life has a soundtrack, including mine. It all started back in my hometown
of Chatham, Ontario.
Chatham was once a terminal on the Underground Railroad, so there were
a number of negro folks around there, and also in Dresden and Kent County.
Back in the 50s when I was coming into my teen years there was an
unspoken kind of segregation going on. There was a black restaurant and
a white restaurant. No signs were put up but everybody knew. White, middle-class
kids went to one restaurant and black kids, rebels and working class kids
went to the other.
The music we were exposed to at home as children was primarily classical
and mainstream stuff. My mother had trained in opera singing and piano.
My dad loved classical music and opera and was a self-taught pianist.
His signature piano piece was Bachs Jesu Joy of Mans
Desiring In his younger days my father had worked in sales at the
Heintzman piano factory in Toronto, and thats where he taught himself
to play piano by ear. When Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist, was
in town he was hired to play at her Revival Meeting. His specialty (and
hers) was Almost
Persuaded which was used to lure the shy up to the front so
they could be publicly saved.
persuaded now to believe;
Almost persuaded Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
On Thee Ill call.
Almost persuaded, come, come today;
Almost persuaded, turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are lingring near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
O wandrer, come!
Almost persuaded, harvest is past!
Almost persuaded, doom comes at last!
Almost cannot avail;
Almost is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail
Almost, but lost!
night, in Chatham, when the AM radio signal was better, you could hear
the black radio station signal from Detroit, Michigan some 50 miles
away. That sound would come trolling down into southern Ontario and it
was very, very different. I stuck with it, learned to understand it a
little. I even began to imitate it. This was several years before Elvis
hit the airwaves and popular music of the time was very, very white
with some notable exceptions like Nat King Cole. Little Willie John singing All
Around the World over the AM radio waves coming from Detroit,
late at night defines this whole musical period for me.
I went to the library a lot. My first job was working as a page in the
school library in Grade 6. Then, I went on to work in the same capacity
at the main Public Library.
I started to get out books on folk music. I brought them home and my mother
would play them for us on the piano and Id learn the tunes. I plucked
some of the easy ones out on my ukulele. They were, as I say, folk tunes
which were the best tunes for me because they had 3 chords, if you really
stretched it there might be 4 or even 5 chords for the fancier numbers.
But mostly it was 3 chords and Chunka, Chunka, Chunka and away you go.
Maybe that's why the bit of guitar I do play now is mostly rhythm guitar
When I got to live on New York Citys Lower East Side folk gospel
music and the blues helped to sustain me through some difficult times.