Monday, July 29, 2013


For as long as I can remember music has been a major part of my life.  I was raised on hymns from the old blue Baptist Hymnal at the church for the most part.  We had a huge "portable" monograph record player at home but with only a few records to listen to on it.  I remember my dad had a small collection of Jim Nabors albums and mom had a Frankie Avelon record.  For a long time that was the extent of my exposure to music.

As my sisters began to grow older they started buy singles, or 45rpm records.  This was a cheap way to get the song you wanted plus an extra song on the flip side.  I think that was my introduction to popular music of the time.  I couldn't afford to spend money on records yet, I would have to get a little older before I delved into that.

One Christmas my Uncle Dan gave our family a membership to the American Music Club.  We were allowed to pick out three albums of which my uncle took upon himself to do for us.  He had a definite definition of what was "good" music that children should listen to.  He picked out a Peter Paul and Mary album, along with a Fifth Dimension album and a Joan Baez collection of songs in concert.  While I would come to enjoy these artists, at the time they weren't exactly the rock and roll that my sisters were listening to.  My taste in popular music at the time was AM radio and believe me, Joan Baez or Peter Paul and Mary were not part of the station's playlist.

Eventually my immediate elder sister bought herself a stereo.  Oh it was nice.  It had speakers that could be moved to get that stereo sound.  It had treble and bass knobs as well as a left/right knob to send the sound out one side or the other.  When she got this stereo, she joined the Columbia Music Club and got a dozen albums that were the kind of music that she loved and I would come to love.  I remember she had a Three Dog Night album along with James Taylor, Carol King, Chicago and a couple of sampler albums which had the likes of The Hollies, Al Kooper, Janis Joplin and other Columbia artists of the day.  These albums would become my base for all the music that would come later into my life.

My love for music continued to grow and one Christmas I received a "portable" cassette player/recorder.  I was about to enter a new phase in my music life.  I messed around with recording different things in different ways and basically ended up with a few tapes of just junk noise taken from day to day living in the house.  Then one day, on a cold January day in 1971, I attempted my first real recording.  The Kansas City Chiefs were playing the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth Super Bowl in history.  My personal assignment was to record the broadcast from the television onto a tape in my recorder.  I spent quite a bit of time thinking up how best to accomplish this.  The house would be noisy, so I would not be able to use the built in microphone for this.  The noise from the family would overtake the sounds from the television.  The result was a remote microphone that bypassed the built in microphone on the player.  Next I had to get that microphone right up next to the speaker so that the television would be the main sound being recorded.  I got some old play blocks and built me a stand of sorts for the microphone to sit on as it leaned directly against the television speaker.  This was going to work.

As the game started I began to record.  It was a painstaking chore.  I would pause the recording whenever a commercial came on and would start recording again when the game resumed.  I sat a foot away from the television for three quarters of the game pausing and starting never missing a beat.  This was going to be a recording I would keep forever.  The Chiefs were domination the game and it was coming to the fourth quarter when my first disaster in recording happened.  The game was on, the recorder was recording and my sister was getting ready to leave, probably to go to church.  Instead of walking behind the television and myself, she decided to cross the living room between my project and me.  The result was devastating  Her foot caught on the microphone cord send the microphone off into space, tumbling the tower that had held the microphone, and kicking the player a good two feet from the television.  I was crushed.  I had worked so hard on this project and now it was gone. She went ahead and left without missing a step and I could feel tears start to form in my eyes.  Why?  How?  I became angry and started to yell at her through my tears as she left.  Dad told me to settle down, it was just a football game but he said it with disdain in his voice.  I don't blame him or Elaine or anyone else.  They did not realize what this project meant to me.  I stopped recording and threw the tape in the trash.  It was not worth anything to me or anyone else anymore.  Just another junk recording. I eventually recovered from the disaster and, although not forgotten, I managed to put it behind me.  Still I kind of wished I had kept that cassette.  It would have been interesting to listen to it now, even if it did have the sudden ending that it did.

A few years passed and eventually my sister was getting married.  My new brother in law had a REAL stereo and so Elaine was not going to be needing hers.  One of the nicest things she could have done she did.  She gave me her old stereo with the removable speakers and left me her album collection.  The stereo was great.  At last I was going to be in my own room and be able to listen to my own music.  From that day forward, I have never gone anywhere without music by my side.  Elaine was one of the few people who knew what music meant to me back in those days.  For my birthday that year, she gave me a single of Bill Whither's "Ain't No Sunshine".  I still have that 45 and always will.

The record collection she left me was awesome in title only.  She had some great albums that are still classics today.  The problem with her collection that she left me was that she didn't understand the proper care of albums as I did.  She had taken all of those irritating paper sleeves out of the albums and slid her records in and out of the rough cardboard jacket for years.  When I got the records, they were nearly destroyed with scratches and pops and clicks.  I threw them away and began my own collection, which included buying a lot of the albums she had previously had.  It was my collection though and I took extremely good care of them and listened to music every day.  My love for music started to grow and would continue to grow even up to today.

Then came the time I had to figure out how to take the music with me for long distances.  My elder sister had moved to Georgia and the family vacation became trips to Atlanta every year by car.  It was a long drive and I would need my music to get me through the ordeal.  And so recording studio #2 came into existence.  I thought long and hard about how to make a good recording of my albums and eventual, after a little trial and error came up with the best studio I could at that time of my life.  I took the two speakers from the stereo and set them opposite each other with the tops touching and the bottom of the speakers spread out, forming a triangle.  In between these two speakers I would place the remote microphone.  After this, I would place a big pillow on each of the four sides of the speakers with one more pillow sitting on top.  It was as close to sound proof as I would get.  I would then play my records with sound coming from deep inside the pillows while the microphone did it's job.  Phone ringing or people walking in would not penetrate the pillows or the wall of sound that was being generated inside those pillows.  The result was a mono perfection recording.  On the trips I would then sit next to the window in the back seat with my head resting on the cassette player and the volume turned down so as to not disturb dad and listen to my music the entire trip.  My journey through life with music was continuing and getting better by the year.

Finally, by means of getting a job and making money, I was able to come up with recording studio #3.  It was a stereo cassette deck from Radio Shack that plugged directly into the stereo.  No more pillows. no more microphones.  The only problem was if someone walked across the floor to hard it might make the needle jump causing me to begin the recording over.  The next step was to buy a little stereo cassette player to install in my car.  The transition was complete. I was making my own tapes and they went with me everywhere I went.  I would never be without music again.

Following that I suppose there were recording studios #3A, #3B etc etc.  These days though, there is no recording.  The music is digital.  It is a matter of copying files from a compact disk to my computer.  As a matter of fact, now I just download the music from the internet and store all of my albums and music on my laptop.  That laptop is my music machine now and with the help of a tiny little MP3 player, I can take thousands of songs with me everywhere I go.

It will always be that way now.  Thousands of songs are at the touch of my finger wherever I am.  I like it that way.  What is fascinating looking back on it though, is how technology has advanced to the point where I can have these thousands of songs with me and with very little effort find them to listen to without searching for them.

Music has been my life.  It is my life.  And now I can see that it will be my life until my life is over.  Then someone else gets the music to take with them everywhere they go.  The major gift that technology has given me, along with HDTV, is the gift of ALL of my music and I love that gift.

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