We were destined to pick up pens I think, my siblings and I; it’s what we came from. My mother, at 76, still has the smoothest and prettiest script, both in writing and printing, and I think that had to have had something to do with it, that literal evidence we grew up around.
Mother always had a pen nearby, and if she wasn’t doing the crossword or the jumble in the newspaper she was making shopping lists or other lists. Still a young woman–she was a stay at home mom of five by 25–she still wrote out her name in all of it’s different forms–I won’t bore you–and drew lips, sometimes coloring them in and sometimes not, sometimes with faces around them and sometimes not.
She was such a writer and so at ease with the act that she did it even when she didn’t have a pen or pencil in her hand, writing with her finger in the air. I imagine I asked her what she was writing occasionally, but I don’t recall doing so or what answer she might have given.
And we had music and books. Concerning music, early on, there was the radio and the TV. This was the early-70s remember; cassette tapes were still half a decade or so away, and the nearest mall, which probably opened in about ’75, was 35 miles away. So, you got what was piped in, and you got as much of it as you could. If it was on the TV and it had musical numbers–and it was acceptable of course–we were watching it.
On Sunday mornings we watched The Gospel Singing Jubilee–listened to it mostly–while we got ready for church. Then, my dad watched Rex and Eleanor Parker’s sacred music program on Friday nights. I remember it was on Fridays because it came on right before The Brady Bunch. The five of us kids would be gathered for our show for the last couple of minutes of his, and we always hated it when they sang that sad song about somebody’s Mama dying, and he’d be all weepy–even though his grouchy old mama wouldn’t die until ’79–and have to give us all tear-soaked hugs and kisses and tell us how much he loved us, and we’d all be like, “Love you too, Daddy, but can’t we do this later? We got The Brady Bunch starting here, you see.”
And we had Donny and Marie, and The Statler Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys each had shows for a while, and the Smothers Brothers. All kinds of TV with music, and we found a lot of it.
My mother was largely in charge of the radio, which, in small town south-central West Virginia in the early-70s meant country. We had those same Statler Brothers and Marty Robbins and Donna Fargo, Tom T. Hall and Charlie Pride, and I don’t remember what all. I do remember the story songs, though, Jerry Reed singing “Patches” and David Geddes doing “Run Joey Run” and “The Blind Man in the Bleachers,” Red Sovine singing “Phantom 309.”
I think my writing life might be based on that music.
Then there were 8-tracks. Dad had consented to a membership to Columbia House, and it was about the greatest day in my life when those 13 tapes came in the mail. Then it was on. We got The Beatles and Jim Croce, and anyone would probably think that those were the most important acts for me, but, at the time they weren’t. They’ve probably become so in the length of my life, but back then the most important band, and the band that probably drove me to write the most, was a short lived British outfit called Paper Lace.
Known mostly in the States for their hit “The Night Chicago Died,” they also did the original version of “Billy, Don’t be a Hero,” and the 1974 release of their self-titled US debut is just chock full of great story songs like “The Black Eyed Boys,” “Mary in the Morning,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and “Sealed with a Kiss,” among several others.
I knew I wanted to write story songs like that; ironically, I wound up writing more like Croce instead.
And that’s how it went in the early years with the music, and it was fabulous.
Having said all of that about the Paper Lace album, you might think that it’s the focus of my “Tuesday review.” It is not. That album is an album that Steve brought home in 1977, a collection of songs that showed me what could happen when a rock and roller told some story songs. We’ll get to that one in a few.