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And by the way, the $17.35 raised from the show provided the kids on Murray Avenue just enough money to pay for materials used to put together our neighborhood soapbox called “The Shark.” A twenty-inch, tin-metal duct was split, nailed to the base of the chassis, and spray-painted black. It was made to look like a shark fin. The Shark was test driven by me at the Lake Bluff School, which provided an incredibly steep downhill asphalt driveway. Unfortunately, the problem was that our meager budget failed to provide adequate materials--i.e. an axle that could withstand the rigors of an out-of-control, downhill ride. Losing the cart’s front left wheel, I ended up rolling over several times. I pledged never to become a famous race car driver. Rather, I found it more comforting and a bit safer to perform as an entertainer.

Reed's Frontier Family in Mequon, WI

Somewhere around 1958, my family moved to Mequon. The 40-acre estate we moved into consisted of a summer home that my grandfather and grandmother would live in from Memorial day through Labor day, and also a cottage that my other Grandma Kailing moved into due to my grandfather’s failing health. Much renovation needed to be done, especially in my grandmother’s cottage, which had been built in 1845. Due to the fact that the cottage remained dormant for so long, racoons had made their nesting spot within the walls. The carpenters who were rehabbing the cottage placed a can of sardines near a hole they had cut in the corner of the floor inside one of the upstairs bedrooms in order to draw out the family of racoons, out of which one of the baby racoons rescued was given to me as a pet. I gave her the name Rosemary Cooney. That racoon turned out to be one of the best pets I had ever owned, and it was starting to feel like Waterford all over again. Later on, I rescued a part-shepherd, part-wolf stray from the police who were trying to shoot her. That stray wolfdog, which I named Gypsy, also became my pet. Due to fact that there was nothing for miles around, my pets became my frontier family.

There was little family life in my home. My parents were great fans of the local country club, where they were very active and spent most of their time. Mom and Dad had so many social commitments at the Ozaukee Country Club that they were seldom home. Since my brothers had moved on to college, I found myself alone a great deal. I became fascinated by things that fly in the air. For a while, I reverted back to building model airplanes to occupy my time. But once again, I found my escape in music. I soothed the pain of loneliness by listening to records and learning to perform music on the piano by ear, including such songs as Tonight by Ferrante and Teicher and Summerplace, as well as part of Moonlight Sonata. I had fond memories of listening to my Uncle Bob play that haunting yet soothing Beethoven piece when I was a kid.

Reed Learns the Piano and Guitar

An unquenchable thirst for music coupled with thoughts of artists like Rick Nelson and Duane Eddy circulating in my mind drove me to learn to play the guitar. I loved playing the guitar. And my guitar had become a sort of security blanket--a shield that I could hide behind. I taught myself to play the guitar off the piano. How? I would first find the chord on the piano, say an E major chord. Then, with the guitar perfectly tuned to the piano and resting on my lap, I would find the E chord on the guitar. That’s right, I learned to play many chords my own way, a tendency that is still reflected in my music. To this day, when I play an E chord, other guitarists sometimes look at the formation of my fingers on the fret board in order to figure out precisely which chord I am playing. You see, having been self-taught, I often reverse the “standard” finger positions.

MILWAUKEE SUMMERFEST 2007

PHOTO BY RICK KOHLMEYER

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