Tag Archives: Kansas

An Afternoon With the Musical Marcellino Family

4 Dec

This semester at Cumberland University, I taught History of American Music, which is the proper name for the School of Rock. I started with the music that inspired the early Rock n’ Roll stars and followed the evolution of that genre through the decades. We covered everything.

At the end of several classes, Michaela, one of my best students, said that her dad and granddad knew who we had discussed. At some point, I said that they needed to talk to the class. Well, a few weeks ago they did just that and told a lot of amazing stories.

Her grandfather Jerry Marcellino has had an amazing career. He began as a musician and was the opening act for a lot of established artists. Heck, he was on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis when the world found out that he was married to his 13-year-old cousin.

Jerry’s career as a musician did not work out, but he made his way into producing and songwriting. This began with his relationship with members of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and continued until he worked for Berry Gordy at Motown. In that job, he worked with Michael Jackson, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and The Commodores.

The students really like his stories about Michael Jackson. They used to draw cartoons and trade with each other during recording breaks. Michael also pranked called Jerry, but he always knew it was Michael.

Michaela’s dad Yochanan Marcellino grew up around all of those people and eventually made his way into the musical profession as a manager. Through the years, he worked with Kansas, Jose Feliciano, Chaka Kahn, Lou Rawls and the Captain and Tennille. He is now a movie producer and is working on a film about Rocky Marciano.

However, they are not the only Marcellinos who have made an impact in the music business.

Muzzy Marcellino was a fantastic whistler who whistled for John Wayne in The High and the Mighty and who can be heard whistling in Hugo Montenegro’s version of the The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme.

Jocko Marcellino was an original member of Sha Na Na and performed at Woodstock.

Dennis Marcellino was a member of Sly and the Family Stone.

Vince Guaraldi, whose mother was a Marcellino, wrote themes for the Peanuts cartoons.

In short, Michaela’s family lived the storied that I had been telling in class all semester. It was a true honor to meet them and have them talk to my class.

 

Listeria – Cattle Towns, Mining Camps and Other Assorted Outposts

14 Feb

True West magazine came out with their list of the “Top 10 True Western Towns of the Year”, and I had to see what they came up with. As it turns out, other lists were included – “True West Towns to Know” and “True West Towns to Watch”. A quick counting brought the total number of towns mentioned to 30.

I decided to weed that list down to those that I have visited. I have no idea what criteria the people at True West used to compile the list, but here is a little information about the places that I know about.

1. Dodge City, Kansas is, in my opinion, the most famous of all the cattle towns. It was the epicenter of a huge industry and the home of real life lawman Wyatt Earp and fictional lawman Matt Dillon. Dodge City is still a player in the cattle industry, but I do not see it as a tourist mecca. Obviously, any lover of the Old West must go there, but they will be disappointed with the fake western town that sits on the main drag. However, the trolley tour is cool.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

2. Durango, Colorado is a cool western town that has held on to its past. Historic buildings, such as the Strater Hotel, line the streets. The famous train from Durango to Silverton starts its journey at one end of town. There are restaurants, bars and a bookstore with all of the great western historians.

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

8. Lincoln, New Mexico is a state monument that looks almost like it did when Billy the Kid was roaming around. There are all kinds of buildings and museums, but the best is the old building from which he made his famous jailbreak. Billy the Kid is the most famous of those who participated in the Lincoln County War, but I find myself more interested in John Chisum and some of the others.

9. Tombstone, Arizona which its economic peak during the 1880s and had its growth stunted when the minerals ran out. That circumstance makes it still have that feel of a frontier town. Of course, that could also be because they ripped up the concrete sidewalks and put down wooden ones. The OK Corral is cool. The Birdcage Theater is cool. However, the coolest thing is talking to Ben Traywick, the town historian.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

10. Lewiston, Idaho is a place that I have never been. However, I must mention it because the Cumberland University baseball team has won two national championships in Lewiston. It is a western town, but it is also a baseball mecca.

There is half of the Top 10, but some interesting towns are on the other lists, as well.

Prescott, Arizona is listed as one of the “True West Towns to Know” and, on the surface, looks like any other regular old town. However, a walk around its square gives you an idea of what it used to be like. The square is huge and is bustling with activity, as people venture into the historic buildings.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

“True West Towns to Watch” lists several places that I have visited.

Juneau, Alaska is the state capital and can only be entered by plane or boat. It is a small place that has a frontier and isolated quality. One of my great memories of Alaska is having a drink with my brother in one of Juneau’s saloons.

Cody, Wyoming is another good western town. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is one of my favorite places to visit. A few years ago they had a traveling exhibit in Nashville, and I was able to take my students.

Checotah, Oklahoma sits on Interstate 40, and, frankly, I have never been in the downtown area. We have only stopped a few times for gas. Most people probably know it as the hometown of Carrie Underwood.

Custer, South Dakota is one of the less famous mining camps in the Black Hills and is overshadowed by Deadwood and Sturgis. However, it is a good place to stop and look around. Also, it is named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, the man who led the gold-finding expedition into the Black Hills.

Bisbee, Arizona sits several miles down the road from Tombstone and is a place that I like better. Its economic boom lasted into the 20th Century, which means it has a more modern look than other mining camps. It also has a great mining museum operated by the Smithsonian Institute.

Those are the places listed by True West that I have visited. It would be interesting to read if any of you have been to these places. What are your thoughts and stories? What other towns have you visited that you think may be or should be on the lists?

Let’s Talk About Hawthorne (and a few other things, too)

27 Aug

Another semester is upon us, and a new crop of freshmen have arrived.

That sentence popped into my head last night as I contemplated that start of a new academic year. It is always an interesting time as the faculty scramble to get their classes organized and new students scramble to figure out what they have gotten themselves into. The returning members of the sophomore, junior and senior classes are the only ones to be taking things in stride. This is old news to them.

For the first time in a couple of months, the campus is buzzing with activity. The freshmen have been divided into pods and are making their way around the place. I am not sure what they did this morning, but one session was spent going over The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each group met with a different faculty member and discussed what they read.Nathaniel Hawthorne

My group had a decent meeting. They did not like what they had to read but understood that it would probably happen more than once in the next few years.

I enjoyed the part where they talked about themselves. Most were from around this area, but a couple had traveled some distance. A student from Alabama, who is here to play basketball, had been to All Steak. Another student from Lawrence, Kansas is here to be on the cycling team. I told them that I had been to Holcomb, Kansas, and, to my surprise, a student from around here knew why that place is famous.

Another student from a nearby town came from a graduating class of thirteen people. Our discussion group was bigger than that. We advertise about having small classes, but we can’t compare to that.

I learned a lot from the students – more than they probably learned from me. I learned that they already know how to complain about the cafeteria food. I learned that most of our students still come from the general vicinity. I learned that they are generally glad to be here and are looking forward to what lies ahead.

Some of them will make it to graduation. Some of them will wash out within a few semesters. All of them have the experience of reading The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The State of Music – Part 2

15 Apr

Before continuing on the search for the best (my favorite, anyway) songs with the names of states in their titles, I should say that some of these are already on my iPod. I figure if they are on my iPod, then I must like them somewhat. With that in mind, here we go with the next ten states.

Hawaii – I think Hawaiian music is pretty cool, and I am a big fan of Elvis. So, I thought about going with something from those two groups. Instead, I choose a classic television theme as my favorite Hawaii song. For people growing up in the 1970s, nothing epitomized Hawaii like the “Theme from Hawaii Five-0”.

Idaho – This state did not provide many options. I could have gone with the B-52’s, but they are not to my liking. It turns out that there is something on my iPod that was almost forgotten. From the soundtrack of Robert Altman’s Nashville (I mean, what better topic could there be for a movie.), I picked “My Idaho Home” by Ronee Blakley. Interestingly, Altman had his cast write and perform their own songs. This did not make the music insiders of Nashville happy.

Illinois – There are some cool Blues songs about Illinois due to the Great Migration of African-Americans from the south. With this move, people sought a better life. As a by-product, the Blues moved with them. Despite that history, I found a song by Frank Zappa, “The Illinois Enema Bandit”, that I couldn’t pass up. After all, I feel like there is a guy from Illinois sticking something in my rectum every day.

Indiana – I wonder why there are so many “I” state’s in the midwest. For this “I” state, I went with the criminal-on-the-run story “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor.

Iowa – You learn something new every day. It’s an old saying, but it is true. During this project, I learned that Slipknot is from Iowa, and they honored their state with a 15 minute epic called “Iowa”. It’s a happy story of love and what someone off their rocker might do if he can’t have that love.

Kansas – In Part 1 of this project, I received a comment from the corner of Trask Avenue about my Arizona pick. He suggested “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, which is an all-time great song. However, it did not have the state name. I replied that I would not use a city name until I had to. Although, there are a bunch of Kansas songs, I am going with “Kansas City Shuffle” by J. Ralph. Reasons? The state name is right there in the city name (not my fault that they weren’t original). Second, I first heard it in a super cool movie, Lucky Number Slevin.

Kentucky – I skipped a chance to go with Elvis once in this post, and I am not doing it again. No list of music is complete without the King. With that in mind, I am moving past Bill Monroe and other Bluegrass greats to choose “Kentucky Rain”.

Louisiana – Man, there are a lot of Louisiana songs, too. From Cajun to Jazz to Country, this states shows up everywhere. However, in the 1960s something strange happened. The British invaders, like Eric Clapton, brought Blues back to popularity in America. They appreciated our music history more than we did. No one loved the Blues more than Eric Burdon and the Animals. One of their best is “Louisiana Blues”, a remake of a Muddy Waters tune.

Maine – This state is famous for lobster, L.L. Bean, and Stephen King. It is not famous for music recorded in its name. The pickings were slim, but I found a good song by Ivory called “Coast of Maine”.

Maryland – Likewise, I had some trouble with Maryland. There is that state song that they always play at the Preakness, but I vowed to stay away from state songs and try to stay with music from at least the past hundred years. After a search for something I would listen to on a regular basis, I found “Maryland Again” by Gerry Goffin.

That’s it for the second ten. If you want to see what happened with the first ten states, then check out Part 1 of the series. Part 3 will be coming soon.

Picture This – Holcomb Community Park

31 Jan

Cities all over the country have parks dedicated in the honor of local citizens, and many of them have the same attributes as this one – benches, trees, walking trail and plenty of grass for picnics. Compared to other parks, this one is small, as it sits in a triangle of crossing streets. It is as if the small town of Holcomb, Kansas needed to do something with land that had been cut off from use and thought a small greenway would be a perfect solution.

However, this park does not honor a founding family or a local politician. It is dedicated to the family of Herb and Bonnie Clutter, which was slaughtered when their home was invaded by robbers in 1959. Tragedies such as this happen in cities all over the nation as well, and as years pass those incidents, also tragically, fade from the memories of those communities. In today’s world, we seem to be desensitized to the violence that happens around us. Bridges are named for fallen soldiers, but we hardly think about them as we pass by the signs. There may be other parks honoring murder victims, but they must be few and far between. So, why did the citizens of Holcomb build a park in honor of the Holcomb’s? Because several years after the attack, the murder in rural Kansas became known to people throughout the world.

After reading a newspaper article about the crime. Truman Capote became mesmerized by the story. He convinced Harper Lee, his childhood friend, to travel to Holcomb and investigate the murder. The result was “In Cold Blood”, a book that many believe began the “True Crime” genre. The writing of the book and the book itself have also been the subject of several movies. In my opinion, the work of Capote and his role in the overall story has come to overshadow the actual crime. As I drove around the small town and walked around the park, I did not think of the Holcomb’s or the men who were convicted of their murders. The question that kept running through my mind was:

Truman Capote came here?

The few people I saw stared at my rental car with the Tennessee tags and gave me the “what are you doing here?” look. And, I am sure they are used to a few people stopping by because of the town’s notoriety. I can’t imagine the reaction of the citizens of 1959 Holcomb when Truman Capote – he of the high society and fashionable side of New York City – arrived with his peculiarities. Likewise, I can’t imagine Capote’s thoughts when he arrived in a little town surrounded by nothing but flat plains. A more odd meeting of cultures is difficult to think about.

Despite of the strangeness of it all, or maybe because of it, I suggest a stop by the park to anyone who finds themself in the vicinity of Holcomb. Take a stroll around the walking trail or sit on a bench and take yourself back to 1959. Picture Capote and Lee hanging around town and interviewing people. Think about the reaction of the authorities when the pair walk in and start asking questions. And, imagine the journey that the writers took to dig deeper into a newspaper story. However, do not forget the Clutter family; the crime that struck down parents and two children; and the two other children left to live with the pain and the constant, best-selling reminder of the horror of their lives.