We came back to the states in 1958 and settled in Los Angeles, and my musical experiences toned down considerably. Even though I was in the San Fernando Valley, light-years away from the beach, we all – at least privately – thought of ourselves as surfers, and the music du jour was the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.
I even have a dim, very possibly false, memory of having Jan and Dean (or maybe some imitations?) make an appearance at Pacoima Junior High School. The other “rock” music I remember is Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Somewhere in there a nice young lady by the name of Sue gave me a 45 of “Sherry” for my birthday.
But by the early ‘60s I had ears enough to be pretty bored with where pop music was at, and discovered two kinds of music that kept me pretty well occupied for the next years. One was folk music. I didn’t know about the boycott of Hootenanny (they maintained the TV blacklist of Pete Seeger, which is why you never saw Joan Baez or Dylan on the show), and so I was a regular watcher. The commercial “folk” stuff (New Christy Minstrels, etc.) seemed as bad as pop to me, but I remember seeing Mother Maybelle Carter and the Staple Singers, and that opened some doors.
Cooler still, one of the Freedom Riders who’d been integrating the bus system in the South visited our church late in 1962 or early in ’63, playing a song she’d written in jail on her acoustic guitar and singing as she read from….no lie, the lyrics had been written on a roll of toilet paper, which was all she had access to in the slammer. And yes, we sang “We Shall Overcome” to end the show. A very memorable night.
And in Los Angeles I also found out about jazz. Our next-door neighbor for a time was a guy named Jim Tolbert, President of the Hollywood NAACP (and good buddy, I found out years later, of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller). He’d moved out to this boring block of the Valley as a gesture of what they called “block-busting” – integration – and he was a great neighbor. He and his wife Marie turned me on to lots of things, not least of which was Louisiana food and the great figures of jazz, including Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.
A couple of years later, I bought my first album. I was then in the tiny Maine town of Dexter, but the soda fountain had a record rack and a copy of the Schwann Catalogue – which in 1965 was as close to the internet as you could find for locating pretty much all records. So I told the lady at the soda fountain, “anything by Thelonious Monk,” and bless her, she got me Live at the Five Spot. It was a revelation.
Before that, of course, I shared in the universal experience of all American youth in 1964 – the Beatles. Just like every other family I knew about, we watched The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights, and I was plunked in front of the tube on February 9, 1964 to watch them say hello to America. They owned the show, of course – the rumor was that there was no serious crime in America for the hour the program was on (a great story no matter the literal truth) – and instead of the 3 minutes most acts got, they performed “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You, “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want to Hold Your hand.”
And even though they were all over the radio – and I do mean all over – I ended up spending a great deal of time at Grant’s Department Store in Bangor, because it had the biggest record section in town and you could listen to music among other people – sharing that music was an essential part of my generation’s life experience.
As they come in, I’m going to put links to media appearances and reviews here:
I was asked to speak with radio host Ed Tyll after the original of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for $2 million. You can hear me (and see Ed!) at