The Gospel Accordion to John & Paul: A Travelling Musician at 7, The Beatles Flipt My Script
After "The Ed Sullivan Show" aired on February 9, 1964, the 8-year-old me asked defiantly, "Mommy, none of The Beatles are playing accordion! Do I have to keep playing it?"
For some reason, Mom was enamored with Myron Floren, the accordion-playing bandleader on the ABC-TV US variety show, The Lawrence Welk Show (which ran on the network from 1955-my birth year-through 1971, after four early-’50s years on local L.A. TV).
We must’ve watched it religiously in our family home in Houston, TX, along with The Ed Sullivan Show, another wildly popular variety show which aired on Sundays on CBS.
These two monumental 20th century TV touchstones would end up playing a huge part in my early music development, and for a 6-year-old (like most of us at that age), these impactful decisions were being made for me! All of them!
Until I put my tiny foot down!
Little League Be Darned!
Floren (above) was the Rachmaninoff of the keys’n’bellows, and plied his musical wares every week on the Welk Show, for the whole country (and Mom and grandma, whom my brother, Clint, and I called “Nana”) to see.
Sometime around 1962 (I was 7), while Clint was playing Little League baseball at age 8, Mom and Nana must’ve pooled their Floren devotion, and conspired to
encourage coerce me to do as Myron Floren was doing…play accordion!
“Sure, why not?” might have been my otherwise clueless reply. “I’m not doing anything else!” I was lying: While Clint was all in on the comic book ‘Mans of the day...Super-, Bat-, Spider- and Aqua-, my best friend in comic-land was Harvey…as in Comics!
Yep, Wienie-in-the-Making was I, spending nickel after dime on Little Lotta, Li’l Devil, Richie Rich, Little Dot, Little Audrey, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Wendy the Good Little Witch…pretty much anything with a “Little” in the title, and I was hooked!
While not interested in baseball (that certainly changed in time), I was trundled down to Hatch Music School near my home in suburban southwest Houston, and introduced to my first accordion…and, started lessons…apparently weekly, if not weakly.
I enjoyed my teacher, who was thin with long, black hair. As she taught me the two-handed approach to playing the squeezebox (right hand, the keys; left hand, the bass buttons), I also learned how to read music, which I recall as having learned pretty easily and quickly. This is how I’d play any new music (like “Beer Barrel Polka,” shown above) placed in front of me: Read the notes, and reproduce them on the accordion.
I progressed quickly, and attended recitals (and won ribbons and trophies) in Enid, OK (by train) and Louisville, KY (by bus) travelling with Mom both times. Again, all this was happening in 1962 and ‘63, when I was 7 and 8 years old!
“And Now, Right Here on Our Show…”
An accomplished and travelling musician (playing before large crowds in auditoriums) before I’m in double figures! Little did I know at the time, a movement…a mania was brewing in a land across the Atlantic I had only a passing awareness of. It would blow, wide open, whatever I thought music was, how it could sound, and, most importantly, how I’d want to be a part of it forever more.
Why I didn’t want to pick up a guitar right away, I couldn’t tell you. All I knew is what I saw on Ed Sullivan was so transcendent and enlightening, I wondered why no accordion was used in the making of it. Because none was, I knew I wanted an immediate separation from what I now perceived as far from “hip” or “happening” as possible, even if I didn’t know what those words meant quite yet.
I can’t remember trying to verbalize what I had just witnessed to either parent, and I’m sure I couldn’t have come up with the proper words, anyway, to do my feelings justice. All I knew to say was: “Mommy, I don’t want to play accordion anymore. I didn’t see any of The Beatles playing one!”
Somewhat surprisingly, they allowed me to quit. I think they felt my passion toward this new music, plus they imagined the futile folly it would be to force me to continue.
Dad (with a job at the Houston CBS-Radio affiliate) proceeded to bring home the promo version of each new Beatles album (as it was released) from the station, courtesy of Capitol Records. In the upper right-hand corner of each jacket would be stamped “PROMO” in tiny holes, like a mini-machine gun had rat-a-tatted it!👇
Visits to the grocery store with Mom, plus bike rides to the 7-11 down the street allowed me regular access to Flip, Tiger Beat, and 16 Magazines, all of which kept me up-to-date (and doubtless influenced my burgeoning writing style in countless ways!—and, filled my walls with pin-ups) on The Fab Four, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Dave Clark 5, Herman’s Hermits, and all the other British Invasion-eers!
Somehow, and from somewhere I don’t recall (most likely from the back of magazines—I loved getting stuff in the mail!), I managed to score my very own Beatle boots, Paul Revere three-cornered felt hat, and other memorabilia items I wish I still had nearly six decades later!
Sometime around 1967, when I was 12 and in (what we called then) junior high, I sat behind the Houston chapter president of The Monkees Fan Club, a Miss Jan Castleberry. From her, I obtained my official Fan Club Membership Card, as well as an Official Mickey Dolenz orange button (about 2” in diameter) which featured a lock of his hair!
While this explains how most got their buttons (and, I may have, too), I seem to recall getting my Dolenz one from Jan. Regardless, I sold it on eBay around the turn of the century. I found one online (on a brick-and-mortar auction site page), but the photo and its web page couldn’t be copied and pasted. This will have to suffice to give you an idea:
Back to My Personal Musical Journey
After an impossible-to-believe “other lifetime” of being a 2nd- and 3rd-grade “accordion wizard,” lugging around a dozen-pound squeezebox, The Beatles, as they had done to (and for) hundreds of millions of kids around the globe, changed how I heard, and felt about music…and, it happened a month away from my 9th birthday.
Another British band (and one particular main player within) influenced me to pick up my second musical instrument. Dad got me comped floor seats to “An Evening with Led Zeppelin” at the University of Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion, March 29, 1970, two weeks after I turned 15 (see that show’s setlist here). Did I take up the guitar after seeing Jimmy Page shred in person? Nope.
Dad had gotten into the “habit” of bringing home promo Warner Bros. Records every week (he was into jazz, and gave me all the rock)! Right around that same time, I had the first two Jethro Tull albums (This Was, Stand Up, and three weeks after the Zeppelin show, Benefit).
Just as kids my age at the time picked up Les Pauls at their first exposures to Page, Clapton, Beck, and Hendrix, I became transfixed by the sound of Tull lead singer, Ian Anderson’s flute! I acted fast…now that I was old enough to make my own musical instrument decisions, I couldn’t wait! I rented a student flute, took one lesson to learn the fingering and embouchure, and proceeded to learn Ian’s licks off the records…yep, including this one:
It wasn’t long before I returned the rental, and found myself a decent basic Gemeinhardt, and continued to learn Anderson flute licks, completely by ear, as each new Tull album came out, with something that looked like this:
It wasn’t until the late ‘80s that I decided to splurge, and upgrade to a French model (open hole), B-foot, concert-grade mega-flute with a gold-plated mouthpiece!
Just half a decade after one British band prompted me to jettison my 12-pound accordion, another one inspired me to pick up an instrument that couldn’t even reach a pound! But, it felt good to finally find an instrument I could play with my heart.