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.)

Songs Casey Never Played, 3/3/79

Here’s a look at six singles from early-ish 1979 that ran into a serious headwind as they tried to get on AT40. Think I may have known about only one of them in real time, but most are worth giving more than a few spins even today.

#95. Sad Café, “Run Home Girl”
English band with Paul Young (the one who later sang “All I Need Is a Miracle,” not “Come Back and Stay”) on vocals. This is the first of their two Hot 100 appearances, already on the way down from a #71 peak. I’m definitely glad to make its acquaintance–it’s a cool, smooth ride.

#94. Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder, “Pops We Love You (A Tribute to Father)”
Sometimes mega-star power isn’t nearly enough. Berry Gordy, Sr., father of the founder of Motown Records, passed away in November of 1978. This homage to him is pleasant enough, and no doubt heartfelt, but even arguably the four single most important artists in Motown’s history couldn’t propel it past #59.

A couple of years ago I remember hearing Casey tell a story about this song on an 80s rebroadcast–I have a feeling I’m going to spend too much later today trying to research which one it was…

#89. Parliament, “Aqua Boogie”
This George Clinton joint also has a parenthetic element to its title: “A Pyschoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop.” It was the third of four #1 songs on the R&B chart for the Parliament/Funkadelic mothership. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t quite feel the jam as with “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker,” “Flash Light,” or “One Nation Under a Groove.” This was its peak, and its last week on the chart.

#85. Kate Bush, “The Man with the Child in His Eyes”
Imagine being able to write like this by the time you’re 17. Bush’s first album, The Kick Inside, had been a big hit in England for some time already when “Man” gave her her first appearance on the US charts (“Wuthering Heights” had Bubbled Under for one week the previous November). This astonishingly beautiful song would climb no higher here, though it did go Top 10 in the UK. I wish it hadn’t taken me eight more years to first hear it.

#69. Kim Carnes, “It Hurts So Bad”
Carnes had finally received a taste of success the previous summer when she and Gene Cotton recorded a duet of her song “You’re a Part of Me.” Then, her fourth album St. Vincent’s Court provided her with her first solo charting single. It would reach #56 in short order before falling off. As with “Run Home Girl” above, this is a pretty awesome song I’m sorry for not discovering sooner than 41 years after the fact…

#62. Desmond Child and Rouge, “Our Love Is Insane”
…but I can’t quite say the same for this. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, but I do wonder about the dynamics that resulted in Child getting top billing. I guess this track is okay, but the thing that stands out most to me are a couple of good, blart-y bass riffs. It would reach only #51, but please don’t cry for Child; songwriting nirvana would be on its way for him soon enough.

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…

Stereo Review In Review: February 1984

After I left for college, carving out time to comb through the newest issue of Stereo Review was definitely a part of my roughly monthly weekend trips home. This one (edit to give credit: screenshots and info are all courtesy of americanradiohistory.com) arrived during my parents’ first winter after moving ten miles north on I-75 to Florence, where they’d live the rest of their lives. What was inside?

The One and Only Frank Sinatra, by Gary Giddins
The article is accompanied by quotes from various vocal luminaries, including Mabel Mercer, Pavarotti, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Elsewhere in the issue: the magazine’s cover (which feels a little familiar) features an Al Hirschfield portrait of Sinatra, and the Chairman receives SR’s lifetime achievement award.

Compact Discs on the Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Labels, by Chris Albertson
Okay, this occupies just one page, but it’s worth separating out. CDs weren’t on my radar one whit at this moment—in fact, it was only in February of 1984 that I began avidly buying vinyl LPs—but here they come.  The first two paragraphs of Albertson’s write-up:

Among WEA’s first generation of releases: Ronstadt, Nicks, Benson, Jarreau, and Talking Heads.

Record of the Year Awards for 1983
Every February SR picked 12 Records of the Year, and about twice as many Honorable Mentions. They’re generally split half-and-half between classical and not; the non-classical picks for the year that had just past were:

Records of the Year
Michael Jackson, Thriller
Mark Knopfler, Local Hero
Susannah McCorkle, The People That You Never Get to Love
Wynton Marsalis, Think of One
The Police, Synchronicity
Richard Thompson, Hand of Kindness

If there’s anything from this issue that rings a bell today, it’s the two-page spread featuring pictures of those album covers.

Honorable Mention
Joan Baez, Very Early Joan
David Bowie, Let’s Dance
Earl Thomas Conley, Don’t Make It Easy for Me
Thomas Dolby, Blinded by Science
Bob Dylan, Infidels
Donald Fagen, The Nightfly
Liz Meyer, Once a Day
Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Love Over and Over
Graham Parker, The Real Macaw
Prince, 1999
Lou Reed, Legendary Hearts
Rolling Stones, Under Cover

I’m not going to comment, except to say it feels like there are a lot of critical darlings here.

On to what’s reviewed… I won’t include a picture of the list of reviewers each time, but there had been a few changes in personnel in the four years following last month’s January 1980 feature.

Alanna Nash had taken over the country side of things from Noel Coppage; disco reviewer Edward Buxbaum was long gone; and Mark Peel had come on board for mainstream rock. My recollection is that Peel seemed to fancy himself a provocateur.

Best of the Month
Ricky Skaggs, Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown  (AN)
Was (Not Was), Born to Laugh at Tornadoes (SS)
David Murray Octet, Murray’s Steps (CA)

Recordings of Special Merit
Rock/Pop/Country/Soul:
Junior, Inside Looking Out (PG)
Huey Lewis and the News, Sports (JV)
Rufus and Chaka Khan, Live—Stompin’ at the Savoy (PG)
The Whites, Old Familiar Feeling (AN)
X, More Fun in the New World (SS)

Jazz:
Dave Frishberg Trio, The Dave Frishberg Songbook, Volume Two (CA)
Loonis McGlohon, Loonis in London (PR)
Mark Morganelli, Live on Broadway (CA)
George Russell, Live in an American Time Spiral (CA)
The Henry Threadgill Sextet, Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket (CA)

Featured Rock/Pop/Country/Soul Reviews
John Anderson, All the People Are Talkin’ (AN)
Jennifer Holliday, Feel My Soul (PG)
Mental As Anything, Creatures of Leisure (MP)
Marty Robbins, A Lifetime of Song, 1951-1982 (AN)
Barbra Streisand, Yentl (PR)

Selected Other LPs Reviewed
Daryl Hall and John Oates, Rock ‘n Soul Part 1 (JV)
Paul McCartney, Pipes of Peace (JV)
John Cougar Mellencamp, Uh-Huh (MP absolutely strips the bark off of JCM)
Midnight Star, No Parking on the Dance Floor (CA)
Anne Murray, A Little Good News (PR)
Spyro Gyra, City Kids (MP)

Finally, a little music. Here’s a splendid cover of a Rupert Holmes track from Partners in Crime. McCorkle lost a battle with depression in 2001.

I know almost nothing of Liz Meyer: from DC, spent most of her years in Europe forging a country/bluegrass career. She died of cancer in late 2011.

And a little Aussie rock. Continuing what turned into a theme, Greedy Smith, lead vocalist in MAA’s heyday, passed away this past December.

I’m guessing there’ll be a trip back to the 70s for next month’s featured issue.

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.

Half a Lifetime Ago

There are fourteen variations on a Gregorian calendar–January 1 occurs on each day of the week in two forms (one without a Leap Day, one with). It almost always takes twenty-eight years to run through a “calendar cycle;” that is, with exceptions around most turns-of-centuries, any given date will land on each day of the week four times in any twenty-eight year span, with some version of a 5-6-11-6 pattern of years between occurrences, repeating from cycle to cycle.

Today I’m starting my third trip though a calendar cycle. I was born the Thursday after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; it’s pleasing enough to be able to say that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was #1 when I made my debut. The Top 40 from two days later has lots of names and bands recognizable even now to people roughly my age, if not quite as many memorable songs.

Twenty-eight years later, I was in my last semester in grad school, trying to find a job. The #1 song then was a cultural touchstone of sorts, I suppose: “I’m Too Sexy,” by Right Said Fred. The chart has some other notable tracks–“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”– but there’s also plenty there I wasn’t giving the slightest attention (I might be looking at you, Color Me Badd). That Thursday night, Greg and I went to a concert in the 1300+-seat Foellinger Auditorium, sitting on the south edge of the main quad at the University of Illinois. I was much more familiar with the opening act, but it was a great show from start to finish. Here are two songs we heard that night, one from each of the two acts on the bill.

According to the set list from the show, “My Wife and My Dead Wife” came at the end of the first encore. What I recall is the wholly affecting performance Hitchcock gave singing it, absolutely the most striking moment of the evening. That video I’ve embedded is pretty fun; the young woman who made it plays all three of the song’s characters.

I wish I could say I was going to a concert tonight, but the primary local opportunity is Kiss playing Rupp Arena–I could stand maybe ten minutes of that. (We’re going to see the Chieftains on Saturday, instead.) And alas, I’ve become too old to care much about what’s on the Hot 100 these days.

Expect posting to be lighter than normal for the next two-plus weeks. There’s something I’ve been wanting to try to get down in writing for a while now, so most blogging-time in the near term will be going toward that project instead. I can’t tell right now if you’ll see all, some, or none of the resulting work here eventually.