I'm the youngest of four siblings in my family. It's not hard to imagine that our home environment around music was quite eclectic. My oldest sister had already left home by the time I was a teen, but the teen-mania that surrounded our household at various times with different music artists and bands was never scarce.
The AM radio station in the family pickup truck blared Charlie Rich, to which dad would serenade along with his best crooning pipes.
Mom's 800 pound solid cherry, stereo-record-player cabinet in the livingroom (please tell me you remember this piece of electronics disguised as furniture) would permeate the house with the sounds of Lou Rawls or Andy Williams when she was on a deep cleaning kick. Still to this day whenever I smell lemon Pledge, the words and tune of "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" ring in my head. In fact, I set that song as my ringtone for when mom calls my cell.
My older brother, Mick, introduced me to hard rock. He was into REO Speedwagon, Journey, Foghat, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band and, of course, Kiss.
Then my next oldest sister, Michelle, was really into Shawn Cassidy and the likes of Foreigner and Loverboy.
But the most influential music impact I recall is from my oldest sister and her husband. They dated when she was 15 years old, which made me about 6 at the time. I remember her sleepovers and the record player being the centerpiece of every giggling girl friend that donned a pair of bell bottoms and a tie-died shirt. Whether it was The Monkees, Herman's Hermit, Dave Clark Five, The Beatles or David Cassidy, Deb always had some music thumping the walls of her room with the door closed.
I particularly remember the near fainting experience she had when mom and dad bought her tickets to her first ever concert. It was the Beach Boys. This was the best moment in her life, as I recall. I still hear her playing the drum solo of "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris just to put an exclamation point on her love of all things surfer-bands had to offer. The Beach Boys were royalty, and she was a fangirl princess in their kingdom.
Looking back I realize the impact music had on our family. Every one of us bought 45's for our personal record players in our rooms. Mine was a Fisher Price beginner model, but it did the trick just fine. My brother would buy 8-tracks at the record store and my cousins would bring their records and 8-tracks over whenever they visited. Dad could be heard doing his best karaoke singing (before karaoke even existed) in the shower or bedroom. I would have the family sit as an audience in the living room while I performed my best version of Ben by the Jackson 5. At every age in our home, music was a dynamic that tied us together.
On April 4, 2014, I was in Cincinnati with Spencer and his Kane Krew (dancers and DJ Hype Man) for a live show at the 20th Century Theater. The concert promoter pulled me aside with a smile on his face and pointed across the crowded audience to a white haired older gentleman who sat quietly and observed the performance. He announced to me that this man was none other than Fred Vail, the guy credited for launching the careers of The Beach Boys.
Imagine the tingle that ran down my back and arms when I was promptly escorted to him for a chance to say hello. It was a quick greeting but a chance for a selfie that I could show my sister. After the show was over and we were tearing down Spencer's merch display, Fred was fiddling around at the table a few feet from mine. I asked him to share about how he connected with the Beach Boys. He was 19 at the time and just getting started in concert promotions. He booked them among 7 or 8 possible choices of surfer bands. He said it was the most successful booking he'd ever made financially speaking. The band members each cleared $55 pay while he earned a tidy $4000. They skyrocketed so quick in popularity that they signed with the William Morris Agency shortly after and Fred moved on to other acts like Dave Clark Five, Jan & Dean, The Righteous Brothers and many more. Just hearing him rattle off names of bands and artists he helped promote sent my mind back to my childhood and hearing those records play from my sister's bedroom and on the radio.
For millions of teens, those bands were the emerging talent that swept the nation a few years after Fred helped them become known. They were the first teen idols of our pop culture in America from the late 1950s and beyond. Fred was somewhat like the first Scooter Braun of my son's generation. I was talking to him and just shaking my head in awe. He invited Spencer and I to come to his studios in Nashville, to which we will certainly oblige when we are there again.
While there's never certainty on whether Spencer will blow up like the Beach Boys or Surfaris, it's cool to witness 50 years of music and its impact on my life and knowing that Spencer and his fellow emerging teen artists may be some promoter's anecdotal story to another generation of music enthusiast some day.
There will never be an era like The Beatles or Elvis Presley again. There's simply too many artists and too much instant access to talent. The music industry is too saturated to have that mass hysteria like the bands of the 50s-60s experienced. But the social media stars of music today are finding a way to be embraced by thousands of loyal subjects in their own kingdoms of music. Every fan selfie taken with Spencer at a concert reminds me that these are magical moments that I will never forget. Spencer is becoming a teen idol for many fans around the world, even though I still see him as just my kid. While my upbringing didn't deal with music this seriously, it was still a major ingredient in our home life.
Now, that melodic-torch has passed to my family without losing it's brightness or fervor, and ignited a new generation of music tradition that Spencer will undoubtedly pass along to his children some day.
* Spencer Kane is the son of Patrick Hess and a teen artist and TV actor.