You may wonder how Gene Autry and Mighty Sparrow just happen to appear in the same sentence?. Well it`s just my rather convoluted way of recalling a lifetime of certain musical experiences that have been with me since I was about 10 years old in 1942.
I attended junior school in Dumfries, Scotland during those early war years and can definitely recall visits to “The Electric” cinema in Shakespeare Street to watch (several times) a cowboy film starring my boyhood hero Gene Autry. *South of the Border* was the film and also the title of the first real song to enter my head and never to be forgotten - here I am still thinking about him in celebration on his Centennial Birthday - 29 September 2007. He certainly was a real positive influence in shaping my young musical thoughts and for which I will always be truly grateful.
Along with other children of the time our only personal means of making music was mainly restricted to humming on a “Jew`s harp” or blowing through a “paper and comb”, we all seem to have those. The harmonica too was popular for those able to afford one although few could. However, my beloved grandmother, who my mother and I lived with, must have thought I had some musical talent (or, more likely just got fed up with me crying for one) went out and bought me a 2nd hand “Hohner” mouth organ in the local monthly Coop sale rooms for sixpence.
This used harmonica was duly steeped in a pan of old cold tea overnight, granny said she had heard that this would not only sterilise it but somehow enrich the tone?. So having had this *South of the Border* tune spooking me since seeing the film then you will guess it was this tune that I first learned to play. You could say I cut my lips on it!.
Around this same period another film became popular, *Down Argentine Way* - Don Ameche and Betty Grable with the song of that name being the theme tune. So another marvellous and catchy number for me to try and master on this mouth organ, it would seem that early on my predilection for a certain style of rhythm was being formed at this young age.
A few years later I had just left school back here in London to start work in 1947. This was the year that I came into close contact with some American Navy boys who were stationed over here and attached to our local Hendon airfield, my cousins happened to get married (and still are) to 2 of them. The reason for quoting this fact is because not only did I as a youth receive Chesterfield cigs, chocolates and gum chum aplenty but more importantly I also got access to hear the latest imported USA records played on an old wind up gramophone. Sure enough the record I did practically wear out was The Andrews Sisters with their version of *Rum and Coca Cola*. Both tune and words fascinated me, I used to puzzle and try to decipher the line that sounded as “go down poncumana”. When I did finally get it years later as “Point Cumana” I promised myself I`d go there one day. Well here I am aged 75 and despite having visited and stayed in T&T several times over the last 35 years I have yet to make it down Point Cumana to sample that Rum and Coca Cola!.
Forward again just a few years to August 1950. That was the date I was called to do military service and I signed on for 3 years as a regular in the RAF. My first 18 months in their Postal Service was spent in the U.K. but livened up more interestingly during my remaining time when posted to serve abroad at RAF Staging Post, Mauripur, Pakistan. This was a country not many of us had even heard of in those days so soon after the sub-continent had been partitioned into the separate states of India and Pakistan.
In 1952 to get back to my theme, I can recollect being Treasurer of the RAF Corporals Club entertainments for a short period. This entailed among other duties having to select a few records down town in Karachi each month as we did host an occasional dance in the Club. Unfortunately the imported choice available in those austere pre rock 'n' roll days was very limited and only a few Louis Armstrong 78s seemed to be available and definitely no calypso!. However I did fancy myself as a bit of a song writer at that time and even came up with a tune *Boo Boo Calypso*. I still have the original lyrics but have to admit that the only calypso thing about it is that mention in the title, it`s really more a tango. But, the attempt was there and that was the main thing. Mind you I`m not sure just where the idea for the song did come from, maybe a subconscious flash of *South of the Border*?. I know it certainly had nothing to do with Lord Melody`s *Mama Look a Booboo* as his released a couple of years or so later in 1955.
It would be 1968 before I met my Grenadian wife Theresa who on an early date took me along to meet her very good Trinidadian friends Arnold and Thelma Benjamin. Arnold was well into his music and calypso was the order of the evening. I was checking out his collection when an LP caught my eye. I was not familiar then with the artist - Sparrow, but I did spot that one of his tracks was titled *Teresa* and thought it would be an appropriate tune to play. Well I did get to listen to that same album over and over again that first night and it got me hooked on Sparrow`s amazing talents ever since. That LP happened to be the Balisier release which I am glad to say managed to survive a house fire some years later down in San Fernando. I say glad in particular as it led to my good fortune by allowing me the chance to eventually acquire that very same copy to add to my by that time growing Sparrow collection.
So, Gene Autry to The Mighty Sparrow?. A short sentence indeed, but, in this case one that took me so many years to complete.
Gene Autry - deceased 2nd October 1998.
Mighty Sparrow - still going strong 2007.
Sparrow`s 581 different titles are listed:-