Charles E. Richardson

RICHARDSON: ‘Back in the day’

I know you’ve heard the term “back in the day.” Some just say “old school,” like it conveys greater understanding or wisdom to the one saying it. But what does it really mean?

I got to thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when the news that Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson had died. With his brother George “Lightning Licks,” they formed the duo Brothers Johnson. Louis was a tremendous bass player in all sorts of genres. He was only 60 when he died on May 21. He played with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Billy Preston, Bobby Womack and many others.

When hearing of his death, I had one of those “Back In The Day” (BITD) moments when I first heard their 1976 song “I’ll Be Good To You.” Oh, the good times I had BITD. We hardly talk about the bad BITD times. If we do, our memories cloud the past, and the bad times seem so much better than they actually were.

Whenever I hear about another artist heading to the really big band upstairs, I realize they’ll have a lot of company. Most of the music I listen to is by artists that have left here. Grover Washington Jr., and his nine-minute long “Mr. Magic” is always in my digital heavy rotation, and it’s 40 years old. My wife, Pamela, hates it when I start to wax eloquently about how old a song is and how good it still sounds. She puts up with me, but I can hear her brain saying, “yada, yada, yada.”

Does 40 years ago count as BITD? For me, maybe, but everyone’s BITD is different. It’s generational and personal. Telegraph columnist Larry Walker is a few years my senior. His BITD is in the 1950s. At the bottom of the page, senior to us all, Bill Cummings’ BITD is, well, you figure it out.

So many of our BITD moments are defined by music. My mother used to play Brook Benton’s “Endlessly” (1957) and “Rainy Night in Georgia” (1970), and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” (1957) and “Cupid” (1961) until the records or the needles wore out. I can recite every verse. But those where her BITD moments. I think she cried when Cooke was killed in 1964. Benton only lived to be 56, but it was pneumonia that took him, not a bullet.

My BITD music moments started with Motown -- Marvin Gaye (died in 1984, killed by his father) and Tammi Terrell (died in 1970, brain tumor at 24) and included The Four Tops with Levi Stubbs, one of the greatest lead singers of all time (died in 2008). Duke Fakir is the only surviving member of the group. All of the Temptations are dead with the exception of Otis Williams. They still sound pretty good if their performance last September at the Grand Opera House is any indication.

Is there a soul my age who wasn’t impacted by the Beatles? Ringo and Paul are all that’s left. While I’m still clueless why girls went berserk over them (they had hair, but Elvis at least had moves), they were musical geniuses. And yes, I’m surprised the Rolling Stones are still getting satisfaction after more than a half-century of performing.

BITD, radio played it all. It wasn’t segmented as it is now. Top 40 was Top 40, the Beatles would follow the Temptations, and the Supremes would be in the same rotation with Elvis and the Four Seasons.

For this area, The Swinging Medallions, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts (risky title back then) means BITD. The beach music scene still lives in the hearts of many. Music from earlier eras transports us back to a time when life as we knew it was good. We were young and beautiful without a care in the world. Most of us were broke, but we didn’t need much money. We knew how to have fun on the cheap.

Will this generation and those who follow have BITD moments? Of course they will. They’ll sing along to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” while texting to the backseat of their driverless cars. Mick Jagger will celebrate his 100th birthday with another U.S. tour in a herky-jerky wheelchair as Taylor Swift grabs five more Grammys at the ripe old age of 54.

The beat will go on as will life. Will it be as sweet and meaningful as our BITD moments? Who’s to know? We’ll have to ask Jagger the next time we get the chance. Eh?

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet @crichard1020.