Monday, June 20, 2016

FAMILY REUNIONS

How I do dread family reunions.  All the small talk that has to take place to catch up with everyone.  The noise that comes with twenty or thirty people all talking at once.  The little kids running around that I have no idea who they belong to and trying to stay out of their way as they dart around so quickly.  I have stayed away from these events as much as I could over the years.  I have a hard time believing that anyone really cares what is going on in my little life and along with that, my life seems so mundane compared to what they are doing and accomplishing.  I always felt like I was a stranger in a strange land when attending a reunion.

That is until last year.  Last summer I reluctantly went to the Clark reunion.  I ended up feeling the need to leave a little early but while I was there I discovered something.  The Clark family is a great family.  They are full of love and are very caring and interesting.  I reconnected with my Uncle Jim that day and remembered what a fun guy he had always been while I was growing up.  I discovered my cousins to be very caring and thoughtful, as they always have been.  My Aunts on the Clark side are some of the most beautiful ladies inside and out that there is.  I could pick up or talk to little kids that could hardly talk themselves, but they seemed to take to me and bring me a sense of joy.  I found myself talking to these Aunts and Uncles and getting sincere hugs and handshakes from them as they told me and my wife they were so very glad to see us.  There was a lot of respect given and taken by and for everyone there.

Then this last weekend I went to the Hill reunion and found much the same thing.  Although I have not distanced myself from the Hills as much as I have from the Clarks, there was still that connection that I saw with the Clarks.  Aunts and Uncles, cousins and kids all getting together just to enjoy each other.  To actually get to know these relatives that I have spent my whole life with.  To pick up a one year old and be trusted by said one year old to carry her around talking to her.  To have a chance to tease my cousins and to laugh.  I don't laugh much in day to day life but a couple of times Saturday, I found myself grinning and almost breaking into an outright laugh.

That is what family can do.  When you make that connection on a level much deeper than you can with strangers or friends, you feel it deep inside.  I felt that with the Clarks and the Hills.

I am getting old.  Two generations ahead of me have all passed on and I miss them so much.  Now the generation ahead of me, my parent's generation, is starting to fade away and soon they will be taken from us as well.  I find my own generation, my cousins, getting up there in age as well.  How much longer will I have with these special people that make up my family on both sides?  I am not sure.  What I am sure of though is that time continues to tick away everyday, every month, every year and with time continuing on as it does, I will lose other members of my family before I pass on myself.

Family is important.  I am extremely lucky to have the Clarks and the Hills as my family.  Both are filled with very good people who are always there for support.  These same people are always grateful for support given them when they are in need of it.  I don't believe anyone in either of those families takes anybody that is a member of the family for granted.  Each year as they gather, they rejoice in seeing those who share the same history.

I have discovered my wife's families and have learned that they are very good people that care and love her enough to care and love me because of her.  I have found new cousins that I can follow and talk to and learn about.  I have found that many of these "new" cousins have a lot in common with me and we share quite a bit with each other.  I have also watch members of my wife's family pass on and have felt the sadness that comes with these losses.  When Barb's Aunt Mary Lee died, I felt a sincere loss in my life.  She was such a sweet lady, and a sincere lady who always made it clear that she was glad to see me.  I do miss her and will for the rest of my life.

Well, this is a short entry I know, but I think it is an important one.  Family IS important.  Don't take them for granted.  Offer support and I promise that when you need support, it will come back to you ten fold.

I truly am grateful for the families that I hail from.  I am proud to be a Clark and a Hill.  I am proud to be associated with the Tarwaters and the Kissingers.  I am a member of some very special groups of people and I continue to be amazed by the people who make up these families.

I am truly blessed.

Friday, May 27, 2016

IN AND OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT - PT 4

Teddy was playing the final notes on the piano of his first song "One For Two" when the applause from the small crowd started.  As he finished he stood up quickly, took of his hat and bowed to the crowd.  They had been a good audience, people who knew his music and knew who Teddy Senner had been.  As he waved his hat in the air and yelled out a big "thank y'all" to the crowd the applause rose even louder.  Teddy bowed again, gave another thank you and then turned to walk briskly backstage.

Once he got out of sight of the crowd he slowed his pace dramatically and let his stiff back droop over a little.  He stood there for a few moments with his hand supporting him against the wall as he caught his breath.  Looking around and seeing no one he walked slowly back to his small dressing room where he found the old metal chair and after sitting his hat on the table sat int he chair and stretched his legs out in front of him closing his eyes.

Teddy could feel it like the old days.  He had performed his best out there and the result was one of the best concerts he had done in a long time.  The crowd had helped by recognizing every song and applauding at both the beginning and the end of each.  This kind of crowd was rare for Teddy and the energy the sent up to him, he sent right back by giving the performance of a young twenty year old.

Teddy's thoughts continued to run through his mind.  Thoughts of the past and thoughts of the future.  This was the first time he had been in Branson since that day he had waved at Al in the Hodey parking lot as he was heading to West Plains for the first time.  MY how Branson had changed.  When he had left the main drag had about fifteen businesses on the little two lane street, three of which were bait shops for the people who came to fish off of the dam.  Now, this place had five lanes running down the main drag.  Big stars had come to Branson to semi-retire and had opened up their own theaters to perform in.  Casinos were up and down the main strip and up in the hills.  Branson had turned from a small regional destination to a nationally known tourist attraction.  You could hardly drive through the town any more it was so crowded.  There were still one or two of the old oprys left, the Hogey not being one of them.  Teddy had been wanting to came back to Branson for many years and had jumped at the chance when the casino agreed to let him do a weekend gig there. He had spent almost twenty five years on his own, setting up his own performances and playing all of his shows solo with no one else on the stage with him.  He felt he had come full circle now.

He felt himself dropping off to sleep as his thoughts continued to dwell on the past.  He thought of  Al and of Brian and how they had given him the chance to have a shot at making people smile or think when he played h is music.  Over the years he had played in front of well over a million people he figured.  His songs had been mentioned by newer artists coming up as having been an influence on them with his name mentioned along side of the legends the he had admired as a kid.

Not many people remembered Teddy Senner these days and Teddy realized that as a fact.  He had faded after walking out on RCA's offer to promote him as a performer.  He had not set foot in a recording studio since that Christmas album was completed.  The Gospel album had seen some success being the last Teddy Senner album to break the top forty.  It was a good way to go out Teddy thought.  His last album ever and it broke that barrier.  He was pleased with that and decided that it would be best to stop recording on a high note with an album in the top forty.

Teddy finally fell asleep still hearing the applause from that crowd earlier.
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The cleaning crew for the casino made their rounds around midnight to one o'clock in the morning as they usually did.  When they got to the small dressing room they were surprised to see the door shut.  The chief of the crew knocked lightly on the door.

"Mr. Senner?  Mr. Senner?" he asked softly but firmly.  He finally reached down and turned the door knob opening the door.  There sitting in his chair with his legs stretched out in front of and his feet crossed sat Teddy Senner, fast asleep.

"He probably needs his rest," the chief said.  "Let's just do a quick once over and try to get out of here with out waking him up."

As the crew began emptying the trash and sweeping the floor lightly the chief went over to the chair where Teddy was sitting.  He looked at Teddy closely then noticed that his chest was not moving.  He grabbed one of Teddy's shoulders and shook lightly.

"Mr. Senner?  Are you okay?  Mr. Senner?"  The chief removed his hand from the shoulder and stepped back a couple of steps.

"Carl, call 911.  I think Mr. Senner is dead."

The cleaning crew was still standing around Teddy in a half circle when the EMTs arrived.  They walked in with great purpose then just looking at Teddy once slowed down.  Teddy Senner had indeed passed away.  They called the local hospital to let them know they were bringing a body in and then notified the police.  The EMT's then joined the cleaning crew in standing still for a little while.  Everyone in the room was silently and privately paying their respects to Teddy Senner.  They didn't know all of his songs if any of them, but they knew that at one time he been one of the great ones.

The EMT's then lifted Teddy's lifeless body onto a gurney and covered him up with a sheet before slowly rolling him outside to the ambulance.  They did not need the siren on this run.  As they began the trip to the Branson hospital, they all sat quietly as the driver drove slowly taking his time.  Once in the hospital, the medical examiner would do a quick autopsy on Teddy and determine that he had died from heart failure in his sleep.  The coroner would later said that Teddy probably did not even know that he was dying.  Teddy had just shut down while sleeping.

The next day, after a news conference at the hospital, the papers and the internet news sight all had a small entry on the front page.  It wasn't top news but it was worthy enough to be mentioned.

"Country Legend Teddy Senner Dies in Branson After Concert" was the most common headline followed by a short synopsis of his career and a listing of his biggest records.  The articles and entries on the internet had disappeared by the day after that.  Teddy Senner had faded from life just as he had faded from music.  Quietly and unassuming.

The funeral was not a big thing.  It was held at the old Senner farm where Teddy's nephew lived, still keeping it in the family.  The Senners had a family cemetery on the farm where Teddy was laid to rest next to two of his sisters, his brother and his mother and father.  Only one sister was left of the Senner siblings now.  It was only family that attended.  The sons and daughters of generations that came after the siblings were the attendees. They played a couple of Teddy's recordings off of the Gospel album.  The last song they played was Teddy's arrangement of "Amazing Grace" which he had always said was his favorite song on that album.  There was no mention of the funeral in the press.

It was how Teddy would have wanted it.  He had the spotlight for many years, but it seemed that he enjoyed being out of the big spotlight more.  He could be more himself than ever before.

Teddy Senner was gone.  The music was silenced.  The world continued on.
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Ten years later a new singer was just beginning his recording career.  His name was Gus Gravel.  As they were planning his first album he had remembered a song from his childhood that his grandfather use to play on the old record player all of the time.  It was a song called "One For Two" and Gus had always loved it and he wanted to record it.  The record company went and did some research to see what kind of legalities would need to be taken for Gus to record the song and found that there wasn't hardly anything to keep the recording from being made.

When Gus recorded the song, it went right up the charts and became a standard on his set list for his concerts.  Every time Gus prepared to sing the song for his fans, he told the audience about his grandfather listening to the great Teddy Senner and how this song had been one of the major influences on him getting into the music business.  Gus Gravel's version of "One For Two" eventually made number one on the charts and Gus decided that on every album of his, there would be at least one Teddy Senner song.  Gus believed that Teddy Senner was an extremely important part of the growth of country music and he wanted to share that with his fans.

Gus Gravel became a country music superstar.  Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.  Insisting on recording Teddy Senner songs on every album had the same effect on them.  He often would release a Senner song as a single and it always became a hit.  There was a whole new generation that was becoming aware of the Teddy Senner legend.  Eventually Gus developed a Teddy Senner medley of most of Teddy's songs.  Before starting the medley though, Gus would tell the story of Teddy Senner.  He would tell his audience about the legend who loved music so much, he refused to sell out and ventured out on his own after recording forty albums.  He told of the man who would walk out on stage, by himself, with only a piano and his old beat up guitar, and perform for anyone willing to listen.  Gus Gravel insisted that Teddy Senner ranked right up there with the other top legends when it came to influencing country music into what it was today.  Then launching into the medley, Gus would treat the songs with as much respect as he could and would sing those old songs so beautifully that his audience were genuinely moved by the music and the words.

As Gus continued being known for his recording of Teddy Senner songs, there began a resurgence in the demand for Teddy Senner recordings.  Original recordings became collector items and those fans from long ago who had bought Teddy's albums suddenly found themselves holding a recording worth hundreds of dollars.  The auction sites on the internet began to fill up with original Teddy Senner recordings, autographs and posters.  The Senner farm along with the burial site in the family cemetery showed up on the "Map of Places to See in Branson".  The Senner Farm and cemetery would eventually become a Missouri State Historical Site.

Meanwhile, RCA had sold the rights to the Teddy Senner catalogue to Rhino.  Rhino specialized in getting the rights to artists whose big record companies could not justify the expense of reissuing recordings onto compact discs.  Rhino reissued each one of Teddy Senner's albums one at a time over a period of two years and they sold very well.  Rhino kept the whole Senner collection, except for the live album and the greatest hits album in their catalogue for five years before stopping the reissues.  Once Rhino stopped making the reissues of the original albums available, they issued the live album.  The new Teddy Senner fans bought Rhino out and the record company had to make several more runs on printing it.  It was three years later that Rhino finally reissued the original double greatest hits compilation.  These two Senner collections, the live and the greatest hits, would be the only remaining recordings available to a new generation discovering Teddy and his music.

Gus Gravel recorded the "Senner Medley" on one of his albums and still has it as a staple in his concert list.  He still tells the story of Teddy Senner even though his fans have heard it several times.  Other country stars, and even some pop and rock stars are starting to cover Senner songs with new arrangements making Teddy Senner known across the genres of music.  Gus makes a point of telling how TMR did not renew Teddy's contract so they could branch out into those very genres.

Fifteen years after his death, Gus Gravel mounted a campaign that resulted in Teddy Senner getting inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame where the memory of his talent, his dedication and his natural born love of music will never be forgotten.  His music will never be silenced again.

Thank you for the music Mr. Senner.