Sent: March 15, 2002
Strapping was wondering if you've given any more thought to paying him for his articles? He's very busy these days (he is writing his autobiography). He claims that he can't justify the time he spends on the Riff articles if he doesn't get paid.
He also asked me to point out that he noticed your most expensive advetisements are next to his articles.
Anyway, from now on Strapping is going to drop down to one article every two months.
The Organ Trail:
A Chat With My Neighbor, Annie Jefferson
Right in my home town lives an unsung hero of the Wurlitzer organ. Annie Jefferson, with a picket fence and plastic flamingoes in her garden.
Hair in a bun, sweeps snow off her walk with a broom, says no thanks when I offer to pick up some dog food at the store. That Annie Jefferson. Resident of Ward , Colorado . I hear her playing nearly every day but I didn't LISTEN until last week. Normally I take the bus to Denver on Fridays, looking for some music to write about. But it's been snowing to beat the band lately and I don't like to risk my crumbling bones to icy sidewalks and homicidal bus drivers.
I was sitting in my living room last weekend as the flakes drifted out of the grey sky, wishing I could get to town when I heard the familiar and faint strains of Annie's organ from her house across the way. I put on my galoshes, grabbed my notebook and crossed the street to knock on her door.
I knocked, rang the doorbell, knocked some more, then pounded. No one came to the door and the organ kept playing. “Old bat must be deaf,” I thought. I walked around the side of the house and peeked in the window to see her in her black bathrobe waving her fingers over the keys, eyes rolled back in sinful rapture. I jumped up and down. Tapped on the window, pounded on the window. She kept playing. Finally, I took off my mittens and pried my fingers under the window frame and pushed it open. I stuck my head in and SHOUTED, “MRS. JEFFERSON! LET ME IN!”
She looked at me, nodded and kept playing. I stood there looking in her open window for a full five minutes before the song finished with a flourish. Finally, she stood up and said, “Come around, I'll let you in.”
“I want to interview you.”
“It's about time, Big Shot. I've got a lot to tell.”
She sat me on the couch, put on some tea, handed me a plate of brownies and told me:
“I put four children through school playing organ. That was a long time ago. Now I make my money through social security and piano lessons. Little brats. I was good. I played two Stanley Cups and a World Series. Bet you never thought Old Annie Jefferson was big time. I was and here's how it went.
“Like all organists I got my start at a roller rink. My first teacher was Shirley Scott, who later made a name for herself in jazz. She taught me the value of a Wurlitzer. A lot of people think the Hammond is the only organ worth a spit but believe me, the one to have is the Wurlitzer with the pearl inlays.
“I was in New York , this was the forties. I used to see Bill Dogget and Happy Jefferson at the Mosswell Club. Never heard of it? They had organ there every night of the week. A lot happened in those days.”
She sighed and I coudl see her wandering down Memory Lane . "Mrs. Jefferson," I said sweetly, "Please go on."
“So anyway, I found myself in Indiana working three nights a week at the Rollin' Wheelie roller rink when I got my first big break. The owner of the Fort Wayne Wizards, a minor-league baseball team, asked me to play at a couple games. I said hell yes and next thing you know I'm right behind the home team dugout, playing ‘Take Me Out To the Ball Game' for the seventh inning stretch. It was working for the Wizards that I came up with the “Charge” tune. The one that goes, 'Duh duh duh duh duh duh....CHARGE! That song went over so well that people were requesting it two, three times an inning. Bet you didn't know you lived across the street from the composer of that song!
“After a couple of years working Fort Wayne I got called up to Cincinnati to play for the Reds. They plugged me into the P.A. system and everything. The announcer would end every game by saying, “Thanks for coming ladies and gentlemen and thank you Annie Jefferson for your rousing organ.” Later on I married him. His name was Stanley Jefferson which was nice because, although I took on his last name, I still spelled it the same as mine. We had three children. He divorced me when he found out that our fourth child was actually fathered by Joey Rizzo, the nine-fingered catcher who led the league in walks in 1956. That was the year the Reds went to the Series. The Dodgers swept them in four. But you couldn't put the blame on me. I introduced the ‘Hokey Pokey' into my repertoire that year. The crowds loved it. If the game got boring I could bring twenty thousand people to their feet and lift the team right up. That was my last year at Cincy. Word got out about my love-child with Joey. He was traded and I was blackballed from the league. I was run out of town. Everybody expects the organist to be a prim and proper marm with no lusty sensations. I had plenty of lust. Still do, Mr. Danforth.
“I took the kids up to Edmonton and got a job playing for the Oilers. I never much liked hockey but the pay was good. I shared a cigar with Gordie Howe, which was a treat. They won two Stanley Cups in my nine years with them.
“They fired me in 1965 for playing Beatles songs. Can you believe that? I thought, we're down by two in the third period, I'll play ‘Help.' Again, the crowd went wild, Percy LaPorte made two goals in forty seconds and sent it into overtime. The Oilers won the game but I lost my job. ‘You can't play pop music here, Annie. You want to play concerts, go to Carnegie Hall.'
“'Fine', I said, ‘I'll do that.' So I took the kids to New York and tried to make a living as a concert organist. By that time, Jimmy Smith and that McGriff guy were riding high on the organ trio fad. I did my best but I had a hard time playing with a drummer. And I couldn't find a sax player who was willing to play ‘Take Me Out To the Ball Game.' I struggled for seven years playing weddings and funerals. In 1972 I got a gig playing Monday nights at the old Mosswell club. One night my old teacher, Shirley Scott, came in. She broke down crying and said, ‘I've failed. You're awful.' I was so ashamed I left town that night and went back to Indiana . I tried to get my old job back with the Wizards. But by now organs had been replaced by dancing mascots and records. They didn't want me. I was too old-fashioned, they said.
“I stuck my tail between my legs and knocked on the door to the Rollin' Wheelie. They took me back with open arms and I played there for eighteen years. In 1990 the Rollin' Wheelie closed down. I fell into drinking. My kids had all moved out. I was fat. So I ran west. Found myself in Ward, across the street from you. Seventy-two years old and I still have it. It's a shame the world doesn't want to hear organs anymore. I could MOOVE people.”
I put my teacup on the coffee table and said, “Mrs. Jefferson, would you please play something for me?”
She shuffled to the organ, flipped the switch and played “Duh duh duh duh duh duh.”
I flung my fist in the air and shouted “CHARGE!” as loudly as I could.
--Strapping Danforth, March, 2002
Sent: April 1, 2002
Subject: You win
After careful consideration, we are changing our position. Although we can't afford it, we have decided that we will pay Strapping $30 for each of his articles. We can't offer much but we sincerely hope it convinces him to stay on as a Riff writer.