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.

IN AND OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT - PT 3

The next Saturday Brian Chapman was sitting in the theater again watching the boy who he hoped would become the anchor to the TMR label.  When the practice was over, Teddy walked down to Brian who was holding out some papers.  He explained the contract and the percentages as well as what he expected from making a deal with Teddy.  It was all good according to Brian.

"Well Teddy?  This sound like something for you?"

"Yes sir I think it does.  Wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't take a chance"

"Okay then Teddy, just sign here, here and here and we can get started."

Brian watched with pleasure as Teddy affixed his signature to each of the blanks that was indicated.

"So, when can I expect you in West Plains?"

Teddy turned and looked at Al who had been witnessing the signing of the contract.  Al had a stoic look on his face.  He knew he had just lost one of the prizes of the Hogey.  He looked at the anxious face of the young man and finally waved his hand.

"Go Teddy.  We'll reset the show.  Go and make us all proud."

Teddy nodded his head at Al then turned to watch Brian walk away.  Sudenly Brian stopped and turned around looking at Teddy seriously.

"Hey Teddy, you play guitar?"

"Not much, just what I know from messing with the guitars around here."

"You got a guitar?" Brain asked as he started making his way back to Teddy pulling a wad of cash from his pocket.

"No sir, pretty much stick to the piano."

"Yeah, well do me a favor before you come to West Plains."  Brian handed Teddy forty dollars.  "Head into town and get a used guitar.  The older looking and rougher the better.  Learn some chords on it.  Nothing fancy just some basic chords.  Might come in handy down the road."  And with that Brian turned and exited through the back doors.

That afternoon Teddy went into the Branson pawn shop and started looking at the guitars on the wall.  The man behind the counter watched the kid stand and stare at the instruments on the wall.

"Lookin' for a guitar son?" the man asked with a smile. "How much you want to spend?"

Teddy answered without taking his eye from the wall, "Yes sir,  looks like I may be needing one.  I figure I got around forty dollars for one."

"Well, for forty you can have this one here." the man said as he took a nice looking guitar off the wall..  "She's in very good shape, has a nice tone to it.  Want to try it out?"

"No thank you, "Teddy said as he wandered on further down the wall until he saw it.  It was a small guitar and looked like it had seen some rough times pan handling or something.  There were scratches almost everywhere he looked.  In a few places words or initials were carved into the face of it.

"How much for this one?" Teddy asked as he reached up to take the old guitar off the wall.

"That one?"  The man asked with a surprised tone in his voice.  "You got forty and this is what you are looking for?  Well, I don't know, guess I could give it to you for about twenty." he said expecting a counter offer from the young man but Teddy just held the guitar and looking it over finally answered the man.

"Okay twenty.  Does it have a case?"

"Well some might call it a case.  I call it a cardboard box shaped like a guitar with a handle on it.  I'll throw that in for nothing"

"All right, I'll take it."

The man who ran the shop shook his head and went in the back room to get the case for the newly purchased guitar.

"There ya go son.  Good luck with that old thing."

"Thanks" Teddy said as he picked up the guitar and walked out into the street.

As Teddy drove back by the theater, he saw Al coming out and getting into his old station wagon.  He waved but Al did not seem to see him. At that moment in time, Teddy did not realize it would be the last time he would ever see Al.  He spent the next week wrapping things up and getting his parents ready for his departure.  The next Friday night, Teddy got on a bus headed to West Plains, Missouri. ----------------------------------
The TMR recording studio was outside of the town of West Plains and sat on a gravel road next to a large cornfield.  At one time it had been an old radio station but Brian had bought it and converted it to a studio.  Teddy could hear the music from inside as he approached the building and he began to get a little nervous.  He stepped into the studio to find Brian sitting at the console leaning back in his chair watching and listening to the musicians intently.  When Brian heard the door close he jumped up out of his chair.

"Teddy!  Really good to see you made it.  Come on in and I'll introduce you to your new band."

Brian led Teddy through a door with a glass window in it and introduced each performer to him.  Two guitars, a bass and a drummer.

"Okay guys, I want you to play with Teddy now.  We'll start off with songs Teddy knows and see how you all sound together.  I see you got you a guitar, Let's have a look."

Teddy opened up the old wore out case and pulled the old beat up guitar out and handed it to Brian.

"Perfect.  This is exactly what I was hoping you would get.  Beat up guitar makes it look like you been around a while.  Phil, stay let over the next few days and teach some basic chords on this thing to Teddy, okay?"

Phil nodded his head without expression and the musicians watched as Teddy took his place at the piano that had been set up in the middle of the recording room.  It was a nice piano, a baby grand and was in pretty good tune and had a rich tone.  Teddy played a bit by himself to get use to it and then started playing an old Hank tune.  It didn't take the band long to recognize the song and they jumped in along with Teddy one by one until the sound became tight and clear.

"Teddy," Brian yelled over the music, "Teddy, start singing into that mike right there."  and he did.  Brian headed back into the other room and listened and a smile came over his face.  The sound was good, by far the best that this studio had heard in a long time.

For two weeks Teddy and the band played old classics and worked on a few of the songs that Teddy had written.  He learned a little guitar and every once in a while Brian would have Teddy sing one of his soft ballads while using his new knowledge to accompany himself on the old beat up guitar. Brain was becoming more excited almost daily as the band grew tighter and learned Teddy's style and how to play with him.  The boys liked Teddy's own tunes which helped a lot and every one was enjoying the daily sessions together.

One day while they were playing a man walked in and sat to talk to Brian.  After awhile, both of them came into the studio.

"Okay guys, you all know Buddy.  Well I guess Teddy doesn't, Buddy Goren, this is our piano player Teddy Senner.  He is good and will add some sound to your recording."  Brian then went back to addressing all the musicians. "Okay guys, Buddy is going to record another album over the next few days.  We'll practice on it a couple of days then record it on Friday.  Buddy, their all yours." and Brian turned to walk back into the booth to listen to what Buddy had brought with him.

Buddy Goren was one of the few acts that Brian had signed and was the most successful artist on the TMR label.  Even though he was the best TMR had to offer, he had been a disappointment to Brian and had failed to bring the label into the spotlight.  He had recorded five albums and released six singles.  Only one of the singles had broke the top twenty and a second one had made it into the top forty.  The rest of them had made a small splash then faded from the airwaves.  Of the albums only one had broke into the top twenty while the rest of them had ended up in bargain bins across the midwest.  This new album would be the last one Buddy would be required to do under his contract with Brian and Brian had no intention of extending the contract unless this release really took off.  In reality both Brian and Buddy knew this was his swan song.  It would probably be the last the world would hear from Buddy Goren.

After a few days of practice with Buddy, Friday came and the band sat down to do the best they could at recording with Buddy.  They recorded the whole album, nine songs, on Friday and late Friday afternoon, Buddy Goren walked out of the studios and back in to the world.

Brian then disappeared for three months.  He had gone to a studio in Springfield and cleaned up the tapes and had one single pressed as well as the album.  Brian had then been on the road handing out Buddy Goren's latest to radio stations within a two hundred mile radius.  During his absence the band continued to meet at the studio daily and Teddy had written a few more songs.  The band took to one of the songs and they all loved it.  They decided they would play it for Brian when he returned.

Brain did return to the studio one hot afternoon.  He walked in hearing the band play an old country classic and sat in his chair.  The trip and not gone well.  Not many stations were impressed with Buddy Goren anymore and a very few of the stations agreed to try to push it for a week.  Brian knew that Buddy Goren was finished.  He had failed to capture the attention of even a small regional area.

While Brian was running the Goren situation through his head he suddenly became aware of a song the band was playing.  He had not heard it before but it sounded really good.  Teddy was pounding on the piano, the boys were all right there with him giving it a tight sound and Teddy's voice sounded strong.  The music itself was very upbeat and had a slightly different sound to it.  When Brian started listening to the lyrics, he just sat in amazement.  When the band finished the song, Brian jumped up and ran into the studio.

"What was that?"  he asked in wonderment.

"Just a song Teddy wrote while you were gone." Phil spoke up for the group.  "Personally, me and the boys think you got a record here.  This is a hot song Brian."

"Let's hear it again," Brian said in anticipation.

The band played the song again and Brian made the decision to record it the next day.

"Listen guys, work up a b-side for this thing and work on the new song tonight.  I want to get this out there."

The guys agreed and so they worked on it, making tweaks here and there to bring the song together.  The next day, Teddy sat at the piano and went recorded it with the boys three times until Brian was pleased with the outcome.  They then recorded the second song in just one take and the next morning Brian was off to his radio station rounds to pitch a new artist on the TMR label.  It was the birth of a new artist and Brian knew it.
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While Brian was out on the road trying to get radio stations to play Teddy's record, Teddy and the band were busy trying to book themselves gigs in small bars and clubs around the area.  They were somewhat successful and soon found themselves in demand as word spread of this new artist from the area. 

By the time Brian returned just before Thanksgiving things were already moving.  Teddy's song had taken off like a rocket from the first time it was aired on the rural stations in the midwest.  The demand for the record became high enough that Brian had to enter into a deal with a major studio to do the pressings for him.  Soon Teddy's song "One for Two" was starting to spread across the country.  In a mere three weeks time, Teddy Senner was in the top ten on the charts with his first record peaking at number seven.

Once the first release peaked at number seven, Brian had Teddy record a second single which would have one of his guitar ballads on the a-side and a full sounded country hit on the b-side.  This time Brian did not need to travel around to get the record air time.  Stations were more than happy to be on the list to receive a copy of the new single and to play it for their listeners.  The soft ballad went to number twelve and the b-side made a splash in its own right by peaking at number fourteen.

After watching the success of three Teddy Senner records breaking the top twenty, Brian and Teddy sat down to pick out songs for his first album.  Brian wanted most of the cuts to be covers of country classics with the four songs included from the first two singles.  A lineup was made of the songs and in three days Teddy and his studio band recorded "The Teddy Senner Album".  The album was an immediate hit in the midwest and by springtime it had gone nationwide.  Teddy's first album peaked at number nine on the charts nationally.  Teddy Senner had arrived on the scene.

The album spurned a quick concert tour.  In small venues Teddy and the band would play by themselves while at other times, if they were close to a big city where   one of the legends of country music was performing they would be asked to open the show.  It seemed like everywhere they went they were well received and praises came from the headliners as they began their set after Teddy had left the stage.  Things were about to move very quickly for Teddy now and his life and memories would become a blur.
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Teddy continued to record and write and his songs and albums seemed to always land in the top twenty, many of them crossing that top ten line.  Then from his ninth album "Heading To The Top" the first single released hit number one while the album crested at number three.  It was the peak of his career and everyone at TMR celebrated.  The once studio band had becomes Teddy's regular band although he was billed as a solo act.  He worked four or five of his guitar songs into each set while the rest of the concert would be full sound country pop music. He was on the road every summer touring for four months while taking the winters off.  Even though he played a few stadium concerts as an opening act, the band preferred to perform in venues of ten thousand or less.  Teddy felt more comfortable with the smaller crowds and felt they could feel his music better than a crowd in a stadium.  As time went on, the sell out concerts would start to dwindle just a little bit, but were still pulling in a lot of fans that made it all worthwhile.

Teddy's twenty fourth album was a double live album followed by the twenty fifth album that was a double greatest hits collection.  This was the point that Brian had been working towards.  He had a label in TMR that was well known,  he had an artist that was constantly in the top twenty and the label was becoming more attractive of an option to new artists just breaking out.  Brain sat one night thinking about all of this.  He thought of all the years Teddy had given the label and what Teddy meant to it as well as to Brian.  Brian began to think that maybe it was time for a change.
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It was at the Christmas party one year that Brian gathered all the employees and artists of TMR together for a major announcement.  He called everyone around him and waited for the room to quiet down.  Standing next to Brian was his son Eddie who had been involved with TMR since he was twenty years old.  Eddie knew the business and followed his fathers every move.  Finally Brian cleared his throat to speak.

"I just wanted to tell all of you here at TMR thank you for your dedication and hard work to make this label a success.  It has been a long time coming and I feel the label finally has the respect it deserves from the industry.  Thank you all so very much."

The crowd applauded while Brian held up his hand for silence.

"I have decided that it is time for a change around here.  I have been here a very long time and I feel like it is time for me to step down and retire."  The silence in the room was deafening as people processed what Brian was saying.  "So, as of the first of the year, Eddie here will be taking over the helm of TMR.  There won't be any changes, no one is going to lose a job or anything, it will just be a new name on the paychecks and the contracts.  Eddie is more than capable of keeping TMR heading in the direction that it currently is.  Eddie, say a few words?"

Eddie Chapman stood up and straightened his tie while clearing his throat.

"I know this may seem strange to a lot of you.  You all have been with my dad for many many years and have made this company what it is today.  I have been one of you for a long time.  Like you I have watched in wonder as my dad built this label up to what it is.  I am not sure I can be quite as good as dad, but all in all having him as a mentor is about the best thing that could happen to me, to all of us.  So let's lift our glasses and toast a very fine man, my father."

Eddie lifted his glass and looked out to be sure everyone was ready.

"Dad, thank you from all of us for your years of dedication and loyalty to each of us over the last several years.  You have done a fantastic job and we appreciate it.  You have worked hard and you deserve to rest easy in your retirement.  So, thank you ... good luck ... and well wishes for you."

And with that everyone lifted their glass and drank to Brian Chapman.  It marked the end of an era at TMR.  Teddy stood silently as he absorbed the news that Brian would no longer be around.  He made it a goal for himself to continue to perform and record for Eddie as he had done for Brian.  Brian deserved that from him.  He would continue to do his best.

As Teddy was leaving the party, Brian and Eddie were at the door to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  Teddy shook Eddie's hand without a word and then leaned in and hugged Brian.

"Thank you Brian.  Thank you for everything you have done for me.  I will never forget you."

As Teddy walked out to the parking lot he felt a tear form in his eye.  There was no way it would be the same without Brian.
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Things did change once Brian left.  Eddie did not care much for country music and had decided to widen out the genres of music that TMR would be releasing.  More and more Rock and Roll acts came into the studio and Teddy found it increasingly difficult to get studio time to record.  When he did record, Eddie seemed to put releasing a new Teddy Senner album on the back burner to get more of the popular music out because it brought in more money.  Teddy began to see his record sales slip and his songs were not charting as high without the promotional backing from the front office.

Teddy had a forty album contract with TMR and he was closing in on completing the deal.  He had recorded thirty eight albums for the label and had just two left to go when Eddie called him in to the office around the first of November.

"Teddy, I guess you know you are about to complete your contract with TMR?"

"Yes sir I do, but I got plans and songs for anther ten albums easy.  I got some songs...."  Eddie held up his hand to quiet Teddy.

"Teddy.  I want you to know that I realize without you, this label never would have taken off.  I know that.  Dad knows it.  TMR is THE Teddy Senner label.  But Teddy, listen, your sales have been slipping pretty bad.  Country music is changing and you aren't changing with it.  Your sound is old and frankly most of your followers out there are getting up in age."

Teddy thought quick.  "Eddie, let me tell you, I have noticed the sound changing and I think I got a few songs that make that change.  I can record them for you if you...."

Again Eddie raised his hand.

"Teddy, we have decided not to renew your contract after the fortieth album.  The label is heading in a different direction.  We are moving to a younger audience, a rock audience.  TMR just isn't a country label anymore.  You understand Teddy?"

Teddy felt a lump in his throat, "Well to be honest, not really Eddie.  Don't understand it at all.  I can still sale records if I get a little promotional help.  I got some..."

"Teddy.  You won't be on TMR.  I am going to tell you something that is coming out next week.  RCA wants to buy TMR records and to tell the truth, it is a deal I can't pass up.  Now the good thing for you is that RCA does record country music so they might find a place for you in their library.  If you do record again, you'll be on another label, but not TMR.  It could work out to be a good thing for you."

Teddy sat in the chair slumped back staring at the floor.

Eddie ended the awkwardness, "Teddy here is what I want from you.  I want you to leave TMR with a big bang.  I want number thirty nine to be a gospel album and then number forty to be a Christmas album.  You have never recorded either one of those in all the years you have been here.  I think they will be big sellers and get you to RCA on a comeback roll.  I think RCA will like it."

"Always wanted to do a gospel record," Teddy said quietly as he continued to process what was happening.  "So this is it.  Just like that I am out of TMR?"

"Teddy ... trust me, I got your continued success in mind.  It will be good to get with a bigger label like RCA.  TMR is just going down a different road is all.  It isn't nothing against you and I am not making a statement about your abilities and talent.  We all know who Teddy Senner is and what you have done.  Just a different path is all.  Are we okay now?

"Yeah I guess we have to be," Teddy sighed as he got up from the chair and turned towards the door.  "I'll work up those two albums.  I'll have them ready for you by Thanksgiving so you can release them.  Good bye Eddie."

"Oh Teddy, We''l see each other before the contract runs out." Eddie said as he walked towards the old singer with his hand held out.  Teddy refused to take the offer of a handshake though and looked Eddie straight in the eye.

"I am not sure about that Eddie.  I'll get the albums done for you."  Teddy walked out the door and out to the parking lot where he sat in his car for a long time thinking about things.  He felt like he was back to where he was when he was fourteen.  Just a musician loving music and looking for a break.

The last two Teddy Senner albums were released with high praise from the critics.  While neither album broke into the top forty and there were no singles released from either of them, Teddy knew in his heart that his long time fans would be buying them and loving them.  He had fulfilled his promise to Brian to continue doing the best he could and the two albums made Teddy proud.

After recording the last song for the Christmas Album, Teddy walked slowly to his car and drove off the TMR property for the last time.

After RCA looked at the charts for Teddy's last two albums they decided not to give him a contract for recording, but they did agree to promote him on small tours now and then.  Teddy had turned them down thinking he could do it himself.  He had experienced more than his share of success now he would use that to keep playing music for the people who loved his songs.  Teddy was independent now.  He would be a true solo act.  Just him, his piano and the guitar for the ballads.
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IN AND OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT - PT 2

It was the end of Ted's sixth Saturday of practice with the band when Al and Jim approached him.  They stood there and watched Ted as he put his stuff away in a backpack and prepared to go home.  He did not realize Al and Jim were there and so when Al broke the silence it caught him off guard.

"How you feeling, Teddy?  Feel like you are keeping up with the band okay?"

"Sure do," Ted said confidently.  "I am really enjoying this"

"Well," Al hesitated a moment, looked sideways at Jim who nodded his head," Well, we been thinkin' it is about time for you to earn a little cash for your playing.  Can you be here at six tonight ready to play?"

"Sure can sir.  I'll be here anytime you say to."

"See you at six then." and Al and Jim walked away talking to each other.

When Ted got home he excitedly told his parents that tonight he was going to be an official part of the Hogey Opry. Excitement filled the room and his mother started figuring out what Ted should wear that night.

"I think I'll just dress normal mom, you know blue jeans and a button shirt.  Don't want to look new, you know."

Ted's mom agreed and then time stopped for Ted.  It was the longest afternoon of his life.  He kept imagining in his head how it would go.  How people would whisper about the piano and the kid playing it.  The Hogey Opry was about to change their sound a little for the first time in many years and Ted was going to be at the center of it.
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That night Ted showed up at six.  The group had a meeting going over the line up of songs and skits for the night.  Basically it was about two songs followed by a skit and then two more songs.  The show would last two hours.

After the meeting, Al pulled Ted aside by the arm.

"Teddy, we been thinkin' that, well you can't hear that old piano very well so I want you to practice a bit on this thing I bought you in town.  Jim bring that thing out here."

From behind the curtain Jim appeared pushing an electric piano.  Ted was stunned and excited.  He had never played one before and he wanted to practice on it as bad as Al wanted him to.

Al pointed at the piano as he began to talk.  "Now they tell me it plays just like a regular piano.  The harder you hit the keys the louder it is so you can still put some of that emotion in it the way you do in practice.  It will be hooked up to the sound system along with all the other instruments.  Go ahead now, play on it.  Get use to it, get the feel.  I want to be sure everyone hears this addition we are about to ad."

Ted didn't need to be told twice.  He spent the next hour or so playing what he was going to do in the show that night.  He found it to be a little awkward at first but slowly got use to it until he felt comfortable with it.  After he had worked through the numbers he went backstage with the rest of the troupe and sat down waiting for the show to begin.

As it got to be closer to eight, Ted began to hear the sounds of the crowd arriving for the show.  It got louder and louder and then at precisely eight, Al walked out onto the stage to the main microphone to welcome the crowd and to start the show.

"Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the show.  We think, and certainly hope, that you will enjoy yourselves tonight.  We are going to play some good ol' music and have some short skits that will keep you smiling and entertained.  So let's get it started.  Here they are, the Hogey Opry Band!!"

And with that all the members of the band came out from back stage and took their place at their various instruments.  Ted was the last one out and he felt sweat beading on his forehead as he sat behind the new piano.  He looked at Al intently as the old man picked up his fiddle and started an introduction to the first song.  Right on cue, Ted joined with the rest of the band in the song.  Two of the girl singers came out and started to sing.  Suddenly Ted was unaware that there was a crowd out there watching.  He was playing music just like in practice and he was having a great time.

The band stayed on the stage in their places during the skits between songs and Ted smiled and laughed with the rest of the band.  He had seen the skits several times but it was part of the band members job to laugh at them as if they were seeing them for the first time along with the crowd.

It was about halfway through the show and between songs when Al stepped to the microphone.

"I wanna introduce my band to y'all", he said in an almost fake southern drawl and one by one he named off the musicians.

As each name was called the performer would step forward and and wave to the crowd or tip his hat if he was wearing one.  Ted nervously waited for Al to call his name.  Suddenly Al stopped introducing band members and started to put his fiddle under his chin to start the next number.  He had not introduced Ted to the crowd and for a second Ted was just a little hurt.  Then Al lowered his fiddle and started to speak again.

"Oh you know folks, I almost forgot.  You see we aren't use to having a piano in the band but tonight for the first time, we have a piano as part of the permanent band.  The boy is sitting back there and this is his first night with the Hogey Opry.  Folks please welcome for the first time Teddy Senner to the stage!"

Ted stood up almost shyly as the crowd applauded the new arrival. After that first night Ted was introduced along with the rest of the band as a regular member and his shyness that would overcome him as he waved to the crowd slowly went away until he felt quite at home at the Hogey every night.
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During the next three years Ted began to experiment writing songs during off hours at the theater.  He would come in early and stay a little late to see if he had it in him.  At first the song writing was difficult.  He was good at writing the music but lyrics would not come easily.  Slowly he progressed to learning how to write a song and one day he felt like he had finally written one that he wouldn't be ashamed of playing in front of people.

One Saturday morning after practice for the show, Ted asked Al to come over to the piano and listen to his new song.  Al was skeptical but agreed to give it a listen.  The song was medium tempo and gave a message of a lost love like trains passing in the night.  The situation that each of the lovers were in never allowed them to be as one.  It was a very emotional and sad song and as Al listened to it he could see a picture appear in his mind of what the two were feeling.  Ted came to the conclusion of the song and looked up at Al who was standing still with his head lowered.

"Umm, that song there, you wrote it?" asked Al very seriously. "Have you written any others?"

Ted sighed as his reply came out softly.  "Yes sir, I have written a few but they aren't very good.  Matter of fact been thinking of just trashing them."

Al pointed at the piano, "Play me one of those other songs Teddy."

Ted began to play what he thought was the best of the other songs and when he finished he looked up at Al who was now sitting in a chair shaking his head.

"Play another of those songs you wrote," Al ordered and Ted began to do another song.  The two of them were there until almost showtime as Ted played all of the seventeen songs he had written.  After playing some of the songs, Al would offer a suggestion or two that would improve the song.  As the session between the two musicians came to an end because showtime was creeping up on them Al stood up and asked a question that Ted never expected.

"You think you could play one of those songs next week for the show?"  Al was staring at Ted with a cold stare that showed he meant business.

"I guess I could.  Would it be solo or with the band?"

"Whichever you prefer," Al said.  "Those are damn good songs kid.  You need to get them out there."

The next weeks show featured "Teddy Senner" playing a brand new song alone on the piano while the rest of the troupe stood on the stage facing him and his piano.  When he was finished everyone applauded, even his fellow band members.  Every week from then on there would be a Teddy Senner special song and each show Ted was applauded loudly by the crowd.  He began to write more songs and it seemed that each time he did, it was a little better than the one before.  Ted had become a star of the Hogey Opry.

Ted spent another two years with the Hogey.  He continued to write songs on a regular basis and was building up quite a library of them.  He had been called Teddy so often that after five years he responded to Teddy without thinking and even introduced himself as Teddy Senner.  There was no longer a Ted.  It was Teddy now and would be for the rest of his life.
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One Saturday morning as the troupe was gathering for practice, Teddy noticed a lone figure sitting in the theater.  Teddy know that Al sis not like visitors during rehearsals so he found it odd that Al didn't pay no mind to the man watching.  As Al walked by Teddy decided to ask Al about the figure sitting out there.

"Hey Al, who's the visitor?"

Al looked Teddy straight in the eye and lifted his hand up and placed it on Teddy's shoulder.

"Son, that man sitting out there is here to listen to you.  He is here to watch you and, well, quite frankly, if you impress him enough, he could be your ticket out of the Hogey.  He'll probably want to talk to you after we are through.  Just do me a favor okay?  When he talks to you, remember who gave you your first gig, okay?  Just remember that when you are thinking about things that he might talk to you about."

Teddy looked back out at the figure and suddenly he felt his stomach start to roll.  He decided to do his best to forget the man sitting out there and just act as if it were another Saturday morning.  The troupe went through the paces of the show for that night and Teddy played a new song that touched every heart in the place.  It was a slow, emotional song with a great melody and lyrics that everyone could relate to.  When he had finished the song, it was quiet for a few seconds before Al began to clap and the rest of the band joined in.  It was by far the best thing Teddy had written and he happened to have it ready on this particular Saturday with the stranger sitting in his seat watching and listening intently.

When the run through of the show was finished, Teddy along with the rest of the band prepared to go home to rest for that nights show.  As Teddy was getting his things together Al walked up and cleared his throat before speaking.

"Um, Teddy, this is Mr. Chapman.  He would like a word with you if you don't mind.  Mr. Chapman, Teddy Senner."

Mr. Chapman reached out to shake Teddy's hand and suggested that they go out and sit in the theater to talk a bit.  Teddy followed the well dressed man down into the third row and sat waiting to hear what this was about.

"What can I do for you Mr. Chapman?" Teddy asked seriously.

"Well, the first thing you can do is call me Brian.  The second thing you can do is listen to an offer I have decided to give you.  It's the chance of a lifetime Teddy.  Lots of people wait their whole lives to hear what I am about to say to you."

Brian Chapman leaned forward to explain. " Teddy, you may not realize it but word of your talent has gotten outside these four walls here.  People are starting to ask about who this Teddy Senner is.  I decided to come up here and hear for myself if you were as good as the talk is about you and I got to tell you kid, you are better than they think."

Brian turned and reached into his briefcase and came out with some papers that were stapled together.  He looked them over page by page and sighed as he shook his head.
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"Teddy, this is what I came up here for, to offer you this.  Not sure I want to now though.  These papers are a contract that I was hoping you would sign to come down to West Plains and be a studio musician for a couple of years.  You ever here of the label TMR?"

"Can't say I have," Teddy said gazing at the papers that Brian was still holding with the question of what Brian was going to do.

"Not surprised that you haven't.  I started the label about five years ago.  My vision was to give artists, young artist, well new artists a chance to record because the big labels are too busy to mess with too many new singers.  A company like, well RCA for example might, just might sign one or two new artists a year.  The odds are pretty well stacked against you.  You know, I have been coming up here for the last eight shows listening to you and frankly, I am surprised that one of the big labels haven't approached you yet.  That being the case, I find myself in a position to make you an offer before they do.  From what I have seen and heard, you could be the one that puts TMR on the map.  Here's the deal.  I have only got six artists recording for me under contract.  They have done okay regionally but have not spread outside southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.  Not going to give you these papers.  What I am going to do though is write up a new contract that would bind you to record at least three singles, that is six songs, with an option for me to get four albums from you on my label."

Brian stared at Teddy to see if he could read a reaction from the young man.  Teddy just sat there looking at the floor between his feet while thoughts and questions flooded his mind.

Brian spoke again to finish his pitch. "I'll get a publisher to publish all the songs you record so you'll get a percentage if someone wants to record one of your songs.  You'll get a percentage of any record sales on the TMR label.  Son, I think you got what it takes, I really do.  What I am offering to you is what could be your big break.  Personally, I think you would be damn foolish to turn it down.  Now I'll be back next week with a new contract.  Think about it between now and then.  Chance of a lifetime son, for both of us."

Brian stood up and looked down at Teddy.  "See you next week Teddy.  Give it serious thought, okay?"

Ted stood up and nodded his head, "yeah, sure, I'll think about it.  Thank you Mr. Chapman."

"That's Brian." and with that Brian Chapman turned and walked up the aisle and out of the theater.

Al had been sitting on the stage watching the conversation and picking up bits and pieces of it.  He jump down to the floor and walked over to Teddy.

"Well?  What did he say?"

"He offered me a record deal at TMR in West Plains, Al.  I am kind of stunned, you know?"

"Take it Teddy.  You don't need to think about it.  If it works, then great, you are on your way.  If it doesn't work out, at least you'll know you gave it a shot and you always have a home here.  You can't turn this down."

Teddy knew Al was right.  He had to take the deal.  He left the theater quietly in deep thought and headed home to talk to the folks about it.  He was sure their reaction would be the same as Al's.  Can't afford not to give it a shot.
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IN AND OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT - PT 1

For my dad - Belden H. Clark

Teddy stood backstage in a little room studying himself in the full length mirror.  He was about to step out into the little theater in the casino to perform songs, most from over forty years ago, to an audience of about five hundred people.  Usually before going on stage he would be taking a little time to try to limber up his fingers to limit the mistakes that would surely be played.  He had not studied himself like he was now in his entire life and what he saw revealed to him the years that had passed by.  His face was lined with wrinkles that cut deep into his cheeks and across his forehead.  his eyes looked empty and dull with the eyelids sagging down almost a fourth of the way down from where they should be.  His hair consisted of several different shades of gray and was thin.  It hung just below his ears and was dry like straw and resistant to a comb.  The white stubble on his chin was an indication of the nap he had taken a few hours ago that lasted about two hours longer than he had planned.  Crooked dry bent thin fingers hung from hands that were spotted with brown spots and matched the wrinkles in his face.  He was wearing jeans that were cinched around his waist with an old leather belt that had once been slick brown leather but had turned into black cracked aged leather.  The shirt was an unbuttoned long sleeve plaid shirt with the tail hanging free and a plain white t-shirt underneath it.  He wore the two shirts for two reasons.  The first reason was to keep warm in the air conditioned theater where even the lights on the stage did not have a warming effect on him because of his poor blood circulation and the second reason was to try to hide the way his thin bony shoulders and arms were accented by the way the shirts draped over his torso.  The only thing that looked young were his teeth, which he took out and cleaned every night.

"Damn I look old". he said to himself with a sigh then added, "well I am old."  He shook his head as he turned his gaze away from the mirror to go and sit in a folding chair that was provided for him.  He landed hard in the metal chair and set his cane off to the side.  He and the cane would be separated for the next hour and a half and he needed a little more rest before the time came to perform again.  He had only been sitting for a few minutes when a knock came on the door.

"Five minutes Mr. Senner." came the voice of the young kid that worked for the casino.

Teddy sat for a moment before putting an old worn out hat on his head to cover the tangle of hair.  Placing his hand on the small table next to the chair, he steadied himself before slowly standing up.  Once standing he looked across the small room at the door and began taking small measured steps  towards it.  Passing through the door he made his way towards a curtain that hid the audience from him. With a methodical slow pace, he made his way to the curtain, took a deep breath and waited to hear his name announced.

"Put your hands together for TEDDY ........ SENNER!!!!"

Teddy strode through the curtain as if he felt no pain or fatigue.  The lights blinded him for just a moment and then he saw the crowd that filled only half of the small theater and heard their polite applause.
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Ted Senner was raised on a modest farm in the hills of southern Missouri.  The closest town to them was a small vacation spot called Branson.  The small town had a main strip with go kart rides and small arcades to entertain the people from southern Missouri and northern Arkansas who came there to get away for a cheap weekend.  The main event in the town was the weekend performance of the play "The Shepard of the Hills" which all of the visitors would feel was a must to go see.  There were a few motels hidden in the hills and there were a few "country opry" shows that would perform hillbilly music and comedy skits every night.  The Senner family would go to one of the oprys a couple of times a year with the visitors from out of town.  It was here that Ted Senner heard and fell in love with music.

The Senner home had within it an old out of tune upright piano.  Mrs. Senner would play the piano in the evenings at times for an occasional family sing along.  She had an old hymnal that she would accompany the family with.  Ted always enjoyed those evenings when his mother would suggest that it had been a while since they had sung.  Ted was the youngest of five children, a brother and three sisters, in the family.  He learned to harmonize from his older brother and the music sounded wonderful, even though no one but the members of the Senner family ever heard it.  Ted would spend these evenings not only singing but watching his mother's hands glide along the black and white keys soft and smoothly.  The piano triggered something deep inside and would mesmerize him.

Mrs. Senner was starting to prepare dinner one October Saturday afternoon when she stopped suddenly.  Someone was playing "The Old Rugged Cross" on the piano.  She listened for a while before walking into the living room and finding seven year old Ted sitting at the piano.  His brow was tight as he concentrated on trying to make the piano sound as it did when his mother played.  Ted would play for a bit and, after hitting a wrong note, would start trying to play the song from the beginning.  His mother stood there astounded by what she was seeing and hearing.  Ted's brother had heard the music and came walking in and as he opened his mouth to say something, the mother put a finger to her lips to keep the brother from breaking the focus of the seven year old.

Ted's tenacity eventually paid off as he played the old hymn from start to finish without a bad note.  When he had finished he sighed, stared at the keys on the piano and put his hands on the bench.  Suddenly he heard light applause from behind him along with exclamations of how well he had done.  He looked over his should and saw his father sitting in his chair with a pipe gripped in a mouth that was smiling.  His mother was standing next to his father's chair, her eyes were sparkling.  His brother and sisters were on the floor asking where he had learned to play.  Ted felt his cheeks warm as he blushed at the embarrassment of being spied on while he made his first attempt at the instrument.

Ted's mother offered to help him learn how to play and he had agreed.  The piano lessons from his mother had begun to confuse the young boy as he tried to learn to read music and play things the way they were written down on paper.  Ted had shown a tremendous ability to pick up songs by listening to them and then duplicating what he heard.  As his mother began to see the vast talent inside her son she backed off trying to give him lessons and set aside a certain amount of time each week for him to play the hymns that he had been hearing and singing his entire life.

Over the next few years the Senner family continued to attend an opry show a couple of times a year.  Ted began to listen to the music being played a lot closer than he had done earlier in his life.  He would listen and try to hear each instrument being played and how they interacted with each other.  The opry acts basically sang old country songs from the era of Hank Williams.  A lot of acoustic instruments playing those old classics along with some songs that were traditional back hills songs that had been played for ages.  Ted had grown in his musical talents to the point that when he was entering his teenage years, he would play the songs that he had heard at the opry shows.  His family loved it for it gave their sing alongs a whole new dynamic and it wasn't long before Ted had replaced his mother at the piano on those nights.

When he turned fourteen his parents gave him an old second had guitar that they had found at the old pawn shop in Branson for five dollars.  They thought it would give Ted a new challenge to learn how to play it and it did.  Ted began studying the guitar players at the opry shows intensely and soon had learned to play the new instrument fairly well. He wasn't a master of it as all he could really do was to strum out chords on it but eventually he learned how to pick out a melody on it.  He preferred just to play chords though and never quite developed into being a guitar player that could pick instead of strum.
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The one thing Ted had noticed at most of the opry acts was that the group seldom had a piano playing.  As a matter of fact most of the oprys did not even have a piano on the stage.  Ted began listening to the opry bands and imagining in his head what it might sound like if a piano were added.  By the time he was sixteen he had decided that perhaps he could bring a new sound to the oprys if they would give him a chance.

When he was eighteen he discussed the idea with his father who agreed it sounded like a real possibility.  Together they decided that one day, finding the right opry that a piano would enhance their sound, Ted would try to pitch the idea to the band.  It didn't take long to decide which opry Ted wanted to try to talk his way in to.  The band that played at the Hogey Opry was about the only one that had turned to electric instruments instead of putting microphones in front of their acoustic instruments.  The sound was richer and fuller and Ted could hear in his head a piano being a part of that sound.  Ted and his father decided to visit the Hogey Opry early on Saturday and talk to them about Ted's idea.

Father and son arrived at the Hogey Opry House at around ten o'clock that Saturday.  They entered the theater and sat down about two thirds of the way back from the stage.  The band was playing a new song for that weeks show and didn't sound as if they were struggling much with it.  It sounded tight and Ted listened carefully, concentrating on the particular sound that the band had developed over the years.  Ted felt very confident sitting listening and hearing in his head where piano parts would improve the sound.

The band finished the song and began to discuss things that needed improvement.  The leader of the group, who Ted knew as Al from attending the Hogey for so many years was asking questions of the members and telling them what he wanted their particular part to sound like.  After all the instructions Al turned and look back into the auditorium and looked at the two men sitting there.

"Show doesn't start until seven my friends.  What can I do for you?"

Ted stood up and began walking down the aisle towards the stage and began to address Al.

"Well, sir, I have been coming here since I was a kid and I like your sound.  I think I can help you improve on it a little though."

Al chuckled lightly and after turning his gaze back to the performers looked back at Ted.

"Oh you do, do you?  And how would you be able to do that?  I think we sound pretty good myself."

"You and your band do sound pretty good but I think it could be improved a little.  A little better sound could draw in a lots more people." Ted spoke confidently.

"Okay son, tell me what your idea is.  Always open to suggestions here."

Ted stopped he was a few feet from the stage now and stared Al straight in the eyes and spoke but one word.

"Piano."

Al looked intently at the young mans face.  He rubbed his beard a bit and squinted his eyes.

"Piano, huh?  You think that would improve our sound do you?"

"Yes sir.  It could give it a new dimension instead of sounding like all the other opry bands around here."

"Let me guess, you play piano, right?"

"As a matter of fact yes I do.  Let me at please play a little with y'all and you see if it doesn't sound a little different, a little better."

Al stood up straight and without taking his eyes off of Ted yelled over his shoulder.

"Tom... Jim .... Slide backstage and roll that old piano out here for a bit."

"Yes sir," said one of the men as the two of them disappeared behind the curtain and came back rolling an upright piano like the one Ted played at home.  The positioned it in the back, next to the drums.

"Okay Al, here she is."

Al turned and pointed towards the piano and ordered,  "Well, put a couple of mics on the back of it so as we can here the thing.  Going to experiment a little ... come on up here son.  What you say your name was?"

"Ted.  Ted Senner sir."

"Well Teddy Senner, Let's see what you can do.  Got any song you prefer to play?"

"Not in particular.  I pretty much know all the songs that your band plays."

Al raised his voice and called the band back together.  "Okay people, back in your places.  We gonna try to play with a piano to see what it sounds like.  Let's do Hank's 'Honky Tonkin' " Al turned to Ted, "That okay with you son?"

"Sure," Ted said as he climbed up on the stage and headed to the piano.

Al counted to four and the band began to play.  Ted didn't play at first, listening to what notes were being played but as soon as he was able to figure that out, he began to play his heart out.  The volume was set very high on the piano microphones so he played a little louder so Al would be sure to hear it.  In the middle of the second verse Al suddenly stopped playing.

"Hold it, hold it hold it people... hold on a second."  Then he turned to Ted and said sternly  "Son, we got singers to carry the melody.  Don't need a piano for that.  You need to accompany the singers and the rest of the band.  We got the melody.  Understand?"

"Yes sir." Ted responded as his head began to work over how he could play the song without the melody.  He had done it a few times just messing around but this was for real.  Soon the sound came into his head as to what he wanted the piano to sound like.

"Ready?" Al asked Ted. "Remember, no melody ... accompany."

Ted nodded his head and Al started to count to four again.  When the band began this time, Ted started playing right from the beginning.  He played as well as he could without touching on the melody and the sound came out as a piano in the background melting in with the guitars.  As the song went on Ted became more confident and began to try new runs on the piano.  Ted thought it sounded pretty good.  Eventually the band came to the end of the country classic.

Al turned and looked at Ted.  "Not bad kid.  Not bad at all.  You may be onto something here.  Now, you got to understand you're still a little green, not quite ready for the stage but I tell you what.  You come out here every Saturday morning and work out with the group.  We'll see what kind of sound we can develop with you and that piano.  Sound like a deal?"

Ted grinned and nodded his head.  "Sounds like a great deal sir".

"Well stick around for the rest of the morning, then we'll see you next Saturday."  Al said knowing in his head that this kid was going to work out just fine.  The Hogey would take it up a notch over the other oprys scattered around the hills.

The practice ended and Ted had played every song being careful not to play the melody.  When it was over and Al dismissed everyone he walked over and shook Ted's hand.

"Good job kid.  Very good job.  See you next Saturday Teddy"

"It's 'Ted', sir"

"Not around here it isn't.  When you walk through those doors, you are 'Teddy', okay?"

"What ever you say, sir"

And with that Ted went back into the theater and met his dad who was smiling a smile bigger than he had ever done before.  They didn't talk on their way home, both of them thinking to themselves about what had happened.  When they arrived home they told Ted's mother all about it and she was thrilled.  Her Ted was going to be playing in front of people and for money at that.  Proud is not a strong enough word to describe how the three of them felt.

That evening, the Senner family went to the Hogey Opry and watched the show.  One day, they all knew, Ted would be on that stage a part of the show.  Nobody thought it would take long.
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