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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Kid in Black and the Talking Blues

By C. Marie Bowen 


I grew up in a musical household. My mother and grandmother played the piano. My parents started me on accordion lessons when I was six. My dad refurbished player pianos as a hobby. All of those subjects might be good for a future blog, but today, I want to talk about Dad and the talking blues.

Like I said, Dad didn’t play an instrument, instead he sang. He sang along with the player piano, and to my accordion music. He even sang to The Lawrence Welk Show. Dad had an outstanding voice, whether he was singing or talking the blues. Of course, this all took place long before anyone had heard of Rap music. Woodie Guthrie popularized this particular mix of folk and country music in the early 40s. Although, Christopher Allen Bouchillon is credited with creating the talking blues. He recorded the song, “Talking Blues” in 1926. Even Bob Dylan used this style of spoken lyrics.

Dad had a number of “go-to” songs he would rap at family gatherings and parties. The only one I’ve been able to identify is “Talking Dust Bowl,” recorded by Woody Guthrie in the early 40s. Of course, Dad changed the words he’d forgotten, filled in, and made a different ending (which I’ve yet to find anywhere).  

Trivia time: Woody wrote and recorded the iconic song “This Land is Your Land.” Originally spoken, the music was added later and “This Land,” is now the patriotic song we all know. Woodie is Arlo’s father. Arlo Guthrie recorded “The City of New Orleans,” and “Alice’s Restaurant.”

Back to Dad. My favorite lyric was a poem he called “Denver Dan.” It’s a tale about a gun fight in The Silver Star Saloon. The Kid in Black confronts Denver Dan and his gang after tracking them across the country. Apparently, Denver Dan had killed a friend of the Kid in Black, and The Kid set out for revenge. I’ve searched the internet looking for the author of “Denver Dan,” and have never found an inkling of who wrote this blues rhyme or where dad may have heard it. I, however, still loved the story and wanted to bring the song to life.

My short story, The Kid in Black, is based on the poem I heard so often from my dad. I’ve included the song in my novella, and credited it to “Author Unknown – as retold by Eugene. N. Pixler.”
Eugene Pixler: June 30, 1923 – April 9, 2002.

The Kid in Black is a Christmas in July Single Sell release from Prairie Rose Publications.

Nell Grant lost everything and watched her family homestead burn. Her desire for vengeance keeps her moving during the day. At night, dreams of a passionate stranger fill her empty heart.

Disguised as a man, Nell tracks the outlaw who killed her sweetheart to Beaumont, Texas, and swears his day of reckoning is at hand. When the man in her dreams turns out to be real, and a US Marshal, her plan for revenge collides with her dreams of passion.

Marshal Samuel Kline hoped to spend a quiet Christmas reunion with his sister in New Orleans, but an urgent assignment sends him to Beaumont, Texas to capture a murder. The local sheriff warns Sam of another criminal, a kid in black, who was spotted in the Silver Star Saloon. Determined to complete his assignment, and return to his sister, Sam confronts the mysterious kid in black, and discovers Nell's secret identity. Sam is swept up in her passion for the man in her dreams. 
How can he protect Nell when her need for revenge threatens to destroy her? Can Marshal Sam Kline tame her wild beauty and make her dream of love come true?

Sam yanked open the door, hurried down the stairs and then raced to the backdoor of the saloon. He shook the locked door, jarring the hinges. Damn it.” He raced around the side of the saloon, his heart in his throat.
When he stepped through the swinging barroom doors, the piano player still played a ragtime tune. In the time it took to walk around the first gaming table, the piano had fallen silent. He wove between the tables. The crowded barroom hushed as he pushed past saloon girls and patrons, all straining to see what transpired near the bar.
His perception of the room became clear and focused. Every movement caught his eye. A man to his left scribbled frantically on a piece of paper with a broken pencil. To his right, the dealer dropped his cards face up on the table, two kings and an eight, then rose to better his view.
Sam could see Dan Gregor, his elbows resting on the bar. Gregor shook his head and stepped back to face someone just out of sight. Sam took another step forward and spotted Gregor's target. Sam's heart dropped to his stomach. Dear God, Nell! Where was Sheriff Clairborne?
Nell faced Gregor from across the barroom. No one but Sam knew the short man dressed in black was a woman. She hid her face behind a black handkerchief. Between the face cloth and the black felt hat, her hazel eyes glittered with rage. 

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  1. What a wonderful story about your dad. No one in my family sang, thank goodness, but I played the piano. Of three sisters, I, in the middle, played the piano...and played...and played...until my sisters would yell "Stop banging on that piano!"
    Woody and Arlo--I've always had a soft heart toward both father and son.
    It's interesting that you took The Kid in Black and wrote a story. Isn't this wonderful, how authors can see a story in so many things? Great post, Connie. I enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks, Celia. Dad loved his talking blues, and would put a lot of emotion into his stories - with a twinkle in his eye and a grin. I don't know where he picked up Denver Dan. I looked and looked. I even asked Cheryl where I might find the original author. Dad had forgotten the ending, or as with The Dust Bowl Blues, preferred another. He asked me to help him come up with an ending - heck, I must have been 14 or so. We set up one night and wrote down a proper ending to Denver Dan, because I wanted The Kid to win. Even then, I looked for the happy ending I suppose. Thanks for commenting!

  2. What a wonderful memory. My family did sing. Most of us still do. We took trips to visit family and sang for hours straight in the car. Literally, hours of hymns and harmonizing. I will always miss those days.

    1. We had two player pianos at home. The piano I have now is an upright player piano, and my mother had a baby-grand player piano. I have a few cassette tapes of dad and I singing some of their favorite songs from the '40s and '50s to the tinkling keys of the player piano. Mom rarely sang, but she would listen, and sometimes she would dance while dad and I sang. Good times.

  3. I love where the story ideas come from. Your father must have been quite a character and very creative. I also came from music, but most just listened and didn't pursue and instrument. That all changed with me, piano, guitar, etc. Still the stories those early songs told. I'm glad you kept the story alive. Doris/Angela

    1. I am too, Doris. I know my dad would be pleased with the story about Nell Grant and The Kid in Black. Her obsession with revenge and her desire for love. He was always such a romantic. I warned my mom that I had written a spicy romance scene in this story, and she said - Oh, good! Those are always the best parts. They were always so much fun growing up. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I love your story of your family. I'm anxious to read The Kid in Black. My father played and sang with a blue grass band when I was a child, but alas I don't have a musical in my body. Thanks for an interesting post.

    1. Hi Agnes,
      I think that is what my dad's player piano rehabilitation was for. He never learned an instrument, but he probably could have. He was a child of the depression, with 13 brothers and sisters. They were lucky to have shoes much less music lessons, but gosh could he sing --- and whistle! Whenever I hear beautiful whistling, I think of him.