Robert Howard Kroepel
Copyright © 1997
New Durham, New Hampshire 03855-2107
Mother, Father, Sister—all play piano.
Third Grade: Age 9: My first musical
Fourth Grade: Age 10: I notice that trombone
players in a band play notes they don’t understand (harmony), but
players play notes everyone understands (melody). Girls hang around
players but not trombone players. I switch to trumpet, I play notes
understands and some girls start hanging around me.
Seventh Grade: Age 13. I play trumpet in
the Easton High School Marching Band: Director: Harry Ivan Drendle. We
drill constantly. We learn to march as a military-style unit. We have
colorful uniforms. We march everywhere including up and down
Northhampton Street—our Main Street, around Town Square, and, of
course, at football games and pep rallies. We are good. We are held in
high esteem by our community. I learn how marching bands could be. I am
the youngest member. I sit next to the bass drum in the stands. I
develop a love for the camaraderie, pageantry and
music of marching bands. I earn a JV letter in music.
My Sister plays Glenn Miller big band music on her
record player, and at her parties she and her friends sing songs that I
now recognize as singalongs—“Heart of My Heart,” etc. I am five years
younger, but I am privileged to sit and listen to my Sister and her
friends having fun with music.
I take trumpet lessons from Dick Dunn at Mel
Store, on Jefferson Avenue. Mel himself sells me trumpet music,
mouthpieces, and valve oil, and treats me as an adult. I do not know
then that he is the
Mel Bay of guitar music lesson book fame, and owner of The Mel Bay
Publ/ishing Company, one of the world's largest publishers of music
instruction books. I do not know that he is a musician’s musician and
one of the most sought-after guitarists and banjoists in the St. Louis
area. I play in the junior high school band. We do not march. We do a
Spring Concert, and that’s all.
Eighth Grade: Age 14: My Father buys my
Mother a Hammond M3 organ for a Christmas present. Seven free lessons
come as part of the deal. I am fascinated by the organ and spend time
trying my luck with
it. I get the seven free lessons. From Lloyd Bartlett, who later
good friend, and proves to be a musician’s musician, on call for big
band and show stuff in the St. Louis area, working with show business
such Frank Sinatra. I learn to play popular music on the organ,
many different accompaniment rhythm patterns for different styles of
including waltzes, fox trots, swing, and Latin music including
rhumbas, sambas, tangoes (Spanish and Argentine), and paso
I am exposed to swing, jazz, and Broadway show music. I learn to play
swing style walking bass lines on the 12-note Hammond M3 pedalboard. I
my first fake books (featuring the melody notes, chord symbols and
lyrics, if any, for popular songs)—the original brown Volume One and
the original green Volume Two—a
thousand songs each. I am fascinated by all these wonderful songs and I
most of them. My Mother and Father have neighborhood parties, and I
music for them. At these parties, Bud Gross, who is a former
singer, is able to sing most songs in the fake books in the original
so I accompany him, and we have singalongs, and lots of fun.
I develop a fascination for church organs and
classical organ music. Our neighbor is Bob Heckman, who is a
masterful classical organist, and is the organist at our church. He
treats everyone as an adult, including me, and I spend time with him
talking about music, listening to him and helping him by turning pages
when he practices and at his concerts. I am privileged to be able to
practice a four-manual fifty-four rank Wicks pipe organ in our church.
The walls of the church are concrete and brick and impart a marvelous
natural reverberation that sounds terrific in slow pieces but gums up
fast stuff. He teaches me to play classical music on the Wicks organ,
but I am better playing popular music on the M3. He also teaches me
and how to analyze and write four-part harmony. I analyze and compose
I find myself composing music, popular and
classical. One song, “The Merrymeeting Waltz,” is written for Ralph and
Mary Richardson, who own a marina and real estate agency at
Merrymeeting Lake, New Durham, New Hampshire, where we spend our
summers, and who are benevolent authority figures for us summer kids,
and is performed by Paul’s Melodiers—violin, clarinet and drums—at a
Merrymeeting Lake Association Dance in a summer's night whose date I
cannot remember. I will nevere forget the thrill of hearing someone
play one of my songs in public.
My Sister buys me for one of my birthdays a
recording of Leonard McClain—“Melody Mac”—playing theatre organ. On his
arrangement of “Knightsbridge March” I hear him play field drums and
trumpet fanfares as well as other orchestral sounds, I am fascinated by
the fact that one man could control so much musical sound and I am
hooked on learning to play theatre organs and theatre organ style.
I play in the high school marching band, but
although we do some marching we play only at home football games and
never march in
community parades. Band members are not held in high esteem by fellow
or by the community. This is not the way marching bands should be. Our
Burton Isaac, loves string orchestra music. He tells us “It is just as
to play the right notes as it is to play the wrong notes.” We don’t
what he is saying since sometimes we have a lot of trouble playing the
notes and a lot less trouble playing the wrong notes. I don’t remember
uniforms but am bored by the marching band scene at Kirkwood High
We do, however, play for graduations, where “Pomp and Circumstance”
a musical stimulus for many nostalgic memories of friends moving on to
phases of their lives and from whom we do not hear much but whom we
because they were a part of our youth.
I become impressed with the emotional power of
At our school Bill Bay, son of Mel Bay, has a
reputation of being a terrific trumpet player, in the style of great
classical trumpeters such as Rafael Mendez, but he plays in Burton
Isaac’s String Orchestra and those of us in Marching Band never get to
I get an invitation to play trumpet in the Howard
Matthews Big Band, run by Howard Matthews, a student at rival Webster
Groves (Missouri) High School. Bill Bay plays in this band, so I
finally get to hear him.
I learn that there are “stock arrangements” of popular music that
the original arrangements of Glenn Miller’s “String and Pearls,”
Serenade,” and “In The Mood,” among others.
I decide to form a big band, buy stock arrangements,
and have rehearsals that are fun but lead nowhere. I learn what life is
like for a bandleader. I make calls constantly, cajoling people into
giving the big band a try and arranging rides.
I can play by ear as well as read music. One day I
get a request from fellow high school students to try out for their
dance band, The Pioneers, named after our high school nickname. Their
original trumpet player cannot play by ear. I show up with my stock
arrangements, just in
case. The band is not focused. I suggest trying the stock arrangements,
the band clicks. We go on to our first paid “gig” at the AmVets Hall in
nearby Valley Park: $10.00 per man. We play other gigs including high
school stuff. We are competing with rock and roll, but during that time
period our music was the choice of most highschoolers. I become part of
a jazz-oriented group of students which includes one of the
sought-after professional local guitarists, John Rieble. Swing music is
Marching band becomes intolerable, so I quit.
I later form my own band, Music Inc. I learn that
you cannot use the term Inc. unless you really are incorporated, so I
change the name to the King’s Men Five. I do not know there is another
nationally known group called The Kingsmen. I am honored to be invited
to provide big band music for our Senior Class Prom. Sherry Moody, who
later turns professional, sings several numbers, including my
composition, “Our Graduation Day.”
One of my band members is David Sanborn—a tenor sax
player, who later goes on to play alto sax with the Paul Butterfield
Band, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and then becomes the David
I see him on TV on the David Letterman Show, and playing for the 1997
Another band member is Peter Link, who goes on to
New York City to take the male lead in the touring company of “Hair,”
an actor’s role in the TV soap opera “As The World Turns,” has a hit
show on Broadway called Salvation, has several touring companies doing
Salvation, forms Westrax Recording Studios, and who keeps me updated on
the triumphs of David Sanborn.
One night, at Parkmoor, our local hamburger joint,
now a used car lot (Parkmoor is “Roomkrap” spelled backwards), I hear
Bryant, a fellow trumpet player and friend who later plays trumpet in
orchestras throughout the world, discussing psychology and the mind
Philo Willetts, a non-musical friend who later becomes the only doctor
ever knew who has never been sued for malpractice. For some reason or
“psychology” and “mind” stick with me.
Washington University, St. Louis
At Washington University of St. Louis I am a
chemical engineering major although math/algebra/geometry were not
strong high school subjects. My Father was a chemical engineer, so, not
having a direction, I am a Chem E major.
I join the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Mike Peters, son of
Charlotte Peters (of the previously mentioned Charlotte Peters Show,
for whom Stand Kann was the Musical Director), is a Sigma Chi
Fraternity Pledge Brother and goes on to become a Pulitzer
Prize—winning political cartoonist for the Dayton Daily News and the
Creator of the Mother Goose and Grimm syndicated cartoon strip. Fred
Cotsworth does not tell us he has a stepfather, so one evening, as I am
walking through Fred’s family’s house, on the way to the pool, for a
fraternity rush party, a chair swings around and I get to meet Marlin
Perkins, of Zoo Parade and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and who is
the Director of the St. Louis Zoo. I later try to sell insurance
for Mutual of Omaha, for whom Marlin Perkins is a well-known and
well-liked spokesman, and am the only
salesman with a legitimate Marlin Perkins story—the other salesmen
simply line up to have their picture taken with him in thirty second
bits at the Mutal of Oaha Annual Convention and make up their Marlin
Perkins stories to impress their customers, but I am not successful
selling insurance and go back to music. At the fraternity, we
experience death on a personal level when Bill Koch, our Consul
(President) is killed when a car pulls out in front of his and he has
no chance to stop.
I become a musical pest, playing the George Steck
grand piano in the living room whenever I can. But I do not have a
strong socio-political personality and therefore am not invited to
collaborate with the Chiefs
in fraternity musical activities but am, of course, invited to be an
There are strange non-musical ideas that could be changed, but nobody
to me, I decide not to waste my time on what I perceive is not going
anywhere, because the Chiefs will not listen to an Indian, and drop
out. None of these musical ventures goes anywhere.
Hell Week—the week before Initiation is so
physically demanding I decide that college football has to be a lot
easier, so I try out for football. I am a tight end, but later switch
to quarterback. I learn to lead a team. I am aware of the down and
distance, I remember the scouting reports, I improvise when I need to
and thus follow Coach Puddington’s advice to “Play football!” and adapt
when game plans don’t work out. I get to meet and work out with members
of the St. Louis Cardinals NFL Football team. Charley Johnson is one of
the NFL’s top quarterbacks, a grad student in Chemical Engineering
at Washington University, who teaches me to throw like a pro—three
before the receiver makes his cut, spot passes low and away, so a
defender cannot defend against spot passes. Charley can throw the ball
That surprises me. I can throw the ball seventy-five yards. What I
learn might help
Washington University. Charley is glad to have me around. We are
passes to All-Pro receivers Sonny Randle, Taz Anderson, and Jackie
to Texas A&M Heiseman Trophy winner John David Crow, and we are
against by All-Pro defensive greats such as linebacker Bill Koman,
Larry Wilson and LSU Heisman Trophy Runner-Up Jerry Stovall. Charley
have had a seriously sore arm throwing the ball to all those receivers
I had not been around. I am treated as an adult by the pros. They tell
their jokes, and give me football tips. I am fired up, but when I
to college no one listens, no one learns to run patterns like the pro
so I become a back-up quarterback.
From football I learn that I can think under
pressure. The coach gives me freedom to call my own plays, and I learn
to lead men
into athletic battle.
During a summer footbal camp, my roommate is Harold
Player (his real name—Harold player who is a football player!), a
handsome and fit bodybuilder who is the fastest runner on the Battling
Bears and a male model for the Washington University Art School. (Ever
notice that art students never ask other art students "What's new?"
because they most often ask "Who's nude?" instead?) After several weeks
of being roommates as well as teammates, I ask Harold, who is black, if
he had ever experienced racism. He says, "It's like this—suppose you
are white and I am black, ... ." I ask, "What do you mean SUPPOSE?" He
realizes that he had forgotten that I AM white and he IS black, and we
both have a serious and long belly-laugh, mine being one of the best I
have ever had.
I join the University Men’s Glee Club: Director:
D. Tkach. And then the University Chorus: Director: Orland Johnson. I
enjoy the magnificence of choral groups. Handel’s “Messiah” is a high
I take a high-level music appreciation course. My
knowledge of music and of four-part harmony takes me beyond what the
course offers, and I am invited to become a music major. I cannot play
the piano like others, and although conducting chorus might have been
an option, I do not see myself as good enough to play the piano to
accompany any chorus I might be conducting. Discretion may have been
the better part of valour.
But I take Music 101, 102, 201, 202, Counterpoint. I
want to study the forms of classical music including symphonic sonata,
minuet, and rondo forms, so I could compose in those forms in symphonic
style, but the instructor has orgasms talking about contemporary music
in which composers call for percussionist to throw cymbals over their
shoulders. I realize that once a cymbal leaves a percussionist’s hands
he no longer has
control of the resulting sound, which, as uncontrolled sound is noise,
which does not meet my definition of music as controlled sound. I drop
out, ending my music theory studies at Washington
I take classical organ lessons at Graham Chapel from
University Organist Howard Kelsey on the Möller organ.
I decide chemical engineering is not for me, and,
wanting to know why I cannot seem to get other people to do exactly
what I want
them to do when, where and how I want them to do it, I decide to major
Psychology. I find Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis fascinating. I
learn that Freud’s is not the only theory of psychology. I hear Ralph
words about “psychology” and “mind” ringing in my head.
As part of a Pledge Class Walk-Out I am honored by
being “captured” (kidnapped) by the Pledges. Their support, as Actives
(as New Initiates), becomes important later.
I am given an opportunity to conduct Sigma Chi’s
chorus in the IFC (Inter-Fraternity Council) Sing, a musical
competition for fraternity and sorority choral groups. I get this
position by default, because Dick Crawford, a Pledge Son, and a Music
Major, is involved with the IFC
and is not able to conduct our entry, as he had in the past. For some
or other, I compose “By The Greenwood Tree,” a sad but passionate song
a man who spends time singing to Marianne, his wife/lover, whose body
buried by The Greenwood Tree. I have no clue if there is such a species
a “greenwood tree,” but the phrase works in the song. The choral
arrangement highlights the tenor and bass voices in our group. But it
is an original composition, and some of my fraternity brothers want me
to use “Dear Land of Home,” based upon the tone poem from “Finlandia”
by Jean Sibelius, also known as the Christian Hymn, “Be Still My Soul.”
The recent New Initiates support me. I am told by our Consul that the
decision is mine, but that it is important, because we had not won a
major trophy in six years. I find the combination of melody and lyrics
more compelling, more beautiful, in “By the Greenwood Tree,” than the
melody and words in “Dear
Land of Home,” which, I conclude, suffers from hoky lyrics and does not
our tenor and bass voices, as does my composition. A New Initiate, Tim
Miller, a Good Man, has been with us from the first rehearsals,
consistently sings off-key. I am pressured to remove him from the
chorus. I refuse.
Tryouts. Graham Chapel. Risking all, we sing my song
for tryouts. Tim Miller sings on pitch. My Fraternity Brothers are
pleasantly stunned when one of the judges, Ron Jenkins,
a fellow music student, gives us high marks and what turns out to be
sincere praise for “By the Greenwood Tree.” ["By The GreenwoodTree": http://www.bobkwebsite.com/bythegreenwoodtree.mp3]
I am now leading men into musical battle.
The word gets around the fraternity quickly, and I
get sincere support for rehearsals during the following week. Brothers
who are not part of the chorus drive back to school in the evenings to
Mom and Dad are there.
But I am in my element.
Win or lose, I am happy.
We march in.
Tim Miller sings on pitch along with everyone else.
First Place, Men’s Division.
Pandemonium among the Brothers.
I march to the stateThe IFC Sing First Place Men's
Division Trophy on behalf of Sigma Chi. One of the
Final Judges (who did not know of my composition) made it clear that
beauty of our tenors and basses caused her to judge us First Place, and
that remark surely was encouraged by “By The Greenwood Tree.”
I float back to the Fraternity House for the
celebration. The evening is blur. I am on a natural high. I am a
celebrity among my Brothers and around campus. I am quoted in the
school newspaper. I am honored by
music students and by professors.
I am honored when the Pro Consul (Vice-President)
says something to the equivalent of “For years Bob tried to help us,
in musical activities, and we didn’t listen, but when we gave him the
responsibility he helped us win our first first place trophy in six
I have used my skills and one of my own compositions
to help win a trophy. I am happy. I am proud.
Music and football teach me to think for myself, to
risk my own judgement and stand by my decisions.
While in college I am fascinated by theatre organs
and popular music. I hang around music stores for a chance to play Conn
theatre organs. Salesman Henri Dekeersgieter asks if I want a gig.
There’s a Chinese restaurant, the Kwan Yin Village, in Sunset Hills,
Missouri, with a Seeburg organ (made by the jukebox people) and no one
to play it. I audition for
Frank Lim, the owner, and, with no competition, I get the job.
Thursday, Fridays and
Saturdays. Football and playing at night in an organ bar do not get
and the coaches never find out, so I luck out. Later I find that Bud
Clitis Gross, from my old neighborhood, become good friends with Frank
I get to meet Stan Kann, a Jew who is an organist
at a Methodist church
(Stan and the churchpeople were broadminded, and the churchpeople must
have had a serious sense of humor about about Stan being a Jew playing
Christian music in a Methodist Church), who plays in the mornings on
The Charlotte Peters Show, a local TV variety and talk show, hosted by
local celebrity Charlotte Peters, who plays the four-manual Wurlitzer
theatre organ in the Fox Theatre in
St. Louis, between shows, and who plays a Wurlitzer theatre organ
at Ruggieri’s Restaurant on Dago Hill (the Italians themselves called
Dago Hill, so I understand “Dago” is not necessarily a bad term, unless
are mad at Italians and intend to use it as an ethical slur) and runs
and forth from Ruggieri’s to the Fox Theatre to cover the evening
Stan is the world’s only vacuum cleaner collector—he has many of
among others. One night, after our respective music gigs, Stan shows me
his vacuum cleaner collection. The On/Off switches on the Hoovers don't
work, and Stan is frustrated with that fact and show it with his
nervous fidgetting. Stan then shows me a vacuum cleaner from the US
Civil War period. It has a wooden handle which is to be used by one
person to pump the bellows to generate the vacuum suction, and a hose
with a triangular-shaped nozzle for another person to use for vacuuming
rugs, etc. Stan pumps the handle, and I walk around vacumming the rug,
which was clean, anyways, so I could not determine if or not the vacuum
was actually working. Then the wooden handle breaks. Stan is again
frustrated, and figets nervously. Shortly after all that, Stan goes on
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as the world's only vacuum cleaner
collector, with several of his Hoovers and the two-man Civil War period
vacuum, and the switches on the Hoovers break, Stan nervously fidgets,
Johnny grins and makes funny comments, and the audience laughs, and,
when Johnny is vacuuming the rug near his desk and Stan is pumping the
wooden handle, the handle breaks, Stan nervously fidgets, Johnny grins
and makes funny comments, and the audience laughs, and, by appearing to
be a nervous screw-up, Stan is a success as a comic. Hadn't I already
seen all of this at Stan's home? Was what happened when Stan appeared
to me to be genuinely trying to demonstrate his vacuums the A-Ha
Moment! that inspired him to start a career in comedy? Was he
practicing his rountine on me? (I never asked him and therefore never
found out.) Stan goes on the numerous appearances on TV talks shows
including the Merv Griffin Show, where, as a comic, he demonstrates
stuff like vacuum cleaners and cooking techniques but is so nervous he
to get things naturally screwed up. Maybe not. Stan always had a good
sense of humor, so, ...
The Real World
After college I am making more money than a
graduate engineer. I am tired from studying, and choose music instead
of psychology or law.
I play in the organ bars as a soloist. Stan Kann
comes to hear me play. We become friends. I follow him around his daily
routines with the Charlotte Peters Show, The Fox theatre, Ruggieri’s,
the Fox and
Ruggieri’s again. Stan shows me his collection of vacuum cleaners
the original Hoover and a Civil War hand-pumped vacuum. The handle on
Civil War vacuum breaks as Stan is demonstrating it, just as it does on
TV shows later on. And some of the other stuff doesn’t work any better
Stan’s house than it does on TV, either. I’ve often wondered if Stan
I become friends with many of the top organists in
the St. Louis area including John Ferguson, who plays at Stan Musial
and Biggie’s Restaurant, Dick Balsano, who plays at the Sheraton
Jefferson Hotel, and
who offers me a gig playing cocktail hours until he shows up to play
nine to one, Bob Ellison, who becomes a good friend and who gives
advice on how to survive as a solo organist, Ralph Winn, whose one-man
show is augmented by his ability to play every brass and wind
plus vibes and his sense of comic entertainment, and by Norm Kramer,
is the organist for the St. Louis Blues NHL Hockey Team, who sets the
for hockey organists, and who gets his picture on the front cover of
Illustrated and an article that hails him as the seventh man on the
and support for the idea that whenever the Blues play at home his music
at least one additional goal.
I become a musical hero when a college friend, Mary
Schoenbeck, hires me to play piano for her wedding reception. The
wedding is to be held in Graham Chapel, at Washington University. The
Chapel is decorated with
beautiful white flowers. The ceremony is to start at 7:00 PM. The
is to be Howard Kelsey, my former teacher. At 7:20 Mary’s father walks
the aisle saying, “The organist is not here. Is there anyone here who
play the organ?” I look around. No one moves. It’s up to me. I know the
Möller. I quickly go to the office. I meet with Mary’s father and
lady who is the vocal soloist. I sketch the chord progressions for her
In my love for music I had memorized some of the traditional wedding
and therefore am somewhat prepared for an emergency such as this. I go
improvise classical organ music, for a processional I play from memory
Bridal Chorus from “Lohengren,” get through the accompaniment for the
and for a recessional I play from memory the traditional Mendelsohn
March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Then I go on to the reception.
Schoenbeck gives me the check he would have given Howard Kelsey. I am,
course, treated as a hero at the reception. I am worried that Howard is
or injured, or worse. But, as it turns out, he had been to a picnic,
come home, showered, and taken a nap and simply overslept, for the
time in his long career. He told me he was glad I was there to cover
him, and to earn the money. All’s well that ends well.
Imagine a wedding without music! Again, I am seeing
the power and majesty of music.
I take more lessons from Lloyd Bartlett until I get
the impression that since Lloyd does not follow rock and roll that I
have to teach myself what’s going on with the latest in popular music.
a private pilot, gets married to Lois, also a private pilot, in an
airliner chartered to circle over the St. Louis Gateway Arch. When they
get to their honeymoon destination of San Francisco, they find the
local newspaper gives them three front page columns while the Pope only
gets two columns covering his
As solo gigs become scarce I take a job in the
Social Service Department of St. Louis State Hospital, where I work
five days a week.
I have a key to let myself out at night so I can go home. At the same
I form a group with a “spotlight singer” (a singer who can hold an
audience’s attention), Bill Seago, and we get a gig where I play six
nights a week.
We get a guest appearance on The Charlotte Peters Show. Between playing
music and working at State Hospital I do not know if I am moonlighting
or daylighting. Later I decide that I am daylighting.
I play in the Starlighters rock and roll band, one
of the top rock bands in St. Louis. Rock Legend Wilson Pickett recorded
with The Starlighters prior to my joining them. One night we go to a
black nightclub, The Club Imperial, where, if I remember correctly, we
hear Ike Turner’s band. And I am told to listen to the loose “feel” of
black music, which, I later find out, comes from dragging the backbeats
in 4/4 metre on the second and fourth beats (musical tech-talk). This
loose feel of playing music off the backbeats gives music an 'open',
airy, highly danceable spontaneous quality, especially for slow dancing
gyrations, in contrast to playing on the beat, which gives the music a
stiff, march-like formal regularity. (Pro Football Hall-of-Fame
Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, in his biography, Out Of Bounds, humorously and
teasingly described how he admired the athletic talents and
accomplishments of Fellow Pro Football Hall-of-Fame Member Paul
Hornung, Heismen Trophy winner from Notre Dame, running back and place
kicker for the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Superbowls, but
he, Jim Brown, noted that Hornung tended to dance on top of the beat,
with a typical white stiffness, instead of off the beat.) The
Starlighters, comprised of white guys, can play that black loose
feel. Our lead guitarist, Dennis Linde, leaves and goes on to
write songs such as “Burnin’ Love,” which is a big hit for Elvis
Presley and earns Denny over sixty thousand dollars. One afternoon Carl
of “Blue Suede Shoes,” joins us onstage at a jam session. We have a lot
And I learn rock and roll.
By default, meaning no other pianist or organist
being available, I get a gig at The Brave Bull in downtown St. Louis,
where I play the organ for Gene Lynn (Leon Campbell), a spotlight
singer with great stage presence, an excellent nightclub entertainer,
who happens to be black, and who is sometimes billed as "Frank Sinatra
in Color", and McClinton Raifford, a drummer who has an excellent sense
of rhythm and tempo, who could keep me from racing away with the tempo,
who played excellent drum solos, and who also happened to be black. I
kick bass lines with my feet on the organ pedals. I learn from Gene and
McClinton what is a "groove" in music, the steady and rhythmic blend of
the melody of a song
with the harmonies and rhythms played by everyone in a musical group.
I later refine my ability to play in a groove with
Johnny Rose, and excellent drummer, with a good sense of rhythm, who
happens to be white. From working with drummers McClinton Raifford,
Johnny Rose, Kenny Rice, Brooks "Tooter" Martin, Red Kimmel, John Reno,
and Billy Gayles who can hold me back as well as drummers who cannot, I
learn that there is no truth to the stereotype that only black
musicians "have rhythm", a stereotype featured as a joke in the "All In
The Family" (Archie Bunker) sitcom. Musicians, like most everyone else,
are individuals with individual talents and specialties.
As time goes on I am in and out of bands, most of
the time having my own groups, and playing solo when group gigs falter.
One of my drummers is Billy Gayles, long time
childhood friend of Ike Turner, who was Ike’s lead singer before Tina,
and who wrote and sang “Tore Up,” the first international hit for the
Turner band. Sometimes Billy and I would have a laugh when we sit in a
local pizza parlour and someone
plays “Tore Up” on the jukebox. I take Billy into previously segregated
with no problems whatsoever. Billy keeps to himself, away from white
and people begin to realize that it is not a matter of “knowing his
but that he is being cool and not making people uncomfortable. At the
Marlborough, where at one end of the building there is a pool table,
customers line up at break time and drag Billy off the bandstand to
pool with them. Billy is a hit with everyone. I go on Saturday
afternoons to a black club North St. Louis, where Billy plays for a jam
park my car at the front door. Someone meets me, lets me in, and then
my car. I am well-received as Billy Gayles’ boss man. And we have fun
playing jazz. When I leave I am escorted to my car. No one wants
anything to happen to me. There is a lot of racial tension in the area,
and no one wants to
see anyone do anything dumb to me. I get phone calls from black
who tell me the word among black musicians is that I am “cool,” and
ask me to put their names and phone numbers into my “book” of musicians
case I ever needed more sidemen. I am honored by these phone calls.
The racial tension produces strange happenings. I
hire a talented black drummer to play in a club in Gaslight Square. The
is owned by a white man who also owns the club next door, where the
drummer’s father plays drums for a well-known black Dixieland band.
Drumming is big in this family, for my drummer’s older brother is one
of the better-known jazz drummers of his time. My drummer plays the
first couple of sets without incident, but then gets into a racially
heated argument with the owner, accusing
him of exploiting blacks but overlooks the fact that the owner was also
employment for not only his father but also the other blacks in the
band. The drummer packs up his equipment and leaves. The trumpet player
I get paid, but we lose the gig. The drummer’s father apologizes for
son. I am not angry, only puzzled at how crazy and senseless racial
I learn that inre music, musicians
Aquarius is a rock band I name after my birth sign.
We work steadily. We are hot. We play the hottest spots in the County
set cash flow records. We are strong enough to be considered for being
warm-up band to get audiences ready for national touring bands at Kiel
Auditorium and the St. Louis Arena. But one individual thinks he knows
more about music and the music business than I do, and the band breaks
up. The drummer, Tom Knowles, goes on to play for John Cougar
I begin teaching. I write music instruction books. I
find out Mel Bay is THE Mel Bay of the Mel Bay Publishing Company
when he invites me to show a book to his son, Bill, who is now running
the family publishing business. He assigns me book projects, I offer
several book proposals, and my books are published and sold all over
My published books include:
Deluxe Encyclopedia of Piano Chords.
From time to time I eat lunch in a cafeteria in
Kirkwood not far from Mel Bay’s store. On occasion I see Mel, and he
never fails to
pick up my check. We sit and talk about music stuff. He shares
impressions and offers good advice. He tells me that at one time he
traveled to St. Louis
on a manure wagon to take lessons. He is a good conversationalist, and
am honored by his friendship.
Deluxe Encyclopedia or Organ Chords.
Keyboard Chord Chart.
Fun With The Organ.
Easy Way: Play Piano By Chords. Instruction Book.
Easy Way: Play Piano By Chords: Solo Book.
Piano Rhythm Patterns, which shows students how to play accompaniment
rhythm pattern styles including waltzes, fox trots, 2/4, 4/4 and 6/8
marches, 4/4 swing, 3/4 jazz waltzes, and 5/4 metre swing (such as for
country music styles, and Latin styles including the beguine, the
the samba, the Spanish and Argentine tangoes, the paso doblé,
the Bossa Nova. One song, “Chrissie’s Song,” written for my daughter,
recorded by Dan McClerran, of Lakewood, Colorado, for his first album
the Earth Angel label.
Kathy Telle, one of my students, is a marvelous
classical organist, who wants to learn to play popular music, and who
goes on to play professionally at the Kwan Yin Village—where I played
my first gig.
Jim Labit is a mechanical engineer who plays in a GB
or General Business band. He comes to me for lessons, and we become
doing a lot of boating on the Mississippi.
Jerry Brasch owns Brasch Manufacturing and loves
theatre organ music. He has a large Allen electronic theatre organ in a
specially designed room. He comes to me for lessons on accompaniment
rhythm patterns for popular music, and we become good friends. Jerry is
a graduate of Washington University with a degree in engineering. At
one time, as a student, he was the University Organist. Whenever I go
to St. Louis Jerry and Rosalee make available their home. On our
honeymoon, 1996, Janice and I spent almost
two weeks with Jerry and Rosalee.
I meet Jimmy Smith, the jazz organist, and a musical
hero of mine. We are backstage on one of his breaks at a gig in St.
Louis. He rants about whites oppressing blacks and a race war that is
coming between blacks and whites until I
remind him that blacks are only ten percent of the total US population
that because of their skin color and certain distiguishable facial
features many if not most black people would have a tough time going
under cover and camouflaging themselves if ever whites and other ethnic
groups get ticked off enough to pick up guns and start shooting blacks.
Jimmy does not know that I am held in high regard by black musicians in
the St. Louis area. But he recognizes that I am talking with him
man-to-man in a factual way, that I am a fan of his, and that,
therefore, I am definitely not a racist, and he calms down, and we talk
musician’s talk. I want to keep in touch with him. He gives my his
address, but when I write my letters come back “Address Unknown.” I see
him at the St. Louis Playboy Club, but he refuses to talk to me. So
some musical heroes. And so far there has not been a race war between
I continue to play.
In 1982 I am invited by the Peterson Musical
Instrument Company, of Worth, Illinois, manufacturers of strobe tuners
for guitar players, to be their Factory Artist and demonstrate their
Peterson Bottom Line™ Pedalbass at the NAMM Show in Atlanta. A fun
time. And an honor.
In 1983, my Mother dies.
In 1984, my Father dies.
One or two weeks after my Father's death, a friend
who installed my septic system introduces me to Janice Draper, who
later, in 1996, becomes Mrs. K.
I meet George Bush in August, 1989, while playing at
the White Barn Inn, Kennebunkport, Maine. President Bush likes my piano
work, says so, and honors me with a Presidential tie clip, which has
of the President of the United States on the front and Mr. Bush’s
stamped on the back. I wear it in his honor. And I meet him on several
occasions. And I get an Official White house Photograph showing Mr.
handing me a tie clip. Unfortunately, all you see of Mr. Bush is his
I hope to get him to autograph it with something like “To Whom It May
Yes, this really is my back. And I really did get to meet Bob Kroepel.
I teach general Music at the Woodland Heights
Elementary School in Laconia, NH, where Janice, teaches. I learn to
love kids. Some of them bring me tapes with obscene words on them for
personal listening, not for use in class. I am amazed that such tapes
readily available. I teach them “street music”—music that they hear on
radio and in their tapes and cd’s. I play rock and roll and rhythm and
for them. “The Linus and Lucy Theme” from “Peanuts” (The “Charley
Song, or just plain “Charley Brown!”) is a big hit. I implement “Song
in which the kids who can read research a recording of a song of their
choice, tell us about the arrangement in terms of an Introduction
(Rhythmic—no themes like melodies—or Thematic—using notes like
melodies), the Basic Beat Subdivision (“ev-en” eighth notes or
“boun-cy” triplet eighth notes), what Instruments are being played,
what the Words mean, and the Ending (Complete Ending or Fade-Out). I do
not screen their tapes. The kids are at first shy, but when the brave
ones have fun giving their Song Reports the others get excited
and interested in having their chance in the spotlight. They practice
Song Reports in their regular classes. One angel of a third grader
me that her parents are both part-time DJ’s, and that her Dad is
her, and he has suggested a song called “Funky Cold Medina.” She does a
job on her Song Report. She gets the Introduction, Basic Beat
Instruments, and the Ending, but she has trouble understanding the
I thought her father would have helped her with the words. She gets to
end of her Song Report and we punch “Play” on the tape machine. The
tell a story about a guy who goes to a bar, meets a girl, fills her
a drink called “Funky Cold Medina,” takes her up to his apartment, and
he gets her clothes off he finds out that she’s a man, and ... I can’t
“Stop” fast enough. I thank her and try not to make a big deal of the
She is puzzled because we do not play all of her song, but is pleased
I give her a good grade, because, after all, she did get everything
right. I am worried that I am being set up. I talk with the Principal,
we decide to wait to see if anyone decides to make a Big Deal about it.
one does. I screen all tapes from then on. I later hear the entire tape
am amazed that the girl’s father suggested it to her, for I am sure she
have had trouble understanding words such as “I don’t want to make a
with a man.” But, on the whole, the kids are great. I teach them many
songs from what I spontaneously call “The American Musical
Heritage”—songs like “Yankee Doodle,” “Shenandoah,” “Dixie,” “Battle
Hymn of the Republic,” and
all the Armed Services Songs—“The Caisson’s Song,” “Anchors Aweigh,”
Marines’ Hymn,” “The Air Force Song”/“The Wild Blue Yonder,” and
Paradis” (“Always Ready”—The Coast Guard Song) as well as songs they
like to sing to their own children, as my Mother sang to me, songs like
Had A Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” They like
street music. They can relate to the songs they can hear on the radio
on their tapes. Many of them thank me for not making them learn what
themselves spontaneously call “Baby Music.” I learn how important
can be to young people, as it was for me when I was young. I see and
a lot of talent. In class many students volunteer to sing rock and roll
using a microphone, with me accompanying them on piano and pedalbass.
young people standing in front of their peers singing rock and roll
I teach them disco-style dance steps, including the basic step and the
moves guys and girls make together as they dance. I suggest a Talent
and the Principal approves. This is a show for the kids. The adults are
to provide a framework, and the kids are to do what they want to show
their talents. We hold auditions. We have more than enough for two
but have to settle for only enough for one show. Two guys show up with
guy and two girls who turn out to be dancers. I have no idea what they
to do. They grab two microphones. They are going to do “Whole Lotta
Goin’ On” and I am to play the piano and pedalbass for them, just like
did in class. They bounce across the stage as dual Elvis impersonators
dancers behind them. All their own idea. They are the closing act for
Show. The Show takes on a special meaning for the kids throughout the
Kids volunteer to be stage hands, stage managers, personnel managers. A
and a girl ask to be Co-Masters of Ceremonies. Why not? The art teacher
other kids who are not in the Show to make a banner for us. There are
sport teams for this elementary school therefore no athletic heroes, so
Show becomes a Really Big Deal. Our Kids! Our Talent! A point of pride.
The in-school shows goes along fine. I am out front playing the piano
for some of the acts. The first graders do “Mary Had A Little Lamb”
with one girl
singing and the other following her dressed in a lamb costume. The
classmen treat them as equals, proud to have them in the Show. The
gets ripped when one act carelessly flings themselves onstage. Oh,
This is, after all, only a grade school, and, like many weddings, even
best plans often make end up as funny videos on a TV show. But Lindsay
our Stage Manager, takes the initiative between acts, so when the
opens I am amazed that the banner has been fixed. Before the evening
our Personnel Manager comes to me with a list she has made of the
their phone numbers, their parents’ names, etc. She has made this list
her own. She tells me that several people have not arrived and asks
to call them from the office. Or course! I am impressed with her
leadership in preparing herself for her job without my direction. I am
with the native intelligence, adaptability, responsibility, and
young people can exhibit when given a chance. Everyone arrives on time.
the Show goes well for the parents and siblings. The evening Show is a
success. The upper classmen tell me that after they graduate from
Heights they plan to come back as advisors for future Shows. We have a
Party. We watch a video of the Show—first graders, upper graders, and
all equals. We have refreshments. I give them Certificates they can
on their walls. Then the performers grab the gymnastic equipment,
Kids once again, and start venting energy all over the stage and the
And I have to become an Adult and supervise everyone. The regular music
who specializes in Baby Music, sees the Show, compliments me on my
tells me she thinks I must have spent a lot of time doing it, then
me she hopes that no one asks her to do a Show next year, because she
do it. I am stunned by what she says. There is no Show the next year.
several other teachers realize the importance of a Show, the kids ask
to do a Show, and, without the participation of the regular music
they do a Show. Only now those kids who would like their chance to
in front of an audience and sing a song or play an instrument
by a competent piano player now may not have that chance if the only
piano player is the regular teacher and she refuses to participate.
a competent piano player only those non-musical acts such as comedy and
acts and musical acts who can provide their own background tapes will
a chance to perform. Nevertheless, somehow, the Show lives on.
I play music for Jean and Roosevelt Langley, at
the Langley House Inn, Intervale, New Hampshire. The Langleys and the
Kroepels become lifelong friends. They have the same wedding date as
ours albeit theirs is a 14 years earlier. We give them a key to our
home and request that they visit often. Roosevelt is a gourmet chef. I
get to the gig early, and, by mutual consent, I chase him around the
kitchen without getting in his way as he prepares for the evening food
service, and we chat about Life, Love, Labor, and Leisure. Jean joins
us as Hostess. After the food service, Roosevelt and I hang out
together, talking about Life, Love, Labor, Leisure, and, as we eat our
evening meal—the same gourmet food served to patrons, we watch Bill
Belichick and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots win their first
Divisional Title since 1985 and go on to the Superbowl. The Inn is 65
miles from home, so when I am tired or the weather is bad, by their
insistence, I stay at the Inn. Roosevelt is competent to handle
construction, electrical and plumbing problems at the Inn, doing most
of the renovations himself. He is also good fixing mechanical problems
with cars and trucks. He is a marginal musician. I tell people that
between the two of us, we can do anything: I can do music, and he can
do everything else! (That's a paraphrase of a Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain
joke.) Roosevelt loves to fix problems, and is extremely energetic
though laid-back. When Jeanne and Roosevelt come visit us at our house,
Roosevelt either notices problems to be fixed or colludes with Janice
to work on problems she has listed. Roosevelt happens to be black.
Roosevelt is rugged and handsome. When we go
shopping for stuff needed for repairs, or for food, I notice that women
of all ages, races, shapes, sizes, and marital status ogle him. They do
not ogle me. I pretend to get mad. I point out to the women that they
have ogled him and not me. I ask them how they would like it if they
went somewhere with a ladyfriend and the guys ogled the ladyfriend and
not them. They admit that they would not like that. I suggest that they
ought to give me at least a courtesy ogle. The ladies get the joke, and
give me a courtesy ogle. Janice and Jean witness some of these
ogles/courtesy ogles and marvel at my inherent
I see increasing enforcement of DWI/OUI laws
threaten lounge customers and dry up the lounge business for musicians
as well as for
lounge owners. Perhaps this is for the good if it keeps people from
getting drunk and killing themselves or/and other people. But it means
that gigs for
a working musician become harder to find.
But I play as much as I can.
I continue to compose, and to write music
I am forming my own publishing company, Lakeside
In the works are the following books:
Piano Course: Instruction Book 1.
I plan to publish tapes and CD’s of MIDI Music,
instrumental music performed by my Apple Macintosh computer as well as
Piano Course: Song Book 1.
Piano Course: Instruction Book 1.
Piano Course: Song Book 2.
Piano Course: Instruction Book 3.
Piano Course: Song Book 3.
Piano Course: Instruction Book 4.
Piano Course: Song Book 4.
Piano Course: Instruction Book 5.
Piano Course: Song Book 5.
Piano Course: Romantic Piano Styles.
Piano Course: Rhythm and Blues Piano Styles.
Piano Course: Rock and Roll Piano Styles.
Piano Course: Country and Western Piano Styles.
Piano Course: Ballroom Dance Piano Styles.
Piano Course: Latin American Piano Styles.
Piano Course: Jazz Piano Styles.
Basic Music Theory.
Basic Keyboard Technique.
Dictionary of Chords.
Keyboard Course: Book One.
Keyboard Course: Book One: Solos.
Keyboard Course: Book Two.
Keyboard Course: Book Two: Solos.
Arranging Popular Music.
Primer Book 1
Primer Book 2
Primer Book 3
Primer Book 4
Primer Book 5
Quick and Easy Piano and Keyboards: QE 1
Quick and Easy Piano and Keyboards: QE 2
Quick and Easy Piano and Keyboards: QE 3