Friday, 1 January 2010
Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 63
(M/Dover, New Jersey)
Don't know how you got started on the road to being a music maven, but here's how the music bug bit me, early on. I have to blame my great grandmother. A warm and friendly soul, she let me play "disc jockey" during my preschool era. I actually would line the 78's up, and play them, one at a time while she sat and listened. Tony Martin, There's No Tomorrow, was her favorite. We had a nice assortment of tunes, heavy on piano instrumentals and country. Those records seemed heavy at the time, (and they were to a four year old), once in a while one would break. They were much more fragile than the 45's which followed.
I seemed to have skipped a beat music-wise, because I don’t remember awakening to rock and roll til about fifth grade when Elvis was all the rage at Bayside elementary school in Warwick, Rhode Island. The girls loved him, the boys were jealous and hated him. I was barely aware of what he was about, as a ten year old in 1956. Like most kids of that age, I do remember listening to the radio Saturday nights, under the covers in my room. Grand Old Opry was on when I flipped the dial and heard other, more exciting things. Enter Gorton Junior High, imagine this. In seventh grade, the white haired music teacher put aside the last ten minutes for her students to play music on the large Hi Fi, in the back of the room. We were allowed to bring in records from home and share them with the class. I brought in Marv Johnson's You Got What it Takes. Someone else brought in an Annette recording of First Name Initial. Our notebook covers were plastered with the names of songs we liked, and the girls were all ga-ga over Ricky or Elvis. I actually carried a girl’s books home for her once.
The flavor of the times was Lloyd Price, I'm Gonna Get Married, and Johnny Horton, All For The Love Of a Girl. Tequila, and Pink Shoe Laces. The A &P where we bought our food, had a little place put aside where they sold 45's by the Parade Company of Newark, New Jersey, which were recordings of Top Hits, by unknown studio artists. You could buy two 45's containing 12 "Hits" which were sometimes pretty good. More often they were sadly lacking the punch of the originals. For 99 cents, all the top hits to play on your Sears Silvertone monaural single play phonograph in your room late at night after everyone was asleep.
Radio was a magical force to be reckoned with. Providence is fifty miles or so away from Boston, and Boston radio stations stayed on twenty four hours a day, when nothing was on locally. WCOP, and WMEX, AM giants at the time, were my stations of choice, with WCOP coming in better. I heard Jerry Lee Lewis the first time on WCOP in the wee hours.
I didn't know from doo wop, so you see I got a very late start. That kind of music was just part of the general mix, with no particular significance to me or anybody I knew. We did grow to love group harmony (the New York sound) as one of the local DJ's, Joe Thomas, liked to call it on his nightly show on WPAW in Pawtucket. And Carl Diggens had a weekly blues show Sunday afternoon on WRIB, a thousand watt daytimer that programmed religion, foreign language, and whatever you wanted as long as you bought the time. That blues sound was a little too deep for me, however, but they did program pop music during the week after school.
(to be continued)
Top image: single-play 4-speed Silvertone phonographs from the 1958 Sears Christmas Catalogue - hope one of them fits with Clarke's memories. Found at wishbookweb.
Update 27/8/13: Annette Funicello died on 8th April. This is what Clarke wrote on a social networking website - hope he won't mind my adding it here:
I feel sad about Annette passing. She represented something very true and dear to so many of us, an ethic that seems to have washed ashore only to be abandoned in the Hollywood of today. She was part of our coming of age, and the sensibility that it brought with it, a sense of honor, respect and love. Classy music that blasted out of the tenement windows as well as suburban backyards that spoke softly of love and loudly about cars. There was always something inately sexy about "the girl next door" and stars like Debbie Reynolds as Tammy and Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass evoked. Today our last remaining girl next door might be aging. Sandra Bullock, please stay healthy.