All the stuff what I like.

Influential VII

By this point I can forego the lengthy introduction of this series of posts. You get it. If not, look through older posts and you’ll discover a pattern. You’re sharp, that way. In no particular order, here is–

Post Seven of Ten

It was the size of a suitcase. Dad somehow managed to get it wedged into the car–between whichever of his kids happened to be fortunate enough to straddle it the next few hours down the road. It was an honor you wanted to decline but couldn’t.

the box

This edition of most influential albums from my childhood and youth takes us way back. This window in my lifetime encompasses just about the entire decade of the seventies. My dad’s prized musical possession was a set of twelve 8-track tapes: Classic Country Gold. 

I’ll just put this out there: I’m not a fan of country music. Every now and then I’ve heard a country song or artist that caught my fancy … for a moment. Then, gone. Over it. Thankfully. But this recollection is of how Dad’s Classic Country Gold collection left an indelible impression on my heart and my storytelling/writing life.

iuCountry music–like no other genre–is story.

So Dad’s set–these dozen 8-tracks, in their suitcase, taking up a whole seat in the car–was the soundtrack of every road trip and vacation I (we–all us kids) took with Mom and Dad in our growin’ years. The storytelling cowboys, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hank Williams; the outlaws Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones; the country crooners, Eddie Arnold, Roger Miller, Marty Robbins; and the original dixie chicks Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn–they, and dozens of other classic country singer/songwriters covering the decades of the 40s, 50s, 60s and early 70s serenaded us, non-stop.

What an impression these artists and their stories made on me! And it was pure country gold–

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

And gritty with reality–

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
i picked up my shovel and i walked to the mine
i loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
and the straw boss said “well, a-bless my soul”
you load sixteen tons, what do you get?
another day older and deeper in debt
saint peter don’t you call me ’cause i can’t go
i owe my soul to the company store

Occasionally drawing a pre-adolescent giggle–

Hey, hey, good lookin’,
Whatcha got cookin’?
How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?
Hey, sweet baby,
Don’t you think maybe
We could find us a brand new recipe?

Here’s the connection: All those long car rides spent listening to Dad’s Classic Country Gold AND MORE SPECIFICALLY the stories those old guitar pickin’ cow-folk shared enlarged my imagination. I found myself in their tales. They were the unplanned soundtrack to much of my imagination’s formative years. These are songs and artists I haven’t listened to in four decades, but I bet you I could sing along with any one of them, still.

One more thing. Have you ever had that experience where a song comes on the radio and immediately transports you back to a time and place long ago? These old country songs take me back to vacations. I hear them and I remember stopping with my family at rest-stops, picnic lunches by the side of the road, camping, swimming, swinging on rope swings … oh, and straddling the big ol’ honking 8-track suitcase.

All the stuff what I like.

Influential VI

If you’re just dropping by, you’ve stumbled upon a series of posts–the ten most influential albums in my life (in no particular order). As a writer, I’ve realized music has played a pretty key role in my appreciation of storytelling and wordsmithing. Of course I’ve also dug this trip down memory lane, remembering the songs, the bands, and the many memories connected with listening to these records.

Nothing better to do? Take a trip down memory lane with me: Chicago, Boston, Elton John, Seals and Crofts, and Petra thus far.

Post Six of Ten

Think back. There are moments in every life where one thing, one encounter, one occasion alters your course so significantly you’d say it was ‘life-changing.’ This record … was all that for me.

It was 1976. I lived in Central Florida. There were two popular stations on local radio. Every kid–as far as I knew–faced a choice: Do you grow up listening to pop station BJ-105 or rock-n-roll’s Rock-100? Think of it like this: Village People or Led Zeppelin? BeeGees or Thin Lizzy? KC and the Sunshine Band or Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band?

At the moment I became aware of this most important choice–would I pop or would I rock?–my own personal album collection included (don’t snicker at me, dude!) Neil Sedaka, John Denver and … yes, some Village People and BeeGees records. I was perilously close to breaking the pop direction! Then … this happened.

I was sleeping over at a friend’s house when he pulled out a new record he’d just gotten for his birthday–

Destroyer by KISS kiss

The facepaint. The outfits. The shoes. The music. The stories. What the heck was this?!?!

“And that guy right there,” my friend Bobby said, pointing at the demon-looking guy on the right, “he spits blood!” Well, at eight years old, faced with a choice–dudes who dress like construction workers and cops and cowboys and Indians and sing about all the fun you can have at a YMCA versus a leathered up band, boots with teeth, demon-painted creatures who spit fire and blood and sing God of Thunder … game changer.

Buried the Village People and Neil Sedaka deep in a drawer. Bought KISS Destroyer. Then KISS Alive. Then KISS Alive II. My pop collection went to sleep. My rock collection came to life.

KISS saved me from a lifetime of pop music. Can you imagine if I’d grown up listening to Madonna instead of the Boss? Egads!

(By way of full confession, I am finding a it a lot of fun to listen to throwback seventies and eighties radio these days, and do smile often to hear some of that old pop music too. What an era! Anyhow …)

Story and influence on the storyteller in me, that’s why I’m posting these musings–

The album started with Detroit Rock City. Story of a wild life ending in a flaming car-crash, complete with sound effects. Captured my young imagination. Taught me, too. Watch your speed, kiddos! Don’t drink and drive, kiddos! Shout It Out Loud was a rebellion anthem. Flaming Youth were the kids leading the rebellion–and I wanted to be one of them. (May have joined the KISS Army Fan Club after hearing these tunes.) And of course, who could resist the painful love story cat-faced drummer Peter Criss pined … Beth?

Beth, I hear you calling
But I can’t come home right now
Me and the boys are playing
And we just can’t find the sound
Just a few more hours
And I’ll be right home to you
I think I hear them calling
Oh Beth, what can I do?
Beth, what can I do?

One other memory concerning KISS. There came a day when, as a brand new Jesus Freak, some guy at church told me KISS was “secular music” and “God doesn’t approve.” He suggested I trash my KISS records. To punctuate his point he added, “I’ve heard KISS stands for ‘Knights in Satan’s Service'” and that blood-spitting guy is a Satanist.” 

I was like, “No … he’s Jewish. And it’s art.”  

The rest-of-the-story: KISS was all the rage for me between the ages of say nine and twelve. By my teen years–and the discovery of girls–KISS sort of fell off my radar, replaced by Journey, Foreigner and Def Leppard on Rock 100. I’m just so very grateful it wasn’t  Devo and the B-52s on BJ-105.

All the stuff what I like.

Influential V

Thus far in my series of posts on the ten most influential albums from my childhood and teenage years I’ve taken you through some of the earliest musical recollections—CTA, Boston, Elton John and Seals and Crofts (all of which I encountered before my tenth birthday). Today I’ll take you back to a day in my teenage life deeply ingrained in music … Friday August 19th, 1983.

Post five of ten: Not of This World by Petra

petraIf you know me personally you’ve heard the story of my conversion to faith in the early summer of 1983. The story involves a tiny little two-person fishing boat in the middle of the most alligator infested body of water in North America, and the gentle evangelistic persuasion of my brother, offering, “I’m going to tell you about Jesus … and if you don’t want to listen to me you can swim for shore.”

Leading someone to Jesus? Alligators.

One more thing about my conversion to share—it was the beginning of a pretty miraculous healing in my relationship with my dad. I was a rebellious teen. The old man and I pretty frequently locked horns. I’d gotten to a point of avoiding him as best I could.

As a new believer, I prayed very specifically to see my heart and my father’s heart soften. And what an amazing answer to prayer! Those next several weeks were filled with healing.

Little did I know, just as all things were being made new, I’d have my first real faith-crisis—on the morning of August 19th, 1983, my dad got involved trying to stop a violent altercation at his office and collapsed. He died of a heart-attack.

I remember the feelings of profound loss and emptiness like it was yesterday. I even struggled to believe he was gone—I halfway expected his car would pull in the driveway any moment and we’d all learn it was a big misunderstanding. His presence was larger than life for me. His absence, inestimable.

Right after I’d come to faith in Jesus, I found my way into a little Christian bookstore near my house. There, the dear old couple who owned it took every opportunity to love on me as a new believer. One day when I was in the store, they presented me with a small collection of cassette tapes, saying, “It’s just music some young people like you are listening to.” Turned out to be a treasure-trove of early CCM music. Among the titles, a brand-new release, Not of This World by Petra.

I wore that tape out, top to bottom. From the title track Not of This World through the album’s last track, Godpleaser, I had the tunes and their lyrics memorized in no time. Not to mention, Petra had put Bible verse references in the album jacket for each song—I’d memorized many of those passages. This music had me looking up Bible verses, learning what they meant and how they applied to my life.

That night, August 19th, alone in my room with my Bible open on my lap … I cried out. “God, if you’re really real … I need to know it right now. I need You to show up. Right now.”

I leaned over and pushed play on the cassette deck. Starting where I’d left off the last time I’d listened—when dad was still alive—the next song began. Graverobber.

There’s a step that we all take alone
An appointment we have with the great unknown
Like a vapor this life is just waiting to pass
Like the flowers that fade, like the withering grass
But life seems so long and death so complete
And the grave an impossible portion to cheat
But there’s One who has been there and still lives to tell
There is One who has been through both Heaven and hell
And the grave will come up empty-handed that day
Jesus will come and steal us away

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

Many still mourn and many still weep
For those that they love who have fallen asleep
But we have this hope though our hearts may still ache
Just one shout from above and they all will awake
And in the reunion of joy we will see
Death will be swallowed in sweet victory

When the last enemy is gone from the dust will come a song
Those asleep will be awakened – not a one will be forsaken
He shall wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears
There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow

The verses that accompany this song in the album lining were Hebrews 9:27, John 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-55, Revelation 7:17. Go ahead. Look them up.

The most difficult day in my life, beginning a most trying season—God showed up. Powerfully for me. And to this day, Petra—more specifically this album—takes me back. There’s sadness for the loss of my dad, but great joy in knowing death doesn’t have the last word.






All the stuff what I like.

Influential IV

What fun it has been, looking back and recalling the musical encounters of my earlier years. This fourth entry in the ‘most influential albums I listened to growing up’ series takes me way back—I was maybe six or seven years old. In no particular order, here’s—

Post four of ten: Diamond Girl by Seals and Crofts

This album makes my list for more reasons than its tunes. For me, it’s connected to a larger collection of memories surrounding a hero of mine—my big brother Dave. SC

There is a season in every child’s life that is so very frustrating. It’s that window of time when you know you’re capable of doing something on your own, but no one trusts you to do it by yourself. With the old vinyl records in my house, this was especially true. No one wanted to risk allowing the kid to scratch their records, so the oft heard refrain was DON’T TOUCH!

My oldest brother Dave broke ranks. He wanted to share his love of music with me—his fourteen-years-younger little brother. Dave took the time to teach me how to treat vinyl records, how to pick them up, hold them, put them on the turntable, apply the needle to them, and put them away when I was done.

And, here’s the most memorable part for me: After the lesson, Dave allowed me to play his records on his record player any time I wanted. Daredevil or hero? Yes!

Which brings me to Seals and Crofts. Among Dave’s many records was one with two hairy-faced men standing under weird green lamps with some scary looking gold ball with a face on it between them. I’m not sure what all that was, but to a little kid it was intriguing. I chose that as my first album of choice to play.

Musically, I loved the way these guys blended their voices. I also remember this album as my first experience of other stringed instruments beyond a guitar—they had mandolins and violins and maybe even a banjo or two in there. And of course, my true artistic love: story.

One song in particular caught my fancy. I’ll give you a verse:

Dust on my saddle, mud on my boots;
Couple of empty saddle bags except for two old suits;
I’m tired and I’m hungry, worried as can be,
Last night I saw a poster and they’re still after me.

[Note: Just gave you that verse from memory and I haven’t heard that song in more than forty years. I’m impressed even if you’re not.]

As a kid, that did it. I wanted to know this lonely cowboy/outlaw. I wanted to join him on the run. This may be the song that turned me into the western buff I became—it is true, I love every television western series ever made. In fact, if you’re ever on Millionaire and a question comes up about old TV westerns, make me your phone-a-friend. I’ll win you the cash, baby!

ALI’m sure, also, that the song served as a reminder to me of one of my favorite western characters in all the world, Big Al. Who of course sang, “Blood on my saddle …” A story for another time.

I do recall Dave telling me (and probably after he’d heard Dust on My Saddle for the fortieth time in a row), “You know, there are some other great songs on that record.” Hint, hint.

He took the time to play the rest of the record with me, pointing out the title track, Diamond Girl. I eventually came to appreciate the entire tracklist. We May Never Pass This Way Again became another favorite of mine, for all of its talk about dreams and their worth.

Here I am some forty-five years later. These tunes take me back. And they point me forward. Story does that. I’m grateful for this album and the recollections of my childhood which are connected to it, for their influence on my writing life … and my real life.

All the stuff what I like.

Influential III

Another blast from my musical past. Continuing this series on the most influential albums I listened to growing up (in no particular order), here’s …

Post three of ten: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

It’s always best to start at the beginning – and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road. –Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, The Wizard of Oz

A vivid childhood memory I’ll share with you, and honestly I shiver a little even as I write this–I was terrified of the Wicked Witch of the West. Her and her creepy crooked fingers, green skin, and those flying monkeys! I had nightmares about her after seeing the Wizard of Oz.

If you could only imagine my hesitance when my first girlfriend–I was five, she was six, so … an older woman–invited me into her bedroom to listen to a rock-n-roll album entitled Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadGYBR

I remember looking at the cover. It was a man in a pink jacket–back in a day when men didn’t wear pink jackets. And he was stepping out on to a Yellow Brick Road wearing shoes … I thought my sister had a pair just like those, actually. I’ll admit it, I was confused.

Then we listened. I’ll tell you what, this dude was a crazy piano player! I’d never heard anything like it.

It was a double album. You know that whole thing about little girls not having little boys in their bedrooms? We didn’t get to the end of the first record of the double album before Katherine’s mom protested. I was shown the Yellow Brick Road … home.

But me and Katherine were mischievous. We did wild and crazy things our parents never knew about. Like brushing her family’s Pug dog’s teeth … with Katherine’s little sister Melinda’s toothbrush. And putting masking tape on her cat Marvella’s paws and watching her dance. I’m telling you, you cannot possibly have any more fun at five and six years old!

Of course, every chance we had over the next several days, whenever her mom was otherwise occupied, we were back at it–Elton was spinning on her little record player.

That double album contains some real gems. And story–every tune tells a story! I wasn’t aware of it then, but I’ve since learned about the partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin–it was John’s musicianship and Taupin’s storytelling lyrics that I fell in love with.

I recommend the whole double album, not a bad tune on it really. But for the writing side, the storytelling side, let me give you just one–Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Taupin paints a picture. John’s vocal takes you there–

[Verse 1]
It’s getting late, have you seen my mates?
Ma, tell me when the boys get here
It’s seven o’clock and I want to rock
Want to get a belly full of beer
My old man’s drunker than a barrel full of monkeys
And my old lady, she don’t care
My sister looks cute in her braces and boots
A handful of grease in her hair

Don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Going to set this dance alight
Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright, alright, alright

[Verse 2]
Well, they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight
I’m looking for a dolly who’ll see me right
I may use a little muscle to get what I need
I may sink a little drink and shout out “she’s with me!”
A couple of the sounds that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike
I’m a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats at the bottom of a glass

Unfortunately, my romance with Katherine ended just a few months later. It was like Elton John shared in another song: “she went and left me for some foreign guy” … or at least that’s how my five-year-old self understood her family’s move to St. Augustine.

But the memories remain. And the influence of these songwriters/musicians is indelibly written on my literary life.