Remembering a local music legend.
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Back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s the American public was barraged with a series of television commercials that baffled most of us. We didn’t know it at the time, but these were probably the first “infomercials,” something we were unaccustomed to. There was Zamfir, “The Master of the Pan Flute” who, we were told, was incredibly popular in Europe. The only problem was that nobody in North America had ever heard of him. Next, came Rula Lenska, a Romanian actress from the U.K. who was hawking Alberto VO5 hair products. Again, nobody in this country had ever heard of her. Even Johnny Carson asked, “Who the hell is Rula Lenska?” Finally, a yodeling country singer asked us to buy his “greatest hits” album which was allegedly more popular in Europe than the Beatles and Elvis. The singer’s name, Slim Whitman. Because of their claim of notoriety in Europe, these three personalities became the butt of many jokes and the American public was reluctant to take them seriously. Nonetheless, they persevered and kept touting their products over the airwaves night and day.
Of the three personalities, Whitman was the only American of the group. Over time, Lenska and Zamfir returned to Europe, but Whitman continued his career in this country. Although the heyday for his music was the 1950’s and early 60’s, he faded from view until his commercials started to appear in the late 70’s. Following this he was all but forgotten until Tim Burton’s movie, “Mars Attacks!,” in 1996 whereby Whitman’s song, “Indian Love Call,” was used to destroy the Martians. Although this was done in jest, it was certainly not a compliment to Whitman or his music.
Although I originally didn’t take Slim seriously, I happened to come across several of his songs on the Internet a couple of years ago and began listening to them out of curiosity at first. In no time at all I was hooked. Keep in mind I have a pretty eclectic taste in music. I like just about everything from Rock to Jazz to classical, and lot’s of in-betweens. However, I never could stomach Rap or Country/Western. Sure, I have heard lots of songs from these genres but nothing really captivated me, until I started listening to Slim Whitman.
Whitman’s trademark is, of course, his yodeling, but that’s not what grabbed me. Instead, it was the total package of his music, his orchestration, his tempo and melody, and his voice. Whereas, I had thought of Whitman as nothing more than a country bumpkin, I learned to respect his music. Heck, I even enjoy it and am proud to say so. When I placed links on my Facebook page to his YouTube videos, I was surprised by the number of people who said they were also hooked on his music but were reluctant to say so until I spoke up. Thanks to “Mars Attacks!” most people consider Whitman’s music a joke and, as such, are hesitant to admit they like it. I’m actually finding more and more people coming forward who say they love it.
When I started to research Whitman’s background, I was pleasantly surprised to discover he is a product of Tampa, Florida, right in my own backyard. In his 80’s, he retired to Middleburg, Florida (southwest of Jacksonville) and finally passed away in 2013 at the age of 90. During his career, he sold millions of records, been recognized by his peers, and influenced many other notable artists, such as the Beatles. Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t remember this or understand his impact.
As for me, his music reminds me of a simpler time, something we could sure use more of these days. I particularly enjoy his classics, “Rose Marie” and “I Remember You.” And, Yes, I have been known to listen to his “Indian Love Call” now and then if for no other reason than to help me change gears during the day.
When I think of the whacky times we live in, a little Slim Whitman is very much
appreciated. I’m only sorry I didn’t take him more seriously years ago.
Keep the Faith!