Personal Music Descriptions

Of course I know In The Mood by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but it was a hit many years before I was born. My personal description for such a song is, well, that I know it.

Of course I know it. Doesn’t everybody?

A song I know does not necessarily have to be from before I was born. It could also be something that I am old enough to possibly remember from when it was a hit, but don’t. One such song is Lies by the Knickerbockers. Even though it is from 1966, I don’t remember hearing the song until late 1968.

And like everyone else I thought it was the Beatles.

Another song I missed at the time but heard later on is Friday On My Mind by the Easybeats. For some reason, also in late 1968, KJR Seattle played it so often that I though it was new even though is was it was a hit on the US charts a year and a half before. This is another song I know.

It wasn’t until late 1969 when I heard KFRC say it was from 1967 that I knew it was an oldie when KJR played it.

Know is the most basic category of song to me. From there we move to songs I remember. A song I remember is one that I remember from the time it was a hit.

One song I remember was from 1964 after we moved to Germany. AFN Frankfurt had a country show from 4-5 PM (or should I say 1600-1700). From 5 to 6 (1700 to 1800) was a popular music program — the first half hour was top 40, the second half hour was what used to be called MOR (Middle of the Road). This particular song was on both the country and pop charts so it was played on both shows. That song was We’ll Sing In The Sunshine by Gale Garnett. I definitely remember this song. No wonder, considering I heard it twice in the two hours of limited music programming on the station.

And I’ve hated it ever since.

In late Spring, 1969, there was a song KJR started playing. By the time we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in late August, it was ready to drop off the KJR play list — a recurrent in radio parlance. When we got to San Francisco and found KFRC, that song was Hitbound. It is the only song that I heard run its course two consecutive times of heavy airplay. Yeah, I certainly remember Smile A Little Smile For Me, Rosemarie by the Flying Machine, and I sure got tired of it, too.

I guess it wasn’t really their fault.

The thing with a song I remember is that, while I remember it when it was a hit, it does not bring back the vivid mood of a specific time I heard it. It was just part of the woodwork so to speak — even if I do remember a specific time I heard it.

That brings me to what I call Time Machine Songs. Not only do I remember such a song from when it was a hit, but hearing it again transports my mind back in time to a specific time I heard it.

After my grandmother died in January, 1963, we drove from Staten Island for the funeral. After the funeral my mother stayed in Washington DC to help my grandfather. My father was in the Army. He stood like a ramrod and was forever telling us to “stand up straight.” As he drove my two brothers and me back to New York, the latest song by the Four Seasons came on the radio. My father could not pass up the oppourtunity to tell us that that is what we had to do — Walk Like A Man.

On the Pennsylvania Turnpike again.

I previously touched on one particular song from 1965. Whenever I hear I Can’t Help Myself by the Four Tops, I am sitting in our living room looking at the July 9 issue of Life Magazine. I can see many of the pictures. I am not quite nine years old. The song takes me back there.

And the girl on the cover was nice, too.

When my brother was a junior in high school he was involved with an organization called Junior Achievement. One night a week my mother would drive him to the meetings. I would go along for the ride. I don’t remember any other song that I heard on those rides, but Georgie Girl by the Seekers has me in the back seat of the car driving on the hills of downtown Tacoma.

It gets dark early that time of year in Washington State.

Music from any time can bring back memories, but a time machine song puts me in the moment.

Personal Music Descriptions Read More »

Drumming to a different beat

Some thirty-odd years ago I went to a party at a friend’s house. As Robert answered the door there was someone a few feet behind him. Knowing that outside of himself I would be the only person at the party who would recognize the name, Robert whispered to me “That’s Sandy Nelson.”

While his heyday was a bit early for me, I certainly knew who Sandy Nelson was. He had a number of hits in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s, starting with Teen Beat in 1959.

I am not much of a social butterfly at parties. I am the kind of person who will find a like-minded individual and spend my time talking to him. Sandy Nelson was the same kind of person. We made some small talk and went into the kitchen and sat down.

Nelson asked me if I played any musical instruments. I told him that I made noise on the guitar. He had lost part of a leg in a motorcycle accident so he could not really drum anymore. He still wanted to make music so he was teaching himself the piano. One thing that confused him, though, was why the layout of the bass clef and the treble clef were different. I explained to him that they were originally laid out as one giant score with an added line in between for Middle C (which I since found out may not be exactly true). I pointed out that the top line of the bass clef was an A note. Above that was a space for a B note, then a ledger line for Middle C, a space for a D note, and the bottom line of the treble clef was an E note. One almost picked up where the other left off.

“A Guitarist who can read music. I’m impressed.”

“I’m not very good at either.”

“That’s OK. That’s still very good.”

We talked for a quite a while. He talked about the music industry in the late ’50’s. “If you had a kit (a drum set) and a car, you were a session musician.”

After we went out into the living room, Robert brought out a stack of Sandy’s albums. The liner notes on one of them said how he “drummed to his own beat.”

“That means I couldn’t drum my way out of a paper bag.”

I had a very enjoyable evening. Sandy was a nice guy. He did not talk down to me at all, nor did I act like a star-struck fan. We were just two people at a party with similar interests. I never talked to him again.

I just found out that Sandy Nelson passed away last Valentine’s Day. Rest in peace, Mr. Teen Beat.

Drumming to a different beat Read More »


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.

This 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 Photo:

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.

1 Day vs 10 Years Playing Piano

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 as I 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.

One of the many renditions.

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.

Eureka! Read More »


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,

The Brothers; Steve, Larry, and me — 1958

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 known 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.

This sounds like Chubby Checker when you play the 45 at 33.

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.

Larry bravely chased around to find this record for me.

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.

This struck a nerve for some reason.

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.

I feel like my brother is here when I listen to this.

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.

Me, Larry, and Steve at the Berlin Wall — June, 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.

The original video, albeit with the sound re-dubbed.

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.

What the fiddlesticks? Photo: Reprise Records

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.

Back in the days of Channel 95
Original video with original (lip-synced) sound

Years went by. College, marriages, life goes on. The three of us would have a chance to get together from time to time.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil — Easter, 1983
After sitting on the front porch all night talking and watching satellites go by — May, 1995

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.

The last photo of the three brothers together — January 1, 2002

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.

Brothers Read More »

Songs On The Radio

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 33, one-third of a turn at 45. 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.

Tour of a broadcast turntable.

Songs On The Radio Read More »

Music of Christmas Past

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.

A sample of my mother’s Christmas artwork from 1961, Staten Island, New York.

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.

Our copy had a different cover, but this is one of two Robert Shaw Chorale Christmas records that we had.

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.

Robert Shaw Choral Christmas label.

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.

Fred Waring blending styles in 1955.

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.

Nat King Cole’s original 1946 recording.

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.

Merry Christmas.

Music of Christmas Past Read More »

Memories Made With Music

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.

Seeing what time it is.

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.

I know that song from somewhere.

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.

Images of formal dining with ladies in chiffon dresses.

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.

San Francisco on my mind.

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.

Cranking up the radio in a 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.

Music to swim by. Photo: Life Magazine

While he was looking at that we listened to the first record by the Four Tops that I remember: I Can’t Help Myself.

Motown Soul while yachting around.

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.

Memories Made With Music Read More »

Oh! What a Night

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.

From three months after our story Photo:

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.

You gotta love this one

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.

We just couldn’t stop

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.

Relief at last

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.

Oh! What a Night Read More »