea what I was doing!

Question #6 – Joe

Joe and I have been friends since Jr. High.  We met in first hour band class.  His question is “How well do you remember that day we all met in junior high in the band room?”

I don’t recall much.  It was the first day of junior high and I remember being scared to death.  I remember Steve, Kevin, John, and Joe.  Yes, there were others, but those are the ones I remember from the beginning.  As far as the first day, I don’t recall much.  I remember getting chair assignments and lockers, but that’s about it.  The first day wasn’t the “…wanna be friends?” day, was it?  Your memory may be better than mine, so please feel free to fill in the gaps.

Conclusion

This is the second blog that I have written based on the questions that friends have asked me.  It’s actually something I really enjoy.  Thanks to those friends who served as the “thought starters” for this blog.  I hope I answered your questions and you enjoyed reading this as much as I did thinking about the answers and writing them.

 

 

The Red-Headed Stranger

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Willie Nelson is a country music legend.  Whether you love or hate his music, there is no denying his legendary status.  Willie celebrated his 85th birthday yesterday (4/29).  Willie is one of the most prolific songwriters and is responsible for many classic country hits.  He wrote many songs that became hits for other singers including, Funny How Time Slips Away (Billy Walker), Crazy (Patsy Cline), Pretty Paper (Roy Orbison), and Hello Walls (Faron Young).

In 1962, he recorded his first album, “… And Then I Wrote”.  The success of that album led to him signing with RCA Victor in 1964 and joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1965.  He had some minor hits in the 60’s and early 70’s, but because of his mediocre success, he retired and moved to Austin, Texas in 1972.  He didn’t stay retired long, as he signed a new deal with Atlantic Records in 1973 and began singing “outlaw country”.  in 1975, he signed with Columbia Records and released The Red Headed Stranger album.  Thanks to that album, his 1973 album Shotgun Willie, and the classic 1978 album Stardust, Willie became one of the most recognized names in country music.

Willie’s music has been a part of my life since I was little.  As I have said in previous writings, I can go to any Willie album and there is a song on it that will remind me of something I was dealing with or going through at that time.  I was 8 when Stardust came out.  We had it on Vinyl and on cassette.  I am sure we probably had it on 8 Track, too.

Stardust was Willie’s 22nd studio album.  For the album, he picked 10 classics from the Great American Songbook.  His neighbor at the time was Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. and the MG’s fame).  He asked him to help arrange the song “Moonlight in Vermont” for the album.  Willie liked what he did with the song so much, that he asked him to produce the whole album.   The record company was not entirely on board with the idea for the album, after all, Willie was associated with the “outlaw” country and this was quite a big change.

The record company didn’t have to worry at all.  Stardust was a HUGE success. After its release in 1978, it reached number one on the Billboard Country Albums Chart,  it reached number 30 on the Billboard 200, Blue Skies and Georgia On My Mind were number one hits,  Willie won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for Georgia On My Mind, and the album remained on Billboard’s Country Albums Chart for 10 straight years (from 1978-1988).

For the remainder of this blog, I want to share some of my favorite Willie Nelson songs from albums over the years.

Stardust (1978)

This album was one that we were all too familiar with, and the one that introduced me to Willie.  My dad and grandpa had it on cassette and we listened to it up north all the time.

September Song – The opening piano on this is haunting.  This was my grandpa’s favorite song on the album. The arrangement is perfect.  Willie’s vocal is simple and convincing.  The subtle drum work in this is also perfect.  I always think of my grandpa when I hear this.

All of Me – This is a song that has been recorded by almost everybody.  Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the list goes on and on.  As someone who listened to a lot of big band and classic music, I was very familiar with the song.  I was also familiar with it because Redd Foxx and Scatman Crothers sang it together on Sanford and Son and Paul Williams sang it on the Muppet Show!  Willie’s version is fun and simple.  His stripped down instrumentation and voice just make this album so easy to enjoy.

On The Sunny Side of the Street – If I had to pick the best version of this song, it would be Willie’s version (with Keely Smith’s a close second).  The cold open of “Grab your coat and get your hat” is so effortless by Willie.  The rhythm beat under the vocal just gives you the feeling that you and Willie are strolling down the sidewalk.  LOVE this song.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow (1981)

This is another album of classics for Willie.  While it is no Stardust, it does have some memorable songs, but the one that stands out the most to me is Mona Lisa.  Don’t get me wrong, Nat King Cole’s version remains the best, but Willie’s take on it is damn good.  While lacking the lush arrangement that Nat had, Willie is able to take this song and make it his own.  His vocal is powerful on this track.

Always on My Mind (1982)

Always on My Mind – The title track for this album was a big hit for Willie.  The song had been recorded by Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley as early as 1972.  While in the studio with Merle Haggard recording Pancho and Lefty, the producers asked them both to record it.  Merle had no interest in recording it, but Willie did.  In his autobiography, he says, “We’ll never know what would have happened if Merle had really heard the song right.  ‘Always on My Mind’ bowled me over the first time I heard it, which is one way I pick songs to record.”

I can recall the first time we heard it on the radio. We were driving in the car, the entire family, and it played. My mom started crying immediately. “Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have. Maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have. But you were always on my mind.” I remember mom saying that it was like grandpa sending a little message to us. I’ll always remember that.

The Party’s Over – For those who remember when songs were released on 45, this was the B-side of Always on My Mind.  This is a song that was re-recorded by Willie for this album.  He wrote it in the late 1950’s and used to sing it at live performances to close the show.  He recorded it first back in 1966 and re-recorded it for this album. It was a top 30 hit.

City of New Orleans (1984)

City of New Orleans – This is a Willie song that I think outdoes the original.  The feel of the song is not so “folksy’ as the original.  The instrumentation is just right and there is just enough reverb on Willie’s voice that make it a wonderful listen.  It’s the longest song on the album (almost 5 minutes), but I am always left wanting more.

Why Are You Pickin’ On Me – Here’s a guy who has a gal hounding him.  He wants nothing to do with her basically.  The guy knows all about who the gal is and wants no part of her game. It’s just a fun and peppy song, that blows off this gal.  Always liked it.

Cry – This song is another one that has been done by many artists.  The biggest hit versions of the song were done by Johnnie Ray in 1951, Lynn Anderson (top 5 in 1972) and Crystal Gayle in 1986, which when to number 1. Willie’s version is smooth.  Again, his vocal and the light piano lick mixed in with the rest of the instrumentation is simply amazing.

What a Wonderful World (1988)

What a Wonderful World – The Louis Armstrong version of this song was being reintroduced to audiences thanks to the movie Good Morning, Vietnam.  Willie’s version is simple and nothing spectacular, but using the song for the title track and cashing in on the success and familiarity of the song because of the movie makes sense.

Spanish Eyes – This song has always been one of my favorite songs.  The Al Martino version of this song still packs the floor at weddings.  Willie and Julio Iglesias had already had duet success with their 1984 hit “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”, and once again they get together for this one.  Julio singing in Spanish makes this extra special.

A Horse Called Music (1989)

If I had to pick my favorite Willie album that wasn’t Stardust, it would be either this one or Born For Trouble.  There really is not a bad song on this album.

I Never Cared For You – this song is one that Willie has recorded a few times.  When he was on Monument records, they released it as a single and it was his only hit while he was there.  I think of all the recordings of this song, this is his strongest version.  “The sun is filled with ice and gives no warmth at all.  The sky was never blue.  The stars are raindrops searching for a place to fall.  And I never cared for you”.  Great songwriting here!

Nothing I Can Do About It Now – I was at a point in my life where I was looking back at mistakes I had made.  I had many regrets for the way I handled things.  This song reminded me that what is past, is past.  There’s nothing you can do about it.  “I could cry for the time I’ve wasted.  But that’s a waste of time and tears. And I know just what I’d change if I went back in time somehow, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”

There You Are – First time I heard this one I was speechless.  I had broke up with a gal I had been dating for some time.  I found that she often crossed my mind at times when I least expected it.  This song really hit home during that time. Anyone who has ever thought of a lost love can relate to this song.

Is The Better Part Over – Everyone has been in a relationship that starts off like a raging river, but as time goes on turns into a calm stream.  You reach a point in the relationship where you say, “Are the good times done?  Is the better part over?”  Again, a song that is lyrically amazing and heartfelt.

If My World Didn’t Have You – There are heartache songs on this album, and then there is this masterpiece.  If you are in love or in a relationship with your soul mate, listen to this song.  It is about as true a love song as I have every heard.  Instrumentation is beautiful on this song and his vocal is convincing.  I absolutely love it and feel its true right now.

Born For Trouble (1990)

Ain’t Necessarily So – This uptempo song has a deep message.  Willie is a thinker.  This shows in a lot of his lyrics.  In his autobiography, he often talks about his gut feelings.  You can see where some of his thinking comes across in the lyrics of this song:

“Every time I follow what I’m feeling, I end up in the same place my heart would have me go.  If there’s one rule of life I trust, it’s everything outside your gut, ain’t necessarily so”.

You Decide – This is a powerful song.  “You decide what you need and I’ll be waiting here”.  Ever been in a relationship where the other person just isn’t sure they want to be with you? In this song, the singer steps back and basically says, “Look, think it over.  Decide what you want.  I’ll be here, just let me know what you decide.”  Not an easy thing to do.  I think this is one of Willie’s most convincing vocals.  You can hear the hurt in his voice as he sings.

This is How Without You Goes – Another tremendous heartache song.  The singer all of a sudden has time to notice all the little things that he missed while with his gal.  What makes it so powerful is that he says he’s often wondered how he would take it if she went away.  Again, some great songwriting and a great vocal.

Moonlight Becomes You (1994)

While this album has many standards like the title track, Sentimental Journey, You’ll Never Know, and I’ll Keep On Loving You, It’s the two Willie compositions that really stand out for me.

In Gods Eyes – “Never think evil thoughts of anyone” and “Lend a hand if you can to a stranger” are two suggestions from the lyrics of this one.  Words to live by and a great song.

Afraid – I think everyone in some way, shape or form is afraid of rejection.  The singer is afraid to tell someone how much he cares for them.  He’s afraid that if he says something, it may lead to a relationship, but may lead to that relationship not lasting.  Melodically, this is a very pretty and simple song.  Lyrically, we can all relate.

Just One Love (1995)

Again, there are many songs worth the price of admission on this album.  Smoke!  Smoke!  Smoke! (That Cigarette), Four Walls, It’s a Sin, and Cold, Cold Heart are all very well done.  I enjoyed two other cuts from the album.

Just One Love – We all want the ONE LOVE.  “Just one love that shines for me, shines a light that I can see.  Just one love shines for me tonight”.  When you find it – it shines!  Love this one.

Each Night At Nine – Long distance love can be hard.  This song is sung by a soldier who is away from home.  The premise of this song is that the two lovers – no matter where they are – will think of each other every night at nine.    While sad, it is also very heart warming. “I hold your picture close to my heart.  It takes your place dear, while we’re apart.  Helps remind me, that you’re still mine, to feel your nearness each night at nine”. Wow.

God’s Problem Child (2017)

I realize there is a big gap between the last album I mentioned and this one and 22 years and 22 albums in between them.  Milkcow Blues, Rainbow Connection, American Classic, Heroes, To All The Girls…, and For The Good Times all are albums worth buying and listening to, but I wanted to hit his latest two before I wrapped this up.

Still Not Dead – No one can say that Willie doesn’t have a sense of humor.  Over the years, there have been many times that it has been falsely reported that Willie had died.  After yet another false claim of his death, Willie wrote this song (with very catchy lyrics), and even made a funny music video to go along with it.  “I woke up still not dead today.  The news said I was gone to my dismay.  Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play, and I woke up still not dead again today”.  Brilliant writing from Willie and Buddy Cannon, who also produced this album.

Last Man Standing (2018)

This is Willie’s latest album.  You can get it in stores today, and listen to most of it on the internet.  Think about the outlaws and the people that Willie used to play with – Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Ray Price, and Merle Haggard.  They’ve all passed away and it seems that Willie is the last man standing.  His humor is still evident in his writing – the first line of the title track says “I don’t want to be the last man standing, but wait a minute, maybe I do”.

Some stand outs on the album are the title track, I Ain’t Got Nothin’, and She Mad My Day (But it Ruined My Life).  But the best song on the album in my opinion is Something You Get Through.  In my opinion, this is one of the best songs I have heard in regards to dealing with the death of someone.

Something You Get Through – When I was in college I took a class on the psychology of death and dying.  In the class one thing stuck with me.  There was a quote in the book that said we never really get over the death of someone.  We still have to live our lives, but we do it without them.  We adjust to their not being her.  We get through it.  I’ve tried to convey that thought to people when I speak with them after losing someone close to them.

How did this song come about?  Buddy Cannon, the co-writer of the song, saw Willie consoling someone who had just lost someone special.  She told Willie, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over this”, and Willie looked at her and said, “It’s not something you’ll get over, but it’s something you’ll get through”.  It stuck with Cannon for almost three years.  He knew there had to be a song in there somewhere.  He called Willie and together they wrote the song, and it is a good one.

In Closing

In this blog, I focused primarily on Willie’s songwriting and singing.  Let’s not forget that he is also quite a good actor.  He’s appeared in almost 60 movies and television shows:  The Electric Horseman, Honeysuckle Rose, Barbarosa, Stagecoach, The Red Headed Stranger, The Dukes of Hazzard, Beer For My Horses, Zoolander 2, and the Muppets (just to name a few….)!

He continues to write songs, tour the country playing sold out shows, advocate for animal rights, works to help farmers (as he has done since instituting Farm Aid in 1985), and is happy to keep being busy.

Happy Birthday, Willie!  Thanks for the decades of music!