Monday, April 14, 2014

I Keep Right On A-Learnin'

We never know when we are going to have a lesson imparted to us.  For that matter, sometimes we have a lesson imparted and we don't even realize it at first.  This happens to those of us who are a little slow on the uptake, a group of which I am a charter member.  But maybe years later, you come to realize that someone showed a way of doing that impressed you and molded your future.

Ernest Ashworth, his suit,
and his toupee
Johnny Tillotson
The name "Johnny Tillotson" came up the other day.  Johnny was a pop singer whose success came in the early 60s with three big hit records: "Poetry In Motion," "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'," and the pop version of "Talk Back Trembling Lips" (Ernest Ashworth had the country hit on that one - the only major hit of his career, and doggone if he didn't go get himself a Nudie suit with big ruby red lips all over it and show up every Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry and belt out his big hit as the crowd went wild!)

Enough about Ernest.  Johnny was a good boy, a handsome fella, and he did have his hits going for him until The Beatles landed in America and dashed the plans of a lot of Johnnies and Jimmies and Frankies and Fabians.  Johnny T, being a Southern fellow, tried the country route which had worked for Conway Twitty and a few others, and made some records with the country sound in the early 70s, all of which are unknown titles today, but those records are what brought his path into confluence with mine for half an hour.

I was working as a midday DJ, doing the Housewives' Hit Parade for Baltimore's #1 Country Station, soon to become Baltimore's #2 Country Station in a town that only needs one country station.  But we had no competition and were riding pretty high in the radio ratings when Johnny Tillotson showed up with his manager.

Johnny was appearing that night at a bar down the road a piece and he would really appreciate a little bump, a word or two to get the people to come on out and see him.  Sure, my boss said, just come on in, Mark will interview you, maybe take a couple of calls,  and good luck.

And that's what he did.  We talked on the air about his hits, and the memories that people would have connected with hearing "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' " performed live at the fabulous Club Whoozit down on Rte 3, just past the split with the interstate.  I guess he took a couple of calls ("Johnny, this is Agnes!  Do you remember meeting me when you sang at the Sand Bar that time" sort -of - thing) and he was off, probably to grab some bacon and eggs and a nap before the show.

Now, here's what I took away, although I don't think I realized it.  Johnny Tillotson had been a big deal ten years before that, with appearances on Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand and the like, and now here he was with me in a radio studio. I probably had to move my lunch box and a stack of records and tapes so I could see him while we talked.  AND YET he showed not a trace of any of these:  ego, disappointment, superiority, big-headed show-bizzy-ness or phony humility.  Just a nice guy, trying to make his living singing his songs, coming to grips with the commercial end of not being nearly as famous as he had been.

I think that a person who can be as decent, as kind and friendly, at the valley of his or her success as they had been while riding the wave of renown, is a worthwhile person with the right stuff for values.  I see that Johnny is still kicking around the music scene down in Florida, and I have a feeling that he is still the same humble, straight-ahead kind of guy.

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