Jim Bishop: Dusty discs activate cobwebbed recollections

I felt so “blown away” I was glad I was sitting down at the time. I popped the CD in the player and turned back the hands of time 55 years (man alive!). It seemed like only yesterday once more.

There was still background noise that sounded like someone sharpening a knife on a revolving cutting stone and an occasional “hic,” but the overall sound quality was much improved.

Some time back my brother Eric sent me a Soundcraft 45 rpm-speed metal disc that the J. Vernon and Ann Bishop family had made in 1955, wondering if it’s possible to salvage the original recording, in pretty bad condition from years of play and languishing in storage.

I gave the dusty disc to my friend Charles Graves at WSVA radio, who enjoys the challenge of trying to bring back to life that which some would declare near death. He ran the corroded record through a computer software program on to a blank CD.

I listened to the restored copy and almost choked on my feelings – good emotions. In my mind’s eye I can still see our family gathered in the cozy dining room of our domicile next to the Doylestown (PA) Mennonite Church. Dad arranged for someone to come with a one-track reel-to-reel tape recorder as we put together a five-and-a half-minute compilation of representative family activities.

On the recording, I played two short piano selections, one titled “In Church,” sister Becky recited “The Lord’s Prayer,” then brother Bob sang the Malotte version of the same biblical text – reminiscent of Alfalfa’s struggling to hit the high notes in the “Our Gang” comedies. It concludes with the song our family frequently sang around the supper table, “In My Heart There Rings a Melody.”

I still remember traveling into Philadelphia with Dad to load up a Blasius & Sons upright piano that he found at a reduced price; it might have been a giveaway. The massive instrument produced a marvelous sound, even when this young lad sat at the bench and hit wrong notes in practice which I did nightly – whether I felt like it or not. The piano sported genuine ivory keys too, but was dead weight. It didn’t budge once situated in the corner of our dining room.

I think of my weekly visits – some anticipated when I was prepared, dreaded when I hadn’t adequately prepared – to my teacher, Mr. Partch. I liked him. He seemed genuinely interested in me and affirmed my potential as a student of the keyboard even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick with it.

I knew that my teacher was biased toward classical music, which is largely what I learned week after week (by the fifth year I was playing heavy duty Tchaikovsky), and Mr. Partch was less than thrilled when I brought sheet music for Roger Williams’ “Autumn Leaves” and Duane Eddy’s “The Lonely One” to class.

My regret to this day is dropping piano lessons when I chose to attend Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, some 25 miles distant, instead of Central Bucks. My parents couldn’t afford to continue the lessons and cover tuition at Dock. Fortunately, the piano background served me well when I took up the baritone ukulele in college and the acoustic guitar shortly after graduation. I still have this six-string companion, get it out and play occasionally.

The homemade recording ends with Mom stating, “This record was made Feb. 28, 1955. The children’s ages are Jimmy, 9, Bobby, 7, Becky, 5.” Eric, now 53, and Mike, 51, were not even a gleam in my parents’ eye then.

“Dr. Charles” went the second mile and performed digital surgery on two more 7-inch, 45 rpm vinyl discs from my collection – Bill Hayes’ “Ballad of Davey Crockett,” introduced on “Disneyland” on TV and soared to No. 1 for weeks in 1955, and a Capitol 45 that I thought too far gone to be resuscitated, “Daffy Duck Flies South.”

The wacky but ingenious story line with Mel Blanc’s voice characterizations and inspired music by Billy May has Daffy flying south for the winter (it sounds like a jet plane with coughing spasms when he takes off and comes in for “a perfect three-point landing – my two knees and my nose”).

Daffy winds up by accident in “Backwards Land,” where the local native says goodbye when he means hello, the cow moos backwards and the children in the little red school house are instructed by the teacher to “Sing we’ll now, children” and they respond collectively, “Clothes our wash we way the is this, clothes our wash, clothes our wash. . .”

Because he’s stuck in Backwards Land, Daffy has to take off flying backwards and winds up right back where he started from. A moral here, perhaps?

“Oh, well,” he reasons, “I may not be the first duck south, but I’ll bet I’m the first duck back north.” We Bishop kids participated vicariously in these fantasy adventures for years, courtesy of our heavily-used phonograph player and our vivid imaginations.

That’s NOT all, folks! Thanks to some amazing technological advances, our vintage family recording and other childhood memoirs will live on.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. Contact him at bishopj@emu.edu.

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