Wednesday, September 28, 2011

1956 -- A Very Good Year

It started May 17th, 55 years ago in 1956. The year I fell in love with Rock and Roll.

The week after my brother Allan died, I stayed with my Aunt Evy and her friend Jane. Aunt Evy used to take me to the haunts, bars really, that she and her girlfriends frequented. She would be telling the barkeep about Allan's death while keeping me busy playing the jukebox with nickels she gave me.

I found such joy and freedom that week; it never left me. I could get a 'play' for 5 cents, 3 for a dime and 5 for a quarter. It may have been something like 12 for a 50-cent piece. Rock Island Line (by Bobby Darin, I think), Tutti Frutti (Little Richard), Boney Marone, Hound Dog, Rock Around the Clock and many others quickly became my favorites. For only 9 years old, I was quite the Rock 'n' Roll fan.

Very soon, I began playing Dion songs on the piano and two years later, when my brother Stevie gave me a plastic ukulele for Christmas, I was off and running; playing songs by Eddie Cochran, like Summertime Blues and C'mon Everybody.

The following year's summer, when I went to camp, I heard a big, country style guitar around the campfire. I can still remember the brilliance of the strings and the richness of the tones. It must have been a quality guitar with new strings, as I look back. But that was the beginning of my non-stop love affair with guitars. I had spent my childhood playing the piano, which I felt was the most beautiful instrument, until that night around the campfire.


  1. You lost a brother? Oh, dear Ken. I had no idea.

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth. Although I don't allude to it much in this story, it left a huge hole in me. Somehow, the Rock and Roll of the mid-fifties saved me. (one way to put it, anyhow) The joy and energy from the music of that time was so seductive and powerful, I became immersed in it and find myself still in it's arms all these years later.

  3. We have a lot of parallels in our lives. Our mutual love of guitar, rock and roll and blues to mention three. But also, my maternal grandfather Bill Knorr, whom I lived with until almost age 5, was my best friend, guardian, and something of an instigator, too. He'd occasionally have to go into town, and often brought me along.

    After whatever business needed doing was done, we'd stop at a favorite haunt. I think it was called The Silver Pail. He'd have a few "barley pops" and shoot the breeze with the bartender.

    To keep me placated, the bartender used to give me a handful of nickels, and set me free on the jukebox. I probably couldn't actually "read", per se, but could make out enough that I knew "Elvis" and a few others, like Patti Page, and I don't know who else.

    Then, they would give a little glass, like a small juice glass size, of the golden foamy stuff, which I actually learned to love in quite short order. And to stay in my grandpa's good graces, "mum" was the word, lest grandma go ballistic when we got home. It wasn't like he got me drunk, but I remember he always had gum!

    The first time I knew about your brother Allan, I believe, was the first time I read this article. I can feel your pain, as grandpa Knorr passed the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, followed a few short months later by JFK. And like the old cliche, I think The Beatles, et al, breaking thru kept my chin up, so to speak.

    Great article and the memories it spawned!