by Bob Sparrow
I took a most unusual and sentimental journey this past week and never left my house. My trip was facilitated by my new ‘record player’. My old turntable, that I had purchased in Japan in 1968, had become inoperable many years ago and with the arrival of first, the CD and then the iPod, I never saw a need to replace it. So my 75 or so 33 1/3 LPs remained silently tucked away in a closet for many years.
There was a time not too long ago when you couldn’t even find a turntable to buy, but in recent years it was discovered that turntable fidelity equaled or surpassed many of the digital-age playing systems, so they’ve made somewhat of a comeback. A new turntable would not only allow me to once again play my old albums, but it would enable me, for the first time, to play the record collection of my departed, best friend, Don Klapperich.
After Don was done flying F-4 Phantom jets for the Navy, he took a job in Saudi Arabia working for a U.S. company that was contracted by the Saudi Air Force to teach them how to become better combat pilots. When Don left for Saudi Arabia in the late 80s he did not want to take with him his rather large record collection, which include both LPs and 45s, so he asked if I would hold on to them for him. I stored them with mine in the back of the closet and had not thought much about them . . . until now.
Linda, having read my letter to Santa Claus last year, got me a turntable for Christmas. I decided that I would set up an ‘entertainment center’, such as it is, in my office in the upstairs loft. I built some shelves and started the process of moving records from the downstairs closet to the newly built shelves upstairs. I took them a handful at a time, not because I couldn’t carry more, but because I wanted to reminisce as I flipped through each one as I brought them to their new home.
There were many duplicates among Don’s collection and mine, as both of us were part of the ‘Folk Scare of the ‘60s’ and were thus big fans of the Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four, Bud & Travis, The Limeliters and Peter, Paul and Mary. But after that, our collections took two very divergent paths, mine was more pop, things like Neil Diamond, The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt; Don’s reflected his personality: eccentric, esoteric and genius. Classical masterpieces, Broadway musicals, Classic rock, Gregorian chants, pop, flamenco guitar, bluegrass, opera – you name it, he had it. It was an unbelievable collection of eclectic music. Looking through these albums was like exploring the many facets of Don’s complex personality. He may have been the only white, 16-year old in America who owned every one of Ray Charles’ albums. As you might guess, it took me quite a while to move 200+ albums upstairs, as with each handful I had to use my new turntable to hear at least one song on each trip. Then I found it.
Wedged between the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Don’s personal favorite) and Janis Joplin’s Farewell Songs was a record in a plain paper sheath, no album cover, no label, no markings of any kind, just uneven grooves cut into a black vinyl disc. I was delirious with anticipation as I gingerly placed it on the turntable and eased the stylus onto the first cut.
In 1961 when Don and I were seniors in high school we, The ‘Neverly Brothers’, were asked to sing on Hugh Turner’s radio show, ‘What’s Doing in Novato’, on KTIM, which was broadcasting from Pini Hardware on Grant Avenue in downtown Novato. Don’s parents recorded the show from home by putting a small tape recorder next to their radio – which is the excuse I’m using for the way we sounded. Don’s dad then took the recording into San Francisco and had it ‘pressed’ into a record. I had only heard the record once, shortly after his dad brought it home.
I remember that day like it was yesterday; it was bad enough that we were nervous about singing on the radio, but through the window in Pini Hardware we could see a most-attractive girl, Carole Garavanta, who was definitely out of our league, sitting in her parked convertible in front of the store watching us through the window and listening to us on her car radio. She was probably waiting for us to stop singing so she could come into the store and buy some wing nuts. We sang three songs and were interviewed by Hugh Turner, answering questions about ‘our music’ and what we planned to do after we graduated in June from Novato High School.
I sat motionless, mesmerized by the spinning record as it took me back to that time and place. We sounded like . . . a couple of naive high school kids. As the record came to a scratchy end and I was brought back to the present, there was a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. It was great to hear Don’s voice again.
Just a few days away from the four-year anniversary of Don’s passing, his record collection has helped me understand a little bit more about my enigmatic best friend; and discovering our ‘radio show record’ was a gift that he probably didn’t even know he left me . . . or maybe he did.