Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Put Another Dime in the Magnavox

Today at lunch, I stopped by McDonald's, and as I walked in, pianist Floyd Cramer's rendition of "Green Green Grass of Home" was playing. I thought immediately of my dad, because Floyd Cramer, of whom many people these days have probably never heard, was one of his favorite artists.

Although not a musician himself, my dad had a fairly broad interest in music (guess where I got that from). He listened often to the likes of Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Glen Campbell, John Hartford, and Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass. He took such an interest in Davis that he decided to make a major upgrade to our house in 1969 by purchasing a Magnavox console stereo. It wasn't a room-filling, Cadillac-length model, because we didn't have that much room, but boy-hidee, did it ever sound fine. The day it was delivered, my dad played his favorite albums, one after another. That was a landmark day on Chatwood Street.

My mom had played piano since I could remember, and she, too, was a music lover. Her interests were a bit more tame: Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy's rendition of "Indian Love Call", anything by Lawrence Welk or 101 Strings, and all the old Irving Berlin favorites. But when it came to stretching musically, my dad was in a league all by himself. He would be listening to Eddy Arnold one day, Booker T and the MG's the next, and Elvis as time permitted...it was fabulous.

Growing up, I didn't learn much about sports, because even though my dad watched football, baseball, basketball, and anything else involving a ball, he wasn't much on imparting his sports knowledge, so my education is that area was (and is) still somewhat lacking. But when it came to music, he would not hesitate to play it, talk about it, and best of all, get us concert tickets. We saw so many people: the Memphis Symphony was always hosting a guest musician, and we attended those concerts about once a year. Our annual Mid-South Fair featured a rodeo, and at the "halftime" of the rodeos, popular entertainers would be featured. (One year, I actually saw the Three Stooges, with Moe, Shemp and Curly's replacement.) In 1968, we saw Johnny Cash at the rodeo. I still remember that as we were driving away from the Mid-South Coliseum after The Man in Black's show, we passed his limo and saw him sitting in the back seat, wearing sunglasses and looking out the window. He was a character of unparalleled dimensions.

One night in the early Sixties, my dad had a treat for us. He showed up at the house after work with a bag of Krystal hamburgers, and since they'd gotten a little chilled in transit, we reheated them in our oven. We finished up dinner quickly that night because he was taking us downtown to the Ellis Auditorium to see Louis Armstrong, the legend, the real Satchmo. I was only about seven years old, but I was so excited that I could barely control myself. We had great seats, and I'll never forget the way Satchmo took the stage, pulled out that white handkerchief, raised that gleaming trumpet, and started making magic.

I recall only one time that my dad did not enjoy music. One night in the early 70's, I was listening to Chicago's second album on the Magnavox. In those days, Chicago was one of the most popular bands in America, and their music was all over the radio. We had brought my mom home from the hospital only a day or two before -- she had been there for over a week -- and my dad and I had a quiet dinner. Afterward, he went to check on my mom, and I put on some Chicago, at what I thought was a reasonably low volume. A few minutes later he emerged from the bedroom and asked me to turn down the music. I did not hesitate to comply, of course, but I remember that he said, "Son, your mom is trying to rest. Do you want her to get well?" I didn't play any more music for a few days, until I saw her spirits rise. It was a moment that stuck with me, because my dad was a gentle man, and he didn't often get irritated. I figured he knew the situation better than I did.

One day in the late 1960's, while we were on a trip to Nashville, my dad took us to the newly opened Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This was nirvana for him, and he had a running commentary while we were there. Since Memphis was home to rockabilly, blues and soul, we actually had to make the four-hour drive to Nashville for true country immersion. Whenever I'm back in Nashville, I think of that trip and his stories of going to the Grand Ole Opry at the original Ryman Auditorium, where he would listen to the legendary Roy Acuff singing "The Great Speckled Bird." It was, in my mother's opinion, one of the worst songs ever written. For that reason, my dad would bring it up over and over, and my mom would just roll her eyes and move on.

Even though it might have taken me until the age of 32 to really understand what a first down in football was, I appreciated a wide variety of music. Just like with people in general, my dad taught me that there were talents everywhere and that everyone, regardless of heritage, background, or belief, had something to contribute to the whole. He would be so proud of my daughters today: Sarah and Hannah both recommend music to me on a regular basis, and it runs the entire gamut of recorded sound. I am so grateful for that, and now that music streaming services exist, I don't have to wait to get to a music store to hear their recommendations -- I can simply enter the names in a search box, and off we go. My personal music library is constantly being enriched because of their contributions.

So there you have it: that's why I still fall asleep during "important" football games but somehow knew about Tuvan throat singing well before 1990. Put another dime in the jukebox, baby...live life big.