Isn’t it funny how some of your earliest memories are your most vivid? I clearly remember standing in our den on Hillcrest with mom in front of the hi-fi as she put one of her favorite Ray Charles albums on for us to listen to and for her to sing with around the house – I was probably around four at the time. You see, my mom made sure music was a huge part of my life beginning at a very early age.
Mom was born in 1928, she blossomed early and my grandparents knew she had some seriously special gifts as a three-year old. Not only did she look exactly like Shirley Temple, she could tap and sing just as well as the star. Mom tried out for a Shirley Temple look-alike contest here in Oklahoma City and won! She travelled with my grandparents to MGM where she did a screen test and got to enjoy the sights of Hollywood. My grandmother was fascinated by Hollywood and the whole scene out in California. One of my favorite pictures of mom is of her on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl posing for all to see her beautiful white panties! A few years later mom and my grandmother took a long road trip to sit in the outside stands at one of the very first Oscar award shows. Mom talked about all the stars they saw and the dreams they shared that maybe one day mom might be in Hollywood pursuing her passions. Later as a pre-teen in 1941, she spent a lot of time singing with big bands in the area for USO shows in beautiful costumes my grandmother had made for her. I remember playing in those gorgeous dresses and shoes while giving my own special performances in the den to whatever was on the hi-fi. Mom sang throughout high school for school dances, or whatever came up. She was beautiful and very, very talented. Several years ago, I was stopped by a male classmate of hers from Classen High School who knew that mom had passed away – he just wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed it when mom sang for their dances and other events. He added how he loved to wait to take his turn on the dance floor too, as mom was quite the jitterbug queen (and she married daddy who wouldn’t dance if the house was on fire and only liked to listen to Tennessee Ernie Ford and standards from the hymn book).
Love won over a career in music, but that didn’t stop my mom from making sure music was always on during the day at home or in the car. She bought me the Chipmunks singing the top Beatles hits of the day in 1965, the Mary Poppins soundtrack and many other kinds of children music; but, when she was in the mood we always listened to Ray Charles, Pete Fountain, and big band music. In the car we listened to WKY and knew the top 40 pop hits at all times. She sang just as loud as I did! In fact, I think she liked the Beatles a lot more than my big brother did at the time. She had a huge influence on Ricky’s music tastes as well as he enjoyed listening to musicians that weren’t as popular in 1964-1966. In fact, my big brother introduced me to my all time favorite singer Barbra Streisand when I was very young. I remember sitting in his room as he put her albums on and putting headphones on me (I was 12 years younger than he was – he was the most patient big brother ever) and telling me to really listen to the music. He loved the California sounds and female singers. I fell in love with the Mamas and the Papas, Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Donovan spending time in his room listening to his albums. Those were the people I wanted to sound like and tried to train my voice to sound like theirs. I had quite the musical education around the Kamp house!
My love of gospel music started at 5 when I joined the children’s choir at First Baptist Church. I remember singing the old standard gospel tunes and hyms, and still love them today. I will always think of my daddy when I hear the “Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace” – even as a child he would ask me to sing those for him. My love of gospel music and old church hymns came from my daddy.
Even though my grandmother, step-grandfather, and mother could all play the piano by ear, that gene didn’t pass to me (it passed right over my head). I took piano lessons several times but I just hated reading music and I didn’t care what the sheet music said about tempo; I wanted to sing and play the way I heard the song in my head. Obviously I didn’t continue to pursue piano lessons. Mom enrolled me in voice lessons at OCU music school with a very well-known voice coach – well that was a huge bust because the coach wanted me to sing opera since I spoke French and easily picked up Italian. Not my style at all, I hate opera to this day. I had no interest in musicals or anything that a normal voice student would want to pursue and hone their skills practicing. I just wanted to sing, period.
Ok, I really wanted to be a rock star by this point but I knew that was not going to happen!!!! I loved Janis Joplin, and the first female artists of the sixties (not the Karen Carpenter type either) because I could tell that they were singing from their heart and their head – the music led them on a journey of their soul, they weren’t confined to sheet music and 4/4 rhythm. In high school, my love of music led me to Bonnie Raitt, Rita Coolridge, Linda Rondstat and others. I told my parents over and over how lucky they were that Ricky was the child of the sixties and the Woodstock generation because if the tables had been turned, I would have hitched a ride to Woodstock, to the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and other concerts all over the country. I would have embraced the hippie lifestyle and probably would have stuck with it, as it is I’m an old hippie still at heart. But timing probably saved my life and my parent’s sanity! My favorite music is rooted in the sixties, the anti-war movement, the hippie movement and the psychedelic music movement. Oh the talent of Jimi Hendrix, young (and old) Eric Clapton, and the Allman Brothers….
On my playlist today is a box set I found years ago somewhere that is all hits of the sixties, a lot of one hit wonders, but the beginnings of the Moody Blues, the Bee Gees before disco ruined them, and many other artists of that time. Just to be nice, I have my Beats headphones on….
Peace – enjoy your Sunday!