Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Little Drummer Boy

My family dates way back through European history with some significant figures present. My father's family came to this country via the Port of New Orleans as simple cabinet makers from France and even further back they had fought by Napoleon's side in the battle for Moscow and Waterloo. My mother's side of the family came from France and Scotland and Sir William Boyer (my 6th Great Grandfather) had partnered the London Company and then later the Virginia Company with John Smith which brought the first colonists to America in the 1500's. Another one of my direct ancestors was Patrick Henry who coined the phrase "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death!"which is evident when I visit my parent's graves among the hundreds of Henry graves surrounding theirs in southwestern Virginia!

Christmas has always been the most important time of the year for both sides of my family! My Great Grandmother Steiner was Jewish. She converted to Christianity and celebrated her first Christmas here in America. She gave birth to my Grandfather Peter Paul Hasselvander who became a witness for Christ as a preacher in West Virginia and saved many a soul. He later moved on to erect The First Christian Church Of Radford, Va.. A church by the way that he built with his bare hands along with the parishioner's help! It still stands today with the oldest wing of the church now called "Hasselvander Hall"! A huge touched up photo of him hangs in the sanctuary and dominates the view as if he's still looking over his handiwork

Peter Paul Hasselvander was my grandfather. He was a preacher and built The First Christian Church Of Radford , Va.

Very few people are aware that I got my start in music in the church! My first paying gigs were held there and my first life lessons about people's jealousy towards real God given talent were shown to me under those sacred timbers! Something I face on a daily basis even today!

The rules of my musical life were laid out plain and simple before me under God's watchful eye! God has always steered my career one way or the other in order to keep me in the game! I fully credit my beginnings in Christ's church for my success and longevity in the music business! I have escaped drugs and alcohol when it looked like the end! I have been led down the path that suits me most as a musician and a humble servant of God! This is why I credit Jesus on every album that I play on or produce!

I feel sorry for those people who want to take a hard line as an atheist or agnostic only because they are afraid of being called wimpy or cornball! It is only their insecurity of being exposed as normal flawed human beings that makes people posture in this way! Society nerves them out and they want to be viewed as invincible which we all know is bull! You came from dirt and you'll go back to dirt but your spirit will live on in one of 2 places! One of those places is definitely not user friendly!

I don't care what people think, I just do what the Lord tells me! It's nice to be able to communicate directly and freely with the one who created the universe, one on one! It is a privilege to celebrate his greatest work and triumph on Christmas day which leads me to my story!

My Father watched me grow up in my brother's shadow and saw my horizons broadening ever more each day! He took me to the New York World's Fair in 1964 which opened my mind to all the possibilities of advanced technology and outer space! But throughout all the Jetson's -like future world resonance there was one thing that stood out the most and that was seeing The Benny Goodman Orchestra perform at the fair! My dad saw the enthusiasm in my face over this swing jazz event and secretly knew that I would be a musician from that time on!

My Mom and Dad always wanted the best for me even if it meant playing Rock & Roll!

As I described in my first blog my brother was instrumental in furthering my interest in music.
My parents new that I could already play the drums as I had learned from listening to the Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts and Dave Clarke. My dad told my mom that it was time to buy me a drum set and best of all it would be a Christmas present!

I know that he must have gone into hock to afford these drums as they were quite expensive in those days. My father was an english teacher at Lee High School in Springfield, Va. and I know that his salary alone was hardly enough to feed our family much less buy a drum kit!

One of his students was a rowdy, big mouthed, trouble maker named Jay Nedry. Jay today own's the premier concert venue of the Washington, D.C. area called Jaxx! He's had every major label act or members of, in his club at one time or another! He still likes to tell the story though of how little Joey Hasselvander got his first drum set!

Jay Nedry was a problem child in my dad's English class who got so out of hand that he had to put his desk up by my dad's facing the classroom! He later went on to open Jaxx night club which is everybody's venue of choice!

My father came home from work one day a few weeks before Christmas in 1965 mad as hell about some young kid that disrupted class and asked him so many questions that he had to permanently pull his desk up along side of his facing the class so that he could keep a closer eye on his shenanigans! Every day he also had to be kept after class for punishments of various classroom crimes. My mother always said to my father that Jay acted that way because he admired my father. That was his twisted way to get attention from him as later I found out to be true!

Jay told me that after class my father told him "Well, I bought my boy a drum set! It's red sparkle and I can't wait to see his face on Christmas morning!" Jay said "You mean Phil? I thought he played guitar?" "No", my dad said, "This is for little Joey my youngest! He's the best drummer you've ever heard!"

I was a happy kid in 1965 and I could play drums as good as any adult!

So every day up until Christmas break he would talk and brag to Jay about the drum kit that I was getting! Funny thing was , it actually helped Jay's attention deficit problems and his behavior changed dramatically allowing him to finally take his place with the rest of the class facing the blackboard!
Jay Nedry, owner of the D.C. area's premier rock venue Jaxx was one of my father's high school students who was in on the secret of my first drum kit!

The first time I met Jay Nedry was at a club called Route One South where I was playing drums for Leslie West and Mountain in 1976 and this is where I first heard the story about my dad and his special Christmas present to me! Even when Raven played at Jaxx with Udo Dirkshneider in 2000, Jay got on stage before we played our set and told the whole story exactly the way I'm telling it now! I didn't know whether to be embarrassed or proud! I think it was a little of both! Anyway, this was the part of the story that put the whole puzzle together about my father who passed away when I was 13. Jay's account helped me to know my dad better and to help me see him through the eyes of an adult!

The first time that I met Jay Nedry was at Rt. One South, a small rock club in Alexandria, Va. the night I played drums for Leslie west! This is a photo from the gig! Jay told me many things about my dad that I never knew!

On Christmas Eve 1965 I knew something great was going to happen! I could just feel it in the air! I had poured over one of those Sears wish books so many times that it had become a ragged, dog eared mess especially on the page with the musical instruments! All I could do was focus on that red sparkle 4 piece trap kit right next to the Dan Electro Guitar with the amp built in the case! I'm getting that feeling all over again just writing this!

Needless to say there was no sleep to be had and I could hear the sounds of metal things clanging around and being snapped together and things being taken out of plastic bags and boxes with my dad cursing all the way! He wanted this to be perfect and for me to wake up with the drum kit set up like in a showroom!

Christmas came and there they were! I stared at them for hours and didn't much care for the socks, shirts and pants my mother had gotten me! Bless her heart, she understood! We later brought the drums down to the basement and the torture began and didn't let up until 1983!

Christmas was always the most anticipated event of the year in my family going back for centuries! This one had to have gone down in the record books in our family's history!

In the 1960's "The Little Drummer Boy" was a big Christmas hit on TV and radio and you couldn't escape it! I know what the song represents but I always identified with it because I have pounded out the drum rolls for the procession of God's will on earth and his only begotten son for 44 years!

God Bless All Of You! Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
From Joe Hasselvander

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