Hello again, fellow roadies! What, oh what, we pondered, should we present to all the roadie-moms and roadie-grandmas out there for Mother’s Day? The day definitely requires Music Your Mama Would Like. Of course, that depends on which generation your mama is from.
When thinking of music my own mother’s generation might like, I immediately have visions of Doris Day films and other goodie-two-shoes, oversimplified visions of 1950s Americana. Which is strange, when you think of it, because my mama was from the old country in Eastern Europe and not at all sentimental, though she did arrive here at the beginning of that stereotyped decade … and she did have a thing sometimes for Doris Day and Rock Hudson films, as did my grandmother (boy, was she surprised when she finally discovered which way he swung). Mama and Baba liked musicals in general and The Sound Of Music in particular (as did my dad), which just makes my teeth ache to remember (too saccharine-sweet for me, thanks; that was just about the only Rodgers & Hammerstein musical I couldn’t abide, and I still wince whenever I see an ad for a rerun or stage revival).
Me, I was always getting Doris Day and Patti Page confused. I knew that Peggy Lee was way cool, but I was never sure about which one of the other two was hip until I heard them sing. The moment Ms. Day opened her mouth, I quickly recalled that she was the ‘square’ one. Which left me kind of fuzzy about Patti Page, who didn’t really go in for making films; she just sang. But she left a definite impression, and during her career had several recordings that were Top 10 hits, including four that made the No. 1 spot. Page also recorded a swinging version of our favorite tune on a 1955 Mercury album that for some crazy reason was designated for radio broadcast only, titled Blue Dream Street. Here’s a clip:
Patti Page was a true product of Route 66: an Okie, born Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, OK about a year after U.S. Route 66 came through there. Her family was poor, and her dad worked on the railroad while her mother and older sisters picked cotton. Page grew up in the area between Claremore and several other towns surrounding Tulsa, where she attended Daniel Webster High School and graduated in 1945. That explained the country influence in her singing; her teenage exposure to big band music on the radio during the war years explained the swing in her style. But her own style was more in the tradition of the post-war crooners, only with a twist.
Soon after graduation, somebody noticed she had a voice, and Page got her first exposure as a vocalist when she got a job as a featured singer on a 15-minute radio program on KTUL in Tulsa. She was only 18. The program was sponsored by the Page Milk Company, from which she took her stage name. A few months later (in 1946), Jack Rael, a saxophone player and band manager, came to Tulsa to do a one-night show; he heard her over the radio and liked what he heard. Sure enough, Rael hired her to sing with his group, the Jimmy Joy Band. The band toured the country during mid-1946 and ended up in Chicago by 1947. That’s where Page briefly sang with a small group of musicians led by the famous swing bandleader Benny Goodman. And that finally gave her enough exposure to snag a contract with Mercury Records, where she became the label’s official ‘girl singer.’ Rael later left his band to become Page’s personal manager.Page had her first real hit in 1947 when “Confess” made Billboard magazine’s Top 15, but it took until 1950 to have a No. 1 hit. In fact, she had two No. 1 hits in 1950, one in 1952 and one in 1953. Her single most popular recording and biggest hit was “Tennessee Waltz” in 1950. She continued to have Top 10 and Top 15 hits through the 1950s and 1960s, but the first half of the 1950s was no doubt the height of her career, when her popularity was national and before rock ‘n’ roll began first to dominate, then to rule the pop music charts. She was, in fact, the best-selling female singer of the 1950s.
During the 1960s, Page’s career began a gradual decline, despite continued hits, and she recorded a few albums for Columbia Records. During the ’50s and ’60s, her pop recordings had incorporated both jazz and country influences. By 1970, however, she had returned to Mercury and had shifted her recordings away from pop and jazz and into country music, which is where her records stayed for the rest of her career. Page continued to tour for the next 40 years but retired in 2012 for health reasons. She turned 85 that year – an honest-to-God golden oldie! – but she died only months later on January 1, 2013 in Encinitas, CA, where she had been living for some time in a retirement community. Claremore still remembers her, of course: there’s even a Patti Page Boulevard in town (really 2nd Street; it runs next to Will Rogers Boulevard, which is 3rd Street).
Alas for Ms. Page, Mama and Baba had stopped listening to her recordings by about 1968 anyway (yours truly had appropriated the transistor radio by then to listen to jazz and rock, which may have had something to do with it). On the other hand, they also liked the brutal opera tragedies wherein everyone dies and had never stopped listening to that – everybody in our family listened to classical music. Aida. Don Giovanni. Tosca. Madame Butterfly. Dramatic stuff. Had The Grapes of Wrath been made into an opera before those two strong women had died, they probably would have liked that one, too, given its tragic content (the opera version of the play didn’t debut until 2007, in Minneapolis).
Route 66 has a pretty dramatic history of its own, what with ‘Bloody 66’ and all those traffic deaths when roads were built to be considerably less safe than they are now, and the whole Dust Bowl migration so eloquently memorialized in John Steinbeck’s book, The Grapes of Wrath:
… 66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these, the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight. – The Grapes of Wrath, chapter 12, paragraph 2
Is it any surprise that Steinbeck’s phrase stuck, given that this road was supposed to lead the broken migrants of the Great Depression to safety and prosperity, to dreams of new homes and a way out of poverty? Or that it took in everyone, just like a mother’s arms … Mother’s Day might just be the right time to contemplate how what Route 66 means to us has changed over the decades. Right after we show our proper appreciation to our actual mothers, that is.
Be good to Mom this weekend, and don’t let her cook, folks. Play some of her favorite music instead, let her tell her stories, and maybe give her something to dance about. Show the love, right?
Happy Mother’s Day to all!
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Until next time,
Your own DJ SweetMarie