Secret Origins: Miss Music: 1959: Muskrat Creek Confidential, Chapter 1: Green-Eyed Monsters

by Dan Swanson

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Friday, September 25th, 1959, had been named Good Luck Tammi Paige Day in Muskrat Creek, Wisconsin, a small suburb of Milwaukee. On the following Sunday, Tammi, a senior at Muskrat Creek High School, was leaving for the Women’s Gymnastics Association National Championships in San Francisco. She was expected to make the United States Olympic Team for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and Mayor Clyde had decided to honor her as the town’s most famous resident, give her a big sendoff, and hopefully raise his own popularity before next year’s election. All the town’s kids were thrilled because school would be closed, and a lot of local businesses were giving the adults a holiday as well. Tammi was scheduled to give a gymnastics exhibition, and then there would be a flea market and bake sale, with the proceeds going to help with her travel expenses. The school was also hosting a sock hop with a live band Friday night.

The day before, in a corridor in the school, not everyone was thrilled about the upcoming local holiday. Claire Whitman and Diane Greely, both seniors, were standing by their lockers between classes, griping.

“It really frosts me that that grody Tammi Paige gets her own holiday!” Claire complained. “She’s nowhere! She’s not even really from Muskrat Creek!” Tammi’s family had just last year moved from a small farm town to be nearer to the Milwaukee Gymnastics Academy.

Becky Taylor, the school’s head cheerleader, walked up to her nearby locker and overheard. “I guess she’s a pretty boss gymnast; I’m nowhere near good enough to get invited to the nationals!” she chimed in. The other two grimaced in annoyance, but they didn’t dare make the head cheerleader mad. “She must be radioactive; all the boys are gaga for her. I know Harvey digs her — he asks about her whenever he calls home. That’s why he’s on his way home for the weekend, in fact — the chance to watch Tammi in her leotard,” she said slyly. Harvey was her brother and had been Claire’s steady boyfriend before he went away to college this fall.

“No way! She’s flat as a board!” Claire leaned forward to emphasize what she saw as her best assets. “Harvey likes ’em big. He’s coming back just to see me! He tells me every day in his letters how much he misses me.”

Not what he tells me at all, Becky thought. And I’ll bet he hasn’t written you two letters since school started! She didn’t say anything more, though, but headed off to class. Claire and Diane stood around gossiping a while longer.

“Say,” said Diane, “Scotty Dillard was boasting in study hall last period that he was chosen from the A.V. Club to run the P.A. system and play the music for Paige’s little exhibition tomorrow.” Scott was the student president of the school’s Audio Visual Club, a vocational-technical student who was studying radio and recording and planned to work in the technical end of the music industry. “Isn’t he sweet on you, Claire? Wouldn’t it be awful if he messed up her music somehow?”

“You know, today might be a good day to invite Cassie to sit at our table at lunch, so the rest of you girls can find out if she’ll fit in with us,” Claire responded thoughtfully. Cassie was trying to get into Claire and Becky’s clique; having Cassie take up the last chair at the clique’s lunch table would give Claire an excuse to sit somewhere else.


“Hi, Scotty! Can I sit here today? My table’s full.”

Scotty looked up in astonishment. “Cl-Cl-Claire! Do you really want to sit with me?” he stammered. Oh, crap! he thought. How square was that?! She’s going to think I’m the biggest spaz in school! He was stunned when she sat down anyway, flashing her biggest smile. The breathtaking glimpse he got down her scoop top blouse had to have been accidental.

“I know you look at me all the time during lunch. I think it’s cute!” she spoke in a tone so softly that he had to lean forward to hear her.

“You do?” This was beyond his wildest dreams. “You don’t think I’m a square?”

More like a cube! she agreed enthusiastically, but silently. “Why, I think you’re a pretty cool cat, the way you dig all that A.V. equipment! I wish I was as smart as you.”

Scotty had never really felt all that smart before, but things were changing fast, right now.

“You know, I’ve always wanted to be a famous singer, like Doris May,” she continued. “I’ll bet you could help me make a demo tape to send around to some record companies. I’d be ever so grateful!”

Could I?! I mean, of course I could! The A.V. Club’s already got a studio all set up.” He hesitated. “We can’t start until next week, though. I’ve got to get set up for the show tomorrow.”

“Are you sure we couldn’t get started this afternoon?” she asked sweetly. “If I think about it too long, I’ll get too nervous to sing. Besides, we’ll have a chance to get to know each other better.”

Scott decided it would be worth the trouble he’d get for skipping his next class; he’d finish tomorrow’s setup, and then he could give Claire his undivided attention. “Sure, how about right after school?” Scotty couldn’t believe how swell this was going to be; there’d be nobody in the studio but the two of them. He was on cloud nine.

“Boss! It’s a date.” Now all she had to do was live through the rest of lunch period, stuck talking with the biggest stiff in the school.


“I heard you’re in charge of the music tomorrow,” Claire said brightly as Scotty showed off the equipment in the A.V. room in the school’s basement. She’d never been in the basement before.

“Natch! I’ve done Tammi’s music since she moved here. We actually made a special tape together, just for this show. It’s going to be really great!” he said proudly.

“Do you think I could hear it? We’re not in a hurry, are we?” Claire smiled her big smile again, but Scotty never realized that the smile never reached her eyes. She watched intently as he set up the big high-fidelity tape recorder for playback. She wanted to know how to work this machine.

After he played Tammi’s program, he asked her, “Not bad, huh? It took me a couple of hours to filter out just the vocals, and another couple of hours to blend the two songs together, so you can’t even tell when one stops and the other starts!” Scotty was justly proud of his work, but Claire was starting to get impatient.

“Can we start on my tape now? I want to sing along to these two records.” She handed him two Doris May 45s, Whad’ya Put in That Kiss? and Dream Your Little Dream Of Me.

Scotty set her up in the sound studio the A.V. Club had set up, with headphones to listen to the records and a microphone so he could record, and then retired to the control room. He was comfortable here; he’d been a member of the A.V. Club since seventh grade, and he had either built or rebuilt every piece of electronics in this room. “Go ahead!”

She was terrible. She was about a half-note off-key, her volume control was terrible, she was screechy and pitchy, and her diction was so poor that sometimes he couldn’t even make out the words. He made her sing both songs several times, much to her annoyance, but following his suggestions, she actually improved, from terrible to just bad.

As bad as she sounded, he was sure he could improve these recordings. In fact, he looked forward to it; making this sound decent would require a lot of ingenuity and was going to be a lot of fun.

“Give me a half-hour in the control room to do a remix, and I’ll play it back for you and see if you like it,” he proposed.

She went out into the equipment room. “OK, I’ll find something to keep me occupied. Maybe I’ll watch TV. But hurry — I can hardly wait!”

He knew some remix tricks. Pick the best sections from several playbacks and merge them. Change the playback speed a little to compensate for the off-key problem. Use auto gain to smooth out the volume, high-frequency filters to soften the screeches. Play a couple more tricks, then remix with the original music. He played it back one more time, and it was sweet. Not as nice as Doris May, but he’d bought a lot of records that sounded worse. He wondered suddenly if the recording engineers for the big stars played the same kind of tricks with their music.

Claire was absolutely thrilled with the recording. “I’ve gotta go play this for my friends!”

And she rushed off, leaving Scotty to wonder if “we’ll have time to get acquainted” had been just a line, or if she’d really just been that excited. He had a sinking feeling he already knew the answer.

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