My father introduced me to Hank Williams, Fats Domino and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
I'm looking at the old RCA Victor hi-fi cabinet upon which I played so many records when I was a kid. The old cabinet has been silent for a long time, its last use about 20 years ago when I searched its radio for an LSU game and found WWL's faint signal and lay on the floor on my back by one of the big double speakers to try to understand what was going on.With the return of vinyl, I want to find someone to replace the RCA's old needle so it can play music again.
My parents belonged to several record clubs of the era, Columbia shining brightest in memory. My father built a plywood holder with notched dividers and wrote the alphabe, across the top so as to file the records by title accordingly.
Redundantly, he wrote each album's title in a notebook beneath its corresponding letter. The idea was that we would go to the notebook, find the album under its letter, then go to the cabinet to locate the album in its place.
All this was unnecessary: There weren't that many entries, and all we had to do was to go to the cabinet and find a record when we wanted to play it. Or perhaps the system was more complicated than than, involving numbers as well as letters.
Most of the records came from the World War II and Post-War big band eras. The RCA hi-fi's vintage years preceded the British invasion that temporarily killed the American Songbook.
My father did like folk music, whose popularity presaged the arrival of the Beatles, Peter and Gordon and Gerry and the Pacemakers. He bought the first Peter, Paul and Mary albums, and I loved listening to the Kingston Trio and, yes, Trini Lopez.
My father despised Glenn Miller. Instead, he liked Louie Prima and Keely Smith, Benny Goodman, Fred Waring, Artie Shaw, Ray Coniff (ugh). Les Brown and his Band of Renown. I don't remember much Tony Bennett, but Sinatra was there, along with Ella and Louis Armstrong. New Orleans' Pete Fountain was one of his favorites, Al Hirt, not so much.
Yes, reader, I spent many an hour listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We also had much of the Kennedy era crazes: the twist, the limbo. The Girl from Impanema. The First Family, with Vaughn Meter as JFK.
My Valentine's Day gift this week was Willie Nelson's salute to Gershwin, "Summertime." The album is sweet and mellow, somewhat bland. Nelson's performance of "Summertime" is fine, but I wish he'd have picked another "Porgy and Bess" song besides "It Ain't Necessarily So."
Willie's characteristic arrangements and his signature voice performing the Gershwin standards struck my heart, blending into one channel disparate streams of music I've loved.
My father's bringing me Hank and Bob led me to Jimmie Rogers, the Carter Family, and, in a turn, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Billie Holiday.
Those old big band and Vegas-tinted numbers stayed with me, and I circled back to the classics of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and many others.
So many great musicians died early: Hank, Jimi, George Gershwin. Those like Willie and Tony Bennett kept going, growing stronger and stronger, embodying all of the rivers of American music.