Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “South Portland”

1974

The Hubleys' back yard was a splendid if challenging setting for rough-court croquet.

The Hubleys’ back yard was a splendid if challenging setting for rough-court croquet in 1974. Hubley Archives.

I worked for a while in 1973 at the King’s department store in South Portland, on Waterman Drive where the Shaw’s is now.

They sacked me in October, the same day that Spiro Agnew resigned and the very fine drummer Alan Smith quit our band, Airmobile. One out of three is better than none, I guess. A year later I got another department store job in South Portland, wrangling stock at the Jordan Marsh out at the Maine Mall.

The year in between the first stockboy job and the second, I know now, was one of the best of my life — but, aside from Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, it sure didn’t feel like it. I was drinking, moping, listening to Hank Williams and getting up at 4 a.m. to see Bing Crosby movies on Channel 6. In fact, I came down with the 20-year-old guy blues. I had no job, no band, no lover.

Embracing the black cat.

Embracing the black cat. Hubley Family photo.

I was still living with my parents. Aside from a few noontime shifts running the cash register at Patty Anne’s Superette, I was unemployed between the two jobs. I looked for work, including a visit to the Army recruiting center, but I was uninterested in anything besides making music and writing, and didn’t look very hard. It was one of those emotional pretzels where one manages to feel wrong about not doing something one doesn’t really want to do in the first place.

On a more practical plane, it would have been nice to make some money.

After Alan quit the band, John Rolfe, Glen Tracy and I invited back a previous drummer, Eddie Greco, and as the Thunderbirds we played one last date, a teen dance in South Portland.  That was the end of my musical partnership with John, which dated back to 1971 and our first performing band, Truck Farm. It’s evident now that we were both ready to move on, but I like being in a band and was sorry it was over.*

As for the women — to the very limited extent that you want to read about and I want to write about my love life — suffice it to say that, like a dog that chases cars, I was avid for love but wouldn’t have known what to do with it had I caught it.

So I spent the year preoccupied with what I didn’t have, while obliviously making good use of what I did have in abundance: time. I’m sure my parents didn’t love my loitering around the house, with only occasional half-hearted forays in search of work, but they were kind about it.

Meaning that I felt perfectly OK about spending most of my waking hours in the cellar with the Sony TC540 and my guitars (with occasional breaks for visiting Patty Ann’s to build model airplanes with my friend Jeff Stanton**). I spent winter, spring and summer 1974 writing and recording songs, a couple of which are presented here for your listening pleasure.

What an opportunity to concentrate on what I loved and wanted to do; what a gift.


Songs from 1974:

  • Oh, What a Feeling (Hubley) Nicked the title from an Everly Brothers song, but otherwise this is all me. Recorded on Aug. 5 in the upstairs hall, for the reverb (but I have since added more).
  • I Guess You All Know What I Mean (Hubley) What a gloomy Gus. A lost-love lament, recorded in the Hubleys’ basement in April, and complete with an expediently cryptic closing line.

Copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.


*John is now leader of the Luxembourgs, among whose other members is Steve Chapman, former bassist for my band the Fashion Jungle. John has played with two other bassists that I too have worked with: Andy Ingalls (Curley Howard Band) and Dan Knight (the 1985 Fashion Jungle).

**Among the other recreations of the golden summer of 1974 was learning to play rough-court croquet with the Stantons.

Text copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

A product of 1974.

A product of 1974. Hubley Archives.

 

Silvertones

Doug Hubley performs "Wild Horses" on the Silvertone 6-string at Nancy Hubley's wedding, May 1975. Hubley Family photo.

Doug Hubley performs “Wild Horses” on the Silvertone 6-string at Nancy Hubley’s wedding, May 1975. Hubley Family photo.

Somewhere in Rwanda may still exist a Silvertone 6-string acoustic guitar that began its musical life in South Portland, Maine, with me.

My parents gave me the guitar for Christmas in 1971. I was 17. This guitar that became my close musical friend for the next 23 years was my second acoustic and second Silvertone, a brand carried by Sears, Roebuck & Co. and sold in the catalog.

The first Silvertone was a 12-string that I got in 1968, colored a dull brown sunburst seemingly inspired by Soviet design. This guitar would sound pretty good for the first week or so into a new set of strings, and then the tone subsided into a dull clang resembling a work party shoveling sand. (Hear it here on Glad to be Free.)

Worse than the sound was the action: The strings were so high that I kept them artificially depressed by tuning it low and routinely playing with a capo, advice I received from a 12-string how-to manual purportedly penned by Pete Seeger.


Hear the Silvertone 6-string in two songs written and recorded in summer 1973:

  • For Tonight (Hubley) An attempt to grapple with remorse about my adolescently cavalier attitude toward women.
  • Hamlin Square Song (Hubley) Hamlin School stood across the street from Patty Ann’s Superette, aka The Corner, in South Portland, a social center of gravity for many of us in the 1970s. It’s fitting that I wrote this lyric on a model airplane instruction sheet up in Patty Anne’s attic — Jeff Stanton’s home and our airplane factory — because the subject is precisely that time and place: the store, the time spent hanging around, flying the planes in the schoolyard, watching the girls come and go and the cars head out Ocean Street toward the Cape.

“For Tonight” and “Hamlin Square Song” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.


The Lead Belly songs in the 12-string book gave me some valuable fundamentals, and it was nice chugging along with LB on something like “T.B. Blues.” But that guitar was essentially a dog, as I realized after a heavy flirtation with a friend’s Martin, and it was back to the Sears catalog for something better. (I sold the 12-string at a yard sale in 1978 for $8.)

The six-string wasn’t much better in the playability department (and again I resorted to detuning and the capo, which tended to flummox people I played with, who needed to be convinced that I was actually playing in the correct key). But it was pleasant to handle and had a decent sound, a dry tone that I still favor in an acoustic.

Doug Hubley and the Silvertone 12-string, left, with Tom Hansen and the Carmencita. Hubley Family photo, 1969.

Doug Hubley and the Silvertone 12-string, left, with Tom Hansen and the Carmencita. Notice the capo that lived on the 12-string, and the cotton string that was the Carmencita’s strap. Hubley Family photo, 1969.

The fifth instrument in my arsenal, it quickly became my constant companion. It was on this guitar that I developed my acoustic style. A positive omen came with it too: Hippie that I was, I had stuck a round “skin jewel” on the 12-string that shone with a prism effect — and the new Silvertone came with a similar refracting reflector on it.

Not bad for a $48 guitar. And 1972 was a good year for a good cheap guitar: My first band had fallen apart during the winter, my love life was not thriving, I just was out of high school and into a job at a potato chip factory, and I was diving very deep into country music.

The Silvertone and I spent a lot time together. I didn’t own a car until I was 22, and before then got around by bicycle a lot. I appropriated some World War II vintage backpack webbing from my father and contrived a strap for the guitar case so I could carry it on my bike. In 1976, I brought the Silvertone to Europe: lined the case with foam rubber, coated it with fiberglass and attached a hasp for a padlock. It survived the trip fine.

So I guess I gave that guitar a taste for travel early on. I got a much better instrument in 1994 and the old Silvertone gathered dust for about a decade. Then a Rwandan student at the college where I work posted a want ad for an inexpensive guitar that she could send home to her boyfriend. The Silvertone filled the bill. I hope someone is still making music with it.

Text copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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