Monday, May 26, 2014

Steve Perry's Comeback - Onstage with the Eels, May 25, 2014.

Steve Perry onstage with the Eels in St. Paul, Minn. last night. He sings the Eels song  It’s a Motherfucker, (because it’s funny to hear an ’80s soft-rock icon swear in a song), Open Arms and Lovin’, Touchin, Squeezin’ . He’s singing in a lower register and his voice is pretty uneven, but then again he hasn’t sung in public in 20 years. (And the Eels know what they're doing. This is great publicity for them.)

It’s good to see Steve performing again.  I hope this won’t be just a one-shot deal.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Grand Delusion: The Unauthorized True Story of Styx by Sterling Whitaker

The Grand Delusion
The Unauthorized True Story of Styx
By Sterling Whitaker
BookSurge, 2007
371 pages

I have a soft spot in my heart for Styx. I was born in Roseland, the neighborhood where Dennis DeYoung formed the band with the Panozzo brothers. My grandmother would bring me newspaper articles about them when I was in junior high. The band played shows in high schools and colleges near my house when I was a kid, as did MS Funk, Tommy Shaw’s band prior to Styx.  And when I studied arts management in college, the class received copies of the band’s 50-page contract rider.

“The Grand Delusion”, Sterling Whitaker’s unauthorized bio of  Styx, is a fascinating read. Now, be forewarned, this isn’t your usual tale of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.  A sex and drugs bacchanalia this ain’t.  Except for a few brief hints at Tommy Shaw’s womanizing and drug use in the early ‘80s, this book is dirt-free. No, the book is riveting for its look at the soap opera-like rise, fall and revamping of an arena rock band of the 1970s and early 1980s, with a cast of characters that manages to be intriguing even without page after page of scandalous behavior.

“The Grand Delusion” is comprised of interviews with managers, promoters, publicists, fans, friends, radio hosts and journalists who dealt with the guys at various points in the band’s history. The author interviewed Tommy Shaw  in the early 1990s,  but the book lacks new interviews with JY and Dennis. Meticulously researched with information from newspaper and magazine articles and other sources, it gives a fair overview of the band’s situation.  

Dennis DeYoung was portrayed as the bad guy in “Behind the Music”, and he comes off as a narcissist in “Grand Delusion”, too - but I got the sense that he can’t help it. I had to put the book down a few times and say “Was this guy for real?” Despite this, he comes off more as a quirky character than an arrogant bastard – at least to me. Of course, I never had to deal with him on a daily basis like his bandmates.

Tommy and JY weren’t angels, either, but after reading all the details in this book, it seems like they  just cracked after putting up with Dennis’s tantrums for so long. They finally ousted him from the band in 1999  when he refused to continue their reunion tour due to health problems.

There’s virtually no opinion added by the author; the book is mainly interview transcripts. The foreword by Glen Burtnik, former Styx guitarist, puts it all in perspective - Styx was never cool, but a lot of people bought their records.

“The Grand Delusion” is a great read if you like Styx or have any interest in classic rock music. If you’re fan of “Hit Men” type music books focusing on the old school music business, the interviews with the band’s former managers will give you an insight into how a well-oiled, big money rock ‘n’ roll machine worked.

If you’ve not interested in the music business, the book works great as a tale of human psychodrama. You might even get some ideas of a screenplay -the dramatic version of Spinal Tap, perhaps?

Thanks to Sterling Whitaker for a great book about an often neglected band. Reading this book renewed my interest in Styx  I've even warmed to the current incarnation of   Styx, and I usually write off a band after their hit-making line-up ceases to exist.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

From the Archives: Starz - 1970s Hard Rock/ Power Pop

This article was first published in 2001 on

The weathered newspaper clipping still sits in my file cabinet back home – a review of a rock show at the Aargon Ballroom in Chicago in 1977.  The featured bands  consisted of four relatively unknown acts. Angel, Starz, the Runaways and Piper. Piper was fronted by Billy Squire, (we all know what happened to him) , the Runaways were a training ground for Lita, Joan and Cherie, and Angel copied Kiss' costume shtick, except they dressed all in white. All of the acts provided their own brand of  sleazy ‘70s hard rock. It could be said that each had a gimmick. In the Runaways case they were teenage girls (female bands were considered a "gimmick" at the time), Angel had their costumes and fog machine, and Starz, well, they really didn’t have a gimmick unless you counted singer Michael Lee Smith’s lips and pouty demeanor. (A curious sidenote- Michael Lee was teenie bopper idol Rex’s brother) The controversy over their song “Pull The Plug”, a bluesy, sexy song about euthanasia,  got them a lot of mainstream press.

The band consisted of Smith, guitarist Richie Ranno, drummer Joe Dube, bassist Pete Swerval, and guitarist Brendan Harkin. (Swerval and Harkin were replaced by Orville Davis and Bobby Messano, respectively, on Starz’ last studio album.) Visually, Starz were not far removed from the hair bands that proliferated a few years after their demise.  

Their songs were likable in a '70s AOR kind of way – Detroit Girls, Live Wire, Night Crawler capitalized on the preening lead singer sex appeal in vogue at the time, a precursor to the hair band explosion to come. A band like Starz would have fit right in with any of the Poisons and Bon Jovis of the mid/late 1980s.The Starz albums produced by Jack Douglas did not deviate much from this formula. With the exception of their third album, Attention, Shoppers, which temporarily abandoned Kiss-like guitar machinations for a brighter, self-produced pop sound, all Starz’ albums were cut from the same “party all night” cloth. Coliseum Rock, the bands last shot at stardom, flopped, despite good, solid rock songs like So Young, So Bad and Take Me.

Although garnering little airplay and no kudos from critics, the band had a loyal underground following right up to their break-up in 1980. A great retrospective is Brightest Starz:Anthology, released by England’s Heavy Metal Records. The 1970s Starz albums have been rereleased on Metal Blade. Founder Brian Slagel is a Starz fan, as are Tom Kiefer of Cinderella and Jon Bon Jovi. The band still performs, in various permutations, across the U.S.

The band's self-titled debut and their second album, Violation, are included on Kerrang's list of the Top 100 Heavy Metal  Albums of All-Time.

Related links:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Memories of Christmas Past : Mid-Century Christmas Decorations

                                                        Retro aluminum Christmas tree

With Black Friday behind us, it's now time to concentrate on more pleasant holiday activities. Whether you're buying a fresh tree from the lot across town or setting up the fake evergreen branches from a box, trimming the tree signals the true joy of Christmas. Decorations are a creative outlet and a lot more fun than racking up credit card bills for relatives your barely know.

The most famous fictional Christmas trees of the 20th century - Charlie Brown's lonely little tree with the droopy branch, is now recreated as a bendable plastic tree from several outlets. And Charlie's tree is just one of the examples of a trend favoring vintage, mid-century holiday decorations.

Some people use the terms vintage and antique to refer to any old Christmas decoration or other collectible, but the words aren't interchangeable. According to Palmer Pekarek, Director of Communications for Ruby Lane Antiques, in an e-mail interview I conducted with him last week, "A vintage item is any item that is at least 20 years old. An Antique, per US Guidelines, is an item that is a minimum of 100 years old." That Rage Against the Machine T-shirt you got at Lollapalooza '93? - vintage. Feel old yet?

An eBay search for 1950s and 1960s Christmas items finds abstract paintings and advent calendars, punchbowls with mistletoe and holly painted on them and choirboy candles. People of a certain age will remember cheesy plastic popcorn Santa and reindeer wall plaques. Grandma hung them in the window. The plaques were made of melted plastic scrunched into popcorn-sized pieces stuck together to form a genial looking Santa and his doe-eyed reindeer.

                                         1960s Christmas Ornaments/Pic Courtesey Ruby Lane Vintage
Kitschy plaques aren't the most beloved mid-century decorations, but others are more popular with collectors. "Simple vibrant Christmas bulbs are always in demand on Ruby Lane. Vintage holiday decor items are also popular on the Ruby Lane site," Pekarek notes. Some items are tougher to find than others. "Highly sought after vintage plastic light-up holiday decorations are very difficult to find in good condition," he adds.

With so many reproductions on the market, buyers need to be aware of the difference between imitations and authentic mid-century decorations. "The key indicator is at the top of the decoration - the hanging hardware," Pekarek says, "The hanging hardware on authentic mid-century decorations are made of steel or brass. Reproductions often use stainless steel hanging hardware. Look at the paint used in the decoration. Decorations manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s often use paint that has pieces of metal alloy in it. Thus, authentic mid-century decorations often look a little more dull in luster than reproductions."

You can occasionally find shimmering aluminum Christmas trees on eBay, one of the most recognizable decorations from days past. Vermont Country Store even offers a modern tabletop version for apartment dwellers. The silver Reynolds wrap like shards glittered up living rooms with clear plastic covered couches and console stereos in the 1960s. The trees were commonly decorated with bright red satin ornaments and a pink or red spotlight illuminated the tree as it rotated.

Christmas lights framed all the windows in the house, except for the bathroom. Sturdy, bright reds and blue bulbs encased in green plastic holders strung along the front room window and eaves and even the evergreen trees on the front lawn. Our bedroom windows, outlined with small, pastel colored lights in clear plastic holders. On January 2nd, Dad took the lights down. He'd store them in a box in the basement and brought them back out every Christmas for 15 years. Only two bulbs burnt out in all that time.

                                                    Holiday planter/Pic courtesy Ruby Lane Vintage
 Today's sophisticated Christmas decorations are made of safer materials, and just about any premise can be turned into an ornament, (NY taxi drivers, Las Vegas showgirls, cacti, etc), but the homespun warmth of mid-century holiday decor lives on in our hearts. And judging by the number of retro-style decorations offered by retailers including Target, Pottery Barn and K-Mart and craftsellers like Etsy, consumers of all ages are looking to add some of that mid-century charm for their holiday.

What are some of your favorite childhood Christmas decorations? Answer in the comment section.

See more vintage Christmas decorations from Ruby Lane on their Pinterest page

Monday, September 30, 2013

From the Archives: DVD Review: Trilogy of Terror

This review was originally published on in 2006. R.I.P. Karen Black.

Made for TV movies from the 1970s were fertile ground for schlock, horror and the occasional eccentric masterpiece. From Linda Blair being raped with a broom handle in Born Innocent to Bad Ronald to occult movies like Satan's School For Girls and Race With the Devil, made for TV movies have earned a fond place in the hearts of pop culture geeks.

One of the most notorious
made for TV horror movies wasn't a full film, but the last story in Trilogy Of Terror, a 1975 film produced by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis and starring quirky, underrated screen icon Karen Black. Ms. Black has appeared in some legendary films (Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, Easy Rider), but one of her most offbeat and gripping roles co-starred a wild-eyed Zuni fetish doll, not an actor.

The first two segments of Trilogy of Terror dim by comparison to the final one. The introductory vignette, Julie, casts Black as a prim and proper college English teacher who has an affair with one of her students, (played by Robert Burton, Black's husband at the time.) For most of the story, the student is a blackmailing date rapist and Julie is the victim, but there's a macabre twist at the end.

Millicent and Therese
features Black in a dual role as sisters. The repressed Millicent chronicles the sins of evil, slutty sister Therese in her diary. The physical transformation Black achieves as Millicent is amazing, one of the most extreme examples of the spinster ever committed to film. These episodes, written by William Nolan, who later co-wrote Burnt Offerings, (which also starred Black), are taut but predictable psychological horror.

While both of these stories were passable entertainment in 1975, they wouldn't even merit a blink now. The final story in the trilogy, adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson from his story, Prey, is the crème de la crème of made for TV horror, and one of Black's most infamous roles. Amelia begins with Black on the phone with her annoying mother, describing a Zuni fetish doll she's just bought for her anthropologist boyfriend. And this is one angry, fugly doll. I doubt all the
CGI experts at today's studios could conjure up such a demonic doll, even with all the technical shortcuts at their disposal. A modern-day icon like Chuckie pales in comparison to our Zuni friend. The tiny terror, equipped with a spear and razor-sharp teeth, comes with a scroll that warns the warrior's soul will escape if the chain around its waist is removed. You guessed it, Amelia walks away for a minute and when she returns the chain has fallen off and the doll is nowhere to be found. It reappears reanimated and ready to slice and dice hapless Amelia. The manic fight between Amelia and the doll that follows is one of the most frightening sequences in any horror film released in the 1970s. Hell, ask anyone who watched Trilogy Of Terror when it was first broadcast and they'll tell you about the sleepless night that followed. The chilling final shot, where Amelia has assumed the spirit-and the sharp-toothed pose-of the Zuni doll as she waits for her mother to arrive, was not in the original script. In the featurette, Three Colors Black, we learn that Black suggested the ending, fangs and all. An interview with writer Richard Matheson and a full audio commentary track for the film by Black and William F. Nolan are included as special features.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Music Review: Steve Hooker : Smokin' Guitar

The back cover blurb of Smokin Guitar by Steve Hooker (Pimphouse).
 warns prospective listeners:

“Rockin’ Music will get into your panties and may induce lewd behavior, nudity and swearing” And they’re not kidding! This short but sultry collection of rockabilly tunes is definitely designed for after-hours rendezvous and dance floor boogie.

 Hooker is a veteran of the rockabilly, blues and pub rock circuit. He began his career as a ’77 punker with the Heat. He then turned his talents to rockabilly and R & B with Shakers in ’82, establishing his raunchy, blues-infused guitar style. During the ensuing decades, he’s shared the stage with Wilko Johnson, Chuck Berry, Robert Gordon, Johnny Thunders and Steve Marriot, among others.

Still going strong in 2013, Hooker’s latest effort Smokin’ Guitar lives up to its name. Hooker and his Stripped Down Stompin’ Band blast through seven originals and a shakin redo of Inez and Charlie Foxx’s “Mockingbird.” The instrumental “Wolf Farm” opens the CD with  a thunderous crash and boogie reminiscent of Link Wray. This is bare-bones rockabilly at its best. The raspy vocals on “Gospel Ground” complement the track’s down ‘n’ dirty guitar; the rollicking “Devil I Know” tells the feisty tale of a woman out to have fun on the sly. “Mockingbird (Shine Eye Alternate)” has local blues belter Dee Shine Eye trading verses with Hooker on the 1960s soul classic.

Smokin Guitar ends with the straightforward riffs of another instrumental, "Wicked Blues".
You can buy a copy of Smokin Guitar through

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More Made for TV Madness from the '70s - Nightmare in Badham County

Nightmare in Badham County

ABC TV movie

100 minutes

Original Airdate May 11, 1976.

Nightmare in Badham County is a disturbing and surprisingly well-made TV movie, first broadcast on ABC in 1976. Equal parts thriller, social commentary and exploitation flick, Badham County had more going for it than sleaze and T & A. It. featured compelling lead actresses, a stable of well-loved TV stars moonlighting as sleazy villains and a gritty, unsettling ambiance.

UCLA coeds Diane Emery (Lynne Moody) and Kathy Phillips (Deborah Raffin) are driving cross country when their car breaks down in  the Deep South. A kindly old African-American man stops to help them, but before they can drive off with a repaired tire, racist Sheriff Danen (Chuck Connors) drives past. The fact that Diane is black and Kathy is white doesn’t sit well with Danen. That’s when the nightmare begins.  The corrupt sheriff has the girls take in their car for some unnecessary repairs, and through help from a sleazy gas station attendant and a corrupt judge; the girls are sentenced to 30 days hard labor at a hellish prison camp.

Diane and Kathy are separated in the camp, which divides barracks by race.  Kathy befriends a young girl Emmeline ( Kim Wilson ) who  later meets  a bad end at the hands of sleazy Superintendent  Dancer (Robert Reed). Like the villainous sheriff,  Dancer gets away with his evil deeds due to political connections. Both Reed and Connors went on to play similarly despicable characters in the mini-series Roots.

The producers tacked on nude scenes and more explicit violence to release the film overseas. Badham County became such a cult hit in China that Raffin visited the country and became an unofficial Goodwill Ambassador for Hollywood. She helped arrange for Chinese films to be shown in America and vice versa.  

The tension throughout Badham County never abates. The girls attempt to escape or reach someone on the outside several times, but everyone in town is in cahoots with (or afraid of) the town’s crooked lawmen and polticos.

Diane makes one particularly daring attempt to escape with nail-biting results for the viewer.  Jo Heims’ script is full of twists and turns befitting a more “respectable” subject.  Director John Llewellyn Moxey lends the same foreboding air to Badham County as he did to his more famous films Horror Hotel and Night Stalker.

In the politically incorrect 1970s , TV movies didn’t  resolve all storylines in a neat little bow, and even some sympathetic lead characters suffered grim fates. Nightmare in Badham County was no exception.  There’s a glimmer of hope at the end, but not without tragedy.

While not the sleaziest of the women in chains genre, it does have its moments. A catfight out in the fields ends up with a water hose turned on the prisoners and a few of the girls are ogled as they serve drinks to the rich townsfolk at an outdoor party. Tina Louise, as nasty prison guard Greer, is the antithesis of Gilligan Island’s glamorous Ginger. She shows no mercy to any of the girls, stripping down and beating a prisoner during a bed check. The other female guards Dulcie (Fionnula Flanagan) and Smitty (Lana Wood), are just as vicious. Smitty coerces a frail inmate into sex in. exchange for food in one scene. This isn’t all  modern day, airbrushed pseudo-lesbian erotica – it’s really grim,  more frightening  than titillating. 

Raffin was nominated for an Emmy for her work.I thought Moody gave the better performance - much more subtle and realistic. Raffin overacted quite a bit, especially near the end of the film.

A watchable combination of story and sleaze, Nightmare in Badham County is one of many lost made for TV gems from the 1970s. You can buy Nightmare as part of the 8-Movie Pack Man-Cave at Amazon. 

The uncut version (NSFW) is available on YouTube