Friday, October 18, 2013

Mitch Miller & the Gang -- "Down by the Old Mill Stream" (1958)

Down by the old mill stream
Where I first met you

Redings Mill is a village just south of Joplin, Missouri (my hometown) that was named for the grist mill on Shoal Creek that John S. Reding built there in 1832.  Reding's mill (some spell the name Redding) was the first mill in Newton County.

Here's the first bridge that was built at Redings Mill.  (I'm not sure why Redings lost the apostrophe before the "s," but it did.)

In 1930, a new bridge was built at Redings Mill to carry Missouri Route 86 over Shoal Creek:

Note the rather sharp curve the highway takes just after the bridge -- not exactly the safest highway design.

The 1930 bridge -- which is a three-span, open-spandrel bridge -- was built by M. E. Gillioz of Monett, Missouri, which built dozens of bridges in Missouri and neighboring states in the twenties and thirties.

When I was growing up, there was a swimming pool near the bridge.  The Redings Mill pool was a large, privately-owned facility that put Joplin's municipal pools to shame. 

I drove over the 1930 bridge many, many times when I was a teenager living in Joplin.  My destination was often the Redings Mill Inn.

The Redings Mill Inn was built by John Reding, and is owned and operated today by his descendants.  Click here to read a blogpost about the Inn by Reding's great-great-great-granddaughter.

Here's a picture I took of the Inn last month:

Back in the seventies, the Redings Mill Inn was known as "Gene and Darlene's."

Here's an excerpt from a blogpost by a former Joplin resident whose father used to take him to Gene and Darlene's for hamburgers on Sundays:

On Sundays sometimes, when I was a kid, daddy would come up with the notion that burgers from Gene and Darlene's would really hit the spot.  Being always in favor of food in general, and carry-out food being really exotic to me, the idea was always a winner in my opinion. . . . 

Stucco on the outside, I guess, and inside just like thousands of other old bars of that time -- the Hamm's sign with the polar bear, Slim Jims and pickled eggs and cheap cigars for sale.  But Gene and Darlene's had more to it than most places like that.  That second floor -- what went on up there? And that cupola on top -- absolutely fascinating and unknown.  

Downstairs there was a wide, low-ceilinged room with a dance floor that must have hosted a hundred thousand fox-trotting, two-stepping, and just plain shuffling and swaying feet over a half century or so. . . . That room with its worn but always polished wooden floor was a few degrees cooler, even on the hot days.  I would wander in there on those quiet Sunday hamburger runs, and wonder what kind of things went on in such a place. 

Daddy had an ulterior motive, as I also figured out a lot later.  His regular haunts for draft beer were closed on Sundays, but because Gene and Darlene's served food he could get a cold one or two while the burgers were on the grill.  That's why Sundays were the only day of the week when Gene and Darlene's was a dining option.

I vividly remember one particular trip to Gene and Darlene's.  I ended up there late one summer night when I was 21.  (You could drink 3.2% beer in Kansas when you were 18 back in those days, but the drinking age in Missouri was 21 -- which explains why I didn't spend any nights at Gene and Darlene's prior to that summer.)

There was a pool table on the edge of the dance floor, and a couple of friends and I were playing eight-ball and drinking beer when one of us got a brilliant idea.

We took turns going to the men's room, but our purpose wasn't just to drain the lizard.  We were sneaking pool cues and billiard balls into the bathroom, where we opened the window and tossed our booty into the parking lot.  After finishing our beers, we left the bar, put the sticks and balls into our car, and got the hell out of Dodge.

None of us had a pool table at home.  So why did we steal a few random billiard balls and some warped old cue sticks?  

The answer should be obvious.  We were 21-year-old boys, and WE WERE DRUNK!

I did not have the last laugh that night.  That summer, I was working at a freight dock, unloading and loading truck trailers for Jones Truck Lines, a regional carrier that went bankrupt 20 years ago.

I often had to work the 3 AM to 11:30 AM shift, but the day before our visit to Gene and Darlene's, my boss had told me he wouldn't need me the next day.  Hence my being out so late drinking.

A Jones Truck Lines truck
But no sooner did I get home and go to sleep (i.e., pass out in a drunken stupor) than the phone began to ring.  My mother came into my bedroom, started shaking me, and told me I was needed to work the 3 AM shift after all.

Despite the excellent wages my job paid (the minimum wage in 1973 was $1.60, but I was taking home $7 an hour), I was not pleased when my mother gave me this news.  

At first, I simply refused to respond to her.  When she persisted, I think I threw some things at her.  I know I used all sorts of bad language, which I would never have done if I had been sober.

My parents grew up in the Depression, with very little money.  (We didn't have a lot of money when I was a kid, although we didn't miss any meals.)  So as far as they were concerned, you didn't say no to good-paying work.  They would never have turned down a shift.  Of course, they never went out and drank beer until the wee hours on a weeknight either.

Eventually, they dragged my sorry ass out of bed and persuaded me to get dressed.  I think my mother made some eggs and toast for me, although I'm not sure if I ate them.

Unloading freight that night was not much fun.  Oh, I almost forgot -- the freight dock was just downwind from the Joplin stockyards, and the powerful aroma of cowsh*t that wafted in my direction that humid August night added to my miserable condition.

My boss later told my father that I didn't really sober up until after my lunch break, which began at 7 AM.  That sounds about right.

The 1930 Redings Mill bridge was replaced by a newer and safer bridge years ago, but the old bridge still stands.  It connects the Wildcat Glade trails on the east and west sides of Shoal Creek, and I walked across it last month when I was in Joplin to visit my parents.

The bridge is not a particularly distinctive or dramatic structure, but I'm glad it has been preserved.

Here's a shot of the bridge from below:

The underbelly of the bridge has been covered with graffiti:

Here's the bridge from bridge level -- now there are benches on the old roadway that allow tired hikers to take a rest and enjoy the view:

There's some whitewater just upstream from the bridge:

Here's another view of those rapids:

One of the first records I remember my parents buying when they purchased a Magnovox console stereo for our living room was Mitch Miller & the Gang's Sing Along With Mitch, which was released in 1958.

Mitch Miller was a precocious musician who played the oboe with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra when he was 15 years old.  He was the English horn soloist on the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski's 1947 recording of Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Miller later became a rock-and-roll-hating record producer for Columbia, and recorded a number of hit singles and album with the male chorus he put together in the fifties.

In 1961, Miller became a household name thanks to the success of his NBC television show, Sing Along with Mitch, which featured his male chorus and the occasional guest singer.

The lyrics to each song crawled across the bottom of the TV screen as the singers sang them, so that viewers could sing along at home.

Ready to join Mitch, his Gang, and me for a little sing-along?

Sing Along with Mitch ran until 1964 -- the year the "British Invasion" hit the United States.

I probably sang along when I watched the TV show.  I know for certain that I sang along to the songs on that Mitch Miller record album.  I can still sing each and every one of the songs on that record from memory.

I absolutely loved "That's Where My Money Goes," despite not really having a clue about what the lyrics meant:

She's got a pair of hips
Just like two battleships
I buy her everything
To keep her in style
(Well, well, well)
She wears silk underwear
I wear my last year's pair
Say, boys, that's where my money goes!

Miller loved novelty songs and cutesy lyrics.  Here's a verse from "Sweet Violets":

There once was a farmer who took a young miss
In back of the barn where he gave her a
Lecture on horses and chickens and eggs
And told her that she had such beautiful
Manners that suited a girl of her charms
A girl that he wanted to take in his
Washing and ironing and then if she did
They could get married and raise lots of
Sweet violets!
Sweeter than the roses!

In their recording of "Down by the Old Mill Stream," Miller's singers sang the song straight the first time through the verse, but then had some fun with the lyrics: 

Down by the old (not the new, but the old)
Mill stream (not the river, but the stream)
Where I first (not last, but first)
Met you (not her, but you)

Mitch Miller died in 2010.  He was 99 years old.

Here's "Down by the Old Mill Stream":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of the aging man's lament (from 50 years ago) "It used to be Wine, Women and Song. Now it's Metrecal, the same old gal and 'Sing Along With Mitch.'" I still remember seeing the ad in Billboard (when I worked at the music store) touting the latest Johnny Mathis hit, with Mr. Miller adding, "And this was done without Rock 'n' Roll of any sort."