Days Gone By - Families of the Fifties
Songs that were popular when we were young carry with them memories that last a lifetime. Hearing just a few notes of a song, we sometimes flash back to the moment when these tunes were playing.
I'm Crazy, Crazy for Feeling So Lonely...
Greatest Singers of All Time
Country music tells a tale about real lives, love and loss. The heartache they express is genuine, usually inspired by one's own experiences.
A family favorite singer from that era of bitter-sweet music is Patsy Cline whose career was inspired from watching local talent at radio stations as a teen. She successfully crossed over to Pop Music from her roots which began in Nashville sound with hits like Willie Nelson's tune, "Crazy".
She ranks number forty six in Rolling Stones Magazines issue of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" and according to CBS was ranked at number eleven in Country Music Television's Forty Greatest Women in Country.
The movie "Sweet Dreams", was a documentary with astonishing performances by Jessica Lange. It told the story of Patsy Cline's life, her singing career, her marital struggles and her untimely death at thirty in a tragic plane crash after a benefit concert.
New Port, Rhode Island, the Early Fifties
Growing up in a southern family there was no way to escape the onslaught of country music that drifted in on the airwaves of our childhood home. With a mother from Texas and a dad from South Georgia, it was inevitable that their favorite tunes would become ingrained in the deepest recesses of my mind.
A special outing for us might include going to see a live performances at local radio station studio. In small towns, the audience was seated within a short distance of the performers who were locals with steel guitars and maybe a fiddle. These leather-fringed cowboys could twang out a two-hankie number that would leave most of the audience sniffling.
Traveling to the Tunes
This is one of my favorite photos of our family. Everyone in the family is wearing a coat, jacket or hat except for me; I refused to cover up my gorgeous new dress. Dad was clearly perturbed from the expression on his face, but I was happy.
Our 1948 Cadillac was the apple of my father's eye. No doubt, it was the most valuable of our family's meager belongings. This trip in November of 1954, we were visiting friends or driving through the state on the way to our next destination.
Staten Island, Key West, FL the Fifties
In the early fifties, our family lived in a tiny eight-foot wide by thirty-two foot trailer which we hitched to the back of the car whenever we needed to move.
During the time these classic tunes were gaining popularity, we lived in a number of eastern states including Rhode Island, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and New Jersey. As military dependents, we moved nearly every two years, relocating upon receipt of the ever-changing orders the Navy issued to my Dad who served for twenty-four years.
Dad and Mom
Our parents maintained a collection of bootlegged amateur recordings from early television and radio performances such as "The Arthur Godfrey Hour" or "The Tex Ritter Show". There was a predecessor to today's American Idol, called "The Gong Show" which featured new talent of the day. The phrase "Get the hook" came from the judges who, determining that the act was inferior, would bring out a long hook of sorts and yank the performer physically from the stage.
Norfolk, Virginia 1955
Other times, an applause meter would gauge the audience's appreciation by the sound level of their clapping. The shows featured an assortment of singers including Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams Sr., Patsy Cline, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Hank Snow, Jimmie Dean and other great singers of the day.
We grew up singing this one by Ernie Ford
While doing chores on a Saturday morning, you could be sure the reel to reel tape was playing loudly in the background, its rotation punctuated by occasional squeaks as the tape ran through the magnetic rollers. As we worked nearby ironing clothes or dusting the furniture, we accompanied those heartbreaking tunes by belting them out at the top of our lungs. We knew the words to all of them by heart. It was our key source of entertainment.
Pat Boone's 1957 Hit April Love
Visiting the local diner for a meal, you would immediately be brought an ice cold glass of water, arriving almost as quickly as you sat down. Next to the wall at each table one could often find a miniature red jukebox allowing the patrons to insert their nickles and play their favorite tunes while eating.
At the top of the device was a lever that allowed the user to flip through the selections on the blurry, typewritten pages. While waiting for a meal or a cup of coffee, patrons sought out their favorite song, then, after pressing the appropriate push buttons of the song's code, their choice record would drop down in place on the turntable of the main jukebox and start spinning out a tune.
"Please mister, please, don't play B seventeen. It was our song, it was his song, now it's oh over." Olivia Newton-John
Pat Boone in Manhattan Island NY
Playing the Juke Box
We attended church three times a week and learned to sing all the old gospel songs right out of the hymnal. At any church or social gathering, you could count on hearing the old music favorites, certain to be played and sung by locals imitating the popular singers of the era.
Jimmy Dean - Big Bad John 1961
To entertain my parent's random house guests, the three of us kids would be called out "front and center", as my Dad liked to say. Standing nervously in front of their friends we would lip sync the songs on the few vinyl LP albums we owned and had memorized. We played the same LP records over and over on the Stereo Record Player and later on the giant TV Console that found a home in our family room.
Favorite entertainers included gospel tunes by the legendary Tennessee Ernie Ford or Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys. We had a couple of recordings by Pat Boone who was the song leader at our church when we lived near Manhattan Island and others by Jimmy Dean before he started selling sausage. Family favorites included his version of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and Ernie Ford's "Just a Closer Walk with Thee". I still remember the words to "The Great Speckled Bird" which we would happily belt out if given the least opportunity.
Great Speckled Bird - Roy Acuff
Despite my thoughtless mockery of my parents' taste in music as an adolescent, through the passage of time these old tunes have come to represent nostalgic days of my youth when things were less complicated. It was a time of less responsibility, fewer choices, more fun and even through the tears of these tearjerkers, it remains a time that I remember fondly.
© 2012 Peg Cole
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