in short pants, back in the days when radio was powered by steam & Dylan Thomas was quite possibly the only contemporary poet I had heard of, I appeared – does one appear on radio or is one heard? – on a quiz show called the 6400 Question. Maybe there was a dollar in there, or maybe it was dropped so the show wouldn't seem to be an american ripoff even though it was.
Anyway, it was one of those shows where the prizes got bigger & the questions harder as one progressed through the octets. The top prize was something like a washing machine & a refrigerator & some other form of whitegood, but I wasn't interested in them. Sorry Mum, but I had eyes only for the second prize, one of those new-fangled radiograms that played 78 and 45 and 33⅓ rpm records as well as having a built-in radio.
I'd grown up with a wind-up gramophone, playing Enrico Caruso records that were only pressed on one side. This RADIOGRAM, which had a cute little two-needle device that you clicked over to move between bakelite & vinyl, was the promised land to me.
My subject of choice was jazz. I got through some preliminary questions & was selected to be part of the broadcast show. Answered 8 through 1600 on the first evening, held in a bowling club or something, & came back for the final part, in a railway union hall, a couple of days later. Because I was going for the BIG PRIZE, I came on in the last half of the 30 minute show. Was asked the 3200 question, something bizarre like name three of the four trumpeters who came out to New Zealand during the war with Artie Shaw's Navy Band. Got two first & last names plus the surname of a third which was enough to be judged correct.
Big round of applause. "& now, the 6400 Question." "Sorry, but I'm stopping here." Collective gasp from the little old ladies in the audience. Then, since there were still a few minutes to fill up, got asked the BIG QUESTION to see if I knew it. Name the drummer who played with…….
Could have been four drummers after the first clue, two after the second, only one after the third. It was either Max Roach or Art Blakey, can't remember now. Big emotional buildup. "He's RIGHT!" Little old ladies got apoplexy, came up to me after the show, asked if I was sorry that I hadn't gone for that final question.
No. I got what I wanted. Was happy. Very happy.
A couple of months later, the local Jazz Appreciation Society – Christ, what a pretentious name, but everything was like that then – called me on stage at one of their regular concerts & presented me with a double lp for "my huge contribution to making the public aware of jazz". (& five years later, with my then band, I came back & blew the fuckers away. But that's another story. & another life.)
The double album they gave me was Ella Fitzgerald sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook. A beautiful, beautiful album; but along with my library & my record collection – amongst it an original Sun Records 78 of Elvis singing Mystery Train
which, if I had it now, I could retire on the proceeds – it got lost in one of my transitory periods (another story, another life).
Which is the point of all this. I managed to find the CD in Sydney, indulged myself, bought it. Am listening to it now. I'm a sucker for ballads, especially R&H – Hart, not Hammerstein. "If they asked me, I could write a book….."
&, as always, I deceive. I conceived of this listening to Ella. But now I'm listening to another Sydney indulgence — & another lost love, from a later library & another life — The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Elvin Bishop & Mike Bloomfield on guitars. Quel combination!
Train I ride, sixteen coaches long….