Growing up, my parents had an extraordinary rumpus room in the basement. It had all the amenities any self-respecting young hip couple could want: There was a bar, a dart board, modern lighting. It had a plenty of cushioned chairs, a refrigerator, and a clock that had all 5’s on it with the words “Happy hour starts at five o’clock” printed on it’s face.
Of all the cool things this room had, to me the thing that stands out the most was the stereo, or as my father used to call it, the “hi-fi”. He had built the speakers into bench seating that surrounded the room and the stereo itself was tucked away on custom shelves out of sight. As a kid, I couldn’t always tell where the sound was coming from but boy was it loud!
At a very young age, my brother, sister and I would spend hours in the basement with him listening to music. He loved orchestral sounds. I can recall dancing around the room in a mock parade to the 1812 overture. We’d cheer with delight when the cannons went off! We heard other things too: Jazz and Big Band favorites, movie soundtracks and musicals.
I can remember beginning to get a picture of how important music was to him. For me, I’m pretty sure the foundations were being laid for my life-long love affair with music.
My dad the audiophile:
My parents split when I was around eight or nine. As a young teenager I reconnected with my father. To say music provided some sort of glue between us would be an understatement. At that age I think our entire relationship was based on it.
While most of my friends families seemed content with a cheap stereo from the local store and a handful of records to go along with it, my father was busy developing an amazing audio system. Over the years he amassed quite a record colletion and was a member of several stereo clubs. Only the best sounding gear was good enough. Names like McIntosh or David Hafler were not uncommon in conversations we had. Every time I would visit him there would be some awesome new component or gadget that made everything sound even better than the last time.
To me this seemed so cool. I began to wonder what my music could one day sound like on a system like that. In my world, music was everything and apparantly in my father’s too!
I already had a keen interest in music by the time I reached my mid teens. I was forming my first bands and beginning to write and perfom my own songs. I had an Ampeg tube amplifier head a friend gave me. It was old, musty and rusty. I can still remember the smell of something burning when I turned it on. The only problem was, I had had no speaker cabinet to go along with it. I was thrilled when my father offered to help me build one!
I remember having only two requirements: It had to be big and it had to be loud! I was amazed by how much he seemed to know about speaker design. He drew up the plans, bought the materials and after a couple of weeks work; we ended up putting together one kick ass cabinet. It was four feet tall, complete with two 12-inch speakers, a tuned port, black tolex covering and those awesome chrome corners you see on “professional” gear. When I plugged the old amp into it this thing screamed!
What a cool thing that was. While he didn’t necessarily “dig” the kind of music I wanted to make, he helped me put together a speaker cabinet to make that very music AND it lasted years.
After I got my driver’s license, I used to bring musician friends to my father’s place on the weekends. We would hang out with him, listening to and talking about music incessantly. It got to a point where this was the “thing” to do on a Friday night.
We used to bring our favorite records to play them on the big stereo. Everything sounded so much better on his system. My friends seemed in awe of it.
My father’s enthusiasm for music was no longer only my secret. It was now being shared with musical friends AND it was infectious. We were inspired to try and make the most exciting music we could every time we left there.
All that Jazz:
While he didn’t play an instrument, my father had a keen understanding of musical arrangement and instrumentation. He seemed to hear the whole of a piece of music AND the different parts that make it up. He knew his strings from his brass and his woodwinds from his percussion.
When I was young and we would see a live performance, he would teach me identify the sounds of the different instruments. I was awestruck by this and by people who played them. Each player seemed to be identified by and connected to their instrument in some way. I wanted so much to be one of these people when I grew up.
I remember him turning me on to Dave Brubek and Claude Bolling. Jazz was another favorite sound of his.
One time he took me to visit a friend who played banjo in a local Dixieland band. Walking into this guy’s house was amazing. There were so many instruments! Guitars, basses, banjos, keyboards, you name it. He was quite a good player and seemed to have an endless knowledge of music theory. We kibitzed for hours. I felt like one of the grownups. I felt like a musician! I remember thinking this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.