Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Bobby Boy’s Musical Memory Map

One of my fellow music fans in the I listen to '70s Music Facebook group marveled at how I can tell stories about songs I heard years and even decades ago, and how I can recall the places where I heard them for the first time.  

For example, I first heard “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Goin’ Up the Country” by Canned Heat at a go-go club in San Diego.  I was there with a senior tech on an overnight job taking care of railroad radios for the Santa Fe.  The senior man took me to a night spot featuring bikini-clad dancers and recorded music. Not long after this, I bought Creedence’s “Green River” LP, and a 45 single of “Goin’ Up the Country.”

What got me going on this topic was the Jacquie Lawson e-valentine my wife sent me.  The music going with the animated card was “Liebestraum” (Dream of Love) by Franz Liszt.  My memories of this tune go back to the 1940s, when my parents would play a 12” 78 RPM recording of this piece, probably played by renowned pianist Jose Iturbi.  But we also had another version, by musical depreciation expert Spike Jones.  Many years later, I met a musician who was visiting the Railway Museum, and found that he had sat in with Spike Jones and his City Slickers.  He told me that only the best musicians could do the crazy stunts that this band recorded.

Another aspect of music in relation to other parts of life is what I call geographical connections, songs or recordings that are related to a particular place and/or time.  For example, there was a store-front diner in Arcadia where we’d sometimes go for dinner.  It had one of those classic jukeboxes with the bubbly tubes on the front.  A song that we’d sometimes choose was “Music Music Music” by Teresa Brewer, a lively song that would put everyone in a good mood.  Many years later she would perform it on TV as guest of the "Muppet Show."

Roads have inspired many songs, whether roads in general, such as “Key to the Highway”-- I have the Checker recording by Little Walter and his Jukes, catalog number 904, which is the same as my PO box number at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1958-59.  My route to “Cow Poly” was US 101, made famous by the Cheers recording of a Lieber & Stoller composition, “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots,” with the line “That fool was the terror of Highway 101.”

 Before I went to Poly, I had an experience on 101 going the other way.  Back before I-5 was built, 101 went all the way to the Mexican border.  In July 1958, my dad and I were driving down to San Diego, where I had an interview at the US Navy Laboratory.  We were in the family sedan, a 1956 Chevy, and had the radio on.  Along around San Juan Capistrano, a new record by Ricky Nelson, who was probably second only to Elvis in setting teenage girls’ hearts a-flutter, came on.  It was “Poor Little Fool” and, from the first time I heard it, I knew it would be a hit.  According to my Billboard Top Pop Singles book, it made #1 on the charts a few weeks later.

I became very familiar with US 101 during my time at Cal Poly.  On one of my return trips back to Monrovia, I was heading east along the coast west of Santa Barbara, and heard “Tan Shoes with Pink Shoelaces” by Dodie Stevens.  I’ve posted this one on Facebook when someone suggests a theme of clothing for music entries.  To this one I add “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins and “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. 

San Luis Obispo proved to be a good hunting ground for recorded music.  Probably my favorite of all the records I scored there was “I Believe” by Elmore James on the Meteor label; his take on the Blues classic “Dust My Broom,” it features Mr. James on guitar, J. T Brown on sax, and a band that was really cookin’ that day.  I had previously encountered him when I heard his take on another blues standard, “It Hurts Me Too” in Nov. 1957, and bought the VeeJay 45.  I found several other golden oldies in this music store in San Luis, but I learned not to go there when a certain staff member was on duty.  He seemed very friendly and would get into my personal space (a term that was probably not in use at the time).  I commented on this guy to a classmate, and he said, “Oh, that’s [name redacted].  He’s queer as a nine-dollar bill.”  One hit from the late '50s that I found in SLO was “I’ve Had It” by the Bell Notes, which I found in a bargain bin at the grocery store near the campus.  Lots of great guitar work by these young men from Long Island.

One of our favorite vacation spots is Cambria.  Back in the 1990s, we stayed at the Cambria Pines Lodge, in the hills west of downtown Cambria.  It was a Tuesday night and there was a jam session in the lounge.  Along about 10:30 this rather geeky looking fellow comes in and takes out a metal bodied resonator guitar, the sort of axe I would associate with Tampa Red and other old timers.  After the set, I came over and said, “Wow!  That looks like something out of a museum!”  He replied, “Oh no, man, they make ‘em down in San Luis Obispo.  The guy has the stamping dies and everything.” An a few years later I found the plant down on the south side of town, near the railroad tracks.  If I could buy a couple of gallons of musical talent, I’d buy one of those nostalgia generators.

Many years later, when Pat and I were traveling south through San Luis Obispo County and had the radio on.  It was a classic rock station, and they played “Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra.  Next time we were in Pasadena, I stopped at Canterbury and bought an ELO CD recorded at a concert in Australia, which also had “Hold on Tight to Your Dream.”

Going back the the mid-1960s, I eked out my day job wages by delivering the LA Times in the Duarte area.  I couldn’t pick up many radio stations on the car radio, and the one that came in best was the one that played both kinds of music: country AND western.  It was soon apparent that they were running pre-recorded tapes, because there were several places where I’d hear one song and know what was coming next.  One number that was of special interest was “The Wreck of Old 97” as recorded by Johnny Cash.  The song goes back to 1923, and the wreck itself happened in 1903.  There’s a difference between older versions and newer recordings-- nowadays, [the engineer] “turned around and said to his big greasy fireman, hey shovel on a little more coal….”   The original wording is “…black greasy fireman…” because back in the days when steam power hauled the trains of America, railroads in the southeastern part of the US would hire African-Americans to fire the locomotives, but never promoted them to the engineer’s job.  

George Jones is one of the legendary stars of country music, and two of his hits would liven up my delivery route, “White Lightning,” a tribute to the do-it-yourself liquor business (“This here’s the good stuff!  Been aged a whole week.”), and “The Race Is On” with horse racing as a metaphor for life.  While I rarely left Southern California, Hank Snow recorded “I’ve Been Everywhere" what I call “singing the ZIP code book.”  More recently, it was sung by Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, who made a video in which she’s wearing an outfit that must have had the Grand Ol’ Opry old-timers spinning in their graves.

My next job that gave me an opportunity to tune in and turn on was working the 2nd trick (swing shift) at the Santa Fe Radio Shop in San Bernardino.  It was in a corrugated metal building that had been the firebrick shed back in the steam days, so AM radio didn’t come in very well.  The station I usually listened to was KFXM in Colton, which played Top 40 plus other hit records.  This is where I first heard Linda Ronstadt, because her “Different Drum” got a lot of airplay.  Other songs that were in heavy rotation were “Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes (as I learned later, it was actually Diana Ross and session singers, including the man who wrote the song), “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones (which would have me boogieing around the shop and I could get away with, because I was there by myself).  “Is That All There Is?” by Peggy Lee (which I later learned was written by Lieber & Stoller, composers of “Hound Dog,” “Riot in Cell Block No. 9,” “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Yakety Yak”.) One song I didn’t hear at work, but on the way to San Berdoo was “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells.  It was written by the New York team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who were probably surprised to see this rather bubble-gummy lightweight song go to #1 on the charts.

After leaving the railroad, I went to work at Hoffman Electronics, where one of the assemblers had a radio on her bench.  When “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie came on, she called me over, “Hey, Bob!  You gotta hear this!”

From Hoffman, I went to Southern California Edison, where I eventually bid a rotating shift job, which meant on some days, I’d be going to work at 10 p.m.  One evening, I was driving along Foothill Boulevard and the radio played, “We Belong” by Pat Benatar.  I was so taken by this record that I stopped at the Licorice Pizza record store in the Sears shopping center and bought a copy.  A block west of there was a Wherehouse, in a building that has long since become a golf supply store.  Here I heard a band called Katrina and the Waves, and their rock your socks off track “Game of Love.”  It starts off with some wicked guitar licks and never quits.  I even found a live performance on YouTube-- Wow!

One of my earlier assignments was installing a microwave terminal in the Cerritos area.  This was far enough from Alhambra to make it an out of town location.  I opted to be lodged at a motel south of Knott’s Berry Farm, a location within walking distance of the Buena Park Tower Records.  This was around 1981, and an artistic staff member had drawn a picture of a brontosaurus to convey the message that eight-track tapes were going the way of the dinosaur.  The last place I saw new eight-track cartridges for sale was when I was part of a crew going up to the San Joaquin Valley or Big Creek.  We stopped for lunch at a truck stop facility and found a plentiful supply of these, mostly with country & western titles.  Apparently the truckers were among the last to switch over to cassette tapes.  The record I bought at Tower because someone was playing it on the sound system was “You Don’t Believe Me” by the Stray Cats.  A neo-rockabilly number with rockin’ guitar and a hoppin’ beat.  This is also where I saw a fan magazine with a photo of “Poison Ivy” Rorshacht, the guitarist for the Cramps on the cover.  My reaction to the picture was, “Doesn’t look like the girl you take home to meet your mother.”  Be that as it may, she did play a smokin’ guitar.

In the late 1990s, the rotating shift job was relocated from Alhambra to Irvine, and the supervisor knew that I was not going to either move to Orange County or commute from San Gabriel.  But he said; just to be fair, I’ll take you down to see the new setup. On the way, we saw two collisions and got stuck in slow traffic.  The only thing I really related to was the backup power system - two 2000 hp Cat diesel generators - enough to run a medium size locomotive.  But I had plenty of seniority and could bump one of the techs out of the Alhambra shop (and he got a spot closer to his home, so it worked out OK). 

 Part of my territory working out of the Alhambra shop was Monrovia, and I tried to time my field work to have me near the Panda Express at lunch time.  One day I heard a song on the sound system that sounded like it had been recorded in Louisiana.  It featured an accordion, and a lively beat, very Cajun sounding.  With assistance from my son-in-law, I identified it as “Fly Like a Bird” by Boz Scaggs.  Another piece of mealtime music was some years later, when I had gone down to San Pedro to ride the now-mothballed Waterfront Red Car.  On the way home, I stopped at the Red Car Brewery in Torrance.  At one time, the Pacific Electric Torrance Shops were one of the largest industries in town, but they were long gone.  The brewpub is not in a PE building, but was a telephone company facility.  While I was waiting for lunch, the sound system played “Call Me the Breeze,” but it wasn’t the Lynnyrd Skynyrd version that made the charts, instead it was a more old timey recording.  A bit of research determined that it was by J. J. Cale, who also wrote songs that were covered by Eric Clapton.

If there’s music in the air, and it catches my ear, it will usually wind up in my collection.

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