Bill Anderson, Classic Country in the Central Valley

In the circles of country music, Bill Anderson has been known as a singer and songwriter for nearly sixty years.  He has gold records, a house full of awards, and the affection of his peers not to mention his fans.

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson. Photo from Bill Anderson.com

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson. Photo from Bill Anderson.com

He performs October first at the Gallo Performing Arts Center in Modesto.  He’s performed in the Central Valley before, but this will be his first time playing at the Gallo.  

“We’ve been in Fresno once, Sacramento once, and we played the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield several years back,” Bill told me in a phone interview.

The Crystal Palace was owned by the late Buck Owens who lived in Bakersfield.  Buck passed away in 2005.

“I didn’t know him well, but one time we were seated together on a flight from Los Angeles to Nashville,” he recalled.  “We talked about songwriting and performing.  We agreed on some things, disagreed on some things, but I certainly enjoyed the conversation.”

Bill remembers the night he heard another Central Californian, Merle Haggard, perform a new song called Okie from Muskogee.  “It was the first time he performed the song on stage,” Bill recalled.  “I talked to him about it after the show.  Merle told me he wasn’t sure how audiences would accept the song given it had patriotic overtones.  I told him not to worry, “I think you have a hit.”

Okie from Muskogee, written by Merle Haggard and Roy Edward Burns, was a number one hit for Merle in 1969.  

Years later, Bill interviewed Merle for his satellite radio program.  Bill told Merle he was his favorite singer.  “A tear fell from his eye,” Bill told me.  “I made Merle Haggard cry.”

He also knew the Maddox Brothers and Rose, a popular family hillbilly band who settled in Modesto in the 1950s.  “I knew Rose rather well and was acquainted with Fred.  Rose ran a nightclub in Ocean City that I performed at back in the sixties.”

While Bill is looking forward to performing in the Central Valley, he wishes he could have traveled throughout the western states more back when he lived in LA in the 1970s.  “We could never bundle enough dates together to make it work,” he says.  

But this time around, he’s able to play the Gallo Center and the newly renovated performing arts center in Red Bluff.  The singer/songwriter plays about forty dates a year in addition to his regular performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

“There are some songs I do all the time during a live road performance,” Bill says.  “I can’t get off the stage unless I do Still.”

Still was a number one song written and sung by Bill in 1963.  It’s about a man lamenting a lost love and how he carries a torch after many years.  

Other songs in his catalog include Po Folks, about growing up in a household short on money but full of love; I Love You Drops about missing someone to the point of tears, and the iconic Tips of My Fingers which recalls the same lost love theme.  

Tips of My Fingers has been recorded by a number of country and pop artists including Roy Clark, Eddie Arnold, and even Dean Martin.

In recent years, he has collaborated with other songwriters on tunes that have blossomed into big hits.  Give it Away was co-authored by Bill with Jamie Johnson and Buddy Cannon.  It was a big hit for George Strait in 2006.  Whiskey Lullaby, a sad song about alcoholism, was written by Bill along with Jon Randall.  It was a duet hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.

Bill hopes his fans leave his performances feeling satisfied and entertained.  He wants to be remembered as a good singer, and hopefully as an enduring songwriter.

As for his legacy, he says, “I don’t think much about a legacy, but I hope if I am remembered for anything, it will be for my songs.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book on California will be published in December.

Linden California’s Pride and Joy - Aaron Judge’s Hometown

Aaron Judge’s official Major League Baseball photo.  Photo from MLB.com

Aaron Judge’s official Major League Baseball photo.  Photo from MLB.com

Anyone with a passing interest in baseball likely knows Aaron Judge is the New York Yankees outfielder who has had an incredible rookie season in 2017.  

He is Linden, California’s pride and joy.

Aaron played his college ball at Fresno State University and his high school ball at Linden High. In high school, he played football and basketball in addition to baseball.

He set school records for football and was recruited by such schools as UCLA, Notre Dame and Stanford for football.  

But baseball was his favorite sport.  So he headed just a couple hours south from Linden down the road to play for Fresno State.    

The Yankees drafted him in the 2013 draft and he spent the next three years in the minors.  He hit a home run in his first Major League Baseball at bat and had his first grand slam just a few weeks later.

The downtown area in Linden, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The downtown area in Linden, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

In his hometown in Linden, there are few signs that this baseball superstar grew up, played baseball, or even has made it to the major leagues.  

On a visit in the late summer, one could find signs protesting a plan to locate a Dollar General Store in the community, a banner at Linden High generating interest in the start of football season, and a poster promoting an upcoming church dinner.  

Recently, small signs noting Linden as the home of Aaron Judge have been put up at the city limits.

While there may be few outward signs of this hometown star, many who live and work in Linden have not forgotten Aaron.  On the streets downtown, a merchant told me there’s a lot of interest in Judge and he’s often asked by visitors about the Yankee star’s connection to Linden.

A mural covers the upper interior walls of the mailbox section of the Linden Post Office.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A mural covers the upper interior walls of the mailbox section of the Linden Post Office.  Photo by Steve Newvine

At the local post office, there’s a special mural commemorating the history of this farming community.  There’s nothing on the mural yet about the Yankee outfielder, but there’s hope that someday Aaron’s likeness will be on display prominently in Linden.

Eric Weber is the athletic director at Linden High.  While Eric was not the athletic director when Aaron went to high school, he is proud of all the success this sports star has achieved in such a short period of time.

Linden High School is proud of their alumnus Aaron Judge.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Linden High School is proud of their alumnus Aaron Judge.  Photo by Steve Newvine

“We’re very happy about his accomplishments,” Eric said.  “He is a humble person, respectful of his roots, and has an excellent work ethic.”

Those accomplishments include hitting thirty home-runs by the all-star break in 2017.  That achievement beats a record set by Joe DiMaggio.

Aaron has been a tremendous addition to the Yankees, and he’s brought a lot of positive attention to Linden.

The baseball field at Linden High School where Aaron Judge played.  He was also a star football player at Linden High.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The baseball field at Linden High School where Aaron Judge played.  He was also a star football player at Linden High.  Photo by Steve Newvine

It’s really exciting for this young man, from a small town, to create so much attention. You wouldn’t believe all the media who have been calling us.
— Eric Weber

That media includes the national sports magazines, television networks, and sports radio.  All are following Aaron Judge’s remarkable year.

And the community of Linden, as well as the entire Central Valley, is sharing in some of that spotlight.

 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book about California will be published in December.

 

Labor Day Memories with Jerry Lewis

Labor Day and Jerry Lewis.  For most of my life, that weekend and that person were practically one-in-the-same. 

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY in the mid-1990s. Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY in the mid-1990s. Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

I remember watching the annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in my family living room.  Jerry Lewis was very funny, but would frequently turn serious as he reminded everyone why it was important to call in a pledge. 

His appearances on television outside of Labor Day weekend were confined mainly to talk shows, where the likes of Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson would have him on frequently promoting a movie or an upcoming appearance in Las Vegas. 

There’s a show business legend that recalls one night in the early 1970s when all three late night talk shows (Carson, Griffin, and Dick Cavett) taped their shows in New York City.  

Jerry appeared on all three shows on the same night.  He made an appearance as a regular guest on one and then did quick cameos on the other two.

The movies had their moments.  

The films with Dean Martin were funny.  None of Jerry’s performances as a solo movie actor stood out for me. I enjoyed the Disorderly Orderly where he runs amuck in a hospital setting.  

As a teen watching the annual telethon growing up in the 1970s, I hoped that one day I would have a chance to be part of that tradition.  

Participating in fund raising antics for the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Participating in fund raising antics for the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

I got my chance as one of the hosts from the Binghamton, New York affiliate of the Telethon’s “Love Network”.  For two years, I donned the tuxedo and supported the primary host Mark Williams as we broadcast local segments from the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City. 

I hosted some of the early morning segments while Mark got some rest.  It was fun doing that form of live television.  I left the station after two years, and even though my career would take me onward to four other television stations, none of them carried the Labor Day Telethon. 

It was a dream-come-true for me to be part of that incredible display of emotion and endurance on Labor Day.

Hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, NY.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, NY.  Photo:  Newvine Personal Collection

Nearly two decades later, Jerry Lewis was appearing in Rochester, New York with the Broadway show Damn Yankees. 

A coworker told me Jerry would be accepting an award from the County of Monroe at a ceremony taking place at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester.  I called a friend at one of the television stations where I had worked and asked if I could accompany him to the ceremony. 

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Jerry Lewis in Rochester, NY.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Jerry accepted the award, and then took questions from the local media.  He mentioned how he was writing a book on his recollections from the Martin and Lewis partnership. 

I asked him whether it was difficult to go back and recall that period of time.  He looked at me, smiled and said something to the effect:

“Not really, it was a very special time in my life, in both our lives.  I didn’t want to lose those memories with time.” 

The book became Dean and Me, and was co-written by James Kaplan.  

Mr. Kaplan was interviewed shortly after the news broke that Jerry had passed away at his home in Las Vegas.  The interviewer, pressed for time, wrapped up a five-minute live interview by asking him to describe Jerry in one word. 

Without giving it an extra second to think, Mr. Kaplan answered “genius”.

Jerry’s son Chris spoke at a meeting of Fresno Rotary I attended several years ago. 

Chris was raising money on behalf of the non-profit organization providing wheel chairs for people living in third world countries. 

While not mentioning his dad’s name directly, it was clear he wanted to keep the legacy of Jerry Lewis as a champion of the handicapped moving forward.

There’s no desire within me to explore the complications of Jerry Lewis.   

He was a gifted entertainer who used his life to help others. 

It was a life with purpose. 

Fortunately for many of us who remember those twenty-hour fund raising efforts on behalf of Muscular Dystrophy, Labor Day and Jerry Lewis will forever be entwined.

He made me laugh.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His book on travels in California will be published later this year.

Pretty in Pink for Merced

Local Church School will Flock with Flamingos to Raise Money for Camp.

Think about your front lawn.  You make sure it gets enough water.   You time the mowing schedule so the grass will look nice for the weekend.  You take great satisfaction to add just the right amount of shrubbery to give the perfect look.

A north Merced home gets “flocked” with flamingos for charity.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A north Merced home gets “flocked” with flamingos for charity.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Now imagine that lawn covered with dozens of plastic pink flamingos.  If you’ve seen a lawn with this pink overload in recent weeks, you are witnessing a flamingo-flocking. 

For thirty-five dollars, parents and students in the fifth grade class of St. Paul Lutheran School will cover a typical Merced lawn with up to forty flaming pink plastic flamingos. 

School admissions director Mary Ann Daughdrill says this is a fundraiser that has been going on for the past six years.  “We hope to cover the cost for the fifth-grade class to go to Hume Lake Christian Camp in the Sierra Mountains.”

Typically, a relative or neighbor will pay the School a suggested thirty-five dollar donation.  Volunteers will come to the lawn shortly after sunset and do their gentle redecoration.  The flamingos stay on the lawn for twenty-four hours. 

Plastic flamingo season in Merced usually gets started in August and runs through October when the fifth graders head off to Hume Lake.  Some weeks are very active with two or three lawns getting the pink treatment every night.

One year, the fund raiser was so successful, all of the dozen or more campers had their entire Hume Lake trip costs covered by proceeds from the flamingo flocking. 

There was even money left over to purchase in-house planters for the school and make a donation to the local animal shelter.  The class gets involved with ideas for donating excess funds.

Flamingo decorating is one of the several outside-the-box ideas local schools and non-profits are trying to raise awareness and money. 

Playhouse Merced produces a Broadway themed revue in the summer. 

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) stages an evening of video horse racing in the spring. 

Just about every other non-profit uses some variation of the dinner-followed-by- auction format to make money their cause. 

And who can forget the summer of 2015 bucket challenge to raise funds for continued research into Lou Gehrig's Disease?  

A small sign in the front left of this lawn tells the family living there and others that this decorating was done to raise money for the St. Paul Lutheran Fifth Grade.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A small sign in the front left of this lawn tells the family living there and others that this decorating was done to raise money for the St. Paul Lutheran Fifth Grade.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The idea of strangers taking over the front lawn with over three dozen plastic flamingos can bring some risk. Families, their neighbors and the curious wonder what’s happening in their cul de sacs.

Usually, all it takes is a quick explanation of what is going on and why it’s all for a good cause.

“One time, the children of one family were playing in the front yard when we arrived,” Mary Ann says.  “We waited for a while, and then just asked the children to go inside and look outside for a surprise in a few minutes.”

 Steve Newvine lives in Merced

San Luis Reservoir-Looking Good at Fifty

2017 Marks the Golden Anniversary of the Completion of the Reservoir

People have used the San Luis Reservoir in western Merced County, California as a barometer of just how bad the drought was, or how intense the flow of melting snow pack from the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been.

The San Luis Reservoir in Los Banos, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The San Luis Reservoir in Los Banos, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

I’ve always been impressed by this massive lake in the Pacheco Pass between Los Banos and Gilroy.  The visitor center at the Romero Outlook always made for a convenient and safe rest stops on trips to and from the coast.  

The Vista is impressive.

This spring and summer, friends and family who passed through the Reservoir along State Route 152 told us that the water level was at an all-time high. My wife and I made a visit there early in July to see for ourselves.

An up close look at the water in the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

An up close look at the water in the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Display inside the center.  photo by steve Newvine

Display inside the center.  photo by steve Newvine

To a passing visitor not familiar with the Reservoir, it’s easy to lose perspective of just how high the current water table is.  

During the drought years, it was relatively easy to see little or no water down below from the observation point.  Now with water covering the Reservoir bed, it is clear that conditions have changed.

But to what magnitude that change has been felt, I had to ask the visitor center staff.

A staff person told us that at the peak of the California drought last summer, the Reservoir was at less than three percent capacity.  At the time we visited in early July of 2017, we were told that the water level was just over ninety-eight percent of capacity.

There’s no apparent danger that this Reservoir will exceed capacity as the water is controlled coming in through the California Aqueduct from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta.  

The water is held by the San Luis Dam or the B F Sisk Dam.  

Water from the reservoir irrigates over sixty-thousand acres in the Santa Clara Valley.  Electricity is generated as a result of all this water moving through the Reservoir.

The Visitor Center at the Romero Outlook of the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Visitor Center at the Romero Outlook of the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The visitor center has a number of photographs and historical artifacts from its five-decade history.   

President John F. Kennedy visited the area early in his presidency when construction of the project began.  You can see that speech on You Tube.  

 

In his speech at the dedication ceremonies on August 18, 1962, the President greeted the crowd humorously by saying,

It is a pleasure for me to come out here and help plow up this valley in the cause of progress.
— President John F. Kennedy

The fifty-fifth anniversary of that visit is August 18, 2017.

One section of the visitor center features Ronald Reagan, who visited the project during his term as California Governor.   

Photographs of the two Presidents take up space along the walls of the visitor center.  

Then Governor Ronald Reagan’s image covers part of a wall at the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Then Governor Ronald Reagan’s image covers part of a wall at the San Luis Reservoir.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There’s a room with chairs and a loop of video that explains other details of this man-made wonder.  The Reservoir is now moving into the sixth decade of operation to provide water and hydropower.

There’s a lot of history of how this western Merced County’s engineering and construction marvel was conceived, built, and maintained.  It’s worth an extended visit the next time your travels take you through Pacheco Pass.

The vista of the Reservoir footprint is impressive.  At times, it has taken my breath away. It may do the same for you.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He’s planning on releasing a new book about California in the coming months.