This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021
I LIKE MUSIC. I DON’T KNOW IF I HAVE THE MUSIC IN ME, but I have my moments. I’ve performed in a couple of musicals over the years and no one died as a result, so I must not be too bad.
Being a professional musician is something I could never be because I really lack, not only the talent, but also the dedication that it takes. When someone asks me if I can play any instruments I tell them that the only thing I can play is the radio.
I DIDN’T GO TO MY HIGH SCHOOL CLASS REUNION THIS WEEKEND. Will that get me sent to the Principal’s Office?
This reunion was to commemorate 55 years since graduation. I went to the 50th and was appalled by how old they had become. All this reunion would prove is that none of the attendees had died in the interim.
Fifty-five years ago – 1964. When I think about that span of time I shiver. So much has happened – some good, some not so good. There have been some astonishing changes in our lives, and then again – some things have defied change no matter how hard we have labored to change them.
I admit that either possibility is, at minimum, plausible.
They (The ubiquitous “They”) say that Time is a fluid thing and that the very concept of Time Travel is no longer the property of Science Fiction writers. OK, I can accept that, but I just don’t expect it to happen while I’m quietly trying to have a cup of coffee.
Twice in the last month while I was concentrating on getting my plastic straw through the lid on my iced coffee my world was intruded upon by the 1950s and then the 1960s. I’ve been through those decades before so I recognized them immediately.
WE ARE DOWN IN TEXAS VISITING FAMILY. We were sitting around the table last night swapping stories and sharing memories. My 97 year old Mother-in-law told us about her life during World War Two. Our Cousin from Alaska told us the best way to avoid being killed by bears, and then it became my turn.
My wife, the lovely and memory like a steel trap, Dawn, said, “John, tell them about your spooky mother.” With an introduction like that there was no way to avoid telling everyone about my “Spooky Mom.”
WHEN I GALUMPHED OUT TO THE MAILBOX THE OTHER DAY I noticed that mixed in with the usual bills, ads from politicians and “You may already be a winner!” junk was a card from my old Alma Mater.
At first I thought it was another begging notice asking me to include them in my will. Lotsa luck on that. This card was something else – it was an invitation. I was being asked to come to my 50th college class reunion. Considering that I had never gone to any of the previous reunions I think that this invitation was a real long shot.
That’s how I would introduce myself at a meeting of “Lumps Anonymous.” Some days are like that. Yesterday was one.
I don’t want to say that I had a lack of energy, but I felt the need to put a mirror up to my own mouth just to be sure that I was still breathing. Rolling out of bed was easy. It was the getting up off of the floor that took a while.
I DON’T HAVE A GOOD MEMORY FOR NAMES. I just don’t. My mother wore a name tag until I was twelve – just so I‘d know who that woman was. And then there are some people I won’t ever forget.
His name was “Chopper.”
“Chopper” wasn’t his real name of course. It was a name that he earned in the Military. I knew him after his Army days, but I heard the stories – a few from him directly, but most from his brother. “Chopper” himself was somewhat reticent to talk about his time in Southeast Asia.
“Chopper” was a young Irish boy from Cleveland. He came from a family of Firefighters who lived life like it was a nonstop wedding reception. If something was worth doing – it was worth doing at full speed.
SOME PEOPLE LABOR ON IN OBSCURITY while others bask in the spotlight of eternal glory. And then there is the guy who mixed both into a legendary invisibility: Edward Walker – The Inventor of the Lava Lamp.
The Official History of Eddie and the Lava Lamp goes back to the mid-1960s. When else could it be, eh?
The other night we were out with some friends having a burger when, out of the blue, someone asked if anyone still had a Lava Lamp at home. What gave birth to that question I don’t know and I don’t want to know.
To end the suspense – none of our group fessed up to still having a Lava Lamp in their pad.
SOME MORNINGS I JUST FEEL LIKE SLAPPING SOME PEOPLE upside the head and down the other side. Not out of any anger, but as an attempt to get them to wake up and smell the coffee – the coffee that I am trying to drink in peace.
Almost every morning lately I’m in my corner at St. Arbucks and no matter how hard I try to ignore it – I cannot avoid hearing the conversations of other people. The problem arises when all they want to rant about is Politics and Politicians. I can’t think of anything that I want to avoid more at 6:30 in the morning. The sun isn’t even up yet, let alone me. At that time of day I’d prefer a little music or the voices in my head who tell me “knock – knock” jokes.
SOMETIMES I AM MY OWN SANTA CLAUS! I hadn’t planned on it. It just happened as a byproduct of finally doing something I should have done ages ago.
My desk usually looks like Dresden after World War Two. Calling it a pile of rubble is generous. It had reached the point where I didn’t know what was stacked up there. Anyway – the other day I was looking for a small pocket knife that I know had been on my desk at some time in the past. I was rooting around when I saw something that was held together with a rubber band. It looked like a bundle of plastic cards. I gave up on the knife. It will work its way to the surface at some point, but the plastic cards had my attention for the moment.
SOME MORNINGS I SHOULD JUST ROLL OVER AND GO BACK TO SLEEP. Getting up too early can be traumatic, but it’s my own fault.
I have learned that in the wee hours of the morning the Classic Movie Channel shows things that stretch the veracity of the word “Classic” and defy everything except the technical definition of “Movie.” I watched a perfect an imperfect example of this a couple of weeks ago.
For some reason my eyes popped open at about 5 AM and by reflex I turned on the TV.
On the Classic Movie Channel I have watched the greatest films ever made. On this morning I watched the worst. Why? Because, like Mt. Everest – it was there.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
The Classic Movie Channel in cooperation with My Inability to Sleep
‘ You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!’ (Berry Gordy)
Roma uno die non est condita.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It takes time to found a mighty Empire that will conquer all the known world.
So, from the founding of Rome (let’s say 753BC) to the final defeat of Carthage it was all of 600 years.
It is therefore somewhat remarkable it took Berry Gordy less than a decade from the founding of Motown in 1959 to establish an Empire that colonised the hearts and souls of music fans from Addis Abbaba to Zanzibar and Zagreb!
An $800 loan from his family became a multi, multi million dollar record company which would record songs that will last as long as we have Spirits that need lifting, hearts that need stirring (or consolation) and hips that just gotta move.
First, get yourself a base that you own.
Let’s show our ambition and call this base, ‘Hitsville USA’.
A Studio come Clubhouse where your singers and musicians can find competition and camaraderie 24 hours a day (acording to legend the local beat cop thought 2648 West Grand Drive Boulevard must be an all hours drinking den given the numbers of shady looking characters turning up at all hours of the day and night).
Next get yourself a live and play in the Basement group of musicians with Jazz chops who can fashion a wholly new sound – which is not jazz, not old school R&B, Blues or Rock n’ Roll.
Let’s call them The Funk Brothers and let’s have one of them, James Jamerson on Bass, be a fully fledged genius who will add grace and depth to every recording he ever plays on.
Let’s have a slogan calling that sound, ‘The Sound of Young America’ and let’s make so many great records that the slogan will became an every day reality on the airwaves and the charts.
And, we don’t mean, in still highly segregated America, the Black Music Charts .
No, no, no.
We mean the Pop Music charts.
Where the real money is to be made.
Open for Business and cast a cool appraising eye on all the would be stars who beat a path to your door.
This kid Smokey Robinson’s a Keeper – he’s got a notebook with hundreds of songs and he can sing ’em like a bird and work the Recording Desk too!
Not that I can’t write and produce myself.
You ever heard, ‘Reet Petite’ or, ‘Lonely Teardrops’?
Big Hits but Berry didn’t get the money!
Not going to happen again!
So, in 1960, New Frontier!, we get our first hit.
Barrett Strong with, ‘Money’ (bunch of English guys in Hamburg called The Beatles will learn a lot playing that one!).
Then Smokey comes up with, ‘Shop Around’ and by the end of the year we got a Million Seller!
Here comes 1961 and we get ourselves our first Pop Number One!
The Marvellettes, ‘Please Mr Postman’.
I got my eyes and ears on that Brian Holland – there’s a lot more hits where that came from!
Early ’62 I figure we need to find a song like, ‘Twist and Shout’ that will have all the White Kids, all the Black Kids and everybody who ain’t tied to a chair out on the floor and running down to the record store to lay down their cash.
Let’s call it, ‘Do You Love Me’.
I thought it might suit The Temptations but maybe they just sing too well for this one (I got big plans for them later).
Probably the best dancers of anyone who ever came through these doors!
Come to think of it Billy Gordon got a, ‘Wake the Dead and get ’em up Dancin” Voice if I ever heard one!
Next time they come through I’m gonna sit down at the piano and teach them the song one evening and record it the next day.
Gonna tell James to drive this one like a runaway train.
None of his fancy jazz licks – nail that backbeat to the Basement floor!
Of course, when Benny Benjamin is behind the Drums, the record is going to sound immense.
Maybe I’ll start with a spoken intro and then let The Funk Brothers explode and tell Billy I don’t want him to be able to sing this song a second time ’cause I want him to tear his throats to shreds the first time!
Ok – let’s go!
Now, if that ain’t shaking ’em down I don’t know what is!
The Funk Brothers never let up and Billy Gordon’s lead vocal comes at you like a tidal wave.
Hubert Johnson, Billy Higgs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts make up a chorus that has an irresitble goofball charm. The trilling guitar comes from Huey Davis.
When I’ve managed to master some skill which has previously eluded me (and there’s a lot of them!) I just can’t stop myself singing, ‘I’ m back and I can really shake ’em down – Watch me now!’.
I love the corny spoken introduction, the false ending, the references to the Mashed Potato and The Twist and the bullfrog, ‘Um, Bom, Bom, Bom, brrrmm’ backing vocals.
Of course Berry got his hit!
Top 5 in every Chart and well over a Million copies sold.
They say it was the fastest selling single in the history of Motown.
Malheureusement, it was the pinnacle of The Contours career though they did make a handful of other excellent recordings.
They were simply too low down in the pecking order of Motown Vocal Groups.
And, when you consider they were up against the likes of The Four Tops and The Tempatations that is hardly to be wondered at.
There’s almost always been a version of the group out there driving a crowd crazy with, ‘Do You Love Me’.
And, by some mysterious alignment of the heavens, in 1987 the song gained a wholly unexpected new lease of life through being featured in the world wide hit film. ‘Dirty Dancing’ (even if they did, disgracefully, chop off the ending!).
One of the versions of The Contours got to go on a world tour and enjoy the big time once again.
Not so, for poor Billy Gordon.
For Billy died in poverty after spending time in prison (bizarrely with one time colleague Joe Billingslea being a Corrections Officer in the Prison!).
So it goes. So it goes.
Yet, every day someone, somewhere, has their life lit up by hearing Billy intone:
‘You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance
You didn’t even want me around
And now I’m back to let you know
I can really shake ’em down!‘
And then, if they’ve got any blood in their veins they’ll go stone crazy for the next two and a half minutes.
Watch me Now!
Dedicated to :
Billy Gordon (RIP)
Sylvester Potts (RIP)
Hubert Johnson (RIP)
Huey Davis (RIP)
James Jamerson (RIP)
Benny Benjamin (RIP)
Britain’s Ace Records has two excellent complications documenting The Contours recorded legacy.
John Kraft is a writer living and working in Terre Haute, Indiana. He moved to the Midwest after 25 years in California where he worked as an actor, comedian, voice-over actor, as well as a writer. He now enjoys a saner pace of life with his wife, Dawn, who tries to keep him from embarrassing himself in public.
Perhaps I should explain the title of this blog: Down the Hall on Your Left.
My name is John. People are always asking where they can find "The John." My answer is: "Down the Hall on Your Left."