Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Single Review : Steve Hooker: Otis Lift Me/ Toots Shuffle

Otis Lift Me/Toots Shuffle
Pimphouse Records

This single from rockabilly guitarist Steve Hooker (formerly of The Heat and Boz and the Bozmen) has all the bluesy swagger we’ve come to expect from him. 

Both cuts are winners for fans of blues and rockabilly or anybody who likes to rock out.  Side A - Otis Lift Me is an infectious tune that will have you bopping around in no time.

Side B - Toots Shuffle is heavier, and boasts crunchy, commanding riffs. It’s an instrumental slow grind, with some down ‘n’ dirty harmonica spicing up the proceedings. 

Steve’s band tours extensively throughout the UK and Europe. Go to Stevehooker.co.uk to buy a copy of the single or check out tour dates.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Book Review: Candy Darling: Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar by Candy Darling

Candy Darling by Candy Darling

 Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar
 Open Road Media 

Candy Darling, Warhol superstar and one of the subjects of Lou Reed’s 1973 hit Walk on the Wild Side, fulfilled her dream of becoming a “movie star”, but in quite a different way than the Hollywood stars she idolized as a child. Along with Warhol’s other “chicks with dicks”, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis, Candy brought the drag/trans underworld out of the shadows and into the gossip columns.  Candy Darling: Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar traces Candy’s journey from Massapequa Park to Manhattan and Warhol’s Factory in her own words. This short book is a collection of journal entries and stream of consciousness tidbits compiled from Candy’s notebooks.

Born in Long Island as James L. Slattery, to Theresa and Jim Slattery, young Jimmy was an outsider in cookie-cutter suburbia as a child. His mother Theresa worked for the phone company and divorced his father, Jim Slattery, an abusive alcoholic, when Jimmy was in grade school Young Jimmy poured over movie magazines and idolized the female stars of the time, especially Kim Novak. There are a few journal entries from his school days,(“I am in homeroom now. There’s a bunch of chicks in here but they all hate me. Someday I’ll be a movie star and that’s it! I’ll be rich and famous and have all the friends I want.”) He studied cosmetology and eventually made his way to Manhattan, where he underwent hormone therapy.

Now recreated as Candy Darling, she frequented gay bars and eventually met Andy Warhol. Warhol cast her in Flesh and later Women in Revolt aka Sex. After a few theatre credits (Tennessee Williams wrote a part in one of his plays for her), bit parts in the mainstream films Klute and Lady Liberty followed. Candy never got the film role she  wanted most of all though – Myra Breckenridge. She passed away at 30 from lymphoma, as a result of the estrogen injections she received.    

Candy Darling’s preface, written by documentary filmmaker James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar and a introduction/setup by Candy’s friend Jeremiah Newton, familiarizes us with the subject. The entries from Candy’s journals include make-up tips, shopping lists, recipes and letters to friends. Candy writes about her struggles with identity, ambition to become a movie star, and the heartbreak and loneliness of being a transsexual. (She appears not to have any great love of her life). Despite her status as a Warhol superstar and fixture in the backroom of Max’s Kansas City, she had no money and slept on friends’ couches. Being a New York cult figure in the ‘60s and ‘70s made you famous; it didn’t necessarily make you rich.

“They don’t show love in movies anymore, just sex and violence. A man and woman are no longer idealized in pictures but they are shown as a couple of dogs in heat. ”Candy Darling

 Unpublished photo of Candy on the cover of Cosmo

Candy channeled her childhood idol Kim Novak and added a bit of Marilyn Monroe’s vulnerability to her persona. She exuded femininity and charm;when she was fully made-up and “on” strangers had no idea she had been born a man.

 Did anybody really know what a transgender person was in the early ‘70s? That’s probably one of the reasons Walk on the Wild Side became a hit. The public at large didn’t know (or didn’t care) what the lyrics meant.   

Well, maybe some people did. My Mom took me aside and asked me if I knew what Walk on the Wild Side was about. At 13 years old, my girlfriends and I knew the song’s meaning even without the media telling us – and we didn’t even know any gay people. Maybe all those underground zines we got through mail order enlightened us.

It was quite a different world 50 years ago. Now we have Bruce Jenner, Chaz Bono and transgendered teens constantly profiled on Yahoo news next to baseball scores. Back in the day it the different story, as Candy Darling’s colorful but tragic tale attests.  

Amazon Link: 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How I Became a Hollywood Punk Rocker

                                                  Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs

When I moved to Los Angeles (for the first time) in 1983, hard rock was my music of choice - hard rock as in Judas Priest, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, the Scorpions and UFO. I’d heard the Troubadour was the club for metal bands, so I decided to hang out there. Boy, was I in for a surprise! To a kid from the South Side of Chicago, seeing a metal band in a club meant dressing in jeans, a halter top and sneakers, having a few cheap beers and listening to some bluesy hard rock.

Little did I know I would stumble upon the birth of hair metal. The first time I walked into the place, only my platinum blond, permed hair fit in with the unofficial dress code. Seeing a bunch of musicians and clubgoers in leather, spandex, eye shadow and teased hair was nothing new to me. I was in junior high when glam rock was popular, and the first thing I said when I saw the back cover of Motley Crue’s EP Too Fast for Love in ’82 was “How cool! They look like the metal version of the New York Dolls.” I didn’t see Motley Crue at the Troubadour. The only time I ever saw them play was at the US Festival in May of ’83.

 Many of the bands I did see at the Troubadour were weak hybrids of the Crue and Van Halen. Many of them had a David Lee Roth impersonator as lead singer. This was understandable at the time, given Van Halen’s popularity. A blond dye job and obnoxious attitude by themselves did not make a convincing DLR clone, however. Dave dressed in assless chaps, “forgot the fuckin’ words”, banged a lotta girls and did a lot of coke, but he had a sense of humor, which his imitators lacked.

A few months after I moved to LA, I found out Vince Neil was going to join a band called Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs at the Cathay de Grande, a punk rock club in Hollywood. The club was within walking distance of my apartment (i.e. weekly hotel room), so I checked it out. 

I walk downstairs to join about 10 other people in a basement club. The ceiling looks like it is about to fall down and this pudgy guy with dirty blonde hair  -Top Jimmy - is onstage, singing the blues. Everyone was dressed down, with clothes not from a leather shop or Trashy Lingerie, but from the Salvation Army. I strike up a conversation with the kid next to me, who was outfitted in a plaid shirt, homemade bondage pants and Doc Martens.

I look up to see Vince Neil onstage with Jimmy – I didn’t recognize Vince at first cause without his stage gear , he looked like a fresh-faced 16 year old – with perfect platinum blond hair. Then he started singing.

Damn, he could actually sing- he had a bellowy, bluesy voice.  It wasn’t at all like his Motley Crue screech ‘n’ scream vocals. This stellar display of bluesmanship didn’t last long, as Vince left the stage after a few numbers -or was it just one? It’s been a long time.

After Vince left, I bounded up the stairs, but was intercepted by a few of the club’s
patrons. By the time the night was over I had a new musical hangout. I made more friends and had more involved conversations the first few weeks at the Cathay than I had in months at the Troubadour. 

                                                  Not the shirt I had, but a reasonable facsimile

My musical transition was complete. I still kept my favorite T-shirt- a sleeveless white T-shirt with a line drawing of the Crue I got on Hollywood Blvd. I wonder if I would have discovered the Cathay, Top Jimmy and punk rock if Vince Neil hadn't sung with Jimmy that night. I guess you could say I became a Hollywood punk rock because of Vince Neil. (And, yes, I still like Motley Crue and heavy metal. I'm an equal opportunity listener.)   

After my introduction to Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, I traded in Aqua Net for Blue Mondays and my new punk rock friends. Many L.A. musicians and celebrities hung out at the Cathay – the members of X, the Minutemen, Nina Hagen, Jane Wiedlin, Timothy Leary, David Lee Roth, etc, and I met a few of them. And I met the infamous Mentors,  stars of the 1985 PMRC hearings there. And, yes, Top Jimmy was the inspiration for the Van Halen song. Sadly, Jimmy passed away in 2001

There was so much going on in the L.A. club scene then - Goths at the Batcave, the metal stuff on the strip and punk and its offshoots pretty much everywhere. Performance art and poetry readings were included at most of the clubs (except the metal ones). What a great time to be a carefree 20something in Hollywood!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Movie Review: Groupie Girl (aka I Am a Groupie) - British Psych-Pop Cinema, 1970

Not every girl who fancied musicians during the 1960s and early 1970s had the charisma or marketing chutzpah of Pamela Des Barres or Cynthia Plaster Caster. Girls competed for the attention of rock musicians the way girls vie for the attention – and pocketbooks - of entrepreneurs today. Most of the' 60s /'70s groupies, didn’t get a payoff or career boost, unlike today’s girls. No, they were just in it for the adventure. And some of those adventures weren’t much fun.

I Am A Groupie (aka Groupie Girl) is a depressing recreation of the late '60s/ early '70s groupie scene. The screenplay co-written by Derek Ford and Suzanne Mercer. Mercer was a former groupie for the 2nd tier British glam band Juicy Lucy, so that may be one of the reasons this movie is so realistic. It plays out like a dreary, low-rent version of Almost Famous.

Bored small town girl Sally (Esme Johns) attends a rock show and stays in the local dancehall after her friends have caught the last bus home. She likes the looks of the band’s lead singer, and stows away into their van while they load up after the gig. Sally hides in the back until halfway through the trip and suddenly introduces herself to the band. They aren’t too happy to see her, but make the most of it. When the band gets to their destination, it’s not exactly the Riot House on Sunset. In a bleak overhead shot, we see Sally walking around naked in the middle of four twin mattresses, each with one of the band members. But there’s no morning shag for her; she’s ordered to get the band coffee and cornflakes.  

There's not much of an emphasis on music in Groupie Girl. The original music is instantly forgettable. All the songs sound like watered-down Badfinger or the B-side from a 1970ish one-hit wonder band.
Sally wanders lackadaisically through the movie - or maybe the character is just supposed to be permanently stoned. Sally does ingest an entire hash cake near the end of the film, She passes out and avoids getting hauled off to jail with the band and another groupie. She wakes up and wanders into a room where a nice folk musician plays guitar. He  warns her that she’s just being used and will be tossed aside. At the film’s end, we find out he’s just as big of a jerk as the other blokes.   

 The only other female characters in the film are groupies, and catfights resulting in nudity ensue. There’s a sex party scene orchestrated by an older guy, who convinces the hippie kids it will be fun. One of the band members slyly avoids a pushy older woman, who’s obviously after him, during the free-for-all. In another scene, Sally is demoted to #3 groupie as one of the band members dallies with twins.  

In a final humiliation, she is, quite literally, passed from one band to another in one scene with tragic consequences. This leads to a cover-up by the band’s sleazy manager – and Sally is sent packing by film’s end.

Groupie Girl is a somber and interesting period piece – much more watchable than you might expect, given the subject matter. It’s Brit-psych exploitation with a serious thread running through it. It reminds me of Up the Junction and other films about working-class England in the '60s and '70s more than soft core exploitation. Groupie Girl bears no resemblance to the free-spirited “the music is all that matters”/"I'm a muse" credo of Almost Famous. The groupie scene in this film is the flipside to all that feel-good, Band-Aid glamour. You can watch the movie for free on YouTube. (see below)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review : They Made a Monkee Out of Me by Davy Jones -2014 Reissue

They Made a Monkee Out of Me
Davy Jones with Alan Green
A Book’s Mind, 248 pages

Davy’s long out of print autobiography, They Made a Monkee Out of Me, is now available as a paperback and Kindle e-book on Amazon.com. For years, you had to either find an expensive, dog-eared copy from a reseller or buy it as an audiobook, with Davy reading it! The audiobook is still available.

The 248 page reissue is a informative, fun and sometimes melancholy trip through Davy’s life from his upbringing in Manchester to the 1986 Monkees reunion. (The book was first published in January 1987).

Some of the book is silly and over the top like Davy could be, but its also much more than that. Davy’s memoir is funny and self-deprecating, but it’s also brutally honest and self-aware. His co-author, Alan Green, contributes excerpts that are a bit more journalistic and even handed in their approach.

Davy sugarcoats the chapters about his childhood with humor, but you can still sense the pain. There’s s a sadness to his childhood the prose can’t hide. His family lived in a working-class neighborhood in Manchester, and Davy’s Mom Doris died when he was still in school. He went right from this hard-scrabbled but loving childhood to a jockey apprenticeship and then onto showbiz, appearing on Coronation Street in the UK and Oliver! in the UK and on Broadway.

He writes about the non-stop practicing and improvising in the early days of the Monkees, his friendships with Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, and encounters with crazy fans (and nice ones!)
As for his Monkee bandmates, he seems to have the most reverence for Peter. Sure, he makes fun of Peter’s brown rice and waterbed phase in the ‘60s, but also says Peter was the most talented musician in the group. Peter also adds a short anecdote to the book, writing about  slugging Davy during the filming of “The Monkees’ Paw”.

About his first meeting with Mike, he jokes “I didn’t like the looks of this. He was slim, dark-haired and good-looking.”

Davy reserves a bit of rancor for Micky, nicknaming him “Skillet Face.” He obviously had a lot of admiration and respect for Micky, but they had a love/hate relationship, at least at the time the book was written in 1986. They hadn’t talked for years before the 1986 reunion.
Davy makes a lot of funny asides about his drinking in the book. His drinking problem was a lot worse than he let on, but at least he was self aware about all his problems, including bad business decisions.

I get the sense Davy was on his own most of the time in regards to business matters (or he was led astray by people he trusted). He got swindled a lot because of it. There are several pictures of contracts and business letters attesting to this. Of course, Davy being as stubborn as he was, maybe he wouldn’t have listened to legitimate business advice anyway! And there was a lot of underlying sadness from his childhood, his father’s death and all the clutter caused by the Monkees’ quick fame.

A few Davy quotes from the book –

 About breaking the ice when Mike got combative with Micky and Peter:
 “Pick on someone your own size.”  I was looking him straight in the stomach.
 About being broke in the early ‘70s:
 “A lot of people are surprised you came out of that whole thing with so little,” says a radio interviewer.
 “Not at all. Can you lend me a fiver?”
 About Micky:
“We rub each other the wrong way – like whenever we’re in the same country.”
Davy writes about his pursuit of - and marriage to - his first wife Linda, doing an impromptu striptease at the Caddyshack premiere in London (in front of his mortified second wife Anita), showering himself with salad in front of his new bandmates at a Denny’s, and other typical Davy antics. He even donned scuba gear and clown nose to get a laugh out of a humorless theater co-star during his post-Monkees days. (It didn’t work.)

Even if Davy’s not your favorite Monkee, you should read They Made a Monkee Out of Me. It doesn’t look like Peter or Mike will write autobiographies. (Peter started one, but shelved it. I think some pages from it appeared on Naked Persimmon). So that means we just have Micky and Davy’s side of the story. It shows how debilitating the rags to riches to rags phenomenon can be. As Davy wrote near the end of the book, “Everything we promoted we got to keep…except ourselves.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Records Truly is My Middle Name by John Records Landecker

Records Truly is My Middle Name
By John Records Landecker with Rick Kaempfer
Eckhartz Press
277 pages

As a kid in Chicago in the early 1970s, I listened to Larry Lujack and his Cheap Trashy Showbiz Report, Klunk Letter of the Day, and sourpuss meanderings. In college in the early '80s, the irreverent banter of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier kept me entertained between classes. During high school in the mid '70s, my radio go-to guy was John Records Landecker, of Boogie Check fame.

In Landecker’s autobiography, Records Truly is My Middle Name, (Eckhartz Press) Landecker explains that, yes, Records is his real middle name, not a stage moniker. He even includes a photo of his selective service card in the book to prove it. John's mother, Marjorie Records married sociology professor Werner Landecker, so yes, his mother's  maiden name truly was Records, and John incorporated that in his on-air persona. Of course, it sounded too good to be true and  many fans, myself include, surmised it was a stage name.

When your Mom’s maiden name is Records, a career in radio is your destiny. Landecker's first radio gig, in Flint, Michigan in 1965 on a station that required all DJs to use the last name Jones on-air. Naturally, John chose the name Dow Jones. He made his major market debut  at WBIG in Philadelphia from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s, with  fellow DJs Jerry Blavat (The Geator with the Heater), Hy Lit and Joe Niagara.

1974 Boogie Check


Landecker begins each chapter with a round-up of the top events of each decade, setting the backdrop for the revelations to follow.   The book is an engaging read that isn't just for radio buffs. It's a rollercoaster ride through the prime decades of rock 'n' roll, told from the POV of someone who was well-known enough to glimpse the inner workings of rock's hedonistic years, but down to earth enough to retain a realistic attitude for most of the ride..

Landecker’s autobiography entertaining is just as much fun when he focuses on his personal life as when he writes about his radio  shenanigans. Many times, readers of pop culture autobiographies complain about the author including too many personal anecdotes that  aren't as interesting as events in the author's professional life. Landecker’s life out of the broadcast booth is just as  interesting to read as his DJ exploits.’’John's father Werner Landecker, was the last German Jew to earn a law degree in Germany before World War II. Werner immigrated to the Untried States and married Indiana farmgirl and 4H winner Marjorie Records.. The story of how, they met, stopped at an intersection in separate cars, is a cute meet worthy of a remake novel. Werner and Marjorie married, and their first child John was born  on March 28, 1947. Landecker’s  childhood and  adolescence mirrored that of your typical Baby Boomer  He writes about playing football in high school,  being in class when a student-teacher tearfully announced President Kennedy’s assassination. Other, less serious, rites of passage included discovering that the lyrics to Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen were dirty, (The lyrics weren’t actually dirty. It was an urban legend), and  watching the Beatles - and Mitzi Gaynor in a low cut dress - on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. As the book moves on, we learn about Landecker's tumultuous second marriage to a hellion named Paula and his financial victimization at the hands of a once-trusted manager. 

Landecker’s  halcyon years at WLS in Chicago  from 1972 to 1981. During his signature bit, The Boogie Check, he fielded calls from listeners unafraid to be goofy. Landecker outdid them at their own game with glib comments. Spinning Seasons in the SunEres Tu and other cheesy Top 40 songs would bore anyone, so the DJs had to be wacky to keep  listeners interested – and keep themselves from falling asleep!  Personality based radio flourished at this time, featuring bits that entertained in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge way; shock jocks had  yet to take over the airwaves. Landecker’s fellow DJs at WLS  included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston and Bob Sirott.

Studio A: Profile of a Disc Jockey

Landecker recorded two comedy singles, Make a Date with the Watergate and Press My Conference,  poking fun at President Nixon and the Watergate scandal Make a Date, a parody of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. Despite being big hits with listeners, the songs were temporarily shelved when an ABC affiliate in Florida, up for license renewal, freaked out over their (relatively innocuous by today's standards) content.

During Landecker’s tenure at WLS, other highlights included a personal appearance with John Travolta  (then a teen idol as Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter) at a suburban Chicago shopping mall.  The promo drew 30,000 screaming teenage girls. I remember hearing the broadcast live that night. It sounded like a 747 taking off. Many of the bands of the time  stopped by, co-hosting and commenting on records, and Landecker premiered Lady by Styx on his show, the song that propelled the band to stardom.

Like many other DJs and musicians,  Landecker fell prey to rock ‘n” roll excess. He woke up one day on a flight over the Grand Canyon with no recollection of how he got there. His drinking escalated to the point where he drank vodka openly in the studio. He divorced his first wife (his high school sweetheart), married a trophy wife, then a much younger woman before marrying his fourth wife and soulmate Nika.    

After leaving Chicago for a gig in Toronto,( followed by an unsuccessful return to Chicago radio) Landecker hit rock bottom with alcohol and drugs. After conquering his demons, he reemerged on Chicago radio, settling in with a well-received shows on WJMK, a  band  and a syndicated  show called “Into the 70s” for TKO Networks. He is currently broadcasting on WLS-FM (Chicago’s Classic Hits) weeknights from 8pm to 11pm.

Records Truly is My Middle Name is sure to stir great memories for Chicago radio fans who grew up in the 1970s, or any Baby Boomer who grew up on AM radio.

 Press My Conference and Make a Date with the Watergate

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"