My Ancient History
I love the internet for furnishing odd and long lost bits of information, and especially odd and long lost friends. So if you are one of those and have tracked me down here, hello!
Maybe we knew each other at Hickory High School, where I was mostly a band guy and member of the Pon Tiki Boating Society, the Frankie Fox Dance Orchestra, and various churches, mostly Methodist, where I sang in my father’s choirs. I graduated in 1961.
I doubt if you remember me from that year I spent after high school working in a textile mill in Hildebran, but stranger things have happened.
I still treasure friends I met in my first years at the Florida State University, especially David Irwin, who is the best at keeping in touch with old acquaintances. In high school band I had played the nerdiest of musical instruments – we called it a baritone; even it’s classier name, euphonium, makes it no less nerdy. In our dance orchestra I played trombone, thinking all the while I should be playing string bass. I finally bought one after I graduated, but when I started at FSU in ‘62, I had nothing close to the chops I needed to audition on it. So I studied euphonium with the mildly mad Dr. William Cramer (my first Zen teacher, though I didn’t know it at the time) along with my major, composition.
The Farm House
In those summers I worked as a singing waiter at the Farm House Restaurant in Blowing Rock, a terrific formative experience for a budding performer and “attention seeker”, as my eighth grade teacher at College Park Jr. High termed me. (I cannot remember her name – any help out there?) In the first of my three summers as a Farm Animal I sang in a folk trio with Bill Snell and John Shearer, playing bass and singing “folk songs” like “The Sloop and John B” and all that Kingston Trio/Peter Paul and Mary stuff. By my last summer (1965) the times were a-changin’, I had met my first hippies – Sean and John, last names lost in the mist of time – art students from Ringling School in Sarasota who weirdly showed up to work there in that retro-Victorian Lawrence Welk-ish atmosphere, where songs like “If I Loved You” and “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer” were the norm. We spent a lot of time in their VW bus driving around the mountains looking for album cover photos and listening to Dylan; they drew or painted on every blank surface they found, including the plywood walls of their attic garret at the Farm House (we all lived on the premises), and sang songs like “Maggie’s Farm”, changing “Maggie” to “E.J.”, the name of the owner of the place, just to rankle him.
I had fallen in love by this time with a Costa Rican beauty I met at FSU, the wonderful Harriett Paris. We met each other’s families, and she was ready to settle down and have a family. In the first of many awkward decisions I made concerning the opposite sex, I chose not to return to FSU and her in the fall of ‘64, took some savings and bought a ticket to Southampton on the Queen Elizabeth, determined on the great European experience. It became a stay of a couple of months, mostly in England, with some time in Germany and a visit with the family of a Swedish exchange student who had lived with our family the year after I left home. I was back in school after Christmas and back at the Farmhouse for the last time that summer.
Because I had only attended school half the year, and because the Viet Nam war was a-building, I received my draft notice (this was before the lottery), so I reluctantly joined the Navy in the fall of ‘65, thinking it would afford the least chance of losing limbs, etc. And my father was proud of his naval service, and I do love ships and travel, and I did see some amazing places – Istanbul, Malta, Sicily, Athens, Majorca – where I had to shoot at no-one. Perhaps you knew me then, though I kept mostly to myself, not being a drinker in a society avidly devoted to it, and feeling a little out of step in general. I did meet some interesting folks, including Robert Earl Quesinberry, by any measure one of my most unusual of friends – an amateur psychologist and collector of everything from first edition Francis Bacons to warehouses full of juke boxes, probably still living close by his family in his trailer in Hillsville, VA.
Except for the Mediterranean tour, my Navy years were in the US: in Chicago for Basic Training and electronics school, in Long Beach, CA stationed for nine months on the destroyer USS Hollister and the cruiser USS Topeka waiting for school, and mostly, after school, at Little Creek, VA, in Beach Jumper Unit 2 on the Amphib Base, where my electronics training was almost entirely squandered. Our mission was bizarre, classified then but de-classifed now; I have great stories, but, some other time.
I had grown up loving radio; a good friend in high school, David Boliek, was determined on a career in broadcasting and began working at radio stations in the area. I would go and hang out with him while he worked, finding it fascinating, but not thinking much more of it. He bought us a pair of CB radios at the instant it became available, and we even built a radio studio of sorts in my basement room – only luck saved us from electrocution on that well-grounded cement floor. My genius friend Sam Harmon gave me the innards from one of those Jurassic TV consoles of those days (his dad had a room full of them), a wondrous contraption with huge vacuum tubes glowing purple and a pulley-driven tuning capacitor with those interlaced aluminum plates.
This was my first chance to hear FM radio (actually included in many TV’s of the day, being stuck in the middle of the VHF spectrum), and the only station to listen to was WMIT, a very elegant commercial fine arts station transmitting from the top of Mount Mitchell, near Asheville. I admit I did fantasize about being up there on the mountain, alone in the studio, broadcasting to all of western North Carolina. (Only later did I learn it was just the transmitter on the mountain, the studios were in Black Mountain.)
I did listen to AM radio too, especially at night, building a headphone jack into my Silvertone portable so I could listen secretly after lights-out to stations in Chicago, Fort Worth, and my favorite, WIBC in Indianapolis, where Dick Summer presided in a studio overlooking the parking lot of a drive-in, playing “Come Softly To Me” and reading poems like “Annabelle Lee”. Ah, the yearning!
Once I started traveling, I kept listening for good radio (before I left home my pet station, WMIT had been bought and completely re-programmed by Billy Graham, a huge disappointment – not to be my last in radio). In LA I listened every week to a show called Cynic’s Choice, comedy and irreverency Sunday mornings at 11 (I had abandoned my Protestant training by then, reading the Fountainhead and leaning towards Objectivism). That was on KPFK, the Pacifica station, where I also gleaned information about the hippie underground in those early days – seemingly unattainable to me because of my Navy haircut, nerdy background and lack of mobility. (I was making about $13 a week.)
Then, in Chicago, the best of all stations, WFMT: such a classy selection of music and talk, Studs Terkel, and the Midnight Special (real folk music and comedy, a show I would take the train back to the base to hear, leaving a Saturday night on the town in Chicago. I always thought that was the best compliment to a radio show – that you would leave off something in real life to listen) . Radio in Norfolk was nothing special (the highlight of the week was on TV, the Laugh-In), though I could hear WGMS, the Good Music Station in Washington. When I went to the Med, our detachment (we were carried on the guided missile frigate USS Sellers) had as part of our equipment the finest FM receivers tax money could by, so I had access to terrific stations all over southern Europe.
Out of the Navy in the fall of ‘69, I went back to FSU, this time prepared to study the bass in earnest (I had even taken it with me on the Med cruise the year before, so as not to miss six months of practice – a vain hope and foolish idea. At least the Captain thought so). My teacher, Victor Ellsworth, installed me in every ensemble available, the symphony, the symphonic band, the opera orchestra, even the faculty Chamber Orchestra under Richard Burgin. These were wonderful days of music-making and finding new friends and a new lifestyle that was not the Navy. Reunited back in Tallahassee with David irwin, who had been in the Army Band in DC while I was in Norfolk, we took half a duplex on Palm Court near the music school, and I began spending much time with Lewis White and Sally Lambert, opera singers I met when I ventured out of the orchestra pit, in their romantic little cottage on Lake Bradford outside of town.
By the fall of ‘71 the academic life had lost it’s allure, the times were really a-changin’, and Lewis was talking with a group of his friends involved in spiritual questing about a young guru from India who was inviting pilgrims to become initiates and visit him at his ashram by the Ganges. And even though FSU was offering me a graduate fellowship, I made another bizarre life choice and flew with Lewis and Sally to India instead. We returned before Christmas, sick and emaciated, but having had an amazing life-changing experience – again, stories for another time. I stayed with my parents in Hickory recuperating through the winter, then went back to Palm Court, began working as a musician and took a new job at the suggestion of our duplex-mate, John Stephens, to work part-time at WFSU, the school radio station. I enjoyed the work right away – my first actual radio job – and returned to it each fall from my summers in Massachusetts until I left Tallahassee in late ‘73.
A dear young friend is making a questing journey to the Himalayas next month, and for her benefit and my own, I’ve written a more detailed account of the journey to India, complete with pictures.
My friend Bill Boswell, a bassoonist/composer/arranger I met at FSU called me in midsummer of ‘71, saying they needed a bassist for the orchestra where he was working, at the Highfield Theater, a light opera company on Cape Cod specializing in Gilbert and Sullivan, operetta and classic Broadway shows. I had been staying that summer with my parents at our cabin in Blowing Rock, writing music for my brother’s wedding (held at the same place where we have our WFB workshops now). The wedding over, I was glad for a change of scene and a new job, so off I went in the ‘65 Mustang my dad helped me pick out during my Navy days (he always had a love affair with hot cars). I went back to Highfield for two more summers; those were heady times indeed. We all, cast, crew, musicians, costumers, everyone worked and lived together in a big dilapidated mansion on 500 acres looking across the water towards Martha’s Vineyard. I still have friends from those days, would love to hear from others. Schroeder???
Back in Tallahassee, I had met and fallen in love with Susan Bloodworth, smart and quiet, with exquisite taste in art and music, who had recently finished her degree in Library Science with a grant from the State. She needed to find a job at a public library in Florida to eliminate having to pay back the grant for her schooling. A rare opening came up in the Children’s Department of Jacksonville’s downtown library, so between Christmas and New Year’s of ‘73, we got a marriage license, found a little garage apartment, moved, and got married by approaching the minister of a sweet little Methodist Church on St. Simon’s Island after his Sunday morning services were over. Susan started her job and I began listening to the newly minted public station in Jacksonville, with an eye to working there. But it seemed stuffy and un-adventurous, and my work at WFSU had been wildly free-form, so I resisted. But soon they called me, having heard of my work in Tallahassee. I hate looking for work, so I generally accept when it finds me.
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Books & CD’s
- Walker Street Fiddlers: Ireland Tour 2007From: $15.00
- Travelin’From: $14.95
- Irish Tunes for the Young at Heart (Book II)From: $15.00
- Irish Tunes for the Young at Heart (Book I)From: $15.00