Colorado Springs, Colorado
King Features Syndicate (4-06-2011)
Singing 'Dancin' 'round the table'
By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Some women inspire songs. Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecilia, always breaking the boys’ hearts. And Buddy Holly’s pretty, pretty Peggy Sue.
There was a lovely Rita immortalized in song, but she was by profession a meter maid, one job I’ve never had, and spelled her name differently.
Once, decades ago, Bill “Catfish Willie” Austin struck up “Behind Blue Eyes” when I walked into the Holiday Inn lounge where he was playing for a wedding reception. Other than that, inspiring songs has not been my lot in life.
Something far better has happened. Brothers Eddie and Frank Thomas of Iuka, Miss., my hometown, next week will release a CD called “Maggie’s House” that includes a song inspired by my house. And, no, it’s not the title song. Last I checked, my name isn’t Maggie. It’s another song called “Dancin’ ‘Round the Table.”
I live in a little house in a picturesque hollow that everyone still calls “the Red Brown house,” because a man named Red Brown built it. The song recalls “memories of a kitchen lit by a young family’s love and a bare, 40-watt light bulb hanging from the ceiling.” The song is about my house, true, but at a time long ago and largely in the Thomas brothers’ imaginations. Hearing the song, I wish I could have been here then. But enough about mi-mi-mi.
“Maggie’s House’’ is a comfortable front porch of an album, with original songs written over a span of 35 years and performed using “voice and guitar with an occasional salt and pepper of vocal harmonies, trumpets they’ve owned since high school, harmonicas, a bass and drums.”
I read a recent story in The New York Times about how manual typewriters are making a comeback. Seems youngsters who have never used them before are smitten, “fetishizing” the old machines, as The Times put it. New converts are staging “type-ins” to “unplug and reconnect.” Crowds are gathering in hotel lobbies and parks to type together, with the occasional ironic website devoted to the odd hobby.
Frank and Eddie have tapped into a similar nostalgic longing in these simple songs about first loves and last dances, transistor radios and the original television dance shows, when participants wore bobby socks, not high heels. The album has the feel of a scrapbook stored in the attic, with soda straws, movie tickets and scalloped-edged black and white photographs taped to fading pages. It makes you want to, well, dance around a table. To simplify.
The music has a Southern flair because Frank and Eddie grew up in Mississippi. But natives of small towns everywhere will relate.
Eddie writes and sings the songs and plays all the instruments. Frank does the recording. Their recording studio is in the attic of an old hotel they renovated and where their mother grew up.
There are no fancy marketing firms getting ready to bombard the world with word about the release. The brothers do everything themselves. Frank designed the album cover and wrote the liner notes. Soon Eddie will sing his heart out at our home library.
I’m always astounded by my two friends and their endless talents, the way they see things most of us miss and remember them as poetry. I’m proud of Frank and Eddie. Never more than right now.
-Rheta Grimsley Johnson