Except when we were in Germany, I remember always having a piano in the house when I grew up. Recently I found the original receipt for the family Wurlitzer piano from 1957 — the year after I was born. I imagine that my mother always wanted a piano, and my father was able to fulfill that wish some eight years after they were married. I took piano lessons the summer I turned 13 but I cannot say I remember my mother ever playing the keyboard although we did have a collection of music books.
While my father used to sing, especially along with Richard Kiley on the Broadway Cast album of Man of La Mancha and later with albums of Irish music, he was, to the best of my knowledge, not a musician of any kind who played an instrument.
…except for one piece.
I have fond memories of my father standing at the piano and playing an upbeat tune. I remember this from time to time over many years. I had no idea of what it was he played. I asked one of my brothers about it. He suggested maybe it was Chopsticks. I know Chopsticks, and that was not it.
I thought I would never know what the tune was considering I remember it from sixty years ago.
Fabricio André Bernard Di Paolo is a Brazilian musician on YouTube known professionally as Lord Vinheteiro. His videos cover a wide variety of topics from songs you have heard but don’t know the name of, the difference between a cheap and expensive piano, and many more. His videos show a dry sense of humor.
Lord Vinheteiro’s appears to be a stern head master. He clearly is very good musician. One of the hallmarks of his videos is that he usually scowls directly at the camera which is usually to the side of him. There have been several comments that a piece is especially difficult if Vinheteiro has to look at the keyboard as he plays.
Several days ago, Lord Vinheteiro posted a video showing the progression of a piano player from one second to ten years. For him, maybe, but not anyone I know. The best I could do after two months of hard work was a rousing rendition of Tommy’s New Drum March.
At the 35 second mark, Vinheteiro said “One day playing piano.” What came next was a shortened version of the tune I remembered my father playing all those years ago. The tune is known around the world by a number of different names. According to Wikipedia, it is known in Japan asI Stepped on the Cat and in Spain as The Chocolatier. In other countries it is know as the Flea, Pig, Dog, Cat or Donkey March, the Cat’s or Fool’s Polka, or by several other names. In the United Kingdom it is know as Chopsticks — but not what we know by that name in the United States.
The song is said to be an easy tune to play although you could not prove it by me. My father played a boisterous, almost boogie woogie rendition. I would love to hear him play it again.
I was the youngest of three boys. My brothers and I were always pretty close. My oldest brother Larry and I seemed to have the most in common in terms of music. I remember many of the songs that he liked over the years,
I remember him liking a Brenda Lee song that was a hit unto itself and was also the flip side of I’m Sorry. It was a song that I found many years later, much to my surprise, was written by Jerry Reed: That’s All You Gotta Do. The reason I was surprised was because once I heard that factoid, it was so obvious that I felt I should have know it. Larry played that record so many times that I am surprised we did not hear I’m Sorry playing backwards along with that song.
Larry never wasted an opportunity to ride buses. He never realized it, but one of his dreams when he was young was to be a Greyhound bus driver. In early 1963 there was a song that I loved so much that my mother sent Larry out to buy the record for me — Puff, the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary. Whether he had to or not, Larry spent just about the entire day taking buses all over Staten Island to find it.
Later that year Larry bought a record for himself. I was with him one day when he played it when my Mother walked in. I don’t know why but she got really mad at him for his purchase: The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget by the Raindrops. To this day I still have no idea what got her so mad.
When we moved to Germany in 1964 we did not have television so music was one of our biggest forms of entertainment. We bought records like we never had before. One of the first Larry bought was Remember (Walking In The Sand) by the Shangri-las.
Maybe the reason my brothers and I were so close is because we moved around a lot and saw a number of different things, such as our trip to Berlin in 1965.
After we returned to the United States, we drove across country in June 1966. My father always had the radio on in the car and one of the songs we heard was Little Girl by the Syndicate of Sound. Larry liked it but was not sure of the name. He bought the record before we had any way to play it, not sure if it was the right one. He saw in the TV listings that the group was going to be on American Bandstand. Larry never really watched the show, but he made sure he did that week.
Another song Larry liked in 1966 was Hey Joe. He did not know who it was by, but he saw it on an album so he bought it. When I saw the album cover, I was totally bewildered. I had never seen anything like it before. It was a bit much for my ten-year-old brain to comprehend.
That was not the version he wanted. He was looking at the version by the Leaves which he found on KJR 16 All American Hits.
Years went by. College, marriages, life goes on. The three of us would have a chance to get together from time to time.
On January 1, 2002, the three of us got together in Leavenworth, Washington. Besides being New Years Day, it was also Larry’s fifty-second birthday. Larry and Steve had their wives and the five of us had a great time.
My birthday was on a Saturday that year. To help me celebrate it, my son was going to spend the weekend with me. At about 2:30 in the morning, my son came in to tell me that my Father was on the phone.
“Your brother, Larry, is dead.” I know why he phrased it that way. My mother had been fighting cancer for over twenty years. As “mother” and “brother” sounded very similar, my father wanted to be sure I understood exactly what he was saying.
It has been twenty years since I last saw Larry. It took me years to come to grips with his passing, but I still am not used to it.
If a driver of a standard automobile were to see a NASCAR race car, he could tell it was an automobile. However, he would notice many things that were different on it than what he had at home. A similar comparison could be made with turntables. Someone with a good home turntable would know what a broadcast turntable did. He might even be able to figure out how to operate it, but he would recognize that a broadcast turntable was a different animal from a home turntable.
The following video shows what an old broadcast turntable looks like. Before you play the video, look at the picture. The turntable has a 45 on it. Looking closely, you can see that the 45 is in a recessed area of the platter. That recess also includes a large spindle for 45’s in the center. The raised outer area of the platter is where an album would rest. Above the recessed 45 spindle is the standard spindle for albums.
The platters were very heavy and were driven by a rubber roller that transferred power from a high-torque motor. That motor allowed the turntable to come up to speed in about one-quarter of a turn at 45, one-third of a turn at 33. The shaft from the motor had three levels on it to provide the three different speeds. The speed control lever also had one or more neutral positions available that allowed the platter to be turned by hand.
Unlike the way the person who made the video would cue a record, I would put the turntable in to neutral. That allowed me to quickly cue up a 45 — literally in less than five seconds once the 45 was on the platter.
There is something about Christmas that brings me back to Christmases long past and memories of loved ones long gone.
For years my mother would use tempera paint and do a Christmas-themed picture in a large front window of wherever we lived at the time. Her inspiration would come from either a Christmas card that she liked or even from the cover she liked from an album of Christmas music. I have long thought of doing the same thing but I don’t have enough confidence in my artwork to even try.
Every year my mother would bring out her Christmas albums. One of the albums she played was by the Robert Shaw Chorale. I was always moved by the gospel sounding Mary Had a Baby. I looked forward to hearing it every year.
This is the other Robert Shaw Chorale album but with the same type of label as the above record. I found the labels to be works of art.
Another album my family had was the somewhat bizarre ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians and Glee Club. The title cut was the one I remember most.
As years went by my mother would start listening to Christmas music on the radio. In the early 1970’s, San Francisco had two commercial classical music radio stations on the FM dial, KDFC and KKHI, with the latter being my mother’s preferred station. Every year on Christmas Day KKHI would play an eclectic selection of Christmas music. The only thing about the music was that it had to reflect the meaning of the day and be heartfelt. I don’t recall any “We’re expected to record some Christmas music so here it is” stuff. They may have played some secular music, but I doubt they would have played Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The music had to reflect the feeling of the day as I recall. While it might be an exaggeration, it seemed that if Led Zeppelin had recorded a Christmas song, KKHI would have played it on December 25.
One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs was Nat King Cole’s version of the 1945 Robert Wells/ Mel Torme’s composition, The Christmas Song.
For years I only knew Cole’s 1961 stereo rerecording of the song. In the mid 1980’s, my friend Mad Man Moskowitz played his old 78 of the song. To me it is the definitive recording. I don’t think anyone else should even try.
Whether your memories of Christmases past be happy or bittersweet, may this Christmas be a good one and bring a smile to your face in future years.
Music has a way of etching itself into your memory even if you don’t consciously remember it. My father always had the radio on when he drove. Before he went to Korea in 1960 he would listen to KSFO in San Francisco. They played what was then called “Middle of the Road” music. Frank Sinatra would have been the type of artist they played. In the late 1950’s I’m sure they played Big Band music to a certain extent – not really the swing stuff, but the more melodic tunes from the late war, early post-war era.
In 1984 I bought an album of Harry James’ Greatest Hits. I knew some of the songs on that album but not all. One tune stood out to me. I did not know it, but I knew it. It was Man With a Horn.
As that song played it was almost as if I was three years old again. It brought back a memory of riding in the car high on a hill overlooking a bit of a valley in or near San Francisco/Daly City. There was a billboard, I think for Dial Soap, with a working clock at the upper left-hand corner.
In 1985 I attended the National Association of Broadcasters convention In Las Vegas. A company that provided music services was giving out sample CD’s and I picked up one. On it was a recording from 1955 – Band of Gold by Don Cherry. Again, it blew off dust from the recesses of my memory.
Another song that takes me back is Old Cape Cod by Patti Page even though I have known this record for years. I seem to remember hearing this in an old military building on the Presidio of San Francisco.
KSFO also had what has to be the most beautiful jingle I have ever heard. It still brings me back to the San Francisco of my childhood.
That is the long version — there was also a shorter version. That jingle made such an impression on me that I remember where I was when I last heard it on the air in March, 1972.
There are also songs that bring me back to a specific incident.
My Grandfather lived in Washington DC until I was 15. When we lived in New York we would visit him from time to time. It was not unusual for my Grandfather to give us a dollar to buy something in the stores on H Street North East. One time, I bought a friction-motor toy of a 1960 Chevy station wagon. My oldest brother bought a record: Rinky Dink by Dave “Baby” Cortez. As my brother played the record, I pretended that it was playing on the radio in my toy car.
My oldest brother liked ships and other things nautical. The July 7, 1965 issue of Life Magazine had an article about yachting on the Riviera. Being interested in such things, he bought a copy. The lady in a bikini on the cover probably did not hurt, either.
While he was looking at that we listened to the first record by the Four Tops that I remember: I Can’t Help Myself.
That is the power of music. It brings you back to an earlier time. It is the closest thing we will ever have to a time machine.
I never was much of a dancer. Sure, I had been in the last two spring musicals at school but there is a difference between having two months of rehearsals with a choreographer telling you what to do as opposed to getting out on the dance floor without making a fool of yourself. Up to that point I had gone to two school dances; a sock hop in the seventh grade – where I didn’t dance – and a dance in the eighth grade where a friend goaded me into asking the girl I had a terrible crush on – the Principal’s daughter – to dance. Those were the only two dances I had been to.
It was late May 1974. In less than two weeks I would officially be a high school graduate. I wasn’t planning on dancing at this dance. That wasn’t why I was going. One reason I was going was because it was an oldies dance and I liked oldies. The main reason I was going, though, was that the DJ for the dance was the program director of KFRC, the big Top 40 station in San Francisco. I was hoping maybe I would have a chance to talk to him. Actual dancing was the farthest thing from my mind — I knew the best I could do was move like I had stuck my finger in an electrical outlet.
I hadn’t been at the dance too long when Rita came up and asked me to dance. That was great. I knew who she was and I thought she was cute. She didn’t say but I got the impression she had seen my award-winning performance as the Mayor of Sweet Apple, Ohio in the school’s recent production of Bye Bye Birdie. We danced to a couple of songs. An elephant probably would have done a better job on the dance floor than I did. Rita asked me if I knew a particular dance. I told her no. At that point she decided that I was not as great a dancer as she had ever seen and left me to fend for myself.
Shortly after that I bumped into Sandy. We had become friends in our co-ed PE class. I don’t know who asked who, but we danced to a couple of songs. Maybe because I was with a friend I felt relaxed and was beginning to warm up. We then took a break from each other.
A song or two passed and I bumped into Karen. Karen worked in the school library the period after I did. I don’t know who asked who, but we danced to a couple of songs. We then took a break from each other.
Shortly after that, Patty came up and asked me to dance. I knew Patty to see her but she was never in any of my classes and we had never spoken. We danced to a couple of songs as I had with Sandy and Karen.
In the meantime I had introduced myself to the DJ. He had an actual broadcast console, two turntables, a reel-to-reel tape deck in case he had turntable problems, a powerful amplifier, huge speakers, and several hundred 45’s. These records were not just any records that happened to find their way into his boxes – they were specifically chosen because they were good records to dance to.
Everything he played was great. He had a version of Honky Tonk by Bill Doggett which put parts 1 and 2 together. That had a groove that would have gotten Dracula out of his coffin at noon to dance.
Not wanting to make a nuisance of myself I did not stay on stage too long. I went back out into the crowd and found Sandy again. Like before, we danced to a couple of songs then went our separate ways. By now I was having a great time. I danced with Karen again and then Patty.
That was the pattern for most of the night. Two dances with Sandy, two with Karen, two with Patty, onto the stage to talk to the DJ, rinse and repeat.
At one point I was getting a little worn out. Karen and I were going to dance to one song then take a break. I forgot what song it was but it had a medium-fast tempo. That song ended and the next one began. It had a medium, slightly faster tempo. Karen and I looked at each other and said, “We have to dance to this one. Then we’ll take a break.”
The DJ kept doing that. Each new song that came on was just a little faster than the one before. If there was too big of a jump we would have said, “No, we need to take a break.” But with just a slight increase in tempo each new record was like a siren song that we could not resist. One of the songs in that set – but not the fastest by far – was California Sun by the Rivieras.
Faster and faster. We kept dancing as if there was no tomorrow. I remember at one point I shook my head and sweat came flying off of my hair like I was a dog shaking off after a swim. We must have been ready to drop. This set of music must have gone on for more than twenty minutes. We were to the point where we just could not have danced to another fast song. Then the DJ slowed it way down.
As soon as Lenny Welch began singing Since I Fell For You, Karen and I fell into each other’s arms like we were in day three of a 1930’s dance marathon. That was the last song before the DJ took a twenty-minute break. Karen and I went outside to cool off.
After the break the evening progressed much the same as it had before. I was having the time of my life. When the dance was over I stayed behind and helped the DJ pack up his gear and his records and carry them out to his VW van. He gave me a personal invitation to go down to KFRC for a tour. It has often been said that shy people become radio DJ’s. That was the case with me: I never took him up on the invitation and I regret it to this day.
As I drove home, my hands felt a little odd on the steering wheel. I stopped and looked: I had blisters on my palms from clapping and on my thumbs and middle fingers from snapping.
That was over forty-six years ago but just the thought of that night still puts a smile on my face.