Of Steinway’s and cordovoxes

Well, is almost here and the radio is playing those old familiar refrains again. Like Rudolph. I sure remember when that song came out. I was in the railroad station in Raleigh the first time I heard Roy Rogers singing that tune.

The ticket agent was a buxom blonde showing more chest than was generally acceptable in those days and several of the college kids buying tickets were a more’n a little goggleyed at the sight. Some of their eyes stuck out like a crabs! One of them rubbed his eyes back in their sockets and squeezed in line ahead of me. In a minute that purty thang sang out “Destination, Puleeze?”

“Two pickets to Tittsburgh,” sez the boy. He didn’t notice, but she did! I could sympathize with him, she had just about the same effect on me. But I managed to get my ticket to Savannah without misspeaking myself.

Which ‘minds me that I was totin’ bags for tips when a country looking couple walks in and the man asks for a room – while the gal hangs back and looks embarrassed. Jimmy, the desk clerk, recognizes the symptoms, of course.

“You will want the bridal chambers, of course,” sez Jimmy.

“Well, we will rent one for the wife,” sez the lad, “But I’ll jest pee out the winder like I do at home.”

But anyhoo, right now the radio is playing a cheerful ditty that goes “Happy Birthday Father Christmas.” Father Christmas is what the Brits and Ozzies call Santa Claus, and the song reminds me of a red headed college professor type war bride I ran into one time. Literally!

We turned the same corner at the same time and wham! She had about two hundred and fifty or so pounds on me and it was like getting smacked by a feather bed tied to the front end of a Mack truck. Although the truck she smacked me into did me more damage.

I found her a pleasant enough bird, but rawtha intimidating to a skinny kid like me. She was the type to warm you in winter and shade you in the summer, though. Big gal! Six seven or so, and she’d go around four hundred on the hoof. So big I figured they took her measurements like surveying land, by rods and chains.

But she was towing a daughter about my age, and OH MY!, that Hermione gal made me forget all my cuts and contusions. Yessir, that gal just naturally forced a growing boy to look her up one side and right back down the same side, she looked so good.

She was a popular gal, although she took after her mama. Crik in the neck tall. Tall enough to make you think you needed an altimeter instead of a tape measure. She could have had a date every night. But this English gal was a budding opera singer. And opera in English makes about as much sense to me as Russian baseball.

It’s sort of like playing country music backward. You know how that goes, the dog comes back; your ex gets married, stops the alimony and brings your truck back; your mamma gets out of jail, somebody else confesses to the crime, and you ain’t left with a thing to cry about.

Hermione got religion and Brother Hataway James was going to baptize her. She gets ready and Brother James sez “Now, Hermione, I’m going to wash all your sins away.”

“My goodness,” giggles Ermie, “In that little tub?”

Speaking of Brother Hataway James, that young man told a story about going to preach sermons in little country churches when he was still in Bible School. He said he got to a church in Eram, which is out from Muskogee if they haven’t moved it, and the congregation was waiting on him. The whole congregation!

They wanted him to have a trial for one of the oldest members of the congregation, who was accused of cussin’ the church! Now, that was a serious matter! So the whole congregation gathers up to try this old fellow and kick him out of the church.

Naturally, they had to let the defendant have his say after four or five said they had heard him cuss the church in church.

He starts out “I don’t know what to say about this. They say I cussed the church, and I didn’t, but in a way I did.”

“We had that funeral for Aunt Ophelia Jenkins last week, and the whole settlement gathered up for services. When they opened the casket there was a big old polecat setting on top of Aunt Ophelia just like he belonged there.”

“That critter stuck its tail straight up and started running around trying to get out of the casket. The congregation made a rush for the door. In all the tumult Brother Jenkins and Sister O’Toole got jammed up in the door, and little Johnny Jenkins tried to crawl between their legs and kicked me in the knee. It was just an awful mess. In all the excitement I hollered out `Damn a church house anyway that don’t got but one door.'”

Those folks should have taken a page from the old gypsy’s three simple rules for a long life. “Always have payoff money. Always have getaway money. Never let yourself get parked in.”

Anyhoo, Father Christmas has had his birthday and now somebody is playing a Irish jig on a pipe organ. The Washerwoman is a fun “chune” on an accordion or a concertina, but it wants a more agile instrument than the “giant Wurlitzer organ.” A jig on that accordion on steroids sounds as ponderous as a bull elephant trying to toe do the Can-Can.

Of course, the accordion, the “knee organ,” called a Cordovox isn’t much smaller than a theater organ. At something like nine grand and up, way up, new, it’s not much cheaper than one, either. And not a darn bit lighter. As the kinks in my back can attest.

You know what a half step in music is? That’s a Cordovox player staggering on stage.

The only thing in portable music boxes heavier than a Cordovox is a bandonion, a semi-portable bass register box that’s popular in Argentina. But any knee-harmonica is heavy. Even a little fifteen pound pedalowka gets heavy at the end of a six hour polka session.

That’s why male squashbox players have so much sympathy for women’s issues. They know what it’s like to be nine months preggers and stand on your dogs all night long.

One thing, though, a squeezebox doesn’t kick like a baby. It pinches. Particularly on a long cut time solo. Things get moving when you play twice as fast as the rest of the band.

A second’s carelessness can feel like you just had your gallstones out without anesthetic. It can make a boy think he’s been turned into a girl, I guarantee!

But a piano with suspenders has certain advantages over other instruments. I knew a Scotsman that took up the “box.” He had been first piper in a bagpipe band until all his teeth fell out. The poor soul had lost his grip! He couldn’t hold on to his mouthpiece.

The change made sense, since the “box” is the Scot’s second national instrument. They call it a bagpipe with pleats. Of course, most accordions are “musette” tuned, and “musette” is French for a sort of Breton dudelsak.

But the Scots are a unique people. They can take the two instruments that annoy the most people in this world, put them in the same band, and make ’em sound pretty good. Especially when the audience gets a snootful of that aged motor oil distilled with peat they call Scotch whiskey.

Of course, these days stomach Steinway’s are out of style with Americans. Considering that a decent Striduli starts at around six grand and goes up, I expect they are priced out of the US market.

A kid that won’t hesitate to pay $80,000 for a mass produced motorized rollerskate with a snake on the logo will balk at five grand for a handcrafted musical instrument. A 99 buck Chinese plunkbox with a warped neck and frets set so high they eat fingertips like a five year old eats Eskimo Pies is more their speed.

Accordions are as popular as ever with folks from the rest of the world, though. I was over in Hotlanta a few weeks ago and read in the Constitution that a Mexican accordion player who was on his way from a wedding to a dance just had to have a cuppa. So Jose stops at the 7-11 on Peachtree Industrial for some caffine. He was just drawing one when he realized his mistake. He ran back outside, but it was too late.

Somebody had already smashed in his pickup window and thrown two more accordions into the seat. But at least accordion players are a sociable lot.

You know what happens when a bunch of accordion players get together, don’t you. Bellowship!

Speaking of which, do you know the difference between an accordion and a lawnmower? The neighbors get real upset if you borrow a lawnmower and don’t return it.

You know, a lot of famous people have been pleated piano players. Richard Nixon for one. John Dean for another. And both the Nixon daughters – making a White House pancordion quartet of an ill assorted sort.

And a ham, Air Force General, and movie actor name of Jimmy Stuart was a whiz with the waistline wurlitzer. He didn’t need backup in that Western scene where he’s playing his Busson on the train, waiting for the baddies to show up.

‘Fact, when they were making that movie Stuart’s playing intrigued an Apache extra, who persuaded Jimmy to teach him to play the belly baldwin. And insisted on giving Stuart drum lessons in return.

That’s how Jimmy Stuart became the best Apache war drum beater in the Air Force. And also how the squeezebox became part of Waila, the Tohono-Oodham music of southern Arizona.

Huddie Ledbetter, “Leadbelly,” picked out the tune on a 12 bass he called a “windjammer” when he wrote Goodnight Irene. Charlie Chaplin was another actor/accordionist. Another ham, actor, and musician, “Big Daddy” Burl Ives, played the accordion. As did former French PM Giscard d’Estang and the former President of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. And a bunch of other fairly famous folks.

Oh well, let me change the station! Ah, “He fought for Red Nellie’s honor, he died with two six guns a blazin’, but only two hairs on his chest.”

Well, the Lavender Cowboy had a common enough problem. The education system failed him. Nobody ever told him the facts of life. He-men don’t have hair on their chests. They keep it wore off. Or their women folks do, at any rate.

Of course, women are changeable folks. I remember a while back when a Coast big shot croaked and the widow told the folks at O’Keefe’s to absolutely spare no expense. The bill came to a cool thirty seven grand and change. And the widow was plumb indignant.

“But madam,” sez the undertaker, “You said to give him the best.”

“Yes,” said the grief stricken one, “And it would have been three thousand dollars cheaper to bury him in a BMW.”

It would have been, too. Well, the tune has changed to a varsouviana. Shoe the Donkey, it’s called. Which reminds me of the time I was up in fox hunting country, Kentucky.

The widow lady I was doing odd jobs for was named Mary Harris, and she had a mule she called Herb. Late one afternoon she calls the vet and sez “Doc, Herb is sick and I wish you would come over and look at him.”

The doc told her Herb was most likely “bound up” with gas, and to give Herb a dose of mineral oil. The doc promised to call in the morning and see about him if he didn’t perk right up.

“How do I give it to him?”

“Through a funnel, of course.”

“But he might bite me!” sez Miz Harris.

“Now, Mary, you are a farm woman and you know about these things. You have to give it to him through the other end.”

So Miz Harris went out to the barn and there’s Herb with his head down, moaning and groaning. Something had to be done!

Miz Harris looks around for a funnel, but the nearest thing she could find to one was her Uncle Charlie’s fox hunting horn, a brass horn with red tassels tied to it.

She takes that horn, inserts the mouthpiece in the proper place and ties the tassels to the root of Herb’s tail so it won’t fall out. Herb pays no attention at all to these goings on. Then Miz Harris reaches up on the shelf where the veterinary medicines were kept.

But Miz Harris was long sighted and her reading glasses were in the kitchen, so she misses the mineral oil and gets the turpentine instead. And promptly proceeds to pour an extra liberal dose of turps in the horn and all over Herb’s hindquarters. Like the better part of a quart. You talk about a surprised mule!

Herb raised his head with a sudden jerk that snapped his halter rope. He let out a scream they could hear a mile away. He rears up on his hind legs, brings his front legs down, kicks a hole in the side of the barn, bolts through it, and starts down the road at full gallop. Don’t think a mule can’t run!

Now, the vet was right, and Herb was full of gas. All the activity got things moving back there, so every few jumps that horn tooted, long and loud.

Every dog in the neighborhood knew when that horn blew it meant Uncle Charlie was going fox hunting. So the dogs held a gathering out on the highway, barking joyously and running like blazes after old Herb.

I tell you, that was a sight. First, Herb running at full gallop, the brass horn hanging under his tail, the ends of the tassels flying, and about sixty or seventy dogs baying him on.

The went by Old Man Howe, who was setting on his front porch. The Old Man hadn’t drawn a sober breath in forty year, and he gazed in absolute amazement as the parade passed under the street light. He thought he’d come down with the delirious tremulous and was seeing mules instead of snakes. He swore off moonshine for the rest of the night.

By that time it was pitch black out. Herb and the dogs were on the main road, coming up on the swing bridge over the Elkhorn. The bridge tender heard the horn blowing and figured a coal barge was coming.

So the bridge tender turns the bridge. Herb ran out of road, fell in the river, hit the bridge pier, broke his neck, and died. The dogs followed him into the water, but they swam out without much trouble.

Now, it just so happened that the bridge tender was running for tax assessor of Jessimine County. But he only got three votes.

Folks figured any idjit that didn’t know the difference between a mule with a horn up its behind and a coal barge coming down the river wasn’t fit to hold office.

Well, there’s Christmas in Killarney. I can’t think of anything I’d rather hear this time of year than a pretty sounding girl singing “Father Brown, before he’s gone, will bless the house and all.”

I knew a preacher one time name of Brown, over in Buna, Texas, back when gas was rationed and most folks either walked or stayed home.

Brother Brown was always exhorting his congregation not to be scared of the Devil, the Lord would take care of them. Some of the tough kids in the bunch decided to test the old boy’s nerves so they got some red flannel and made themselves a devil suit.

One Wednesday sermon Brown’s preaching away about not being skeered of the Devil when one of the boys jumps out of the loft wearing that devil suit and yelling a blue streak.

The congregation got the jump on the preacher and got to the road before him. But he caught the congregation, passed them, and was going away in about three seconds flat! As he faded in the dark he hollered back “I ain’t skeered of the Devil, mind you, I’m just too good to associate with him.”

Well, apparently I have used up the time I had so let’s see what I can do about posting more often.

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