Monday, November 25, 2019

Did You Ever See Allegro

The members of the band, Did You Ever See Allegro, are students at the fictional Cumberland Conservatory in Maryland. The city, about 175 miles west of both Baltimore and Washington, DC, is located at a place where Maryland is only a few miles across, between Pennsylvania to the North and West Virginia to the South. It was an important outpost for commerce and transportation through the 1800s, being at the junction of the first railroads. heading West, the old National Road, and the Baltimore and Ohio Canal. It was an important point o the underground railroad before the Civil War.

By 1969, when the band’s tale begins, the area was far from wealthy. Coal mining had lost its appeal, and the rugged terrain didn’t support most types of agriculture. One of the poorest metropolitan areas in the country, nobody knew they were poor because there was nothing else to compare themselves to. The Conservatory attracted music students from the mid-Atlantic states.

There were few opportunities for employment in the area, making a traveling band almost inevitable. The student body was mostly white, but the unnamed fraternity to which most members belonged was integrated. The local chapter had black members as well as LGBT members and one blind brother. This didn’t sit well with all students’ parents, nor even with all members of the fraternity or the band. In fact, one member of the band had been a member of the Junior KKK in Southern Maryland, the area to which John Wilkes Booth had fled after assassinating President Lincoln. He correctly assumed he would be relatively safe there because of sympathy for the Confederacy.

Cumberland was representative of its time – segregated, bigoted, set in its ways. The Conservatory was an island of tolerance in a place and time of intolerance. Integrated couples were barred from hotels, and same-sex couples met with near-universal hostility. Home to about 20,000 people, the city drew few tourists. Like much of America at the time, it was provincial and proud of it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Attention Fans of the Sixtees and Seventies

At the Cumberland Conservatory in Maryland it was summer 1969 and the students were doing what all twenty-one-year-old hormone-flooded male musicians did: bitch and moan that they were better than those rock musicians on tour. The pop guys thought glissando was an Italian word for vagina.  The country singers thought folk was a verb. Doo-Wop used funk as that verb’s past participle.

It was the era of protests, the Summer of Love, Woodstock and the Viet Nam War. Pre-recorded cassettes had been available for three years, the first transistorized drum machine could be carried by a single person and didn’t need its own room, and the apex of music recording technology had been reached: The eight-track. Everybody smoked, the drinking age was in flux, the Stonewall Rebellion was still a novelty, and live concerts were all the rage. For some, sex had become a team sport and AIDS still hadn’t been discovered.

Into that environment a bunch of music performance majors launched themselves as a garage band and played gigs basically for gas money. They got a contract with a record label that turned out to be a distributor, set up a summer of Love, Woodstock and the Viet Nam War. Pre-recorded cassettes had been available ummer tour on the fly, wrote some original music and ignored every convention in popular music, not to mention never did develop business sense. Did You Ever See A Leg Grow? was good, it was fun, it was dead after fourteen months.

Over the coming months I’ll be showing sneak peeks at their story in the blog, sharing the art work and seeking input for other stories and books of interest to early Baby Boomers. It’s gonna be a blast.