Wonderful old ladies in Heaven, documented on YouTube…

Sometimes the strangest things can make a person fall down a rabbit hole. Last week, my friend Joann, apparently watching old Road Runner cartoons, posted a status update about how the Road Runner theme song was wrong when it included the words “Poor little Road Runner never bothered anyone.” Obviously the Road Runner bothered Wile E. Coyote, right?

I got a kick out of that status update, mainly because my husband’s ex wife reminds me of Wile E. Coyote. I never liked Road Runner cartoons when I was a kid, but I have a new appreciation for them now. So I decided to look on YouTube for the theme song, and I ran across this gem…

OMG… how cool!

Thanks to Joann, I learned about Barbara Cameron, the woman who composed the theme song for The Road Runner Show. Barbara Cameron, a native of Dayton, Ohio, passed away in January 2013, just a month shy of her 87th birthday on Valentine’s Day. Her children, Cam and Doug, are both professional musicians. That’s her son, Doug, playing violin in the above clip. Doug has two sons who are also musicians. Check out YouTube and you’ll find lots of videos of them playing violin with their talented dad.

After I watched Barbara, a former torch singer who once took over a singing job from Doris Day, singing the famous theme song she composed, I ended up watching the memorial video her son made for her. It’s kind of a long video, but very well done and moving. Barbara was obviously a wonderful lady who had many people in her life who loved her dearly.

I didn’t know Barbara Cameron, except for her catchy theme song. What a life she led!

I’m amazed by the things I find in unexpected places and under unusual circumstances. My friend Joann mentions the Road Runner, a cartoon I never even liked much, and suddenly, I’m learning all about the composer of the theme song, a marvelous, talented, charming woman. And I was also introduced to Doug Cameron, who has put out some great jazz albums and apparently shows up on cruise lines like Azamara. I have heard good things about Azamara. I might have to try them sometime, even if they are owned by Royal Caribbean. For more on Barbara Cameron, check out this link. Another blogger was more prepared to pay tribute to Barbara than I am.

YouTube algorithms being what they are, I also somehow wound up getting videos from Phyllis Stokes. I don’t know how I ended up getting her videos, although I guess they are appropriate. Phyllis Stokes died on January 25, 2020, having had a very tragic 2019. In the spring, she was diagnosed with cancer that affected her liver, gall bladder, and bile ducts. A few months later, her beloved husband of 36 years, Bucky, died. A few months after that, Phyllis herself was gone.

Until a couple of days ago, I had not heard of Phyllis Stokes, author of a Web site called Phyllis also made many videos showing how to make wonderful southern delicacies without breaking the bank. I love southern food and I used to love to cook… well, usually anyway. Maybe I’ll get back into cooking once I have my own kitchen. She was a very popular vlogger, and I have since seen many tribute videos to her made by total strangers who loved her work. There was also a touching video made by her son. I think I might have watched the below video before I ever watched any done by Phyllis herself. I was compelled to watch Phyllis when I heard her son talk about her.

Phyllis’s son explains…
Phyllis announces her husband’s death in July…

The above video is probably the first one I watched by Phyllis herself… I was very moved by it, which led me to watch one about how she and her husband met. It took me several videos before I finally watched one about what attracted people to her channel in the first place– her southern recipes. People really seemed to connect with Phyllis’s very sweet, southern demeanor. She lived in South Carolina, which I also did for three years. Listening to her speak kind of takes me home.

What a sweet couple they were. Glad they are together again, but sorry for those who miss them the most.

I am kind of envious of women like Barbara and Phyllis. They have the kind of personalities that draw people to them. Barbara Cameron was still so beautiful and elegant, even in her 80s, and still game for singing her famous song on her son’s jazz album and in concert. She really had a spark and, I can tell she was just a delight to everyone. Phyllis Stokes just oozes southern sweetness and humanity. My heart just broke for her as she held back tears and talked about losing her husband, yet cared so much about her viewers, even though she was desperately ill herself. What a lovely woman she was. They were both wonderful women, and people to emulate.

I do love wasting time on YouTube, but sometimes I find content well worth viewing… stuff you’d never see otherwise. What a gift YouTube is to the rank and file who have things to say, but never would have had a vehicle for it if not for the Internet. I’m beginning to think I should spend more time on YouTube than Facebook. But then, if not for Facebook, I never would have fallen down the rabbit hole in the first place.

Anyway… if anyone from Barbara’s or Phyllis’s families happens to read this post, my heart goes out to you for your tremendous losses. They were both very special ladies indeed. Thank you for continuing to share them with the world, even after they’ve gone.

book reviews

Andrew Ridgeley’s love letter to George Michael…

Bill and I just spent an explosive evening in Landstuhl, so he could get a colonoscopy. I brought my iPad to pass the time and thanks to Bill’s early morning laxative dose, I was wide awake to finish Andrew Ridgeley’s book, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir.

You remember Andrew Ridgeley, right? He’s the less famous half of Wham!, one of the hottest pop acts of the 1980s. As a child of the 80s, I was a Wham! fan. I remember when they burst on the scene around 1983, then lit up the airwaves with their hit song, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”, which I learned from Ridgeley’s book was based on a note he’d left for his mother.

Published in October 2019, Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir is the story of how back in 1975, Andrew Ridgeley, the son of a Scottish mother and an Egyptian/Italian father who’d anglicized his name, befriended Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, the son of an English mom and Greek dad. George– then affectionately known as Yog, because it was easier to pronounce than his real name– was a shy new kid, and Andrew volunteered to show him around their school at Bushy Meads School. The two boys became fast friends who hung out with each other, got in trouble together, and eventually formed a super popular band and began keeping company with the likes of Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

Although George Michael was definitely the better known and probably the more musically talented of the pair, Ridgeley was the one who had come up with the idea for starting a band. They teamed up with some local lads, including Andrew’s brother, Paul, and managed to write some songs that eventually caught the ears of a promoter at Innervisions Records. In the meantime, the two watched “X rated” Saturday Night Fever, snuck into porn shows, got drunk for the first time, went to dances and parties, and went through the usual growing pains that come from being an adolescent.

Apparently, though Michael eventually came out gay, he dated girls when he and Ridgeley were in school. And Michael was not nearly as much of a clothes horse as Ridgeley was, although he did become rather obsessed with his hair. At one point, Ridgeley notes dryly that his friend and bandmate looked a bit like Princess Diana. Since Ridgeley is generous with photos, I got a look back at George Michael’s appearance back in the 80s and, I have to agree– he and Diana had very similar coifs.

Boy, does this bring back memories…

Wham! consisted of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, but there were also two women in on the act who danced and sang to the music. Shirlie Holliman Kemp was a local girl who used to date Andrew Ridgeley. The band hired her to dress up the act. Singer-dancer Helen “Pepsi” DeMacque-Crockett rounded out the group.

This was one of my favorites… on cassette, of course. The lyrics were definitely dirtier…

Wham’s! time at the top was short lived, but burned brightly. George Michael turned out to be a bonafide star, not only a great singer with a lot of charisma, but also a great songwriter. Ridgeley started out as legitimately half of their duo, but Michael overshadowed him and, in 1986, the group disbanded so that Michael could go solo and released his incredibly successful debut album, Faith. Ridgeley points out that he and George had started out as two young, hedonistic, party boy types who appealed to teenagers. But when George Michael went solo, he attracted an entirely different audience. I thought Ridgeley was extremely complimentary and kind to his old friend, who ended up being a lot more famous and arguably more successful… except when you consider the fact that George Michael died on Christmas Day in 2016 and Andrew Ridgeley is still alive and kicking.

And of course, the annual favorite, made more poignant since George died on Christmas. Andrew has some funny tales about this video, too.

I enjoyed reading Wham!, George Michael and Me, although it was a bit skimpier on details than I was expecting. The writing is basically solid and easy to understand, but it seems like it was a bit short. I was surprised this morning when I got to the end. It was almost like Ridgeley skipped from 1986, when Wham! was doing its farewell concert in London to finding out about George Michael’s sudden and completely unexpected death thirty years later. Still, I found Ridgeley very likable as a storyteller and some of his tales about growing up with George are downright hilarious. I especially enjoyed his commentary about their fashion choices.

I’m glad I read this book, since it framed George Michael in a more down to Earth, human, light. And I was charmed that Andrew Ridgeley got starstruck meeting people like Jimmy Page, whose daughter was a big Wham! fan, and The Bee Gees, who invited George and Andrew to lunch. As George and Andrew had been hugely influenced by Saturday Night Fever, that was a real honor. I also liked reading about how Wham! played in China at a time when no one else was playing in China, and they were offered bicycles as payment… and how they, the children of fathers from other countries, assimilated in Britain. Apparently, George Michael was a very good student, too, and his traditionally minded father had dreams of him going to university and getting himself a “proper job”. I’d say that despite Andrew Ridgeley’s “negative” influence and bent toward hedonism, George did alright with his career.

I think I’d rate this book four stars out of five, because it was fun to read, but a little lighter on details than I would have liked. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in Wham!

As an Amazon Associate, I get a tiny commission if you buy this book through my site.


Heaven’s new organ player…

I just got the news that my beloved Uncle Brownlee passed the bar yesterday. I don’t have the details yet, as I got the news on Facebook. This time, it was a family member who shared the news with me.

I’m not shocked or surprised that Brownlee passed away. I knew this was going to happen. I’m grateful that he made it to Father’s Day, even if he is going to miss his birthday on Friday. I didn’t see him in his last days, but I can imagine what they might have been like. I’m grateful that he was able to go home and be with his family, in the house he grew up in, and that he was very much loved by so many people. I am one of the many people who loved him dearly.

For a lot of reasons, I always kind of felt a special kinship with Brownlee. When I was a little kid, he was the fun uncle. I remember a bunch of us grandchildren would pile into the back of his pickup truck and he’d take us to one of the many swimming holes near the house, driving us through the old train tunnel near the Tolley homestead that you had to honk your horn in because it’s single lane. I remember he had a deep, booming voice and a thick Virginia accent. Now that I’ve been to Scotland a few times, I can hear where that accent comes from. I didn’t inherit it myself, but both of my parents were endowed with it, as were most of my aunts and uncles. I miss hearing it.

Brownlee was a self-taught musician who never could read music very well, but could play the organ by ear. His pride and joy was his Hammond organ, which, for years, he would transport to gigs all over the place, with his band, The Flames. I remember in 1987, my late Aunt Nancy filmed our annual Tolley Thanksgiving reunion for her sons, Bruce and Andy, who couldn’t be there. We had several days of footage from that epic gathering, which happened when most of my aunts and uncles and my beloved Granny were all alive and well.

Brownlee loved playing this on his organ… I’m sure it was played that night in 1987.

Our family Thanksgivings are basically big parties. Every Friday after Thanksgiving, there’s a “hop”– a dance party, often with live music played by real musicians, some of which are relatives. In recent years, it’s been held in the old barn at the Tolley homestead in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Brownlee lovingly restored the barn and turned it into quite the party pad. In previous years, our party would be held at various locations, to include the Natural Bridge fire station or at the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center. Wherever they’re held, they’re always a lot of fun.

In 1987, I was 15 years old and at the height of my teen angst. That year, the Flames played in the ballroom at the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center, which, at the time, my Uncle Brownlee was managing. I remember watching the footage of that party, with Brownlee playing organ and trombone. I seem to remember my Uncle Steve also jamming with the band… for all I know, even my mom played organ that night. It was one hell of a party. There was an open bar and… I may have gotten a bit wasted for the first of too many times in my life.

I’m so glad I got to be there for that party, since it was one of the last times I got to see Brownlee play with the whole band, to include his dear friend Donnie Cash, who played saxophone and sang. A few years later, when I discovered my own musical abilities, I would join Brownlee and Donnie for a couple of numbers at the hotel when they would provide music in the hotel restaurant. I remember how much fun it was to sing with them. They were pros, and as much fun as karaoke can be, there is nothing like singing with live musicians. I’m grateful they gave me the opportunity, which was always a huge thrill for me and very flattering, to boot.

I wish I could watch that video of our 1987 party now, especially since it has hours of video of long departed relatives. I’m thinking of that now. In one part of the video, Brownlee is dressed in a business suit. It’s the day after our epic Friday night shindig. He had to go to work. On his way to the car, he stepped in a pile of dog shit. My late Aunt Nancy filmed him as he cleaned the crap off of his shoe in disgust. Nancy asked him how his lip was feeling, since he’d played the trombone at the party. Brownlee memorably said, “It feels like a piece of baloney.” I guess you’d have to play trombone to understand that.

And this, too… but on the organ, not the piano.

In the years following that party, when I had the ability to drive myself anywhere I wanted to go, I started spending more time with my aunt and uncle at the Tolley homestead. I spent a lot of weekends at the Tolley house during my senior year at Longwood College. I especially got to know Brownlee better, and he became more than just my uncle. He was a true friend. I have so many memories of watching him learn new songs by ear on his organ. He’d play a recording of the song and play his organ along with it until he had it down cold. Later, he’d go drink a Miller Lite. That was the only kind of beer I ever saw Brownlee drink. Naturally, I usually joined him.

Brownlee completing one of his many projects at the homestead. This is the old barn he fixed up into a party place.

Besides playing music, Brownlee loved building things. I shared in a previous post all of the work he did on his home to make it a really special place. He had a real gift for turning odds and ends into things of value. I loved to watch him work and I loved to see the end results of his efforts, which were always magnificently crafted and impressively constructed.

Brownlee and I also shared humor. He was a very funny guy and tolerant of my penchant for crude jokes. I loved hearing his stories about my dad, or about his dad, my Pappy, who died when I was two. I never knew Pappy, but Brownlee helped keep him alive through the stories he and his siblings told. My father did not have a good relationship with Pappy, and he rarely talked about him. Although Granny told me that Pappy was a very nice man, he was also an alcoholic and my dad, being the oldest son, got the brunt of a lot of abuse from Pappy. My dad generally only talked about his father when he was drinking, and he usually didn’t paint the man in a flattering light. So in order to know anything about my grandfather, for whom the road running in front of the “homestead” is named, I usually had to talk to my uncles. Brownlee told me many funny stories about Pappy, reminding me how important it is to separate people from their actions and showing me that I come by my quirky personality honestly. My family is full of funny storytellers, artists, and musicians.

The last time I saw Brownlee– in fact, the last time I would see my late Uncles Carl and Kenneth, and my Aunt Betty– was Thanksgiving 2014. I had gone home to Virginia to honor my father, who died in July 2014. My mom had asked me to sing at my dad’s memorial service. She chose the song “Softly and Tenderly”, but despite having so many musicians in the family, no one volunteered to accompany me. So Brownlee and Bill and I went to the church to set up the recording and give me a chance to practice it. Brownlee and Bill chatted while I rehearsed in the family church. I remembered how welcoming Brownlee was when I brought Bill into our family.

Brownlee and his wife, Gayle, were the first of my family members Bill met. The year was 2001. It was Labor Day weekend. I had driven up to Virginia from South Carolina, and Bill had come down to Natural Bridge from the Pentagon. We had only seen each other in person one other time, in May of that year. We weren’t sure where our relationship was going to go. I remember my aunt and I went to meet Bill at a gas station and lead him to our home. When we walked into the house, Brownlee was frying eggs in his underwear and a wife beater shirt. I introduced Bill to Brownlee and he said hello… and then he said in his deep southern twang, “You wanna egg? I mean it. I’ll knock a hole in one for you.”

Goshen Pass… this was taken in November 2014, when we last visited Virginia.

Bill and I proceeded to have the most wonderful weekend together. We went to Goshen Pass, which is a beautiful gorge near Lexington, Virginia. I remembered having my sixth birthday there in 1978. It was a family celebration, because there are many June birthdays in our family. My birthday is tomorrow… and Brownlee’s would have been on Friday. Maybe that’s another reason we got along so well– similar birthdays… but then, Brownlee never met a stranger. Most everyone loved him when they met him. He was just fabulous.

After that visit with Bill, Granny– who was then 95 years old– told me I should marry Bill. But then 9/11 happened… Bill was in the Pentagon that day. Fortunately, he survived, and that was when we decided we needed to go public. It didn’t take long before we were engaged, and Brownlee and Gayle were so helpful to me during that time. Brownlee told me to make sure I took good care of Bill. Like me, he was a pretty good judge of character and he knew Bill was a keeper. Then Brownlee and his friend, Donnie, played at my wedding reception, which I really, really, appreciated. Actually, my extended family really helped make my wedding special… I’m not sure I ever expressed to them just how much that meant to me. It meant a whole lot.

My dad and Granny in 1987. I’m sure they both met Brownlee with open and loving arms at the Pearly Gates of Heaven…

The world has lost a wonderful man, but Heaven has gained a great new organ player. I’m sure Brownlee was welcomed by many people who preceded him and loved him as much as I do. I’ll bet Donnie was there, and Granny… and Brownlee’s brothers and sisters. I’m sure it’s a big party now… just like the old days of Thanksgiving 1987.

I recorded this in 2014, just before I lost my dad. I’ve always liked this song, although my mom didn’t want me to do it at my dad’s memorial because she didn’t like the lyrics that went “I know I’ll never see you again.” As Christians, my family believes in the afterlife. I’m not sure I’m as Christian as they are, but I like to think there is something beyond life. Anyway… I hope this doesn’t offend. Maybe I’ll redo it later today.