Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ralna English, Going Single

It's been a really long time since I posted a blog on any musician.  A new computer has kept me struggling to find things, and it seems to me the format has changed. 

The Lawrence Welk Show produced a lot of good musicians.  Maybe they would have been good musicians without Lawrence, but he certainly provided a broad showcase.  The upside of that sort of opportunity is name face recognition and lot's of exposure.  The downside, so says Ralna English, is that once you are a Welk performer, you are always a Welk performer. Not a direct quote, but close.

Ralna English was born In Texas in 1942.  As a youngster of five she sang "Daddy's Little Girl" at Spur Texas High School.   She said she remembered it clearly in a short dress with a sash, knees shaking and thinking, "Can they see my knees?"    She formed her first band in junior high school called Ralna and The Ad-Libs and entertained around Texas.  In a "Battle of the Bands" competion, she beat out Buddy Holly, who was also from Lubbock.  She sang backup for  a Waylon Jennings recording.  After high school Ralna went to Texas Tech University, and participated in the Campus Revue at Six Flags Over Texas .  Her career also included singing jingles for television ads. Clearly she was talented and headed for a career in vocal performance.

Ralna moved to California  in the late 1960's and became a club vocalist around the Lake Tahoe area.   One biography says it was there that Welk's son saw her and suggested to his father that she get an audition.  At that time she was singing at The Horn* in Santa Monica.  It was there that she met her future husband Guy Hovis.  (I'll do a separate blog on Guy.   Ralna deserves one of her own.)

In 1969 certainly was a life-changing year for Ralna.  She and Guy Hovis got married.   She was contacted by the Welk company, auditioned and was hired as a solo performer doing Christian standards, and other Welk styles.  She persuaded Welk to bring her husband, Guy into the troupe and everyone fell in love with the beautiful couple who were so much in love there was no hiding it. 
Ralna was drawn to jazz ala Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Morgana King, but that was not the Welk sound, nor was it Guy's.

Ralna was married to Hovis for about fourteen years.   They have one daughter Julie.  Neither discussed their differences in public.  The most Ralna said was that they were totally compatible on stage, but in life they just couldn't handle being together.   (Again, not a direct quote but close.)
During the hard times, in 1980, Ralna was hospitalized for two weeks. Welk had her placed on a quiet floor where only a few doctors knew who she was.  She was in a mental ward, it was night, and she she said that night changed her life.  She said she prayed, and felt the comforting hand of Jesus and a love and assurance she could not describe.   

She had an opportunity to do some recording for Capitol Records, but when her manager went to the Welk people, the opportunity was lost.   Ralna accepts that God has a plan for her and is guiding her.   She considers herself very fortunate to have had a steady career in a fairly unsteady business. She does not live in the past, nor does she fret about what might have been.  She and Guy, who remarried, have a compatible working relationship and have raised their daughter with equal responsibility.   They continue to perform as a duo, traveling to clubs, colleges and theaters.  

Larry Welk has said the Welk program did not do Ralna justice, that she was capable of doing a lot of songs that would not have been acceptable on the program.   

Ralna says,  "I have a feeling in five or ten years,  I'll be sitting on a barstool in Phoenix some place with a trio, just singing jazz."  (Will the Welk fans accept that?) "Some will," she says, "some won't."

Good luck, Ralna, may 2013 find you doing just that if that's what you want.

*The Horn was also a launch pad for such stars as Jack Jones, Vikki Carr and Steve Martin

Thanks to Wikipedia; 
and other internet biographical sites for musicians
Comments and corrections welcomed

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This is the first blog I have done in a while and it is a little different in that it is more personal, not about a well known band or person.   It is about what comes after a door closes.

For about fourteen years (I should be playing a lot better than I am after all that time!) a group of "senior hobby organists" have met every week.   We had in the past, several different teachers with different methods and ideas about technique ranging from the Lowrey EZ-Play method to straight piano method.   From all of this, the program evolved into a short lesson each week from a really proficient mentor.  We were meeting all this time in the Lowrey dealer's store.   Recently,  changes were brought about at the store and we really had no "home" there.   So although the store is still in business,  it without with rancor or ill will,  that a business decision has been made to concentrate on piano sales primarily, and they will no longer support the Lowrey organ program.   At a gathering of the people involved, by consensus it was decided to try meeting weekly and the only place we could consistently be is here at my home.  SO, hereon for as long as it works, the fourteen or so members of the organ group will meet here at ten a.m. on Thursdays.  We don't have a teacher,but we will work on our skills and help each other improve.  There are a few who feel they are satisfied with where they are, but most would like  step up their tempo, find chords more easily, sight read and read the base clef.   

We decided to choose a song from music arranged by a former teacher who wrote in a lot of double right hand notes, and some interesting left and right hand fills.   A Foggy Day is a well recognized piece that doesn't have move very fast.  It has a lot of minor chords and Mr. Miller wrote several passages with double notes.   He wrote in all the chords, and identified them as in fake music giving us the opportunity to play either way.   

A little more about what we will be doing on Thursdays.  We will decide on a song, as we did today, and go over it briefly to see if there are any cords or passages that will give us a problem.  Someone will run through it by sight reading it, and then we will have it to work on for a week.   Next week we will go over it, anyone who wants to will play it, tell us what they chose for sounds and rhythms, and anything else they want to say about it; i.e., they found it boring or beautiful, etc.   The learning part of the meeting should take no more than an hour.   Following that, we will have a "performance for friends" time during which people who choose to can play something they chose from their music stash, telling us what they are playing, and any other thing they want us to know like did they change sounds from the ones found built in the organs.

I think this is a good way to go, and hope it will work as people get used to it.   It's a little more organized than we have been used to, so if it doesn't appeal to people involved they will have a chance to express that opinion as time goes on.   The important thing is, we don't want anyone to drop out because they are unhappy with the way things are going.   

One of the things we did today was explore "upper and lower drawbars" which change the sounds with almost limitless possibilities.  It created a lot of interest so next time we will explore it a little more and I will have some information available from our good friend Dennis.

Check back now and then to see what happens with our organ friends.   Next blog will be about a personality.  Which one?  Well, I am not sure.  I have several in mind.