NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published October 23, 2011
Autumn has returned. After a blazing hot and dry summer the Ozarks seems to have returned to a more normal fall season. Leaves are beginning to get a brown tinge, and the walnut tree over my hot tub has begun its yearly assault to bean me on the head with small round green missiles.
I realize that in recent months I haven't exactly been keeping to my original theme of one article per month. It's not that I've run out of things to talk about. It's just that I don't have as much time as I used to have, which is odd because these days I'm supposed to be "semi-retired". Father Time has forced me to admit that schlepping around 50 pounds of gear to and from video shoots and long hours of standing on my feet isn't as much fun as it used to be. Technology has made it possible for anyone to call themselves a "recording studio" or "videographer", whether they have any actual talent, skill or experience in the field. Cheap computer gear and software has made what was once a "black art" into a task done on a table top in a spare bedroom. But I will not get up on my soapbox today to spout about how things were "in olden times".
Robert, now 13, has entered the world of junior high, girls, and what he refers to as "teen drama". His nearest milestone benchmark these days is the birthday that he can get his learner's permit. And speaking of birthdays, ours is rapidly approaching on November 1st. He will be 14 and I will be 65.
Some of your men out there may understand this next paragraph. In a scant couple of weeks I will turn 65. This is a "magic number" for me, for it will mean (assuming I actually GET THERE) I have at last beat my father in some kind of record. He didn't make it past 64. So, for me, to make it to 65 means at least I outlived him. I'm not sure why that's such a big deal for men, but I think it is. If we make it "past dad" then we've really accomplished something! I doubt if women experience this kind of thing, but for men, it IS some sort of milestone in our lives. What happens after that birthday, I am sure I don't know. I guess from then on it'll be "one year at a time".
Well… I can relate to THAT statement. In this past year it seems like I've been living "one day at a time". In the three years it took me to write my book "Face The Music", much has changed in our household family lifestyle. I've had several elected surgeries (carpal tunnel) and one emergency surgery, and then got diagnosed with diabetes, so I am spending a lot of time these days watching my food intake. In addition, that episode of driving my dad's jeep off a 40-foot cliff as a teenager, and then being accidently shot in the same injured hip years later at a gig has amounted to one of those "somedays" you keep hearing about. You know…. Like when the doctors say "SOMEDAY you're going to have to deal with a bad hip". Well, guess what?..... SOMEDAY has finally arrived, and was I ready for it?.... NO!
Like almost everything in life that you think will "eventually… and even gradually… get here", that dog didn't hunt. It was like… one day I felt okay and then the next day **BAM** - my wrists got numb… or **BAM** - My back is killing me….. or **BAM** - I'm walking with a limp. When you are young, "things happen" and then you get over it……. Not so in the elder years, dear reader. After 60 it seems that you have illnesses and ailments stacked on top of each other. And then you discover that one ailment may cause another to appear. Some days I am not sure if my trouble is diabetes-related or some new form of bodily punishment or maybe some new area of my internal organs that have decided to stop working correctly. It's enough to keep you going in and out of the doctor's office. I can see how many people turn into hypochondriacs.
I am also begging to understand why some people, when faced with their own mortality, cannot contemplate the end stages of some horribly diagnosed illness like cancer or any of those other largely fatal diseases. I have had just enough trauma in my life recently to understand the true meaning of "quality of life". And yet, when I look around I see MANY people that are worse off than I, so I thank my lucky stars for the life I have been given.
I am afraid I am becoming obsessed with time. Time is running out. Time waits for no man. Time is the enemy. It's ironic that now that I have reached an age where I have learned so much and want to apply that to becoming a true world citizen…. It's largely too late to actually do anything about it.
My friend, Randy Keck, who has released at least six "Whiplash Gumbo" albums with me in the past couple of decades, always says "Nobody gets out of here alive". We've been chuckling to ourselves recently and repeating that line a lot, as our conversations always seem to turn to our own frailties and health issues (By God! We have become our fathers!)……. To the point where he has actually written a song with that title! He was here just this past weekend and we asked Cal Jackson to drive over from Memphis to put guitars on the track. And I think it's going to turn into one of his better tunes. Go figure.
After finishing the book project, I immediately threw myself into my next big project (always in denial… keeping the ol' mind occupied) which has been running around in my brain for years but always somehow on a back burner (gotta' pay those bills and expenses, y'know). But the past year's worth of personal trauma has nudged me a bit, causing me to realize that if I wait TOO long I may not get it finished. To say it is an ambitious project would be an understatement.
Most folks know what a pack rat I am, and how many media assets I have collected through the years. My garage is literally FILLED with shelves and shelves of audio and video tapes of projects, dating as far back as audio and video technology itself has existed, and even before in the form of 8mm and 16mm film stock, reel to reel audio, cassette audio…even 8-track cartridge audio! I even have in the family archives many vinyl records that my father recorded back at Blackberry Hill in the 50's.
I got to thinking… what will my family do with all this after I am gone?
It would be a nightmare!
So, about five years ago I began the slow process of going to the original media source, capturing it into today's digital world, and then archiving it to a dedicated hard drive, or maybe just backing it up to CD's or DVD's. I started with the family archives. It took me several years to catalog and archive a database of my family and the studio archives. At some point in converting all of my studio projects (music recording and video clients) I realized what a huge cache of vintage memorabilia I had!
Last year I was asked to participate in the media presentation of the construction and the back story of the building of the brand new Reynolds Library in Mountain Home. During the course of production and in my partnership working with Gwen Khayat we had many opportunities to discuss the history of Mountain Home and Baxter County. Gwen has a special interest in Baxter County history, and as we have been friends for years, I mentioned one day about my archiving project. She asked many questions about what my library contained and at some point an idea formed in my head that it might be nice to just donate all of my studio archives someday to the people of Baxter County, for future generations to actually SEE how their community "grew up".
Well, it didn't take long for me to realize that "someday" might get here sooner than expected, so I immediately set about to create a folder that contained video projects that might be of special interest to anyone wanting to learn more about Baxter County beginnings. I kept all of the projects that had people in them (open houses, grand openings, ground breakings, promotional projects, etc.) and included even small or partial clips of events around the area that I happened to record, as it could have some historic relevance "someday" in the future.
I've been working on this project now for the better part of this past year. Many of my old tape archives are on ¾" broadcast video cassettes. Believe it or not, but I still had five ¾" VCR machines from the old days, in storage. So I drug them out. One by one, I discovered that three of them had developed mechanical problems from lack of use (broken belts, lock up gears , etc.) and finding a tech that even knew what a ¾" tape recorder WAS, much less enough savvy to know how to work on such a machine… or even FIND REPLACEMENT PARTS for such a machine, would be out of the question. After placing the 3 "bad" ones back into storage (for what I don't know at this time) I had two units that actually would still load and play the large broadcast cassettes. Of course, many of these tapes were now so old that the tape formula (emulsion) had deteriorated to the point of "gumming up" the tape handling mechanism during loading or playback. SO I had to keep a bottle of denatured alcohol and a box of Q-tips on hand to do a thorough cleaning before and after playing "bad" tapes. In SOME cases I even had to "bake" the tapes like I did several years ago with audio multitrack tapes that were found to be jamming up recorders when archiving old studio recording sessions. The same principal applied…… by "baking" the cassettes in a Magic Chef Food Dehydrator for four 15-minute sessions (flipping the cartridge each period), the tape formulations were again bonded to the plastic mylar tape, without disturbing the aligned magnetic particles which result in "video" or "sound". As amazing as that seems, it really, really works! I was able to play the material (at least ONCE) and capture the A/V information before the tape once again turned to mush.
In the past 3-4 months I have average approximately three 13-gallon trash bags filled up with tapes per week! As my garage slowly recedes in tape media, the local landfill gains more compost. I am rapidly filling up a 1-Terabyte external hard drive with this precious memorabilia, and also backing it up to a second, mirrored 1TBdrive.
Reynolds Library is very excited about my upcoming donation. To that end they have told me they plan to place a dedicated computer workstation kiosk in the library which will be for the sole purpose of viewing my videos. This workstation will not allow removal or copying of any of the media assets, thus insuring my intellectual property ownership of the material contained on the kiosk. I will have complete masters here at the studio and if someone finds something they'd like (say, for instance any one of the MHHS graduation/commencement programs from 1989 to present day) they could merely contact me and I could burn an individual DVD of the specified program.
I am pleased with the arrangement. It makes me feel like perhaps I CAN "leave a little something" behind for future generations, and that makes me feel as if I have at least accomplished something. And so I owe this little gesture to my mother, as I am sure I inherited my "pack rat tendencies" from her.
On the music front, the Butler Center in Little Rock has learned of my large collection of recorded music from the 1970's to present day. After archiving all of my recorded session work over the years, I have at last count over 500 original recording of material written by Arkansas artists, bands, musicians, and writers. I seriously doubt if much of this body of work would have ever been archived if I had not had my studio in operation here all these years. MUCH of this all original material would not have even been recorded because I did not charge the artist for recording their material, knowing full well they simply did not have the money to spend recording their music. It was largely a labor of love on my part. When I look back it amazes me that I was even able to continue the operation, given how little actually money I made from actual paying customers. Many of the songs and sessions were recorded "on spec", which means that if anything came of the recording or song, I would "get a cut" of the deal.
That has NEVER happened in forty years of operating my recording business. Not once. So I figured, if I can't make any money off this music, what's the point of hoarding it? No one has even had a chance to really hear all of this truly great and sometimes inspirational music… YEARS of people bearing their music souls to an audience that has never been there to make their own decisions whether they even like it or not. It has been BEYOND frustration to me. To KNOW there is so much good music out here in the hills, and yet nobody has ever heard it… well…… that's the main reason I started doing the HiTek Redneck Internet Radio Show… so at least a handful of listeners might get to hear some of the best music ever recorded in Arkansas that has never been heard. I advertise it as "The Best Music by Artists Yyou Never Heard Of"….. and that just about covers it.
Well, the Butler Center thinks this music needs to be preserved for future generations, and I agree with them, so plans are being made for me to donate all of my musical assets to the Butler Center in the near future. After all, if I haven't made one red cent off this music by now, why not share it with the rest of the world??
In the meanTIME... enjoy each day as if it may be your last........
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