TALK IT OVER: FROM FORGOTTEN DRAWER TO THE RADIO

TALK IT OVER Single Cover copy 2

[The cover for the vinyl single of “Talk It Over”, released in May 1988.]

People have asked me about origins of my hit “Talk It Over”. It is an interesting one.

I discovered the song at the co-writer Sandy Linzer’s house in suburban New Jersey one day in 1986. It was gathering dust in a file of old song demos in his basement. I was trying to get a record deal and was looking for a song for my demo reel.  Sandy agreed to look for something that might fit my voice. Sandy, who had some big hits for people like Frankie Vall & The Four Seasons, Kool & The Gang and The Toys, had co-written and recorded a very rough demo of “Can’t We Talk It Over In Bed” along with co-writer Irwin Levine. He played it for me and told me Smoky Robinson had passed on it. He was about to play me the next song he had in mind, when I said “Stop! Let me hear that last one again!”

I immediately heard a hit in it, but it would need extensive changing around. With Sandy’s blessing, I took it home, slowed it way down, changed the key to fit my voice, added a few chords and wrote a very detailed arrangement, adding electric sitar, thick gospel- style background vocals, and used a warm synth sound I had designed which I called “exploding organ”. I had changed the attack and velocity, etc. on of the pre-set sounds on a Korg Poly 61 (preset #85, to be exact), and created something that could only described as a puffball exploding with a long warm echo tail.

In hindsight, I should have asked for a “co-writing” credit. I’ve heard songwriters that do less and get one. But suffice it to say, I was young and naive and I was happy to write the arrangement that would best suit my voice. So you could say that I breathed life into a song that would have just continued to languish as a demo in a forgotten drawer. I made it my own.

I recorded this arrangement and it became one of the songs RCA loved when they decided to sign me as an artist in 1987.

My producers, Michael Baker and Axel Kroell, didn’t want to change a note of my arrangement and RCA wanted to release it as my first single from “Blind To Reason”, which was released in September of 1988.

Mike Ax

[My producers Axel Kroell (eft) and Michael Baker (right) in the hallway of RCA Records in New York.]

Somehow Sandy obtained a “right of first release” for this song for Oliva Newton-John  with my own publisher, behind my back. I was not happy with this, to say the least. But legally we had no choice but to wait. Her version (which, by the way used my arrangement without crediting me of course) fizzled and died, and we then released “Talk It Over” as my second single. “Tears Of Love” was my first and did decently well. The video for it, shot in Big Sur, CA, enjoyed a modest run on VH1 and MTV.

But “Talk It Over”went on to become a big hit for me. It was number 19 in Billboard Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks in the Summer of 1989, number 9 in the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts for nine weeks and rose to number 4 in the Australian charts for 10 weeks. The video was featured in heavy rotation on VH1, MTV and BET.

And here’s the story of the video.

RCA PROMO HEAD SHOT copy

[RCA promo shot, 1988. I was doing my best Elvis impersonation.]

The song was climbing the charts in early ’89 and RCA wanted me to do a video for it.
So I left my band in Minnesota once cold wintry day. We had just played at the club Prince had made famous)  and flew to London. , where director Nick Brandt (who also directed videos for Moby, XTC, Michael Jackson, Jewel) had the sets all built and the actors all cast. And I never did figure out where he got a yellow cab in London!

We filmed the song several times, standing in a half-crouched position in oversized suitcases with no bottoms. By the time were done, my thigh muscles were burning and my lower back was about to fall off. But it paid off, with what became an award-winning video for a song that became an international hit for me. The video turned out to be a very popular one, shown alot on MTV and VH1. It even enjoyed a three month run on the silver screen in selected movie theaters across the U.S. and overseas as well.

Thanks again, Nick, for this great concept and production. And thanks to the actors/actresses that did such a superb job here – We were introduced, then we went our separate ways, but I’ve never forgotten how all of you added so much to this video.

TO SEE THE VIDEO FOR “TALK IT OVER” CLICK  HERE.

 

1966: THE SUMMER OF GREAT SONGS

INDIAN COVE START OF COVE ROAD

(Indian Cove, Guilford, Connecticut.)

It was August 1966 and I was fifteen years old. I was just starting to write songs in earnest. I had a band called The Braekirk Aggregation, a pretty strong inkling that I wanted to do music for a living, a heart and head full of passion and angst and a cool, cute girlfriend with really, really long hair.

GUILFORD COTTAGE FRONT VIEW AND SHED

(The cottage that Uncle Carl Bergengren built, in the 1950’s, showing the shed and the big rock in the front yard where we all spat out a multitude of watermelon seeds. It’s a wonder a watermelon patch didn’t sprout up.)

Every Summer my family would usually stay for a week or two with my mother’s sister’s family at the house Uncle Carl built in a little bay on the Connecticut shore called Indian Cove, in Guilford, Connecticut. This Summer my parents heard about a cottage on Lower Road available for rent in that little community of beach bungalows. So they splurged and rented it for two weeks. And my best friend Deke came to stay for one of the weeks.

HOUSE WE RENTED AT GUILFORD copy

(Our rented cottage on Lower Road that faced the salt marsh. It did not have these stairs and deck when we were there.)

That Summer it seemed you could not turn the radio on without hearing a great song. In all kinds of styles, too. I’m talking about Soul. English Rock. American Rock. Pop. Psychedelic Blues Rock. Folk. Folk rock. Folk pop. Punky Frat Rock.  People like The Four Tops. The Temptations. Wilson Pickett. The Isley Brothers. Sam & Dave. James Brown. The Beatles. The Byrds. The Hollies. The Kinks. The Animals. The Beach Boys. The Lovin’ Spoonful. Cream. The Young Rascals. Johnny Rivers. Richie Havens. Donovan. The Standells. The Troggs. Bobby Hebb.  The Cyrkle. The Righteous Brothers. Percy Sledge. The Supremes. The Dave Clark Five. Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs, just to name some.

To hear “Bus Stop” by The Hollies click HERE.

To hear Wilson Picket’s “634-5789” click HERE.

To hear “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys click HERE.

To watch the original video for “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks click HERE.

To watch The Cyrkle perform their hit “Red Rubber Ball” click HERE.

To watch Bobby Hebb perform his hit “Sunny” click HERE.

To hear “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes click HERE.

To hear “I Saw Her Again” by The Mamas & The Papas click HERE.

To watch The Lovin’ Spoonful perform “Daydream” click HERE.

Staying in that cottage, perched on a hill with a steep sloping yard of boulders, grass and scrubby pine trees, we perfected a schedule. We’d wake up around 6 or 7 am, with the sunlight streaming in all the windows, and make a pot of coffee. Deke and I and my brother Dave would take our coffee out on the porch. Robbie was too young for the stuff so he stuck to orange juice. We’d turn on the portable radio and listen away. Our mood just got better and better as we heard one fantastic song after another. After an couple hours of listening to all this exciting music, we’d head out to the beach, the boats, the walk along the rocks and the land of Summertime girls.

INDIAN COVE YARD LEADING TO PUBLIC BEACH WALKWAY

(The public access, through someone’s yard, that led to the “rock walk” at Indian Cove.)

PUBLIC WALKWAY STEPS TO WATER copy

(The public access steps to the rocks and beach.)

Falkner's iusland Seen From The Rock Walk, Guilford CT 7:5:15

(Falkner’s Island, seen in the distance from the one and half mile “rock walk” that we’d take from Indian Cove to Sachem’s Head in Guilford.)

The loud, chiming 12 string guitars and fourth and fifth harmonies of the Byrds’  “Eight Miles High”. That one alone made you ecstatic to be a live breathing teenage boy. The explosive quarter note drumbeat thumping of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”. Primitive and wonderful. I could already see myself performing this at the next Junior High dance. And their madrigal fancy-lad song “Lady Jane”; I performed that one as well, with my band The Braekirk Aggregation, in my best cockney accent. The unabashed romantic soul of “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. I’d be slow-dancing big time with my girlfriend to this one. The snare drum-like bombs and cheerful Californian harmonies of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys, who I was just starting to take more seriously and end up loving. The dense, meandering melodies, harmonies and sharp, jagged guitar lines of “Bus Stop” by The Hollies. And when the radio played “Good Lovin” by the Rascals, forget about it. We’d be up and dancing like Frankie Avalon! That song was tailor-made for me, too: Felix Cavaliere played the  organ and sang lead. Hello! That’s what I did!

To watch The Byrds performing “Eight Miles High” on American Bandstand click HERE.

To watch The Stones perform their hit “Lady Jane” live on Ed Sullivan click HERE.           (It’s interesting to see Brian Jones playing dulcimer.)

To watch The Rascals performing “Good Lovin” live on Ed Sullivan click HERE.

Since a Summer vacation is a way to escape the heat and crowds of the city, it was fitting that one of the biggest hits that August was The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”. The car sirens, snare drum shots like a weapon, and great electric piano and guitars John Sebastian’s unique voice, all created one of the main theme songs to that season.

The soulful growl of David Ruffin on the Tempations’ hit “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”. The knee-droppin’, gospel-style pleas of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World”, with those iconic piano chord triplets. The elastic, sliding vocals of The Isley Brothers on “This Old Heart Of Mine”. The kings of soul Sam & Dave singing “Hold On, I’m Comin'”. Besides those amazing voice straight out of the the church, and the unstoppable groove of a runaway trolley train, this tune had the strong-as-gravity staying power of Steve Cropper’s guitar curls and stabs.

To watch The Temptations performing “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” click HERE.

To hear The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart Of Mine” click HERE.

To watch James Brown performing “It’s A Man’s World” click HERE.

To hear “Hold On, I’m Comin” by Sam & Dave click HERE.

ROCK WALK LOOKING BACK TO INDIAN COVE copy

(On the rock walk, looking back towards Indian Cove .)

ROCK WALK PAUSE copy

(Pausing on the rock walk.)

SEA GRASS & ROCK IN WATER copy

(Sea grass and good diving rock, seen from the shore along the walk.)

Then there was the good-natured quirkiness of “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles, featuring Ringo’s happy go luck singing. And the song you had to love, even though it sounded like it was written for your parents: “See You In September” by The Happening. I never could remember that band’s name. And there was Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”. I really liked the blues shuffle of the song. It was fun and a good Set Two closer for my band, in those days of playing three and four sets at clubs. And there were the great stupid songs. Songs with lyrics you knew were inane, but they were just good old rock ‘n roll, begging to played by your band for screaming girls, even if it was in your basement, and the girls were your little brother’s friends from the neighborhood. And you played them LOUD. Songs like “Hanky Panky”, by Tommy James & The Shondels. “Dirty Water” (The Standells). “Cool Jerk” (The Capitols). And the menacing testosterone-laden “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. A good follow up to “Wooly Bully”.

To watch The Standells performing “Dirty Water” click HERE.

To hear “Cool Jerk” by The Capitols click HERE.

To hear “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James & The Shondells click HERE.

To hear “Wild Thing” by The Troggs click HERE.

These were the songs that fueled my dreams, both romantic and musical, in the Summer of 1966. They played on our transistor radios, in our minds as we walked down the dirt roads to the beach, as we rode in cars into town to buy corn and clams and hot dogs and soda. They played all day, all night, ALL SUMMER LONG!

To this day, when I hear these songs, I can taste the salt of the ocean air in my mouth, and feel that same happiness I felt on those sailboat rides through the Thimble Islands with my cousins, uncle, aunt and brothers and on those long walks along the rocks and down those wandering beach roads.

To hear “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles click HERE.

To hear “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles click HERE.

Here’s a more complete list of the songs that blasted out of those radio speakers that Summer:

HOLD ON, I’M COMIN’ (Sam & Dave)
YELLOW SUBMARINE (Beatles)
PAPERBACK WRITER (Beatles)
I’M ONLY SLEEPING (The Beatles)
BUS STOP (Hollies)
634-5789 (Wilson Pickett)
HANKY PANKY (Tommy James & The Shondells)
RED RUBBER BALL (The Cyrkle)
PAINT IT BLACK & LADY JANE (The Rolling Stones)
AIN’T TOO PROUD TO BEG (The Temptations)
THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (The Isley Brothers)
SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER (The Happenings)
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE (The Beach Boys)
EIGHT MILES HIGH (The Byrds)
GOOD LOVIN’ (The Young Rascals)
I’M SO GLAD (Cream)
SUMMER IN THE CITY (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
MORNING, MORNING (Richie Havens)
RAINY DAY WOMEN #12 & 35 (Bob Dylan)
SUNNY AFTERNOON (Kinks)
IT’S A MAN’S WORLD (James Brown)
WILD THING (Troggs)
LIL’ RED RIDING HOOD (Same The Sham & The Pharaohs)
COOL JERK (The Capitols)
SUNNY (Bobby Hebb)
DIRTY WATER (The Standells)
MONDAY MONDAY (The Mamas & The Papas)
I SAW HER AGAIN (The Mamas & The Papas)
A GROOVY KIND OF LOVE (Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders)
DON’T BRING ME DOWN (The Animals)
YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE (The Supremes)
PLEASE TELL ME WHY (Dave Clark Five)

INDIAN COVE ROCK WALK BEGINNING ON BEACH copy

(The beach at Indian Cove, where the rock walk began on the right.)

DIVING BOARD AT INDIAN COVE - HIGH TIDE

(The diving board at the beach, at high tide. When the tide was low, you could walk out to it.)

ONE OF THE HOUSES ALONG THE ROCK WALK copy

(One of the houses and lawns we’d see along the walk.)

IN BACK OF INDIAN COVE July 5, 2015 copy

(Walking down a back dirt road at Indian Cove, through marshes.)

Sailing through Thimble Islands with Charlie and Doug

(Mother In Law Island, one of the Thimble Islands. I took this photo in 1978, sailing with cousin Charlie and Uncle Carl.)

Thimble Islands, Egret copy

(One of the smaller Thimble Islands, with egret.)

COMING INTO INDIAN COVE

(Coming over the hill to the Indian Cove entrance on the right.)

 

 

 

 

 

NIGHT DON’T GO

GRAYSON WITH HIS BAND "GRAYSON HUGH & THE WILDTONES" 1982

(The Grayson Hugh Quartet, 1981. Left to right: Rob Gottfried – Drums; Me – Lead Vocals, Piano, Hammond B3 Organ; David Stoltz – Bass; Tom Majesky – Guitars, Vocals.)

TO HEAR “NIGHT DON’T GO” click HERE.

As a lifelong night-owl, I have always liked to write in the solitary dark hours when all is quiet around me except for my imagination. One such productive period was from 1979 through 1986, when I lived at 19 Whitney Street in Hartford, Connecticut. It was an old brick three story building in what is called “the West End” – those several streets that descended east off of Farmington Avenue from the West Hartford border. They were big old house streets with names like Prospect, Beacon, Oxford, Tremont, Whitney, Kenyon, Girard, Lorraine, Owen, Buckley, Sherman and Warrenton. I lived at various times on seven of them: Warrenton Avenue (at my dad’s house), Beacon Street (with my oldest friend Deke, who was attending UConn Law School after Harvard), Tremont Street (with a girlfriend), Buckley Avenue and Owen Street (with my cousin Frank),  Girard Avenue (with my cat) and Whitney Street.

19 Whitney Street, Hartford CT 2

(19 Whitney Street, Hartford, Connecticut. The original Nineteen Recording Studio, owned by Ron Scalise and Jonathan Freed – and later our rehearsal space – was the large, high-ceilinged loft that you entered through the light blue door at the far left.)

I shared 19 Whitney Street with two other friends: Bernie and Tom. The population later increased to include Tom’s two girlfriends Kris and Gina (at different times, mind you; this is not Fellini’s” 8 1/2″) and a friend of Tom’s second girlfriend named Lisa. I had the third floor to myself, until Lisa moved into the little front bedroom on that floor. We rarely saw each other, except in the hallway.

19 WHITNEY STREET HALLWAY copy

(The hallway inbetween the Nineteen Recording Studio and the connected second floor apartment was a frequent gathering place for coffee drinking and newspaper reading. Left to right: Jonathan Freed, Norman Campbell, Bernie Kornowicz, Ron Scalise.)

We all saw each other in passing, but also at rehearsals. Tom and I were in four bands that rehearsed, again at different times, there: Haiku (a trio that performed my arrangements of classic soul songs); the full band version of Haiku (that included the former Parliament Funkadelic and Brides of Funkenstein drummer Tryone Lampkin); The Grayson Hugh Quartet and Grayson Hugh & The Wildtones (which included a woman who is now my wife named Polly Messer).

GRAYSON HUGH AND THE WILDTONES (with Polly) 1983 copy

(My band Grayson Hugh & The Wildtones. Left to right: Polly Messer -harmony vocals, me, David Stoltz – bass, Tom Majesky – guitar, vocals; Rob Gottfried – drums This photo was taken in the back of 19 Whitney Street.)

This venerable brick edifice was a thriving musical community as well as a haven for colorful characters. It was also the first location of the well-known Connecticut recording studio The Nineteen, which eventually moved to South Glastonbury.

The “front yard” of the place consisted of (and still does, I believe) a CVS parking lot that got so hot in the Summer, you’d run through it so your sunglasses wouldn’t melt. It was convenient when you needed cassette tapes, which I needed often, since they were the medium of my song sketches. The backyard was the parking lot to a restaurant called “Moe’s”, known for its filling, carb-laden breakfasts.

19 WHITNEY STREET pano street view copy

Some of the illustrious characters associated with this house: a homeless woman named Kathy. My introduction to her was by sound only. From the overgrown vacant lot outside my bedroom window, I was awoken by nerve-shattering wails. It sounded like a very pissed-off bobcat. Then I noticed the sound had what seemed like English words in it. Yes, it was a human voice and it was screaming something like “Ahhhhrrrraaaaaagggaaiee!”

To hear Kathy’s melodious wail click HERE.

One of the original house renters was Bernie Kornowicz, who shortly afterward began renting with Tom. I knew Bernie through our time spent in the band The Last Five in 1965. I was fifteen years old, playing Vox Continental Organ and singing lead vocals and he was seventeen and playing the bass. Bernie was also a very accomplished martial artist. He is the only person I ever knew that actually attended Ninja Summer Camp. Bernie was the most gentle, mild-mannered fellow you’d ever care to meet, but, if pressed, he knew of at least forty eight ways to end your life. Not that he would, of course. He once taught me how to break a cinder block in half with my bare hands, then he used his Chi Gong training to get rid of the splitting headache I got from doing it.

Then there were the many cats that lived there. Tom had several over the years, the most famous of which was a fine feline I first met in 2007 named Black Kitty, a wise and friendly soul. I had my grey tiger cat Pubo (short for “Pugh Boy”) who went on to live on East 84th Street, The  Mayflower and Grammercy Park hotels, Southampton and East Hampton ,New York, and Newington, Connecticut, passing away at 24 years of age.

Characters all.

Many times, late at night, when I had an idea for a song (or when I was looking for an idea) I would go downstairs, make a cup of French Roast coffee and bring it into to the studio, closing the big, thick, sound-proofed doors behind me. I’d turn on my Yamaha CP-70, my Korg Poly-61 synth, my mic, 4 track recorder and, using headphones, start improvising and recording. I could sing and play away without fear of disturbing anyone in the rest of the house. I wrote many songs this way, all alone in the quiet dark, in the cold of Winter, in the humid heat of Summer. Some sketches would make it into the studio, some were performed by one of my bands, some remained ideas that I have to this day.

“Night Don’t Go” is one that was performed by my early 1980s band The Grayson Hugh Quartet. I also recorded it, with Tom, Dave and Rob, at Ron Scalise’s Nineteen Studio across the Connecticut River, in South Glastonbury. It’s about all those hours when the world is hushed, and your imagination comes alive. It’s about not wanting the perfect stillness of a love to end.

I remember the scenes I was thinking of when I wrote the lyrics to this song, way back in 1979. They are very specific places. The fields mentioned in the song are at two locations: the meadows in back of a club in Simsbury called The Inn Place where my band (and Polly’s old band Eight To The Bar – and many others – used to play). Now it’s back to it’s original name The Old Well Tavern.

THE OLD OLD WELL TAVERN - then INN PLACE, THEN GEMINI'S copy

(The Old Well Tavern, before it became The inn Place and, even later, Gemini’s.)

The other field I thought of was at the Albany Avenue side of the West Hartford Reservoir, on Avon Mountain, where I’d often either exit by foot or ride by on my 10 speed bike on my way to Avon. One bright Summer day I saw a red fox in the tall grass there and I stopped to take a photo.

FOX IN RESEVOIR FIELD ON BIKE RIDE copy

(I took this photo with a disposable camera, of a Red fox in a field, at the Albany Avenue entrance of the West Hartford Reservoir in West Hartford, CT.)



In the beautiful introductory section to his novel A Death In The Family, describing a childhood Summer night in 1915 Knoxville, Tennessee, James Agee wrote one of my favorite sentences in English literature:“Now the night is one blue dew”.

I never want the night to end, or that blue dew to dry up and fade away.

•          •          •          •

NIGHT DON’T GO
 words & music by Grayson Hugh

Early in the morning
before the sun has risen
as I watch you sleeping
I feel it’s then I’ve got something to say
I see you sleeping
I feel like weeping
I feel so sad to see the day
taking the night away

Deep in the night time
the midnight moonlight
shines on the dark sky
it shines in fields so far away
it shines on flowers
it shines for hours
it shines in meadows where rabbits play
it never fades away

Night don’t go
night don’t go
moonlight show
if you may

Deep in the night time
the midnight moonlight
shines on the dark sky
it shines in fields so far away
it shines on flowers
it shines for hours
it shines in meadows where rabbits play
it never fades away

Night don’t go
night don’t go
moonlight show
if you may
Night don’t go
night don’t go
moonlight show
if you may

© 1979, 2009 by Grayson Hugh/Swamp Yankee Music/ASCAP

 

CARRY ON, DAD!

 

DAD'S CHILDHOOD HOME, 99 Lonsdale Rd., Hammersmith

[Here is the house Dad grew up in – 99 Lonsdale Road, Hammersmith, London, England.]

My father, Ivor Hugh, who would have been 89 today, was born on May 1, 1927 in London, England, in the neighborhood of Hammersmith. He came to this country in the late thirties, served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II as a “sparks” (or radio operator) where he acquired “the radio bug” as he put it. And radio was what he got into, along with a few forays into children’s television as Flippy The Clown on Channels 8 (in New Haven) and 18 in Hartford, and “Ring Around The World”, with my stepmother Beth Hugh on Channel 30 in West Hartford.

[On left: Dad as Flippy The Clown; On right: Dad and my stepmother Beth Hugh on the set of their show “Ring Around The World”.]

Dad was a well-known classical radio host in the early “golden days” of radio, starting on WCCC, which broadcast from the basement of the grand old, red-carpeted Bond building on Asylum Avenue in Hartford. He interviewed all the acts that performed upstairs there in the Bond Ballroom – people like Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington. I remember even meeting the Mousketeers on his show. (I had a bad crush on Darlene..) He was also Host for the Hartford Symphony Young Peoples Concerts, introducing countless people to the beauty of Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Bernstein, Copland and Stravinsky with his deep British- accented voice.

DAD AS BIG BROTHER BILL WITH LEROY THE DUCK Circa 1951

[The early days at WCCC in Hartford, Connecticut. Here Dad is joined by his alter ego Leroy The Duck, one of the key characters in The Friendly Forest. My father came up with the stories, the characters and did all the voices.]

These were the days that radio stations actually had grand piano in a studio next door, where you could even record an acetate disc on the spot. Many family interviews with visiting aunts, uncles and cousins were recorded there, after his work hours ended. I still even have a recording, long since transferred to digital format, of a 7 year old me reciting a poem I wrote, and an impromptu interview of my South Carolinian Aunt and Uncle who had come to Hartford to visit us.

To hear the poem click here.

To hear the Family Thanksgiving interview click here.

My father instilled in me not only a love of music, nature and stories like “Wind In The Willows”, but the importance of treating others with courtesy and kindness, and always looking on the bright side of life, with courage, British cheer and humour. His artistic dreams kept him going and young, as they do me. He was, quite simply, my hero. When I felt down and discouraged, he really did say to me “Cheer up and carry on”, reminding me that, with a positive outlook, we can survive all the challenges we encounter in life.

So in honor of my dad’s birthday this May 1st, I’d like to also share this wonderful interview he did with WNPR Host Colin McEnroe in July of 2013, just two months before he, in his own words, “made the transition”.

His spirit is always with me. I hope you find it entertaining and even inspiring. Happy Birthday Dad. We will all carry on!

To hear the interview on The Colin McEnroe Show click here.

 

YES, YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN

VANDBERBILT"S DRUG STORE a few years before my time copy

[A photo of Vanderbilt Drug Store, from sometime in the 1940s, photographer unknown. For decades, all throughout my childhood and high school years, this store stood on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford, Connecticut, between Walkley and Vanderbilt Roads.]

I love the novels of Thomas Wolfe. His poetic descriptions of his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina are some of my favorite rivers of prose from any writer. That being said, I have to disagree with the title of his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Actually it wasn’t his original title. It was the title given to edited segments of his unpublished “The October Fair” by Wolfe’s editor Edward Aswell.  It was published in 1940 after the author’s death in 1938.

Mr. Aswell, I beg to differ, and somehow I feel Thomas Wolfe would have as well. You can indeed go home again. That’s what art is all about. Words, music, painting all transcend the boundaries of time, space, flesh and earth.

I submit the following story as my own testament to the possibility of returning.

•     •     •

Vanderbilt Drug Store was just around the corner at the end of our street. It was the halfway point on our short walk to and from both Elementary and Junior High Schools. It was a popular meeting place, a frequent destination and almost like another room in our house.

It’s where we got the Sunday paper and where I got all my comic books. It’s where I gathered with my friends for candy, before and after school. There were packets of mouth-puckering, sour/sweet Lik-M-Aid, handfuls of red licorice, molar-destroying rock candy, those bizarre chewable wax lips that melted into thick, congealed puddles on the sidewalk, boxes of spearmint leaves, packets of sunflower seeds so salty your eyeballs puckered, red-hot jawbreakers that nearly dislocated your mouth, not to mention those wax six-packs of brightly colored sugary syrup called Nickel Nips and, of course, the ubiquitous and endless packs of baseball cards with those flat powdery sheets of bubble gum that lost their sweetness within seconds. Though we were only ten years old, we traded those cards like inveterate gamblers.

“I’ll give you Roberto Clemente for Harmon Killebrew.”

“Well, how about Sandy Koufax for Hank Aaron?”

“No, I’m hangin’ on to Willie Mays.”

“Mickey Mantle? You got The Mick? You lucky dog! Lemme see…”

Vanderbilt’s is where I had my first job at age 14 (paid under the table) cleaning the store. It was a thankless chore, scrubbing the counters and ice cream containers, mopping the tile floor, that nevertheless made me feel proud and manly.

It’s where I bought my first girlfriend an ice cream soda at age thirteen, feeling incredibly grown up as I handed over the coins.

Marie was the lady who worked the soda fountain for all the years of my childhood and adolescence. She wore the standard white soda jerk uniform with jaunty cap and sported glasses with pointy corners as big as Cadillac fins. I remember that she was dating a helicopter pilot, which made her very, very cool.

I must have walked through the door of that establishment five million times. One Sunday morning, when I was fourteen, I walked up our street to get our Sunday paper. I had, just an hour prior, answered the door and listened to a rather boring lecture by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. I told them, probably with a bit of the attitude I could have at that age, that I disagreed with them and that I did not feel their religion was the only true one.

Shortly afterward, as I walked through Vanderbilt Drug’s front door, I heard a loud crash and the breaking of glass. A woman had accidentally stepped on the gas instead of braking and had just driven through the plate glass window. I had been a mere couple of seconds away from getting severely injured, if not killed.

When I told my parents what happened, my mom said dryly, “Well, I guess that’ll teach you to mouth off to Jehovah’s Witnesses!” A missionary’s daughter with a sense of humour.

You know what? Ever since then, I have courteously listened, at length, whenever door-to-door proselytizers have come knocking. Even if I disagree with their claims of having “the only true way”(and I always do), I don’t give them anything but my respectful attention. I figure it’s just good karma, shattering glass window reprisals or not.

One of our neighbors was a Swedish American bachelor named John Hyberg. He lived with his elderly mother in a little house way down at the end of the street where Walkley became Dorset Road, after crossing another short road called Frederick. The Ahearn girls lived on Frederick Road, and I loved all five of them.

John used to walk to Vanderbilt’s most evenings around dusk for a coke. On those heavy, humid Summer nights, my brothers and I (and often one or two cousins and friends) would be sitting with our parents on lawn chairs in the cool dark of our front porch on Walkley Road, drinking root beer floats or mint iced tea. We would see the slump-shouldered shape of John Hyberg approaching under the dim streetlights. When his barely visible self reached our house, he would say, without fail, the exact same thing, directed to my mother, in that distinct, adenoidal voice  of his: “Hot enough for ya, Jean?” That phrase came without variation out of his mouth automatically as he passed, as if our front porch triggered it from deep within his chest.

We would laugh and imitate his voice (waiting til he got out of earshot) and I would feel privately a little guilty for making fun of him. I wondered about his lonely life. I imagined him making toast and coffee for his Swedish mother very early in the morning before riding his bicycle down Farmington Avenue to his job as a guard at The Wadsworth Atheneum. I had heard it was the country’s oldest museum and I thought at the time he must be the country’s oldest museum guard. He definitely was the only museum guard that rode a bike with a flag on ths handlebars to work.

And I wondered, in later years, how he likely could never have imagined how comforting the ritual of his nocturnal walks past our house were to me.

His nightly walks, in fact, were a sign that all was right in our neighborhood, in our sleepy little town, in the whole state of Connecticut full of hills, rivers and forests and quite possibly in the whole wide world.

•     •     •

Whenever I find myself in my old hometown, I like to take a drive down my old street. My heart always caves in slightly to see how our old house has long since been trimmed of all it’s original warmth. The side gardens have been chopped down, the mint and lilies of the field are gone, the backyard lilac bush and wisteria vine are gone. The grand old trees in front of the house, indeed many of the original ones on the whole street, have vanished. And Vanderbilt’s on the corner is no more. It too has been long since changed into not one but two different businesses: a laundromat and a liquor store.

But you can go back. 

All you need to do is to remember and you are back inside the warm light of Vanderbilt Drug Store. You need only to dream a bit while you’re awake to be back there again, sitting on the front porch of 32 Walkley Road, watching John Hyberg walk by. And there’s your mother and father right next to you. Because all of the changes caused by the passage of time don’t really matter in the end.

Yes, you can go home again. 

Because the spirit of love forever stays the same.

•     •     •

To hear “North Ohio” (from my 2010 album “An American Record”) click here.

To hear “I’m Goin’ Back T’ Walkley Road” (from my 2009 album “The Invisible Daylight Brothers”) click here.

ME AND MOM IN SNOW ON SIDEWALK ON WALKLEY ROAD 800 pixels

 [A view of my old street Walkley Road. It was 1956 here, and it looks like my mother was trying to encourage me to pose for a photo. We are standing in front of our house on the sidewalk  that John Hyberg used to come walking up.]

FOUR ROADS CROSSING elnarged size copy.jpg

[A photo of the “four roads crossing” from my song “North Ohio”. This scene is on the northern Ohio/Indiana border, in Salem Center, Indiana. The four roads intersect corn fields and farms, and directly up the road from this spot is the graveyard on a hill where many of my maternal grandmother’s people are buried.]

ON THE FERRY, ON THE WATER…

ON THE FERRY ON THE WATER shot 1

[The Block Island Ferry, leaving Old Town Harbor, in the fog with a rainbow.]

Today as I walked outside I heard a bird I haven’t heard since last Spring. This particular bird sings a wistful yet hopeful two-note song that dips down in an interval of a minor third “cheep cheep…..cheep cheep-cheep”. I usually hear this bird (high up in the trees, never visible) in early April. But it is only mid February now. There are still  bits of snow under the trees and bushes.

Perhaps he or she is just impatient with the Winter. I know I am. I am ready for that change in the air and the earth, when the branches of those bushes grow bright red, when the first snowdrops and bluets appear in the yard, and when those early Spring birds start singing again.

Suddenly those cold dark Winter days, hidden back in the forests buried with several feet of snow, seem like they never happened. The angle of the earth turns on it’s axis slightly, the sun shines into all the dark spaces of your heart and everything is possible again.

As far back as I can remember, I have imagined the months of the year as a very definitely shape. It is a flattened circle, an ellipse, with the months drawn as segments almost like the rectangular properties on a Monopoly board, except that it is not square, it is oval, turned on its side. I can view the year from above, or step into a month at any point and look around. And each month (like the days of the week, for me, too) have a definite colour. Now, on that egg-shaped calendar in my mind, I am standing on the last weeks of February, which are a cold light blue, staring down into the first weeks of March, which have the faintest hint of red, like the hazy rouge of tree buds on a hill, seen from a mile away.

CARDINAL IN BUSH copy

[Cardinal in a bush in our backyard.]

As I feel and hear the faint promise of Spring today, I remembered a song I wrote in the early 80’s called “On The Water”. With this song I wanted to express the joy of the warm weather finally returning, and for the story of the song I thought of the the many ferry boat rides I had taken to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.

I decided to use an African influence for the music.

A bit of history: In the early 70’s I had studied West African drumming with John Miller Chernoff, who was at that time finishing his doctoral thesis at the Hartford Seminary. He later published it as the book “African Rhythm and African Sensibility” (University Of Chicago Press, 1979). John had returned from one of his trips to Ghana with about twenty African instruments: drums, sticks, bells and gourd shakers. Over the course of six months, I learned different drum parts for various beats.

One in particular that I loved was a drum and dance style called Gahu, a Ewe dance from Ghana, that developed into a lively social music. The different elements were the two-tone bell called a gankogui, the gourd shaker called an axatse, a low drum called the sogo, and two other drums called the kidi and kagan. The master drum, the atsimewu, leads the conversation and shows everyone, including the dancers, when to change.

I became fairy fluent in the gankogui, kidi and kagan. The gankogui kept the time of the different dances, and had set repeating beats. The kagan plays a repetitive two-note pattern on what westerners would call the “off” beat, and the kidi plays a variety of rhythmic patterns that you’re allowed to be a little free with, as long as you hit certain key beats. The overall effect of all these drums, bells and shakers is hypnotic. Agbekor had a slow and fast version. The slow version was incredibly funky and sensuous, like a big fat undulating snake. Playing the fast versions was like riding giant waves in the ocean. Everybody has their role and has to keep it steady for the whole thing to work.  If somebody messes up, especially when you’re all playing the fast version, it feels like you’re toppling off the crest of that big wave. Then the whole train caves in on itself and derails. The trick is to not let that happen, and that takes a lot of practice.

The Gahu groove seemed the perfect ebullient style for this song.  I recorded it at the 19 Recording Studio in South Glastonbury, Connecticut, with my good friend Ron Scalise, who engineered and produced most of my music from the mid 70’s, including my self titled album in 1981. I asked him to program a LinnDrum to repeat a high hat and tom tom two-bar phrase, and against that I added myself on marimba, congas and agogô bell. I had guitarist Tom Majesky playing an African “dry guitar” style, as well as chording in his inimitable way, and bassist David Stoltz providing the nimble and funky bottom. I sang all the vocals.

The result was this slightly Americanized, African-influenced recording, which, I hope, captures that joy of being on a boat, headed to an island where the earth is just beginning to explode into being again.

It’s coming. It’s just around this corner of the calendar…

TO HEAR “ON THE WATER” CLICK HERE.

LYRICS:

Last night she and I went to a movie
but it was real slow
when we walked out is was April
in the air and the town below
the yards were growing flowers
and bay was full of boats
the Spring was waiting for us
our hearts were full of notes

On the ferry, on the water
in the moonlight you and me
gets so misty in the morning
on the cliff out by the sea

We went down through the steep streets
and we went out on the quay
the harbor lights were shining
and that lighthouse lit the bay
we got a cup of coffee
in the hotel by the sand
waiting for that early ferry
to go to some other land

On the ferry, on the water
in the sunlight you and me
with the gulls our hearts are soaring
to the island in the sea

When we got there it was morning
and the sun was shining strong
‘course you can go, I want to go
come on now, let’s go where the seagulls go
I want to go tonight with you
to the fields and the beaches
where the sand and seashells lay
everything is waiting for us
so glad to be away

On the ferry, on the water
in the moonlight you and me
gets so misty in the morning
on the cliff out by the sea
on the ferry, on the water
in the sunlight you and me
with the gulls our hearts are soaring
to the island in the sea

© 1984, 2009 by Grayson Hugh/Swamp Yankee Music/ASCAP

VIEW OF MOUNTAINS, SHORE AND SAILBOART FROM FERRY DECK

[View from the deck of the BC Nanaimo Ferry on the way to Vancouver Island.]

 

 

 

 

 

APRIL 1965. A SONG TO REMEMBER.

GRAYSON READING TOSCANNINI BIOGRAPHY IN  RAWLINSON'S BACKYARD, APRIL VACATION 1964 copy

[Here I am, on that 1965 vacation, in my cousin’s yard, reading a biography of Arturo Toscanini.]

As far back as I can remember, every April, during school vacation, our family headed down south to Columbia, South Carolina to spend a week with my mother’s older brother Alfred, his wife Mary and their two daughters. That’s pronounced “May-a-reee”, with three syllables, in that deep southern accent my mom was so fond of adopting the moment we crossed the Delaware border and spotted the first South Of The Border store.

I looked forward to the vacation all year long. I loved seeing my two cousins Helen Ann and Nancy. And Uncle Alfred and Aunt Mary showered us with affection, lots of good southern cooking, and a ton of fun things to do, including ping pong tournaments in the garage, picnics in the nearby woods, walks along the Congaree River and visits to the South Carolina Archives. We’d also head across town to mom’s older sister Marjorie’s house for a big lunch and a long visit. Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Dargin’s land had lots of sand hills, which was a good setting for the toy gun battles we’d have with our other cousin Gina Marie, who was the youngest of all of us.

Uncle Alfred was the head of the library at The University Of South Carolina in Columbia. Though he was the son of a British-born Baptist missionary (my grandfather Dr. Frank Rawlinson) Uncle Alfred was the archetypal southern gentleman, a scholar and genealogist with a great sense of humour. I rarely saw him without a suit, complete with vest and gold watch and chain. Aunt Mary was the epitome of grace and wisdom, southern style. To this day, when I wonder about the right thing to do, I often ask myself “Now what would Aunt Mary do?”

Aunt Mary was a champion wearer of mumus. She had what seemed like an endless supply of them, as bright and colorful as she was. Of course on Sundays she’d get dressed up, as we all did, to go to their First Baptist Church in Columbia. Just because we were on vacation, my parents reminded me, didn’t mean I could get out of putting on a jacket and tie and going to church.

In my memory, all our South Carolina vacations smelled like pine trees. Everywhere you looked there were soft pine needles on the ground, in the sandy hills, by the side of the suburban roads, on the ground under the thick bushes of Aunt Mary’s amazing, well- tended garden. It seemed that every yard on Guignard Avenue had a stand of tall pine trees and a garden, though none as large and beautiful as Aunt Mary’s. But even with all the her flowers blooming – azaleas, gardenias, magnolias, begonias, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, Oriental lilies and roses – the powerful sweet fragrance of pine was always in the air.

In April 1965, our family headed down south as usual. I was 14 years old, turning 15 in October. That Spring it was not just the flowers that were blooming; my young self was exploding into being. My love of nature, my fascination with words, writers, books, music, songs (and GIRLS) – everything was astoundingly new and exciting.

My adolescent concept of myself as a young man who might actually make his living as a musician, songwriter and performer was taking shape.  My brothers and cousins and I would go down to the record store in Five Points in search of the latest 45’s by The Beatles and The Byrds. Then we’d rush home and blast them on the stereo in their living room.

During that vacation, I happened to walk up to the nearby miniature golf course one day. For some reason my cousins and brothers were doing something else. The fenced-in course with tiny castles, moats and bridges was on the main highway into town, just a a half mile from their house. They had speakers through which they were piping a radio station.

It was a warm sunny day and I was feeling especially happy. As I played the ridiculous miniature golf game, my ears perked up to hear a loud drum beat, joined by bass and guitars and a jangling tambourine. Then the voice came in. Wow! The effect was thrilling. It was a guy singing really soulfully, but with what sounded like an English accent. Something about Adam and Eve, some great backup vocals, with a tongue in cheek nod to doo-wop groups, as somebody sang “Love, love” in a bass voice. A plunky bass guitar line, a second verse, then a very cool bridge on the 5 chord, a Bo Diddley beat – I like that – then another verse. Then they really got into the bo Diddley beat and had some great, high backup vocals. Repeat the verse and a vamp ending, using those gospel-style Isley brothers “Shout” chords.

I loved it. I started thinking about it. It’s not like it was a great song…well yes, it was a great song! It was deceptively simple. It made fun of itself, yet was totally serious. It quoted the doo-wop past yet was entirely new. Something about the song just hit me over the head and went straight into my heart.

Later that afternoon, I told my brothers and cousins about it. We promptly walked over to the record store at Five points, bought the 45 and rushed home to play it real loud in the living room.

It was one of many songs that year that excited me, and made me all the more determined to be a musician, and not just a performer but a writer of songs.This particular one, “The Game Of Love”, had the smell of  pine needles, the light of the southern Springtime sun, and the undeniable confidence of youth all over it.

It was an unforgettable moment. It happened at a miniature golf course in West Columbia, South Carolina, as I heard the music that helped shape me, with all the cars on that busy road rushing by, oblivious to moments, lost in the big rushing river of forgetting.

To hear “The Game Of Love” on YouTube, click here.

COUSINS, AT AUNT MARJORIE'S AND UNCLE DARGIN'S, COLUMBIA SOUTH CAROLINA 1962 copy[From left to right: Cousin Nancy (with toy gun), me (seated, with glasses, about to be shot by Nancy), brother David, cousin Helen Ann, cousin Gina Marie. We are assembled at Aunt Marjorie’s and Uncle Dargin’s, in 1962, for the traditional Big Feed picnic. We had gun battles alot in those days. Note the pine trees.]