09/12/10 This is my first story in Story Land. I picked this one today because I thought it would be fun to share a story about my musical upbringing that took place before I really even knew what that meant. So sit down, kick off your shoes and grab a beverage of your choice while I tell you the story I call…
Hey, That’s My Dad’s Friend!
Somewhere around 1976, I went to Memphis to live with my grandmother, my dad’s mother, for a few years. She had been a widow since 1974 and she lived alone. My dad thought it would be a good idea for her to have me to look after and be with, so it was decided that I would enroll in school in Memphis and live with her for a bit. I was all for the idea and loved that time with her. I was a student at LaBelle Haven Christian Academy, which I also loved. I sang in the choir at school, I played on the volleyball team and we attended Bible Baptist Church, which just happened to be on Clement Road. The road wasn’t named after US but I do love a good coincidence. My grandmother, Angela, was the church pianist there and I often sang solos. I loved belting out the old hymns that my grandfather had taught me growing up. She had accompanied him for years as he was the music minister and soloist at their church. Those were good times.
I can remember having the whole living room in our house to myself. That’s where I would have hairbrush concerts. Most girls and some boys know what I mean by this, but to clarify, it’s where you stand in your room and sing along to all of your favorite 45 records and cassettes, into your hairbrush. They make splendid microphones. If you don’t have a hairbrush handy though, don’t panic, you can use a wooden spoon or a ping pong paddle, whatever is handy.
My music collection consisted of a pretty good assortment of 45’s but an even better assortment of cassettes that I had collected from my dad. He had done a lot of recording in Nashville during my earlier years. He would leave to go to “work”, which in my eyes, at eight and nine years old, seemed to mean that he went and met Mr. Cash and Mr. Pride at his studio and they made up songs, then played them and put them on tape. He would bring home rough mixes and listen to them at night. I would love them and he would give me copies. I know now that some of that music never even made it to the album. I was getting to hear the stuff that nobody else got to hear. And as it turns out, in some cases, never would. My Dad was married to Jessi Colter’s sister at the time and I remember when he brought home a rough version of Jessi’s song, I’m Not Lisa. My hairbrush would never be the same after that. For those of you unfamiliar, Jessi, was Waylon Jennings wife. My dad did some “work” with Mr. Jennings during this time also.
My cassettes weren’t slick in packaging, they might be marked with a marker “Cash Ruff mix #5” or “Pride Outtakes”, something like that. All I knew was that they played on my little player and I liked them. I guess I didn’t realize that the music my dad was making would later turn into 45’s or LP’s. The 45’s that I had, I bought at Kmart for 99 cents. Among the couple of dozen of them was Donny Osmond’s version of Puppy Love and Terry Jacks singing Seasons in the Sun. Then I had my cassettes. My one of a kind work tapes. The stuff my dad made at his work. When I moved to Memphis, I took my little suitcase full of music with me.
My first year at LaBelle, I was invited by my friend, Caroline, to a slumber party at her house. The theme of the party was to share your music. The idea was to bring all of your favorite 45’s and cassettes and we would gather in a gaggle and listen and share and sing into our hairbrushes. I was ready. I had my suitcase of tunes, my best hairbrush, my pajamas and I was off. The party was fun. Cake, piñata, boys, punch and then finally after all of the leaving guests left, we rolled out our sleeping bags and put on our pj’s and settled in for a long night of music, popcorn, prank phone calls and warnings from Caroline’s mother in the wee hours to shut up or she was going to separate us. We did each other’s hair, painted our nails and then we hit a lull. That’s when we got out our music.
I watched as Caroline and Margaret H. sang Torn between Two Lovers and sang along as Maude B. belted out Cherish along with David Cassidy. We took a break to look at all of our TIGER BEAT magazines and ooh and ahh over Donny Osmond in his purple jumpsuit and David Cassidy in his. Then it was my turn. I said “you’re gonna love this” and I played my cassette crudely marked: Johnny Cash Mixes. I can’t remember the exact songs but I can remember the looks on their faces as they played. They did NOT get it. “Who IS that?”, one of them asked. My retort was, “that’s some music that my dad gave me that he made at his work.” “Well, it’s weird” and “it sounds so country” and “you can’t even skate to it” were a few of the comments that followed. As much as they didn’t get it, I didn’t get them. I mean I love Cherish as much as the next person but this is really cool music we were listening to here. I mean, just listen to Jessi singing… have you ever heard anything like that? THAT'S what I was thinking. It was like someone had let the air out of some big music balloon and it was just about to be empty and land in a little pile on the floor. What else could I do but turn it off? So I did. I quickly relinquished my DJ rights and kind of lost interest at that point. I decided to go in the living room and watch TV. I can hear their voices faintly singing “Ah Sugar, Ah Honey Honey, You are my candy girl…..” as I left the room.
In the living room, Caroline’s parents had a very large collection of LP’s. Among them I came across a Johnny Cash record. I was shocked. There he was, my dad’s friend and co-worker, Mr. Cash. Hey, wait a minute. Does my dad have something to do with making “real” records? I thought they just made crudely marked cassettes. And went to lunch. And wrote funny stuff down on big legal pads. And picked guitars and hung out. Have other people heard of Mr. Cash and bought his records just like I bought Donny Osmond’s? It was a revelation for me. I flipped the record over and there in print were the words Producer: Jack Clement. Back in those days, you had to be a big deal to have your own record. I guess this Mr. Cash, with his really sweet wife and neat daughter named Roseanne was a big deal. Who knew?
I marched back into the slumber party and I said, “look, there he is, my dad’s friend, the one on the cassette”. “Yeah, sure, you know somebody on a record” were the next words I heard. “Well, as a matter of fact, I do. His wife, June, and I made an easy bake oven cake last Sunday while my dad and Mr. Cash worked in the studio. I guess somebody liked it, cause they made a record of it, just like they did of David Cassidy” was all I knew to say to THAT.
Well, as girls are resilient, we moved on, merrily and giggling onto something else without a hitch. But, on that day, I realized that what my dad did was much more than just leave the house and come home with cassettes. And on that day, it turns out that I was right about the music. I’m sure that there are more Johnny Cash posters on walls in the world than there are ones of Donny Osmond and the like. I was too young to realize that musical history was being made all around me. I just knew that I liked what I heard.
Turns out I was right about Jessi Colter, too. Click on the link below and listen to Jessi Colter’s big hit, I’m Not Lisa. I love this record. I loved it way back when I heard it before they even finished it. And for maximum enjoyment, don’t forget to get your hairbrush out!!