Johnny Blackburn sat down and began singing one of his new tunes.
Not missing a line, putting emphasis where it should go, keeping in tune, Blackburn's lyrics were right on target. It sounds like another hit.
This from a man in his 80s, just a year out of seven and a half hours on the operating table for triple bypass surgery. But he still has a twinkle in his eye and a never-ending wealth of inspiration for songwriting that helps keep him young.
In recent months, Blackburn has been keeping himself fit in other ways as well. When he returned home from Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis after his surgery, he learned of the cardiac rehabilitation program offered through Pacific Communities Health District. Now he goes to the Yaquina Bay Family YMCA three mornings a week - working on treadmill, bicycle, and weights to get himself back in shape.
His surgery was in February 1999, and he began attending the YMCA in October.
And he is sold on the program. "When I started rehab, it was really hard," Blackburn said. Now he looks forward to his visits to the YMCA, and to the day when he can "move upstairs" to the group exercise program.
"It's a blessing to have this program, to have this there for me," he said. "When I first started the rehab program, it was not easy, it took time. The ladies at the hospital who handle this are so good - it .was their inspiration that hooked this up with the YMCA." At the YMCA, the program is under the guidance of Wayne Thompson, fitness director.
He said earlier that for some time, PCH had offered a "Phase Two" cardiovascular rehabilitation program following heart surgery, but no "Phase Three" was available.
He obtained a grant for the third phase, now in place, which allows heart patients to start living a more active lifestyle through an exercise and , nutrition program "Healthy Heart" - run by the YMCA.
Blackburn is quick to recommend the rehabilitation program to anyone who has had heart surgery - both for its recuperative effects and for the social time the YMCA offers. "After the group upstairs comes down, we all sit around a table and talk," he said. "One lady does her knitting. It's quite an experience. "The important thing is not to give up," he added.
In spite of having to work back to health from his heart surgery, Blackburn is upbeat and reflects back on a full life well lived. "The song I wrote in the '40s has given us an income all these years," said the man who wrote the lyrics to "Moonlight in Vermont." "That song is still doing great. This year, it comes back into my publishing firm, and the sheet music will now be published by Warner Brothers. I feel very lucky."
Among his other well-known songs are "Susquehanna," recorded by Oscar Peterson and "Going Six Years Steady," and "Need You," another standard that still sends royalties his way.
Blackburn came to music naturally - he said his mother loved music and loved poetry, her two sisters were writers, and one of his relatives was Mark Twain.
And despite a career at Rockwell International in California, where he worked on the Apollo space program, he has never strayed far from writing songs.
Now, about 200 songs still unpublished sit in a drawer at his South Beach home, and a new one is already in his head. "I'm still writing - my mind is always on it," Blackburn said with a smile. "I love it.
"I'M 86, and I feel very happy," he concluded. "Music is still my love."