By Mike Rosso
When I was growing up, my Mom often had the radio on, usually tuned to one of the top 40 stations from one of the nearby cities.
Some of my earliest memories are formed around the pop songs and singers of that time Aretha Franklin, The Dixie Cups, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and little Stevie Wonder. Then it happened: the night I entering the Garden Theater with my big sister on a summer night in 1964, and stared at the big screen, watching the hijinks of four young British musicians with shaggy hair in glorious black and white cinematography and a great sound track.With teenaged girls screaming throughout the entire film, I knew even then, at the ripe old age of 7, that I was watching something special, something magical.
For the next few years, Beatles songs were playing non-stop on that yellow plastic radio on top of the fridge. My folks even allowed us on occasion to stack up our own records on the big hi-fi console. We’d swap out their Louis Armstrong or Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass LPs for some Motown, Bee Gees or Rolling Stones. My dad also let us listen to pop radio on our road trips. I’m sure he even liked some of it. (In fact, he’s the only 94-year-old Deadhead that I know).
In the 6th grade, I went to my first rock concert. As a reward for our dedicated service, a bunch of us crossing guards (remember those?) were bussed down to the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for a day of fun. My friends and I wandered into a big concert hall where we watched Gary Puckett and the Union Gap belt out their big hits of the day. That was over 50 years ago and I can still remember the songs they played.
Having cut my teeth so thoroughly on rock and pop music, I had a hard time relating to the classical and band music taught in the schools. My one attempt at the clarinet failed miserably. I couldn’t relate to it. If I’d had the choice, it would have been the Höfner 500/1 bass, strung left-handed, like McCartney of course. I am a lefty.
Oddly enough, it was my grandfather on my Mom’s side who put the mandolin bug in my ear. An Italian immigrant, he played the music of his home country and showed me the instrument on one of our visits to his apartment in Connecticut.
Sadly, the mandolin was not offered in the high school music classes, so I only played records and cassette tapes.
Working in that record shop also introduced me to a variety of musical genres not found on the radio – jazz, reggae, early punk – but the stuff that really lit me up was the traditional music of Ireland and the British Isles. The roots of that are likely traced to one particular night in a revelrous Irish pub in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s – The Dubliner – which still operates and hosts live traditional music every night. The house band that one evening, the Irish Tradition, had the entire room on its feet, no doubt prompted by fresh lubricants from the likes of Guinness. I’d never seen three guys, playing only traditional acoustic instruments, bring that level of energy and enthusiasm to a room.
In terms of lasting impressions, it was nearly equivalent to that night I saw A Hard Days Night. It’s easy to tap those two sources as the roots of most of my current musical interests today.
I still play the mandolin. My grandfather’s is hanging on my wall, and I like nothing more than listening to Irish fiddle tunes while sipping an adult beverage.
You might see why I am excited to put together an issue around the theme of music. The biggest problem was narrowing down the stories to just 48 pages. Four issues would do this topic much more justice.
As the tagline on the cover says; don’t we all want to start off 2017 on a better note? What follows is a beginning.
See you again in March. Cheers.