A long time ago there used to be a fellow on television named Art Linkletter. He had a show on TV back when I was a mere boy. I have already told you that I stayed at home during the summer cleaning the house, washing the clothes and making my dad’s lunch. It was a lot better than walking down the hot rows of green beans or chopping cotton or picking up potatoes. Of course, while I was home, I watched our old black-and-white TV.
I watched Art Linkletter because he had kids on his show (I related) and he had this one section called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” He would have about five or six kids about 5 or 6 years old sitting in their little chairs, and Mr. Linkletter would ask them questions that were truly too complicated for the kids. But their answers were hilarious. Other folks have tried to copy his lead since then, but he was wonderful with the kids and made them think they were smarter perhaps than they were. However, he never spoke down to them. Next to Tennessee Ernie Ford this was my favorite show.
Almost all the shows during those days advertised things for women. Ivory soap (so pure it floats) or dish soap, which was pretty new. Soap was soap in our house, as well as a lot of houses I visited. The shows on TV were happy shows, with singers and comedians, during the day anyway. I know they were made for the women who stayed at home because all the programming was geared toward moms, that didn’t bother me. Mostly I was busy during the morning and it was just noise in the background.
My mom and dad would always smile when I asked them to buy this label of soap for dishes and another for the washing machine. It was a wringer machine and this soap was made to eliminate the white residue that would stick to the clothes no matter how many times you rinsed them. I didn’t rinse them that many times because you had to change the water every time you did that, and changing the water meant sticking a hose out the window and turning on this anemic pump that drained the tub. Then I had to fill up a bucket to fill the machine again. I’ll never forget the day I washed my dad’s overalls when he had left a pack of Camels in a pocket. Tobacco got all over everything and stained anything it touched. I had to wash all the clothes three times that day.
I would vacuum the floors and make all the beds and wash whatever dishes were left in the sink. I washed the bedclothes once or twice, but mom finally let me out of that chore because I couldn’t get the sheets on the line without dragging a corner or tow in the dirt.
I knew just about all the songs they sung on the different shows. One good thing about those songs is that if there was a new talent on TV, I got to see them first. There was Ted Mack’s “Amateur Hour” and “The Arthur Godfrey Show” among many that used new and old singers and comedians. I felt like I was a sophisticated kid. Of course, I would never tell the other kids what I did because they all had to work in the fields like my mom and my brothers, so they might have thought I was a sissy or something.
During those days I knew a lot of the words to familiar songs and sang them to my mom and dad at night when we were all going to bed. I never got an encore. Then one day something really strange happened. A fellow out of Mississippi came on one of the shows and played some southern blues on the guitar. It only happened once because the parents went nuts. We were being influenced by the devil and the parents couldn’t stand for that. I can still remember the guy playing, but I can’t remember the name. African Americans were almost never allowed to be on television unless they sang or danced to American songs. The blues were the songs of the devil and he was seeking our souls.
The next time I saw a person on TV that was as good as this blues player, it was Elvis Presley. Oh my goodness! Even though he was on one of the whitest shows on TV, “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the parents went nuts. They were burning his records in the street and rolling over them with a steam shovel. The music had captured my heart.
This brings me to the reason I am writing about the music. My kids know that I grew up during the exposure to America of rock ’n’ roll. I loved Elvis, and like every teenager I knew, wanted to be like him, but my hair was too curly and my mom refused to dye it black.
I have lots of heroes in rock ’n’ roll music. I can fill the entire evening listening to older musicians playing rock ’n’ roll on my iPad with the songs that YouTube picks for my pleasure based on the songs I choose. One of my favorites is George Thorogood. This guy, in case you are unfamiliar with his music, is a maestro. He is getting older now and doesn’t tour as much as when he was younger. I have seen him twice in person and they are a couple of highlights of my life.
I had thought he had given up touring. I even saw him at the Fox Theater in Salinas and it was a sold-out show. His tickets were pretty expensive, so I figured I would never see him again. Then, about a week ago I got a phone call from Austin, who never passes up a chance to do something with his brother and me. He said, “Hey Dad, what do you think about you and I and Reed going over to Monterey next Friday night to see George Thorogood? He’s playing at a theater over there.” I couldn’t speak for a couple of minutes. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yeah Pop, I’ll buy the tickets and maybe Mom can drive us home.” Austin had seen me that night in Salinas and he knows that when George Thorogood plays, the devil is not far behind.
I am super excited. It doesn’t get much better at my age to see a guy like George. When Austin called Reed to see if he wanted to come he was also excited. He asked where the seats were that Austin bought. When he was told they were about the third or fourth rows back, Reed said what does it cost to be in the front row. When Austin told him, he said he would pay the difference and we could act like we knew someone or something. I am choking back a tear or two as I write this.
One of George Thorogood’s most famous songs is “Bad to the Bone.” Austin did a lip-sync of that song when he was in the first grade. There are some innuendoes in that song that might not have been the favorite of the teachers then, but they didn’t stop him and I was choking with emotion that my son would do one of my favorite songs. Now, they are taking me to see my favorite singer on what could be the last chance to see him in this area. Does it get any better than this?