Often, you cannot help what you think about — oh, you can force yourself to think about something, such as what do I need to get at the grocery store, did I leave the keys in the car, am I supposed to speak at the Kiwanis Club next week or the week after, etc. But just as often, maybe more often in my case, things just pop into my head, and there they are for me to ponder. The thoughts won’t leave me alone.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about our little yellow house (and yes it’s still yellow) at the corner of Swift and Third, where I grew up. Let me be more specific. It’s the little room —my room for a while, and when it smelled new and was new — that Mama and Daddy added on the back of our house when I was a teenager, probably about 15 or 16 years old. I do remember “my” room, but, again, that’s not my main recurring memory.
I had a 45 rpm record player. One of those that accommodated little records with big holes in the middle and with the capacity to hold, what, 10 or so records, to drop down one at a time, until all 10 had played. But that’s too general for what I’ve been thinking about. Specifically, it’s one of the songs, really the only song I can say with certainty that I played, over and over and over again.
“Lavender Blue” by Sammy Turner. Most of you have never heard of it or don’t remember it — but I do. I was just getting interested in girls, and I knew I liked to dance, and I loved “Lavender Blue.” As I say, I think about it often and with good, warm feelings when I do. And it, and others, made me know I loved music — most all kinds excusing jazz and opera.
And then, it was Elvis. Controversial Elvis Presley. Would my folks let me listen to his music or watch him on our little black and white television? Then, before we knew it, Elvis was too big to be avoided or ignored. You had to watch him. Next, The Beatles burst on the scene with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Hey Jude.” And the black artists began to dominate — Chubby Checker and “The Twist,” Marvin Gaye and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and Ray Charles and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Before I knew it, I was out of UGA Law and back in Perry practicing law, and then to the Legislature and with Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand and “Silly Love Songs” by Wings. But, mostly, for me, in the 1970s, it was the Bee Gees with “How Deep Is your Love,” “Night Fever” and Barry Gibbs and his “Shadow Dancing.”
With little thought of Sammy Turner’s “Lavender Blue,” the ‘80s were here with Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” and “Endless Love,” and “Lady” by Kenny Rogers. I noticed that the decades were getting shorter, but the music was still good: Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
And all the while, it was old and new: The Platters, Frank Sinatra, The Four Tops, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Garth Brooks, “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, The Dixie Cups, The Tams, The Swingin’ Medallions, Little Richard, Chicago, Ray Charles and “Georgia on My Mind,” Shania Twain, Reba, Conway Twitty, etc., etc.
Now we were beginning a new century, and the computers didn’t crash and the music kept coming. But for me, it was more of the old and more country. “Motown” and “Small Town.” That was me.
Without a doubt, the music that has influenced my life the most was, and is, what I broadly refer to as “church music.” And I was in a good place to be influenced: The Perry Methodist Church.
My friend, Bob Messer, says it best when he talks about our church’s long tradition of great choir leaders that go back for 100 years or more, and includes Francis Nunn, the volunteer choir leader, and before him, his mother, Bessie Houser Nunn. And today, Jane Kimbrel, now in her 10th year as Director of Music Ministries, who is excellent in all respects.
So, “church music” has had the most influence on me. I’ve heard wonderful gospel music sung at Homecoming, Pinehill Methodist, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, and the Blind Boys of Alabama in concert. This church music has marked me. But of late, when I lay down at night, I hear Sammy Turner singing “Lavender Blue” and you can see here the flood of memories this one little 45 rpm record player has spawned, and how long it has lasted.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.