I’m Walkin’


Fats Domino, performing in Normandy, 1992; photo by Roland Godefroy

Walking Meditation and a Little Bit of Rock-and-Roll History 

Do y’all remember Fats Domino’s 1957 hit “I’m Walkin'”?* No, of course y’all don’t. Y’all are ages younger than Sister Alma Rose… though there was a revival of interest in the song, and the singer, when 2005’s Hurricane Katrina destroyed Fats Domino’s house in New Orleans.

Here’s a priceless and poignant video of an “I’m Walkin'” duet featuring Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson

…poignant, in that this was one of Nelson’s last recorded performances. He was killed in a 1985 plane crash at age 45. (There’s no truth to the rumor that a fire in the cabin, supposedly ignited by Nelson and others while freebasing, caused the crash.) And poignant, in that Nelson’s cover of Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” was Nelson’s debut single. **

The young Nelson family, late 1940s (top to bottom -- Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky)

The young Nelson family, late 1940s (top to bottom -- Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky)

(Notice, in the video, how Nelson vocally defers to Domino. Ricky’s just singing harmony. His voice and his body language are both saying, this is Fats Domino’s song.)

Making a virtue of necessity

Sister Alma Rose ran out of baking soda this morning. She was mildly annoyed, on account of she was baking, and baking soda was needed for both the baking and the cleaning-up afterward.

Normally, Sister Alma Rose enjoys walking to the town of Hilltop and back up to Hilltop Farm, but it was cold this morning and the sky was spitting and there was no one to go with her for company, Cousin Dulcie being away and Fanny McElroy at school. Sister Alma Rose, however, always endeavors to make a virtue of necessity, and so she decided to undertake her trek as a Walking Meditation, in which “each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe.”

Before she begins a walking meditation, Sister Alma Rose prays fervently for several people she knows who’d gleefully give up all their worldly goods for the ability to walk at all, even to Hilltop and back in the wind and sleet.

WalkingThe way Sister Alma Rose practices walking meditation is much like the way she does breathing meditation, except that she focuses on the sensation of encountering the edge of the earth with the soles of her feet. (For you chakra aficionados, this can be a form of grounding meditation in that one foot or the other is always on the ground, Mother Earth nourishing the root chakra.) It is the repetitive, rhythmic intersection of self and surface that induces the meditative state, rather than the cycle of inhaling and exhaling… with the additional benefit of motion. Y’all are headed toward a destination, though the place is irrelevant and should not be allowed to intrude on the meditation.

Some folks do their walking meditation in a pastoral or parklike setting, with acute awareness of birdcalls and flowers and foliage. Others let these external stimuli float in and out of their awareness, returning their focus always to the metrical sensation of walking… of the tangent of physical body with physical planet.

Elvis Presley, early in his career

Elvis Presley, early in his career

Sister Alma Rose would offer y’all two cautions if y’all are beginning a walking meditation:

  1. Leave space in y’all’s outer awareness for some of the more aggressive “external stimuli” — automobiles, rampaging elephants, and the like.
  2. Don’t forget to buy the baking soda.

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* Sister Alma Rose heard, on the public-radio program American Routes (November 28, 2007), an account of the transition from rhythm & blues, once called “black music” or “race music,” to rock & roll — an amalgamation of gospel, folk music, country music, blues (especially jump blues), swing, boogie-woogie, and, of course, R&B, according to Wikipedia. Prominent performers during and after this transition were Bo DiddleyBuddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard — among many others.

During the mid-1950s, entrepreneurial music pioneers saw a vast potential audience for a slightly blander variety of “black music” among white teenagers. There was a particularly fascinating bit of audio in the American Routes broadcast in which Little Richard is being coached to alter the signature R&B syncopation by singing on the down beat (I think the song was “Lucille“… or it might have been “Slippin’ and Slidin’“) — dumbing the music down, in a sense, so that white kids could dance to it. The segment was brief — but long enough to capture a few false starts on Little Richard’s part before he got the hang of it.

It was a pivotal time in the evolution of American popular music, when white performers (most notably Elvis Presley) emulated black musicians, and black performers (the great gospel artist Sam Cooke among them) were being urged to sing “whiter,” and crooners such as Frank Sinatra and onetime barber Perry Como still managed to churn out a few hits. During the 1960s, the Rolling Stones would be among the British bands to revive “black music’s” blues rhythms in the U.S., helping pave the way for the raw vocals of Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

Sam Cooke (photo by Frank Driggs) was only 33 when he was shot and killed, under mysterious circumstances, in 1964

Sam Cooke (photo by Frank Driggs) was only 33 when he was shot and killed, under mysterious circumstances, in 1964

** Ricky Nelson became a “teen idol” when he started singing and playing the guitar on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, featuring his real-life parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and his brother, David. Ozzie Nelson was best known as a bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on the radio from 1944 to 1954 and on television from 1952 to 1966.

Serious critics underestimated Ricky’s musicianship, as they had Elvis Presley’s, from the first. It seems that when a singer or a band is enormously popular (as was true of the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, and the BeeGees), their innovations and other contributions to the genre are ignored, except in retrospect. Ricky Nelson, influenced by Carl Perkins, eventually found his niche in rockabilly, after his “chart career came to a dramatic halt in the wake of the British Invasion…. In the mid-1960s, Nelson began to move toward country music, becoming a pioneer in the country-rock genre. He was one of the early influences of the so-called California Sound (which would include singers like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt and bands like the Eagles). Yet Nelson himself did not reach the Top 40 again until 1970, when he recorded Bob Dylan‘s ‘She Belongs to Me’ with the Stone Canyon Band.” —Wikipedia

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