Merced’s Musical Memories

Music exhibit display, Courthouse Museum, photo by Steve Newvine

I recommend that before the summer comes to an end, spend about an hour at the Merced County Courthouse Museum and see the exhibit on our community’s musical heritage.

The exhibit, called:  “On the Banks of the Old Merced: A Music History” opened June 27th at an open house that included live musical performances. 

The woman’s singing group Harmony Valley Chorus sang California Here I Come and a song written about our area On the Banks of the Old Merced.  By the way, the song about Merced is pretty good.  To paraphrase a contestant on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand’s Rate-A-Record segment, “I liked the beat, but found it hard to dance to.  I’d still give it a 90.”

Early rock and roll local legend Roddy Jackson apologized to the opening night audience that doctor’s orders were to not sing or play.  He then talked for about a half hour sharing his memories of early rock and roll and his contribution to local history. 

Roddy introduced three musicians who made up the Merced Blue Notes, a blues band that captured a lot of attention in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The music returned with Crystal Syphon, a psychedelic rock band that recorded one album back in their heyday.  

The performances were well received by the crowd at the Courthouse Park on that opening night of the exhibit.  I hope some of the folks made it inside to see the exhibit.  “On the Banks of the Old Merced: A Music History” is a fascinating look at the City of Merced through music, photographs, and artifacts from the past.

We saw the trumpet that belonged to Warren Lewis, sheet music from Along the Banks of the Old Merced, records (both 45-singles and 33-long playing albums) among dozens of pieces that make up the exhibit. 

The visitor can read the stories behind the people who were making local history in the early days of rock and roll.  There are dozens of photographs depicting some of the musicians.  A lot of familiar landmarks are shown as they were seen decades ago.

Fortunately for us on the opening night of the exhibit, many musicians and their families were on hand to recall their recollections from that era.  One band member told he always thought the name of his band was spelled one way, and learned for the first time after viewing a vintage concert poster, that the band, or possibly the concert promoter, preferred the spelling in a different way.  

Crystal Syphon’s musicians may look familiar.  Many of the band’s members were part of The Beatles Project that covered many of the Fab Four’s hits for several years up until about a couple of years ago when the group began to focus on returning to their roots. 

Interestingly, you won’t find too much about The Beatles Project among the items on display at the museum.  That is because their history is far too recent.  This exhibit is divided into four categories: Early Musical Development, The Swing Era, Rock & Roll, and Music Melting Pot of the 1980s.

“On the Banks of the Old Merced: A Music History” will be on display through early October.  The Museum, at 21st and N Streets in Merced, is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

This exhibit is about Merced’s past.  I encourage you to take a look before it closes.  You’ll learn something about early rock and roll as well as other categories of music.  You’ll get a better understanding of Merced area musicians and their contributions to the evolution of the art form.  

With any luck, you may be entertained by stories about the people who loved their craft and who were willing to share it with all of us.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced