As far back as I can remember, I loved two things. Music and the radio. In the late 50’s and early 60’s they were pretty much entwined. I can remember as a kid sitting in the back seat of the family station wagon (a red and white 59 Chevy Brookwood), listening to the likes of Peggy Lee and Julius LaRosa on those trips to my grandfather’s farm for a couple hours on the backroads of Illinois.
We lived in the country and as a pre-schooler, I was home pretty much all day. If I wasn’t outside playing, I was inside listening to the radio. Mom had it on all day long, from early in the morning until dad came home at night.
Living in rural Illinois in the 50’s meant traveling salesmen. In particular, we had a gentleman named Mr. Albee came calling one day and managed to sign up my older brother (some 7 years my senior) up for accordion lessons. Only one problem. We didn’t have an accordion. Mr. Albee had the solution for that, too. He would rent an accordion to my parents for a period of time to see if my brother had any musical talent. The good Mr. Albee also would come around once a week or so and give my brother an accordion lesson, too! After a few weeks, it was obvious to my parents, my brother and anyone who sat through one of his impromptu home recitals that he was destined to be the next Dick Contino, or at least Myron Floren. So my parents bought the accordion for Don. Considering the fact that I was no more than three or four years old, I really don’t have a time line on how long he played before either he lost interest or Mr. Albee stopped coming to the house, but the accordion went into the closet, only to be dragged out around Christmas so we could painfully listen to Christmas songs as played by my bro.
But I never forgot it was there. Every now and then I would try to drag it out and play it, but at the time, it was bigger than I was, so it kept finding its way back into the closet.
Several years later, we moved into the city. Mom had played piano when she was a child and an opportunity presented itself for us to get a second hand upright piano for next to nothing. Well, by this time I was around 6 years old. Mom offered to teach me to play the piano. I fiddled around with the first John W. Schaum piano book and got about as far as playing “Bone Sweet Bone.” It was OK, but I still had this interest in getting out the old squeezebox and playing it instead. To me, it was a much cooler instrument to play. I kept after my mom for so long that she finally called a local music store and found an accordion teacher. I arrived each Saturday morning around 10AM, which seriously cut into my Saturday morning cartoon time, but I didn’t care. Mom dutifully gave me the $1.25 it cost for each week’s lesson and I charged into the dank dusty basement of the music store. I was playing the accordion!
To be continued…