From The Archives: Kay

Kathryn “Kay” Louise Ellis Lutz was born this day 100 years ago in Evansville, IN, the second and final child of Oscar and Mabel Ellis. Her father worked for a veneer company; her mother stayed at home, tending to Kathryn and her older brother Errett, eight years her senior. Oscar’s job involved occasional travel, including to New York City. He loved to sing, and regularly brought home sheet music, much of which we still have in a box in our coat closet. 

In 1920s Evansville, one could begin school in January, and that’s what Kathryn did just before she turned six. Soon after the Great Depression hit, her family moved east, back to her parents’ hometown of New Albany, IN, right across the river from Louisville. Faced with a choice of moving up or back a half-grade, Kay and/or her parents chose the aggressive path, making her likely the youngest member of the New Albany High School Class of 1937. It was in high school that she became Kay—a number of her friends all took on nicknames, and hers was one of the few that stuck over the years. Her senior year was eventful enough: she was elected class Secretary; she became an aunt in September; and the Great ’37 Flood of the Ohio River arrived in January.

After graduating, Kay moved to Muncie, IN, to attend Ball State Teachers College, then an institution of a little over one thousand students, well over 60% of which were female. To save on expenses, her parents soon moved to Muncie as well (her father’s job didn’t require him to live in any particular spot). She took coursework that would allow her to teach business and English.

Tragedy struck during her junior year; back home, Errett died of an infection, leaving behind his wife Helen and three-year-old son Keith. Helen would remarry within a few years and have another son, David. 

The Ellises returned to New Albany upon Kay’s graduation in 1941, and she taught junior high English for one year. The following year, a swelling war effort led to the family moving to Hampton, SC, about eighty miles inland from Charleston; Kay worked in the furniture company’s office, alongside her father. She joined the USO and would occasionally take bus rides to visit the soldiers guarding a nearby German POW camp, even dating one for a while.

Right before Christmas 1945, Oscar died suddenly. Mabel and Kay would move once again to New Albany before long, Mabel going back to office work, as she had prior to marriage, and Kay returning to teaching, this time business, typing, and shorthand at the high school (she also sponsored the cheerleaders). Together, they bought a small house on Meadow Lane.

And so it went for a decade or more, until Austin Lutz waltzed (or, more accurately, do-si-doed) into Kay’s life. Square dancing dates led to love led to marriage two days after Christmas, 1958. Kay and Austin bought the house next door to Kay’s mother; she “retired” from education at the end of the school year. Mabel stayed next door until her death in 1969.

Since she’d married relatively late in life, motherhood hadn’t really been a part of Kay’s plan. Yet she found herself expecting at the age of 41, eventually discovering she was eating for three. She was an attentive, actively-involved mother to Martha and Ruth, serving in leadership roles for Girl Scouts and church youth group.

Martha, Kay, Ruth

Meanwhile, she maintained wide and varying circles of friends and relatives, close and distant. She stayed close with several high school classmates; she and Austin remained very involved in their square dancing group; Kay had joined one of the local chapters of the social sorority Beta Sigma Phi before marrying, and kept her membership throughout the decades; she played a central role in the New Albany High School Alumni Association, which got its start from a gift memorizing one of her classmates; she was a beloved teacher who ran into former students regularly when out and about (and worked side-by-side with many on their children’s activities, as a number of them had children the same age as hers).

Kay was a very spry 75 when I met her, soon after Martha and I began dating. She was always gracious, always kind, even while beating me at a card game called hand-and-foot (a melding game played with multiple decks of cards, not unlike canasta in some respects—she and Austin would play it many evenings). Her favorite saying after drawing just the right card was “Hot pups!”

Kay had an infectious smile and was very good at making everyone feel welcome, even special. She became ‘Grandmama’ in 2000, and excelled in that role—Ben was incredibly fond of her. 

Austin died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. It was a difficult adjustment, but she’d had experience managing things prior to marriage. While she slowed down a little over the years, Kay maintained remarkably good health and was active, particularly at Central Christian Church, until her last few months, just as her husband had been. Cancer, discovered around Memorial Day weekend of 2011, led to surgery, which in turn led to a nursing home; from then until late October, Martha and Ruth took turns going to New Albany, a week at a time. I know it’s not how she wanted things to go.

We spent time over the next year-plus sorting through the house on Meadow Lane—Kay had never gotten around to downsizing.  It took a while figuring out what to keep, what to give away, and what to discard (the fate of the fifty-year-old upright freezer in the basement is a story unto itself). About the time it was ready for sale, the young family next door—living in the house that Kay and her mother had purchased so many years earlier—indicated interest. They had been friendly and attentive to Kay in her final years, so we hoped things would work out. They did, and it all came together when the woman’s mother agreed to buy their house to live next door. It was immensely satisfying to see history repeating itself. I know Kay would have given her blessing.

(You can find a similar article I wrote about Austin two-and-a-half years ago here.)

Whenever One Door Closes

The first photo of me with my mother, ca. March 1964.

Which drew my attention first: Glen Campbell or Anne Murray? “Country Boy” or “Shadows in the Moonlight?”

I’m standing in the hallway around the corner, twenty feet from her room, taking a short break—maybe I’m on the phone with my wife or my sister. There’s another doorway right in front of me. On the other side of the threshold, a radio belonging to a wheelchair-bound woman with dementia is playing country songs that were popular back when she could hold on to her memories. She must be quite hard of hearing as well, since the aides are keeping the music turned up LOUD for her about ten hours every day.

Mom’s been at Dover Manor for a few days, and she’s still thoroughly angry with me. Before long, she’ll move three doors down the hall, on the other side of the blaring radio, to a corner room in the front of the building, one of the only singles in the whole place. Its previous resident has just passed on.

I head back to her current room. Her roommate’s TV is tuned into the Hallmark Channel—it’s the second week of December, time for one feel-good Christmas movie after another—but Mom isn’t the slightest bit interested. 

Continue reading “Whenever One Door Closes”

I Only Like Dreaming All The Day Long

On Wednesday evening, while Martha and I were walking the dog, my high school friend Bill texted me a pleasant surprise:

That would be 19-year-old yours truly, hanging out in 220 Clay Hall, sometime in his freshman spring semester, 1983 (that’s probably about as big as I ever let my hair grow out, by the way). Bill and Tony, another HS classmate, drove down to visit me a couple of times that year, and clearly Bill brought a camera with him once. The photo, charming as it is, was re-discovered this week by Bill’s mom. I’d long forgotten how full the walls around my bed were that year. The two laminated posters to my left had been HS graduation gifts from yet another classmate (if you squint, perhaps you can tell the lower one is a Ziggy poster; she was a big fan). Was I busy with calculus HW, or my research paper on Sikhism? I don’t know, but note the clear evidence that I used a dictionary at least once while in college!

Then yesterday on the way to work, I heard a song on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave that also took me back to that room, right around this time of year. Men at Work’s “Be Good Johnny” was never released as a third single from Business As Usual here in the U.S, but TM Stereo Rock, the vendor supplying WLAP-FM’s automated playlist, added it for a few weeks anyway. I assume that the label decided against putting it out after recognizing that Cargo was almost ready to go? Granted, “Overkill” is easily Men at Work’s best single, but in the alternative world that resides in my head, “Be Good Johnny” peaked at #24 on the Hot 100 just as “Overkill” made its debut in mid-April…

Another Round of Jan/Feb Charts

I’ve been waiting for another critical mass of shows from the charting years to get selected by Premiere before doing another of these posts; we’ve now reached that point. This one begins with the eighth week in a row for the one-two punch of ON-J and Foreigner.

Hello/Goodbye: First go-rounds on this chart for one-hit wonders Eddie Schwartz and Bertie Higgins.

As for my faves, it’s a rare instance of two non-Top 40 hits scaling the heights:

Both “Lunatic Fringe” and “Magic Power” got a lot of play on WEBN, Cincy’s primary AOR station, and I couldn’t really get enough of either. Red Rider is at their peak, while Triumph would nudge one spot higher.

Next, it’s early February 1977. WSAI moved AT40 from Sunday night to Sunday morning with this show, meaning I’d have to get my fix some other way. Fortunately, this was right around the time I discovered WLAP-AM in Lexington was running it on Saturday evenings.

Hello/Goodbye: It’s both for the Henhouse Five Plus Too, as this was their only week on the show (I was a mite high on “In the Mood,” wouldn’t you say?); even if you count it as a Ray Stevens single, it’s still a see-you-later. And we’re getting formally introduced to Kansas.

On to the two shows rebroadcast this past weekend. My wife and I came close to barfing over the Paul Anka LDD, but I’m sorry that I missed the other one forty years ago: the excellent “Just You and I” by Melissa Manchester (the backstory for the dedication wasn’t half-bad, either). Went one-for-two on picks; I like that Streisand piece fairly well, and “Flirtin’ with Disaster” was definitely a fave in my social circle. That song from “Two Years Ago” will be surfacing again momentarily.

Hello/Goodbye: Ray, Goodman and Brown don’t really count as a hello, since they’d hit three times previously as the Moments. We are bidding farewell to late, great John Stewart, however.

Lastly, a show of personal significance. By this time I had been regularly tuning into WLAP-AM for about a year.

Forty-two years ago tonight was the first time I stuck a tape recorder in front of my radio to record a show. A big chunk of it is on this beauty of a tape:

I have two 90-minute and one 60-minute Certrons (the 60-minute has orange bands instead of blue). That evening I stopped recording after #11; what tape remained was used three months later, on the 5/20/78 show (in a coincidence, “Our Love” was #35 on that countdown, too).

I listened to the tapes for these (partial) shows a number of times during the high school years. Certain things came back to me while hearing the February show again this past weekend: being told that TP and the Heartbreakers were regarded as one of the best new bands in years; Casey saying they’d look up how many Sam Cooke remakes had charted recently as “(What a) Wonderful World” ended; the question about triple albums hitting #1.

Other memories are particular to the tape itself. My tape player had a small knob on top that you could toggle to pause during recording–this allowed me to avoid recording commercials without hitting stop. But my reaction time was a little slow when the show would come back, so there are several instances of hearing only “…Forty” at the beginning of segments. Also: WLAP-AM was a CBS affiliate at the time. Near the start of the second hour, someone in the studio accidentally fired up a blurb for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater; we get a speaker’s sinister intonations naming the show and a few seconds of a creaking door on top of “Happy Anniversary” before whoever goofed catches their mistake. It’s going to be awhile again now before I’ll hear that song in my head the normal way.

Hello/Goodbye: Waving howdy to Petty and company (the third time in this post we’ve got a song peaking at #40), and so long to War.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/2/85: Midnight Star, “Operator”

My schedule during the spring term of my junior year at Transy included three math classes (one of which double-counted toward my CS major), an intro course in microeconomics, and U.S. National Government. The last of these was my second foray into the realm of political science; for a short while, I considered trying to squeeze in a poli-sci minor. Even though I have no talent or inclination in that direction, I still follow national politics all too closely, and local stuff to a lesser extent.

The Government course was a good one. The professor was often gruff, a curmudgeon-in-waiting, but honestly I liked him (he’s still at Transy, one of maybe three faculty remaining from my day). He had us purchase a couple of textbooks, but there were also readings on reserve in the library, including most of another book. I was actually faithful about going through the reserve materials. I have no idea now what book that was (I’ve retained syllabi from many of my college classes, though apparently not this one), but it must have included an analysis of the nation’s political landscape of the day. The author’s prediction for the coming decades: a decided shift to the right. I’ve thought about this with some frequency over the years; on the whole, he hasn’t been wrong.

There are other things I associate with that class. It’s where I first met my good friend Judy, then a first-year student. The second exam was postponed when classes got cancelled due to snow, the only time school was called off during my four years there–it also happened to be my 21st birthday. And after the term ended, the professor sent me a letter through campus mail. I don’t imagine I was unique in hearing from him in this manner, but it was definitely tailored to me.

I appreciate his kind words, but this pokes at me, bringing to the surface again a nagging feeling of inadequacy, of not contributing enough, of not realizing potential, that I don’t ever really shake.

The songs on this show became one of the collections I assembled for our iPod well over a decade ago. The one that comes next in chronological order is 5/18, fifteen weeks later. In between these two dates were the entire Top 40 runs of “One More Night” and “Material Girl,” songs that peaked at #1 and #2, respectively. It’s a reminder to me that by the mid 80s, the average stay on the show for the biggest hits was down from the tail end of the Bill Wardlaw years.

For a musical selection, let’s get a little funky. Midnight Star got its start just down the road from me, at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. They had several Top 10 hits on the R&B chart, but only one of their seven trips to the Hot 100 resulted in a song Casey played. I wouldn’t call “Operator” their most memorable cut, but it’s the one that broke through, sitting at its peak of #18.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/16/82: The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”

I don’t think I’m obsessive about it, but I do pay attention to the weather. At my wedding, Greg joked during his best man’s toast about how often I had the TV tuned to the Weather Channel the year we roomed together (he wasn’t entirely wrong). And looking back, I can think of more than a few posts where I’ve made a point of referencing the outdoor conditions that I think existed when recalling various memories.

Perhaps the peak of my weather-watching ways was the first two-and-a-half months of 1982. Every day, I’d check high and low temps, as well as precipitation info, in the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer. I believe this info came from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG), located maybe fifteen miles north of our house in Walton. I then appended my own impression of the day just past. Here’s a look at a big chunk of January:

When I came back across this a few years ago, I was a little surprised by how cold it had gotten that winter (there was another night well below zero in mid-February). Granted, I live sixty-ish miles south of CVG these days, but I haven’t experienced frequent bouts of cold like this in a long while. I’m pretty sure that “normal” today isn’t anything like the above ranges, either.

Looking at this sheet shakes loose a couple of memories. I think it was the night of Friday, January 8 that three friends and I had a memorable evening of late-night bowling in Florence (bowling was a very frequent weekend activity in my circle during our senior year of high school). When the center closed down at 2am, we elected not to head home but instead went to an apartment close by, where our driver’s older sister lived (I guess I’d used a pay phone earlier in the evening to give my parents a heads-up). She wasn’t there when we arrived, but my friend had a key to let us in. We hadn’t been settled for very long when sis came home. Let’s just say that any plans she and the guy with her had didn’t pan out, since for whatever reason we wound up staying. I don’t imagine that I heard any details of the ensuing conversation between my friend and his sister. What makes me think it was this particular weekend is the image I have of snow flying in the air as we drove home once the sun came up.

On a different note, I love foggy weather. Everything has a radically different feel to it–places you know become all kinds of mysterious, and you truly don’t know what’s just around the bend. I especially enjoy walking around on a foggy evening (driving at night in the soup is a completely different matter). I distinctly remember those three fog-filled days of the 19th through 21st, with the remains of recent snowfalls still hanging on as temps oscillated around the freezing mark.

Like with so many other projects, I gave up on weather-tracking after a while. The last entry is from March 15th.

A few weeks ago I was rummaging through my collection of cassettes that we’ve stowed away in a cabinet in our basement. Several of them caught my eye, but one in particular is germane at this moment:

I had a combo alarm clock/radio/tape recorder then. It appears I had nothing better to do that Sunday, arguably the coldest day of the year, than to sit in my bedroom with the radio and push record when a song I liked showed up. I know you’re anxious to find out what’s on it. Turns out I filled up only one side this way:

10cc, “I’m Not in Love” (LP version)
Atlanta Rhythm Section, “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight”
Diesel, “Sausalito Summernight”
(single edit)
Mike Post featuring Larry Carlton, “Theme from ‘Hill Street Blues'”
Leo Sayer, “Living in a Fantasy”
Greg Lake, “Let Me Love You Once”
The Miracles, “Love Machine (Pt. 1)”
The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”

Love the 10cc, the Diesel, and the Sayer still (gotta admit I think “Living in a Fantasy” is criminally underrated). The Lake piece, full of all-too-familiar early 80s male bravado, was sitting at #61 at the time, just down from its #48 peak. “Our Lips Are Sealed” was literally my favorite song right then, hanging out at #1 on this week’s Harris Top 50. It’s at #31 on the real thing, its last on the countdown, having peaked at #20.

The Go-Go’s finish before I run out of tape, and it becomes evident that I’ve recorded over something. We get to hear most of an ad for a big promotion being run by WYYS, Yes 95, which spent a good portion of 1980-81 trying without success to break WKRQ’s stranglehold on the Cincinnati Top 40 market. They were giving away a cool half-million; my best recollection is that the contest ran in the fall of 1980. There’s supporting evidence for this claim after the ad wraps up, as we get about thirty seconds of ELO’s “All Over the World” before the side ends.

Side two might just be my first attempt at creating a mixtape from my vinyl collection, though it must have been recorded several months later. It’s a much more AOR-dominated affair.

The Sherbs, “No Turning Back”
Foreigner, “Night Life”
Journey, “Feelin’ That Way/Anytime”
Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure”
Little River Band, “Man on Your Mind”
Electric Light Orchestra, “Confusion”

This time at the end, I find a snippet–just a very few seconds long–that’s both tantalizing and frustrating: the outro as one of the first three hours of an American Top 40 show comes to a close. My guess is that this is also from the fall of 1980; definitely bummed that I recorded over it.

Beauty and the Beat is another album whose tracks I’m tempted to rank, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. All I’ll say right now is that I’ve always strongly preferred its first single over its second.

WKRQ’s Top 102 of 1979

Forty years ago today, I had my ear mostly glued to the radio, writing down WKRQ’s annual countdown of its Top 102 of the year just ended. I have two other such compilations, summarizing the state of Cincinnati pop hit radio according to Q102 in 1981 and 1982 (the latter of which I posted here two years ago). Looks like my sister took over record-keeping for songs #30 through #24 on this one.

Some interesting differences between the local and national scenes back then. Top 10 hits according to Billboard I don’t see here: “Music Box Dancer,” “Just When I Needed You Most,” “Every 1’s a Winner,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “I Want Your Love,” “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “In the Navy,” “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, “Makin’ It,” “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough,” “Pop Muzik,” “Please Don’t Go,” and “You’re Only Lonely.” I can’t know, but I’m willing to believe that “Too Much Heaven,” “YMCA,” and “My Life” had all appeared on Q102’s 78 recap.

I see just three non-AT40 cuts here:
#71: Led Zep never released “All My Love” as a single, but Q102 joined stations nationwide in giving it lots and lots of play;
#89: “I’ll Supply the Love,” Toto’s follow-up to “Hold the Line,” topped out at #45 on the Hot 100 in late March;
#94: That’s not a mistake–you can find Robert Palmer at #45. “Bad Case of Watchin’ You” was an in-house parody about a local sportscaster who’d recently landed in Cincy. Chris “Zip” Rzeppa gained notoriety quickly at WLWT, the city’s NBC affiliate, with an enthusiastic and idiosyncratic delivery of scores and other sports-related miscellanea. Q102 intuited an opportunity to cash in: just replace “Doctor, Doctor” with “Zip Rzeppa,” and you’re already halfway to a regional novelty hit. I’m distraught, but not surprised, that no copy has made its way to YouTube (I doubt a physical single was ever released to the public). However, I did find the awful “Ballad of the Bengals,” something that Rzeppa recorded as the local NFL franchise was advancing toward its first Super Bowl in early 82.

Rzeppa, a Boston University alum with a couple of classmates who went on to much more notable media careers (so says Wikipedia), didn’t stay in Cincy too much longer; the bulk of his sportscasting career was spent in St. Louis. He’s now a motivational speaker and Catholic evangelist.