I had to call my first solo CD that.
I'm an artist and an illustrator. I've made a good part of my adult living doing that kind of thing. I was drawing before I went to school.
But...there's always been this other side to me. That music thing.
It goes back even earlier than the art. Maybe even into the womb. Both my parents were country musicians, starting before I was born.
Laura and Lynn Russwurm, my Mom and Dad, met over music, I'm told. Apparently, Mom had asked around looking for a guitar player who could back her up while she sang at a local talent contest. Dad's name came up. She lost the contest but won Dad.
They performed with Dad's band “The Pine River Troubadors” all over Southern Ontario. They guested on various TV and radio shows in those days too, including the CKNX Barn dance out of Wingham, and the Main Street Jamboree in Hamilton.
As one of my songs on this CD says:
“My Dad had a band in the fifties. They played hillbilly hits of the day.
The first music I remember was Hank Williams, he started me on down that lost highway.”
Quite true. The first music I can recall hearing was Hank Williams. Specifically, it was “My Bucket's Got a Hole In It”...on an old 78 record player that my parents had. I was three.
I remember creeping out of bed, to the top of the stairs, to listen to Dad's Band practising down in the basement.
I was the bratty kid at countless country music shows, running around, uncontrolled, in the crowd, because my parents were up on stage performing. I recall my grandmother sitting me down in front of the TV to watch my parents sing on some TV show or other.
When I was about five I did my first singing in public. I sang “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells” before Christmas on a radio show that my Dad and his band did at the time at C-JOY Radio in Guelph, Ontario.
Also, around age three or four...
There was a teen-aged girl living next door. She was, maybe, 14, and was my occasional baby sitter. One day, she called me over as I ran past their house. She had a radio or a portable record player on the porch. “Lance, how do you like this new singer?” She was sighing over some guy with the odd name of Elvis. He was kind of yelling when he sang, and the guitar was loud and in your face. I though it was cool...screaming out the words to that discordant guitar.
The song was “Hound Dog”. I remember that like it was yesterday.
That's where my roots go. To those few short years when black and white met. Blues, and “hillbilly” music. When Elvis, Johnny, Carl, and Jerry Lee were all still at Sun Records. Before the “Colonel” Hollywood-ized Elvis' sound.
Mostly though, at home. we listened to that old hillbilly music. Some day, they'd call it “country music” but not yet. A few of the big names at the time were Lefty Frizzell, Red Foley, Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow...and of course – Hank Williams, although he had died in the back seat of a Cadillac on New Years Eve, 1952. All these artists were suddenly panicked by this new sound that Elvis brought from the South. Since it wasn't yet called “Rock 'n Roll”, they had to put it somewhere, so it got lumped in with that Hillbilly stuff. Had he lived just a few years more, I'm sure even Hank would have been playing this new music with the black influences. Of course, his music had roots in the blues too, just as Jimmie Rodgers music had. When Hank Williams left this earth, he had been edging towards what would later be known as “rockabilly”. Who knows what might have been had he lived longer?
In a few years, the music split. Chet Atkins took country music uptown. It wasn't hillbilly any more. Rockabilly? Well...it became Rock 'n Roll, more or less. The music did die briefly. Buddy Holly died literally. Elvis went into the army. That thing with Jerry Lee's under-aged cousin. Carl Perkins' car accident...
So,we entered an era of rather bland pop music. There seemed to be a lot of Bobbys involved.
But we all know how it turned out. A few years later, those four mop top lads from Liverpool reminded Americans about all this stuff they'd forgotten. And Rock 'n Roll never looked back.
My Dad was also a prolific songwriter. He's written hundreds of them over the years. Artists like Hank Thompson, Carl Smith, The Lewis Family, Ray Price and The Mercey Brothers have all recorded songs written by him. When I was kid, Dad used to spend hours recording demo tapes down in our basement to send away to Nashville artists to sell his songs. He spent hours pecking away on his portable Smith Corona, typing out the lead sheets to his songs to accompany the tapes. In those days, there was a chance that the right people would actually listen to unsolicited material !
You could get backstage easily, too, back then. I remember meeting various performers that way when Dad would give them copies of his songs.
I grew up with Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline and Hank Thompson. Later, it was George Jones, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Tammy Wynette and especially Waylon Jennings. Dad later turned me on to Western Swing,and some other really early stuff - Jimmie Rodgers – who started it all, for example. Thanks, Dad, for giving me the right grounding!
But, coming of age when I did, I am a Baby Boomer too.
I loved the music of my generation. I watched that historic Ed Sullivan Show that introduced the Beatles to America. I caught the tail end of the huge folk music boom in the early sixties. I learned my first guitar chords from early Gordon Lightfoot records and song books.
And, naturally, being young, I had to rebel against my country music roots. I wouldn't admit to knowing any of that music to my friends in high school. I listened to Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and The Stones. I loved Led Zeppelin. The Blues – Johnny Winter...Janis....etc
I wanted to be a rock 'n roll guitar player.
I turned 18 the same week they lowered the drinking age to 18 in Ontario. My Dad had recently formed a new band and was playing bars and dances. And, his guitar player had just quit, so he offered me a job. I was a dropout. Jobs were scarce. I learned that I could make as much money in two nights playing as my friends could by delivering pizza all week. What the hell! Hopefully, my friends wouldn't go to those bars and see me playing country!
And, Dad also got me started singing. I had always been too shy to do that before. But, in his band, I actually came to enjoy it!
You guessed it...as the seventies went on, I lost interest in the pop charts. Disco came along. “New Age”...Punk....
I found I loved country music after all. And, the older I got, the more I loved the “Real” stuff. What they call “roots music” today.
My Dad's band came and went. I played with others, I had a few bands of my own. I even played “New” Country for a while. I'd drop out of music altogether for years at a time – my poor guitars would sit there, neglected and unplayed...but I always came back
I thought I was more or less retired from music in recent years....but...Dad kept dragging me out to play here and there. In his mid eighties there was no stopping him He promoted concerts, produced CDs for various artists, and was active as a historian for country music, and still played with his own group regularly.
And one day, he told me it's time I had my own CD, and he'd back it the project. I jumped at the chance! I can't ever thank Dad enough for all the things he's done for me. He taught me to dream, and, more than that, he taught me to FOLLOW my dreams. What a rare thing!
And, on top of that, he was always the best father a person could have!
Unfortunately...his body finally gave out and he passed away in 2016. I will miss him forever!
And thanks, Lucille, for turning me on to that ”Elvis guy” so many years ago!