Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne

FOR THE WEEK OF May 17, 1999

DEAR JERRY: I'll bet you have heard thousands of stories of how a song influenced someone's life.

Unfortunately, we hear much lately about how some manic heavy metal, rap, or devil worshipping band inspired a mushbrain to pick up an all-to-accessible gun and blast away.

Yet, there has always been more good music than bad, and my question relates to a recording that had a positive influence on my teenage years, and beyond.

This song, which got played in the early-to-mid-'60s, is part speaking and part singing. The artist sounded like an older man (probably like me now), and he told the following story:

He liked fishing and in the spot where he most often went there was one fish who was much smarter than all the rest. In short, this fish, who refused to be caught, was not greedy. The others gobbled up all the bait in sight and they were the ones getting hooked.

One line I recall has the old man telling the fish, “you don't get caught because you're not greedy, and that's a lesson you've taught me.”

In the end, the old man admits to not even using any bait because he has so much respect for this learned fish.

That lesson touched me, and I attribute my not being a greedy person, in part, to this one little song.

I have asked dozens of people if they know anything about the fish song, but no one but me seems to remember it. How about you?

Actually, I do have other music mysteries that I would like to ask you to solve but I'll stick with just one … wouldn't want to be greedy you know.
--Marty Lancaster, Mayfield, Ky.

DEAR MARTY: The fish tale from which you acquired a valuable lesson for living is “Houdini,” a summer '62 hit for actor Walter Brennan (Liberty 55477).

In this philosophical outdoor adventure, Houdini is the name given by Walter to the brainy bass who always seems to disappear when his foes think him hooked. His reputation is so widespread that fishermen come from afar “tryin' out a new lure … and goin' away not so sure.”

The multi-talented Brennan preceded “Houdini” with two other very popular narratives, “Dutchman's Gold” and the Top 5 hit story of “Old Rivers.”

So much for the old man and the sea. Now on to the next inspirational narrative:

DEAR JERRY: In view of the recent, or should I say ongoing, problems facing our nation (Middle East, Littleton, etc.), I have recently had flashes in my memory of a recording that got played a lot in the '60s.

Dogmatic and patriotic in nature, some of this tune's message, as I recall, dealt with our enemies “not attacking America, but wearing us down internally.”

Not knowing the title and having no idea as to the artist makes finding this impossible, not that it's likely there is a CD of this unusual material. Can you fill in the blanks?

Please do not confuse this recording with “The Americans,” the hit narrative by the Canadian newsman.
—Marcella Watkins, Lancaster, Pa.

DEAR MARCELLA: This recording, titled “Day for Decision” (Warner Bros. 5820), is a Top 40 hit from mid-1966. By Johnny Seay, though he dropped a letter and recorded then as Johnny Sea, and you'll be pleased to know a CD does exist of the original 1966 “Day for Decision” LP.

Look for “American Reflections” (Lost Gold LGR-4339), or contact the company direct: Lost Gold Records, PO Box 10, Ridgeway SC 29130.

All of the blanks are now filled.

IZ ZAT SO? Message notwithstanding, it is amazing that “Day for Decision” got played by radio stations at all, mainly because of its length. Having a running time of 5:45, in 1966 or before, clearly flew in the face of Top 40 radio tradition. After “MacArthur Park,” in 1968 (Richard Harris), longer songs became more acceptable to radio programmers.

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