Rhythm Planet: Musical moments and memories

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KCRW once had a show called Castaway’s Choice, based on the famous BBC program called Desert Island Discs. In both shows, famous people would be asked to present their short list of favorite albums. A recent issue of The New Yorker re-ran a 1999 humor column spoofing Keith Richard’s Desert Island favorites, which included Little Richard’s 1955 song “Tutti Frutti.”

The New Yorker column sparked a few musical memories of my own, since “Tutti Frutti” is also one of my all-time favorites. Hearing the song always takes me back to my childhood and the joy of dancing wildly to the tune (more on that below). It made me think about all the songs that I associate with different times of my life, so I decided to put a few of them in a playlist. This is not a Desert Islands playlist, but rather some of my early musical memories which are hard-wired into my brain. It’s been fun to remember them.

Little Richard – “Tutti Frutti” (1955)

My parents had gone out for the night, and the three Schnabel kids had a new 78 rpm Specialty single called “Tutti Frutti.” We went down to the basement rumpus room, fired up the very large and heavy WWII-vintage Magnavox console our dad had bought long ago from a navy PX. We turned the volume up to 10 and danced like crazy. It was so primal and powerful. I honestly think that this moment ignited my lifelong love of music, especially 1950’s rhythm and blues.

Chuck Berry—“School Days” (1957)

Chuck Berry was the poet-laureate of R&B music in the 1950’s, and the only guy to do the chicken strut across the stage while playing his guitar. I first heard this song on a disastrous family trip to Fresno. Among other things, a dust storm sanded off the finish of my dad’s new Lincoln Continental Mk II.  Hearing this on the car radio was a bright spot of the trip.

Miles DavisMiles Ahead (full album, 1957)

This album was the soundtrack for my first summer working as a lifeguard in Cabrillo Beach, California. Tommy Bee, the afternoon DJ on KBCA, would use this album as his fill music in-between featured ones. Miles Ahead was also one of five LP’s I bought and listened to again and again while in school in Paris. It’s a classic that I’ll listen to forever.

Bo Diddley—“Mona” (1957)

Square guitar, tartan jacket, and a Cuban 3/2 clavé beat—there was nobody quite like Bo Diddley and the song “Mona.” I associate this song with my older brother, who was the early conduit of much of the music I heard as a young kid. I also loved many of Diddley’s other songs such as “Who Do You Love?” and his epic “Say, Man.”

Jimmy Reed—“Bright Lights, Big City” (1961)

During my middle school years, a girl living down the street who was a little older and more sophisticated than I was gave me a record by a Mississippi bluesman I didn’t know about. His name was Jimmy Reed, and I listened to his Vee-Jay album over and over. Reed’s songs sounded pretty much the same—chord changes, etc.—but I loved all of them. It launched a lifelong love for this artist and his melodic blues, which were neither too heavy nor too country. Reed was a great guitarist and an even better harmonica player.

Eddie Harris – “Hip Hoppin’” (1964)

I heard this song on KBCA during my high school years. It was for sax and organ—a very unusual sound—and I loved it immediately. Harris’s tenor sounds like another instrument, high and smooth.

John Coltrane—“A Love Supreme” (1965) and “Spiritual” (1962)

These two masterpieces by John Coltrane have always been close to my heart and soul. “Spiritual” was a long piece that morning KBCA deejay Jai Rich used as his fill music. Can you imagine that today? I listened in my car weekday mornings en route to USC. I first heard “A Love Supreme” in January 1965 while on the newly-opened 10 freeway, on my way to grad night, driving in style in a borrowed 356 Porsche.