Recalling the Magic in Red

Reminiscing

I was a professional musician (drummer) during the 1970s and 1980s. I carved out a living playing music with several different bands during that time. Sometimes along the way, bookings would stop, band changes would leave periods of time without employment, clubs would change formats, or a variety of other issues would lead to “down time” for me—periods without work. During these times, I would snag various non-music jobs. For example, in no particular order, I have cleaned cages in a chicken and duck hatchery, carried hot tar and scooped gravel for a company who repaired commercial flat roofs, swept out railroad cars, was a dish washer in a restaurant, became a full-time grill cook at a truck stop, and worked driving a forklift in a factory.

I can recall that my love of popular music got me through these days away from playing the drums. I would play my favorite music, dream, sing, and have a ball.

When I was in my early teens, Ed Sullivan hosted a television special featuring a retrospective of his long-running and successful television show. I recorded the show with my cassette audio recorder by placing the microphone next to the TV speaker. The next day, when I listened more closely to the recording I had captured, I was amazed by a fascinating voice singing “. . . Jezebel . . . Jezebel . . . Jez . . . a . . . bel!” —captivatingly holding that last note. I will never forget asking my dad about this singer. Dad said, “That’s Frankie Laine. He was always my favorite singer.” This was the beginning of my love for this wonderful singer of popular song!

Days after my taping of the show, I purchased the album Frankie Laine’s Greatest Hits. I chose this album because “Jezebel” was included. I played this album over and over again. I had painted my bedroom a dark, rich, red color. I thought this was very cool. It took me into another world when I would listen to my music with the lights low (I think I also enhanced the mood with a red-colored light bulb in my lamp). For the entire length of the Frankie Laine album, I was transported back in time to the 1950s—an area that fascinated me.

It was also during the time that the whole country was beginning to become fascinated with the 1950s in both culture and music. Accordingly, this was the era of vocal groups such as Sha Na Na, who performed music in the style of the 1950s. A couple of years later, the movie American Graffiti became a sensation. Radio stations were beginning to play the “oldies.” Even bands and singers popular during the 1950s were gaining new followings by performing nostalgia concerts.

So, I played my Frankie Laine album in my red bedroom and was transported back by the shear magic of the magnificent, exciting, emotional voice of the great Frankie Laine!

Reminiscing now, I will never forget the enchantment I felt upon discovering Frankie Laine and his music.

It was during a slow period during the late 1970s, when playing music temporarily ceased for me for a year, that I worked driving a forklift. During a previous road trip with a band I had been in, I had scouted various junk shops. Back then, these shops almost always had shelves of old records and 78 r.p.m. platters for sale. I had been lucky enough to find several old Frankie Laine 78s. After listening to these, I was thrilled that Frankie had recorded such a diverse array of music.

One of my favorite songs by Frankie on one of these records was “Ah, But it Happens.” Frankie recorded this song in 1947 for Mercury Records. As I would drive my old beat-up 1965 Ford Econoline van to the factory in town, I would sing this song. The joy and emotion I felt singing the song brought me to the realization that Frankie’s songs are truly a gift. I was a musician going to work in a factory and feeling dejected, but Frankie’s old recording was giving me happiness. This is a testament to what entertainment does for the masses—it helps us all to forget our problems for a little while. It lets us escape into another world, just like I had done listening to Frankie Laine for the first time, years earlier, in my red bedroom.

To our readers and all Frankie Laine fans: Please stay safe during this time of uncertainty.

 

 

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.