I have been surrounded by music for as long as I can remember, which on some days isn’t that far into the past. But on the days that I do pause to ruminate on the morsels of musical memories, they are sweet indeed.
My Dad was a music lover, he grew up on a farm with the songs of rural Alberta resonating all around him. He had an older sister, Louise, who played drums and sang in a band. And then there was their oldest brother John. John could recite The Cremation of Sam McGee from start to finish. John also played the fiddle. When I was about 14 years old he offered me a fiddle for free if I took lessons and learned how to play it. I am remorseful now that I didn’t take him up on that offer. I bought a used electric guitar for $30, learned a half dozen chords and played parties and the occasional bar until they threw us out over some excuse about not having an entertainment licence.
There were other musicians in other branches of the family too. The McAllister’s were a lively bunch and the McLeods were not in short supply of musical talent either. The Froland boys played a mean guitar and my cousin Allan Froland has a nice guitar too and taught me a few chords.
There were barn dances, wedding dances, community socials, harvest fairs, and just about any other excuse to throw a party that you cared to think of, there always seemed to be music. They would gather round at the drop of a hat or the popping of a cork and the guitars, harmonicas and violins would appear out of nowhere. They didn’t need an excuse to have a sing-a-long, it was before television and hi-fi stereo so live music was the entertainment and they were more than eager to provide it. My childhood is filled with memories of family get-togethers with music, laughter, poetry and love.
My Dad loved country and western music. Not the pop country that you hear on the radio nowadays, the good old country and western music of yesteryear. He went to concerts by Kitty Wells, Ferlin Huskey, and Ray Price. He never got to see Hank Williams but the music of the Luke the Drifter was a constant in our home, either on our stereo or through Dad’s guitar playing and singing. Dad even cut a 78 rpm record in about 1952, shortly before I came along. Unfortunately, Dad had an accident at work and the index finger on his left hand was lost. He became so dejected that he gave up on playing guitar and sold his.
Mom wouldn’t have any of that nonsense so she bought him another one for his birthday and the started learning to play with three fingers, some imaginative picking and dang it if he didn’t become a real good player all over again. This is a picture of him with that guitar and me with my first guitar, this would be about 1971.
One of my earliest memories of my love of country and western music is also one of the most hilarious, I can look back on it and laugh now, it wasn’t that funny when it happened.
When I was about 12 years old I started going to a church youth group. We had moved around a lot and this was the first time I had ever been in a youth group but it started on a good note. The first Friday that I attended they announced that next week would be a sock-hop. For the younger readers, that is a dance where everyone wears socks and dances or hops, or both. They told us that were each allowed to bring records to the party and everyone would get turns at playing songs off their records of choice.
I was excited. I loved music. I could tell you all the words to Kaw-liga, King of the Road and Snow White Dove. I was sure that kids in this group would like the same music that I did after all this was rural Alberta and every radio in every farm truck was tuned to CFCW, the home of country and western music in Alberta.
I went home and started going through the collection of records my Dad had accumulated, heck, there must have been close to 20 records, an abundance of good music to choose from. I started listening to those records again and I paid attention to the lyrics, the pacing of the songs, and I kept trying to pick just the right ones. I went through the Hank Williams records, he had the most of any artist. They were good but I wasn’t sure if they would live up to the expectations of a sock-hop. Some of his music was better for square dancing, a form of human movement that I abhorred from a nasty experience of stage fright where I shut the door when I should have been doing the do-see-doe.
I then started listening to some of the other records but none of them seemed to hold that elusive quality that I was looking for. Until I came upon the records that I took to the party. I was excited that I would be able to share my love of music with others.
As I arrived at the party on a blustery fall evening, I clomped out of my warm but decidedly unfashionable winter boots and peeled off the layers of clothing that had kept me warm on my walk to the party. I didn’t mind the walk. I had grown up walking most every place I went and I knew how to dress warmly.
As I entered that church basement in my stocking feet I realized immediately that there was a problem. For starters, I was the only one with wool socks. Wool socks are great for sliding along linoleum floors in the winter. Wool socks are great for long walks in the winter. Wool socks are great for playing shinny on a frozen pond. Wool socks were great for all of those things, but they were not great as a fashion statement at a sock-hop. Especially since I was the only one making that statement.
The second problem that I soon realized, much too late to do anything about, was my choice of music. These church kids listened to a different radio station than me and my Dad. They, horror of horrors, listened to 630 CHED. These kids listened to rock and roll, not country and western music, who woulda thunk that?
I knew that eventually, the adult chaperoning the evening, who was also the disc jockey was going to pick my records, I couldn’t find anyplace to hide them. I tried to plead with her, please don’t play mine, just let the other kids play their records. My pleading was to no avail and in the interest of being fair to all, she dropped the needle on the first song of one of my records, it was Patsy Cline singing “Stop The World and Let Me Off”.
My sentiments exactly Patsy.
The room froze. You could have heard a needle drop. Well, actually we did, it dropped onto the record. Everyone looked at me like I had suddenly grown an extra arm. The next 2 minutes and 28 seconds will forever be etched in my mind as every one of the kids in that basement began the mockery that children of that age are so very, very good at. My music was different from theirs and I was fair game for their taunts. And then the chaperone did the unthinkable, instead of playing a record by another child she put on the second song of the second record that I had brought. Not the first song, which would have been “King of the Road”, which I think could have slid by without inflicting more humiliation than I had already suffered. The second song of the second record was “Ahab the Arab”. In case you are not familiar with this song I suggest you give it a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNkdZaU_EhM.
The life kinda went out of the party for me, the chaperone went back to playing top 40 pop singles that the other kids had brought and the kids started hopping in their socks again. I put on my felt-lined boot and trudged home with my beloved country and western records under my arm. I have grown to love those two records that I silently carried home with that cold autumn night. My Dad passed away years ago and Mom gave the records to me. I take them out every so often and listen to just two songs. I think you know which ones.