My parents were both born in 1939, and were squares. They missed Elvis & the Beatles, settling for easy listening & classical. That’s what I grew up with in Wisconsin. There were two kindergarten classes in Winneconne when I went, and both had nice teachers, Mrs. Broderick & Mrs. Kontos. I had Mrs. Kontos, who played piano, and got us singing as a group to “Old McDonald”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and other children’s standards.
Looking back now, I can see that it was her job to stimulate as many senses as she could in all of us. By doing this, Mrs.Kontos & Mrs. Broderick could recognize who had ability, and who needed help. Thus, no one got left behind. By 1st grade, the kids had been sorted by ability, and a few were already recognized for their prodigy talents. I had a Winneconne classmate who was a math & science genius, and everyone knew it. We rode the bus together.
We were were introduced to music class in first grade, and it was mandatory through fifth grade. The teacher was Mrs. Alberta Doverspike, a hard but passionate Irishwoman, who loved kids & teaching music. She also played second-row violin in the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra, which was nationally recognized at the time.
Mrs. Doverspike mostly played the piano in class, while teaching from the songbook we all had in our laps, and always stayed in the classroom. She was the Winneconne elementary, grade 1-5, music teacher for decades, and beloved by many. We viewed these crazy film-strips on the treble & bass clefs, with notes calling out in the night to a kid asleep, and then the journey to follow these sounds & discover the musical scales. We all laughed & learned.
It was the same songbook year after year, with old-school classics such as: Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susanna”, and “Land of the Silver Birch”, a traditional 1920’s Canadian folk song. “Hi diddle unakum feedle” is an Irish ballad I repeatedly requested, to the irritation of other classmates– also known as “The Tailor and the Mouse.” On Fridays, we always sang a song (I think) called “Friday-day” which goes like this:
1st verse: Hooray, hooray, today is Friday day. All week long without a blooper, hit the books and come out super. Friday we’re all in a stupor. What’s today? FRIDAY DAY!!
*2nd verse: Hooray, hooray, today is Friday day. Five full days to get some learning, and we never stop our yearning. but by now our guts are churning. What’s today? FRIDAY DAY!!
3rd verse: Hooray, hooray, today is Friday day. Other days are overrated, all those classes that we hated, five long days we’ve sat & waited. What’s today? FRIDAY DAY!!
* I’m not entirely sure on this verse, so I improvised. That’s all I got on that one, as I can’t find the complete lyrics anywhere. I want that songbook.
In 3rd grade I was made to take private violin lessons, and showed little interest. My mother wanted me to be a classical musician– only. My dad was a good man at heart, but an alcoholic. He was functional, but his addiction took away from his interest in being a father to either of his sons. My younger brother was forced to suffer these violin lessons with me, and had even less interest & ability.
We ‘performed’ once at an Oshkosh recital, and we were the first ones to leave the stage, so the really good kids could play. They were brilliant, but I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t want to be with them. This leads to a major point I’ll make about music, and anything else. Go with your strengths & your heart. I never felt the passion for classical music, that I do for rock, so I instinctively knew where to draw the line.
Anyways, these private lessons lasted only 2-3 months, and were then dropped, because I had stopped practicing. That’s how it is in an alcoholic family. No one can just talk it out. Everything is manipulated & distorted, so you have to find unhealthy ways to express yourself. This is what one must recover from, to become a healthy adult.
Back to grade school music class, one day in maybe fourth grade, Mrs. Doverspike found the generosity in her heart to let one of us finally pick a song, so I raised my hand and called out “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles, with the page number. Everyone got REALLY excited when they turned to it, and when we hit the first chorus, you could hear our class singing boldly & in unison all the way down the hall. Mrs. Doverspike knew talent when she saw it, and I was placed into a leading role for every grade school production.
I was a “Drummer Boy” for every Christmas concert. I did it because it got me out of the chorus for a few songs– supposedly to warm up. I really didn’t need to ‘get loose’, but I learned early to grab rock star privileges wherever you can get them. Each year it became another song I had to drop out of, to prepare for my bit with the hand drum & mallet. I never thought I was great at percussion, and always wanted guitar lessons, but despite being from a privileged family (upper-middle class), I would have to wait. My parents didn’t want that noise.
At Winneconne back then, young Wolves were allowed to take a real art class in 4th & 5th grade, which I did. It was Mr. Griffin, then Mr. Bartelt [?] in middle school, I don’t remember either of their first names, but both were excellent. I went to a different high school in a different town, and the teachers in these subjects weren’t nearly as good in my judgment, so that’s when I stopped with music & art classes.
In middle school you had to take either: marching band, chorus, or music appreciation every year. I opted for the last. Overall, Todd Oxley was very good, but he weighted towards ragtime, tin pan alley, early big band & opera– his favorite. Mr. Oxley had a problem with anything that came after the Beatles. An interesting movie on a new musical tool called the synthesizer, made an impression, but that was as current it would get.
Mr. Oxley was adamant that heavy metal was ‘devil music,’ and was playing AC/DC records to the class a grade ahead of us, as a study in Satanism. One day I walked into class, sat down in the back center chair as always, and saw “AC/DC”, “Black Sabbath” & “Ozzy Osbourne” on the blackboard. I got excited, and said loudly, “I like them, what’s that about?” Mr. Oxley snapped back, “That’s devil music hidden in distortion,” while angrily erasing the board. The kids (myself included) laughed at him, and told everyone in the school. The next year, he removed Satanism from his music curricula.
This is the most influential children’s record for me. I listened to all the Disney animation records as a kid, and The Jungle Book (1967) outclassed all of them. It holds up because of its genius musical soundtrack, and unforgettable characters. The gate-fold packaging, with artwork, was superb for all the Disney releases. I didn’t see The Jungle Book movie until it was re-released theatrically in North America in 1978. That’s how it was with Disney back then, and that’s why these records were so popular.
Only The Lion King (1994) comes close as a musical & film, and it largely depends on what you grew up with, in choosing a favorite. The original Jungle Book record is narrated, with character dialogue and the famous songs you know & love weaved in: “Trust in Me” by Kaa, “The Bare Necessities” by Baloo & Mowgli, “I Wan’na Be Like You” by King Louie & Baloo, and “That’s What Friends Are For” by the Singing Vultures & Shere Khan. Rhythm, groove, crazy rhyming, alliteration, and other songwriting tools come through. It takes brains & brawn to deliver these hooks, and The Jungle Book is loaded with both.
I rode the school bus, grades 1-8, and it was by far the roughest bus in the Winneconne school system. It was for the kids furthest out, and most lived on family farms. It carried grades K-12, so you had big kids mixed in with grade-schoolers, and a bus driver with a laissez-faire approach to discipline. He didn’t believe in constant supervision, he believed in not crashing the bus, so he mostly let us work our stuff out amongst ourselves. Only (maybe) twice did Gus-the-bus-driver, stop and take action in all my years. He would handle most of it by looking up into his rearview mirror to eyeball the situation. It was a tough & thankless job with all types of crazy.
I was first picked-up, and last dropped-off, every year until 8th grade. I spent a lot of time on that bus, and the radio was always going. For years it was 1280 WNAM, which was AM, top-40, conservative talk radio. For those who don’t know: FM is stereo radio; AM is mono. I think Gus-the-bus-driver was a fan of Paul Harvey, who rambled on every morning with, “The Rest of the Story”.
I heard countless broadcasts, and can’t ever recall him getting to a point. I would usually stop listening after a minute, and look around only to see that everyone had already given up too. NONE of the kids liked Paul Harvey. This is what happens when someone who doesn’t like music is put in charge of the radio. I was part of the rebellion that finally got our school bus radio station switched to 105.7 WAPL, which is FM rock.
Like I said, it was a tough bus. It had a primitive communication system which worked something like this. If you were sitting next to the heater in the rear, in January, and it was getting too hot, you just yelled “TURN OFF THE HEAT,” and Gus would flip a switch– and there was no more heat. If you later called for it to be turned back on, he wouldn’t be so quick to hear you, if he did at all– so you learned when. That’s an example of the responsibility that came with sitting in the back of our school bus.
Just to show how cruel boys can be, we called the fat girls “heifers,” which has a nasty sting coming from America’s Dairyland. Around 1982, we had a few high school heifers sitting in the back, in what was cool, but rough territory. For reference, sitting up front was for grade-schoolers, and it was how to be ‘on gool’. Gool is imaginary sanctuary. For instance, “You can’t touch me, I’m on gool!” This works well enough in 2nd grade, but evaporates by middle school. Anyways, when Joan Jett and the Blackhearts hit big with “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”, the intro drumbeat & riff would start, and one of the heifers in back would scream “TURN IT UP,” and Gus would turn it up. It was a rockin’ school bus– in every sense.
The point I’m making is that music education happens everywhere, because music is constantly around us. Network television & radio were the media back then. They worked together, as television brought new music to kids, even before MTV. The three network channels CBS, NBC & ABC (along with PBS), all programmed the same time-slots, with 3:00-5:00 in the afternoon being for kids. So while we were watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island, commercials from K-tel Records would appear, and impact us.
K-Tel was a budget record label that would put together sampler albums, and advertise when we were watching. K-tel mostly sucked, and kids didn’t buy into much of it. But in 1980, K-tel released their three best (and most remembered) albums: The Rock Album, Rock 80, and Power Play. Seeing & hearing Debbie Harry sing, “Call Me” in this commercial, still jolts me. It was meant to. K-tel’s Power Play brought Blondie, punk, and new wave to the midwest & many other places.
Columbia House was the original subscription music service. When you signed up, you’d get a bunch of ‘free’ albums for a penny, and in turn you promised to buy a set number of albums over the coming year– whether you realized it or not. The box of records, cassettes, and/or 8-track tapes arrived a few weeks later, along with the real bill.
This is called as “negative option billing,” which is defined as an unfair business practice by the FTC. It’s where customers are given goods or services that were not previously ordered, and must either continue to pay for the service or specifically decline it in advance of billing. The reason Columbia House (and later BMG) could offer such steep discounts was because they obtained a copy of the master tapes from all the other labels, and manufactured their own records, tapes & CDs to sell. The artists did not get paid for any of these sales.
The biggest problem for me as a consumer with all these ‘music house clubs’ over the years was their poor selection. Their titles were mostly lame & old. Columbia House was always in TV Guide, meaning it was in nearly every household with a television, for two decades. I would look through and mark the ones I wanted, but it was always only 2 or 3, and you needed to pick a lot more, so I always tossed it away as trash.
BMG was the competitor of Columbia House, who bought them out in 2005. BMG would slip in their catalogs with a purchase of any Sony stereo component, since they are partners. It would be packed-in with the instruction manual & warranty card. I finally went for it, when I got my new Sony CD player around 1992, at the point when BMG offered “10 CDs for the price of half,” meaning you could get 10 CDs for $27. Their selection finally included titles from alternative artists, so it was a GREAT deal. In the entire history of Columbia House & BMG, this was the only time to ever try this deal with an honest approach– IMO.
It was at the end of 7th grade, when I finally took guitar lessons. Becker Music at the end of Main St, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It’s been a family operation for decades, and I learned from Roger Becker, the son. They were all old-school taskmasters, but he was the most mellow. They could get abusive, especially the mother & father, and that’s why I finally quit as I was starting high school. That reason, along with my parents getting divorced, which takes the fun out of everything.
I had learned a lot in a year-and-a-half– all the basics on chords, notes & technique. It wasn’t until dental school that I started getting back into playing guitar. Lots of other students played, and Guitar Player started publishing tablatures of songs in their monthly magazine. Also, album songbooks which they accurately transcribed with permission from the artist, became the best way learn to play a great record like Nirvana’s Nevermind, for only $20, and some time.
At Marquette University back then, Kinko’s photocopying shop on 17th & Wisconsin was the place to take songbooks, magazines, etc, and get yourself an educational copy at low cost. I still have many of those photocopied tabs.
I was starting to practice a lot again in dental school, by myself as a study break activity. As the dental school years went on, I took more & more study breaks. It wasn’t until my final semester of dental school, in January 1994, when all my requirements were completed and I was one of many of us who were just marking time until graduation, that I was introduced to marijuana.
I grew up straight. My first beer was in my sophomore year of high school. That’s the way I partied through college & dental school, until weed. But that night, my guitar & amp were around, as I first got stoned with my friends. I then picked it up, plugged in, and started playing more freely & naturally than ever. I was age 25. Since then, marijuana has been my preference. It’s a gateway to another part of the mind, that helps me relax & be creative. I have never tried anything stronger, prescription or illicit. I believe I’ve lived ethically, and have no regrets on that.
I took the Florida dental boards in May-June 1994. By August, I was working as a professional dentist in Orlando, FL. A year later, I began writing songs, and conceived becoming a musical artist. I made an attempt in 1997-98 to make a record, which was pressed as a cassette tape. I had passion, and some great songs, but no clue what I was doing– so it failed. Around 2000-2002 I attempted a self recording, using two borrowed recording consoles: one digital & one cassette tape. I studied, and learned some more useful stuff, but the final recordings hastily pressed to CD, still weren’t good enough. Another expensive failure, and lesson learned.
Then, for a period of 7-8 years, I focused on personal & dental professional aspects of my life, and music was set aside. I spent this period intensely studying dentistry, as well as Marxism, history, film, music, art, and science. But I never stopped writing songs. When one came, I would get it down on the back of an envelope, or whatever. I had purchased a digital 8-track console, and recorded all my songs onto it, so I knew I had demos. It was these songs from this console, that I burned onto CD and gave to Jay Stanley, when I went in to record Magnified in the summer of 2011. All my music history since then, is already on this site.
No discussion of music education is complete without a few thoughts on ethics. I’ve discussed the Columbia House & BMG scams already. While researching, I was reminded of all the ways my friends had cheated them, and even learned a few new ones. There was never any ethical dilemma amongst kids when it came to shorting the industry. They were overcharging us, and advertising their garbage everywhere, so we learned to take back when & where we could. Sneaking into shows, moving up from bad seats, recording albums onto cassette tape, ripping CDs & DVDs, etc, was all good.
Napster changed everything from 1999-2001, because you couldn’t put a mp3 in your hand, nor could you trace its source. How you feel about what happened to that revolutionary website, says a lot about your musical ethics. Napster was cool, and for the kids. The music industry ramped up its corporate & political machinery to kill Napster so Harvard graduate Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, could rule the ‘authorized’ streaming & download market with iTunes. That’s when pirate sites like Bittorrent, Limewire, Kazaa, etc, popped up like mushrooms to replace Napster.
Most music today is shared via streaming services. Sharing mp3’s illicitly is new radio, so keep doing it. But it is not cool to steal from artists selling their physical product. It isn’t cool to steal from record stores & vendors, as they work to keep music available, and need to be paid fairly. To hide coveted records in obscure bins, until you have enough money to buy it, is to cheat not only people looking for that record, but also the establishment as it keeps the store from making a sale. As a rule, tip musicians generously when they move & entertain you. Unless it’s superstar level, or near that, pretty much every musician is underpaid. Music is what gives us joy & hope. It gives us strength & courage. We need music to get through this COVID-19 pandemic, and help guide us to something better. Always be honest with music, and it will infinitely reward you.