I was born on January 2, 1928 in a little sawmill-timber town named Flora, located in
Northwestern Louisiana, about 40 miles from the Texas border, and about 65 miles south of
Shreveport. As a child, the only live music I heard was at local parties (usually once a month)
where local, untrained musicians would play. The instruments usually consisted of a fiddle
(violin), one or two guitars and maybe an upright bass fiddle, and the music was old country
tunes - one-steps, two-steps, waltzes - and the parties usually lasted all night. There was no
commercial electricity available, though the sawmill had its own steam-driven DC generator to
supply the power needed at the mill, and the Standard Oil pumping station had its own generator
to supply its needs.
In 1939, residential electricity was made available to residents of Flora, and my family bought a radio, which opened a new world for me. I had grown up liking music because my uncle played the fiddle, and I listened to him a lot. Many times, when I would visit him, he would get the fiddle out and play for hours while we sat on the porch. His son, a few years older than me, would play the guitar. They played several ragtime tunes. Those are fond memories of my childhood. The radio broadened my musical interest into pop, swing and, before long, boogie woogie. Of course, most of the local programs featured country, string band music, which I still like. I could get programs from Dallas, Texas, and New Orleans, and these sometimes featured piano blues, ragtime and boogie woogie, and I seemed to gravitate to this type music more and more, as time passed. My family had a wind-up phonograph and I began buying 78 RPM records every chance I got, especially around 1939 and 1940, when many records from the 30's were still available, and boogie woogie became the craze. All during my childhood, my parents had an upright player piano, and a few piano rolls. I was not interested in learning to play the piano, but did enjoy sitting there, pumping the pedals while a piano roll played. My favorite roll was "The Stars and Stripes Forever".
In January, 1943, the desire to play the piano became an obsession, and I started to try to teach myself to play, and I was very serious. In summer, when I was out of school for summer break, I would spend all day at the piano. I was already trying to learn to play the clarinet in high school, and had learned the notes on a staff. I was never able to read a piece of music (when playing the clarinet) but had to memorize it one note at a time. When I started playing the piano, I stopped taking clarinet lessons in school. My music teacher wasn't very happy about it, but I persisted. She wouldn't help me with the piano because it wasn't "proper" music and she didn't play such stuff.
By the time I finished high school, June, 1944, I was already on my way to being a boogie, blues, country music (sort of ragtime type) player. I went off to college in the fall of 1944, to study electrical and mechanical engineering, though I continued plyaing the piano in the practise rooms of the Music Department, until the Dean of Music came through the hall one night and heard me playing. He promptly ordered me out, and banned me from playing there any more, because he didn't want me to contaminate his students with the "trash" I played. Shortly after, his students bought an old upright piano and put it in the waiting room of my dormitory, and they came over regularly to hear me play, and to take lessons from me.
In 1946 I received my army draft notice, so I left college and enlisted in the Air Corps. After basic training I was stationed at Scott Field, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri, and that's where I really began to expand my musical horizons. I met a number of piano players in small neighborhood bars and taverns who played a ragtime style, and I became more interested in ragtime through these players. None of them were famous outside their little neighborhood, and I don't even remember any of the names, but they influenced me. I also began meeting relatively famous (at the time) jazz musicians. I also began playing in a country-western band called "The Missouri Ramblers" and played with this group, intermittently, from 1947 until 1952, in St. Louis.
I guess that it would be safe to say that I have been interested in ragtime since I was about 6 or 7 years old, but not seriously until about 1949. Even then, ragtime took a back seat to blues and boogie woogie and country music. I still don't have a large repertoire of ragtime tunes, smaller now than a few years ago, because I don't play as many ragtime festivals I once did.
I have learned to play the piano 3 times so far in my life. The first in 1943, when I was in high school. In 1971 I was diagnosed with cancer of the larnyx and had surgery to remove my voice box in November, 1971. The surgery required that the surgeon cut into my left shoulder to remove some lymph nodes there, which caused my left arm to be very stiff and limited in movement. I spent several months exercising my shoulder and left arm to get a wider range of movement, and to make movement somewhat easier. Then I had to retrain my left arm to move around the keyboard. I still don't have the speed and accuracy that I had before the surgery, but that is a fact of life I have had to adjust to.
In October, 1977, I crashed my airplane (yes, I'm a pilot, but that's another story) and had a number of injuries, not the least of which was a partial loss of memory. I still have no memory of the crash, nor the 3 months following the crash, but began being aware of remembering things in January, 1978. I was walking through my apartment one morning, and saw my piano. I knew that I could play the piano and ran over to it to play. Alas, when I sat down to play, I couldn't remember anything about HOW to play, nor any tunes, titles, or melodies, though I knew that I was supposed to be able to play the piano. I was so frustrated that I cried. I determined that I would work at it until something came back to me, and I could play again. All my records, and the sheet music, were just as I last remembered them (from before the crash), so I began playing records and looking at sheet music. It took a couple of years to began feeling even a little bit comfortable at the piano, especially in public, because I was plagued with a another side effect of the memory problem. Even when I began learning the tunes over again, I would experience sudden losses of memory (musically) and would not know what tune I was playing, the chords or even the melody. This happened frequently for the first year, but the length of time between memory lapses became longer and longer, until after 3 years, I felt pretty comfortable (though not absolutely) with playing in public. It happens very infrequently now, and I can usually reconnect with what I am playing before serious damage is done to the tune (or to my reputation).
I relate all this, not to boast, but because it is a fact of my life, and I think that I can be justifiably proud to be playing the piano today.
On a non-musical note, I married when I was 19 years old (in 1947), was married 22 years, and was divorced in 1969. I have never re-married, though I have considered it a couple of times over the years. During my working years, after military service, I had several careers; field service engineer, sales representative, lower echelon manager with X-ray equipment manfacturers, and property appraisal specialist with the Division of Property Assessment, Tennessee state government. I retired from a regular job in 1995, and find that I am busier now than I was when I was working at a full time job. Maybe that is because, after retiring, I felt that I had all the time in the world to do anything and everything that I might desire to do, and my desires are out-running my ability (and energy) to do things as quickly as I once did.
Charles D. Booty