This Thursday, November 18, would have marked the 100th birthday of my late mother, Doris Marie Dixon Riegel. Her importance to the encyclopedia of my life is obvious, but I’d like to make a specific entry about her primordial musical influence on me.
The first record I can remember listening to was around 1950-51, when I was 3 or 4, and my mother would play her 78-rpm of the Gene Krupa Orchestra doing “Green Eyes” (she especially liked the song because that was her own eye color) with vocals by Howard Dulany and Anita O’Day. That whole bigger-world/first-music/maternal-bonding experience really imprinted that tune on my soul. I can still recall watching the bright red Columbia label spin so dizzily as “Green Eyes” warbled out of the old record player.
After my parents passed, I found that same Gene Krupa 78 in their house, but I had nothing to play it on by then, so a few years ago I bought a couple of different Sony CD compilations of 1940′s sides by Anita O’Day with Gene Krupa. Both discs include “Green Eyes,” and after listening to the cut with my “mature” music-critic ears, I’ve realized it’s more than just a poignant memory, it’s really good Latin Swing in its own right. So I got off on a good musical foot, even without my parents having been jazz buffs by any stretch of the imagination.
There are lots of other fine cuts on these Krupa/O’Day CD’s, including some in which O’Day trades vocal licks with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and it’s almost like they’re flirting with each other — a white woman with a black man, no less, which must have been explosive, almost avant-garde stuff in 1941, when many of these sides, including “Green Eyes,” were recorded.
Fast forward from my first record experience to me writing for Creem during those exciting punk/new wave years, and one of my very favorite artists was Graham Parker — in 1979, I even got to do the Creem review of his Squeezing Out Sparks, which has turned out to be probably his best album ever. Many more years on, I discovered that Graham Parker had been born on the 18th of November, 1950, i.e., my mother’s own 40th birthday, so that date’s now a double occasion of celebration for me. In honor of Chairman Parker’s 60th b-day this year, I recently contributed a few bucks to the production of the fan-financed Don’t Ask Me Questions film documentary of his career.
I have no idea what my mother would have thought about Graham Parker, though she likely read my endorsement of him in Creem. (Her favorite act, when she watched Shindig! and Hullabaloo with my brother and me in the 1960′s, was The Righteous Brothers(!)) In any event, Happy 2010 Milestone Birthdays to Mom and Graham from Richard, passion’s no ordinary word after all!