Music and Personal Memory

Looking back, I have many personal markers and signposts as do many people. My uncanny ability though, is to be able to recall pop songs by date and circumstances in which I first heard them. Often, too, how hearing those for the first time made me feel.

1953/age 4: at an afternoon movie theatre with my mother seeing Doris Day in the film Calamity Jane and recalling the close-ups of her singing “Secret Love”

1954: my Dad’s 78 rpm playing of “Hernando’s Hideaway”: “I know a dark secluded place…”, the piano solo, and the way it fascinated me with talk of things well beyond my limited pre-school experience

summer 1954: my mother calling me home whenever “This Ole House” was on the radio

summer 1955: in the old Winnipeg bus depot cafe with my Dad and the jukebox creating the many magical illusions of The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman”

spring 1955: after seeing the Disney cult movie Davy Crockett, hearing the star Fess Parker singing the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” on the radio; listening to it in a coonskin cap

summer 1955: walking down Thompson Drive to nearby Portage Avenue from my grandmother’s house where we lived for a year 1956; going outside on a sunny morning after hearing Mitch Miller’s rousing “The Yellow Rose of Texas”

1956: watching my parents dance around the small living room in our Wallasey Street house to the 78 rpm of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom”; my Dad always liked trumpet songs; a decade later, he loved Herb Alpert’s songs

summer 1956: seeing Gogi Grant sing “The Wayward Wind” on our new b & w tv; years later, listening to my father-in-law sing it for his sister in our family room–her saying “I didn’t know you could sing”; in the 2010s, playing the Grant hit for him at his funeral service

Sept. 1956/age 7: seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show singing “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel”; running outside afterward into the freshness of a still sunny Sunday evening

winter 1956-57: hearing “Green Door” on a Sunday morning radio show while reading the color comics, wondering what was behind the green door; the mystery of the song

Feb.-Mar. 1957: fascinated by Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat”: “Daylight come and me wanna go home”; also hearing Sonny James “Young Love” for the first time; later buying the 45 rpm when I was about 10-11

March 1957: my teen aunt was living with us and introduced me to LPs and 4 song EPs (45 rpm)–Johnny Cash; she had Buddy Knox’s lp which had “Party Doll” and Hula Love”, rockabilly stuff; the Canadian group The Diamonds were funny–saw them on Ed Sullivan Show, mugging and the funny guy singing “lalalala” in a high voice

Oct. 1957: Johnny Mathis’s “Chances Are” echoing everywhere; maybe 4 years later I was hanging at the school after hours one summer evening and an older boy took me to his house and played the Mathis song under lamplight!?

summer 1959: on a Sunday at my Dad’s childhood friend’s house and he impressed us with his new stereo record player, playing us Mancini’s sexy “Peter Gunn” (from a popular tv show which used jazz) and the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley”–which introduced the hootenany era

summer 1959: my aunt’s 45 rpm of Lloyd Price’s big sounding “Personality”–a call response song; playing it in the living room of our house setting off my dog Scamp every time Price said “walk” or “talk”

Oct. 1959: my aunt’s 45 rpm of the drum hit “Teen Beat” which inspired so many kids to take up drums; later in gr. 9, I bought up all of Nelson’s main lps just to hear the featured drum solos; living in apt. at this time, there was a fat chance that I’d ever get a set, but I remained a drum fan through the Jimi Hendrix and Cream trio years.

Jan. 1960: watching Marty Robbins sing “El Paso” on tv, engaging with the storyline, empathizing with the shot-down protagonist

summer 1960: hearing the Brothers Four “Greenfields” echoing from my 2 transistor radio as I delivered newspapers to the old houses on Wallasey St. and Thompson Dr.

summer 1960: speaking of drums, hearing from my radio the military introduction to “Cathy’s Clown”, my favorite Everly Brothers’ hit–their first for Warner Bros., at the corner of Thompson Dr. and Lodge Ave.

fall 1960: playing one of my first 45 rpms in the kitchen of a friend: “Alley Oop”

fall 1960: listening attentively to the funny dramatic story of “Mr. Custer” in our kitchen on the radio; a lot of songs were stories and dramas that you could imagine yourself in

Jan. 1961: another story song “North to Alaska” sounded loud and big as did all the memorable radio hits of the day; this made me want to see the movie, but I wouldn’t see it till I was an adult some 25 years later; then the lyrics all made sense: “big Sam left Seattle in the year of ’92…”; I should also point out Johnny Horton’s first hit “Ballad of New Orleans” which made me–similar to the Elvis experience–after seeing it performed on the Ed Sullivan Show run outside my house afterward, full of the largeness of the buoyant experience; powerful stuff, music

summer 1961: I made my first solo trip downtown to Lillian Lewis Records, which had just opened on a Saturday beside the Mall Hotel, to buy 3-45 rpm hits: B, Bumble’s “Bumble Boogie”, the Marcels’ “Blue Moon”, and Floyd Cramer’s “On the Rebound”; interesting that two of these were instrumentals

End of Part 1.
I’ll conclude by saying that my parents let me use their record player when I was only 3. From 3-5, my mother used to plunk me down in front of the cathedral radio-record player we had while she popped out for errands so I was exposed to a lot of daytime radio shows and music. I can still recall being scared by Stan Freberg’s “Dear John” with its spooky and overwrought radio drama-style laughter.

Music has been at least half my life. I later learned to play guitar during the Hootenany-Beatles era (gr. 10 on) and started playing for audiences in grade 12 into my university years. For one year (1968), I fronted a folk trio featuring now-T.O.jazz saxist Glen Hall and former Burton Cummings’ bassist Ian Gardiner. I was also a solo folk singer and fronted a folk quartet, Clover, around Winnipeg in 1969-70).

In Edmonton, I did some solo folk gigs at a local coffeehouse, then led and played 3 years in a duo, a trio, and quartet in Grand Centre (now Cold Lake). I would do annual performances at Edmonton schools I taught in from 1975 to 2002. My last gig was for a government picnic a few years back and the chops were still good then.

Yeah, music has still plays a huge role in my life. I listen to it daily and have quite the collection of the old folk, rock, jazz, and classical. My tastes broadened over the years. I should also mention that I wrote some 20 songs, which were praise by the likes of Glen Campbell’s manager, Rita McNeil, and Jack Richardson–the first producer of The Guess Who.

I may come back to finish the ’60s memories of individual songs, time permitting….

(The record collector seller of old wares a few years ago)

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