Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Most Haunted Cemetery in America - Bachelor's Grove

Bachelor's Grove, a tiny abandoned cemetery in southwest suburban Chicago, is often featured on Ghosthunters-type shows and is said to be one of the most haunted places in America. I grew up in  southwest Chicago, and visited the forest preserves surrounding the cemetery many times with my family.  I have a vague memory of walking down the trail that leads to Bachelor's Grove (during the day, unfortunately) once when I was a kid.  It takes a lot to convince me that a place is haunted, but in this case –

-Satanists plied their trade here in the 1960s, sacrificing animals, digging up bodies and setting fire to coffins
- Partying teenagers toppled headstones, carved messages in them, etc, in the 1970s and beyond
- Al Capone dumped bodies in a nearby pond*
-  In the 1800s, a farmer and his horse drowned in the same pond – or maybe another body of water nearby, not sure.
- The bodies of the Grimes sisters, two teens who were kidnapped in the 1950s, were found nearby, in Willow Springs.

* I think either my Dad or Grandpa related this story to us one day on a family outing as we drove by the forest preserve.  

So, if a cemetery would turn out to be haunted, this one would be a good candidate.  I always got an eerie feeling when  we drove by this area when I was a kid, especially at night. I wonder if that’s just because of all the rumors I’ve heard since I was little. It would be interesting to see how someone who never heard the stories would react while walking in the cemetery. It seems most of the people posting YouTube videos about their experiences were raised on the folklore and maybe expecting to see ghosts.

People have reported seeing a white lady carrying an infant, flashing orbs of light, a transparent woman sitting on a tombstone, a phantom farmhouse that would shrink and disappear when approached, monks and a "ghost" dog resembling a Rottweiler. Check out photos of Bachelor's Grove at  Chicago Now.

Here's a documentary about Bachelor's Grove, complete with pictures of the "Madonna of Bachelor's Grove"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: I Killed Pink Floyd's Pig by Beau Phillips

I Killed Pink Floyd's Pig
by Beau Phillips
Peanut Butter Publishing
260 pages

Beau Phillips, a former DJ at KISW-FM in Seattle and a senior VP of marketing for MTV Networks, chronicles some of his encounters with  rock royalty from late 1970s to the mid-1990s  in I Killed Pink Floyd’s Pig: Inside Stories of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n' Roll.

For all the talk of the decadent ‘70s and ‘80s, these stories seem  pretty tame by today’s jaded internet standards. Instead of rappers shooting each other, we have tales of trashed hotel rooms, pilfered beer, Van Halen and strippers taking over a radio station control room and British rock stars trying to understand softball.

The short, breezy chapters feature a “Who’s Who” of 1980s rock, with a few side characters like  a rather lame VH1 contest winner and a fledgling DJ named Jimmy Kimmel. (I wonder what happened to  him?) Groupies figure in a few of these stories, but the goings-on are described in a comical, PG-rated way.

Sammy Hagar wrote the foreword, and the rock ‘n’ roll tales star Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones,Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi, Bob Geldof, Heart, ZZ Top, Pat Benatar, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Algie, the inflatable pig of the title.

Readers of a certain age will remember the radio station promotions that tied in with a bard’s concert appearance.  The promotions, usually involving a crazy scheme, would last for weeks or sometimes months in every city the band played.  Some contests were random ticket giveaways, but others got pretty inventive. Professional skullduggery between radio stations in the same market (regardless of demographics) could get cutthroat. Such shenanigans would get you sued today!

Before Clear Channel took over 99.9% of terrestrial radio stations,  many small, local companies with little to no broadcasting background owned radio stations.Like Mr. Carlson of WKRP, many radio execs were unhip individuals with equally conservative advertisers. This is demonstrated in the story about ZZ Top, a jewelry company and the song Pearl Necklace.

A quick and enjoyable read, I Killed Pink Floyd’s Pig is a memoir of rock’s golden age, when front row tickets were the Holy Grail and the local disc jockeys the gatekeepers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees from a Fan’s Perspective : Interview with Author Fred Velez

Fred Velez’s book, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees from a Fan’s Perspective, recaps his journey from childhood Monkees fan to  achieving every loyal fan’s dream of meeting- and occasionally working with-  his idols.  He’s also a blogger at and emcee at various Monkee-related events. A loyal fan since he first heard the Monkees’ music in the 1960s, he’s followed the group and their solo careers through the lean days of the 1970s to the 1980s MTV revival and onward to the current day.  I spoke with Fred a few weeks ago about his experiences as a Monkees fan and his new book, which is available on


How did you first discover the Monkees?

I’m a first generation fan and I got to hear their music first on the local Top 40 radio station where I live in the New York City, so I had WNBC and WMCA And stations like that. I heard the music first without even seeing the TV show. I liked the songs Last Train to Clarksville and, I’m a Believer Later I discovered the same guys who were singing these songs had a TV show. I didn’t realize they were on TV right away. I used to watch Gilligan’s Island, which was on at the same time as the Monkees.  I never forgave Gilligan for a long time!

When did you first meet the Monkees?

I was fan from ‘67 til  the point where they broke up in 1970. (After that)  I found out about their exploits through teen magazines. I kept following what they were doing -   Michael  Nesmith when he went solo and collecting all of his records and Davy with his solo projects and I did my best to find out about Micky’s solo projects and get his records.  Peter was out of the picture for a long time.

I actually got to see them for the first time live  in 1976 when Micky and Davy united with songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart performed as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart They played inside the Riverboat (Nightclub) in New York City. I think it was the first time I got their autographs personally. I didn’t get to really know them yet.  

Peter didn’t get back in the limelight until 1979, 1980. I saw him in a few clubs in the 1980s in New York City. He appeared on the Uncle Floyd Show, a take-off on the old-time kiddie shows of the 1960s.  unce Floyd used to have lots of performers on this show.  including the Ramones and Jan and Dean. Peter made one of his early comeback TV appearances on the Uncle Floyd Show.

I had friends who worked on the Uncle Floyd show and they told me about Peter’s second appearance there and came up to the studio to meet him. I got to meet Peter and get to know him for the first time there. I appeared on the show with him and Uncle Floyd and showed off my Monkees memorabilia and Peter was very supportive and we’ve had a rapport since then.

Davy, I got to know on a more personal basis in 1984, when he made a trip to New York City on the QE2  with his then wife Anita and young daughter Jessica. Maggie McManus, who did the Monkee Business Fanzine.  I was a writer for (Monkee Business) I had connected with Maggie in the late 1970s, early 1980s and started writing articles for her magazine. Maggie arranged for Davy to appear on some TV shows in New York -  The Today Show and Regis Show.  She asked my advice for other shows, and I recommended Uncle Floyd because I knew Peter had been on it. I knew people on the Uncle Floyd Show, so I got in touch with them, so Davy made appearances on the Today Show, Regis Show and Uncle Floyd Show. We had the audience on the Uncle Floyd Show in Monkees hats.  So that’s where I got acquainted with Davy. 

Didn’t you work on a book with Davy?

Yes I did.  In early 1990-91, I was  working on a job I wasn’t very happy with and I took a chance and sent Davy a note asking if he was looking for an assistant or anything like that, I’m available. I mailed it off and thought, well, I don’t know if I’m going to hear from him or not. And then a few weeks later, I’m in the other room watching television I hear the telephone in my other room ringing and I let the answering machine pick up. Once I got to my room,  I turned on the machine to hear the message, and it was Davy saying “Hey, Fred, I got your note.  If you’re interested in working on a project, give me a call.”

After the initial shock, I gave Davy a call He was working on his book Mutant Monkees with his partner at the time Alan Greene and asked if I wanted to help out. He wanted to get a fan’s perspective on some things that fans might want to see in the book.  So I made arrangements to met Davy in (his home in) Beavertown, PA.. Davy’s partner Alan Green picked me up and I stayed at Alan’s house.  Then we went to Davy’s house and  Davy gave me a rundown of what he wanted - random catchphrases  like “Save  the Texas Prairie Chicken” and “You must be joking.”  And then Davy pulled out this big trunk in his living room and said “Fred, you look through here and check and see if there’s anything here you think we can use for the book.”

I was looking through there and I thought “Wow! I’ve died and gone to Monkee heaven!” It was full of personal memorabilia, photo albums full of fantastic photographs, of his time with the Monkees and solo, pictures of Davy with Pete Townsend, Barry Manilow and people like that. I went to the photo album to pick out photographs, including pictures of behind the scenes from Head.and wardrobe photographs.  I was only there a day, day and a half because I had to get back to New York. Davy was grateful for my help on the book. He wanted to get a fan’s view of what they wanted to see in a book. The book came out about a year later and he sent me a signed copy of the book, which I was very happy about. I was thrilled to see my credit in the book, that I had added a contribution to it. I was very proud of my association with Davy in that regard.

The book is out of print, but you can find it on eBay or under Other Sellers on Amazon.  

Why did you decide to write A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You ?

For years, a lot of friends and colleagues knew about my experiences with the Monkees working with them and on Davy’s book, interviewing them on stage at various conventions, introducing them on stage, and they said “Fred, why don’t you write a book about this stuff.” I’d think “Yeah, I’m busy with other stuff,    But I had in the back of my mind I had this book in me and I needed to write it one day. And then after Davy died, I wanted to share these stories before they disappeared.  I started putting together notes and finding memorabilia and photos I wanted to use for the book.  I started the physical writing in June, July 2013 and I finished the final chapter in January 2014.   I got the book self-published it and it was ready in time for the March 2014 Monkees Convention.

How was this year’s convention?

From my perspective, it was a lot of fun. It was a great convention. For the first time Michael Nesmith made a major appearance at a Monkees convention. The last time he was at a  Monkees convention, he was at the 1989 Monkees Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony He only appeared at the convention part of the press conference, but he wasn’t involved in the full Monkees convention  like  Micky, Peter and Davy were.

This past Monkees convention, Mike was more involved. He did a Q and A onstage, he signed autographs and memorabilia for the fans, and he did his Movies of the Mind Concert at the convention. I’ve seen Michael Nesmith in concert many times, and this was the best I’d ever seen him.  He was totally animated and having a great time got feedback and love from the fans and it showed in his performance.  It was one of the best Michael Nesmith performances I’ve seen.

What is your favorite Monkees memorabilia?

One of my favorite pieces is the Mattel Monkees hand puppet. I remember that back in the ‘60s. I wanted to get that then. But I did get it later on at a memorabilia show- not too expensive.  And it’s a nice little piece.  We got a photograph of ourselves in present time with it when we did the 1980s Monkees Convention.

The second most favorite piece is an original 1965 Davy Jones Fan Club button before the Monkees when Davy was a solo artist and had a fan club.   I wore that button when I met Davy at the QE2 and the Uncle Floyd Show. And I’ve wore it to many different Monkee events – to conventions and I’ve worn it to the Davy Jones Memorial at BB King’s in 2012.

My 2nd favorite is an original 1965 Davy Jones Fan Club button before the Monkees he was solo artist I wear that button to the QE2 and to  Uncle Floyd’s memorial for Davy in 2012. So it was a personal piece because of the connection with Davy on that.

I have two major pieces of memorabilia autographed. I have a copy of the 1986-87 Monkee Business Fanzine signed by all four Monkees at the MTV Christmas video in late 1986. I was at the taping and asked all four Monkees to sign it. The other one is a photo of myself with all four Monkees at the 1989 Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony.

Peter Tork is the one who arranged to get that photograph done. I knew the photographer Mike Bush and Helen Pantuso, who helped get the Monkees their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was one of the people who got the campaign rolling.  She had me as part of security at the Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony. We went inside the theatre with the Monkees waiting until they were called to come outside to accept the star. And I was walking with Peter, saying hello to Mike and Micky and Davy (as we walked outside) Mike Bush was taking photographs and said, “Excuse me, but you’re in the photograph.” So I said “Oh, sorry,” Peter Tork grabbed me by the arm, pulled me back in, and said, “Fred, you stay in the picture,” So I got my picture taken with all four Monkees. And the look on my face is “I can’t believe I’m in this photograph.” I’ll always thank Peter Tork for that. Later on, I did get the picture signed by Peter, Micky and Mike. Unfortunately, I never got it signed by Davy for various reasons. I have a big regret about it. At last year’s  Beavertown Memorial for Davy (2013), all four of Davy’s daughters were there, and I had them sign it. So the picture has a more personal meaning because it has the three Monkees and the four signatures of Davy’s daughters.

What is your favorite Monkees song? Your favorite episode of the TV show?

My favorite Monkees song is “While I Cry” from Instant Replay. My favorite song that Michael Nesmith wrote and recorded with the Monkees.  My favorite episode of the TV series, bar none, is “The Devil and Peter Tork” Each of the Monkees, especially Mike and Peter, had a rare opportunity to do some really fine acting. It’s the best episode they ever did.


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. 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 for 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