Posted by: boromax | December 28, 2016

Early Music Memories

Musical inputs to my personality and character began while I was still in the womb.  I am fairly certain about this.  I am the youngest of five children.  When my mom was carrying me, she was no doubt already singing and making music with my older siblings.  Pretty good chance when the doctor whacked me, I broke out in song.  Probably “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” but it might have been “Sixteen Tons” or “Amazing Grace.”

Multiple genres surrounded my consciousness during my childhood, but no doubt the most prominent was singing at church.  More often than not, I think my mom was the one playing the piano during the singing.  And my family was singing at every opportunity; morning, noon, and night.  Every time the extended family got together, my mom’s brothers and sisters were playing their various stringed instruments and singing for hours.  I learned what must have been hundreds of hymns, choruses, and children’s ditties.  For example, this one leaps to my memory:

“I am traveling on the Hallelujah Line,

On the good ol’ Gospel Train.

I am on the right track, and I’m never turning back

To the station of Sin again.

I need no fare, I’m traveling on a Pass;

‘Tis the blood for sinners slain.

I am on the right track, and I’m never turning back

To the station of Sin again.”

There were some “HOO-HOO”s in there to make the sound of the train whistle, and you had to pump your hand up and down like the engineer pulling the cord for the whistle.  Sweetness.

But I also remember receiving accolades for my 4 year old impersonations of Elvis (usually “Teddy Bear,” but it could have been any one of ten or more songs of his I already knew by heart at the time) and Kookie (Edward Burns’ character on “77 Sunset Strip”); especially the way Kookie combed his hair; and sing the theme song – emphasis on the snaps.  Or I might be singing the theme songs from “Mighty Mouse” or “The Alvin Show” or any of a dozen or more other shows.  Or commercial jingles from Alka Seltzer to Winston.

One particularly powerful musical memory I have took place on the school bus.  It had to be late 1963 or early 1964.  My family lived on a farm in rural Illinois at the time.  All five of us kids walked down that quarter-mile dirt lane to the road to catch the bus every morning for the ride into town; the town being the bustling metropolis of Sadorus.

Anyway, I distinctly remember one morning when my oldest sister brought her transistor radio to school.  She probably brought it with her most days, I guess; but on this particular day, a song emerged from that little device that, looking back on it now, I realize had a stunning impact on my young heart and mind (I was eight years old).  It was the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  Other favorite songs of mine from that time period, like “It’s My Party” and “Walk Right In” and “Stay” suddenly took a back seat.

Now, don’t get the wrong impression.  I never actually became a truly rabid Beatles fan.  In fact, I’d say I was always kind of a moderate fan of the Beatles.  I liked their music well enough, but I did not lose my mind over them, exactly.  However…  I did have an extraordinary thing happen in 1966.  My family had moved into the city (Champaign), and I had become a paper boy; back when paper boys were actually paper boys; i.e., delivering papers from our bicycles and all that.  I won a “new subscription contest,” and the prize was…  wait for it…  a ticket to the Beatles concert in Chicago!!!  Yes!!!  I was present at the International Amphitheater in Chicago when the Beatles made their final appearance there on August 12, 1966.  I was ten years old, so my ability to appreciate fully what I was experiencing was unfortunately not quite mature.  But, naturally, I have never forgotten that day.

Nevertheless, one would think an experience like that would have pushed my Beatles-appreciation quotient through the roof, but it didn’t.  I think at the time I was enjoying Paul Revere and the Raiders and Tommy James and the Shondells more than the Beatles.  Also, I was a bit more of a Rolling Stones fan.  Within the next few years I would be successively floored by Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Credence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, and a few dozen other captivating artists.  That train has never stopped.  To this day I still love to experience new sounds, or to be honest even old sounds that I have never ceased to enjoy.  I mean, seriously, I can still listen to songs from those days and marvel at their artistry.

Meanwhile, and simultaneously, I was being exposed to various Southern Gospel and Country & Western artists.  These were my parents’ chosen genres; so, I heard a lot of them; and I liked it, mostly.  Besides Tennessee Ernie Ford and George Beverly Shea, my folks enjoyed the Florida Boys, the Blackwood Brothers, the Happy Goodmans, and many others; especially the Bill Gaither Trio, because I grew up in the denomination from which they emerged.  We sang all of their songs practically every day.  I sang along with everything I could find to sing along with.  My tenor singing voice was honed by singing along with Joe Feeney on the Lawrence Welk Show and with Coy Cook or Tommy Atwood of the Florida Boys as much as by Robert Plant and Chuck Negron.

One of the songs my brother and I would sing together every time we were together is the Blackwood Brothers’ “Heavenly Love.”  My favorite part was going for that high tenor part at the end.  Then, we’d sing “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.”  He was Bill Medley and I was Bobby Hatfield.  To this day, my heart swells when I hear these songs.  I cannot get enough of music.

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Responses

  1. It’s amazing how similar our experience of music has been – even from the womb! (I was getting lullabies of German lieder there). Lots of church music and singing with the family; hymns (though from different hymnals – Presbyterian/Anglican for me, and church music from every Christian tradition; broad exposure to different musical genres – mine was more classical because my daddy was an opera singer. Memories of sitting with him listening to the Saturday afternoon broadcast on the radio with the score open before us and a jar of peanut butter or ice cream…, the folk music of the nations, the great orchestras and all of the great motets & oratorios..I knew all the tenor arias by the time I was 10. Singing naughty Elizabethan rounds with my sister while we washed the dishes; that was how we learned to sing in parts. When we were with my grandparents at holidays, we had a family quartet, with my grandmother on the piano and singing alto. And so much more…Music is as important as air! Thanks for triggering the memories!


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