Song of the STL

On Saturday, September 4, we tuned in to local musical frequencies in their vast and varied incarnations. What we heard, all day and all night:

A pause would deprive the passing crowd of their rightful snippet of the day's theme song -- and perhaps another coin missed. -- Harper

5:38 p.m.
Ham radio broadcast
University City

And the mixtape begat the iPod, and it was good. But not quite good enough for 30-year-old University City resident Simon Duffy. For the point of music is not to shut out the rest of the world, earplugs clogging Eustachian tubes, but to gather 'round people, wherever they roam. And so, so long as they're roaming within the Loop, a handful of Duffy's friends and neighbors can tune to 92.9 FM, where he has been programming a musical smorgasbord -- talk-free, commercial-free, 24-7 -- since last winter, right about the time his stripper wife left him to go lap dance in Hawaii.

8:45 p.m.: She bops in Korean when not running the 
Kung Jeon club: Suzie Chang
Jennifer Silverberg
8:45 p.m.: She bops in Korean when not running the Kung Jeon club: Suzie Chang
11:20 p.m.: The circle is unbroken for the Bosnian 
patrons of the Pyramid.
Jennifer Silverberg
11:20 p.m.: The circle is unbroken for the Bosnian patrons of the Pyramid.

A lifelong music enthusiast with absolutely no broadcast experience, Duffy researched ham radio on the Internet, then bought a Ramsey antenna online and installed it on the roof of his apartment building. The WinAmp on his PC takes care of his programming needs. He favors the cross-fade, blurring a droning dance beat into the opening chords of Tom Waits' "Please Call Me Baby," which in turn might bleed into Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft."

"I want to do the opposite of block programming," says the Scotland-born Duffy, sitting this afternoon in his living room opposite his milk-crated LP collection, the sounds of his own handiwork streaming out of the stereo. "Really expand people's ideas about music, throw 'em off a little bit. It's about diversity, which I think is good for this particular community. I consider it the birth of Loop radio."

He's already talked to some city-hall folks about making his the area's official radio station someday. But first he's looking to purchase some stronger broadcasting equipment.

"Right now I can kind of get it at the Schnucks down on Olive," Duffy says, "depending on which side of the building I'm standing on." -- Rose Martelli

6:04 p.m.
The Stadium Club, Busch Stadium
St. Louis

Those with sufficient funds can escape the heat and watch the game in air-conditioned comfort perched over left field, equipped with steamed shrimp and a cool Bud. It's crowded and loud, but when the U. City High choir takes the field for "The Star-Spangled Banner," the club grows quiet.

We're a competitive people, which explains our torturous national anthem. Most of us just mumble along, waiting to see if the artist in the spotlight can hit that high-C "free." And like a crowd at a jazz performance, if all has gone well we tend to start applauding before "the home of the brave."

The U. City kids pull it off in style, reaching up for the note, grabbing it and holding it aloft. In the Stadium Club, the red-shirted men undoff their caps and order another beer. -- Harper

7:34 p.m.
Money Groove slot machine

The Casino Queen
East St. Louis, Illinois

Click. Bing! Click. Bing! Click. Bing-bing-bing! Click. Bing!

Four minutes and ten dollars later, the song is over. -- Harper

8:00 p.m.
Somewhere in horse country
Kentucky-Illinois border

Jimmy Zook enters southern Illinois via I-64 westbound, his Dodge Ram dualie towing precious cargo in its long trailer. A horse trainer by trade, Zook is transporting his barn's prize filly, Wildwood Royal, home after an impressive second-place finish in a $75,000 turf handicap at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky.

As daylight gives way to pitch black, Zook's dial is set squarely on 95 FM, classic country out of Evansville, Indiana. Glen Campbell sings "Rhinestone Cowboy"; Alabama, "High Cotton." "The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time," asserts Mickey Gilley.

"That's what I call a good belt-polishin' song," says the stocky Zook, a Belleville resident who grew up in itty-bitty Okawville, Illinois (population 1,000), as Ricky Shelton delivers a ballad intended to set the randy mind a-wanderin'. "You press up close against your partner's blue jeans, and your belt buckle gets a-polishing."

But not until Haggard's "Mama's Hungry Eyes" comes on 30 miles outside Mt. Vernon does the talkative Zook cease speaking and crank the volume on the Ram's stereo. The ballad, a tearjerker about a father unable to provide his beloved wife with the finer things in life, resonates with Zook, whose hard-working daddy died at age 39, after a bout with cancer. The teenage Zook took up the blacksmith trade and began shoeing horses on the Fairmount Park backstretch, eventually graduating to full-fledged trainer for the track's owner, William Stiritz. His cargo, a feisty four-year-old chestnut filly, will help assure that the mama of Zook's nine-year-old son, Lucas, will not suffer the fate of Haggard's muse. That peace of mind appears to be enough to carry Zook through the cheese of Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich once the Evansville station cuts out and he's forced to turn the dial to 93.7, the Bull. Giddyup. -- Mike Seely

8:02 p.m.
Big Muddy Blues Festival
Laclede's Landing
St. Louis

As we look downhill from First Street, the three members of the Holmes Brothers may appear small against the backdrop of the Big Muddy Blues Festival's spacious main stage, but the crowd is with them in a big way. As he sings "We had a good time tonight" over a two-step beat that sounds more gospel or country than blues, guitarist Wendell Holmes has a whole hillside full of people clapping, bobbing their heads, tapping their feet and singing along.

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