A summer song: “Moonlight Feels Right”

July 19, 2014 at 6:55 pm

“The wind blew some luck in my direction….I caught it in my hands today…”

I always turn up the volume when “Moonlight Feels Right” comes on the radio.

“I finally made a tricky French connection…you winked and gave me your okay…”

It was a major hit in the summer of 1976.  In the thirty-eight years since, I’ve heard it thousands of times. Somehow, to this day, from the very first note, it makes me smile.  Even in the cold of winter.  But “Moonlight Feels Right” is a summer song, no doubt about that.  It conjures up images of long days, warm nights and suntan lotion (that’s what we used back then, we didn’t know any better).

“We’ll lay back and observe the constellations…and watch the moon smiling bright…”

Who writes a song like this? Who plays that amazing marimba solo? The group is/was Starbuck.  The record label was Private Stock.  Not RCA, not Capitol, not Columbia.  Why does this one Southern song, distributed by a tiny label with little or no publicity, endure almost forty years after it was recorded?  I began my search for the answers.

Starbuck-Moonlight-Feels-Right-Rock-N-Roll-Rocket

A decade or so ago, the man who wrote and sang this “one-hit wonder” wouldn’t have been easy to find.  Now, in our Google-infested, YouTube-fueled find-everything-now era, it took maybe three clicks.  Bruce Blackman is the man behind the song, the keyboard and the mustache.  The Greenville, Mississippi native also formed the band, produced the record, and owns most of the publishing rights.  All these decades later, in the summer of 2014 and now based in Atlanta, he tells me, “I am one of the luckiest people alive.  That one song has made me a comfortable living, and I still love it today.”

“You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss….class of ’74 gold ring…the eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss…to make the tide rise again…”

I’ve always heard the best songs are the result of one’s life experience, and in Bruce’s case, every word rings true, then and now.  He said, “My inspiration for writing the song came from a beautiful girl from Greenville, Mississippi. I was playing poker in a dorm room at Delta State and noticed a newspaper photo hanging on the wall of young women in a beauty pageant. One of the girls was so beautiful I didn’t even believe it could be possible.  I found out what college she was attending and I registered there for the sole purpose of trying to meet her. I did meet her and asked her out 3 times. The third time she accepted and that’s when “the wind blew some luck in my direction”.

He continued, “The song then became a light fictional fantasy about what I hoped would happen.
  We’re still married 46 years later, and she’s just as beautiful as ever.”  The proof’s in the picture, with Bruce, Peggy, and their daughter Sarah, also a singer.

Bruce Blackman, daughter Sarah, and his wife Peggy, who inspired "Moonlight Feels Right"

Bruce Blackman, daughter Sarah, and his wife Peggy, who inspired “Moonlight Feels Right”

The song that’s now as familiar as lightning bugs in July was not originally intended to be a summertime staple.  “We actually released it in late 1975,” Bruce said. “But nobody noticed.”  By this time, Bruce had played in various bands, and released several records.  He was in his late 20s, and had tasted a little success and a lot of failure.  Radio deejays opened the “Moonlight” record envelope, saw an unfamiliar label and a no-name group, and put it in the giveaway stack.  Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John and dozens of disco groups were getting the airplay, so Bruce and band-mate Bo Wagner hit the road.  “We went to every radio station that had a tower in the back yard, just asking them to take three minutes to listen to our song.”  Occasionally they would find a believer, a radio guy who heard a hit in this moonlight song.  But in order to hit it big, it needed momentum, spreading from one town to the next, and the next.  Weeks went by, then months, and there was no momentum.

“We’ll see the sun come up on Sunday morning…and watch it fade the moon away….”

Finally in the spring of 1976, the president of Private Stock received a fateful phone call.  “This is Michael St. John from WERC in Birmingham,” the caller said.  “You ought to get this Starbuck song out, because it is taking off.  Our listeners want to know why they can’t find it in the stores.”  This got the label’s attention.  If they love it in Birmingham, they’d love it in Atlanta.  And Nashville.  And Charlotte.  Suddenly, Bruce Blackman had a hit record on his hands.  Not an overnight success by any measure, but the groundwork had been laid. Deejays and listeners were demanding it. St. John, now at Fun 92.7 in northeast Alabama told me, “That song literally heated up.  The hotter it got outside, the more people wanted to hear it.  It is truly a summertime hit.”

“I guess you know I’m giving you a warning….’cause me and moon are itchin’ to play….”

The record label woke up and ordered an album from the group, which was rushed into production.  A follow-up single, “Everybody Be Dancing” didn’t match the success of “Moonlight,” despite catchy lyrics and a funky groove.  “David Soul of the Starsky & Hutch TV show put out a single at the very same time, and the label president said he had to promote one or the other.  Well, we lost that battle,” Bruce said.

All these years later, Bruce Blackman has no regrets.  “People ask me if I resent being called a one-hit wonder.  No sir, stop and think about it.  Most singers can’t get a record deal, and if they do, they don’t score a hit.  I’ve got this little song that has given me a great life.  I heard it in Home Depot the other day. It’s fun to see people singing along to my song.  I’ve never hollered out, ‘Hey that’s me!’ but I’m glad they like it.”

“I guarantee you, it’s on the radio somewhere in the world right now, it never stops,” Bruce said. “Every now and then someone will find out it’s my song, and they’ll tell me, ‘You’re responsible for my birth!’  I like taking credit for that!”

There are touching stories too.  Bruce said, “This lady in Baltimore who was dying had one final wish.  She asked her doctor to sing ‘Moonlight” along with her on her deathbed.  It was her favorite song. Her sister told me she died smiling.  I can’t even talk about that without crying.”

“I’ll take you on a trip beside the ocean….and drop the top on Chesapeake Bay….ain’t nothing like the sky to dose a potion….the moon’ll send you on your way…”

The original group reunited in the summer of 2013 for an outdoor show at Chastain Park in Atlanta, and it was as if time stood still.

There’s Bruce, looking and sounding great, and Bo Wagner, now a doctor in California, doing that marimba solo flawlessly.  “We still have fun, and it shows,” Bruce said.  He’s releasing a new album in September, “Moonlight Feels Right 2014,” with a few new songs, and a new spin on some oldies, including the title track.  “This version has a totally different feel,” he said. “There’s be no sense in doing it again without a little freshening up.”

“I’m still writing songs and producing for other artists,” Bruce said.  “I’ve got to write songs, whether anybody hears them or not, it’s what I do.”  And if “Moonlight Feels Right” turns out to be the song he’ll always be known for, that’s just fine according to Bruce.  “I hope they put it on my tombstone,” he said.  “That song has made a lot of people happy, I see it in their faces every time I sing it.  For a songwriter, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

“Moonlight….feels right…..moonlight…..feels right…..”

To request a free 3-song preview CD of Bruce’s new album, click here.  I got mine the very next day, and this song, “Doing Nothing,” is my favorite.  Check it out:

 

 

 

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

July 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Just an observation on a rainy weekend:  recently, THIS piece of scenery got the attention of a Chattanooga city sign inspector.  He huffed, and puffed, and told the owner of a nearby doughnut shop it would have to come down:

doughnuts1

On the other hand, a few thousand of us drive by THIS piece of scenery on the North Shore of Chattanooga every day.  Evidently, the city sign inspector is okay with this.  Because it doesn’t violate any rules, or codes, and surely isn’t considered an eyesore.

signsI guess beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder.  Certainly not in the eyes of the city sign inspector.  Last time I checked, the doughnut shop owner was fighting to keep her sign.  She seems determined to hold her ground.  Has the city backed off from its original demand?  Stay tuned….

Anchors acting out

July 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I work with some very talented people, and Greg Glover is at the top of the list.  In addition to being an excellent news anchor and reporter, Greg is also a first-rate actor and singer.  He’s been in several plays since coming to WRCB, ranging from “Beauty and the Beast” to “The Sound Of Music” to “The Music Man” and others.  He also sings for area bands, including Sweet Georgia Sound.

Greg Glover in "The Sound of Music" (Chattanooga Times Free Press photo)

Greg Glover in “The Sound of Music” (Chattanooga Times Free Press photo)

You won’t see him quite as often on the news for the next couple of weeks, as he performs in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s production of “Les Miserables.”  He plays the demanding role of Inspector Javert, and he does it exceedingly well.  Here’s a quick promo clip:

Greg is the latest in a long line of Channel 3 news anchors who have graced the stage.  Roy Morris was on Channel 3 from 1957 until 1973, and he could do it all.

Roy Morris singing at 1973 March of Dimes Telerama

Roy Morris singing at 1973 March of Dimes Telerama

When he wasn’t hosting talk shows, variety shows, or delivering the news, he was acting in plays, and even singing on the annual March of Dimes telethon.  He could emcee just about anything, and was a master of live TV and ad-libbing.

Jed Mescon in "Guys and Dolls," 2009

Jed Mescon in “Guys and Dolls,” 2009

My friend Jed Mescon was once very active in local theater too.  He was in “Guys and Dolls,” among others.  His infectious energy lights up a stage, and he too can dance and sing.

brian-snl

Even at the network level, NBC’s Brian Williams has done a little acting.  He hosted Saturday Night Live in 2007, participating in several sketches that showed off his comedic skills.

Naturally, all this anchor acting activity has put some pressure on me.  People have asked me, “Hey, don’t you ever do any acting?” (Okay, it may have happened once.  Maybe.)  Other than my daily stint on the long-running hit “Eyewitness News at 6,” now in its 59th season, I have indeed dabbled in the scripted arts.

For your viewing pleasure, I have added this buried-treasure video to my ever-growing YouTube channel collection of local broadcasting snippets.  In 1986, the state of Tennessee held a series of events under the umbrella of “Homecoming ’86.” The festivities were many and varied, as local residents invited the rest of the nation to experience Tennessee’s natural wonders.  My employer at the time, WDEF Channel 12, enlisted my Morning Show co-host Helen Hardin and me to appear in a promotional spot.  Helen played an uptight tourist seeking directions, while I faced an incredible challenge:  I had to play a country-boy, gas-station attendant, wearing overalls and holding a dog.  Certainly, this role was a huge stretch for me, but I gave it my best.  Sit back and watch 30 seconds of TV excellence, and then ask yourself why I was never asked to act again.

Stuart Scott is The Man

July 17, 2014 at 3:21 pm
Kiefer Sutherland presents award to Stuart Scott

Kiefer Sutherland presents award to Stuart Scott

In case you missed the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night, you need to see this.  Sportscaster Stuart Scott, who has battled cancer since 2007, won the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, named for the late coach Jim Valvano.  It was Jimmy V who gave the famous “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” speech during his own fight with cancer in 1993.

This video shows a portion of what Scott has gone through, and despite his flawless delivery Wednesday night, as recently as Sunday he was unsure if he would be able to attend.  He had undergone four surgeries in the past few days.  But, did he ever rise to the occasion.  We now have a new quote to remember:  “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer, by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.  Fight like hell!”  You can find that portion at around 9:49 in this 15-minute segment.  Watch it, share it, cherish it.  Stuart Scott is my new hero.

 

 

This is my Kenny Rogers story, and I’m stickin’ to it

July 16, 2014 at 3:14 am

Since I began writing this blog, some of my most-read posts have been about folks who have passed away.  In fact, a couple of friends have told me, jokingly I hope, “I want you to write about me when I die.” But the other day, somebody else said, “Why don’t you write a nice story about someone who’s still alive?  You could even write about some famous person, and maybe they will actually get to read it.”

I think that’s a fine idea.  So Kenny Rogers, if you somehow came across this obscure website, this one’s for you.

kenny-rogers-1

Why Kenny Rogers?  It was just meant to be.  He’s been on my mind.  Recently I heard one of his great songs on the radio, and then I read a wonderful story about him in a new book.  “The Time of My Life” is by Bill Medley, remember him?  He was the deep-voiced half of the Righteous Brothers (with tenor Bobby Hatfield).  Back in 1964, they recorded the most-played song in the history of radio.  “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” sounds like no other song.  Deejays wouldn’t play it when it came out, because when Bill sang those opening words, “You never close your eyes any more, when I kiss your lips…” they thought it was recorded on the wrong speed!

Eventually they figured it out, listeners loved it, and it sold millions.  The Righteous Brothers became one of the hottest acts in the nation. They befriended a newcomer named Kenny Rogers, and helped him in the early days of his career.

A few years later, it was Kenny having all the hits, while the Righteous duo faded from the charts. In Bill’s book, he writes about falling on lean financial times, after making some poor investments.  By this time, Kenny was pumping out gold records like “Lucille,” “Coward of the County,” and “The Gambler. Bill asked Kenny for a $20,000 loan.  “I promise to pay you back as soon as I can,” he said.  Kenny pulled out his checkbook, and wrote him a check for $20,000.  “This is not a loan, it’s a gift,” he said.  Bill protested, but Kenny said in a non-boastful way, “Do you know how much money I’m making? You would do the same thing for me.”  A few weeks later, Bill tried to pay him back. Kenny handed back the envelope. “What’s this?” he asked.  Bill said, “I’m paying you back, you loaned me 20 grand.”  Kenny repeated, “No I didn’t. I refuse to take it back.” What a guy.

That reminded me of another first-hand report of Kenny’s kindness.  In the WFLI “Jet-FLI Spectacular” days of all-star concerts at Memorial Auditorium in Chattanooga, radio station manager Johnny Eagle recalled how difficult it was to get someone to open the show.  They all wanted to be the headline act, and close the show. Johnny said, “Kenny Rogers made it easy for me.  He was among the nicest stars. He even carried his own equipment.  I’d go up to Kenny, kind of embarrassed, and ask him if he would be kind enough to open the show, and he’d say absolutely, whatever you need.  He had more hits than anybody, but he didn’t act like it. It was no surprise to me that he went on to be more successful than any of them.”

In the early 1980s, when I was music director for KZ-106, Kenny released a new album on Liberty Records.  A promoter for the label, Bob Alou would visit the station, and ask us to play Kenny’s songs.  Bob was well known in the industry as a bit of a wild man.  Still, one afternoon, I accepted his invitation to take a ride through Red Bank, just long enough to hear Kenny’s new album (on cassette) on his car stereo.  As he drove down Dayton Boulevard, he decided to light up a joint.  The more he inhaled, the louder the music got.  He would take long, deep drags, and he was determined to finish the joint before we returned to the radio station.  He’d crank up Kenny’s songs even louder, saying “Man, that sounds good!” Thankfully, we were not stopped by the Red Bank police.  Even though I wasn’t smoking, I was probably high by association, and my clothes smelled like pot.  My wife Cindy understood.  She had been in radio too.

In fact, that record promoter scored big points with Cindy just a few weeks later.  Kenny performed at the UTC Arena, and Bob arranged for us to meet Kenny backstage.  Cindy, by then a seasoned news reporter, started thinking about what she would ask him.  “What will your next record be?”  “Tell us about your new baby boy.”  “What do all those Grammy nominations mean to you?”  She was prepared, as always.

kenny-rogers2

After the show, we were escorted backstage, and there stood Kenny Rogers.  Tall, trim, tanned and handsome in his white suit.  We exchanged pleasantries, and he thanked me for playing his songs.  I nodded to Cindy, as if to say, “Your turn.”  She was so taken aback by his good looks, she could not speak.  A few words came out, but not in the right order.  She was starstruck. Kenny smiled and said, “Well, it sure was nice to meet you.”  Cindy turned three shades of red, and said, “Kerfuffle perdunkin,” or something like that.  I’d never seen her speechless, before or since. (“I didn’t expect him to be so handsome,” she would say later.)

Kenny Rogers then walked away, sporting a big smile.  It probably wasn’t the first time he’d made a pretty girl blush.

 

 

Baby penguin video: “Mom. Mom. Mama. Mommy..”

July 14, 2014 at 11:26 pm

I couldn’t resist.  My friend Thom Benson, who does such a great job publicizing the wonders of the Tennessee Aquarium, sent a great video of the new baby Macaroni Penguin.  This fluffy-faced tot is not shy about requesting food from Mommy.  The baby’s parents are named Merlin and Chaos, names I wish my wife and I had thought of when we were naming our children.  The baby’s gender is yet to be determined, but once they figure that out, there will be a contest to name him/her (my choice is below).  This is a two minute video, but be sure to watch the last few seconds, as the hungry baby chirps away.

While watching the last few seconds, I was reminded of another baby who made similar demands to his patient mother.  Well, she was patient for a while anyway.

I’m thinking a good name for the baby penguin would be “Stewie.”  You can learn more about the penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium by clicking here

Best news story you’ll see today

July 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

mower

For those who say there’s never anything “good” or “positive” on the news, here’s an excellent story from KARE-TV in Minneapolis, which was picked up Monday by NBC Nightly News.  The sweet friendship between a couple of neighbors.  One is 89, the other is 3.  I’ve said enough already.  Just click the link below, and watch:

Unlikely friendship: WWII Vet and 3 -year-old neighbor

 

 

 

“We’ll have more information when we get it”

July 5, 2014 at 11:47 am

When we TV news anchors look into the camera to bring you the news, we haven’t memorized anything.  We’re reading it off the TelePrompTer, a nifty device that allows us to “look you in the eye,” and read at the same time.  This trick does not involve smoke, but it does utilize a mirror.  Here’s my view from the anchor desk:

prompter 002 (2)

Over the years, I have developed a habit.  I do not read the script from the prompter word for word.  Even if I’ve written it myself, I usually change it, live on the air.  I’ve convinced myself that I can make the copy better by ad-libbing, and making it more conversational.  Sometimes, I succeed.  But a few days ago, I said something so stupid that I regretted it the moment it left my lips. I was hoping no one would catch it, but someone always does.  The script read, “We’ll have more information when it becomes available,” but I wanted to say “We’ll bring you more information when we get it.”  Instead, I blurted out this nugget of nonsense:  “We’ll have more information when we get it.”  Say that out loud.  Now just send my Emmy to WRCB, and I’ll gladly accept it.

I try to avoid cliches, because they turn up on the news (local and network) an awful lot.  My co-anchor Cindy Sexton and I grimace when we hear that “officials are tight-lipped.”  In fact, we tighten our lips, to no avail.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve ended a story by saying, “The investigation is continuing,” I’d have some serious cash.  I mean, that should be obvious. We all know that cops and firefighters aren’t going to leave the scene and say, “You know what? I’m stumped.  Let’s just forget about this one and grab some lunch.”

Sometimes we trivialize death.  In the wake of a storm in Iowa, we’ll say, “Damage was extensive, but there was only one death.”  You know, to that person’s family, “only one death” is kind of a big deal.  The person started the day alive and well until that storm came, remember?

There are so many more.  When we say, “Fleischmann and Wamp are on the campaign trail,” where is that trail, exactly? Are there markings on the trees?  If we say, “canine dogs,” should we also say, “human people?”  Why do we say “a final farewell?” A farewell is final, right?

cher

(That is, unless you’re Cher on a “farewell concert tour,” because she will be on stage singing “Believe” to my great-grandchildren, I just know it.)

Some of my personal pet peeves are just that, personal.  I’m reluctant to say that someone “lost his battle with cancer.”  It is said with good intentions, but I’ve known many people who suffered from debilitating diseases.  In most of those cases, the odds of a long-term recovery were slim.  But once they passed away, I didn’t feel they “lost” at anything.  I thought they were winners for displaying courage and grace in their final weeks.  They’ll always be winners to me.

Have you ever heard about a structure that was “completely destroyed” by fire?  Can something be sort of destroyed?  Maybe destroyed just a little bit?  It’s either destroyed…or it isn’t.  Plus, we’ve told you grim details about people who were “fatally killed” or “electrocuted to death.”  Some were in a “terrible accident,”  as opposed to a “wonderful” accident, I guess.  We describe a “senseless crime” so you’ll know it wasn’t a meaningful crime.  We tell you that an injured person was taken to a “local” hospital.  Aren’t you glad the paramedics didn’t take the guy to a hospital in Utah? How about “she’s lucky to be alive?” Having witnessed the miracle of birth a couple of times, I think we’re all fortunate to be alive.

Sometimes we use a lot of words when only two will do.  Doesn’t “totally engulfed in flames” mean the same thing as “on fire?”

old_man_winter

The weather people, who ad-lib everything, let one slip occasionally too.  From the Department of Redundancy Department, they’ll say, “Currently right now in Chattanooga, it’s 71.” And instead of saying, “Old Man Winter is bringing on the white stuff,” can’t they just say that it’s going to snow?

I try to avoid “literally” and “actually.”  I’ve heard reporters say, “Police are -literally- combing the neighborhood for clues.”  That must be one big comb.  And if I tell you that “Mayor Berke -actually- just presented his budget,” isn’t that one word too many?

breaking news

Our own buzzwords have become cliches.  Remember when “Breaking News” meant something huge had just happened?  Like a major earthquake somewhere, or perhaps an explosion.  Now, the cable news channels, yapping for attention like puppies at feeding time, will trumpet their “Breaking News” banner to inform us that Justin Bieber peed in a mop bucket. I’m not making that up.

If there’s a crisis involving a child, you will be told it is “Every parent’s worst nightmare.”  How can they be sure? I know a lot of parents, and none of them have been surveyed by NBC or CNN about their worst nightmare. Former “Dateline” host Stone Phillips was parodied on “Saturday Night Live” for his constant warnings that “What you don’t know about (let’s say, muffins)…could KILL you!”

So that’s the “very latest.” (Huh?) At the end of the day, here’s the bottom line: it remains to be seen. Because only time will tell. But this much is for sure: I will have more information when I get it.

 

 

Atlanta police officers get “Happy”

July 2, 2014 at 1:21 am

Here’s a big salute to the Atlanta Police Department, for a big production of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” hit.  Chief George Turner, known to be super-serious, plays hard to get, but if you stick around until to the end…he comes around.  Enjoy!

 

Great father-daughter wedding dance in Chattanooga!

June 30, 2014 at 3:26 pm

There’s nothing like a good father-daughter dance after a wedding.  The pressure is off, the bride can relax and have some fun, and the dad can let off a little steam.  On Saturday Hannah Johnson married Kevin Brown, and the reception followed at Stratton Hall in Chattanooga.  When it was time for the father-daughter dance, I’m sure the guests expected the usual: “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra, or “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, or more recently “My Little Girl” by Tim McGraw.

But that’s not what they got!  Hannah’s dad Darrell, along with her brothers Luke, Gabriel and Jeb, cooked up a little Elvis.  Here, for your viewing pleasure is the best father-daughter wedding reception dance I’ve seen in a long time.  Share it with anyone who might enjoy a little “Viva….Las Vegas!”