I can remember writing melodies at around the age of 13. I can’t say they were complete thoughts or something I would call a song but it was the beginning of exploring on the piano with the idea of creating melody and harmony. When I was 14, we’d put together a nine piece band with a standup singer and four horns. It’s hard to believe that a group of teenagers who were mostly junior high school age created a band and we started to arrange songs with the idea of performing. I can only contribute it to the ignorance of youth and not letting boundaries stop your dreams.
I do know that we practiced often and took it for granted that we could take over my parent’s living room thus preventing my father from watching the evening news. What a joy it is to remember a family that loved me so dearly and enabled all of my healthy endeavors. I remember the one rule was that we had to stop by 9 PM so we wouldn’t disturb the neighbors. Being the keyboard player and understanding the chord structure of the songs put the arrangement of the horn parts directly on my shoulders. I had no idea at the time how important this was for my future. It was just something that needed to be done and I seemed to have an easy command of it.
I know that my mother asked the mayor of my hometown, Mayor Leonard J Toups of Thibodaux, Louisiana, if we could have permission to play in one of the local clubs even though we were underage. Having permission from the mayor started our “career” as young musicians. As I’ve taught and interacted with young teenagers it’s hard to believe that we had a working band at such a young age. We learned the popular songs of the day and a lot of Motown tunes and could get the crowd rockin’. By the time I was 16 I had earned enough money to pay for half of my first car, an Austin Healey Sprite. My wonderful father paid for the other half.
The band, “The Rhodes”, continued to play throughout our high school years. The name came from my piano, the first Rhodes piano in the South (around serial # 78) that I had bought when I saw the first brochure of the instrument. I didn’t need to hear it, I just knew it was the piano for me. I called Mr. Rhodes to tell him we had named our band after him. That was long before the company merged with Fender and I could just call the company and talk to him.
By the time I moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, I was arranging horns and strings in the studios of the Crescent City. Also, I continued to write instrumental songs which led to some of them being recorded by Ronnie Kole, a famous New Orleans pianist. The success and recognition of this effort played a big part in my decision to leave Tulane where I was earning an Electrical Engineering degree and start the very chancy pursuit of becoming a professional musician.
As you may know from reading my other blogs I spent many hours under the beautiful oak trees across St. Charles Street in Audubon Park thinking through the pull of the music and the security of an engineering degree. But through it all, the music inside me emerged to the top and help me fight the battle of becoming a working musician.
So the real question here wasn’t whether or not I should be a musician but whether there was a question. Period.