Discovering my Mom’s 45s—Legacy of the 50s (Pt. 1)

Inheriting hundreds of 45-speed records without a turntable is quite vexing, but when one is procured, vinyl from the 50s is magic.

What happens when you inherit a generation of music from someone raised in the 1950s and you do not possess the right equipment to play it?

The dilemma I faced came to the surface right before her estate sale. Having fought a brave fight against leukemia, my mother sadly passed away in September 2017. Eight months later, all of her worldly possessions were scheduled to be sold. I had one week to decide what to keep, sell, or eventually donate.

Her collection of 45-speed records, preserved over six decades, used to sit on the basement floor of her old house. Her former residence was cursed with a high water table that would rise during the Spring and Summer seasons. The result was an unpleasant tide of misery that seeped through the cracks in her home’s foundation.

These floods prompted us to move precious family heirlooms and keepsakes to higher ground.

There were approximately 300 items I could not part with after she passed, not to a bunch of sleuths anyway—those bargain-hunting Neanderthals who drag their knuckles from one estate sale to the next. This is how I felt despite having gone to a number of estate sales over the years, so yes… I’m a hypocrite … but give me a break, we’re talking about my mom here.

I could not part with those 45s. This was the essence of her youth! I parted with many things in that estate sale but I’d be damned if I turned my back on the origins of rock n’ roll.

Thumbing through them, I found Chuck Berry, Elvis records, Little Richard, and a wide variety that completely encompassed the 1950s.

A year passed after the estate sale and now my mom’s record collection was stored away in our basement. This area of our home had been recently gutted and remodeled. When we were down to the studs, I wired the main room to build a home theatre. Despite the massive record collection, not once did my wife inquire if (or when) I planned to sell them. That’s the definition of a soulmate—it’s someone who doesn’t question a sentimental collection. I’m grateful I married well. Then, events on the ground changed when we visited my in-laws.

At the top of their staircase in their home, I turned to walk into their guest room. Something was waiting for me on the top step to greet me and I was grateful it was not their cat, which loathes me for reasons unbeknown.

It was a vintage 1970s turntable.

They were planning on throwing it out, at least that was their plan until I got my hands on it. They generously gifted it to me and my mind centered itself on a collection of material that had not been played since John F. Kennedy was President.

The sight of the turntable prompted a singular instinct: play my mom’s old 45s.

I rushed down the stairs when we got home and I plugged it into my receiver. Lifting the lid, I saw the rubber mat of the turntable itself was brittle and broken. Replaced, I plugged it in a week later—no dice! I soon learned old record players require an adapter for modern audio equipment. Purchased, I plugged it in and the very first song I listened to was Rebel Rouser by Duane Eddy:

My mouth dropped. This represented the essence of the 50s – deconstructed, visceral, authentic instruments layered on top of one another – this is the backbone of rock n’ roll and my son loved it, which was the biggest surprise of all.

We played others, and of course, many tunes come from what I refer to as the era of ‘sha-na-na.’ I’ve always had a beef with the 50s given how so many songs feature goofy vocals with little to no difference in style and melody.

But Rebel Rouser? It’s gusty, rebellious, and an early example of Rockabilly. Soon thereafter I unearthed Little Richard from her collection. Chuck Berry made an appearance and Elvis had an encore. When you dig into the 50s, you find the branches of rock n’ roll stem from the seeds of R&B and you can hear the blues seep beneath the surface like an underground river.

These are the gems. When you add Fats Domino, Bill Doggett, Bo Diddley, and Cozy Cole into the mix, you realize the saints of rock n’ roll were baptized in the blues. God bless them all.

Rather than play one record at a time, my son and I decided to launch a channel dedicated to my mom’s generation of music. Vintage Radio launched this week on YouTube and it kicked off with 50 digitized and remastered songs. Facebook and Instagram accounts were set up as well

This collection of songs will grow over time, a new one every week. It will represent my mom’s legacy, one I plan to share for years to come. When you possess 700 45s, there’s no shortage of material.

It’s also a place of refuge from politics, the pandemic, and life in general. Music has the power to take you somewhere else, and a trip to the 50s feels like the right thing to do.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story: The Process, Digitizing 45-Speed Records

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If you enjoyed this article, then check out:

The Mysterious Banjo from the Roaring 1920s

Man Cave Essentials: Create Something With Purpose

Drumming with my Son for Pandemic-Related Charities: Great Beats and Life Lessons

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