Posts Tagged ‘Pete Drake’

Tops On The Sidewalks

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Beyond the warming weather and the greening of the trees and shrubs, there were four sure signs of spring for students at St. Cloud’s Lincoln Elementary School in the early 1960s:

At the three or four mom-and-pop grocery stores near Lincoln – including the one around the corner and down the block from our place – you could find a rack full of balsa wood glider planes, and very nearby, a cardboard bin full of kite kits. I dabbled with both over the years, the planes more frequently than the kites.

And in stores with larger customer bases – drugstores, larger grocery stores, and places like Woolworth’s and Kresge’s – you could find new displays of Duncan yo-yos and spinning tops. Again, I dabbled with both of those from, oh, 1963 to 1967. I was never very good with a yo-yo, being much more likely to end up with a great tangle of string than I was to make the toy walk the dog or jump the camel or whatever it was a yo-yo did.

But I could wrap cord around a top, unleash it and watch it spin, and I joined my classmates and other friends for top-fests on the sidewalks in front of our house and on the concrete driveways in the neighborhood, and I spent plenty of hours spinning tops on the smoother concrete of our basement floor. (Dad’s work to create the basement rec room was still a few years away.)

And one spring, sometime around 1964, I got a package in the mail. In it, I found what was called a Campbell Kid Play-Kit, which consisted of a yo-yo, a spinning top, and a handball – a small rubber ball connected by a rubber cord to a hand-held disc – all stored in a plastic bag with a drawstring and all emblazoned with the faces of the Campbell Kids, the cartoon characters used at the time to market Campbell’s soups.


Its appearance at our place on Kilian Boulevard was, I’m sure, the work of my grandmother or my Aunt Ruth (who still lived on the farm with Grandma and Grandpa, and whom we called Tudy). Every now and then, Grandma or Tudy would see an offer for a toy or game on a cereal box or in an ad in one of their magazines, something they thought that my sister or I might like, and they’d send in the cash and the required number of soup labels or cereal box tops and put either my name or my sister’s name as the recipient. And some weeks later, a surprise gift would make its way to our door.

(And I wonder for the first time if they had similar gifts sent to my cousins in Pennsylvania, four girls by 1964 with two boys yet to come. I imagine they did.)

I never played much with the handball. It was similar to – but harder to control – than the paddleballs one could buy at dime and drug stores, and those had never interested me much. I gave the yo-yo a try or two, but – as noted above – while other kids might master The Creeper or The Elevator, I could only perform The Tangler.

The top, though, got a lot of use for a while. Its bright red appearance got some appreciative glances from the top aficionados in our neighborhood, and it spun nicely on its plastic tip. At least it did until – as with all tops I ever had – continued contact with the harsh concrete of the sidewalk abraded the tip until the top’s spinning was at first wobbly and then comically impaired. (The thought hangs in my mind that replacement tips were available at drug and dime stores – or perhaps the hobby shop downtown – but I never thought to replace the worn-down tips.)

And with that, the top joined the yo-yo and the paddleball in the box of ignored toys, and sometime during the forty years between 1964 and 2004, all three were likely discarded, as sometimes happens to our childhood things. But the memories this morning of tangled yo-yo strings, of the awkward paddle-ball (and of a few elastic-powered bops to my face), and of the red top spinning its way across someone’s driveway, well, those memories brought back a little childhood joy. And along with them came pleasant memories of my grandmother and my aunt, both gone now for decades.

The digital library brings no joy from a search for “spinning top.” (There are, however, thirteen versions of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel.”) So we’re going to dip into the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1964 and drop down to No. 25, because at a guess, the gift of the Campbell Kids Play-Kit likely cost my grandmother or aunt no more than twenty-five cents (along with the required soup can labels).

And at No. 25 in the Hot 100 from April 25, 1964, we come across an instrumental I’ve never heard before, “Forever” by Pete Drake & His Talking Steel Guitar. Drake has, of course, popped up as a studio musician on many tracks I’ve heard over the years, but I’ve not encountered much of his solo work. A sweet and romantic track, “Forever” peaked during this week in 1964, going no higher than No. 25. The record also went to No. 5 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

Saturday Single No. 441

Saturday, April 4th, 2015


You know that line about blind pigs and acorns? Well, it happens here, too.

We were all set to go play some games with numbers, seeing as how today is April 4, which translates into 4/4. We were going to turn that into 44 and see what records sat at No. 44 on April 4 over the years. And then we looked at the Billboard Hot 100 from April 4, 1964, and parked at No. 44 was a record titled “Forever” credited to by Pete Drake and His Talking Steel Guitar. That stopped me.

Drake, who passed on in 1988, was a master of the pedal steel guitar, and his work showed up on more Nashville sessions than one can likely keep track of, almost certainly in the thousands. The list of credits at All-Music Guide, which generally offers – as I understand it – listings from only those album that include credits in their packaging, runs 615 entries long. Many of the listings are for recent re-issues, but even so, the names – both from the reissue era we’re now in and from the years before Drake’s death – are impressive: B.J. Thomas, Don McLean, Stonewall Jackson, Lacy Dalton, Janie Fricke, Kenny Rogers, Moe Bandy, Dolly Parton, Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, Doug Kershaw, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Ian & Sylvia, Buddy Holly and on and on.

His biography, as offered by Wikipedia, is instructive, and it’s possible that Pete Drake would have been famous if the only thing he’d done was organize the Sons of the South in the late 1950s; that band had as members such luminaries-to-be as Kershaw, Jerry Reed, Roger Miller, Jack Greene and Joe South. But of course, he went on to play on those thousands of sessions and to produce as well.

And he was instrumental in the development of what came to be known as the talk box, later used to great effect by Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh and others. Drake’s work built on the idea, Wikipedia says, of Alvino Rey and his wife, Luise King, “who first modulated a guitar tone with the signal from a throat microphone in 1939.” In an interview with Douglas Green for Guitar Player magazine in the early 1970s, Drake said:

You play the notes on the guitar and it goes through the amplifier. I have a driver system so that you disconnect the speakers and the sound goes through the driver into a plastic tube. You put the tube in the side of your mouth then form the words with your mouth as you play them. You don’t actually say a word: The guitar is your vocal cords, and your mouth is the amplifier. It’s amplified by a microphone.

The system, Wikipedia notes, was only loud enough to be useful for studio recording (which left to others the work of creating a system that could be used in concert).

And it was that plastic tube gadget that Drake used on his 1964 album Forever. The title track from that album is the record that caught my attention this morning, when I noticed it sitting at No. 44 in the April 4, 1964, Hot 100. It eventually peaked at No. 25. A second single, “I’m Sorry,” bubbled under at No. 122 later in 1964 (and showed up on a 1965 album, Talking Steel Guitar).

Given all that, it was an easy choice to make “Forever” by Pete Drake and His Talking Steel Guitar today’s Saturday Single.