How Did My Love for Music Start?

I loved music since I was little. My mom said that when I was little, doing number two in the bathroom, I would sing some nonsense lyrics at the top of my lungs. I think the lyrics were, “Yee tah! Yee tah!” This was before Internet, cell phones, cassette recorder/players, cable television, etc.

If we were at Po Po’s (my maternal grandmother) house on a Saturday night, the Lawrence Welk Show was on television. That was her favorite television show. She loved Lawrence Welk not only for the music, but because he was also a dancer. If anyone got near the t.v. dial to change the channel, she would threaten to kill that person! It didn’t matter if you were a kid or a grownup. As a kid and a teenager, I thought LW was so square; but now, looking back, I have to admit, the LW Show had an great influence on my love for music. Here’s a clip from the Lawrence Welk Show.

Another contributor to my love for music was church. When I was about 4 years old, I remember being transported to the back house of Mr. and Mrs. Jones with a group of other Chinese kids around my age. This was at South Stockton, and the back house was a small classroom. That’s the first time I attended Sunday School and learned the classic Sunday School song, “Jesus Loves Me.” When I came home, I started singing “Jesus Loves Me”, and Po Po started singing it in Chinese. I later learned that Mr. and Mrs. Jones were Christian missionaries, who were fluent in Chinese and welcomed Chinese newcomers to Stockton. Po Po was one of the newcomers that Mr. and Mrs. Jones welcomed back in 1939 (I think). When I was about 5 till about 9 years old, I attended Chinese Bible Church. We met at the basement of Peniel Chapel, which is located on Sutter St., just south of Charter Way. Mr. and Mrs. Jones were the only non-Chinese who attended the church, and Mrs. Jones played the piano. We sang the classic hymns, such as “Rock of Ages”, “Onward Christian Soldiers”, and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” I really loved that time of singing of the church service, and, I must admit, it really helped my reading, because we sang out of hymnals. PowerPoint slides hadn’t been invented yet (We didn’t read from clay tablets or scrolls; we actually had printed books to read from). Here’s a video from the Gaithers, performing “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”

The third major contributor to my passion for music was AM Top 40 Radio. Growing up in Stockton during the late 60s and early 70s, AM radio was king. The two main AM stations I listened to were KJOY and KSTN. Radio at this time didn’t have all the different music genres that we have today. They had live disc jockeys who played vinyl records on the air. Radio played rock, pop, Motown, soul, country, and everything in between. I used to carry around with me this little red AM transistor radio from Montgomery Wards. When we went shopping with my mom and I didn’t want to hang around in the lingerie department, I’d hang outside the store to listen to whatever was playing on my little red radio. A big treat for me was to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 program that came on, I believe, on Sunday nights. I listened to the whole program to see if there was a new number one song, or if last week’s song remained the number one song in the country. There was a lot of variety of music played on AM radio during those days; it greatly contributed to my eclectic tastes in music. Here’s a short video about Top 40 radio in Northern California. Towards the end of the video, you’ll see the legendary Dr. Donald D. Rose of KFRC. We loved listening to him on the way to school (High school, that is).

“Into the Night”: Benny Mardones

“She’s just sixteen years old, ‘Leave her alone,’ they say….”

This is the opening line for Benny Mardones’s classic hit, “Into the Night”, written by Mardones and Robert Tepper. It was first released in 1980.

The first time I heard this song with my wife, she exclaimed, “Why would some pervert write a song about himself scamming on some young girl?!” Frankly, I had to agree with her sentiment.

Benny Mardones passed away on June 22, 2020, after a 20-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 73 years old (https://variety.com/2020/music/news/benny-mardones-into-the-night-dead-dies-1234693089/). You might want to label him as a “one-hit-wonder”, since “Into the Night” was his only hit. What fascinates me is the story behind Madrones’s greatest hit. Before I go into that, let’s take a brief look at the man behind the hit.

Benny Mardones was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 9, 1946, a son of an immigrant from Chile. He grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, and served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. For his show business debut, he did an impersonation of Elvis Presley at a Fourth of July talent show. He performed at local high schools and fire stations with the same group who backed him up at his debut.

When he first arrived in New York City in 1969, Mardones was signed to Mercury Records’ publishing division as a staff songwriter. He co-wrote songs for artists such as Brenda Lee, Three Dog Night, Main Ingredient, Free, and Tommy James (You Baby-Boomers probably recognize most of these names). He was eventually signed as an artist to White Whale Records, and then Columbia Records.

Mardones began to attract attention when he opened up for Richie Havens. He caught the eye of concert promoter Ron Delsener, who asked if he could fill in as the opening act for Peter Frampton at Madison Square Garden.

After getting signed to Polydor Records, Mardones began writing with Robert Tepper. Their ballad, “Into the Night”, was released on Polydor Records, and it reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It later became one of the few songs to reach the Top 20 twice when it was revived in 1989.

Unfortunately, Mardones’s life took a nosedive due to substance abuse. In the 1980s, he sought help for his addictions and moved to Syracuse, NY, where he revived his career with his back-up band, the Hurricanes. His performances were geared towards raising funds for charitable causes, such as children’s liver transplants, Ronald McDonald House, and L.A. Breast Cancer Awareness.

In 2000, Mardones was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he continued to tour and perform. His last performance was late in 2017.

A few days after learning of Mardones’s passing, I came across a YouTube video of him being interviewed by the “Professor of Rock”, Adam Reader, about his classic hit (https://youtu.be/EyABE-qjIbI). The 16-year-old in the song was about a girl whose family lived in the same apartment building as Mardones. The girl lived with her parents and two siblings. As time passed, the girl’s father left and abandoned the family, leaving them destitute. It broke Mardones’s heart when he learned of this tragic event, and it compelled him to do whatever he can to financially assist this family. Benny paid the girl $50 a week to walk his pet basset hound.

The following is an excerpt from Songfacts.com’s article on Mardones’s iconic hit:

Mardones wrote this song with Robert Tepper, who would later write the song “No Easy Way Out” for the movie Rocky IV. Benny told Songfacts: “One night Robert Tepper and I were up writing songs. It was about a week before we were leaving for Miami to cut the first big album, which was Never Run, Never Hide. We thought that we already had the hit song, so did Polydor Records. It was a song called ‘Might Have Been Love.’ But at the last minute we’re sitting there one night at my apartment trying to write. Bobby kept playing the chord changes and we tried 18 melodies and 30 kinds of lyrics and all of a sudden the key in the door turned and I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s daylight.’ Because we liked to keep the blinds down.

And in she walks, 16 years old, dressed for school in a miniskirt, little stacked heels, adorable, 16-going-on-21. She said, ‘You’ve been up all night?’ and of course it was obvious. I said, ‘Yeah, we have.’ She says, ‘Okay, come on, Zanky,’ and she walks the dog out. When she leaves and goes out the door, my partner goes, ‘Oh, my God.’ I said, ‘Hey, Bob. She’s just 16 years old, leave her alone.’ And literally five minutes later I said, ‘Play that lick again, Bobby.’ So he played the lick and I went (singing), ‘she’s just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say.’ Then I thought about her dad and what he had done, and that’s where I got (singing), ‘Separated by fools who don’t know what love is yet.’ The chorus was, ‘you’re too young for me, but if I could fly, I’d pick you up and take you into the night and show you love like you’ve never seen.’ Then the verse ‘It’s like having it all and letting it show. It’s like having a dream where nobody has a heart. It’s like having it all and watching it fall apart.’ Because his success was not the family’s success; it was just his. ‘I can’t measure my love there’s nothing compared to it’ – it was all about the abandonment of this family and this 16-year-old girl (https://www.songfacts.com/facts/benny-mardones/into-the-night).”

When you watch the Professor of Rock video, you will learn of the girl’s happy ending (I’m not gonna tell you; just watch the video). When my wife viewed the video, we were blown away, and it gave us a different and refreshing perspective of the song.

I hope you enjoyed this short journey through the background of this iconic hit. Here’s Benny performing his classic ballad:

And Away We Go…..

Welcome to Mr. Gee’s Blog. Jackie Gleason used to start his television shows with the above phrase, “And away we go….” I’m rambling; I better stop.

You might be wondering, “Why are you doing this blog?” This was my wife’s idea. As we were enduring the coronavirus lockdown, she pointed out all this knowledge, especially music, rattling around in my brain. She encouraged me to start this blog to share this knowledge with those who have the same passion. When we watch YouTube music videos and attend live musical performances, I, and sometimes my daughter, would point out certain nuances about these performances with my wife. Over the years, my wife has learned a lot about music through these nuances. She encouraged me to put these down in a blog.

The last time I did a blog was in the early 2000s, when Earthlink was our Internet provider. Earthlink would give you some space to keep a blog. In that blog, I would journal what my boys did in TBall and what the Lord was doing in my life at the time. Since we’ve switched Internet providers, I don’t have access to that blog.

I want to thank my wife for encouraging me to start this blog. I also want to thank my fellow Edison High friend and former down-the-street neighbor Steve Dundas for his encouragement and help in getting this blog started. Somewhere down the line, I’ll do a post on how God used Steve to get me on journey with Christ.

As you can see, I won’t be writing about just music. There will be other topics I’ll be writing about. The three topics you can’t get me to shut up about are music, professional wrestling, and Jesus. Don’t be surprised if you find posts about these topics and other topics that stir my heart.

Let me leave you with two of Jackie Gleason’s phrases: “How sweet it is!” “And away we go…”