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Music’s been a part of my life from the word Go. Some of my earliest memories are of being in the kitchen with my mom, singing leads while she sang the harmonies. I bargained with my parents to be very quiet during the sermons so that I could go to church service and sing harmonies to the hymns instead of going to Sunday school. When I was about 6 years old my folks got me a red and white toy accordion for Christmas—eight buttons on the right side and two or three pairs of chord buttons on the left. I was able to pick out tunes on the right side, and my parents got so excited that when a door-to-door accordion-lesson salesman came to our door a few weeks later (they were common in the 50s) he had the easiest sale of his career. Thus was I enrolled at the Fisher Accordion Studio in Sacramento, where I learned to read music and play a “real” accordion with piano keys on the right side. Pictures of my accordion class grace our music studio and I still have my little khaki accordion hat with all my achievement medals. But most of all, I still have my beautiful white pearl Crucianelli 120-bass accordion that my parents scrimped to buy me when I was 8. Needless to say, my early music hero was Myron Florin.
When I was 10 we moved to upstate New York and my music experience took a new direction. My new friends Bonnie and Sandy played French and baritone horns in the school band. They really needed a third horn player to cover all the parts. So I started playing brass instruments and learning to work in bands. New York State is big on school band competitions. I vividly remember earning my medal for solo performance at the State band competition, playing Bach’s “Sleepers Wake” on the baritone horn. First time I’d worked with an accompanist. Years of playing in marching bands left me with an uncanny ability to maintain my embouchure while I walk.
The folk music craze surfaced while I was in high school. I bought records by the Kingston Trio and other new folks groups, and from reading the liner notes started checking records of the Weavers, Odetta, Harry Belefonte, Leadbelly, and Miriam Makeba out of the library. We moved to Italy during my junior year, where librarian and teacher friends introduced me to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. In no time I had browbeaten my parents into buying me a little Stella six-string guitar and a book of chords. The string action was so high that my fingers bled a lot, but I soon was able to accompany myself on enough songs to start performing as a Baez clone. I spent my first 2 years of college in Munich, a hotbed of music in Europe during the 60s. The Germans were especially fond of American blues and bluegrass. I was able to see blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf, Willy Dixon, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and meet the New Lost City Ramblers and the Stanley Brothers. Inspired by Leadbelly and other 12-string guitar players, I bought a Framus 12-string guitar at the huge music store in Munich and started learning to fingerpick. I performed in folk duos and jugbands in the Munich area during those years and saw a lot of great street music, such as skiffle bands from England.
I was back in the US for a few years when I decided to learn old timey fiddle. Someone recommended a teacher named Denny Hall, who quickly steered me away from old timey into Irish music. He leaned on me to try button accordion instead of fiddle and then started putting exotic things like bouzoukis and citterns into my hands. Pretty soon we were married and I was playing in a succession of bands that played celtic, English, and European folk music. After being exposed to hurdy gurdies and French music at a great music camp in Mendocino I was fortunate enough to acquire an 1852 Pajot French hurdy gurdy and pretty much introduced the instrument to the Puget Sound area in the French country-dance band we had for 8 years. I was lucky enough to be able to study with great players Arrigo D’Albert and the late Pierre Imbert.
As Denny’s song writing escalated and moved into old-style bluesy material and slide guitar, I found myself playing cornet, mandolin, tenor banjo, and button accordion in new bands with him and Billy Blue and other fine musicians. My retirement present to myself, an E-flat tuba, fit right in to the juke-joint and Salvation Army sounds. I look back now and can’t believe the range of music that I’ve been fortunate enough to play and the wonderful musicians I’ve know. I can’t think of a better way to spend a life, and new opportunities open up every day.