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Songs That Change Our Lives. Part 1

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's been pretty well documented that one of the most potent of the cognitive senses is hearing. To be more precise, the sound of music.

Not only are the hills alive with it, but our memories are wrapped in it. 

Consider the songs your parents or grandparents would sing to you when you were little. Or certain commercial jingles. ("Use Ajax. Boom boom! The foaming cleanser.  Doodle-umpa-dump-dump-dump!  Floats the dirt right down the drain. Doodle-doodle-doodle-do!") That one makes me think of a round screened Zenith black and white television our next door neighbors the Kenneys had. They had the first one on the block. The tv. Not the Ajax.

I can never hear "Good Golly, Miss Molly" with out thinking of the first high school dance I went to. And black and pink shirts, with the collar flipped up. And a DA hairdo. And taps on my engineer boots. Except, my parents wouldn't buy me engineer boots.

Of course, there is always, YOUR song that framed your first romance. With me, it was Paul Anka's "Diana". Ah, yes!  Korea. 1961. The "Black Cat Cafe" in Seoul. Good times. Good times.


Music was the element that often changed my life. Literally.. A song, a tune or a certain style often opened my eyes to possibilities I had never imagined. 

And so it was with, "I'm A Ramblin' Wreck From Georgia Tech". 

Now don't ask me where I learned the fight song from the Georgia Institute of Technology back in 1948. I was all of  five years old, and I sang all sort of songs. But I loved that song the best. Probably from some uncle on my dad's side.

"I'm a ramblin' wreck from Georgia Tech and a hell of an engineer."  Oh, yeah, I used the "h" word. It was cute coming from the lips of an adorable curly red haired little guy with just the hint of a lisp. .

"A helluva, helluva, helluva, helluva, helluva engineer."  I would sing and people would clap and laugh. My father thought I should be on the radio.

Well, it just so happened that WKXL radio in Concord NH, where I lived, had a Saturday afternoon "Quiz" show which they would broadcast live from the Star Theater on Pleasant St. between the matinee and the early evening movies.

Now, back then, as many, well, as SOME of you might remember, for fifty cents, a kid could have a full afternoon of pleasure. Twenty-five cents for the movie, which included coming attractions, a news reel, a couple of cartoons, sometimes a travel-log, an action serial (like, "Flash Gordon") a "B" movie, "The Three Stooges" or something and the feature, like, "Prince Valiant" or something. Then for 10 cents you could get a box of popcorn and for another dime, a box of Juju babies. OR....if I saved the dime, I could get an ice-cream cone at Spaducii's on the way home. A"Sunset Cone". which was a combination of orange sherbert and vanilla. Oh, sweet Saturday.

So, anyway, my father knew the guy who was the m.c. for the quiz show, called, "Guessing for Silver Dollars". A very clever title for a quiz show.

A tall, cadaverous man would bring out a big old standup microphone on the stage after the matinee and, with a nervous guy named "Ed", wearing ear-phones and hunched over a glowing black box on a tiny stand in the wings giving him the count down,the towering thin-haired man would shake a big sack full of stamped zinc slugs (the alleged "Silver Dollars"), announce in a booming voice "It's time to play...'Guessing for Silver Dollars'". and the show would be on the air.

I had just finished watching the matinee and, with my friends, was staggering up the aisle filled with stale popcorn and 5 pounds of sugar from the Juju babies when my dad pounced on me.

"Mr Green is going to put you on the air so you can sing." he said, grinning broadly.  Mr. Green was the tall, bald m.c. from WKXL with a booming voice and bad breath. I found that out later. The bad breath part.

"Oh, I'm a jolly good fellow. I drink my whiskey clear."

Before I knew what was happening, I was whisked up onto the stage and introduced to everyone in the theater.

Mr. Green, gimlet eyed and dressed in a slightly wrinkled brown suit and smelling of Vitalis with a severe case of halitosis lurking just in the background, picked me up and set me on a stool that had somehow appeared from nowhere.

"Before we introduce our first contestant." he said, with exaggerated gesticulations and over pronouncing every word, "We have a special little guest."  He paused and the audience ooood and awwwd.  I looked around and noticed everyone was staring at me. I smiled. 

This was a good feeling.

"I'm a ramblin' wreck from Georgia Tech and a helluva engineer."

Mr. Green continued.

"Little Georgie Locke of 9 Monroe Street here in Concord is going to sing a song for us." He looked at me expectantly. "His father," and he glanced off to his right where the old man stood beaming proudly. "Says he knows "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover." Which was a big hit for Art Mooney and his band that year. I nodded, glassy eyed. Mr Green frowned slightly and said, "Well, Georgie, go ahead and sing  'I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover.'"

Ed had come on stage and was adjusting the microphone until it was inches from my little cupid lips.

I opened my mouth and out came the Georgia Tech Fight Song with every "helluva, helluva, helluva, helluva" it was possible to squeeze out hanging in the ether for all to hear. As far as I know, the rafters of that now defunct movie theater still resound with the words.

Mr. Green and Ed froze. The audience whooped and laughed and hollered and clapped and whistled. I ate it up. Every last bit of it. And as I was hustled off the stage by my stunned father to further applause and a slight gagging sound from Mr.Green, I knew that entertaining people was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

My mother had been told to gather the neighbors around the radio to listen to her little "Georgie" sing on the radio. Ah, yes. She did indeed hear him sing. And when Dad brought me home, he heard about it too.

I wondered why my mother hadn't said much about my first time on the radio. I mean. I got all the words right.

Nice and loud.

Years later, when I keyed the mike on the control room board and spoke live for the first time as a radio announcer, I remembered that time so long ago when I beheld a microphone and felt it's remarkable power to entertain.

"I'm A Ramblin' Wreck From Georgia Tech".

It was the first song that made a profound difference in the direction my life would take. 

It wouldn't be the last.

© 2009 George Locke


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It was 1960 and I was fresh out of high school. I had left rock and roll behind for a while after Dave Guard and the Kingston Trio crept up to whack me with a "Tom Dooley"-stick in 1957. Then came "The Brothers Four", "The Highway Men" and "The New Christie ." and I was hooked. I joined the Army because Uncle Sam promised he would send me to Public Information School to learn journalism, photography and a smattering of radio broadcasting. Hootenany was in the air. I followed my favorites, including the heart-breaking clear voice of Joan Baez to Korea while I wrote for "The Cavalier" and "The Stars and Stripe". I was a correspondent and photographer. Then it was on to New Mexico where I found "Peter, Paul and Mary", early" Bob Dylan" and some scratchy "Jimmy Rodgers"('The Singing Brakeman'). I bought my first guitar while I was producing radio programs for "White Sands Missile Range" and learned a few chords. I recorded a few live concerts, using purloined equipment in Coffee houses through the Southwest. Places like "The Don Quixote" in El Paso, Texas. And I listened to performers, gaining knowledge along the way. When I got out, the 60's and ྂ's came hurtling at me, dressed with songs from new writers and performers. I went to broadcasting and drama school for a season in Boston and began to listen to the likes of Dylan, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Donovan, Mark Spoelstra, Patrick Skye, Jim Kweskin and Phil Ochs. I traded my $30 red and black Stella for a Gibson and began haunting places like the "Unicorn" plus "Club 47" in Cambridge and numerous clubs in New Hampshire. Then a group called "The Beatles" changed my view on everything. I became lead singer and rhythm guitarist in a band called, "The Notables". I bought a more expensive Gibson and an electric 12 string. We did 'Stone's' covers and 'Lovin' Spoonful'. I plunged into James Brown. A 22 year old white kid doing James Brown. I was nothing if not audacious. I went into commercial radio in a small market station back in NH. I wrote news, sports, rip and read weather off the teletype and interviewed everyone from William Shatner to Eugene McCarthy.and George Gobel. I got another twelve string. I got married. I acquired 4 children, and lost everything in the war. And I stopped playing for awhile. Then I met my passion. The love of my life. We married. We produced 5 children together. I was writing in earnest, after I began a spriritual journey. I started telling stories. Childrens tales, Anansi, Coyote and all the worlds mythical characters were part of a woven tapestry I still am adding to today. A friend gave me a Martin D35. Another gave me a Yamaha acoustic/electric 12 string. A few months back I sort of 'retired'. That's another way of saying I was let go. It was then I received my 'Dana Fligg' long neck banjo and am now writing for a local literary mag. I sold the Martin. I bought a Washburn acoustic/electric. My wife gave me a fire-engine red solid body Epiphone electric. I have five beautiful grandchildren. There is much more to say and much more to sing about, but I am glad to have found this place.

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