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Perfesser Bates

 
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Old 06-04-2007, 07:36 AM
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 841
Default Perfesser Bates

Soon after I became mate on the Belle of Louisville someone gave the boat an air-operated calliope. It may have been second-hand from a parade float and that was its final fate. The problem was that we had no perfesser to play the thing. As a read-and-fake trumpet man I knew a little music, so I was elected. C. W. Stoll still sold oil in those days, so he was not usually available.
Now calliopes just ain't. They ain't organs and they ain't pianos. They ain't got no range, either, and the perfesser is obliged to select key signatures that do not run off the ends of the keyboard. They baffle piano-men because the notes do not sustain themselves when the key is released. (FINE piano players sound terrible when they chatter and gobble on a calliope.) As a wind instrument player I was accustomed to sustaining notes. That was my one and only talent with the calliope.
By practicing at home on the piano I was able to work up a repertory (definitely NOT a repertoire!) of about twenty or thirty tunes, a third of them more or less classical in nature, such as the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. Thank goodness Beethoven is both dead and deaf! Charley Duncan, the pilot, always broke up when I blew Greensleeves, and my rendition of Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee made one's ears bleed. Most people tolerated it, primarily because the machine could not be heard from more than a hundred feet.
I had but one dis-satisfied customer. He was Captain Paul Underwood. He always asked me to play Funky Butt, a tune I'd never heard, nor heard of, but it was his favorite. Harmon Mize played it for him when he was master of the Delta Queen, I think. The good captain would say, "Alan, play Funky Butt."
"Cap, I don't know the tune."
"Suah you do," he would say, "it goes duh-duh-duh. . .duh, duh. . .FUNKY BUTT!" in a monotone.
This went on for two years and, finally, the boat acquired a real calliope, powered by steam and electronically controlled. A lovely lady named Shirley Burwinkle took over as perfesser and I was retired, missed by none.
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