I saw this on Facebook and had to share it with you. My friend Kenny Smith, who I met when he served on the Hamilton County School Board several years ago, had a great idea recently. For his 62nd birthday (on the 4th of July), he wanted to re-create a sixty-year-old photograph of him and his dad, taken when Kenny was 2. “Papa” Ken is 84 years old now. At the time of Kenny’s birth in 1953, he was stationed in Korea.
Left: Kenny and Ken Smith in 1955. Right: same guys, 60 years later in 2015!
Kenny’s wife Sammye told me, “Papa Ken didn’t get to see his little boy until he was a year old so to me, the old picture of them is all the more special. When we took the new picture, Kenny’s dad kept getting tickled because Kenny was on a tricycle at the age of 62!” In case you’re wondering, it’s not the same tricycle from 1955, but close enough. It’s the same brand Radio Flyer.
Sammye tells me all their children and grandchildren were on hand when the picture was taken, and they got a big kick out of seeing Kenny on the tricycle. I’m told he didn’t get very far. But it gave me my biggest smile of the week. Happy birthday Kenny, and thanks for sharing these great photos of you and your dad. What a treasure.
Here’s the viral video everyone’s talking about. This is Veronica-Pooh Nash Poleate, a guidance counselor at Hamilton County’s Washington Alternative School. Let’s just say she’s become an Internet sensation this week, with millions of views. She’s talking about shark bites and staying out of the ocean, and she has some laugh-out-loud lines in this 2-minute video. “Can you imagine how excited a shark would be to see me?” Just click, watch and share. In her own way, she might keep some folks from becoming shark bait.
I’ve just watched an amazing film, and I hope you will too, if you haven’t already. It’s called “I’ll Be Me” and it documents Glen Campbell’s descent into the twilight: Alzheimer’s Disease.
Glen Campbell, 2012
Glen’s life was movie-worthy long before this. One of 12 children, growing up in Delight, Arkansas (he’s always pronounced it “Dee-Light”). Mastered the guitar, bass, banjo and bagpipes at an early age. By his 20s, one of the music industry’s busiest session players. He played on hits by Sinatra and Elvis. In addition to playing on Beach Boys records, he even became one, replacing Brian Wilson on tour.
His own fame arrived in the late 60s, with “Gentle On My Mind,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” and his own CBS variety show. More hit songs followed, intertwined with a tabloid-ready personal life. Four marriages, eight kids, a messy fling with singer Tanya Tucker, another affair with the wife of singer Mac Davis, substance abuse, born-again Christianity, and a late-career comeback. Yes, that would be quite a movie.
The events of the past four years are captured in “I’ll Be Me.” Early in 2011, it became apparent something was wrong with Glen, then 75. He was still performing, but he was forgetting the words to his songs, and making odd comments. His wife Kim announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “People were saying he was drinking again,” she said. “It was time to tell the truth.”
There were concert dates already lined up. Amazingly, for the next two years Glen toured the USA playing more than a hundred shows. Filmmaker James Keach was granted full access to the tour, the Campbells’ home life and medical visits: the brain scans, MRI’s, and X-rays.
The resulting movie isn’t always easy to watch, especially if you’ve experienced Alzheimer’s with a family member. In many ways, Glen reminds me of my mother, who gradually slipped away over a period of several years before her death in 2011.
Eyes once filled with life suddenly seem glazed and distant. “Who is that?” is a common question, when looking at photos of a spouse, a child, or even one’s self. “That’s your grandson,” is often followed by “Oh really?” “You used to go to church there.” “Did I?” These questions and answers are repeated many times daily.
The mood changes: confusion, anger, paranoia. We were lucky. My mother in her last years was a small, frail woman who was pleasant, and incapable of reaching household items that could endanger her. Glen is a big, strong man who could still swing a golf club in the house. Imagine the challenge of getting him to wake up and shower for a show at Carnegie Hall. Easier said than done. He would obsess for hours about something stuck between his teeth, while putting sharp objects in his mouth.
Thank God for music. In my mother’s case, when almost every other memory had been erased, the music remained. “Music is the last thing to go,” commented one doctor about Glen. That was true about my mother too. She could sing hymns and popular songs from the 1940s, but she couldn’t tell you what she had for breakfast.
As soon as Glen took the stage, the spark returned to his eyes. He had to read a TelePrompter to sing the words, but he still had perfect pitch and could play incredible guitar solos. He had trouble introducing his children (now his band mates), but the audiences didn’t mind.
They were seeing a music legend, one last time. “I can play guitar,” he would say. “I just can’t remember anything.” Watching a duet of “Dueling Banjos” with Glen and his daughter Ashley is inspiring. You would think there’s nothing wrong with him.
Then you see Ashley testifying before Congress on medical research, with her dad by her side. Tearfully, she tells them in the very near future, he will not recognize her. You see Brad Paisley cite his family tree of Alzheimer’s. He’ll be next, he fears. “Can’t we do something about this before it comes to get me?” he says.
By the end of 2012, Glen’s condition had deteriorated to the point that the shows could not go on. During the past year, he has been in an assisted-living facility in Nashville, amid tabloid reports of family members feuding over his care.
Hopefully this film will start many a conversation on a topic that many families sweep under the rug. You may experience many emotions while watching. I’m glad I got to see a superstar basking in the applause of his fans. I like to think music gave him a few extra years of joy, as it has for so many.
You can watch “I’ll Be Me,” the Glen Campbell story, on DVD and On Demand on September 1st.
Hollywood loves to make movies about music icons. Often, but not always, they’re biographies of dead performers. Think Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, and James Brown. In Ray Charles’ case, the movie “Ray,” was completed just before he died. I just saw “Love and Mercy” about Beach Boy Brian Wilson (who is still among the living), and while it’s hard to watch on many levels, it does feature his amazing musical skills.
I’m surprised no one has made a movie about Stevie Wonder’s life, because it could be a good one. His father made a living by selling his mother’s body on the streets. Blind since birth, he was raised just like his siblings. He was sent out to play, and if he fell into a ditch, or ran into a tree, that was considered a life lesson. As a teen, he was on the road with the Temptations (in every sense of the word). Then he wrote and performed more hit songs than anyone during a 20-year period while bedding numerous women and fathering a lot of kids. Let’s just say it’s a life made for the big screen.
Then there’s Charley Pride, whose story is equally incredible.
You don’t hear Charley’s name much these days. He’s 77, about fifty years past the expiration date for modern country music stardom. He hasn’t had a radio hit in more than a quarter-century. Most of his best-sellers date back to the early 80s: even some of the classic country stations don’t go back that far. In fact, I’d say most filmmakers would give a thumbs-down to a screenplay about an artist whose fans are a few decades north of the “Jurassic World” crowd.
That’s a shame. The movies celebrated the life of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in “42.” It was no blockbuster, but it was well-received. Queen Latifah starred as Bessie Smith in a popular HBO movie this year. So why hasn’t Charley Pride’s life story been told? It’s been rumored for a decade, but has never made it to the screen. I’d love to see it happen in the man’s lifetime.
Here’s the short version. Born in Mississippi, to a family of poor sharecroppers. One of eleven children. Learned to play guitar as a child. Played in the Negro American league, as a pitcher, starting at the age of 14. A year later, signed with the New York Yankees, playing in the minor leagues.
At 15, traded (with another player) to a competing team for a bus. Yes, a bus. Served two years in the Army, then returned to baseball, playing in the Cincinnati Reds organization. At the age of 20, he got serious about music. Country music. In 1958. Let’s pause here for a moment. He’s black, and trying to get into country music. We’ve got a pretty good movie so far, don’t you think?
Yet this is where it really gets interesting. After struggling for a few years, he was signed to RCA Records by legendary producer-guitarist Chet Atkins. Chet knew a star when he heard one. He was responsible for finding most of RCA’s biggest sellers of that era, like Jim Reeves and Skeeter Davis. But with Charley Pride, there was this one problem. So the label put out his records, with no pictures!
He was billed as “Country Charley Pride.” For the first two years, the radio deejays and listeners had no idea what this Pride guy looked like. His song “Just Between You and Me” came out in 1966, and hit the top 10. Outside of the RCA studios, nobody knew his skin color.
That song was the first in a string of 60 top-ten country hits, including “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” which also went top-20 on the pop charts.
He was the first black member of the Grand Ole Opry, a 2000 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has performed at the Super Bowl, the World Series, and at concert venues worldwide.
Earl Freudenberg, who played the hits at Chattanooga’s WDOD in the 1960s, remembers when Charley “came out” to country audiences, including a sold-out crowd at Memorial Auditorium. “He’d appear on stage, sing one of his hits, and say, I don’t look like I sound, do I? Up until then, RCA asked us not to say anything about him being black. They’d say, just play his records, so that’s what we did.”
I think Charley Pride’s story is one of the most amazing in show business history. Although it’s still unusual today for a black artist to make it big in the country music field (Darius Rucker is a current exception), in the 1960s, it was seemingly impossible. Charley has some great stories to tell, many of which are in his 1994 autobiography. About his first concert appearance, much dreaded by RCA executives: “Once I opened my mouth and started singing, they liked what they heard.”
It’s way past time his life was celebrated in the movies. Come on Hollywood, let’s do this!
It’s Father’s Day, so I’m turning this over to a guest writer for the day. My friend Johnny Cordell is retiring at the end of the month after 20 years as Director of Schools in Sequatchie County. That is by far the longest tenure of any school superintendent in the area. He has had a remarkable life and career from the Marine Corps, to teaching, to school administration. Johnny is also a fine writer, and he is kind enough to share this story from his early days as a truant officer. As Ed McMahon would say, “Heeerre’s Johnny!”
In a small rural county school system, a supervisor wears many hats of responsibility. I was once in charge of attendance. The job description included “truant officer,” a position I’m not even sure exists in most school systems today.
I was responsible for ferreting out and delivering to school any student who was not attending school. I also would issue warrants to parents to appear in juvenile court.
At that time, I knew most families in the community, and was able to work constructively with most parents. Normally a parent would initiate first contact when a child was reluctant to attend school. I would visit the home and attempt to persuade the child about the importance of attending school.
If this failed, I would proceed through the next legal step in the truancy process, especially if truant students were of high school age. However, if the child attended elementary school, the parents sometimes allowed me to take the child to school. Most truant students below high school level were boys from single-parent homes. I would accomplish this task with little difficulty. Once the student realized Momma would not intervene, he would cease to resist.
But, as is always the case in education, I learned to expect the unexpected. One fall morning, a call came into my office with the usual pattern of consternation. “My son won’t go to school. I can’t do anything with him. Can you make him go?”
She told me her son was a 4th grader, and gave me directions to her house. Normally, I would take along a school psychologist, or one of my supervisors, but the mother was supportive, and I felt this would be a quick in-and-out operation.
I arrived to find the mother was waiting at the door; she informed me her son had barricaded himself in his bedroom. Somehow this small 4th grade boy had moved a large bed so that it was wedged against the bedroom door.
After a few minutes I dislodged the bed enough to gain entrance. At that point, I discovered the boy had taken refuge under his bed covers. After a few yanks and tugs I was able to uncover him. What I encountered next was a youngster naked as a newborn. I guess he calculated I would not attempt to dress him, and he was correct in that assumption.
Faced with that situation today, I would have simply walked away and turned the case over to the juvenile court. However, on that morning many years ago, I was much younger and a lot dumber, and on an impulse I grabbed his bed quilt, wrapped him up “mummy style” and carried him out to my vehicle.
On the way out I instructed the mother to gather his clothes and toss them into my back seat. I think he was so surprised by my actions that he did not attempt to extricate himself from the quilt.
Ten minutes later I drove up to the front door of the school. After turning off the engine, I casually looked over my shoulder into the back seat and simply announced, “Son, your friends are waiting. You can go in there naked or you can put your clothes on. Either way, you’re going to school.”
At this point, the baffled little boy wasn’t sure what this crazy person would do next. He immediately put on his clothes, exited the car and entered the building. My immediate response was a sigh of relief.
I worked in this capacity for about ten years, and it served me well on my way to the being a superintendent later in my career. Each year I would attend high school graduation ceremonies and check off every student I had contact with during my truant officer days.
Invariably, a graduating senior would approach me at each commencement and thank me for keeping him or her in school. It was gratifying during my ninth year to congratulate a particular senior boy who I am sure had clothes on underneath his gown, but being a lot older and much wiser, I leave that to your imagination.
Johnny Cordell, telling one of his stories, surrounded by friends and family
If you’re on Facebook, you see all kinds of posts: birthdays, baby pics, get-well wishes, proms, pets, and jokes, to name a few. Facebook is a great place to re-connect with friends, and stay in touch with relatives, often in far away places. It’s been great for me. It has helped me sell some books, and it just might be how you discovered my blog. There is a downside, however.
Unfortunately, those same scammers who once ripped you off in person, or by mail, can now do it online. Facebook gives them a golden opportunity. They can hack into your account, take over your identity, and even trick you into giving up personal information. They can adopt fake identities, and hide behind anonymity as they say and do cruel things.
Right now there is a viral post on Facebook that I wish would go away. Those who spread them have good intentions, but they lead nowhere. The coupon, promises you $100 off any purchase of $120 or more at Lowe’s. Let’s stop right here, and think about it for a moment. How long would Lowe’s stay in business if everyone on Facebook marched in there today, made a $120 purchase, and paid for it with a twenty-dollar bill?
Here is the statement from Lowe’s that they have posted repeatedly on their own Facebook page: “The post on Facebook is not affiliated with Lowe’s in any way. This is a phishing scam to try and gain personal and secure information. Please be careful.”
“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” Words to live by.
Hopefully, these false postings will soon disappear from social media. Only to be replaced by something just as bad, or worse. I’ll add my own piece of advice: “Just because you saw it on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true.“
Here’s my favorite story of the week: Nooga.com reports on a surprise visit to Chattanooga from two actors at the top of their game: funnyman Zach Galifianakis and actor Jon Hamm, best known as the suave Don Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Jon Hamm & Zach Galifianakis in a file photo
As Sean Phipps reports, the two stars were en route from Manchester to Atlanta on Sunday afternoon, and decided to grab a bite at Tupelo Honey, the popular downtown restaurant at Warehouse Row. Both had attended Bonnaroo and introduced some of the acts. They’re filming “Keeping Up With The Joneses” in Atlanta, a comedy scheduled for theatrical release on April Fools Day 2016.
Kudos to these guys for being nice to bartender Abby Swartz. Hamm gave her his Bonnaroo wristband, which allowed her to enjoy great access at the Manchester music festival, and Galifianakis left behind an epic tip.
The article has gotten great response from those of us who enjoy some good news now and then. Predictably there are comments on Nooga’s page from people taking shots, the usual “why is this news?” stuff. They’re only satisfied if a celebrity news story includes a mugshot.
So, to those who complain that the two stars didn’t do anything newsworthy, go ahead and find a negative story. It’s just a click away. I prefer to thank Abby Swartz for sharing her story with Sean Phipps and Nooga.com, who then shared it with all of us. I love Jon and Zach’s work, and it’s good to know they went out of their way to make someone happy. Jon could have kept the wristband, which he struggled mightily to remove. Zach could have left the standard 15 percent tip (instead of an eye-popping 250 percent). They could’ve kept their heads down, avoided eye contact, and acted like big stars.
Here’s the best line of the story (in my opinion). After Jon gave Abby the Bonnaroo wristband, “she remembers clasping Hamm’s hands and possibly telling him that she loved him.” What a great moment!
I get the feeling those guys are thankful for their fame and success, which did not happen overnight. Each were struggling actors for quite awhile. On this Chattanooga Sunday afternoon, they had a good time sharing some joy. They weren’t there posing for pics, or looking for publicity. (The pic I used above is a file photograph from a previous event. They’re longtime friends). I don’t think they expected their Tupelo Honey visit to make news, but I’m glad it did. I like them even more now.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about mis-heard lyrics to some of our favorite songs, with special emphasis on Creedence Clearwater Revival. Lead singer John Fogerty specialized in mangling words with that raspy growl. We all liked his songs, we just had no idea what he was saying. The fuzzy AM radio signal didn’t help. His most famous, of course, is “Bad Moon Rising.” So many of us thought he was saying “There’s a bathroom on the right,” (instead of “bad moon on the rise”) that he’s been known to sing the wrong version in his live concerts. Glad you can take a joke, John.
John Fogerty, singing about those happy creatures
Since that first story, I’ve been collecting a new batch of misunderstood songs, and CCR is still at the top of my list. Remember “Lookin’ Out My Back Door?” The one about tambourines and elephants, playing in the band? In the first verse, John sings, “Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn.” When I was a kid, I thought he was saying “happy preachers.” Now there’s a visual image for you!
Same goes for CCR’s last big hit, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” Some folks swore he was looking for a lady named Lorraine. “I wanna know…have you ever seen…Lorraine..”
Lorraine made a comeback a year later. Remember Johnny Nash’s hit? “I Can See Clearly Now…Lorraine has gone.” That Lorraine sure got around, didn’t she?
And how about Leslie? Remember “Groovin‘ (on a Sunday afternoon)” by the Rascals? Near the end of the song, the lead singer says, “Life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly, groovin.” But we all thought he said “you and me and Leslie.” I spent years wondering who Leslie was.
One of my most-requested songs at KZ-106 back in the 80s was Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero.” I do remember one pre-teen who called in a request for “Juice Box Hero.” I think he was serious.
My all-time favorite Elvis song is “Suspicious Minds.” Imagine my surprise when a friend of mine began singing along to the dramatic first line, “We’re caught in a trap.” He thought the King was about to give his unfaithful partner a ride home: “We’re calling a cab.”
A Facebook post by Tom Lathen brought out some other goodies. My friend Steve Hill from Dalton, Georgia recalled some 1970s-era requests for “Willard Go Round In Circles.”
Willard Scott, going around in circles
The song they wanted to hear, of course was Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” but now I’ll think of Willard Scott getting dizzy, every time I hear it.
Roger Davis told of a friend who went to the record store and asked for a copy of “My God the Spark.” As in, “My God the spark, is melting in the dark…” Now I have a whole new reason to listen to “MacArthur Park!”
Stu Wright remembers when Johnny Rivers’ 1966 hit “Secret Agent Man” was mis-heard by many as “Secret Asian Man.” Frankly, that’s what it sounds like Johnny is saying.
Also in the 60s, the McCoys had that big hit that still gets played at drunken wedding parties today: “Hang On Sloopy.” But on the static-filled AM radios of that era, many folks thought they were singing, “Hang on Stupid…Stupid, hang on!” (Thanks to Mike Miranda for that one.)
Many of us fondly remember a soul hit from 1971, Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” (“who do you think you are”). Bryan McIntyre, who then worked at WCOL, remembers getting requests for “Mr. Pit Stop.” Maybe they were NASCAR fans? And now that I hear it again, they weren’t too far off!
Elton John, singing about Lucy
Jimmy Rowe recalls Elton John’s version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which has that memorable line about “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.” He said someone called and wanted to hear the one where “the girl with colitis walks by.” There aren’t many songs about people with colon problems, but at least one person thought this one was.
Jimmy Fallon often reads mis-heard lyrics sent in by viewers. A recent favorite was “Sugar Fried Honey Butts,” known to many of us as that Four Tops classic, “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.” Hmmm….maybe the Tops could do a remake!
And just recently, Juice Newton was at Chattanooga’s Riverbend Festival, which reminded me of her classic re-make of Merilee Rush’s “Angel of the Morning.” In the chorus, she sings, “Just call me angel of the morning, angel…Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby.” I could have sworn she was saying, “Just brush my teeth before you leave me…”
How’s your hearing? Better than mine, hopefully. I blame my mis-heard lyrics on the loud headphones I used in my radio days. If you have some favorite misunderstood songs, let me know!
I usually get annoyed by commercials at a movie theater, but I love this one. All of us guys have been there. You want to put your arm around her…but you’re just not sure. Sometimes the ladies just to have take matters into their own hands. Here’s a great ad from Coca Cola and Carmike. Click and enjoy:
Ten years ago this week, we lost someone very special. I never got to know WTVC anchor MaryEllen Locher as well as I would have liked. In the world of local TV news, those of us who work as Channel 3 anchors see each other every day. I’ve seen Cindy Sexton and Paul Barys thousands of times over the years, day in and day out. There just aren’t many opportunities to mingle with “the competition.”
I first met “Mel,” as her friends called her, at Riverbend in 1988. She was friendly, and of course quite beautiful. I found out that she and my wife Cindy had Penn State in common, before they both moved south for broadcasting jobs. After that, I only saw her a handful of times in person, including her wedding and that of a co-worker or two. Again, always friendly, always beautiful.
Like every other news viewer in Chattanooga, I would occasionally notice her absence from the Channel 9 anchor desk, often for weeks at a time. When one is on TV each day, there are no secrets, and soon it became public knowledge that Mel was battling cancer. As I recall, she was barely thirty when she was first diagnosed. It came and it went a few times over the years, and for long stretches we were hopeful she had beaten the disease. But as is too often the case, it would return with a vengeance.
Mel’s life ended at the age of 45, on June 9, 2005. She was survived by a loving husband, a young son, and thousands of friends. This was in the pre-Facebook era, so these were real friends, not virtual ones. They had hung on every word about her condition, they had sent her cards, and they had donated comfortable and stylish hats for fellow cancer patients (“Hats from the Heart,” one of Mel’s pet causes). I was particularly touched by this excerpt from her obituary: It is not often in this life that one is blessed to be touched by someone whose very presence shines a ray of hope and faith to the darkest corners of the world around her. So true.
Her longtime co-anchor Bob Johnson was among the speakers at her memorial service. He paid tribute to “My good friend, my buddy. She had such a good heart.” He told me that in the male-dominated newsroom of the 1980s, “She was one of the guys. She could tell a joke, she could take a joke. No big ego, no pretensions. Just a smart, fun lady.”
Here is a video tribute:
I’ve made more than a hundred talks during the past couple of years about my local radio/TV book, visiting various churches and clubs. I show a few photos from the book on the big screen, and MaryEllen’s photo always makes folks tear up a bit. They haven’t gotten over her yet. When you invite someone into your home, night after night, they’re like family. When MaryEllen left us, we lost a friend. One we had cheered on and pulled for. We sure were proud when she devoted so much of her time, that she knew might be limited, to causes that would help others in their personal battles. She was a founding member of Chattanooga’s Make A Wish Foundation, which has helped so many ailing young people see their dreams come true.
Today, her name lives on, as it will forever at Memorial Hospital’s MaryEllen Locher Breast Center. The folks who established it, and who run it today, are committed to excellence. My wife tells me the people who work there are especially good at people skills, making visitors feel comfortable.
Established in 2007, the center meets MaryEllen’s original vision of making the breast cancer journey easier for all women. Working alongside Memorial Hospital, she provided insight and inspiration for the development of a breast center that would combine the best possible medical care in an atmosphere of calm and understanding. Reducing the time between diagnosis and treatment was her primary goal.
It’s a great tribute to have your name attached to a health care facility with a solid reputation. Mel deserves nothing less.
UPDATE, June 8, 2015: After this story appeared, many people asked me how MaryEllen and David’s son Alex Burd is doing. Here is what he told me: “I graduated from the University of Alabama in 2012, and went straight to law school at Jones School of Law in Montgomery, where I just graduated a month ago. I got married last weekend to my beautiful wife, Lacy. We met at Alabama in 2009 and have been together since. We are moving back to Chattanooga, and I am currently studying for the Tennessee Bar Exam. Thank you for asking!”
Here are a couple of photos, one of Alex and Lacy, and the other with Alex and some of MaryEllen’s friends at a recent shower. Congratulations Alex on all your accomplishments, and best of luck to you and Lacy in the future!