Eighty years on, and Gene Strasser, Pittsburg, is still writing and turning out music.
Right now he's been taking his Antique Records "Tribute to Johnny Cash" to area radio stations and hopes to get some air play for it. Then there's "The Ballad of JFK," which he released in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's death on Nov. 22, 1963.
That year also marked the start of his collaboration with the late George Winters, who became his songwriting partner for more than 20 years.
"We met at a club," Strasser said. "Jack Shipp owned the Trading Post. I was there playing and George came up and introduced himself."
Of course, Strasser had started his musical career even earlier than that.
"I had a band in high school," he said. "I had the principal playing drums for me, and the automotive guy was playing steel. The two Beachner girls were in it, one on piano and the other on bass, and I played trumpet."
Strasser and Winters decided to get together Friday nights and try to write songs together. One session, he said, stretched clear to midnight, and both of them were tired and cranky by that time. Strasser decided it was time to end the night.
"You finally said something good," Winters told him.
"When I said goodbye?" Strasser asked. "Then we sat down and wrote that song."
He hoped that Johnny Cash, his idol, might record the song, but that didn't happen. He also asked Elvis Presley's producer to show the song to him, but the timing wasn't right.
"They said it was a great song, but Elvis's family was falling apart then," Strasser said.
However, the song was recorded by Charlie Louvin, Ral Donner and top French rocker Johnny Hallyday.
"Johnny was here from France and he wanted to take the song back with him," Strasser said. "I was No. 1 in France with Johnny Hallyday with that song for two years. Teddy Thompson from England came out with it about three years ago.
Other artists snapped up other songs. Charley Pride loved "Today Is That Tomorrow" and recorded it. Eddy Arnold, Sonny James and others recorded "When Your World Stops Turning."
"We bought a plane and would fly down to Nashville on the weekend to pitch songs," Strasser said.
On one occasion they were with Bob Tubert, record producer, songwriter and publisher. He asked if they wanted to meet Mel Tillis, and wound up having a beer with the country legend. He asked Strasser and Winters what they did, and they said they wrote songs.
"Just about then the juke box started spinning, and Mel said, 'If you came here with songs like that, you'd have a hit,' and we said, 'Mel, that is our song'," Strasser said. "Bob said it really was one of our songs and Mel couldn't get over it."
One of the duo's biggest hits was "The Man on Page 602," inspired by an infamous page in the 1975 Sears Fall/Winter catalog.
As the song lyric delicately puts it, "More than fashion was exposed."
"George walked in, threw the catalog on the table and said, 'Gene, do you see anything on that page to write a song about?'" Strasser said. "I looked, then I looked again. We wrote that song that night."
Next they needed somebody to record it.
"I went down to Decca Records in Nashville and they gave me Jack Barlow's number," Strasser said. "I called him, and he had a voice about 20 feet deep."
Barlow was eager to record the song, but his manager wasn't so enthusiastic about it.
"The manager thought the song might be a little ranky for Jack," Strasser said. "He wanted to find another name for Jack to use on the song and somebody came up with Zoot Fenster. That song was No. 12 in the United States on the Billboard charts."
There were other opportunities that could have taken Strasser from Pittsburg.
"The Wilburn Brothers wanted me to go on the road with them," he said. "They'd give me 30 or 40 minutes to open the show with our songs, then I'd introduce Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb. If I'd lived in Nashville I could have done it, and they were ready to give us the down payment for a home, but I just couldn't get my six kids situated."
Winters died around 1985, but Strasser has kept busy with Antique Records, which has released albums by other artists, including Dewayne Bowman, Joplin. From time to time he and good friend Gene Bicknell also get together for a show or project.
"We called ourselves the 'Dirty Old Pair of Genes' and put out an album," Strasser said.
He has health challenges now, but is determined to beat them and keep the music going. He also loves sharing a lifetime of stories.
"I've had 80 years of meeting some of the most wonderful people in the world," Strasser said.