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Spinning 45s

You may have noticed from my home page that I was drawn to music at an early age. Sadly though, that treasured ukulele mysteriously disappeared not too long after the photo was taken. My world went quiet, and memories are mere snapshots and snippets of silent Super 8 film. This is my recollection of how a family from Nashville and records by the Beatles and the Crickets impacted my life.

Nashville, Tennessee…Sounded Like a Dream

When I was 6 years old, a new family moved in next door. They were from a far away, foreign place – Nashville, Tennessee. I became fast friends with their son, playing ball every chance we could.

We quickly picked up two more kids from the neighborhood, making the sides two on two. The games changed with the seasons, from baseball to basketball to football. One constant was that there always was a game. We were either playing in the street, in a driveway, or tearing up someone’s lawn playing pickle. Being the youngest, the older kids taught me a lot.

Randy, two years my senior, explained how different things were in Nashville from suburban Los Angeles where we lived; how they had grass fields in their neighborhood, and how there were enough kids around to have full-sided games. He also told me that his stepdaddy played football in college.

It sounded like a dream. We played on the asphalt street with a tuft of grass growing from a crack in the street’s curb for first base, a folded newspaper for second, and the rear fender of my parent’s Chevy Impala for third base. A well-used baseball glove served as home plate, and our games halted with each passing car.

Records?

One day, it was just Randy and me. When we tired of playing catch, he invited me inside his house. Randy asked if I wanted to play some records. I thought, “Records? Was this some sort of new game?”

He showed me his small record player and the stacks of 45s and a few LPs that his stepdaddy had given him. Most were Beatles records although there were quite a few by Buddy Holly and The Crickets and “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. We both liked The Beatles best.

We would often spend hours alternating song selections, two deejays sharing one turntable. I didn’t mind when summer ended, and we spent more time indoors. Life had a soundtrack again. Today, seeing a Beatles 45 with the Apple logo transports me to those days and the warm feeling of nostalgia.

The Crickets…Yeah, Right

Randy had told me that his stepdaddy, Doug Gilmore, worked with The Crickets. Buddy Holly having died a long time ago was a known, but I was a little skeptical of how his father could be working with his band. And in the summer of 1970 when Ray “Everything is Beautiful” Stevens debuted his new variety show, Randy said that his stepdaddy worked with him too. I thought, “Yeah right, just like he played football in college.”

Friends

My pop was much older than Randy’s, he wore his hair short and slicked like our governor, Ronald Reagan, and didn’t think much of any music made after 1954 if he thought of music at all. A product of the Depression era, he seemed to wear his work clothes all the time and had no interest in sports. Randy’s dad had longish, naturally styled hair. He wore bellbottom jeans and casual shirts, the style that young people wore in 1969.

I remember going over to Randy’s on Saturday mornings, after Scooby Doo, when it was game time. Mr. Gilmore would often be sprawled out on the couch watching cartoons and eating a bowl of sugary cereal wearing pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. None of that would fly in my household. I could just hear my parents…“Get up, and get dressed; you’re wasting the day…Turn off that goddamn TV and do something…no feet on the couch…what are you doing eating in here, you’ll make a mess”…their greatest hits of the era.

My parents and Randy’s were very friendly though. They would get together on occasion, and Randy’s mom, Honey Chile they called her, would come over often for a visit and a cocktail or two on the frequent occasion of Mr. Gilmore being out of town or working late. Mrs. Gilmore was an attractive, chain-smoking blonde with a forceful personality and a heavy southern drawl. She’d scream from her porch, Ran-Dee!, with the Dee an octave higher and two beats longer than the Ran, when it was time for him to come in for dinner.

Sonny Days

One night the Gilmores invited my parents over for a dinner party. The next day my mom recounted what a good time they had. She mentioned meeting a musician friend of theirs named Sonny Curtis.

Of course, we had no idea that Mr. Curtis was a childhood friend of Buddy Holly’s from Lubbock, Texas. They had played together and even written and recorded some songs for Decca Records. Sonny left Lubbock before The Crickets were formed, to tour as a guitarist for Slim Whitman.

Following Holly’s tragic death, Curtis joined his friends in The Crickets, taking over on guitar and vocals. Their first post-Holly album was In Style with The Crickets. The album contained several songs written by Curtis including the original version of the rock standard “I Fought the Law.” I remember it being among our favorite songs not by The Beatles.

Another song from the album, “More Than I Can Say,” which Curtis co-wrote with The Crickets drummer J.I. Allison (who incidentally also co-wrote “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” with Holly), reached #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart when Leo Sayer covered it 20 years later. I prefer The Crickets’ Everly Brothers-inspired version but don’t recall playing the song. It was probably a little too mature for adolescent me.

The Day the Music Died…Again

One day I went to Randy’s and found him sobbing uncontrollably. I was concerned. He told me through heaves that The Beatles had broken up.  Not knowing exactly what that meant, I thought, “Let’s play some records.” He stammered through his tears informing me that because of the breakup, we could no longer play The Beatles records. That news jolted me like a needle scratching across a record.

Thankfully, Mrs. Gilmore interrupted, making it clear that we could still play the old ones. It was just that the band would not be making any new records, and George, John, Paul, and Ringo would each still be making their own music. I thought, “Whew, what a relief. Let’s play some records!”

A year or so later, the Gilmores moved away, and we lost touch. At one point, Mr. Gilmore did contact my parents, inviting us over one afternoon. His new place, a large home on a huge lot with a guest house that he used for work, seemed larger than the combined size of our two small tract homes next door to each other. Randy and Honey Chile were not around, they had moved back to Nashville.

Obituary

I long wondered what happened to Randy and his mom, and what Mr. Gilmore actually did for a living. For years, even the internet was no help. Prior to my first trip to Nashville, I searched again and found Doug Gilmore’s obituary. He had passed just months before.

There was no mention of Randy and his mom, just the wife and kids from a subsequent marriage that he left behind. I learned that Doug was originally from Wichita, Kansas, not too far from where my mom grew up. He attended Vanderbilt University and was a quarterback on the football team. He settled in Nashville after graduation and later became Roger Miller’s manager, following him to L.A. shortly thereafter.

Love is All Around

In a recent video interview for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, inductee Sonny Curtis tells the story of how he came to write the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show, “Love is All Around.” At the time, Doug worked for the agency that represented MTM. When he got word that the producers were looking for a theme song, Doug immediately called Sonny and drove a synopsis of the show over to his house. By the end of the day, Curtis had not only written the song, but Doug set up a meeting with the show’s producer, James L. Brooks, and a deal was struck to use it as the theme.

This happened while the Gilmores lived next door. In the show’s early years, I vividly remember dosing off at night to “You’re gonna make it after all” resonating from the television in the next room. I had no clue of the song’s provenance, nor did my parents. It was just a soothing lullaby to me.

Doug, Delanie & Bonnie, & Friends

A little additional digging revealed that Doug also had over a hundred songwriting credits. Several were written with Delaney Bramlett including one titled “Are You a Beatle or a Rolling Stone?” The highlights of Doug’s songwriting career were his two number-one hits: one for Reba McEntire titled “What in the World Am I Gonna Do About You” which he co-wrote with J.I. Allison; the other a co-write of “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye” which Jerry Lee Lewis performed on the Ed Sullivan show while the Gilmore’s lived next door.

Doug was also involved in record and television production, producing albums by The Crickets, including one with a guest appearance by Paul McCartney, and releases by soul singer Leon Ware and Delaney Bramlett. At the time that the Gilmores moved away, Doug was the music producer for Sonny & Cher’s shows as well as for a show called “Dean Martin Presents Music Country” with guests including Johnny and June Carter Cash, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, and Tammy Wynette.

All the while, Doug continued to manage acts such as The Crickets, Ray Stevens, and Delaney & Bonnie. This was the era when Delaney & Bonnie were touring with a backing band of “Friends” – the soon-to-be Derek and the Dominos including Eric Clapton; George Harrison, Duane Allman, Jimi Hendrix, Gram Parsons, Leon Russell, and Billy Preston to name a few.

Inspiration

The Gilmores brought music back into my life, and for that, I am very grateful. I thought about them as I compiled my Nashville Travel Guide.

It fascinates me how a world could have existed right in front of me yet remain completely hidden as if it was guarded by a mystical curtain from a Scooby Doo cartoon. This childhood experience inspires me to draw back the curtain on music history, particularly those locations where music magic took place. My Grateful Dead Trip is a prime example.

(L-R) Delaney Bramlett, Doug Gilmore, J.I. Allison. Check out Delaney’s t-shirt. It reads: “I fought the lawn and the lawn won.”

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