An e-mail I received this weekend has me thinking a lot about Harry Chapin, the storytelling singer/musician/humanitarian who had a big impact on my life for about a decade.

I first heard Harry’s music in 1972, when his song “Taxi” started getting airplay on some FM stations. I went out and bought his album, “Heads and Tales,” and wore it out.  A couple of years later, right around the time Harry hit #1 with “Cat’s In the Cradle,” my friend Bill Sobel produced a concert with him at our high school, and I wrote a rave review for our school newspaper. Not long after, Bill and I went to see a musical Harry had written called “The Night That Made America Famous,” which ran on Broadway for a few months.

The next year, I was in the crowd as Harry did a show in the giant gym at my college. When he asked for volunteers from the audience to come up and sing the high parts on “Taxi,” he chose several women,  but when saw me waving my hand enthusiastically, he thought it would be funny to bring this big, bearded guy up to try it. All modesty aside, I nailed it and received a big ovation from the crowd. Afterwards, I interviewed him for the college radio station, where we mostly talked about his work on behalf of World Hunger Year, a charitable organization he had recently formed.

Over the next few years, Harry did hundreds of fundraisers for WHY, some of them with his full band, others with just his guitar, in all sorts of venues, from arenas to clubs to open-air performances in parks. I saw several of those shows, and also had the more intimate experience of having Harry and his guitar just a few feet away when he was nice enough to sit down with me a few times at WRCN, the first commercial radio station I worked for. I wish I still had those tapes.

By 1981, I had moved to a station in Hartford and lost touch with Harry, until that horrible day when word came in that he had died in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway. I devoted my entire show that night to his music and told stories he’d told me.

Many years later, we introduced our daughter to the music of Harry’s brother, Tom Chapin, who did several albums of songs for kids (several of which she can still sing from memory). Tom had been entertaining children since 1971, when he hosted a Sunday morning ABC series called “Make A Wish,” which included several songs written by Harry. Taking her to see Tom in concert was a nice way to continue our family’s connection to theirs.

This weekend, a friend sent us a link to this clip, released by Reelin’ In The Years Productions, rights holder to “The Merv Griffin Show,” which is looking to merchandise its material for DVD box sets and TV specials (thus the logo stamp, etc.). The clip shows Harry performing on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1965 with his brothers Tom and Steve.

The boys were in college (Cornell) and trying to get signed by a record label. When that didn’t pan out, Harry spent a few years as a documentary filmmaker before returning to music and launching his solo career. But in 1965, they looked and sounded like lots of other clean-cut shirt-and-tie folk acts doing gigs on college campuses, in coffee houses, and an occasional slot at a club in Greenwich Village. The guy on drums is Jim Chapin, their father, who had a long career with Woody Herman and other big band leaders. To my knowledge, the Chapins never recorded this song, so this would be the only public record of it…

[thanks to Jan Walker for the link]