I quit playing music professionally in 1978. That’s when I foolishly left my home turf in the Garden State to relocate and start a new life in the Golden State. After settling down in Thousand Oaks, CA I spent little time picking my guitar, plinking my keyboard, or writing new songs. Why should I? I had disbanded the KountryKings and had no desire to renew the sordid life of the musician in California. I went back to school and became a teacher. A special education teacher at that.
I played and sang for my students. That was gratifying enough. I listened to the local country music station and found that the music I loved had decayed into something ugly. Cookie cutter music and cookie cutter soloists and groups. To “make it” you had to sound like someone else who was already established by the rich or getting rich producers in Nashville.
Years passed and my only musical outlet was singing in church. I loved to sing the old hymns my daddy used to sing. I became part of the praise team and used my fading tenor voice to worship my Creator and His Son. I enjoyed singing with two or three others every Sunday. In time, I started writing again. This time, praise songs. When I sang in church, especially with some of the lovely voiced ladies, the songs were recorded on cassette. One of my songs became part of a Christmas CD that the church produced and sold.
In 2008, I left the U.S. for good to continue some mission work the church had helped me to fall in love with. I moved to a small town in El Salvador where I only partly knew some of the regular songs sung at our church. Music in a foreign language with different rhythms isn’t easy, especially when you haven’t really followed music in decades. So, once the novelty of my yodelling or renditions of some rock tunes wore out, my guitar stayed in its case. My cassettes remained in their little cases. My voice took a much needed rest. The church band had grown in number, in instrumentation, and in volume to the point where I couldn’t hear my own voice above the din…so I stopped singing altogether.
Currently I’m very retired. I’m married to a lovely Christian woman who sings off key but fills the house with alabanzas, praise songs in Spanish. When I could download videos from YouTube I put some of my favorite songs from dead country singers on my laptop. I’ve also downloaded mp3 songs from various genres which I rarely listen to. I have been down on music. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t make my living at it anymore, because it’s changed so much and I haven’t, or if like so many things in later life, playing, singing, and composing just got old.
I’m about to turn 76. I’ve got time on my hands. I’ve been playing at making videos to put on YouTube about my life here in El Salvador in hope that my family will get some idea of how I live. I also like to keep my missionary friends abreast of our church’s progress. My third audience is made up of Salvadorans in the U.S. They love to see the familiar sites, traditional fiestas, church celebrations, and faces of their families and friends. That’s the most fun. I’ve learned to put background music to my videos. I’ve also learned to use photos to go with a song. I have an audio program that lets me record a song then lay other tracks for harmony and/or more instrumentation. (I now only have two guitars and an autoharp.) I’m enjoying learning how to use the audio program and coordinate it with videos. In fact, I edited one of my movies by removing the melody track and replacing it with a “trio” of yours truly. Needs work but not bad for a beginner. I also have to get the occasional squeal out of it.
My chest of cassette drawers has been in a corner behind my desk gathering dust for years, my Sony boom box recorder and player sitting on top of it. I cleaned out the corner today and rearranged it for easy access. I even played some of the cassettes. A couple weren’t labeled. I found a treasure of decent quality music with my church friends and with one incarnation of the KountryKings. I can’t wait to do something with all this newly found treasure.
Tonight is our church’s end-of-year service. For whatever reason, the head deacon asked me to sing a couple of Christmas carols. We sing carols throughout the last couple of weeks of the year. I said I would and immediately regretted it. I haven’t sung a carol in English in years and despite what they say about long-term memory, I couldn’t keep the verses of “Silent Night” in order or figure the chord progression to “O Holy Night” despite having sung them and played them since childhood. I listened to an mp3 of “Light of the Stable” I had sung with two of my favorite female singers. Not many words. Too tough a task for me. I was ready to call in sick.
Then the light bulb came on. Why not take the laptop to church and it could be my backup band with vocal support. I can play the two numbers I’ve made for YouTube videos and sing along with them. I’ve got “Silent Night” down pretty well and a little cheat sheet that fits in my palm for “Light of the Stable”. I just might be a hit.
I’m in touch with three of the surviving members of the KountryKings. I think they’ll enjoy hearing the band more than a half-century after we performed. I know I did this afternoon.