Thursday, May 28, 2015

Just Another List

Since it's NBA Finals time, I figured it's about time for my all time top five. Keep in mind three things...I'm not a sports writer so this is purely me. I only mention people I have seen, so people like Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell are out. And I forget the third thing...

Here we go.

At guard you have to start with Magic. Full name Earvin Johnson, aka Magic. Start with the fact he's 6'8'' and the whole game flowed through him. When I was in high school our center was 6'5''. They used to play people that tall at forward or center but not guard. Magic changed all of that. He could pass, he could shoot, he could rebound. I remember before ESPN we saw players, teams from outside our area, no matter what the sport, only during playoff time. It was during the NCAA basketball tournament and here comes Michigan State led by Magic Johnson. I'd heard about him so I plopped down on the couch to watch him and he was better than advertised. He shot four times that game and controlled the whole thing. One last thing, in the NBA he also won a bunch of championships with the Lakers. All this at 6 foot 8.

Michael Jordan.
Say no more. He's the gold standard that everyone else is compared to. A rock star if there ever was one, and go ahead count the rings. We'll wait. At the height of his career when the Bulls came to town? It was like the Beatles. He did the impossible. Routinely. And even now people speak his name in hushed tones. I saw him live once, in Chicago, and I was taken by how, when he shot free throws during the game, flash bulbs lit up all across the arena.  Like diamonds. I'd never seen that before.

There were two memorable people who changed their name...Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and he would be my center. Before him seven footers were...just seven footers. He was the first big man I saw who could actually move and shoot. I was 13 and stayed up late to watch him play, in college, in the Astrodome as UCLA took on Houston. His eye had been scratched and they lost. I waited until they played again in the NCAA tournament. He was healthy then, wore goggles, and UCLA destroyed them. Six times he was part of the last team standing in the bigs. He had the skyhook in the pros. An unstoppable shot. He's the all-time leader in points scored. What do you call a burning ember at a Hawaiian cookout? A Luau Cinder.


I finish up with two legends at forward.

First, a guy who couldn't jump.

Larry Bird made every important shot there was, made all kinds of passes and got lots of rebounds.

Was there ever a tougher competitor?
                             
Famous story...the first three point competition at the All Star game, and Bird walked into the locker room and proclaimed, "Which one of you guys is going to finish second?"

And then won it.

If you can do what you say, that ain't bragging.

Some people forget the finals between the Celtics and the Lakers. I don't. They were fierce. All from a guy who they said couldn't jump.  Larry Legend.

And then LeBron James.

King James.

He's the reason this whole list came about and he's also the only one currently playing. People will be telling their grandchildren about him. He can shoot. He can pass. He can play defense. He can carry a team, by himself, to the Finals. Heck, I could be on the team. FIFTH NBA final in a row. That's impressive. More than Magic, more than Michael, more than Kareem.  He went from high school to the pros and played like a man while still a boy. LeBron won two titles in Miami, then went back to the Cavaliers. 
He's from Akron. I've always said he could run for senator from Ohio when he's done and win. They love him that much. When it's all over he'll go down as one of the all time greats. Trust me.

So there you have it, my list. What's yours?




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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Songs I Like

In no particular order these are some of the songs I like...

Love and Happiness--Al Green

I've been a fan of the good Reverend for decades. Old school, baby.  I love it when he sings in this song, "Love is... wait a minute." I love the drums, I love the back up singers, I love the horns. Listen to the horns in the middle of the song after those back ups sing, "Love and Happiness." That's a moment right there.

A story he told me....He used to record in a bad part of town so they got winos to watch the door. Free wine goes a long way. They were having a hard time counting down this song until a wino casually suggested they use a wooden Coca Cola crate. When he said that, everything stopped, and the phrase 'Don't nobody move' comes to mind. The sound you hear on the recording before the organ kicks in? A heel on a wooden crate tapping one, two, three, four, five, that a wino suggested.

Go Your Own Way--Fleetwood Mac

I love me some Fleetwood Mac and this is one of my all time favorites. Written and sung by Lindsay Buckingham, it was the first single off of Rumours. The intro gets me every time. It would be a great intro by itself but an acoustic guitar part takes it to an even higher level. "Loving you isn't the right thing to do," are the first words you hear and that's not a bad way to start a song. The drums, the bass and his guitar solo. Great. I've driven way too fast to this song.

More than a Feeling--Boston

I've always said like what you like. I've always liked this. The intro fades in, already in flight, and it's sooo good. The vocals are ace and I always wait for the guitar sound. You know the one. During it lead guitarist Tom Scholz uses his pick to run down the strings to get to the refrain. I don't know quite how to explain it but listen, you'll hear. The ending is sublime. It's hard to imagine, but this was considered hard rock when it first came out. Also, I'm not alone in liking this song. The album it came from has sold over 17 million copies.
It could have sold one copy as far as I'm concerned, I'd still like it.

Next to Me (Kendrick Lamar remix)-- Emili Sande

I owe it all to my friend Mohsen who turned me on to her. She's from England, looks great, and sounds even better. From the beginning this song got in my head and I found myself singing it all day. Check out her live performance at the British version of The Grammys (The Brits 2013) on youtube. Run. It's that good. She does a medley of her song "Clown" with "Next to Me" and yes, that is Taylor Swift dancing to it in the audience. And the remix? Kendrick Lamar is a top notch performer himself (did you see him on SNL?) and his rap intro is just perfect. It leads right into her song. What could be better.

Trouble Boys--Dave Edmunds

This is rock-a-billy to the core. Dave was in Rockpile and way back when he did a song you may have heard of, "I Hear You Knocking" ("You went away and left me long time ago"). He recorded "From Small Things Mama (Big Things One Day Come)", written by none other than Bruce Springsteen. But enough history. There's so much I like about this song. I like how the piano comes in in the beginning. I like the lyrics. I like how the story in the song ends, and I just love the overall feel.

The Way You Look Tonight--Frank Sinatra

Full disclosure--Like most kids I grew up liking different sounds than those my parents liked. If they liked something, I made sure I went in the other direction. Frank Sinatra was theirs and for a long time I wouldn't go there. Then I got older and heard this and it was a gateway to a whole new world. I learned what it meant when they said a song swings. This song swings. His singing is wonderful and unique at the same time. When a lot of singers who come after you sound like you? You're The Guy. Listen how he sings the word 'Look' the first time. Listen how when he runs through the lyrics he sings them differently every time. While you're at it listen how the horns cut like knives. I'm surely not the first to say this, but Frank? A cool breeze. Emphasis on cool.

Doing It To Death--James Brown

You can quibble that it's by Fred Wesley & The JB's. You can quibble that's it's best known as "A Funky Good Time." What you can't quibble about is this is one hot song. Burn your eyebrows off hot. You want to hear a tight band? Was there any band tighter? You knew when James was singing. Nobody sounded like him. I remember going past a car wash with this blaring from the speakers in my car. I saw more grins and bopping heads that day. "When you have a groove like this groove..."
We're gonna have a funky good time.

Latch-Disclosure (Featuring Sam Smith)

The first time I heard this it went like this.  The electronic bed was great. The song was great. Sam Smith was glorious. I was coming home from the airport after picking up my daughter, Maya, and she said listen to this. Maya has great taste. I was blown away. I had never heard of him. Sam is so huge and recognizable now, but this was when no one knew him. This song got under my skin, got in my bones. Still does. If all you know is "Stay With Me" check this out.

I leave you with a question...What are some of your favorites?








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Monday, May 18, 2015

My Father

My Dad's full name is Alfred Earl McEwen.

When I was born I was cross-eyed and my tongue was attached to the bottom of my mouth. I was a premature baby and I was a mess.

That's when my Dad stepped in.

When I was a bit older we played two games, the first one was called Watch the Finger. He used to have me look at his index finger as it got closer and closer to the point between my eyes. He moved his finger in and pulled it back, moved it in and pulled it back, and that exercise helped the muscles in my eyes get stronger and stronger. We must have played that game a thousand times and eventually my eyes straightened out.

The second was after I'd had an operation to clip that muscle under my tongue, which in my case allowed mine to move more freely. That also left me with a lisp. My Dad would have me say "Sufferin' Succotash" and "Snookie Snook Snook" (a mouse in Cinderella) over and over again. He says I said it so much that I thought Snookie Snook Snook was my actual name. But...

The lisp went away.

Never give up.

That's my Dad.

He was born in Mobile.  His father, Beverly, died when he was three. His mother, Julia, passed away when he was twelve. Even with all that hardship Dad thrived. He moved to Jackson, Mississippi and early on he found out that people liked to hear him sing. At sixteen he had his own show on the radio.

That's a big deal now but back then? A really big deal.

That singing turned into a scholarship to Xavier University in New Orleans where he was the star of his class. He and his voice played the lead in many operas.

After that, he moved to Baltimore where he met and married my Mom. I'll save their love story for a different time.

Dad joined the Air Force and went to OCS, Officer Candidate School. He retired as a Colonel but he began as a Lieutenant. He started our family with my Mom.

Then we went to Germany.

One day there I was looking at our grandfather clock and said, "What time is it?" My Dad said, "You can tell time.  Keep coming closer until you can see the clock." My face was about an inch away from it and I said, "It's ten till seven."

"Oh, no!"

Shortly after that I got my first pair of glasses. I was ten.

Through it all my Dad kept singing.

I've seen him sing so many times I've lost count but I've always been very proud of him. I could never sing but I like to think that exposure helped me to be a disc jockey down the road.

He taught me manners and how to be courteous.

Yes m'am, no m'am. Please and thank you.

Learning that has gotten me so far in life. He taught me the importance of honesty, of integrity. He taught me the value of intelligence.

He taught me a lot of things.

If you asked him something he didn't know, he wouldn't just tell you anything to make you go away. He'd say, "I'll find out." And come back with the answer. It was like living with an encyclopedia.

Later on, after we returned stateside and I had long left the nest, a letter came to our house addressed to ALBERT McEwen. My younger brother, Kirk, thought that was so funny and used to call our Dad, Bert. Well, they went to Mexico on vacation and my brother shouted out one day, "Hey Bert!" to get his attention.  A man near my Dad said, "You know, I wouldn't let my kids call me by my first name." He chuckled and said, "That's not my name."


One day I said to my Dad,"I've always been lucky." He said, "Do you know why?" I didn't expect that answer. As I heard the theme to the Twilight Zone in my head he began...

My father had six brothers and two sisters. He was the baby. "I'm a seventh son. And you're the son of a seventh son."

I'm now a father and I had a great path to follow. I have daughters and sons and they're all different. It's great being their Dad. It sounds cliche, but my Dad has always said the best thing in his life was the raising of his kids.

My Dad is 86 now and has been a grandfather for awhile.

It's been a great ride.







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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

All About My Mom

Mothers Day 2015 has come and gone. Facebook was full of pictures of peoples' mothers. There were words of how much they loved theirs and also how much some of them missed theirs. I was a part of  that.

Let me tell you a bit more about mine.

Her name was Dolores Marguerite McEwen but I always knew her as Mom.

One of my earliest memories is of me having to swim the width of the pool in San Antonio to prove I could be in the deep end. I was a peanut.

Couldn't do it.

But the way my Mom hugged me afterwards and dried my tears was so loving, I've never forgotten.

Growing up, it seemed to me that there were so many McEwens, that our house was this circus of diapers, and bikes, and dogs, and... Let's not forget we had one bathroom.

We also traveled a bunch too, my Mom married a man in the Air Force, my Dad, so we were constantly packing and unpacking. If she had anything bad to say about it, I never heard it.

Mom was born in New York, her maiden name was Johnson, and she had a brother, Harold. He was always Uncle Junior to me because he was named after my grandfather. Her mother, my grandmother, was Hazel Francis. We used to go visit her in The Big Apple. One thing I remember is she used to eat her morning cereal using coffee in place of the milk. Also, when the tooth fairy visited me once there, I found subway tokens mixed in with the change under my pillow.

We went to Germany and my life was a blur of brothers and sisters. We had six kids.

My Mom was in the Officers Wives Club. She bowled, packed our lunches, and laughed a lot. I remember Sam and Dave on the radio and Mom dancing along.

She was a great parent. How many times today do you see kids telling their mom or dad what they will or will not do? Not in my house. That doesn't mean she wasn't our friend, because she was, it just meant, "I'm the parent and I decide."

Years later, I must have been twelve, Mom came to a baseball game of mine. We had moved again, and lived in Maryland at the time. The bases were loaded when I came up and I can still hear her say, "Clean 'em up, Mark!" I hit the only grand slam home run I ever hit and she saw it.

After we were older, Mom went back into the workforce. She packed her lunch, and went to work at Citizens National Bank. She started as the receptionist and ended up a Vice President.  I used to work summers as a teller because of her.

I went to college at the University of Maryland, and to show you how long ago that was, I used to hitchhike home. Tell someone that now and I can guarantee a 'oh no you didn't' look. I used to come home with dirty laundry and Mom would wash it, feed me, and back I went.

I left school and went to Los Angeles to do standup comedy. Came back home, got into rock and roll radio and that led me to Detroit. While there, I was about to buy my first new car. It was a choice between a small station wagon and a Fiat convertible. My Dad, the reader of Consumer Reports, advised me to get the wagon.  My Mom said, "Get the two seater! You don't want to be sixty and say I shoulda, coulda, woulda."

Guess which one I got?

One of the joys of my life is that my Mom got to see me on CBS. She'd watch me every morning and was just so proud. One time she and my Dad were guests on the show and they had a limo take them from the hotel to the Broadcast Center. She had never been in a limo before.
 Another joy was that she met and loved her granddaughter, my daughter, Maya. Maya loved her and used to play with her cane.

The reason she had one is Mom suffered from congestive heart failure. She used to take a handful of pills. She never complained. It's funny, when we meet our parents they're these big oak trees that we think will be here forever.

Mom passed June 4, 1999.

I was born on September 16th or 9/16. Every time I happen to glance at a clock and it's 9:16, I say a silent hello to Mom. It's like she's watching over me.

I regret she never got to meet my twins. I'm glad she never got to see my stroke.

I miss her every day.


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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lola The Dog

There are cat people and there are dog people.

I'm a dog guy.

I grew up with dogs. When I was little, our first dog was a Lhasa Apso named Mister Buster.

There have been lots of McEwen dogs...a Dalmatian named Donnegan, a German Shepherd named Blackie, another Lhasa named Pax, and finally a Golden Retriever, Casey.

My current one, the best of them all, is my girl, Lola.

Lola The Dog.

Lola is a Goldendoodle. Half Golden Retriever and half Poodle. I wanted a Golden and my wife, Denise, said, "They shed and I don't want fur all over the house." She suggested a Poodle and as the saying goes, I wasn't down with that. We were at an impasse until one day...

We were taking our twins to breakfast, they were five then, and as we came out of the restaurant we saw this dog. It was unlike any dog we'd ever seen. Also it was very sweet, very cute.  Denise asked, "What type of dog is that?" The owner replied, "A Goldendoodle." And get this, they don't shed.

Can you say solution? I think you can.

We found a breeder, and my wife saw the puppies online.

Goldendoodles can be big, but as we watched them online, running in a field, the runt of the litter was always leading the way.

That runt became our Lola.

Denise, her mother, and I drove to pick her up and Denise said I should drive home so she could be in the back seat with the puppy. I said no and announced that I would be in the back with her on the ride home.

Lola threw up on me three times during that ride.

So much for bonding.

We have a pool out back and when Lola first came home she walked right into it. Almost drowned. Needless to say she's gone nowhere near it since then.

I go on long walks with her, to get my exercise and to wear her out. In the house she follows me from room to room, she sleeps on the couch in our den when I'm in there on the computer.  I've been told that I give her way too many treats.

Maybe.

She barks when she has to go out. She barks when she has no food. I swear she can talk even though she can't.

Over the years she's been as good a friend to me as anyone. Lola and I are great buds. When I get out of bed at three in the morning to get a drink of water, Lola's like, "Hey! You're up!" Wag, wag, wag.

Lola is now six and has grown into adulthood. She's sweet, loving, intelligent. And boy is she fast. Ask the squirrels. They know when she's around. She's come thisclose to catching one. My brother says Lola has 'closing speed.'

A friend of mine once said it's sad that we outlive our pets. How true, how true.  One day Lola won't be here. I dread that day.

There is an old song called "Mr. Bojangles" that was sung by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

There's a set of lyrics that go, "He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about. The dog up and died, he upped and died. And after twenty years he still grieves."

I understand.







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Monday, May 4, 2015

B.B. King



One of the bad things about growing older is you see your heroes and your friends getting older, too. B.B. is 89 and if you think he's always been here, well then, you wouldn't be too wrong.

We share a birthday.

He was born on September 16 and was christened Riley B. King. He became B.B. later, that's short for Blues Boy. He learned to play guitar like no one else and has been a major influence on everybody. See, before there was rock and roll, there was blues. Ask the Stones about the blues. Ask Led Zeppelin. Ask all the seminal rock bands. Then ask Keith Richards about B.B. Ask Eric Clapton. Ask Jimmy Page.

That's a lot of asking.

And a lot of telling.

B.B. was featured on one of my Live By Request shows.  We used to have a rehearsal the afternoon of the show, to work out blocking and to get the sound right. The stars had guests and the guest that evening was Jeff Beck. He is lean, has spiky hair and Jeff's eyes remind me of a wolf's eyes. He can play a mean guitar, as well.

We were in awe of Jeff and it was fun watching Jeff be in awe of B.B. King.

B.B. never got up, he was older and played sitting down. But don't let that fool you, he was still this monster guitar player. Jeff's playing was kind of restrained, he didn't want to show up the legend. B.B. picked up on that and at the end of their rehearsal, he said to Jeff, "On tonight's show, don't be stingy."

Jeff  lit up, grinned and said, "Okay!"

They tore that place up later that night.

B.B. has always reminded me of my Dad. In fact one of my twins saw a picture of him and asked sweetly, "Is that Pop-Pop?"

The first time I met him was in my early days at CBS. I've always said that my time on the radio helped me so much with musical guests. While the anchors were interested in his booking, I was beside myself that B.B. was actually on. And that enthusiasm showed through. It's different now, but back then artists were like a fish out of water on morning news shows. My job, as I saw it, was to make them feel less so.
He enjoyed how comfortable I made him feel and we became friends.

Much has happened since then.

He's released over ten albums, one of them Riding with the King, with his good buddy, Eric Clapton. B.B. has garnered a slew of Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement Award. He's been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let's not forget the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His many awards will wear you out.

His famous guitar is named Lucille.

There's a story behind that name and you may know it. B.B. was playing at a club and they had a fire pit in the middle of it to keep warm. A fight broke out between two guys and when they crashed into the pit, the whole place went up in flames. Everyone ran for their lives including him. But, when he got outside, B.B. remembered his guitar was back inside. He ran back into the burning building to get it. He found out the next day the men were fighting over a woman named, wait for it, Lucille.

And that's how it came to be named Lucille.

If you're lucky enough to have Sirius/XM satellite radio, there's a channel on it called B.B. King's Bluesville. They play nothing but the blues and good blues at that. You'll also hear Mr. King.

It is hot.

The BBC said this about B.B. King, "He is one of the greatest, most influential blues guitar stylists...and is without a doubt the single most important electric guitarist of the last half century."

Heady stuff.

Take their word for it.

B.B.King
September 16, 1925-May 14, 2015
RIP







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Friday, May 1, 2015

Yet Another Stroke Awareness Month

Well, here we are at the beginning of another National Stroke Awareness Month. An initial reaction could be to yawn and turn the page, but don't do that.

I remember when I was younger there was this line of thinking that if you touched someone with cancer you might get cancer, too. That sounds ludicrous now, but back then I heard that.

I flew last October and was amazed to see how much has transpired since then. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as you know, and everything on the jet was pink.

The interior, the cups, even the flight attendant's dresses were pink. Pink is Breast Cancer Awareness' color and it seemed to be everywhere. Not only on that plane but when you turned on your television, pink ties, pink outfits, and that pink ribbon, were everywhere. All of this can be summed up in the phrase, "We've come a long way, baby." I bet survivors get inspiration because so many people give them hope.

I think that stroke is where cancer was. Stroke doesn't have it's own color or as many reminders about it on TV or in magazines. But it's getting there.

I say two things.

One, is that having had one, I wouldn't wish a stroke on my worst enemy. It's that bad. And two, we need to make more people aware of how to avoid that path. It's a path you don't want to go down, believe me.

You know the drill, exercise, eat healthy, don't smoke, lose weight, don't drink to excess, control your high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol... All of them good things and things you sometimes forget about until it's too late in the ball game. This month is how to prevent a stroke and how to live after you've had one. It shines a spotlight on things to avoid, and things to be drawn to. And it's also a source of hope and inspiration to people who've survived stroke.

And while we're talking let's give a a shout out to the caregivers. They're the ones who help us, big time. We wouldn't be here without you. You've heard me call them angels.

They are.

There's more but that's pretty much the gist for this month.


I can't wait until you turn on the box and see our ties, our outfits, our 'ribbons.' When you have lots of 5k runs to help promote stroke awareness. When you see bumper stickers like the ones that say "Save the ta-tas." When people everywhere know exactly what to do to help avoid stroke. When you have people everywhere knowing the signs of stroke. When you have more people surviving a stroke instead of dying from one.

A guy can dream.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

Our month.




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