An early musical influence named Ralph
So what's that got to do with music?
Well, as a former recreation director for the City of St. Cloud, where I grew up, Ralph was responsible for giving me and my buddies our first chance to experience live music up close.
He used to book the Orlando-area bands for the weekend dances at the community center. I went quite often, but not for the dancing. I did the wallflower thing, studying the musicians and closely observing where they played the chords on the necks of their Gibsons or Fenders. I was also interested in seeing what kind of amps and other equipment they used.
I still remember one band named Alias Fox that played regularly at the center, doing covers of bands such as the Doobie Brothers and Bad Company. There was also a band named Music Shop that was the only one I ever heard play Steely Dan songs. And there was a local guitar hero named Skid who showed up in various groups, playing "Sweet Home Alabama" and other classics.
These guys probably worked day jobs pumping gas or selling chewing tobacco over convenience store counters; but on Saturday nights they transformed into rock stars – for a few hours, anyway.
Unlike the real stars, however, they were approachable and I learned a lot about playing by talking to them during breaks or after their sets. Besides talking about music, they also imparted practical advice. For instance, a member of one band, whose equipment had recently been stolen, warned us about keeping a close eye on our stuff.
Of course booking local bands for dances wasn’t the only thing Ralph did during his educational career. He influenced thousands of young people in many ways including coaching award-winning sports programs, instructing students and consulting on various instructional matters. Not to mention giving me some invaluable early work experience by hiring me during summer breaks at the recreational department.
I’m sure there are thousands of people leading fulfilling lives today who were benefited by Ralph’s efforts in big and little ways that he will never even know about.
Thanks for the music, Ralph, and enjoy your endless weekend. You’ve certainly earned it.