Don’t Pull Your Love Out On Me Baby
Q. How old were you when music became important? What songs and performers had resonance?
A. I was about 7 or 8 years old when I started having an emotional response to songs. I remember hearing “Don’t pull your love out on me baby” on WTSN, the local am radio station and becoming emotional. There was something about the pleading sound of the vocal that really moved me. I was surprised at my own response. I was just a little kid of course but there were a couple lines in the lyric that sounded so desperate and somehow it resonated.
That resonance along with the sound of the singer’s voice, that r&b raspy pleading quality went through my blood like electricity. For some reason it was mostly the r&b singers that did it for me when I was a kid. This was the late 60’s and early 70’s and AM radio played all the hits no matter the genre so the breadth of material was wide. It was a great time for soul music and Motown was still strong. I also loved the early rock and roll. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” was big in my bedroom. I didn’t know what he was talking about on that record but I really wanted to find out what it was all about…hearing Little Eva’s voice on “Locomotion” might have been my first erotic experience. I really wanted to see what the locomotion looked like and I wanted to do the chugga chugga motion when she told me to. What can I say I was ahead of my class…
There were so many records I just obsessed over. My father had been in the Marines as a young man and had developed a taste for R&B through some of the African-American guys he served with. He had a few Ray Charles records and O.C. Smith and Nat King Cole and James Brown as well. Those were mysterious records. The artwork on James Brown’s “This is a Man’s World” was wild. The pictures of James wearing a crown and cape and sweating like a man possessed were so exciting and other worldly. It was like looking at pictures of a martian or a naked woman-how could something this amazing be part of the world?! The sound of Ray Charles’ voice was and is so powerful. I don’t just mean the obvious torque and tone of it but also the little pleading squeals and groans and breaths. Can you imagine the guts it took to sing with that kind of honestly and openess in those days? It went right through me.
It’s a beautiful mystery why and how it all works. How does a 8 year old white kid from New Hampshire find kinship, solace and sympathetic vibration in the voice of a grown black man from Georgia? It’s one of the beautiful things about music. Music shares humanity, not just the story you tell with a song but something deeper as well.
I inherited a green pail of 45s from an aunt and it was filled with The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Association and a bunch of other great bands and singers. I wrote the words to “My Cherie Amour” down on a piece of paper so I could give them to a girl in my second grade class. She wasn’t impressed. I was shocked, how could she not love “My Cherie Amour”? I still do the same thing 40 years later but now I’m writing the songs and they’re on my own records. I’m not handing over a note in the milk line which come to think of it might be more effective these days.
Songs were how I saw the world and how I made sense of the world. These days I suppose it’s the songs I’m writing that help me make sense of the world, my life, and where I come from. You never escape where you come from from. The fears, desires, disappointments and history of your youth and your life travel along with you. You don’t grow past them, you carry them with you as you go and you learn to understand them. You might find suitcases to put them in but you carry them along as you go.
There were some songs that only resonated for a short time for me but I try to hold onto a piece of them anyway. It’s like friends. Sometimes you find someone who fills a need for you and you for them. Sometimes you outgrow each other but you still value their role for that time. You still hold onto a piece of that friendship and celebrate it from time to time-maybe not often but still you hold onto a piece of it. I don’t need to hear “Locomotion” very often but when I need to hear it there’s no better sound in the world. Ray Charles I still need to hear…