Music For The Grandkids
On December 31st I turned 63. Yep, I was a welcome tax deduction for dad and mom, on the last day of 1949. My dear mother, 87 now and spunky as ever, was a music teacher when I came aboard. We had a very cool stereo (78’s and LP’s, baby!) and a piano in the home when I arrived. Mom played every day. She wasn’t Ray Charles and she wasn’t Billy Payne but I sat and listened every day. Early on I had a “record player,” on which I played 45’s (some of you remember them). I grew up listening to KPUG out of Bellingham, Washington, later graduating to CKLG out of Vancouver, B.C. then, when I worked as a security guard at Central Washington College, KGO from San Francisco! Amazing how I could sit in my car, midnight, stealthily observe the parking lot for bad guys and listen to this great station over 1000 miles away! About the time that I was 10 or 11 I went to Stark’s Record Store in Bellingham each Saturday with a check for $1.02 that mom had given me – enough to buy a 45 ($.98 + $.04 tax)! Joey Dee & The Starlighter’s Peppermint Twist! Or maybe Gene Chandler’s Duke Of Earl.
As I scroll through my iTunes library the earliest song that I remember hearing on the radio is Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons, 1955, then Lonnie Donnegan’s Rock Island Line and Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel, 1956. Chuck Berry & Buddy Holly (1957), The Big Bopper, Bobby Darin and Duane Eddy (1958), Teddy Randazzo’s Shout, Ernie Maresco’s Shout, Shout (Knock Yourself Out) and………………..Chubby Checker’s The Twist (1960)! In junior high I danced (poorly – sorry Jane) to The 4 Seasons, The Orlons, Little Eva and The Beach Boys. In high school, Friday night, my buddies Mark, Barry, Scott, Ken and me would drive down Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham, Washington, beer in hand, singing along with The Animals, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and in our senior year, The Buffalo Springfield, The Doors, The American Breed, etc. Just like many of you, right? Well, maybe you weren’t cruising on Chuckanut Drive but you were definitely driving and listening, Somewhere, USA, right?
So, that’s the prologue to my story. I’ve been listening to music for years. And much of it has touched my heart, created unforgettable memories, made me laugh, cry, sing.
I’m now on a personal mission to pass this music, and these memories, to my grandkids, Jake, (3) Olivia (2) and Natalie (1) along with my daughters, Amy and Elizabeth, and all of my old buds, those who’ve been forever woven into the fabric of my musical life.
My all-time faves are The Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East and Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken.
In August of 1970 I returned home from the war in Viet Nam. My first night back I went out with friends but it was just too weird. I’d been in a war; they’d been going to college, football games, parties. So I sat in my room in the apartment of my parent’s house for a week or so, night and day, reflecting, smoking pot, trying to figure out how to find my place back in the world. My mom and dad were becoming more and more anxious about me as I became more of a recluse. One afternoon a lengthy bluesy jam came over CKLG out of Vancouver, BC. I listened having never heard this song or really, anything like it before. At the song’s conclusion the DJ, Al Garr, announced the band, The Allman Brothers Band, and the song, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. Now I had to leave the house to go downtown and pick up a copy of The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East. After coming home and listening to the entire album I now had to leave the house to share this great album with my friends. So, CKLG, Al Garr, The Allman Brothers and In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed helped me return to reality after a year of insanity.
And, my youngest daughter’s name – Elizabeth.
In 1974 my buddy, Mark, came for a visit to Vancouver, Washington, where I was a less than motivated grad student at Portland State University. Mark was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. He and I had closed out many nights in Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, finishing off the night’s last beer and singing along with Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills (his fave), Neil Young (mine), The Doors, The Association, The Buckinghams, and others. We had bonded over music as sophomores at Bellingham High School. Whenever we got together these days the first words out of one of our mouths was, “Have I got a song for you!” Then we’d pull out Crazy Horse’s Gone Dead Train, or Wishbone Ash’s Blowin’ Free, The Band’s Don’t Ya’ Tell Henry or Graham Parker’s Pourin’ It All Out, something we figured the other may not have heard, and put in on the turntable. Loud.
On this day Mark entered the house and headed straight for the stereo with an LP I’d never heard, Dixie Chicken, by a band I’d never heard, Little Feat. He stepped to the turntable and put the needle down on Fatman In The Bathtub . Ritchie’s drum, Lowell’s cowbell – “All I want in this life of mine is some good clean fun, all want in this life of mine if some hit and run!” I’m not sure if this surpasses the day that I’d introduced Mark to The Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations or C, S,& N’s Suite: Judy Blue Eyes but, well, ya’, it does. This was my entry into something……………………
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, The Last Record Album, Time Loves A Hero, Waiting For Columbus (1978). And, importantly, Willin’, (Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah) along with Elizabeth Reed, my all-time fave song.
I was an elementary school principal for a number of years. Some years, I had the good fortune to be able to pass much of the year’s work off to assistants or interns. My closest, personally and musically, Justin, ended our year together by giving me a quilt of the cover of Feats’ Dixie Chicken. That boy will be a superintendent one day. We’ll hoist a beverage and listen to Roll ‘Em Easy.
In 1979 my wife and I were teachers. When school ended in June we took our daughter, Amy, on a trip to the east coast. We started out in Florida, Disney World, then to Mark’s home in South Carolina. We went to Boston and New York before ending up in Washington D.C. I woke up on the morning of June 30th. While drinking coffee and watching the news that morning I learned some tragic news. Lowell George had played a show in Virginia the previous night then went to stay in D.C. where he OD’d. My wife took Amy for a walk while I sat and grieved. The Rock & Roll Doctor. Gone. Damn!
Over the past 15 years or so the artist who I’ve enjoyed the most is Buddy Miller. Buddy has made many of the best CD’s in recent years. He has recorded with his wife Julie, Steve Earle, Steve Cropper, Robert Plant, and toured with Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin & Shawn Colvin – Three Girls & Their Buddy. He was No Depression’s Artist Of The Decade for the 2000’s. Many of Buddy’s songs – That’s How I Got To Memphis, Love Match (w/Steve Earle), Midnight & Lonesome, Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go – have made Jeff’s annual “best of” compilations. In 1995 Buddy released his first CD – Your Love & Other Lies. It contained a song that will forever be in my heart – Watching Amy Dance. Not surprising, huh, with a daughter named Amy.
I won’t continue to enthrall you with my stories but, among the others on this treasured list are The Beach Boys, Jackson Browne, Elton John, The Buffalo Springfield, Carole King, The Rolling Stones, Steve Earle, Bruce, Lucinda, Warren Zevon, Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, Talking Heads, Buddy Miller, Ry Cooder. And some that might not be on my all-time list but that connect me deeply with others – Robben Ford, Wilco, Phish.
Now, thank goodness for Silver Platters in The Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, WA. I wander in there every few weeks and look around. “I need two copies of Guitar Town. One for Jake and one for Olivia and Nat.” Ten minutes later. “Got ‘em!” A couple weeks later. “Gotta get Elton’s 11/17/70 for Mark!” A funny memory. Leaving The Coliseum in Vancouver, B.C., after seeing Elton (1971), along with the great Tacoma band, Ballinjack’, we were a little befuddled on how to get back to Bellingham ( the early 70’s; imagine that!). One of Mark’s buddies, from the Air Force Academy, who was not as befuddled as us said, “Find the ocean and turn left!” Great advice! We made it home safely. And I was so comforted that our country was being protected by a man with such wisdom.
Carole King’s Tapestry. No problem. Hiatt’s Bring The Family. Ditto. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. Got a copy for everyone on the list! Robben Ford’s Talk To My Daughter. “Yeah!” Phish. “Darryl and Justin. Get ready!”
So, Olivia and Nat and Jake. You’re gonna’ get some CD’s from Grandpa. There’s gonna be a note inside. The note will tell you a bit about the music but, it will also tell you that I cannot disclose the full story until the day you turn 13. On your 13th birthday we’ll take a field trip to the Experience Music Project in Seattle, listen to Jimi, go to lunch and I’ll spill the beans. Don’t tell your mother!