Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

Time to open up the Old Curiosity Shop and crank up the Wayback Machine, back to the days when cars had fins and space travel was in the realm of science fiction.  Hang on!  We're activating the Flux Capacitor now!

2107—OCS for July 2021, “Thank You for the Music”

Old Curiosity Shop for July 2021

“Thank You for the Music”

Those who have followed this column for the past ten years are probably aware that music has played an important part of my life.  Going back to the 1940s, the family had an RCA cabinet model radio.  It received the AM broadcast band, 540 to 1620 KC (or as we say now KHz).  Some of the more expensive radios could tune in short-wave stations from other countries.  For recorded music, we had a windup Victrola.  After World War II was over, and home electronics were available again, my folks bought an RCA Victor table model radio-phonograph unit with a 78 RPM record changer.  A year or two later, when Southern Calif. Edison went from 50 to 60 Hz line frequency, a member of the changeover crew modified the turntable  so soothing music wouldn’t turn into hot jazz.

The Desert Song (1944 Decca album) This was one of my mother’s favorites, and I probably still have the album tucked away.  Some of the songs from this Sigmund Romberg operetta still rattle around in my head.  The lead female singer in this set, Kitty Carlisle, became known to TV watchers as one of the panelists. Back in the 1970s, when the term “album oriented rock” became common, some of the younger listeners wondered why LP records were called “albums” and old timers like me would have to explain how records were stored back in the 78 RPM days.

That’s What I Like About the South and The Thing by Phil Harris.  We had several Phil Harris records in the family collection; one of the family oral traditions was that in their younger days, our parents went to shows featuring Phil Harris and his orchestra.  In the 1940s, he was part of the Jack Benny radio show, which we listened to every Sunday night.  We’d hear comments about Frank Remley, Phil’s guitar player, and how he was somewhat of a lush.  From our parents, we learned that it wasn’t true, he was a skilled musician.  It was commonly believed that Mr. Harris was from a Southern state, but he was really from Indiana.  My daughters encountered him as the voiceover for Baloo the Bear in Walt Disney’s Jungle Book.

Music Music Music by Teresa Brewer.  Every week or two week go out to dinner at a storefront diner in Arcadia.  It had one of those ornate jukeboxes with bubbly tubes and colored lights, and this was back when in the words of the song you could “Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon…”and hear the recorded hits of the day.  Many years later, Ms. Brewer would revive it for a Muppet Show on TV.

Sweet Violets by various artists.  This novelty number was popular in the summer of 1951, when my mother, grandmother, brother and I rode the Santa Fe, New York Central and New Haven railroads to Boston.  There are several version, as I recall, some are spicier than others.

William Tell Overture by Spike Jones and his City Slickers.  Back in my teenage days, I attended a concert in which the host introduced the next number with, “If you’re a real highbrow, you will hear this piece and NOT want to call out ‘Hiyo Silver!’”  Spike Jones arranged it for his band and added a horse-race call by Doodles Weaver.  This hit close to home because we lived not far from Santa Anita Park, and could hear the track PA system.

St. George and the Dragonet by Stan Freberg.  After the Spike Jones period, we started listening to Stan Freberg, another member of the Dr. Demento Hall of Fame.  He did both parodies of popular songs and three-minute sketches inspired by TV shows.  This was back when “Dragnet” was what would later be called a “police procedural” radio show and then migrated to television.

Dry Bones by Fred Waring and his Glee Club.  My brother Neale and I thought this was the cat’s meow, especially around Halloween.

1954  Be True to Your School would not hit the charts until the early 1960s.  1954 saw me going to Monrovia Duarte High School, where when I first enrolled, I had a study hall period.  Since this was over 60 years ago, the details are rather obscure, but the counselor recommended that I join the staff of the school newspaper, which became my co-curricular activity, and was where I would meet my future wife.  We might consider this monthly posting as carrying on the tradition.

Rock around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets.  There are other records that can be considered to be primordial Rock and Roll, but when this hit #1 on the charts in July 1955, the popular music worlds would never be the same.  My collection includes a 78 RPM copy of it.

Earth Angel by the Penguins was one of the first R&B vocal group records in my collection.  According to legend it was recorded in a garage in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1954, and remained in print into at least the 1970s, with the later 45s showing an address for Dootone Records in the LA Civic Center area with a ZIP+4 postal code, in a building that didn’t exist when the record was first released.

Moments to Remember by the Four Lads.  Back before I “sold my soul to Rock and Roll” I did have a few numbers produced by Mitch Miller.  I would soon consider songs like this to be on the sappy side, although not as corny as “The Doggie in the Window”.

Yellow Rose of Texas by Mitch Miller and his Orchestra and Chorus.  Yes, I had a record of this rousing relic of the Civil War— there was also a “demented” version by Homer & Jethro that I remember.  We might consider that when this record was released, there was at least one veteran of the Civil War still alive.

Ain’t That a Shame by Fats Domino was one of the first records that I would later find came from New Orleans.  There was also a “white bread” cover by Pat Boone, about which, the less said, the better.

I Hear You Knockin’ by Smiley Lewis— more solid R&B from New Orleans, reportedly with Fats Domino on piano.  This song would be remade in 1970 by British musician Dave Edmunds, without the piano and saxophone, but adding slide guitar.

Smokey Joe’s Café by the Robins— one of my Fifties Faves, written by the prolific team of Lieber and Stoller (and a few years ago I met Mike Stoller at a book-signing event).  Give me a band and a backing group and I can sing this without a cheat sheet.

The next three records I bought in one purchase in March 1956.  I still have the 78 RPM discs; this was a few months before I built a three-speed record player:

No Money Down by Chuck Berry, the followup to “Maybelline”, listing the options he wants for a Cadillac to replace his “broken down ragged Ford”.  I especially liked the “railroad air horns” and “short wave radio” (and we do have a motor home with CB unit)

Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins— the original, and it even outsold Elvis Presley’s cover.  Back in 2009, I was at a family gathering, and one of my son-in-law’s friends brought a karaoke system.  It included a CD for the wannabe Elvis (“Thank you very much”) and it included this primordial rockabilly number, which I sang for the assembled family and friends.

Long Tall Sally b/w Slippin’ and Slidin’ by Little Richard, another followup, released not long after “Tutti Frutti” and hot off the press when I bought it.  One reviewer said that “Tutti Frutti” was a hard number to follow, but Little Richard pulled it off.

Rock and Roll Forever by various Atlantic artists.  I received my first LP as a Christmas present in 1956, having build a rudimentary 3-speed record player with parts from various sources.

1957  Get a Job (recorded by the Silhouettes, I may have it in a compilation), mentioned here because it was in the spring of 1957 that I started my first and only paid employment in the music business.  I’ve told the story of how I hung around Johnson Music in downtown Monrovia to the point where Mr. Johnson said, “Would you like to work here?”  My knowledge of obscure R&B numbers that I heard on late-night radio shows was a definite plus, and I worked there part time until I went off to college in Sept. 1958.

Come Go With Me by the Del-Vikings.  This was playing on the demo phonograph at the music store when I first reported for duty.  Notable for being on the Dot label, which had a reputation for issuing lame “white bread” covers of R&B hits, and for being recorded by one of the first interracial vocal groups.

The Coasters by the Coasters and the Robins— this compilation on the ATCO label was the first LP I ever bought, and it includes Fifties Faves such as “Searchin’”, “Smokey Joe’s Café”, “Riot in Cell Block No. 9”

Old Folks Boogie by Slim Green and the Cats from Fresno— One reviewer said this was aimed at the “down home southern” market; well, I dug it in Southern California after hearing it on the Johnny Otis Show.  Still have the 45 and also the CD track (which would have been sci-fi in 1957.)

Until the Day I Die by Teri Akers and the Tears, another Johnny Otis production, featuring two boys and a girl from Torrance High School.  We’ll probably never know, but I’ve wondered whether this trio of teenagers inspired Phil Spector to form the Teddy Bears.

Songs by Tom Lehrer was one of the last available 10” LP records.  The format was fairly common in the early 1950s, but had become obsolete by the time I found this collection of satirical songs that would later be aired on the Dr. Demento Show.  We kept a copy behind the counter at the store because it was considered to be unsuitable for younger listeners in those days.  Our next entry has some more “behind the counter specials”.

Work with Me Annie, Sexy Ways, Annie Had a Baby by the Midnighters.  These were considered “hot stuff” and we teenagers learned about them mostly by word of mouth or hearing them at parties.  I did hear one of them on the radio, but it was around 1:30 AM.

Willie and the Hand Jive by the Johnny Otis Show.  The record that put JO on the pop charts is still a favorite for summer park concerts by local cover bands. One of my brother’s friends and I set up a record player and a microphone with a cut-in switch and made a recording of “Hand Jive” with assorted wisecracks and what we thought were funny comments.

They Turned the Party Out Down at Bessie’s House by the Rocketeers.  Issued on the short-lived MJC label, I picked up a 78 RPM copy when we were closing out that format.  It reminds me of a girl named Jessie, who was part of our circle and who would have much more peaceful parties at her big old house in Monrovia.

It Hurts Me Too by Elmore James— one of the first hard-core Chicago blues records I ever bought.  Probably heard it on Hunter Hancock’s afternoon R&B DJ show, and bought it at the first opportunity. 

1958  Bright College Days by Tom Lehrer. In Sept. 1958, I had graduated from Monrovia High and was off to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I would major in Electronic Engineering.

Oh Boy by [Buddy Holly and] the Crickets.  I found the Brunswick 45 in a small shop across the street from the camera store Chorro St. in downtown San Luis on Oct. 14, 1958.  In less than six months, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson would perish in an airplane crash in Iowa, and a year later I would be married.

I Believe by Elmore James.  One of the greatest blues records ever cut; I had encountered The King of the Slide Guitar about a year earlier when I heard “It Hurts Me Too”.  I found this in a bargain bin in the local music store, which I think was on Marsh St.  I soon confined my record hunting to days when a certain staff member was not on duty.  He seemed to be very friendly, bordering on creepy, and when I mentioned this fellow to a classmate, I was told “Oh, that’s [name deleted].  He’s queer as a nine-dollar bill.”  Many years later, I figured that CDs were really here to stay when I found a British-made compilation CD of Elmore James recordings in the second-hand bit at Moby Disc in East Pasadena.

I’ve Had It by the Bell Notes.  Found in a grocery store bargain bin near the Cal Poly campus.  Wicked guitar work and a driving beat from a Long Island band.  Still sounds cool.

Key to the Highway by Little Walter— an old blues standard, probably older than I am.  This came out just around the time I headed off to college, and it represented another step in my journey into the Blues.  It was issued on Checker 904, which happened to be my PO box number at the Poly Post Office.

We’ll wrap up the saga at this point, and delve into the 1960s and beyond at a future session.  And as the Grateful Dead would sing about ten years later, “What a long strange trip it’s been…..”

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