Sunday, March 22, 2020

Denver-area Thrifting Unearths Rare "Wings of Destiny" Record

Hey all!

So earlier this month I was out record digging around Denver (what else is new?). I walked into a store, and immediately noticed a box of dusty 78rpm discs. The clerk said they had just come in, a few minutes before I arrived.

While I didn't find any Colorado additions to the collection, in amongst the typical 1940s Big Band and Bing Crosby records, I spotted two (very trashed) 12" Presto acetates marked "KGHL Billings Montana" and "Richardson Plane Presentation." I didn't hesitate to purchase the unknown recordings ($.25 each).

When I got home, I cleaned the records as best I could, grabbed my Numark, and gave them a listen. The audio quality was still atrocious, but from what I could tell, it sounded like a radio station remote news report, out at an airport.

The record starts off with an in-studio host named Brian Robershon (?) introducing reporter Ed Yocum, who was broadcasting from Billings Municipal Airport. The station was covering the arrival of a 65 horsepower Continental Piper Cub airplane. I didn't understand what all of the hoopla was about, until it was revealed that the plane was the weekly grand prize of the "Wings of Destiny" national radio program.

 Sponsored by the Brown and Williamson tobacco corporation, makers of Wing cigarettes, "Wings of Destiny" debuted on October 11, 1940.  It featured courageous pilot, Steve Benton, his amiable mechanic, Brooklyn, and his girlfriend, Peggy Banning. According to a Variety article I found, the show was "Aimed at an air-minded generation, young enough to see only the excitement, old enough to smoke."

But it wasn't Steve Benton's adventures that kept audiences glued to the radio. Up until then, aviation radio programs usually gave away wings and badges, but only "Wings of Destiny" gave away actual airplanes. The contest rules were geared toward an older winner. In order to win the plane, a contestant had to send in 10 empty Wing cigarette packs, and write an essay.

The winner featured on the record, Fen Richardson (the "Richardson" noted on the record label), was a Ford dealer in Lovell, Wyoming, 90 miles from Billings. According to the record, this was the 53rd plane giveaway for the program. The record contained an interview with a Piper spokesperson (couldn't identify his name) who proudly noted that this was the first Continental model to be given away. The winner also received eight hours of solo course instruction.

Billings mayor Charlie T. Trott presented the plane to Richardson, who said he planned to keep it, and would be taking flying lessons.

From what I can tell, this is the only known recording of a "Wings of Destiny" radio program winner receiving an airplane. It's an incredible find.

As for the "Wings of Destiny" radio show?

Flying Magazine December 1941
(the last advertisement promoting the Wings of Destiny show and the plane giveaway)

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the declaration of war was announced, in December 1941, all airplane manufacturers, including the Piper plant, began producing aircraft only for the military.  On December 26, 1941,  Brown & Williamson issued a press release stating that the 63rd and last Piper Cub would be given away that very day.  The show ended February 6, 1942.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Bud Blackburn, High & Mighty bassist (1947-2020)

I just received sad news from Bill Blackburn that his uncle, Bud Blackburn, the bassist for the 1960s Pueblo garage band, High & Mighty, passed away, at the age of 72.

The High & Mighty were a popular East High School band, in the mid 1960s, playing for local dances and events. The group included Blackburn, along with Larry Duran, Larry Shuford, Scott DeTurk, and Milton Fender. Blackburn graduated from East in 1965, Duran, Shuford and DeTurk graduated in 1966, while Fender graduated in 1968.

Bud Blackburn 1965 East High School graduation photo
(courtesy of Bill Blackburn)

The Pueblo Chieftain, in a 2006 article entitled “High and Mighty Flies Again,” mentions that the band’s first gig was for a dance at Heaton Jr. High. According to Duran, the band only knew eight songs, but “The kids at Heaton thought they had died and went to heaven” hearing the band play the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Kinks covers.

The High & Mighty would later go on to be regulars at local hangouts, Pinocchio’s, Dante’s Inferno and the Fantastic Zoo. They would open for Strawberry Alarm Clock (“Incense and Peppermints”), when the psych band played at Pueblo Junior College.

The High & Mighty would only last a few years, disbanding in the late 1960s.

Blackburn was an avid street rod fan, who married his wife Denise at the Rocky Mountain Street Rod Nationals, in 2006, at the Pueblo County Fairgrounds.

Funeral services and a memorial are pending.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Song of the Postcard and Denver's J.D. Dillenback

Staying in the esoteric Colorado music-related ephemera vein, few blog readers know that I'm also a postcard collector. Of course, I'm always on the lookout for any state music-related ephemera, but I love it when two of my collecting interests meet up, and I can find a postcard with a Colorado music graphic or photo. Let me tell you, they are pretty rare to find.

So I attended my first meeting of the Denver Postcard Club, yesterday. Nice group of folks, with a mutual appreciation of deltiology (the study and collection of postcards). After introducing myself, and telling everyone about my own collecting interests, one of the members asked me if I knew about "The Song of the Postcard," a 1908 composition, written by a Denver resident. I hadn't, but was excited to learn more.

After obtaining a photo of the sheet music card (thanks to club member Preston Driggers), I began my search to learn more about the composer, J.D. Dillenback.

Jackson D. Dillenback was born in Vermont, in 1841. He resided in Michigan for sometime, and enlisted in the Civil War, as part of the state's 4th Calvary. When he returned from duty, he took up the printing trade, working for the Grand Rapids Eagle, and later becoming its editor. In 1872 he authored History and Directory of Ionia County, Michigan.

According to an interview with Dillenback, for Reminisences of Editors and Reporters of Grand Rapids, "My health in the fall of 1869 became so bad that I could no longer do justice to the work."

In 1874, due to his declining health, he moved to Denver. He and his wife resided in University Park (2175 S. St. Paul).

Moving to Colorado appeared to be the medicine he needed, as I found many references to his very active involvement in Denver civic and social groups, while employed with the Denver Daily Times and later the Denver Mercury.

In 1885, Dillenback served as member of the local board of education. He became active in the Grand Army of the Republic Farragut Post Chapter (for Civil War veterans), and served as its commander. Later he would become the president of the Colorado State Editorial Association, and one of the founders of the Colorado Press Association.

He continued his printing career, publishing the Colorado School Journal.  He would later serve as an editorial writer for the Western Newspaper Union, and authored several publications, including The Ernest and Cranmer Building and Tenants: Corner Seventeenth and Curtis Streets, Denver Colorado.  In 1898 he authored Facts About Empire, a book on the Denver and Gulf Railway Company.

As if Mr. Dillenback didn't have enough on his plate, he was also a poet.

In 1891 the Colorado Sun held a contest for the best poems in the state. He took first prize, for his poem, "Colorado."

Thou hast thine eyrie in the lifted lands,
O Colorado, mountain born and free;
Unvexed by terrors of the far-off see,
On earth's high creset thy favored realm expands.
Nature bestowed thy dower with lavish hands - The richest gifts within her treasury,
Which from creation she reserved for thee,
They ore veined mountains and thy golden sands.
Far eastward, ocean-vast, thy plains extends;
Westward thy snow-crowned mountains meet the sky;
Heavens of unclouded blue above thee bend,
And the bright sun looks on thee lovingly.
To what God as so wrought, may great souls lend
The fadeless luster of achievements high.

By the start of the 1900s, Mr. Dillenback began his retirement years, but he hardly slowed down. He continued writing lyrics and poems.

Apparently, after his newspaper career ended, he morphed his love of prose into the later-life career as a postcard publisher.

1907 Dillenback-published postcard for Modern Woodmen of America Insurance

The first reference I found on "The Song of the Postcard," was a 1907 copyright entry, with music by Joe Newman (sadly, I can find nothing on him). The short song appears more like an advertising jingle, than an actual song composition. No idea if it was ever recorded, or performed.

“There is a song in my heart today, Let this Post Card sing it to you, I pray: “I’m thinking of you today, dear friend, Thinking of you today;  Though long miles lie between us, dear friend, I am thinking of you today”

The address on the card shows "University Park, Colorado," so I can only assume the house on St. Paul served as the publishing location.

I found another Dillenback postcard, dated 1909 - a mechanical Elks' Club card - The Call of the Elk.  The elk "says" -  "Pull My Tail, Brother Elk, and Hear My Call." When you pull it, the message is revealed "Hello, Bill! Meet me at Elks' Fair Tonight."

Dillenback later moved to the City Park West area of Denver (1657 Gaylord). He died in 1929, at the age of 88.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Denver.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Profile: Colorado sheet music collector Tom Merry

I guess it was about a year ago, I attended a local book and ephemera show, when I spotted a dealer with a huge lot of sheet music, for sale. I had recently gotten into collecting Coloradocentric pieces, and was amazed at the incredible state-published offerings this particular dealer had.

The seller was a gentleman named Tom Merry, and we quickly became friends, with our mutual appreciation of esoteric Colorado music-related collections. A few months later, Tom invited me to his home, where I got a chance to see, in person, his massive collection of sheet music. I was curious to learn what drew him to such an interest:

What was the first piece of sheet music you remember seeing? Did it make a particular impression on you?

I didn’t pay much attention to sheet music as a kid. I grew up in a somewhat musical family so it was always lying around the house, kind of like magazines. For a while my parents made me take piano lessons (from my sister), so I wasn’t particularly fond of my music books and what they represented. I quit lessons as soon as I could and gleefully left the sheet music in the rack.

How did you “get into” actual sheet music collecting? How long have you been collecting, and what piece started your “official” collecting quest? 

I re-discovered the piano in college (in the 1970s) but realized that I wasn’t all that interested in playing the standard repertoire. Plus, I wasn’t that good a pianist so I figured that if I was playing obscure works it would be harder for my listeners to detect my mistakes! Once I started looking for stuff to play, the search and discovery became almost as fun as the playing. Fast forward a few years and one day I realized that I had enough music to gift every inhabitant of a medium-sized town. I never intended to collect music. I was just curious.

What is it about sheet music that you enjoy? What keeps you collecting? 

It’s changed as I’ve aged. I started out looking for good tunes written at a skill-level I could play. I found a lot of really good pieces (and others that are understandably obscure). A lot of them came with interesting back-stories. On one level, music is our emotional history, expressing how we ‘feel’ about the events of our lives and cultures, rather than recounting names and dates. Print music is one source document for how that story is told. It was a surprise to me (though in retrospect it shouldn’t have been) that many sheet music collectors aren’t musicians; they’re history buffs.

Where do you normally find pieces for your collection? 

Everywhere. I started by visiting music stores and when they started disappearing, I broadened my search to antique malls, used book stores, estate sales, and eventually/inevitably on line. This was also a time when people started getting rid of their parents’ sheet music collections, so there was a lot of interesting stuff out there, and prices were low. I once found a rare score for a viola concerto in a tray of tools at a roadside flea market.

Do you have a favorite piece? 

One of the first pieces of sheet music I intentionally searched-for was a piano-reduction of an LP called Gate of Dreams, by Claus Ogerman. Written in a sleek mid-20th century style for jazz combo and orchestra, it was something that I wanted to play with my friends. We played it—many times—in my living room, and I still pull it out to play on my own. In my humble opinion it’s an over-looked masterpiece.

Do you have a particular piece of sheet music, which eludes you? What is it? 

I don’t have one elusive piece, but many. I’ve always been fascinated by music that mixes classical and popular styles, especially jazz. Gershwin is probably the poster child for this genre, but there are many others who explored that space with really interesting results. Unless a work is especially popular, most music is printed only once and press runs for these hybrid works were usually small, which makes them fairly scarce.

How many pieces of sheet music are in your collection? 

I have about 30,000 titles in my personal collection. Most of it is for piano solo, piano duet, or 2 pianos/4 hands. Thankfully, it doesn’t take up as much space as would a book collection of the same size.

Do you have any other music-related/non-music collections, of which you share the same passion? 

Fortunately, no. I have other collections but none that I pursue like sheet music.

You collect Colorado-published sheet music - what got you into that particular emphasis? 

Part of my college education was at Emory University in Atlanta. One of my lasting impressions of the people I met while there was the remarkable sense of place they had—geography was such an important part of their identity. As a child, my family had moved frequently so I didn’t have that kind of connection and the generic suburban neighborhoods where I spent my teens were not especially memorable. I came back to Colorado wanting to discover or develop some of that geographic identity in myself. That didn’t directly translate into collecting Colorado music, but it eventually clicked-in with my interest in history and the story-telling aspect of music.

What is the oldest piece of sheet music (Colorado or other) in your collection? 

I think my oldest piece of Colorado music is "Sleighing Song," composed by Frank H. Thomson with lyrics by the mysteriously-named R. It was published 1874 by J.B. Cofield (412 Larimer Street, Denver) who is identified on the cover as a “Dealer in Pianos, Organs and Musical Merchandise." I suspect that Mr. Cofield purchased the music and added his information as a promotion—the 19th-Century equivalent of passing out branded calendars or pens. But it’s only a guess.

 My oldest piece of sheet music, in my collection is "Harness Me Down with Your Iron Bands" (The celebrated Song of Steam!), from 1847. The composer H. A. Pond is familiar to me as a composer of salon music, but I’ve not encountered George Cutter (the poet) before. It was published in Cincinnati. The store stamps are from New Orleans. The song is sung by a personification of (the power of) steam.

I’ve no muscle to weary, no breast to decay, 
No bones to be ‘laid on the shelf,’ 
And soon I intend you ‘go and play,’ 
While I manage the world by myself. 
But harness me down with your iron bands, 
Be sure of your curb and rein, 
For I scorn the strength of your puny hands 
As the tempest scorns a chain. 


You are also a sheet music seller - what trends have you noticed with buyers? Do they collect by song, by region, etc? 

I started selling sheet music in an antique mall (in the 90s) and people were typically looking for music to share with their parents—or for scrap-booking. Nowadays, people asking for “old music” are often looking for vintage rock-n-roll. Online resources have made vast amounts of music available at minimal cost and maximal convenience, so the overall demand is way down. What’s been lost is the ability to browse for interesting music that you may not know exists. I see that as my (very small!) market opportunity.

Is there a certain demographic you have noticed with buyers of sheet music - older, younger? 

To greatly over-generalize, younger shoppers typically look for music to play; older shoppers tend to look for music to collect. That impression is partly due to what I have in stock. It’s like feeding wild birds: who’s at the feeder will depend on what’s in the tray. I’ve attracted a fairly diverse audience, but since I’m in the secondary market with older stock, my customer-base also skews older.

Do you worry that sheet music collecting will die out, with its collectors? If so, what can be done to prevent that from happening? 

Collecting (of almost anything) tends to be an activity of older people. With luck, we all get old, so there will always be collectors. Collectors also tend to be idiosyncratic, so it’s hard to predict what will be of interest to future sheet music collectors. I do think that as digital resources expand, the pool of sheet music collectors will shrink—but never go away, just as the advent of e-books has not been the end of book collectors.

What tips do you have for a beginner sheet music collector? 

Follow your passion and indulge your curiosity. Pay attention and learn about what you’re doing—that’s one of the things that separates collectors from hoarders. Pray for a long life so you can sort it out later.

What would you eventually like to have happen to your collection? 

I suspect many collectors hope that some library or museum will one day swoop in and want it all—it would be a validation that what we’ve accumulated has value and significance for someone besides ourselves. In reality, that doesn’t happen very often. Having seen large collections unceremoniously dispersed, I’ve come to realize that I need to take such matters into my own hands. No one (except me!) is going to want my whole collection, so I’ve been researching and making a list of who might want what. That process has actually been fun, as it’s connected me with a lot of other collectors and resources. The world of collecting sheet music is definitely a small pond, but bigger and more diverse than I had realized.