Archive for The Way We Were

And his famous ashtray

Eleven minutes of the man who played drums on more of the records on your shelf than you possibly imagined:

If Hal Blaine had done only the one record, the Ronettes’ ineffable “Be My Baby,” he’d still be revered today.

And right about now, God is asking “Would you show Me how you did that triplet thing?”

(Title from the Beach Boys’ pseudo-live cover of “Barbara Ann.”)

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And all that jazz

From sixty years ago, a prime example of Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz, spoken words that can be danced to:

And from even before that, he narrated this wild desert tale:

Nordine died this week, just short of his 99th birthday.

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Long before 4K

But not at all before JFK:

Said Miss Cellania:

From 1961. My parents held out for many years afterward, because they believed they already had a remote control — at least until the kids left home and stopped switching channels for them.

The brand — RCA Victor — isn’t mentioned until near the end, although you might have guessed from the reference to channel 4, which in those days was more often than not an NBC station, and RCA owned NBC back then. Perhaps more to the point, though, is a blatant case of Not Invented Here syndrome: Eugene Polley (1915-2012) built the first TV remote control in 1955 — for rival Zenith.

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A nice big L

PAMS Productions of Dallas, Texas, sang these jingles for Radio London — and for one Top 40 station in seemingly every radio market in the US:

I grew up on these things on WTMA, Charleston, South Carolina.

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Ways to be found

At least a hundred:

This track was on Quincy Jones’ 1981 album The Dude; as was Q’s wont, he brought in talented friends, and James Ingram qualified on both counts. “One Hundred Ways” won the 1982 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance.

Ingram was all over Q’s productions: the two of them teamed up to write “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, which you most certainly have. Jones, Ingram, reliable R&B songwriter Rod Temperton, and burry-voiced Michael McDonald collaborated on this little religious number:

This song has somehow grown on me since its 1983 release.

Alas, James Ingram is no longer with us: brain cancer got him, a few weeks before his 67th birthday. Yah B there for him, we pray.

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It came on like a wrecking ball

And you can imagine the results:

Who knew Officer Judy (also played by Bob Einstein), from the old Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, would end up like this?

Bless you, Super Dave. (And also your brother Albert.)

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She was just here

In 2001, Nancy Wilson sat for one of those semi-wondrous CBS News Sunday Morning interviews with Charles Osgood:

Back in 2016, I said:

In the summer of 1964, the peak of the British Invasion, there was still a place on the American charts for non-white non-English non-boys, and into that place, as smoothly as could be, slid Nancy Wilson, who made it to #11 with “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am.” It was a jazzier piece than its florid arrangement might have let you think; “I wish I were an artist,” she sings, and you think, “Oh, honey, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Nancy Wilson at 6541 Hollywood Blvd.

Nancy Wilson at the piano

Nancy Wilson strikes no pose at all

Her last album, recorded in 2006 under the auspices of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh, was called Turned to Blue. This was the last track:

Fare thee well, sweet lady.

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Terrors of Colorado Boulevard

Francis W. Porretto has apparently been thumbing through the old 45s once more, and briefly he settled on the genre of Car Songs, which was dominated by exactly two acts:

Car and Driving songs: The Beach Boys had hits with “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “My 409,” while Jan and Dean scored with “Dead Man’s Curve.”

I thought at first that I should make a fuss, what with the song about the Little Old Lady being properly a Jan and Dean title — but this perhaps would have been unfair, inasmuch as while the J&D single (Liberty 55704, if you’re keeping score) had crested at Number Three, the Beach Boys did a creditable live version of the song on their late-summer concert LP, which topped the album charts.

Both organizations also put out versions of “Little Deuce Coupe,” which song has provided me with sexual euphemisms (“She’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored”) and a glossary of Californisms (“I got the pink slip, daddy” is “What’s more, it’s paid for“).

But “Little Old Lady” introduced a twist on the California milieu: while anyone who grew up within the broadcast range of Los Angeles stations understood the reference to Pasadena, that leaves only the rest of the world to puzzle over it. The Italians, for one, were not having any of that:

Italian 45 sleeve for Old Ladies Seldom Power Shift

None of this quite explains Pontiac Grand Prix owners Patience Proper and Prudence Prim, members of the Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association, which outros with Jan’s “Go, granny, go” refrain.

Oh, and on Beach Boys’ Party! there’s a cover of the Regents’ “Barbara Ann.” Which Beach Boy sings lead? None of them. That’s Dean Torrance (of Jan and) up front. Now how often is a hit song sung by someone who’s not actually a member of the group? At least once more.

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Take a break from shopping

And while you’re at it, have a Coke:

Coca-Cola advertisement 1962

The Coca-Cola Company ran a number of ads along these lines in the early 1960s. The ladies are lovely, because it was required in those days. Perhaps more to the point, you too could look sort of like this: across the top is a note to the effect that all three outfits came from Vogue Patterns.

Of course, today no one is getting that meager quantity of Coke; a Small at your nearest food court is about twice as big.

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I hope the place is packed

Too many old soldiers just fade away in the distance, forgotten by the rest of the world.

Funeral announcement for the late Stanley Stoltz

Rest well, sir.

(With thanks to Laura Ledford.)

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One of our finer pickers

It’s a measure of something that roughly half the online tributes to the late, great Roy Clark will toss in a reference to Charles Aznavour’s “Hier encore,” known to us Statesiders as “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” somehow a #19 pop hit for Roy in 1969. But Aznavour’s been gone himself for only six weeks or so, and the word “overkill” keeps flashing in front of my eyes. So we’ll move up a year or so, to Roy’s 1970 album I Never Picked Cotton — and what kind of cotton-picking title, as Brian Davis might say, is that? — and a couple of singles, neither of which were pop hits. (The higher-charting of the two stopped at #90.)

Both of those tunes were irresistibly jaunty, enough to pull your mind away from that Aznavourian wallow.

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With the closing of Camelot

One of several questions for which Francis W. Porretto has not heard a satisfactory answer, which I took on in 2003:

It was 1963 and Camelot was still in full swing. JFK had stared the Soviets in the eye, and they blinked; Jackie had remade fashion in her own image; a comedian named Vaughn Meader who did a note-perfect Kennedy impression sold zillions of copies of an LP called The First Family and was readying Volume 2; and all, we thought, was right with the world.

Then came November and that terrible day in Dallas and nothing was ever going to be the same. The national funny bone disappeared, with no sign it might ever be tickled again. A week passed, and Lenny Bruce was booked into a theatre on the Lower East Side, and the audience was more than usually anxious: what would he say? How can he say anything at a time like this?

And Lenny Bruce came out and stared at the audience. He unscrewed the mike and walked away from the spotlight. He stared at the audience, paced up and down the stage, and stared at the audience again. And what he said was this:

“Vaughn Meader is screwed.

Which, as it turned out, was true:

His non-Kennedy album for Verve Records, Have Some Nuts!!!, came out to minimal attention in early 1964. A similar follow-up If The Shoe Fits… was released in late 1964, and included sketches on almost everything except the Kennedys, but sales were meager at best. Meader’s income evaporated, new-found friends and associates stopped calling, and by 1965 Meader was virtually broke. Sinking into depression, he became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and was forced to take whatever work he could find.

He reunited with Earle Doud in 1971 for an album called The Second Coming, a comedic look at what life would be like for Jesus if he had returned to earth around the time of Jesus Christ Superstar, but airplay and sales were virtually nonexistent… Eventually, Meader resumed a career in bluegrass and country music, becoming a popular local performer in his native Maine.

Vaughn Meader died in 2004 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 68.

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The sound of peace

It didn’t last forever, or even for very long, but at the time, it seemed to be the best thing that ever could have happened:

A hundred years later, it would be well to remember how things can change in a matter of minutes.

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And not a single taco was tucked

Or trucked, if that be your preference. Either way, Severian has an historical nugget for you:

You can’t study the history of anything for too long before you conclude that the real driver of man’s fate isn’t God, or the forces of production, or class conflict, or the clash of ideologies — it’s vapid, hubristic Dunning-Kruger cases getting bored.

Take the Mexican War. It was obvious to everyone, certainly including the Mexicans, that the United States was going to attack Mexico. James K. Polk practically ran on it in 1844, and by 1846 everything was ready. The fact that this was naked aggression, and that the supposed casus belli — the strip of Texas between the Brazos and the Rio Grande — is obvious bullshit to anyone who’s ever been there, didn’t even register. Everyone wanted to throw some weight around, and Mexico — just then getting over one of its periodic revolutions — was convenient.

Then came a deflection of mass:

Until David Wilmot added his famous Proviso. He tacked it onto an appropriations bill, the sneaky bastard, so that in order to get their splendid little war, everyone had to put their cards on the table. The Mexican War was a war for slavery; the vote on the Proviso made it obvious to even the dimmest-witted. After all, the vote was taken just three months into the war — American troops were barely arriving in the theater, much less actually winning on the battlefield. The fact that nobody cared — that Congress got out of the Proviso with procedural shenanigans — showed just how badly inertia had already set in. Events were going to take their course.

Wilmot’s Last Stand, as it were, came in 1848, when an attempt was made to attach the language of the Proviso to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. It didn’t happen. And what’s the relevance today, anyway?

Over the next two years, everyone will have to put their cards on the table for everyone to see. It should be momentous … but it’ll pass unremarked. Congress will do what it does with procedural shenanigans; Trump will do what he does by executive order, and nothing will get done. We voted for things to continue as they are … and they will, God help us. The political theater will be train-wreckily entertaining, but nothing of consequence will happen in the legislature.

We should be paying the estates of Messrs. Dunning and Kruger royalties, I think.

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Everybody said it was a shame

It’s a traditional, albeit hazardous, food of southern Appalachia:

The leaves and stems of very young plants can both be eaten, but must be cooked, usually boiled three times in fresh water each time. The leaves have a taste similar to spinach; the stems taste similar to asparagus. To prepare stems, harvest young stalks prior to chambered pith formation, carefully peel the purple skin away, then chop the stalk up and fry in meal like okra. Traditionally, poke leaves are boiled, drained, boiled again, then fatback is added and cooked some more to add flavor. Poisonings occur from failure to drain the water from the leaves at least once. Preferably they should be boiled, drained, and water replaced two or more times.

Still, you’re not eating this stuff unless that’s all you can get. Tony Joe White told us so:

Recorded in 1968, “Polk Salad Annie” took the better part of a year to catch on: it topped out at #8 in 1969. Singers began combing through White’s catalogue for possible covers, and arguably Brook Benton had the greatest success:

And I’m not quite sure which is weirder: the fact that White wrote a song called “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies,” or that he got Waylon Jennings to sing with him on it.

And Tony Joe White hung in there until the age of seventy-five. I’m guessing that a childhood diet of pokeweed was not at all a factor.

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Peggy Sue got buried

This is no time to rave on:

Peggy Sue Gerron, the inspiration for Buddy Holly’s 1957 hit song, has died in Lubbock, Texas, aged 78.

While she was the focus of the single, Peggy Sue was in fact in a relationship with Buddy Holly’s band mate in The Crickets, Jerry Allison. She and Allison would marry in 1958, inspiring Holly’s song, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” released after Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959.

Gerron died at the University Medical Center in Lubbock early on Monday.

Oh, here’s the part of the story that nobody knows:

Following her divorce from Jerry Allison, Peggy Sue went to Pasadena Junior College in Pasadena, California, and became a dental assistant. She then married again and had two children, a girl and a boy, and spent the majority of her life caring for her family.

Balancing home with career, she helped her new husband establish a very successful plumbing business and even became the first licensed woman plumber in California. When the San Francisco earthquake hit in 1989, her plumbing company volunteered the cameras, some of the first ones to be used in plumbing in that area, to check for blockages to go into collapsed areas to look for trapped people.

Fare thee well, lovely lady.

Addendum: About an hour after I’d finished this, Fark had the story with the same headline. No, they didn’t swipe it from me, or I from them.

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It looks like Snow

Another Brian J. discovery:

So WSIE played this song called “Poetry Man,” and I thought, hey, it’s like she’s singing to me!

So I researched it, and, as you might already know, Phoebe Snow’s song is not new at all. It’s from 1974. Which means it’s newer than I am, but not by much.

I snagged it when it was new. It struck me as odd that it came out on Leon Russell’s label, but Snow, it turns out, was signed by Russell’s then-partner Denny Cordell. Still, it was a great album, the sort of album you could start with a Sam Cooke cover and make it sound almost deserved.

Snow suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 2010, and died the next year, barely sixty.

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Teenaged and British

[I’d been wanting to do this story for some time, and I figured the best time for it was a Friday, for, um, obvious reasons.]

How big was Helen Shapiro? About five foot two. More to the point, in 1961, when she was fourteen, she recorded a song called “Don’t Treat Me Like a Child,” which she sang in an amazingly grown-up voice. It made #3 on the UK charts, and was followed by two #1s and a #2.

How big was Helen Shapiro? The Beatles opened for her in 1963. She recorded for UK Columbia, an EMI label, which meant that in the States, Capitol Records got the first shot at releasing her records. They put out all four of those tracks, though they went nowhere in a hurry. (Well, “Walkin’ Back to Happiness,” the third single, showed up for one week in Billboard at #100.) Capitol’s US branch dropped her from the roster, though the Canadian office continued to release Shapiro’s material. (I note purely in passing that Capitol passed on the Beatles’ first singles.)

That Number Two track was “Tell Me What He Said,” a Jeff Barry tune that started life as a Ginny Arnell B-side in 1960; the Playmates (“Beep Beep”) covered it in 1961, with the obligatory gender-flip. Both versions were arranged in typical US Top 40 styles, in the hopes of getting them on the radio; both acts were at different stages of their careers, the Playmates having had four Top 40 hits up to that point, but Arnell, going solo after a couple of flop singles with Gene Pitney (as “Jamie and Jane”), was still a couple of years away from finally cracking the chart with a song you dare not play on the radio anymore.

Meanwhile, Norrie Paramor, Shapiro’s producer, gave her a not-even-slightly-teenage sound:

Paramor was contemplating a Shapiro album from Nashville, of all places, and began hitting up EMI composers for material — including, yes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who turned out a number called “Misery.” Paramor turned it down, though Kenny Lynch, who’d been on that tour with Helen and the Beatles, decided to cut it himself.

Teen sensations, alas, seldom remain so. Helen Shapiro disappeared from the charts, resurfacing now and then with a song from a stage musical or a jazz number. Her last new track, from 1984, was an Allen Toussaint song:

It was 2002 when she finally retired from show biz; she was still only 56.

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Where the Good Guys were

Found on a music board this past weekend:

To those of you in the NY area … If you take the NJ Transit train to Newark, and keep your eyes peeled when the train goes outside, you will see the transmitter shack of the old WMCA radio. It still has the “WMCA” sign on top. Its in the middle of NOWHERE, with nothing but reeds around it. Brave was the transmitter tech who had to go in there … no telling what animals he’d find in there trying to get warm.

And here’s that shack:

Old transmitter shack of WMCA New York

Once a Top 40 powerhouse, WMCA now runs a Christian format. And no, not from there.

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I just wanted to preserve my car

But I guess this particular argument has merit of its own:

Why you need a garage

Summer of 2010. The adjuster was here to discuss my insurance claim: hail ripped most of my roof to shreds. He headed for the garage. “Let’s see how much damage your car sustained.”

“None,” I said. “It was in here the whole time.”

He looked at me from an obtuse angle. “You sure about that?”

Just the same, he gave it the once-over.

Historical note: When the palatial estate at Surlywood was built in 1948, the plan did not call for a garage; one was added in a 1951 remodel.

(Via Larry Kim.)

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Billions and billions ago

Which no one, I submit, ever predicted:

The McDonald Brothers, before opening Store #1

Seventy years later, McDonald’s is almost everywhere, though the founding brothers have long since passed on.

(From the HistoryPorn subreddit via TYWKIWDBI.)

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Ancient smut

Pornography certainly existed online in the 1980s, but most of us didn’t even have a pornograph. We did, however, have bulletin-board systems and near-infinite patience, which is how I scored this particular 8-bit “photo” about thirty years ago. (Don’t even think of trying that phone number.)

Random semi-smutty graphic from the 1980s

I have one other picture in this, um, series. Its focus is, shall we say, similar.

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Find out what it means

Something I mentioned last week:

Aretha Franklin’s electrifying debut for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), pulled off a couple of amazing feats. First, it opened with a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that wasn’t so much a cover at it was a usurpation: from that day forward, hardly anyone ever again would refer to it as anything but an Aretha original.

On a hunch, I pulled up Otis on YouTube, and sure enough, most of the discussion was about Aretha.

It’s a legitimately great record that Otis had here; it’s just that Aretha’s was just that much greater.

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The once and future Queen of Soul

Aretha Franklin’s electrifying debut for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), pulled off a couple of amazing feats. First, it opened with a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” that wasn’t so much a cover at it was a usurpation: from that day forward, hardly anyone ever again would refer to it as anything but an Aretha original. Second, it made almost everyone forget that it was, technically, her eleventh album: she’d done ten LPs for Columbia, the undisputed giant of American labels, all of which had gone mostly unnoticed.

From The Steve Allen Show, 1964; Aretha had charted with that old standard (at #37) in 1961, and that was still her biggest hit three years later. Columbia wasn’t sure what to do with this singer they’d signed, and let her contract lapse; Jerry Wexler took her to Muscle Shoals and got the hell out of her way. The rest, as they say, is history.

And here, on “Border Song,” Aretha nearly does to Elton John what she did to Otis.

But maybe this statistic says everything that needs to be said. Aretha won the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1968, for “Respect.” She won again in 1969.

And 1970.

And 1971.

And the next four years. Natalie Cole finally won one in 1976, the first year Aretha wasn’t nominated.

We are honored to have been alive when Aretha was in her prime, and centuries from now, people will envy us for having been so fortunate.

Aretha Franklin looks toward the sky

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It’s for you

One thing Fillyjonk remembers about dormitory life:

I remember there were wall-phones in every room. I bet now dorms don’t bother with that and expect students to have cell phones. And I had a “calling card” (remember those? They were like a portable long-distance plan where you could call from any phone that did long distance, and it would be charged to you) so I could call my parents. (I think once or twice, when I didn’t have the card handy and it was an emergency, I called collect — probably something else today’s kids don’t know about — but I understood that was an emergency thing because of the expense.

I was insane enough to order my very own single-party line for my dorm room, which cost a fair sum of cash during an era when minimum wage, about the most a student could reasonably expect in those days, was a buck-thirty. (And yes, I remember the number.)

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What’s the ugliest car in your garage?

TTAC was asking “What’s the worst-looking car from the year you were born?” I gave this about ten, maybe twenty seconds before deciding on this, um, contraption:

The interior wasn’t bad at all, considering, but whose idea was it to fit front fender skirts? This thing steers like a Kenworth, and requires just about as much space to turn around.

Hideous as it was, Frank Zappa may have loved it. From “The Air” off the Uncle Meat album, the doo-wop tale of a Customs bust:

Yes, they grabbed me then they beat me
Then they told me they don’t like me
And I crashed in my Nash
We can crash in my Nash…

Or you can dial back a couple of years to Cruising with Ruben & the Jets:

RUBEN SANO was 19 when he quit the group to work on his car. He had just saved up enough money to buy a 53 Nash and four gallons of gray primer. His girl friend said she would leave him forever if he didn’t quit playing in the band and fix up his car so they could go to the drive-in and make out. There was already 11 other guys in the band so when he quit nobody missed him except for his car when they had to go to rehearsal or play for a battle of the bands at the American Legion Post in Chino.

Ruben & the Jets, of course, was 100 percent doo-wop, Zappa being a legendary doo-wop fiend. (The latter-day Penguins’ “Memories of El Monte,” a deadly-serious nostalgia piece from 1963, was produced and co-written by Zappa.) Brother Paul, once a member of an aggregation called Eddie Chevy and the Carburetor Kids, honed his doo-wop skills on Ruben & the Jets, especially on the closer, “Later That Night.”

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Washed out

You know the song:

There was green alligators and long-necked geese,
Some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees.
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born,
The loveliest of all was the unicorn.

And yet:

The last words of the unicorns

Now there’s some climate change for you.

(Via Mermaids, Fairies and Other Mythical Beings.)

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Every shot counts

There exists, somewhere in a box on the premises, a two-track mixdown (from a four-track master) of brother Paul trying to duplicate this organ riff on the family instrument. He was only partly successful, but you wouldn’t argue with his enthusiasm, inasmuch as he was only 18 and still weighed what he did as a high-school offensive lineman.

This is the riff in question:

John McElrath, who played this very riff for the Swingin’ Medallions in Greenwood, South Carolina in 1966, and at scores of public appearances thereafter, died last week at 77; he’d retired from touring, but the group is still active today.

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A man of another time

You seldom see guys like this at the dealerships anymore:

My father hated smooth. He liked plain talk and despised euphemism and manipulation, especially among salesmen. He’d fire car salesmen working under him if he caught them lying or even shading the truth to make a sale. “A man that will lie to a customer will lie to you,” he’d say. He looked at every deal brought to him for approval that the buyer didn’t have the credit for as a failed sale and wouldn’t approve them. “Bad for the buyer and worse for the business,” he’d say. “If you let a man buy what he can’t afford on credit, you’re going to be taking the car back and making an enemy. We’re here to get cars off the lot, not see them come back after repossession. A man who can’t make his car payments is a man who can’t maintain his car. A salesman who’s so smooth he’s selling people cars bigger than they can afford is a salesman who’s taking a kickback from the repo man.”

This paragraph ought to be on permanent display at Yahoo! Answers, which is just crammed full of subprime buyers in deep doo-doo.

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Tube equipment

I remember hearing this on the radio in 1964 and wondering how the hell Pete Drake got those noises out of a steel guitar. It went something like this:

You play the notes on the guitar and it goes through the amplifier. I have a driver system so that you disconnect the speakers and the sound goes through the driver into a plastic tube. You put the tube in the side of your mouth then form the words with your mouth as you play them. You don’t actually say a word: The guitar is your vocal cords, and your mouth is the amplifier. It’s amplified by a microphone.

I admit, it wasn’t as much fun to watch on TV, where the secrets were given away, but the song, written by Buddy Killen and made into a hit by the Anita Kerr Singers under the pseudonym “The Little Dippers” circa 1959, does stay with you, as the title says: forever.

Drake, who died in 1988, had a gold record on his wall from exactly this tune.

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