Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Music for a lifetime of pleasure

Camp Connell, CA -- I've always liked music.

But I can't respond to the "Post your 15 Favorite Albums" requests floating around on Facebook because I have hundreds of favorites.

My earliest childhood memories are hearing my mother sing while preparing dinner after she came home from work. Even tired, she would hum or sing and the sound drifted through our apartment, often an Irish lullaby like "Tura lura lura" or something popular from the radio shows we listened to at night.

My father sang too, though almost always while driving on the highway between work assignments. He liked tunes he had learned in the 1920s including Stephen Foster stuff.
In the summers I would travel the South with him, singing loudly riding down the highways and being careful to quiet down when we passed through small towns. This was in the days before air conditioned cars and the windows were always open. We sang "Suwanee River" very loud when we crossed the bridge over dark black water in North Florida.

Music was a staple in public schools and teachers had us singing or playing instruments every day, usually a loud version of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" of something similar. In the Fifth Grade were were all required to sing in a city wide cantata. Lyrics were written for the Sugar Plum Fairy and more than a thousand of us sang our little hearts out in the town's biggest football stadium.

I started playing in bands when I was in junior high school and kept it up into junior college. There were a lot of Sousa marches, and I even got to play tympani in a city-wide high school orchestra once in the Orange Bowl in Miami.

The highlight of those years were numerous trips to march in Mardi Gras parades both in Mobile and in New Orleans. We played marching band versions of jazz tunes, but ended up at midnight in the bars on bourbon street listening to the real thing played by Al Hurt or Pete Fountain. We rarely paid attention to the trio backing up stripper Candy Bar, who became famous for going to prison for marijuana possession, as she peeled out of her clothes.

In my hometown of Mobile our informal high school parties had black musicians from across the South, many of them famous. Ivory Joe Turner played at a dance at the military prep school attended (to the chagrin of some very white parents).
Even our church choir had a junior/senior high choir that traveled to other cities.
I briefly played in a dance band and we did tunes like "Begin the Beguine" and a few songs we learned from the Hit Parade TV show, or jazz tunes we had heard on the radio.
And I even went to hear the Metropolitan Opera performances while in college, mostly so I could skip class and ride the bus shared with lots of college girls. But I liked it.

Music was everywhere. I went to hear a Grand Old Opry tour group including Minnie Pearl and the Geezinslaw Brothers at a local lodge hall with my parents with 25 or so people who paid about a dollar each.

Summer evening dances across the bay at Point Clear featured standard dance tunes and mosquitoes. Winter formal dances required fancy attire and bigger bands that tried to imitate the Dorsey Brothers.

By the time I was in the Army I was a full-blown folk music fan and could discuss Dylan and Baez and Seeger, play three chords on the guitar, and even knew what a Child Ballad was.
Albums from my college years included the Weavers and the Kingston Trio, the Four Freshmen, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and lots of long-forgotten folk and jazz artists.

Rock and Roll music was always a part of what I liked, but never a passion.

I passed up a chance to see Elvis for free because he was a bit too hillbilly for me.

I heard the Fifth Dimension perform in Las Vegas once, and went to enough Jimmy Buffet concerts to tire of drunk college students.

I learned to like some country music, mostly the older performers who kept it basic, emotional, and a bit corny.

I had a John Denver period, and to this day am an avid admirer of Jimmy Buffet and Paul Simon.
About the only music I never learned to like was acid rock. Rap isn't musical enough to interest me (but then, Bob Dylan can't actually sing much either and I really like his stuff).
Today my iTunes file and book shelves are loaded with all the above, plus Celtic and Irish stuff, and one of the world's great song writers that I discovered a bit late in life: John Prine.

Before I share John Prine with you, here is an attempt at listing some of my favorite albums (or the artists) that have stood the test of time:

Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band et al (The best collection of old-time performers with modern admirers who happen to be great musicians)
Graceland by Paul Simon (Maybe the single most original album I have ever heard)
The Essential Doc Watson
Les Miserable by the London cast (I still cry when the little boy gets shot)
Doc & Dog
Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio (an album that set fire to the folk revival)
Finlandia by the London Philharmonic (stirs the soul)
Frank Sinatra, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (no one ever sang his songs better)
Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles
Mahalia Jackson's Greatest Hits (1963)
Newport Folk Festival, 1963 (performances that sparked a revolution)
John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Album (don't laugh. It's great)
The Weavers at Carnegie Hall (history right there on the stage)
James Taylor's Greatest Hits
Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffet (his best writing)
Boats from the Jimmy Buffett box set
Dr. Michael White, A Song For George Lewis (A New Orleans classic)
Feels Like Home by Norah Jones
Julie London's Cry Me a River (I was in love with her at 18)
The Best of Irish Folk

Scotland the Real
Men's Resource Center by DooDooWah
Club Trini (Buffet's Band at its best)
Four Freshmen and Four Saxes
Duke Ellington, Ellington at Newport
Dan Zane
Jim Croce
The Bill Gaither Quartet
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
Jay Unger and Molly Mason (anything they play)

I will be remembering albums I left off this list that belong there for weeks to come. You can get a sample of some of these artists by doing a Google search. Try it. You'll like it.

If you want to expand your musical vocabulary and hear a gutsy and bawdy original song, try "In Spite of Ourselves" on this UTube link:

Another Prine song, "In a Town This Size," captures life in a community like the one we live in as perfectly as Ansel Adams caught Yosemite Valley on film.

Consider this:

In a town this size, there is no place to hide.
Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know.
You can't steal a kiss, in a place like this
How the rumors do fly, in a town this size

In a smoky bar
in the back seat of your car
in your own little house
someone's sure to find you out

What you do, and what you think
What you eat, and what you drink
If you smoke a cigarette
They'll be talking about your breath

In a town this size.....

There's no place to hide...

You can hear it at


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