You call that old?

I’ve been reading blogs about “classic rock” by writers talking about times they’ve read about, being too young to remember some of it. Sometimes they bring back memories and sometimes introduce me to things I hadn’t known.

My earliest musical memories are my brothers’ records. Both were teens in the 1950s. The first records were 78s. Three stick in my mind, one a big band record from the 40s, and here they are.

Pre-rock n roll with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and “Opus No 1” by Cy Oliver
“Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard, who taught Paul McCartney to shout “woo” and shake his hair.
“Don’t Be Cruel”, the flip side of “Hound Dog”. Once I heard Big Mama Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog”, Elvis’s paled in comparison; partly because it left out the primary concept of the song, comparing a lover to a hound dog “snoopin’ ’round my door”, and letting him know that sex was out of the question with “I won’t feed you no more”.

The first album I recall was Duane Eddy’s “especially for you” with “His ‘twangy’ guitar and The Rebels”. We played it on my brother’s portable stereo, which looked a lot like this:

Theme from Peter Gunn, an early TV detective show

When we moved to 45s, the record pile grew quickly. We played them on my sister’s record changer, which looked a lot like this.

My first single was a cover of The Beatles’ “She Loves You”, on Hit Records, a Nashville label that did note-for-note knock-offs of current hits and charged half as much as normal 45s. My own first album was the 1964 release “In Touch With Peter and Gordon”. This was the hit single:

Like most artists of the British Invasion, they listened to the blues and tried to cover blues songs. Here is their attempt at Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”, followed by Little Walter’s original recording.

After hearing the real thing, my musical tastes changed, aided by Big Bro, host of “Two for the Blues” on “Up Against the Wall” FM radio. I had to listen to it under the covers, down low, with the lights off, as broadcasts were 10:30 PM to 3 AM and I got up at 4:30 to work starting at age 12.

The hosts of “Up Against the Wall” up against the wall of Breese Stevens Field.

As a result, the first touring acts I saw live were BB King, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.

[Breese Stevens Field is the home of the Flamingos of Forward Madison FC, whose official mascot is Lionel Bessi, a Holstein cow. The Flamingos are named after the city’s official bird, the plastic pink lawn flamingo, after a stunt in which 1008 plastic pink flamingos were placed on Bascom Hill in 1979. (See previous post re: Pail and Shovel Party and thousands of dollars in pennies.) It is also the place where I first promoted a concert and learned to do things myself instead of trusting others to keep their promises. I was urged to find an older and more experienced person to help me, as I was 16 or 17. It was his idea to save time by having each band bring part of the equipment and share it so we wouldn’t have to take so much time resetting the stage. Of course, the band he had arranged to bring some crucial stuff never showed up, so I (and another band that I had brought on-board) had to scramble to get equipment on site as the potential audience milling about outside started leaving when they heard no music. I, of course, am not bitter or anything;). This was to be a major fundraiser for Young World Development (see previous post). Fundraiser, yes. Major, no.]

Photo by Michael Kienitz

For those not familiar with Lionel Bessi’s namesake, here’s a look at his skills.

I also found video of an 8 year old Lionel already showing dribbling finesse, a powerful left foot, and the ability to be in the right place at the right time:

Maybe that lack of sleep in my formative years made me what I am today. That, coupled with being sick, means most of my exercise today is for my ears and fingers. (And too much for my eyes!) De-decorating the Christmas tree, hauling it out, cleaning up, and a couple of trips up and down the stairs was way more aerobic than it should be.

Soon I should be back on the bike and maybe writing about that again.

Saigon has fallen!

It was April 29, 1975. Bonnie Raitt was playing the Capitol Theatre. Between songs, someone came out on stage and whispered in her ear. She nodded and went on to play the song she was going to play anyway. After that song she announced to the crowd, “Saigon has fallen!” A cheer erupted and the concert kicked into another gear.

We all saw this image of people scrambling to board helicopters to escape Saigon.

The concert crowd spilled onto the street at the end for an impromptu party, which moved to a nearby street to go long into the night.

I’ve just read Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”, the chronicle of a 1980s childhood spent trying to be a “Real American”. She ate the foods and adopted the fads that I had spent my youth rejecting. She embraced the myths that unfolded before her. It is only the privilege of belonging that affords us the luxury of rejection. What does it mean to “be an American”?

To those of us who had opposed that war, the fall of Saigon meant the hope that the Vietnamese could find a new life out from under the thumb of the US, and France before us. To some who had fought in that war, the aftermath was a time to help the country rebuild after a generation of occupation. To those like Ms Nguyen, it was a bewildering time, a childhood escape (with her father but not her mother) and an embrace of middle class US life in a town that was not ready to accept her.

But that night, it was first and foremost a celebration of spring. It was the cultural event of the season, an annual rite that we weren’t always aware of until looking back.

45 years after she first recorded this, she’s still got it.

Bonnie Raitt was schooled in the blues, playing with Muddy Waters (with whom I saw her in 1978), Junior Wells, Fred McDowell, and John Lee Hooker. She recorded the work of Sippie Wallace and appeared in concert with her. When commercial success eluded her, she also played with the likes of James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Delbert McClinton, and anyone else you might care to name. Her duets with John Prine on “Angel from Montgomery” are the stuff of legend.

She became an overnight success nearly 20 years in, with a single on the charts in John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”, a Grammy for a duet with John Lee Hooker (“I’m in the Mood”) and three other Grammys for that album and her title song “Nick of Time”. 2022 brought a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.

She’s not done yet, having just completed a sold out tour of the northeast (with NRBQ), with a run through the south in May and continuing east in June (with Lucinda Williams), followed by the rest of the country with Mavis Staples.

And now for something completely different

More kids growing up

I went on a long ride Sunday – long mostly because of the 20+ mph headwind for the first 35 miles. I got home in time to see Joel Paterson and the Modern Sounds at the Pursuit of Joel PHappiness Festival. Joel is a phenomenal guitarist who can play anything. He has a number of bands to give him a chance to play multiple styles. The Modern Sounds play old jazz and swing with a little rockabilly, R&B, and blues in the mix. He started playing in these parts as a kid, then grew up and moved to Chicago. He also figures into my life in an indirect sort of way.

Those who know me in another part of my life know I work in health care. It was Joel’s mom who started me on that path. When I was 20 I injured my ankle. I was treated in an emergency room (after fashioning a crutch to get back down from the mountains, but that’s another story) while traveling but it didn’t get better. Walking was an interesting adventure. Running was out of the question. I went to my local free clinic (The Near East Side Community Health Center, which has merged into Access Community Health Centers, run by my friend Ken Loving – another story for another time).

In the free clinic, there was a volunteer position called “Patient Advocate”. The Advocate’s job was to act as a medical assistant (gathering health history and chief complaint) and more. It was the advocate’s job to be sure the patient’s needs were met. The advocate helped the patient formulate questions for the doctor, guided them with follow up questions as needed, and ensured that their needs were met before the doctor left the room.

Joel’s mom was my advocate. (She had also been my sister’s high school classmate.) Before I left the clinic that night, she extracted a promise that I would return as a patient advocate after I saw the orthopedic surgeon they referred me to.

I went back and volunteered as an advocate for a few years. Something must have stuck with me, as I became an Occupational Therapist about 25 years later. Patient advocacy is still an important part of my job.

Joel has a YouTube channel that can give you an idea of his range. Or you can look at what others have uploaded here. I’m not sure what to pick to just link to one or two things. Here’s a Scotty Moore tribute:

Here’s a bit of swing:

How about blues?

Now go listen to him live and buy his albums. A musician can’t make a living if all we do is watch his/her YouTube videos.

Back to bikes for a minute. A while back I posted a series on bike safety. I thought I was done but I left something out – and it’s something I’ve used the past few days.

It’s a baseball metaphor. For those of you who have played, you know what it means to “look the runner back”. You can skip the next paragraph. For those who don’t, read on.

If you’re playing shortstop and there’s a runner on second and a ground ball is hit to you, your natural play is to throw the batter out at first; but you don’t want the runner on second to go to third. You “look him/her back”. You make eye contact in a way that says, “If you break for third, you’re out. Better stay where you are.” When the runner turns back to second, you make your play at first.

It works with drivers. You’re at a four way stop. The car to your left was there first and has the right of way. You let her/him go. The car behind her/him decides to go at the same time. You look her/him back; making eye contact in a way that says, “wait your turn.” That driver know it’s your turn to go and was hoping you’d be cowed because their car is bigger than your bike. Most of the time, the driver will acquiesce, knowing they were trying to pull a fast one. If they go anyway, you let them. You both know what’s what.

In this way you can be an assertive, not aggressive, bicyclist.