Archive for September, 2008


Childhood heros

Seems that every so often I think about somebody from my past, perhaps, a “childhood hero”, and then find they pass away within days or weeks of that fleeting thought.

I think we all have “hero’s”as we grow up.  Perhaps a favorite uncle, father, mother, or the inevitable entertainer.  I always loved Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy) and Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island).  I think maybe this is why I’ve always worn a skippers cap…even as a young child.  Upon growing older and playing jazz in small groups, that skippers cap reappeared to be used as a mute to hang on the bell of my trumpet or trombone during ballads or blues tunes.  Very effective.  (I have quite a collection or hats these days…and still wear them.  Ball caps are boring.)

I remember one day as a young broadcaster getting ready to go fly the afternoon traffic shift, my pilot and I spoke of our admiration for, and the passing of Mel Blanc…”The Man of a 1000 Voices“.  I reminded the pilot of all the great voice work Jim Backus (Mr. Howell of Gilligan’s Island) had done through the years.  Right in the middle of flying over the city and awaiting a cue for my traffic report, the news anchor announced Mr. Backus had died from Parkinson’s Disease.

At the time I thought, how odd we were just speaking of him.

Recently I had been reflecting on my childhood.  I have always loved music, and having started to play trombone again, I’ve been entranced by music of all types and how those different styles might influence my playing.

As I reflected on heros of old, Jerry Reed popped into mind.

Most knew Jerry as the good ole boy trucker from “Smokey and the Bandit“.  I got on YouTube and found a great many clips of young Jerry, and seasoned veteran musician Jerry.  An incredible showman and musician!

Our paths crossed a lot over the years, but I hadn’t thought about until his passing at age 71 from emphysema last week.

I think his was the first “real” record album I every owned.  I played it until it was worn down to a smooth disc.  I tried banging away on my guitar to emulate him.  I thought Jerry was the coolest thing in the world, meanwhile most of my friends prefered rock-n-roll or were still listening to Disney records.

Mr. Reed was on tour and came to Dayton, Ohio’s Memorial Hall, and my folks bought tickets for all the family to go see “my hero“.  Mr. Reed came out late, seemed slightly inebriated even to a young boy, and stood swaying at the microphone stand belting out his musical hits.  I remember vividly him hollering into the microphone…”I’m a coon-ass!  Ya’ all a coon-ass!?!?”   Now I have no idea why he was repeating this, but I remember my folks looking unsettled in their seats and twitching a bit.  In retrospect I suspect they were discussing how to exit grcefully without upsetting their son who was watching his “hero“.

Like all kids with heros, if Jerry was on television or in a movie, we had to see it.  Let me think back,  the list probably included the following:

Smokey and the Bandit Parts 1,2, & 3 with Burt Reynolds

Hot Stuff with Burt Reynolds

W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings with Burt Reynolds

Gator…with Burt Reynolds

High Ballin’…without Burt Reynolds

Survivorswith Robin Williams and Walter Mathau

Bat 21

And who knows how many television shows.

While working for an “oldies” radio station we would play Tony Joe White’s infamous “Poke Salad Annie“, and I always remebered to mention the Jerry Reed was playing on that session.  His funky swamp guitar sound was played throughout.  He must have stayed with me, or why would I have bothered to mention that?

Then as stated at the beginning of this post, for whatever reason, I found Jerry Reed on YouTube and spent 2 hours watching him with an adult perspective.  The young Jerry with bell-bottom jeans and flannel shirts playing his ass off, or the older much more refined Jerry Reed playing with legend Chet Atkins, both showing their virtuocity and differing styles of playing.  Chet with his finger picking, and Jerry using his “claw” style picking.

As an adult I looked at my old childhood hero with a different perspective.  I admired him for his musicality, showmanship, technique and ability as a musician, much the same way as I admire Count Basie for his ability to leave space between notes at the RIGHT place and time.  Two different styles, but both are distingished by their own unique style.  Both could swing, both could play with great virtuosity and grace.

Jerry’s family had a small private funeral, and kept his passing low key to avoid our lovely media.  He had been battling his illness for a while, but none of that was known to me until he passed away.  He had, it would appear, not been remembered by many generations after his Hollywood years…with the exception of guitar players who admired him.  A lifetime full of work and dedication, knowledge and musical genius has been lost, just as when any genious leaves this earth.   Knowledge that may never be passed on to later generations.

His passing also is reminder of the fact that as my “childhood heros” are moving on, I too am moving on…it would seem at a greater speed as I’ve aged.

Maybe I’ll try to find time to drop a line to some of those “hero’s” and let them know they meant something to someone at some time.  They had an effect on this earth…in some way.  Maybe to a teacher of friend, or former boss…before it is too late for them or me.

Maybe we all should drop a line to our “childhood hero’s” to say thanks!