Rich Wilhelm

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Steve and Me, 33 Years Down the Road o’ Life

In Music/Memory on March 29, 2013 at 4:03 am

The voice on the other end of the line was incredulous.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 15 but I’m a really big fan.”

It was late on a Friday night, October 10, 1980. After years of trying to win radio station contests, I had gotten through to the disc jockey at WIOQ, Philadelphia’s premiere “progressive rock” station at that time. I was on the verge of winning a pair of tickets to see singer-songwriter Steve Forbert, but it looked as though my age could be a deal breaker.

“Do you have a way to get there?”

“Yeah,” I said, though I wasn’t entirely certain that I did.

A brief pause.

“OK, you got ’em. Your name’ll be on the list. Tomorrow night at Widener College.”

I hung up the phone and fairly exploded with excitement, yelling to my parents that I had just won Steve Forbert tickets. I don’t remember their reaction, though they may have had the same concerns the DJ had: what about the fact that you’re just 15? How are you going to get there?

Mom and Dad must have been cool with the idea though, since the next day, when I was at Granite Run Mall with my old grade school friend Dave, I mentioned that I had these Steve Forbert tickets for that night and told Dave that my dad would drive us down to the concert if wanted to come with me. Dave tentatively agreed.

Later, after we’d gone our separate ways for the day, Dave called to tell me that his parents didn’t want him going to the show. Just coincidentally, I think that was the last time I ever spoke to Dave. We were attending different high schools and the drift had already begun.

With Dave out of the picture, we decided that Dad would go with me to the show. I’m not sure how excited Dad was by the prospect, though he undoubtedly knew a few Forbert tunes: “Going Down to Laurel,” and other tracks from Forbert’s debut, Alive on Arrival, had gotten decent radio play on WIOQ. Forbert’s second album, Jackrabbit Slim, yielded a genuine hit single, “Romeo’s Tune,” and his third album, Little Stevie Orbit had recently been released.

And so it was that Dad and I drove to the gym at nearby Widener College that autumn Saturday evening nearly 33 years ago. Walking to the gym doors, there was predictably trouble with “the list,” as it initially appeared that my name wasn’t on it. This caused me some consternation, but my name was eventually located and we were in.

It was Dad, me and a few thousand college kids, nearly all of whom were smoking pot. It was the first time I’d ever encountered that particular aroma. Neither Dad nor I indulged.

Forbert’s show that night was great. Later that night, I breathlessly wrote in my diary that Steve Forbert was “fantastically superb.” What fifteen-year old uses that combination of words? Not a phrase I’ve used since, but I was excited. I had just seen one of my first rock concerts.

I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty certain Dad enjoyed the show that night as well. I think he enjoyed experiencing live music, but I remember him being somewhat cranky about the process of getting to and attending concerts. I can count on one hand the number of shows that just he and I attended (beginning with the Forbert show), but each one was a memorable experience.

Going to see Steve Forbert with Dad is one of my favorite memories of my teenage days with Dad. It was also the only time I ever saw Forbert. Since Dad’s passing in 2003, I’ve occasionally returned to that 1980 evening and it occurred to me that if I ever got the chance, I’d like to let Forbert know the role he played in the lives of Dad and me three decades ago.

Last Friday night, I had that opportunity. Forbert was playing an acoustic set, opening for Paul Thorn at the Colonial Theatre, right here in Phoenixville. I decided to go, on my own, and was able to grab a front row seat. I could have brought Donna along, or even Jimmy, but seeing Steve Forbert for the first time in 33 years felt like something I wanted to take in on my own.

After Steve’s performance, I strolled out to the lobby, with the covers of his first three albums in hand. At the merchandise table, I bought Forbert’s latest CD, Over With You, which was released last September. (I’ve listened to it several times over the past week and it is excellent.)

When it was my turn in line, I introduced myself to Steve and told him the story that I’ve just told you. It was a condensed version, as I didn’t want to take too much of his time, but he was very gracious and friendly. After he signed my album covers I stepped away, but then decided to step back in line to ask if I could have my picture taken with him. Again, he graciously obliged:


After meeting Steve, I headed back to my seat for Paul Thorn’s show. I had not heard of Thorn before, but he and his band immediately won me over. As I listened I thought that Dad would have enjoyed Paul Thorn, as well as Forbert’s opening set. It was then I noticed that the seat next to me had been empty throughout the evening. So maybe, in some way, Dad was indeed at the Colonial last Friday night.

I plan to see Steve Forbert again. Sometime sooner than 33 years from now.

Here’s my Cheap Red Wine video from a few years ago, in which I tell the story of how I won the tickets back in 1980:


[The Bracket]

In Sports on March 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

[An article on The Bracket, featuring various tangents enclosed in, you guessed it…brackets!]

My 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket has been submitted to the proper authorities. That is to say, my serious attempt at a bracket. A second, less serious attempt may follow. The deadline for that bracket isn’t as drop-dead serious as the first one.

If it weren’t for my son, Jimmy, I’d have no bracket. This is because I am not essentially hardwired for sports, either as a participant or as a fan. I do not say this as some sort of snobbish badge of pride, but I also do not say it out of shame. Sports, in any form, are not a primary subject in my mind and never have been. That is just the way it is.

Being a guy who doesn’t follow sports does occasionally lead to some awkward moments. Take any pair or group of men who don’t know each other well, put them together and what is the one conversational area that is typically a guaranteed icebreaker? That would be sports. But sports talk more often than not leaves me nodding my head politely and eventually admitting that, generally speaking, I don’t follow sports.

And that is where the awkwardness sets in, at least sometimes. Other times, we just move on to greener conversational pastures.

[And please note: I do not in any way mean to imply here that talking sports is distinctly the realm of men and that women do not talk sports. In addition to not being interested in sports, I’m rather allergic to that kind of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” line of thinking, even though aspects of it may appear to be true at times. But I am talking specifically here about my experience with other guys.]

Here’s a great example, from my life, of how clueless I can be about sports, specifically about the ritual of March Madness.

On March 26, 1988, following a Saturday morning acting class I was taking in my last semester at Temple University, I boarded an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, headed south to visit my friend Greg at his parents’ house outside of Washington, D.C. I believe it was a weeklong celebration of Greg’s birthday, with several of our college friends involved.

Almost immediately after boarding, I found myself being introduced to D.J. Fontana, a legendary musician who drummed on dozens of recording sessions, particularly for Elvis Presley. The man who facilitated this introduction was equally legendary: Paul Burlison, the guitarist for the Johnny Burnette Trio. That band’s song, “Train Kept A-Rollin'” is historic, in large part due to Burlison’s pioneering use of feedback in his guitar playing. Burlison noticed my Elvis Presley t-shirt and thought I might want to meet Fontana.

I subsequently spent the rest of the train trip sitting with Burlison, Fontana and four other musicians who were each pivotal to the Memphis, Tennessee music scene in the 1950s and early ’60s.

[Burlison, who offered me the seat next to him, was a hell of a nice guy. I was sorry to hear a few years ago that he has died. But I’ll always remember our conversation.]

Upon arriving at Greg’s house, I was excited to tell my story of a brush with rock’n’roll greatness and I couldn’t understand why this tale didn’t seem to pierce the gloom I was perceiving among my friends.

However, I soon learned that Temple’s basketball team had just lost a game.

[Yes, OK, but: I just met Elvis Presley’s drummer!!!]

It wasn’t just any game though: it was Temple’s fourth game in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. The team had just lost, 63-53, to Duke, after winning 18 straight games before it.

[I know all this because it’s on Not because I remembered the details.]

In other words, this game was a really big deal, but it went completely under [or over] my radar.

In recent years, Jimmy has implored me to make a bracket and I have. However, I’ve always experimented with it in goofy ways, such as using an online coin toss program to determine my winners.

This year was different though. I actually sat down with Jim, talked about the bracket and studied his bracket. I took his advice on certain games and went in the opposite direction for other match-ups. I tried my best to leave my own theories of randomness and chance out of the equation and I think I came up with a workable bracket. Jimmy seemed to approve. Now, like everyone else, I’ll wait to see how I did.

I promised Jim that if I should happen to make out well with my bracket, he will share in the glory. By which I mean, the money. But there will be glory too and Jim will certainly deserve his share.

[Just to suit my own curiosity, I may make a second bracket in which I pick the winners using my pair of 20-sided dice. I’ll report the results of both brackets in a bracketed note to next week’s column.]

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to a Swedish Country Band Play ABBA Songs

In Writing on March 15, 2013 at 3:05 am

I have the time it takes for me to listen to ABBA Our Way by Nashville Train to explain what I’d like to do here.

ABBA Our Way is a delight, by the way. It is a collection of ABBA songs, all done up nice and country-style by a Swedish band. The album was released in 1978 on RCA Records. Here are the brief liner notes, as penned by Lasse Westmann in Stockholm, sometime in 1976:

Special thanks to Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson. They are a fabulous songwriterteam and without their songs this record wouldn’t exist. It was a hard job to pick twelve songs out of the rich production of great ABBA hits. We’ve tried to give the songs the shape of Country style and we hope you will enjoy this album. I would also like to mention the boys behind the instruments and the girls in the choir. In my opinion the best you can get in Sweden today, so I’m very pleased that they’re all here on this record. During the sessions we’ve had a fantastic help from ‘Brumme,’ who served us coffee, other refreshments and helped us with almost everything. We had a great time while we recorded, so I hope you will have a good time when you listen.

I have owned the ABBA Our Way LP for many years, though back in the late ’70s, I was entirely unaware of its existence. This is a shame: a country-inflected album of ABBA covers would have been an intergenerational sensation in my family, though at the time I probably would have scoffed at the notion of countrified ABBA tunes.

But, at 47, I’m just too middle-aged to worry about what is or is not cool. Versions of Swedish pop tunes that would sound just right on Hee-Haw work fine for me these days.

I was a kid when the cream of Sweden’s country music players and singers hit the studio to record ABBA Our Way. Even in those days I considered myself a writer but I wrote strictly for fun. I filled up “write your own book” blank books with my goofy poems and extremely short stories and I drew pictures of the Richie Rich-styled mansion I’d live in when I was a grown-up famous writer, because, of course, all writers were fabulously wealthy and lived in homes with diamond-encrusted monograms on their gates.

As it happens, I am still a writer. I have worked for the same organization for 23 years, spending the last decade in a position the requires quite a bit of writing.

Make no mistake: I am grateful for making a living the way I do. Recently though, I’ve reached the conclusion that, one way or another, the writing for fun needs to happen again, if only for the sake of my sanity.

I know that many people don’t find writing to be very much fun and I get that. I think we can agree that certain activities are almost universally considered to be fun and some are not.

There is certainly no fun consensus on writing.

For me though, this seems like a good time to locate the fun in writing again. Since I’ve enjoyed the concept of writing a weekly column before (originally back in college, then 13 years ago when I first began blogging), I’m thinking I’ll try it again.

This is my first week. When I’m not writing, I’ll be drawing pictures of the mansion I’m going to live in when I grow up.

That’s the plan. So, as Nashville Train closes out ABBA Our Way with a down-home take on “Waterloo,” I’ll say good night. Hopefully, you’ll find me here again next week at this time.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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