One of the perks for me, in researching the Knapp story, the way I have was, it heightened my interest in my own family's history and made me aware of how some of the most small details are like grains of sand that make up the beach or dots that somehow connect to tell a bigger story. Fortunately I have a memory that can recall most everything I have ever heard about both the Joseph and Spooner families, Unfortunately, with my new found awareness of the last decade, I now wish I had heard a lot more. There is no one still around who can answer most of my questions that remain. That leaves me to rely on the scant genealogical info I can find and my own deductive reasoning and speculation.
WHERE DID YOU GET THAT HAT?
As of June of 2010, I have worn a lot of different hats in the 63 years and a few weeks, I have been around. The first one was as a Professional Musician _ our band got paid at a high school dance on May 10th 1961, on the eve before my 14th birthday! Bands continued and my income was assisted by a stint as an Auto Mechanic in 1964, Truck Driver '64, Stock Car Driver ( the summer of '65 & I wore a helmet for that one, lost a lot of money and almost my life) Commercial Fisherman 1970's, Furniture Builder also in the '70's, Musical Merchant & Concert promoter 1980's and since the 1980's Songwriter and Author. But by far,the most significant chapeau, that has remained fairly steady through all the years, is my musical one. I have often thought about where that hat really came from. I used to answer questions in my active songwriting days, mainly to reporters with "Both my parents were somewhat musical, Mom played a uke as a teenager and she taught me my first lessons on the guitar and both Mom and Dad played piano by ear."
My earliest musical experiences were circa 1949 and the very early '50's, tinkering away at the pianos of my parents and grandmother. When we moved out of South Ozone Park, Queens to Mastic Beach, Long Island in the fall of 1950, our piano was left behind, most likely for the lack of room at the new house. I still can recall the men who carted it away before moving day. It was a weekday morning and it was just Mom and me at home, My last vision of it, was seeing it out on the sidewalk at 131 - 134th Street, as these burly guys loaded it on their truck. Mom was pretty sad, as was my father when he came home from work, I don't recall if my sister or brother reacted much at the vacancy in our living room,when they came home from school. That left me to tinker with my grandmother's piano whenever we would visit her in Jamaica, Queens. I can recall when I was three or four years old, listening to both my grandmother, mother and father all take turns at it. Sometimes my parents would play duets on it and then Pop would never fail to play the main song he wrote, a lively 2/4 ditty called, "Oh Gosh, Oh Gee,_ They're Gonna Build A Monument For Me" All three of us kids just ate that one up.
Then I would get my chance, sometimes sharing the bench briefly with my big brother and sister,but mainly spending the most time at it alone, becoming acutely aware of how different the black keys sounded to my ear than the white ones did. I made up my first little melody on Grandma's piano, almost entirely on the black keys. Decades later, I became aware of three things (not all at once) relating to the black keys. First : songwriting legend and founder of ASCAP, Irving Berlin, who also was a friend of Grandpa Spooner and if that's not enough, I shared a birthday with ! ( Irv lived to be 101 btw) only played in the key of F# which roots on the black keys. Second and most mysteriously, the little melody (that sounded somewhat oriental) that I first picked out on the black keys, was very close to one I would hear again in 1957, when The Diamonds, a Canadian singing group took South Carolinan, Maurice William's song Little Darlin' to the top of the pop charts. If Maurice Williams' name sounds somewhat familiar to you, I have just one word for ya _STAY!__ just a little bit longer and read how this story turns out. The Diamonds version of Little Darlin' btw was recorded in the key of F# and that might of been what first stirred my recollection of my little melody. Third and again somewhat fascinating and mysterious to me was, I would learn years later another South Carolina native, Walter Hyatt, who was my favorite and most prolific cowriter here in Nashville, was initially turned onto his life in music when he first heard the song Little Darlin' !
Grandma's ebony upright piano too went silent when she, Grandpa Jack and sister in law Molly Spooner aka Nanny, moved in with us in Mastic Beach in the fall of 1959. Even though we added an extension onto the house, there was still no room for a piano much to her regret. I could tell early on,that she really enjoyed playing it. Music was always very special to Anna Spooner, she also played the zither as a young woman. Some of her favorite songs were from The Weavers,(On Top Of Old Smokey ) Tennessee Ernie Ford, (Oh Holy Night) Les Paul & Mary Ford (Vaya Con Dios) and Liberace ( I'll Be Seeing You). The last time I recall sitting at Grandma's "city" piano was the summer of '59. I could pick out a lot more tunes on all 88 keys by then, but I had already been playing guitar for three years and my musical knowledge had expanded somewhat.
NOTES IN A NAME ?
I was born on Mother's Day ! in 1947 with the name Kenneth Charles Joseph, Besides my birth certificate, the only other official document I have, that spells out my entire original name is my 8th Grade diploma. My high school diploma, just has my middle initial and my college one never materialized. as I left early in the third semester to pursue a full time career in music. Just like one time musical pal and high school drop out, Billy Joel has often said. " I Didn't Need A Diploma As I Wasn't Going To Columbia University _ I Was Going To Columbia Records." Although I may of had the diplomas, Billy was far more successful at both the United Artists & Columbia labels, of which two bands I was in were also affiliated with
JUNE 23, 1960 - FIFTY YEARS AGO THIS WEEK
In 1979, after using the name Ken Spooner professionaly in the music biz for several years, it became legal. I intially started using it to honor my Mom, who was born Amelia Spooner, and who gave me my first guitar lessons. Also Spooner just sounded much cooler than Joseph, which always seemed to either confuse people or cause them to ask "What Kind Of Last Name Is Joseph ?" It wasn't to me and my grandmother even added an S to it most of the time, much to my grandfather's slight irritation.
I was prompted to make Spooner legal by my fiance, who also preferred becoming Anne Spooner rather than Joseph. In doing so I have have no regrets except one _ I also dropped my middle name Charles,without really thinking about it. Charles was my father's middle name too, who took a double hit. He had an Uncle I never knew named Charles Joseph, born in 1877, who according to the census was in the cigar biz in 1900 and still rolling & smoking in the 1920's. I don't smoke... never really did and although it's highly probable he was the Charles that I was also named for, there was another Charles on the Spooner side that I feel the connection to.
Charles Spooner, was born Charles Schlagel on April 11, 1878 in Wooster,Ohio. He was one of Jack Spooner's my semi famous celebrity Grandfather 10 brothers and sisters, all who save for the last one, Fred Spooner were born Schlagel__ but that's a whole other story.
I regret I know very little about my great Uncle Charlie, who died in New York City on September 11, 1918, because I could of known a whole lot more had I only thought to ask Molly Spooner before January of 1964 rolled around. But what little I do know about him is the main reason of why I am writing this. You see Charlie was the first professional musician I know of in our family, I'm the second and probably the last _ but who really knows, as seventy years elapsed between the time Charlie and I first appeared. My son Erik played cello for a while in his high school days, and still plays once in a blue moon, but his chosen profession is that of a graphic artist.
Somewhere in my sketchy research I have conducted in the last 5 years I discovered that Charlie went to NY City to pursue his craft in the 1890's. My Grandfather Jack followed him there in 1905, after he got out of the Marine Corps and started his career at The Waldorf Astoria. The last census Charlie appears in ( 1910 ) shows him as still single and a theatrical pianist. He most likely played in Vaudville and for silent movies, but he also was no stranger to the taverns. His death certificate shows he died from cirroshis of the liver, which has long been an occupational hazard of musicians. I don't drink btw or when I do it is extremely rare and usually only wine or an even rarer one beer. Even through the sixties when I was a full time musician in bar bands and the drinks were on the house, I rarely indulged.
"I WONDER WHO'S KISSING HER NOW ?"
I believe it was between 1915 - 1917, that Charlie met Molly and they got married. I don't know what Molly's maiden name was, but should. Her given first name was Amelia ( the same as Charlie's mother and my Mother too, who would not yet arrive until 1919. These are the questions I should know the answers to, but when your a kid of 13 or so and your life revolves around guitars and cars, asking for details about your elder family members lives is not a priority. It should be REQUIRED ! Lucky for me though whatever I did hear, I retained.
Molly ____ Spooner originally came from Boston. Not long after Charlie died, forty something Molly moved in with my grandparents and never left. I'm sure it was probably meant to just be a temporary thing, but it grew into a permanent one. I heard she arrived looking like a flapper from a fashion magazine around 1918 - 19 in her Buick touring car that she drove herself, along with her dog and her wardrobe trunks. As far as I know there was never another man in her life. She was a lifelong Camel smoker and enjoyed her wine and cocktails.
Like my older brother and sister, I grew up knowing her as Nanny, because that was the nickname she acquired after my mother was born. It is said although she never had children of her own, she had a whole lot to say about rearing them. My big sister recalls in the 1940's looking in Nanny's trunks, that were stored in the attic and seeing fabulous beaded dresses, feathered boas and tiny shoes.
"MOLLY & BESS"
In the Spooner's backyard - Jamaica, Queens circa 1940's
In 1956 when Elvis first came on the national scene, I remember Nanny, unlike most folks her age in their 70's then or even over 30 for that matter becoming a huge fan. I can still see her sitting in her rocking chair with her big I LOVE ELVIS button on, smoking her Camel and listening to Love Me Tender, Don't Be Cruel and Hound Dog!
When my grandparents and Molly moved in with us in 1959. I recall this little gold music box in her room that played her favorite song. It was one she always asked me to play her on my guitar, but I never learned it properly back then, probably because her music box didn't play all the great notes the writers put in the tune either.
The song was called "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now." Like many of the questions I wished I asked her but didn't, was why this tune was her favorite. I now think I know. It was written in 1909 for a musical The Prince Of Tonight and was a HUGE hit then and the song also was the title of a movie in 1947 about the life of Joe Howard the songpublisher - writer who claimed he wrote the melody with Harold Orlob. I have no doubt in my mind that Charlie played it for Molly many a time or that it was probably their song. It was recorded by many diverse artists over the decades; Ray Charles, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey to name a few. I became reacquainted with it in the 1970's, when Harry Nilson, one of my favorite singer songwriters, did an entire album of very old standards, calling it "A Little Touch Of Schmilson In The Night". Helping Harry out, was my all time favorite conductor arranger Gordon Jenkins. I still have the album.
DECEMBER 25, 1960 - MASTIC BEACH, NY
MOLLY & ME AT 84 AND 13 YEARS OF AGE
In January of 1964 Molly was just 6 months shy of hitting all 88 keys of life
My grandfather Jack and Molly died within 6 months of each other and my Grandmother found herself with a some extra time as she took care of them for decades. Around Feb of 1964, she decided to once again get herself a piano. I remember going shopping for it with her. She got a new Wurlitzer spinet at Abraham & Strauss department store and while they were filling out the paper work, I sat down at the bench and started to noodle at it. Both Grandma and Mom were shocked at what I could do ( I was sort of amazed myself ) as I had never really been around a keyboard except when we visited Grandma in Jamaica in the 1950's. It just felt natural. Within six months I got my first organ and started doubling on it on the job. I always would noodle too on Grandma's Wurlitzer as it was in our Patchogue living room up until 1977.
PATCHOGUE, NY 1966
My then two year old nephew Jerry Christie at his great grandma's Wurlitzer. A craftsman by trade. he recently opened Nashville Piano Rescue, a most unique antique piano sales and restoration shop here in Nashville. Today ( June 19, 2010) I played for the first time in 33 + years, the identical model piano in his store. It felt great.
Just A Song Before I Go