Here is a great recording of Mellow Mel singing Skid Row Blues with The Road Runners in Nashville, TN.
A piece about Father’s Day, they said….a piece about fathers and sons making music together, they said….
“They” are the team at Celebelle, who keep my various balls in the air at all times, if you’ll pardon the expression, and they usually ring my creative bell with their suggestions and gentle prodding. In this instance, a proximity of dates ( June 13th., my son’s thirty-sixth birthday, and June 16th., Father’s Day) sparked their idea for a piece ( or two?). As often happens, a day or so of mulling, both figuratively and literally, can result in – well, something like this:
To put it mildly, I did not have the best of relationships with my own father. Like many of his generation, in the aftermath of WW II, he found a rapidly changing playing field when it came to fatherhood. The authoritarian model, particularly in the working class, was about to be challenged as never before, and many a dad found himself in a situation where his word was no longer necessarily law, which inevitably led to confrontational relationships between fathers and sons. In the patriarchal, immigrant Irish parishes of North Liverpool, the young generation of males were restive and not prepared to settle for what their parents had been willing to accept.
Should you be interested, I go into detail about this social dynamic, particularly as it applied to me, in my book “ Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60’s”, but in the interest of brevity, my dad and I parted ways irrevocably when I gave up a Scholarship to Leeds University to follow the siren song of rock ‘n’ roll at the beginning of The Beat Boom, which hit Liverpool like a ton of bricks ( as some of you might remember).
Although my dad came from a family that numbered several musicians, professional and otherwise, over a couple of generations, he didn’t take kindly to the thought of me following in their footsteps, and did everything he could to prevent it, which doomed our interaction rather early on. I was an only child, , so he invested his own thwarted academic ambitions , heavy-handedly, in me. As far as I was concerned, I kept my end up with consistently good schoolwork, navigating the various levels of the British school system of the time with comparative ease, all the way through to University acceptance, and kept my nose clean in the hurley-burley action of the Liverpool streets into the bargain. But by 1960 I’d made up my mind as to my future direction….rather than support me, or even discuss the situation in a rational manner, the old man chose to go Cold War on my ass, which made me even more determined. Although the lure of being “a guitar player in a rock ‘n’roll band” had among it’s components the cliche elements of sex, drugs and that devil rhythm, I was in it for the love of music and playing- if it hadn’t been rock, I would probably have played jazz, as a part-timer, I suppose, but the Beat Boom and then The British Invasion, gave some of us a lifelong career in music as professionals, and as such we worked at our craft, and expanded our capabilities as we matured from beat kids to adult musicians. To me, being a working musician never precluded the thought that I would one day marry and raise a family, and while I fully enjoyed the early rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle as a carefree bachelor, by the time I’d somewhat established myself in my chosen profession I found myself ready for marriage at twenty-eight. Our first child, a daughter, was born three years later, and our son seven years after that. By the nature of the job I was an absentee daddy quite a bit when the kids were small, but the traveling aspect of the gig gradually diminished as I became more involved in song writing, studio work and then production, so I didn’t miss their growing up any more than most fathers.
To my delight they were both smart, talented and well-behaved, the latter thanks to my wife’s mothering skills, I’m sure, and neither was ever a problem child. Both showed early promise in the graphic arts, and while they were each musically inclined, my son exhibited a particular affinity for that old devil rhythm.
As a result of my bruised and bruising experience with my dad, I had promised myself two things; one, that I would always listen to my children’s opinion on matters directly concerning their education options and, two, that I would never force them into life choices that ran counter to their own aspirations. That didn’t mean that I intended to be a “hands-off” dad, rather I intended that respect and consideration would play a larger role in my interactions with them than the possible bully pulpit which parenthood can become.
The seven year age difference between them meant that I was at different stages of my own career development when each reached their various milestones. When my daughter began high school we were living in an urban environment and although I was off the road I conducted my business in the studios and publishing offices of Music Row. By contrast, as my son’s high school years got under way, we had relocated about ten miles out of town, where I built a home studio, and subsequently did the bulk of my work there. As a result he got used to seeing some of the inner workings of the music business which my daughter had not.
She possessed a good musical ear and a fine singing voice, which she ably employed in school theatricals, but was also athletic, especially at volleyball, which she played at both high school and college level. She chose to study Economics at University.
My son’s visual and graphic skills were becoming increasingly impressive, but he also had an innate sense of rhythm, so I was not surprised when he first brought up the subject of acquiring a drum kit. He had already had the chance to observe some of the best drummers and percussionists in the city when they were working in my studio, and the chance to see players like Steve Turner, Pat McInerney and Mellow Mel Owens up close was very influential on him, I’m sure. One thing I knew for certain was that an aspiring musician will do better when possessing good equipment, and as a good drum kit doesn’t come cheap, I put two conditions on him before agreeing to getting him a kit. I wanted him to give me a written reason as to why he wanted drums, and also required that he repay what he could via odd jobs etc. towards the cost of the gear.I gave him the two months leading up to his fifteenth birthday to meet the requirements, and he did, establishing a ‘drum fund’, which showed willing, and writing his reasons for wanting the drums, the details of which I’ll keep to myself, but which were most convincing to me.
One plus about living in Music City is that the quality of instruments in the pawn shops is generally quite high, so in the weekends leading up to his birthday we trolled the hock shops together, finally finding a kit that was identical to Pat McInerney’s Premier kit in every particular, at a reasonable price. A corner of the studio was set aside for them, and Pat himself came over to set them up and do an initial tuning. After that, I left the boy pretty much to his own devices, except for letting him know when one of his “drum uncles” would be working in the studio. If it was after school he was welcome to come in and observe. Musicians are usually generous with tips and advice for aspiring players, and his “drum uncles” were just that, but it was up to him to interact and ask the questions he wanted answering. The only time I actively stuck my oar in was when his skill set was becoming quite impressive, but he was experiencing some hand problems…chapping and callousing due to a lack of formal training…so I arranged for him to take a few private lessons from my friend, the late Ian Wallace (of King Crimson fame). These involved warm-up and technique exercises, which helped sort out the incipient problems before they became detrimental. Other than that, he was on his own.
Because of my own listening proclivities, the kids had been exposed to a wide range of music, both stylistically and ethnically over the years, so they picked up on what they liked, and vice versa….I never jammed anything down their throats. My son did the usual rite of passage stuff, got a little high school band together with some pals, played some little gigs around and about, learned how to move a drum kit from place to place efficiently, all that beginner stuff, but invaluable nonetheless. When he went off to art college in Savannah his only percussion tool for the first year was a dumbek, but he had the kit thereafter, and I gather he was prone to setting up on the sands of Tybee Island for a good thrash. He met his future wife at SCAD, and after graduation they moved to Austin, where my daughter had set up shop…thence to the Bay Area, where he played in jazz-rock bands. By the time he returned to Nashville, it had been a good ten years since I’d had any musical interaction with him, although I saw him perform once while on tour with the band First Circle, and it was obvious that by then he knew what he was doing.
Both he and my daughter found their way back to Nashville in recent years and it’s been my pleasure to employ both in the studio since their return. I’ve also teamed with him occasionally in live situations as a rhythm section, and it’s a good feeling to get a righteous groove going, then turn around to see him kicking it behind the tubs.
I’m of the opinion that being a parent is the most important job you can ever have. Some of us make a hash of it, some of us get lucky and can be pleased with the results. Some of us read all the books, some of us trust our instincts. Some rule with an iron hand and view parenthood as a right, rather than as a privilege and a precious gift, and some don’t employ loving correction when it’s needed….it’s a balancing act, just like most things in life. As long as you’re up on the tightrope, keep it steady, and a happy day to ya!