Life in East Ann Arbor was fine for a 7-8 year old. I could walk to Busters Market and to the East Ann Arbor Hardware store where my Grandpa worked for a couple years. He would be there on most Saturdays and it was fun to walk in and see him. If I was really adventurous, I would cross Packard and scoot on down to the Dog-N-Suds. This was very cool when I started collecting on my paper route and could afford the exorbitant price of a hot dog, fries and a root beer.
But, one of the biggest thrills was when I could afford to buy a 45 RPM record from Woolworths on Saturdays when my Dad would take me to downtown Ann Arbor to pay my bill for delivering the Ann Arbor News for two weeks. 49 cents was a lot of money. On the other hand I could listen to my favorite music, whenever I wanted to. That was heady stuff. No more depending on the dumb ole radio, I could put on my music anytime.
Up to this point, Van controlled the music in our bedroom. He was the one with the money and the privilege of buying records and playing them. I tried to play things when he was not around, and I don’t remember ever wrecking any records by scratching them, causing the horrible clicking noise as it rotated, I just think the idea of me touching his stuff put him over the edge. So, I had to beg Dad to give me one of the old record players that was gathering dust around his shop. Now I had my first music power. I could finally own the small records with the big hole.
It is hard to define how I decided who to invest my money in. It was similar to what Van was listening to at first. The stuff on the radio in the mid-50s was still the close harmonies and easy to digest song lyrics. And then Ed Sullivan started to put new acts on that sparked interest and controversies.
The first time I saw Elvis I couldn’t quite figure him out. He didn’t sound like anyone I had ever heard. And his jumping around and sort-of dancing was mind boggling. He was not controversial to me, just really different. The lyrics lurched out at you and made you want to move. I had no idea what ‘negro affectations’ were. Heck I was not aware of what a ‘negro’ was, I lived in East Ann Arbor – it could rather be called mostly rednecks and people with chickens in their yard. But, I did want to hear more of this guy, so I bought some early Elvis hits.
One guy that was approved by my Mom and Dad, for his smooth, non controversial sound was Ricky Nelson. He often looked like he was sleepy with his eyes half open, but he had to be good, every week after being the younger brother on Ozzie and Harriet, he would sing his latest song. That was like a bonus, and early version of music videos. I could remember what he looked like right after Ozzie would announce, “And now with his latest record, here is my son: Ricky” I spent money on him.
Another safe sound came from two brothers name Phil and Don Everley. Their voices were so perfectly blended, it was a lesson in harmony each time you heard them. Their accent was ‘south’, but not ‘south’. You could not sing along exactly because they were so good, but you would always try it. They had some very pretty songs that I paid money for.
There was this guy from a tiny town in Texas that I really liked a lot. He sang strong songs with different beats. Elvis was harsh and sharp, Buddy Holly was smooth syncopated. His lyrics were cool. You could sing along with him. I remember the first time I heard “Not Fade Away.” It was a tune that grabbed you right away. He was taking music somewhere it had never been before. I had a bunch of Buddy Holly 45s. I loved them all. He was also the one who taught a whole generation about death. For many of us in that age bracket, our parents and grandparents were all still alive. And then we heard on the radio that Buddy Holly was killed in an airplane crash.
Clear Lake Iowa. Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens are doing a concert at a dance hall. They want to get to their next gig but don’t feel like riding in the bus. The rest of the Crickets take the bus. Soon after take-off the plane crashes in a corn field in the middle of nowhere. It was the day the music died. How sad we all felt to realize there would be no more Buddy Holly singles. It taught us life is short; death is the end of relationships and sadness lasts for quite a while.
My taste in music followed my personality. I kept responding to music that was different. If it was a sound I was too familiar with, I didn’t spend my hard earned money on it. An easy transition was a group from New York City. Their accents were exotic and totally different from what I heard in the vanilla mid-west. They sang with strong syncopation and snappy lyrics. I enjoyed Dion and the Belmonts and spent my money on them.
Ed Sullivan took a chance and had on such a unique guy that most of the country couldnt believe what they were seeing let along hearing. I remember watching that Sunday night show when this guy was singing hard and his hair was flying all over his head. Then all of a sudden he jumps up and throws the piano bench behind him. He is screaming and going crazy. My mom gasps and her eyes bug out. My Dad is yelling, ‘that guy is nuts.’ And I am already singing, …”a whole lot of shaking going on…” I knew I had to have that record and even learned the words.
No where near the outrageous Jerry Lee, but with such an unusual voice and sound was another favorite, Del Shannon. He would go along in a normal voice and then all of a sudden he would go into this falsetto that was other worldly. His electric piano would almost keep up with him and be so high pitched dogs would howl. He was so different, he fit my tastes well.
And then the radio would every-so-often play a song from a guy that I thought was unusual for his fast playing and fun lyrics. I was only starting to realize that there were people who had different colored skin then East Ann Arborites. I didn’t understand it, but evidently they were out there. I also did not understand why Ed Sullivan never had this guy on his show. I had to look a little harder, but I finally found some records by a true Rock-n-roll genius: Chuck Berry.
He would lead the way to the next phase of my music collection as so many people wanted to be like Chuck Berry.
One frustration I experienced was when my Mom and Dad got a nice stereo and I wanted to hear my records real loud. They bought the big records with the small holes. I had to go hunting all over the place to find one of those damn adapters.
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