Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Musical Biography

Following a blogging trend (because I’m that kind of hip guy) I’ve decided to post my musical biography – a roughly chronological record of my listening habits.

Birth – 7 (1955 – 1962) – My parents bought me a pink portable record player™ when I was five or six years old. This may have led to later gender confusion. My first records were 45 RPMs, purchased by my parents. They included various Disney songs sung by Mickey Mouse (“I’m a Happy Mouse”) and Donald Duck (“Quack quack quack went Donald Duck/In his sailor suit/ Quack quack quack went Donald Duck/Gee I think he’s cute”). It’s amazing how this stuff stays with you. My first album was the soundtrack to the movie The Alamo (the John Wayne early ‘60s version). At one point I went around the house singing:

Back in 1836
Houston said to Travis
“Get some volunteers and go
Fortify the Alamo!”

I suspect my parents later regretted that album.

I requested several 45s for Christmas/birthday presents, among them “Dominique” by The Singing Nun (a uniquely ‘60s phenomenon in which a nun in full penguin regalia strummed a guitar and sang a French folk song very earnestly; this was actually a hit record), “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down” by The New Christy Minstrels, and “Laurie” by Dicky Lee, a tale in which a guy meets and falls in love with a mysterious, pale girl, takes her to the prom, dances with her, gives her his sweater because she’s cold, loses sight of her, and then finds his sweater the day after the prom. On her gravestone. Man, I ate this stuff up at age 7. I thought it was the coolest stuff in the world.

Age 7 – 14 (1962 – 1969) – At some point in early elementary school I acquired the aqua transistor radio. This saved my life. Exploring around my Columbus radio dial, I discovered WCOL AM, a hip station that played rock ‘n roll, and which featured a screaming pitchman/DJ named Spook Beckman. I loved Spook, and later discovered that there’s an exhibit dedicated to him at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Spook told bad jokes, read the weather, did commercials for laundry detergent, and in between played some of the most amazing music I’d ever heard. The first song that I can recall actually getting excited about was called “Money.” You might know it; The Beatles later covered it on their first album. But this was the Barrett Strong Motown version, and it was the first African American voice I can recall ever hearing, and it knocked me flat. “Your lovin’ give me a thrill/But your lovin’ don’t pay my bills,” Barrett sang, and I found myself hopping around my bedroom, engaging in what I like to flatteringly think of as “dance.” I liked this rock ‘n roll stuff.

Shortly after that The Beatles came along. I watched them on Ed Sullivan. I wore an I Love George button to school, but Sister Alexine made me take it off. For some reason the Walker’s, a pious, churchgoing family who lived across the street from my parents, decided to hop in the wood-paneled station wagon and drive up to Cleveland to see The Beatles in September, 1964. They invited me along. And so I attended my first concert, which was not that fun. We sat in the next to last row. Girls screamed and screamed. Being three foot ten, I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear anything. But I was there.

That prompted me to request a Beatles album for my ninth birthday. It was my first audacious music request. My parents didn’t like The Beatles, preferring Mickey Mouse and John Wayne. I was sure they would refuse. But sure enough, my birthday came and I opened the flat package and in it was The Beatles Second Album. I played it over and over again, and kept listening to Spook Beckman.

Interesting things were happening in music. It was the Mythical Golden Age, that magical time in which the best music actually happened to coincide with the most popular music. And so I got the usual AM radio rock ‘n roll indoctrination, listening to The Beatles and The Stones, Bob Dylan, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, James Brown, The Kinks, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, etc. etc. But this era has been so romanticized that people forget that there was a lot of schlock, too. I uncritically loved all of it, everybody listed above, along with Herman’s Hermits, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Freddie and the Dreamers, Leslie Gore, Petula Clark, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, etc. etc.

I bought Beatles albums faithfully as they came out. I bought Simon and Garfunkel albums. My parents, having moved on from Mickey and The Duke, bought me Neil Diamond albums, which I hated, except for the song “Solitary Man,” which I liked, and still do. It was the rugged individualist motif, and I could dig that as I laid out my Catholic school uniform and prepared to dress like everybody else.

The High School Years (1969 – 1973) – Like everyone else who has gone through this experience, the musical tastes grew both more diverse and more refined. The album collection grew exponentially. People/bands I liked a lot: Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac (who were still a blues band at the time, well before the Stevie Nicks/Embraceable Ewe bleating incarnation), Chicago, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, early Pink Floyd. Jethro Tull. I memorized the lyrics to entire Jethro Tull albums, and thought that Ian Anderson was a genius. Now, more than thirty years down the line, I still think he’s a genius. Neil Young, particularly Harvest and After the Gold Rush. Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young). My little cadre of friends and I prided ourselves on our appreciation of Celtic rock bands/musicians such as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Tir Na Nog, Richard and Linda Thompson, and Nick Drake. Nobody else was listening to this stuff, but we were. It still sounds great to me. Joni Mitchell wrote the soundtrack to my life, and I was deeply in love with her. I was particularly enamored of a long-haired hippie named Shawn Phillips, who had an incredible vocal range and who sang songs about lovin’ your brother, man. People I didn’t like that other people liked a lot: Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane. The appreciation for those folks would come later, but it wasn’t there in high school. I bought my first jazz album, Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, which I hated.

The College Years (1973 – 1977, 1979 – 1981, 2003-2004). Okay, some of us keep going back to college, trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. But I’ll confine myself to the first enlistment here, the years I spent at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Athens in the mid-70s was a laid-back, hippie-infested, every-day-is-Woodstock, bluegrass and country rock kind of place, so it’s only fitting, I suppose, that I discovered bluegrass, country rock, and country music during this phase of my life. Pure Prairie League were sort of the campus house band, and they made great country rock. So did The Eagles, Poco, John Prine, Mason Profitt and The Talbot Brothers, and Jonathan Edwards. I bought a then little-known record by The Byrds called Sweetheart of the Radio, and was shocked to find shitkickin’ country music instead of the usual chiming twelve-string electric guitars. I hated it at first, but came to love it dearly, which led me down a trail to The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, and Emmylou Harris. But the biggest musical “discoveries” during these years were Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Al Green. Of course, I knew of them before college. But I had never paid that much attention. Now I snatched up as much Dylan and Van and Rev. Al as I could find, a pattern that continues to this day. It’s difficult to name favorites, but I don’t think I would be too far off if I named those three. Oh yeah, Bruce Springsteen arrived on the scene at this time. I saw him play in front of about 100 people in 1974, shortly before Born to Run was released and he was transformed from a virtual unknown into a superstar. He was great then. He’s great now.

I also became a Christian during this time. I bought a lot of CCM, some of which is pretty good and which I still like – Larry Norman, Daniel Amos, Phil Keaggy, Second Chapter of Acts, Keith Green, Mark Heard, Tom Howard, Ed Raetzloff (who actually played some amazing blues-based guitar; where is he now?), Resurrection/Rez Band, Randy Stonehill. I went through a brief period where I only bought “Christian” music. I threw away a few “worldly” albums. Then, a couple years later, I decided that a lot of Christian music sucked (e.g., Honeytree, Evie, Amy Grant, Carman, etc.), and I went through my counter-reformation, throwing away some bad Christian music and re-purchasing a few of the albums I had tossed. In 1975 I discovered Bruce Cockburn, a Christian who made music outside the CCM ghetto. I loved him. He’s been the model for me ever since, consistently showing that it is possible to make intelligent, creative, God-honoring music that isn’t bounded by clichés and platitudes, and that isn’t afraid to ask questions, expose the sin within, and apply the truths of the gospel to the fallen world around us.

The Post-College/Pre-Kate Years (1977 – 1981) – Punk and New Wave, baby. Favorites were The Clash, The Undertones, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, The Pretenders. I was once wrote an Apologetics paper for a seminary class using the lyrics to the Clash’s first album as the basis for my argument for Christianity. I got an A, amazingly enough. I was never a punk, couldn’t play one if you gave me a Mohawk, stuck safety pins in my ears, tore up my clothes, and threw up all over me, but I sure loved the music. Other favorites from that time: Dave Edmunds, who played great rockabilly, Nick Lowe, Richard and Linda Thompson (just pencil them in regardless of the era), Springsteen, and the first glimmerings of the phenomenon that was U2 (Boy, which I bought when it first came out). I also discovered blues, and bought a bunch of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, etc.

Early Marriage/Pre-Kids (1982 – 1986) – Very early in my marriage Kate saw me sitting on the sofa one day. “Why don’t you do something” she asked me. “I am doing something,” I replied. “I’m listening to music.” She’s since gotten used to it. Big favorites: U2, Springsteen, The English Beat, T-Bone Burnett, Tom Waits, Sam Phillips, Laurie Anderson, REM. This was also the time when I discovered jazz, thanks to my brother-in-law Bill, who gently pointed me away from the atonal fusion of late sixties Miles and pointed me to the late fifties Miles. I think I probably bought hundreds of jazz albums during these days. My favorites are the usual suspects: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, etc.

Late Eighties Through the Nineties – Lots of all of the above, plus new influences from world music, particularly from South African, Bulgarian, and Celtic sources. My favorite band of the late eighties? The Pogues, who sounded like the Sex Pistols if they had grown up in the traditional pubs of Dublin. I mostly missed the Grunge Explosion. It just didn’t do much for me; I’m too much a fan of melody. But power pop, influenced heavily by The Beatles, was (and remains) big for me, and some of my favorite bands playing that genre during this time period were The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Velvet Crush, The Eels, and Michael Penn. I went through a huge New Zealand pop/rock phase for a while (The Chills, The Bats, The Clean, Bailter Space, Tall Dwarves, Straitjacket Fits, Crowded House), and to this day think that Kiwi Rock was the best thing that came out of the early ‘90s. The mid- to late-nineties saw me scooping up vast quantities of alt-country/insurgent country/roots rock music, as practiced by Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Wilco, Cheri Knight, Old 97’s, The Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, etc. The best band of the ‘90s? Uncle Tupelo, hands down. At least I think so. Special mention needs to be paid to five of my favorites, Christians one and all, who don’t fit easily within any particular genre: Vigilantes of Love/Bill Mallonee, Victoria Williams, Over the Rhine, Innocence Mission, and Buddy and Julie Miller.

The 00s – The beat goes on. I listen to almost every genre of music imaginable, and find value in all of it (or, more correctly, in some of it in all of it). Newer bands/performers I dearly love: Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, The Weakerthans, The New Pornographers, A.C. Newman, Joanna Newsome, Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, jazz saxophonist James Carter, Amos Lee. In the last few months I’ve heard great albums from new discoveries such as Milton Mapes (that’s a band name, not a person), Deathray Davies, soul singer Raul Midon, McCartney clone Sam Ashworth, jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Waits compatriot and weirdman Danny Cohen, rockabilly revivalist Webb Wilder, and early bluegrass/country music pioneer Charlie Poole. There’s great music everywhere. It will take me a lifetime to discover it all, and I still won’t be finished.


John McCollum said...

Listen, pal. You can say what you want about Amy Grant. But don't you EVER talk bad about Evie Carlson Tornquist.

"Come on ring those bells, light the Christmas tree, Jesus is the king born for you and me"

Man, that's gold.

You philistine. Next you'll be dissing Dallas Holm.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what I was thinking... I left out my beloved Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel. I think I listened to them more than some of the others I listed! This is why I prefaced mine by saying it was not complete.
And I was interested to see that your top 3 favs were mine: The Rev. Dylan and Van the Man.
Rock on.

Anonymous said...

it is hilarious that you mentioned laurie anderson. she was pretty much my favorite artist in like 4th grade (1984). talk about getting made fun of on the playground. when all my friends were swooning over duran duran and planning their marriages to simon, i was obsessing over the electronic genius of laurie's Oh Superman. i accidentally made a tape recording of the record on the slow speed and after hearing it both ways, think it should have been recorded that way in the first place.

Andy Whitman said...

Amy, I think Laurie Anderson is brilliant. I hereby appoint you the most brilliant fourth grader I've ever encountered. Good for you.

You should talk to my daughter Rachel. When she was in fourth grade, she was very fond of Bulgarian women's choirs. That didn't go over well with the Backstreet Boys fans, either.

Anonymous said...

yanni's hair looks like it requires horse lather, and that could get pretty expensive.
and andy, you can tell rachel that i feel her pain.

Andy Whitman said...

Yesterday we got an e-mail message from a friend we haven't seen in years. She mentioned that her hair was still red, and still totally natural. I wrote her back and mentioned that my scalp is still pink, also totally natural. No horse lather required.

So take that, Yanni. I mean, sure, he's an international sex symbol and has made gazillions of dollars by playing that New Age schmaltz and tossing his mane, but I at least save money on horse lather. I'm thinking of getting a tattoo, though, right at the crown of my head. Maybe a yin/yang symbol. Possibly a birth of Christ nativity scene. I've got to do something with all that blank space to enhance my coolness.

Anonymous said...

a tattoo of yanni would not enhance your coolness.

danthress said...

when in doubt, take it all off

Paul said...

I was once wrote an Apologetics paper for a seminary class using the lyrics to the Clash’s first album as the basis for my argument for Christianity

Do you still have this? Would be interesting to see

Anonymous said...

I love Randy Stonehill! I also love Keith Green, I know they were friends too. What passion for God, and what honest lyrics.

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music on my site. All my music is free for download. Anyway, I just thought I'd share.

"All my music is free for download."

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old blog, but I happened across the name of Ed Raetzloff and I couldn't resist. I don't find many people who even know who he is! I actually tracked Ed down awhile back because I wanted to know what happened to him and thank him for the great music he put out. I found his address and wrote him a letter and he actually wrote back. Turns out that he left the music scene shortly after his second album, "Driving Wheels," because he became disillusioned with the CCM industry. He said his first album was a testimony from his heart. The second was pretty much coaxed out of him by the label who wanted to follow up on the success of the first one. What a shame! A major talent with great potential to reach millions burned out by the industry. Ed said that he still plays and produces a bit, but is enjoying life with his family and church. Just a little update for anyone else who ever wondered "What ever happened to Ed Raetzloff?"

Anonymous said...

Ed Raetzloff is my dad!! He still plays guitar on the toilet!!! Every weekend morning dad and his buddies would play and write in the living room. I used to come and dance to his songs as a little girl! And now he will be giving me away at my wedding in just a few weeks!!!

Casey Raetzloff

Andy Whitman said...

Hi Casey. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear that your dad is alive and well, and that he'll be walking you down the aisle in a few weeks. Congratulations.

I really, really love your dad's music, and you can tell him I said so. I'm not a big fan of CCM (although I'm a Christian), and your dad's albums had a ring of honesty and authenticity about them that I still cherish. In fact, I played "It Took a Long Time To Get To You" a few weeks ago, and I still loved it. Plus, he plays a mean guitar. :-) Thanks for getting in touch, and please convey my thanks and admiration to Ed.

Unknown said...

I can't believe I found this blog and the comments on Ed Raetzloff. His music popped into my head recently and with it a wave of memories and recall of my early days of finding faith in Christ. So glad to hear an update.

Anonymous said...

without sounding like a ditto head, I'm glad to know I'm not alone...Ed Raetzloff played absolutely fantastic music for a christian teenager (back then) who loved LS / ZZtop / MTB / Outlaws... okay southern rock fan... now if someone can tell me where I can FIND a copy of Ed Raetzloff's albums... my tape deck will no longer have old goo on the heads from massive playing and redubbing to a new cassette!

Anonymous said...

When ed raetzloff got saved-filled with the holy ghost- healed & delivered etc., he wrote a song "I'm free, Since Jesus made a new man out of me!" it was in the early 80s & my sister- in- law found his first christian album (which this song was on. ) & gave it to me. He was on my heart tonight & in looking for anything about him I found your blog. Thanks for being here! Gabe (gabe50@earthlink.net)

Unknown said...

Hi, Andy. As has already been noted, this is a very old thread, but surprisingly, when you Google "Ed Raetzloff" this post ranks very high.

His first album was (and is) one of my all-time favorites. I still have the LP, and am listening to it right now on a CD I made from it.

Casey, if you ever check this thread again, tell your Dad I said "hi." His music continues to both humble me, and encourage me to seek the Lord with all my heart.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, old, old thread. I remember heading to Fishnet back in the early 80's with a vanload of guys from JPUSA (Jesus People USA), and as we drove through the mountains in the early morning sunlight we were listening to "It Took a Long Time." It was a great album in a sea of drivel (and most of the rest of the trip we listened to "Circles in the Stream", for all you Cockburn fans).

Pat (also an Ohioan suburbanite now) Peterson.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about an old compilation album that I had when I was maybe 13 yr. old (Pure Hype was the name) that had a guy named Ed Ratzelof sp?. How I remember that name 27 years later I'll never know. Finally Found Someone To Love Me was the song. It kicked. I was just sitting talking to my wife about when we were kids and I jumped up to Google him. I thought I'd leave a post. Ed, if you read this... I don't know a thing about you, but that song was awesome. I can still hear the chorus in my head and I'm gonna go track down a copy as soon as I get done with this post.

Anonymous said...

believe it or not, one of ed raetzloffs cassette tapes (drivin wheels) made its way to norway many years ago. I had never heard of him before i found the tape in a discount box in a christian music store. I played it a lot, it was one of my favorites, but unfortunately the tape got destroyed by the casetteplayer after many years use. I still have the tape but it is not good to listen to anymore. But i cant throw it away.

he made a difference in my life.


Gale Rodney said...

Great comments. I really like Ed Raetzloffs music.
Does anyone know how to find chords and lyric sheets to his songs? (Casey, if you see this, is this available?
Thanks. God bless!

Steve said...

Hey as it has been said, I know this is an old post but so glad to hear Ed Raetzloff is still around. I'm not blown away about his take on CCM. I was big music fan before coming to Christ and found so much poor music being presented as the best in CCM.
Ed was real however, his first album spoke to my heart like no one else.
ED & family God Bless

Chuck said...

For what it's worth, I found this link while googling Ed Raetzloff's name as well. And I also found a link thru Google that allowed me to download one of his albums as well (actually, they were both there, but Long Time was the only one that interested me). I had been trying to find Found Someone To Love Me (to buy it) for quite awhile, so it was great to hear it again. Oh, and by the way, I remember Spook Beckman very well, too. I remember him always talking about "pucci gravy" on the air. It wasn't until I was older that I realized he was talking about booze. He made it sound really delicious. He was sort of an institution around here. As I recall, he died in the Nineties.

Phydeaux777 said...

Both of Ed Raetzloff's albums are in rotation on www.larrynormanradio.com where not only Larry Norman's music is streamed, but other CCM (and Larry related secular music) is streamed. Ed's Someone album is a MODEL of what Christian Rock should have sounded like...check out the site and listen for Ed's music...