It was a Saturday morning, close to the end of June 1961. While discussing Long Island life, my parents sat in their respective red vinyl chairs around our white pearl topped, chrome legged kitchen table sipping their morning Maxwell House. Fancy, gourmet and designer brand coffee was a half-century away.
As if under a trance, I took two butter knives from the kitchen drawer. I knew about what these knives were capable of doing long before I interrupted their conversation. They were so evenly balanced they’d perform exactly as I wanted. I made my approach with the shiny, smooth implements of hardened steel in hand, one in my left and the other my right.
It was a time when kids were at their parents’ beck and call. TV shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver led the way. Equally popular were shows depicting life during the days of the Wild West. Without a rating system they were for general audiences but some were specifically designed for young, holster wearing, gun toting, cap shooting, cowboys and Indians like myself.
I enjoyed all of them from Hopalong Cassidy to the Cisco kid to the Rifleman but the Lone Ranger was by far, my idol. Long before cable, color television and remote control, I’d sit on the floor with my leather holster with silver six shooters in hand directly in front of our black and white Dumont console, which also contained a Hi-Fi record player. As long as someone was in the house the TV was on. In my neighborhood color TVs were scarce if any. It took years before they became blue collar affordable.
After being on all day, the muted sound of late night TV meant all was well in the LaValle household. Mom enjoyed her time alone with Jack Parr while Dad made his way to bed, but as the Late-Late Show’s ‘Syncopated Clock’ theme faded into signing off with National Anthem and then into white noise and static, I knew mom was lost in deep sleep on the couch. As the little man of the house, it was my honor to come downstairs to turn off the set and wake her.
My parents also loved their music, especially Mom. Anytime something she liked was aired on the TV or radio she’d call me over. “Listen, Bobby listen,” she’d say as she sang along and moved to the rhythm. As big band, Sinatra, Dean Martin enthusiasts my exposure to anything other was on the car radio or television. Besides that, though it wasn’t ‘their’ music, we did share many Saturday afternoons with Dick Clark and the American Bandstand. Though PBS eventually became a tremendous resource for art and music, back then, other than some “Learn to Draw” shows, I wouldn’t dare go near it. The exposure I had to classical music was limited to theme songs for TV shows aired on our three networks, CBS, NBC or ABC.
In our Italian American household we knew all about Ronzoni sono buoni! Back then that’s all there was. Had Rossini been in the pasta business, I might have known him as well, but Rossini didn’t make pasta, he made music (maybe a little pasta too).
It was due to Rossini’s inspiration that I decided on that fateful, late June day in the year 1961 to fully apply my creative juices and audition for my parents. After secretly practicing with balanced knives precisely held to maximize efficiency, I approached the table and announced, “I wanna play drums! Listen!” Along with the tips of knives rhythmically striking the Formica tabletop I sang the Lone Ranger theme, AKA Rossini’s, William Tell Overture. Please sing along!
“da, da, dum da, da, dum da, da, dum dum, dum
da, da, dum da, da, dum da, da, dum dum, dum
da, da, dum da, da, dum da, da, dum dum, dum
da, da (drum roll) duuuuuuum da, da dum, dum, dum!”
They applauded and a star was born! I knew mom was all for it but I was elated when my father, without any need for further discussion or convincing signed me up for the summer school music program and arranged private home instruction.
By September I became a well-qualified student musician and a dedicated member of our school’s music program. Music quickly gave me purpose. Within a short period of time, years before 64 and Beatlemania, me and three other neighborhood musicians formed “The Cobras”. I was the youngest of the group. We rehearsed in Chip’s garage, learned a bunch of songs and performed all over our locale. When a popular Long Island radio station DJ heard “The Cobras” he asked us to perform live on his radio show. That led to our recording debut at his NYC studio. It was amazing experience, filled with fun and adventure. We were on our way and to this day I bang away!
Left to right:
Paul Summers became an insurance salesman.
Larry Hoppen became the lead singer and guitarist in the band popular band Orleans with the songs Still the One and Dance With Me.
Bobby LaValle became a ‘wanna be’ rock star and public school music teacher.
Chip White became a Navy pilot.