So, this is the story of my religious odyssey. It will probably be of interest to no one beyond my grandchildren, but that's the risk you take when you go into the public forum; ask any musician. I am not a musician, by the way. I play at a couple of instruments, and was once offered professional instruction, which I declined. I am not a musicologist, though I was being groomed to be a disc jockey in my youth, and that was definitely part of the curriculum. In much the same way that most of you aren't priests of your various faiths, I simply partake, enjoy, and hopefully, benefit.
I have a few isolated memories that go back to the age of three. I know that our old memories are not photographically accurate, but I cannot remember one moment in my life when I wasn't either the owner or the custodian of some kind of music machine. I initially had a surprisingly good quality 78 rpm phonograph that was probably handed down, and a cardboard box of kiddie records. These were the usual fare, everything from A Little Black Duck to The Three Little Pigs. But mixed in among them were three "grown-up" records. One was some kind of hillbilly opus with Y'all Come on one side, and a song about a little boy who roamed a shanty town and everybody liked, fed, and played with. Ah, but the other two! One was by Spike Jones, a comedic swing artist:
Bongo, bongo, bongo,
I don't want to leave the Congo,
Ah, bingle, bangle, bungle,
I'm so happy in the jungle,
I refuse to go!
The other was by Tex Williams, and was a pure talking country song, sort of a precursor of rap:
Smoke smoke smoke that cigarette.
Puff puff puff it til you smoke yourself to death,
then tell Saint Peter at the pearly gates
that you hate to make him wait,
but you've just gotta have another cigarette!
And the significance of this? I was exposed to swing and country from before the age of awareness. The hilarious lyrics kept me coming back while the rhythms ingrained themselves into my natural resonance (as a special treat, I have found versions of both these songs on MixPod, and will add them to the player for the week that this is the lead post). Grandma wasn't a country fan, so that side never got developed. Big bands were on the way out in the years around 1950, but she did manage to find some on the radio, and I remember a lot of that being played. It was mostly upbeat, uptempo, jazzy, happy, and I liked it, but around 1956-57, when Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, and The Big Bopper hit the scene, all of a sudden it started sounding very dated, like something my grandmother should be listening to. I started seeking out this "rock and roll" music at every opportunity... And then Elvis arrived.
You think the Beatles were big? Well, they were, but they were returning something to us that we'd had before. It was Elvis that gave us the gift in the first place. Think I'm wrong? Then, what Vegas Casino do I visit to see the John Lennon imitator? There was an entrepreneur of the era named Ed Sullivan. You youngsters have probably heard of him, too; he was the Elvis of his own field. He scoured the world to find the greatest acts in entertainment, brought them to New York, and put them on live TV Sunday nights in virtually every American home with a television. He provided our first look at Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors; his prestige was such that, in an era when every person in the United States and the Soviet Union went to bed with the fear that our opponents might unleash nuclear Armageddon while we slept, Ed put the Bolshoi Ballet on a stage in New York. He did more for peace and understanding than all of our posturing politicians combined.
1958 was a banner year for little Jackie Tyler, too. I turned ten, and for my birthday I received my own first "grown-up" record. It was You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog by Elvis Presley. The "B" side was Love Me Tender, and I think that got played once, but I wore the grooves off of Hound Dog. My musical persuasion was fixed by that gift. For Christmas, my mom, on one of her annual visits, gave me one of the early transistor radios. It must have cost more than her car, but when you're a professional gambler, some days you could make the Fortune 500. As well as the pioneers mentioned above, I remember Chuck Berry, and the girl groups who dominated pop music about that time, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, Rosie and the Originals, and of course the Supremes. Also in 1958, during my stint in the third grade, the school's "roving" music teacher decided that I was musically inclined, and that I should learn to play the violin. By then, I had seen a fair number of rock n' roll bands on TV, and I hadn't seen a violin in any of them. I wasn't having it. Grandma's view was that violins (not to mention lessons) cost money, so she wasn't having it either, one of the few instances in which we were in complete agreement. So, due to my ignorance of the subject, I decided not to become a child prodigy on an instrument that is tuned exactly the same as a bass guitar!
I continued to listen to top-40 radio every minute that I could, and being a denizen of a Southern California beach town, somewhere toward the end of 1960 I switched it on and discovered some new kids on the block. They called themselves The Beach Boys, and they sang songs about surfing, the beach in general, cars, girls, school, pep rallies, young love. They made guitars ring like finely cast bells. They rocked the organ. They harmonized like no rock n' roll band I'd ever heard. They became the soundtrack of my youth, making songs, I swear, about every phase I went through. The Beatles came, dragging the whole British Invasion behind them, and I liked a lot of that stuff, but the Beach Boys were music to me. They remained so right up until they released Smiley Smile, an album of musically illiterate psychedelic drivel that I defy anyone to listen to without a puke bag in hand. To me, that was the day the music died.
It was around that time that I picked up a cheap guitar, a chord book, and some sheet music, and started to teach myself the instrument. It's a given that you don't become a Jimmy Page by reading a book, but I made some more fundamental mistakes that limited my enjoyment of it. The biggest was that I would barely learn a song, play it over and over until I got it right once, then move on to the next one, thinking that it was now a permanent part of my repertoire. I continued this procedure for probably twenty years, and I'm pretty sure I can still play fifty or so songs in a barely recognizable fashion, but none of them well enough to even entertain me, never mind anyone else.
Late 60s, early 70s, I moved on to hard rock. The real stuff, not this modern noise-fest. Real hard rock as performed by the likes of Kiss, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith was rock n' roll's Holy Thunder. Attending one of those concerts was a true religious experience! By 1980, they were gone. Oh, you see flickers of it yet. Iron Butterfly played at a local swap meet a few years back, and they still roll the Stones out on gurneys to put on a shadow of their former shows, but I spent the 1980s listening to Classic Rock stations, because nothing new was being produced.
Oh, but it was, and it always had been. Simmering right below my radar was this awesome thing called Jazz. I began the process of discovery that continues to this day in 1991, when I got the job I still hold because I can't bear to go back to 9-5. I work at night. I work on weekends. Often my only companion is my radio, and it was then that I discovered Jazz 88.3, the station that is as much an education as it is entertainment. It's in the sidebar; stream it sometime. It will move you. I discovered a love of torchy women. What are they? Diana Krall is on the player. She'll show you. And do you think that jazz is easy listening, that it can't rock the foundation? Check out Lily was Here by Hans Dulfer's little girl, Candy. She'll straighten you out on that point! And, what the hell is Jimmy Buffett doing? Rock? Country? Reggae? All of those styles are glad to claim him, but he doesn't quite fit the molds. He fits into jazz, though. It's that broad.
It turns out that I've always been a jazz lover, and just didn't know it. Back when I was carrying that little transistor radio around, there were a few jazz songs that made the jump to mainstream. I've even found a couple for the player. Alley Cat, Green Onions, and Cast Your Fate to the Wind would turn up between rock n' roll classics, and everything had to come to a halt while I gave my full attention to those magnificent rhythms and instruments. I just never knew there was a whole thriving genre behind it just waiting to be discovered. I guess it doesn't matter; I've discovered it now. And, thanks to a blind preacher named T, I've been introduced to my true love, the blues. My education continues at his knee, and if you want to know what real music is, stream the station 8:00 to Midnight, Pacific Time, on Saturday nights. Be careful, though. The blues is a drug, and it will hook you.
I so want to partake that last August I bought a harmonica, the book Harmonica for Dummies, and an instructional DVD by David Hart. This time I'm concentrating on one song at a time until I can play it perfectly at the drop of a hat. I have learned two, and am working on the third. Think the harmonica is a toy? On the player is Rachelle Plas performing Magic Dick's harmonica anthem, Whammer Jammer. I only dream of getting sounds like that out of a toy!
That brings me up to date on this documentary look at my religion. In closing, I should say that the rather subdued music on the player is certainly not the extent of my musical taste. The first day it had a lot of more uptempo, attention-demanding music on it more reflective of my whole range. The second day, I toned it down, because hopefully you come here to read, and it can be pretty distracting when Guitar Shorty comes at you with old school blues, or Marsha Ball wants to play with your poodle in 12/4 time. Rachelle had to stay, though. That bad little teenager is just too good! Also, I considered padding this article out with still photos of some of the old groups I mentioned. Not necessary. It's long enough, and the point is the music; the padding is on the player. I just hope you had fun during your visit.
Before I go, let me extend a huge Hideout welcome to the Perpetual Vacationers, who unlike most of my Special Friends, weren't steered here by a referral, but just wandered in and decided to stay a while. I hope it's a long while, my friends, but it will be incumbent on me to keep the entertainment up to your standards; I promise to try.
And the trying will continue on the 28th, if all goes according to plan. Look for me then, spread the word, and enjoy the music! Now get out there and live life like you mean it!