Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sleaze Rock

Instead of lamenting the deafening dullness of contemporary pop/rock  music, I'll give it the Sleaze Rock treatment.... these guys (and gals) make it way too easy.  Here's a stingy slice of the sleazy pie, for your listening and reading pleasure.

This sleaze rock special is Fit For Rivals - "Damage" those old rock music war horses: padded rooms, straightjackets, prescription pills and suicide  are dragged out and flogged to death.  Renee Phoenix sings with her eyeballs, which is not as easy as it sounds.   Top YouTube Comment: Would You Do Me The Honer Of Living A Love Story With Me? Or Maybe Marring Me? technofanify

This sleaze rock special is  "Knives and Pens"  from Black Veil Brides, reminding us that foppish emo kids get picked on in school. Spoiler alert: the drummer is a girl and not some freakish dwarf.  The anti-bullying thing sorta takes the piss out of my comments. Top YouTube comment: Not to be rude. But how does being over the age of 13 make you a dumb ass?"  ShineyaInWonderland

This sleaze rock special Blood On The Dance Floor's "Believe" hits a new low for excruciating power ballads. Jayy (because one Y just won't do) is an emo dead ringer for Ashton Kutchner. Dahvie sounds just like Chris Lilley's schoolgirl (in drag) Ja'mie King.... yeah you see where this is going. Top YouTube Comment: "One guy is fat as fuck and sounds like that parrot that records your voice then plays it back in the most annoying way possible. NikkayStephayy

This sleaze rock special "Never Look Back" by The Nearly Deads comes with a warning: "This is what happens when rock and roll mix with the living dead" The Nearly Deads do sound like they have one foot in the grave. Top YouTube Comment: "Hey im young and the only one that i bash around is justin bieber noone else now shut up about how young we are because you are just old...  punkybrewster

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Death Chronicles

‘If they make us change our name, then every little thing they see in us they’re gonna wanna change — the music, the style, the concept. Once we change that name, we belong to them. Once we give in to that, Death is, well, dead.’” David Hackney

The death defying resurrection of Death, is quite possibly one of the biggest stories in the annals of rock music. Death's post mortal rise from the ashes of obscurity and into the bosoms of music critics and fans of obscure music is unprecedented. By comparison, both The Shags and The Monks were as familiar as daybreak when the culture vultures pulled them out of history's dustbin. Whether they were the proto-punk originals that everyone makes them out to be or just opportunistic musicians attempting to glam on to a happening scene is surely up for debate.

Regardless of their motives, Death (the brothers Hackney: David, Dannis & Bobby) are either the missing link that ties The Stooges and the MC5 to The Ramones & The New York Dolls or the missing piece between the bombastic overkill of Grand Funk Railroad and the gonzo arena rock of Ted Nugent. Therein lies the rub about Detroit rock, in small doses it was brilliant. Not that any of its protagonists were capable of doing things in a small way. No Sir! every last one of them was gloriously over the top, Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Mark Farner, Suzi Quatro, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, The MC5, Brownsville Station, even Madonna Ciccone.

Detroit rockers were always better as the proverbial underdog. All too often (as in every last one of them) once they hit the charts,  they whored out like a prozy on Michigan Ave. I could draw a parallel with the Bob Seger System, ramblin' & gamblin' Bob's band before he got famous and jammed his insincere "road" ballads down our throats. (on a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha... ad nauseum!) We earnestly waited so long for Bob Seger to "make it" and our reward turned out to be the aural equivalent of a greasy tub ring.

How do three African-American brothers from Detroit, (the home of Motown) wind up playing hard rock? Initially they played R&B (as Rock Fire Funk Express) the switch to rock is said to have come after they saw The Who & Alice Cooper perform. (David would emulate Pete Townshends' technique) David Hackney claimed that rock music came naturally to the brothers, from the time they witnessed The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. After that, David picked up an old guitar and taught himself to play.

"One guy from San Francisco said, ‘I’m gonna pray for you guys to get a better name"

Guitarist, David Hackney's choice of Death as the band's name, was meant to be thought provoking. He had a contrary view of death, "his concept was spinning death from the negative to the positive" said Bobby Hackney in 2010, while adding "It was a hard sell" After originally calling themselves the Rock Fire Funk Express (sounds like one of those pizza parlor animatronic robot bands) David convinced his brothers to change the name of the band to Death. (he dramatically pronounced it  Deeeth!)  Just as well, Rock Fire Funk Express didn't go with the band's new style of music.

David pushed the band in a musical direction that presaged punk,  which didn't help them win over any African-American fans. "We didn't fit in all all" recalled Bobby Hackney "The rock bands that we identified with (The Stooges, The MC5, Amboy Dukes).... we didn't hang out with those guys. He explained, "We were in the inner city, on the east side, in the black community" They were cutting against the grain, "People just looked at us like we was weird, after we got done with a song, instead of cheering and clapping, people would just be looking at us"

With Dannis on drums, Bobby on bass, lead vocals and David on guitar, Death started playing gigs on Detroit's east side. The reactions ranged from confusion to derision, Bobby recalled "We were ridiculed because at the time everybody was into the Philadelphia sound" (Earth,Wind & Fire, the Isley Bros.) People thought we were doing some weird stuff, we were pretty aggressive about playing rock & roll, because there were so many voices around us trying to get us to abandon it" The brothers persevered, bulldozing their way through the east side like urban renewal.

David's lyrics and music didn't retain a hint of the band's soul/funk roots, instead he opted for an explicitly political approach that was more in line (albeit, toned down) with John Sinclair's radical political ideology. Sinclair had formed the militantly anti-racist White Panther Party. A group, formed in response to The Black Panthers call for the white counter culture movement to support them. Sinclair (who once managed The MC5) may have had some collateral influence on Death, though it's not known if he ever actually met them. 

The exact year that Rock Fire Funk Express became Death, is hard to pin down. Some sources claim Death was formed in 1971, while others say the switch took place in 1973. What we do know for certain is that in 1974, after recording a demo (which circulated around Detroit) it was decided that Death was ready to record an album. They allegedly picked a studio by throwing a dart at a section of the yellow pages ripped from a phone book. The dart landed on Groovesville Productions, which was operated by Don Davis, a producer and musician for Stax records. 

"They were just so impressive and the sound was just so big for three guys" said Brian Spears, who oversaw their recording sessions. "I knew those kids were great, but trying to break a black group into rock & roll was just tough during that time" The plan was to record twelve tracks for the album and then shop it around to the major labels. Clive Davis, the man with the midas touch at Columbia Records, was in the process of signing artists for his new label, Arista Records, he expressed interest in signing the band, under one condition.

Clive Davis insisted that the band change their name. "Nobody could get past the name" Spears recalled "It seemed to be a real detriment, when you said the name of the group to anybody, it was like.... Man! why you calling the group Death?" The name change was a deal breaker, "That's when my brother David got a little angry" said Dannis Hackney, "He told Don Davis to tell Clive Davis... "Hell No!"  With seven tracks in the can, the sessions came to a screeching halt. While that act of defiance added to the legend of Death, at the time it killed whatever momentum they had going.

Rumor has it that David Hackney was working on a rock opera about death, thus his steadfast refusal to change the band's name. There were other factors as well "He strongly believed that we could get a contract with another record label" added Bobby "We were young and cocky, but David was the cockiest of us all" In 1976 Death released a single Politicians in my Eyes/ Keep on Knocking on their own label, Tryangle.  However, disco had taken over the airwaves and there was no room for their style of rock music. 

Side Note:  Years later, Don Davis barely remembered working with the band. He couldn't recall if Clive Davis had a specific issue with the name.  A spokesperson for Clive Davis stated that Clive had no recollection of the group or of any meeting concerning it.  

Disenchanted with the process, the brothers moved to Burlington,Vt., "So, we came up here to clear our heads for a couple of weeks" said Bobby "that was like thirty something years ago" "We're still clearing our heads" added Dannis. In Burlington, they resurfaced as The 4th Movement, a gospel rock band that released two albums in the early 1980s. David returned to Detroit in 1982 and stayed involved in the local music scene until his death from lung cancer in 2000. Bobby & Dannis put together Lambsbread, a popular reggae/jam band with eight albums to their credit.

The master tracks for the United Sound studio sessions went unheard for over thirty years. The key to the rebirth of Death was the single released in 1976. Julian Hackney, himself a musician, heard the Tryangle single played at a party in San Francisco. He recognized his father's voice, and passed the news on to Bobby Sr. (who had the United tracks in his attic) after listening to them, they determined that they had something special on their hands. Bobby Jr. did a Google search and discovered that the single was the holy grail for vinyl collectors.

Around that same time, record collector Robert Manis purchased a copy of the single for $800 in cash & trade on eBay. Then by pure luck, he saw a post Bobby Jr. had left on a message board announcing the rediscovery of the Death tapes. Manis immediately connected with the Hackney's and put them in touch with Drag City, a Chicago indie label. "The music is an undeniable combination of classic and punk rock elements" declared Rian Murphy of Drag City records. The seven tracks from the aborted United Studio/Groovesville sessions finally see the light of day.

The subsequent album "For the Whole World to See" soon had music critics and musicians acting like giddy fanboys. "You can put the needle down on that record in any given place and just be completely transported" crowed Drag City Records. Jack White of the White Stripes (a native of Detroit) said "When I was told the history of the band and what year they record this music, it just didn't make sense. Ahead of punk... and ahead of their time" Death had preceded Bad Brains, the standard bearer for black punk bands by almost five years.

To my untrained ears, there is an element of punk in their music, but those expecting gabba gabba hey or blitzkrieg bop, will be disappointed.  The band's influences lean more towards classic hard rock, (Jimi Hendrix, Stooges, Amboy Dukes, Detroit Wheels, MC5, Alice Cooper) That's not to say their music is wholly derivative. David Hackney used his influences (Jim McCarty, Ted Nugent, Ron Asheton, Fred Smith, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix) to fuse together a hybrid that under better circumstances could have developed into something unique.

Ultimately, David Hackney, is the real story here. "For the Whole World to See" is a tour de force for David's songwriting and guitar skills. He was a visionary, at a time when black rock musicians were few and far between, David Hackney was boldly in command of his own destiny. (rock music, with a few rare exceptions, would soon regress to its lily white nature) Death's sudden acclaim has surprised many (including his brothers) but David had predicted that one day, fame would find Death. Says Bobby, "David knew it and always believed it, much more than we did"

This renewed interest in the band led to Bobby & Dannis reforming Death along with Lambsbread guitarist Bobbie Duncan. This resulted in a series of appearances (including South by Southwest) and a second album released by Drag City earlier this year "Spiritual.Mental.Physical"  The new long player is made up of demos recorded prior to the United sessions.

Richard Pryor once said "Death is the ultimate test for yo' ass"  Richard in the guise of Mudbone was talking about the cessation of life and not the Hackney Bros' power trio or the late Chuck Schuldiner's Orlando, Fl. based grindcore band, Death. (what is it about Orlando and death metal?) Richard Pryor failed that test, as do we all. The nature of death has long been a concern for all of us, so we're basically agreed upon, and I won't quibble over semantics.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mariachi Rawk

Ah!.... Los Mariachis!, you either love them or hate them. To some, this is the music that plays in heaven, and for others it's a cacophony of noise. The style has its roots in the Mexican state of Jalisco, originally it was played only with string instruments. The name "Mariachi" is believed to be a corruption of the French word "mariage" or marriage. This makes sense, seeing how the music was commonly played at weddings.

There is however, a longstanding dispute concerning the origins of the name. Some scholars argue that it dates back to the time before the arrival of the Spaniards. In fact, the name could be of indigenous origin...  for those who want to argue that point (I for one, don't feel the need)  The music is based on instruments introduced by the Spanish, which were then modified both in shape and tuning to suit the taste of the locals.

Mariachi has always been grounded in the European musical traditions (opera, waltzes, polkas) But,  as the style migrated into the urban centers of Guadalajara and Mexico City, it took on its now familiar sound and appearance. Trumpets were added and the vocalists adapted  romantic (bolero) or falsetto (huapango) vocal styles. Normally the singers were unamplified, so projecting over the music was vital.

The musicians also adopted the traditional charro costume of the "charreada" (an event similar to rodeo) a style of dress native to Jalisco. Following the Mexican Revolution, Mariachi spread out across Mexico as waves of National pride swept the nation. Mariachi was promoted as a symbol of Mexican identity, becoming the common thread that helped to heal a nation still reeling from years of bloody civil war. 

In the 1940s & 50s, Mariachi (or Ranchera) films dominated the  "Golden Age" of Mexican cinema. Meanwhile, the music took over Mexican radio, spurred on by the vocal talents of  Pedro Infante, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Javier Solis, Jorge Negrete, Lola Beltran & Lucha Villa. The integration of women into the genre added a new and dynamic dimension and they are now an integral part of Mariachi music at every level.  

Mash-ups are popular right now, this trendy style of mixing is accomplished by weaving or working two separate songs into one. It's only natural that this would only lead to more experimentation on the part of producers and musicians. For instance, what would happen if you took the dog eared pop ballads of The Fab Four and mashed 'em up with Mexican Mariachi music?.....  put your imagination to rest,  for there's a musical group in Albuquerque that is doing just that. 

The Mariachi Mystery Tour is the brainchild of Albuquerque musician, Lorenzo Martinez. For the last twenty years Lorenzo and his brother Roberto Jr. have been members (along with their father, Roberto Sr.) of Los Reyes de Albuquerque, a keystone mariachi group on the Duke City Hispanic music scene. Lorenzo is also a lifetime fan of The Beatles, as is Roberto Jr. With this in mind, the combination of Mersey & Mariachi doesn't seem all that farfetched.

Through the efforts of these two accomplished musicians it really does work, without sounding forced or trite. The two types of music complement each other, George Martin's original string and brass arrangements do translate well into the Mariachi idiom. It also helps that Roberto Martinez Jr. has the vocals down pat (with a hint of Brit accent) and he actually resembles Paul McCartney (complete with Revolver-era Beatles haircut) “Both musical styles, Beatles and mariachi, are part of my heart and soul.” Says Roberto Jr.

In an interview on Public Radio International’s The World, (August 12, 2011)  Roberto Martinez Jr. spoke with reporter Betto Arcos, about the concept behind The Mariachi Mystery Tour.

"I love singing Beatles songs, its kinda part of my DNA and I love Mariachi"

"My brother (Lorenzo) got a good little mariachi group together and we started recording in a tiny little studio in SW Albuquerque.... we did something like eight or ten songs"

"So, some songs like 'And I Love Her' for example, are very easy to do in a bolero, mariachi style...  so yes, some of the tunes really lend themselves in one way and yes there are challenges

"We do 'Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and that one you just kinda gotta go for it and it drive home, but with Mariachi instruments, in a Mariachi flavor"

Those  Albuquerque recording sessions resulted in the homespun album "Mariachi Mystery Tour" released in 2010 and available on Amazon, CD Baby and elsewhere. CD Baby declares it to be "a tour-de-force artistic and cultural collision, takes a trip up the Mersey and down the Thames, all the while staying close to the banks of the Rio Grande" And that is why the writers at CD Baby get paid the big bucks, that's a mouthful and it's also right on the money. 

The Mariachi Mystery Tour is the peerless blending of two very distinct styles of music and culture into one seamless and entertaining celebration of pop music and Mexican ranchera. And, let's not leave Lorenzo Martinez, The Mariachi Mystery Tour founder and musical director out of this. Roberto being the front man gets the attention, but it's Lorenzo who's paying attention to all the details that go into making this a successful musical venture.

How did all this start?.... my best guess would be that Atlanta based Mariachi Cabos got things rolling with their tongue in cheek rendition of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (500,000 views on YouTube and counting) It's a tawdry version, the accents and the enthusiasm collide with one's memory of the original. (teecher! leave los kids alone) Recorded at La Fogata in Chapin, S.C. Mariachi Cabos is on display in their native element: a busy restaurant/bar, entertaining diners in the time honored north of the border mariachi style.

The informal setting results in  cringe worthy vocals (unamplified in true mariachi fashion) and poorly tuned instruments.  Mariachi Cabos has several videos up on YouTube (none as sensational as "The Wall), they also cover The Beatles (badly), War, Santana, Charlie Daniels (their version of Devil Went Down to Georgia is hilarious)and the portly singer moonwalks during their cover of "Beat it"  These guys play it loose as a goose, their audience is liquored up, content and feeling no pain or malice.

With music ever evolving, you are certain to see and hear some of the best songs of all time being remade. Sometimes (though rarely), the remakes are as good, or even better than the originals. The Mariachi Mystery Tour plays it straight, almost reverent in their approach.  Mariachi Cabos, is on the opposite end of the spectrum, they are The Coasters, to the Mariachi Mystery Tour's Drifters. Though, it turns out they're both just part of a larger trend that's catching on both in the U.S. and Mexico.

Mariachi Rock-o, takes a different approach, the producers (Alejandro Perez & Fernando Chavez) want to build a new wave of Mariachi music that is a combination of popular rock and alternative songs played by a traditional mariachi. To this end, they recruited various talented rock vocalists from a wide range of Mexican rock bands to accompany the mariachis. 

This includes, Chemín Santillánes (Plástiko), Memo Andrés (Disforia) , Tommy Martz, Ugo Rodríguez (Azul Violeta, Yoyo Breakers, José Fors's Frankenstein), Sexilia, José Manuel Aguilera (La Barranca), Juan Son, (Porter), Henry Renau (Afro Brothers), Paola Vergara, Fernando Moreno, Fabián de loza, Leonardo de Lozanne (Fobia, Los Concorde)Paco Aguayo (Seamus) Top notch groups like, Mariachi Vargas, Internacional Sol de America, Gallos de Mexico, Mariachi Garibaldi, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan join in the fray.

The two disc album, "Mariachi Rock-o" (subtitled El Sonido de Jalisco I-II) was released in 2011 (recorded in Los Angeles, Ca., Guadalajara and Mexico City) and features songs by Coldplay, Radiohead, The Eagles, Oasis, The Killers,  to name a few. The producers don't just limit themselves to covering English language rock music, songs from Spain's Mano Negra and Enrique Bunbury are also dealt with swiftly and efficiently. It's a serious effort, not meant as a novelty. The goal of the project is to broaden horizons and change perspectives.

It succeeds at that, thanks to the inventive  arrangements of Pepe Martinez, Alfonso Escobar, Juan Hernandez and Jeff Nevins. Who don't just mimic the originals, but rather allow the vocalist and the mariachi  accompaniment to transform and shift the music to their style. It doesn't always work, their plodding version of Oasis' "Wonderwall" stumbles about and Radiohead's "No Surprises" is grounded by the singer's shaky command of English.  But!.... when it does work, the results are sweet (The Killers, Mano Negra, Annie Lennox)

Just like all those "rock-ala-bluegrass" albums that have proliferated over the past several years, "rock en estilo de mariachi" is also trending.  Mariachillout is the perfect example, this anonymous mariachi group has released a series of albums in which they interpet the music of Queen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees.  They're all quite good, except for one glaring omission.... vocals! Their expert renditions of these classic tunes screams out for some vocalization.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" without the "Mama Mia, Mama Mia... let me go!" is just crass and pointless.  Mariachillout is nothing more than an updated version of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (Alpert is the only recording artist to hit #1 on the US charts both as an instrumentalist and as a vocalist) Mariachillout are the mute, bastard children of Esquivel and Lucha Villa, plying south of the border lounge music for trendy hipster lounge lizards.

Is America ready for mariachi rock? Joe "Fucking" Arpaio be damned!  I think we are. Although it's in vogue to hate Mexicans at the moment, you know that we're as much a part of the USA as the Irish. As Chingo Bling would say, "you can't deport us all, culeros!"  So what if we speak Spanish with an English accent, get over it. Just sit back, put some hot sauce on that burrito, slap some Trini Lopez on the turntable and tune in the telly to Jose Jimenez, welcome to America...  the home of mariachi. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Death By Misadventure: Sam Cooke

I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like that river I've been running ever since

Conspiracy buffs always ignore the most obvious evidence or facts in front of them. Sam Cooke's death being a perfect example. Cooke's demise in the wee hours of Dec. 11th. 1964 (at the hands of terrified motel manager, Bertha Franklin, who was armed with a .22 handgun and a broom stick) has sparked the imagination of conspiracy theorists. However, once you strip away all the wild eyed accusations of LAPD cover-up or West Coast mafia hitmen,  what it boils down to is that Sam Cooke was a victim of his own drunken stupidity and unbridled libido.

The Sam Cooke murder case is often compared to that of Bobby Fuller, although the similarities are superficial and trivial (both died in Los Angeles, both were singers/musicians, both were connected to Bob Keane, both had insatiable sex drives) While Fuller's death was and is, shrouded in mystery (such as his whereabouts before he was killed and who he was with) Sam Cooke's final hours were well documented and witnessed by several people up until his final and fatal encounter at The Hacienda Motel. We may never know who killed Bobby Fuller, but we damn well know who killed Sam Cooke.... Bertha Franklin.

Those that refuse to accept the stated facts in the case of Sam Cooke, are apologists driven to propagate a false image of who he really was. That he was killed after being scammed by a prostitute just didn’t make sense to many people. His sister, Agnes Cooke-Hoskins, still discounts all the pertinent facts, 'My brother was first class all the way. He would not check into a $3 a night motel; that wasn’t his style", and yet there he was at a $3 a night motel with a prostitute at 3am and he signed in using his own name. Cooke, had no problem looking at himself in the mirror and knowing who and what he was. Though it appears, that to this day his family still can't do the same.

Sam Cook (he later added the "e", because he thought it had class) fell under the spell of the black snake moan at an early age. Simply put, he was a whore monger (his manager Bumps Blackwell famously stated that Sam "would  walk past a good girl to get to a whore" Sam's friend and back-up singer, Bobby Womack was quoted as saying "a $500 high hooker would do what you needed, no questions asked" and that was something that appealed to Sam. With good reason, when you consider that almost from the start of his singing career, he was dogged by paternity suits. To Sam's way of thinking, prostitutes were safe, good girls were nothing but trouble.

Cooke had that certain charismatic, romantic capability with women, a natural born honeydripper. A man gifted with the exquisite ability to swoon the opposite sex. Not that he had to, they were drawn to him, like bees to nectar. From an early age, while performing in Chicago area churches and later with The Soul Stirrers, women flocked to see and hear Sam perform. Sexual opportunities arose and he wasn't one to say no. (at one point he was juggling three different pregnant girlfriends in two different cities) He literally left a trail of pregnant women and in his wake.

Sam was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, one of eight children born to Rev. Charles & Annie Cook. The family moved to Chicago in 1933, Rev. Cook's southern firebrand style of preaching attracted some followers, but the singing abilities of his children drew even more. they started performing as Rev. Cook and His Singing Children. Sam sang backup behind his siblings, but it soon became obvious that he possessed a unique and distinctive voice. Before long, Sam struck out on his own, forming a gospel quintet called the Highway QCs.

They covered  the music of the Soul Stirrers, a Texas gospel group led by vocalist R.H. Harris. Sam's ability to mimic Harris' vocal mannerisms led to his being hired to replace R.H. in 1956. The Soul Stirrers hit the Chitlin' Circuit and eventually wound up in Los Angeles, where they signed with Specialty Records (the same label as Little Richard) The group scored several gospel hits, but Sam had his mind set on crossing over to the pop charts. Cooke wanted to emulate his idols Nat King Cole & The Ink Spots (he had attended the same Chicago Hs. as Cole)

Looking to avoid the trap of being categorized as a "race act" Sam recorded his first pop single "Loveable" in 1956. He took on the alias of Dale Cooke, in order to not alienate his gospel fans. The single did well enough, that plans were made for Sam to branch out into secular music. However, a dispute between Cooke, Bumps Blackwell & Art Rupe (owner of Specialty Records) led to Sam quitting the Soul Stirrers and seeking out another label to sign with. That's where Bob Keane and his tiny upstart label Keen Records entered the picture.

Keane signed Cooke  and released "Summertime" (the Gershwin standard from Porgy & Bess, Art Rupe had opposed Sam's use of the song, leading to the split) backed by a pop tune co-written by Sam and his brother L.C. "You Send Me", the Gershwin number was the A-side, but disc jockeys insisted on sending "You Send Me" straight up the charts. And just like that, Sam Cooke was at the top of the pops.  "You Send Me", spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and three weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart. 

The hits kept coming for Sam Cooke, although he never scored another #1 hit on the pop charts (Chain Gang peaked at #2)  Three other singles broke into the pop top ten (Twistin' the Night Away, Another Saturday Night, Shake) On the r & b charts, he had four #1 hits, six #2 hits (twenty top ten hits in all) In 1961 Cooke signed with RCA/Victor receiving a then unheard of $100,000 bonus. His contract granted him control over his recordings, a clause that astonished the music business at the time.

Sam went even further by starting his own record label, SAR records (Lou Rawls, Bobby Womack, The Valentinos, Johnnie Taylor) a music publishing company and a management firm. In the genre of modern Soul music, Sam Cooke was the originator, "the Father of Soul" His blend of gospel and pop styles, combined with an unmatched sensuality and sex appeal put him over the top. But, that's not to undermine his talents & abilities as a sophisticated vocalist, supreme songwriter and shrewd business man (probably the equal of Barry Gordy)

Sam had sold over 10 million records, his future in entertainment had unlimited potential. Furthermore, he had become involved in the Civil rights movement, with his song "a Change is Gonna Come" becoming an anthem for marchers and protestors. However, lurking just under the surface was Sam's Achilles heel... his sexual addiction.  He married Dee Dee Mohawk, a singer from Texas, but she divorced him due to his wandering eye. (this was just as You Send Me hit the charts) Sam then married Barbara Campbell, with whom he had already fathered three children. (In 1963, their son Vincent tragically drowned in the front yard swimming pool of their home)

Side Notes: (1) Sam's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was cut short due to time constraints, Sullivan introduced Cooke, who lip synced the opening line of You Send Me and then the track was abruptly cut off as he continued to mouth the lyrics. Sam and his manager Bumps Blackwell were furious as Sullivan profusely apologized. Phone calls poured in demanding to know why Cooke had been cut off, Sullivan immediately rescheduled Sam for another appearance. The second time around everything ran smoothly, and Sam shot up the charts as a result.  (2) During one of his final television appearances (The Tonight Show in 1964) Sam was asked to sing one of his hit songs, instead he steadfastly insisted on singing "A Change is Gonna Come" much to the chagrin of the show's producers. (3) Bob Keane was founder and co-owner of Keen Records, but after the success of You Send Me, his partners forced him out. He rebounded by forming Del Fi Records and signing a chubby Mexican kid from Pacoima.

"Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent, for in this case there are no innocents"

Los Angeles, December 10, 1964, 9 p.m., Martoni's...  Sam Cooke is already well into his cups on the last night of his life. Cooke is having dinner with producer Al Schmitt & Schmitt's wife, Joan. Well wishers have been interrupting their conversation, while they wait for their dinner order to arrive. Sam, already boozy, excuses himself and goes to the bar.  There a young Asian girl caught his eye. She's Elisa Boyer (her mother was Chinese, her father English) and she was in the company of a guitar player that Sam knew.

Sam quickly latched on to her, he then informed Al Schmitt & his wife to continue without him and he would meet them later at  P.J.'s  Al Schmitt would later state  that Sam was flashing a large wad bills and buying drinks for everyone at the bar. Cooke and Boyers retreated to a booth where they were seen getting cozy with one another. At 1 a.m. Sam called for his brand new red Ferrari and along with Boyer left for P.J.'s Nightclub.  When they arrived at the club, Sam discovered that the Schmitts had tired of waiting and gone home.

"We had a little incident at PJ's," Boyer said  "We were sitting at the very entrance, and some people came over and Mr. Cooke started talking with them ... I was just sitting there ... A gentleman sat next to me and started talking to me and Mr. Cooke got quite angry and wanted to hit the man ... That's why we left." Boyer later says that she asked to be taken home. Sam, had other plans, instead he took the freeway back toward downtown. "He was going very fast in his car.

I told him I wanted to go home ... He took the freeway .... I was very frightened because he was driving so fast ... He said, 'Don't worry, I'll take you home.'  "After we got past downtown, I asked him again to take me home. He kept talking to me, saying how he thought I was such a lovely person, and I had such long, pretty hair ... I said, "Please, Mr. Cooke, take me home" At 2:30 a.m.  Sam & Elisa arrived at the Hacienda Motel on Figueroa St. in Watts. Sam looking rather disheveled goes to the office and greets Bertha Franklin, the manager.

He paid for his room and when Franklin pointed out that he would have to register Boyer in as his wife, without hesitation he signed Mr. & Mrs. Sam Cooke.  Boyer had joined Sam in the office by now and as Franklin would later recall "she didn't say anything while in the office, she didn't say a word" Both left the office, got into Cooke's Ferrari and drove around to where the room was. A witness would later say that Boyer seemed hesitant about entering the room, "In a way, there was a little bit of resistance," the unidentified witness stated "But not no fight where I could say he dragged her in.  "Boyer would  later say that Sam "dragged me to that room."

"All we want are the facts, ma'am"

(From this point on there were only three witnesses to what took place, and one would soon wind up dead. Boyer's account has to be taken with a grain of salt, due to her lack of credibility. Franklin on the other hand had no reason to lie)

Boyer: "I started talking very loudly: 'Please, take me home.' He turned the night latch, pushed me on the bed. He pinned me on the bed. He kept saying, 'We're just going to talk.' ... He pulled my sweater off and ripped my dress ... I knew he was going to rape me ..." Boyer then asked if she could go to the bathroom. She attempts to escape through the window, "I tried the window, but it was painted down and it just wouldn't unlock."

When she returns to the room, an opportunity suddenly presents itself "When I walked out, he walked into the bathroom ... I picked up my clothes, my shoes and my handbag. I opened the latch and I ran out." According to Boyer in her haste to escape Cooke's amorous advances she had scooped up his shirt, pants and underwear as well (along with his wallet and one assumes, the wad of cash that Al Schmitt had seen at Martoni's)

Partially undressed, Boyer ran to Franklin's office and pounded on the door. Bertha Franklin was on the phone talking to the owner of the property, Evelyn Carr. She told Carr "wait a minute" and went to answer the door, but no one was there. Franklin then picked up the phone and continued on with her phone call. Boyer, knowing that Cooke would be coming after her, didn't wait around for Bertha to open the door. She ran around the corner and up the street.

About a block away from the Hacienda, she paused to put her clothes on and stash Sam's clothes under a stairwell. She then went to a nearby pay phone and called the police. Boyer’s call was logged in at 3:08 am. "Will you please come down to this number. I don’t know where I am, I’m kidnapped."  At that instant, Sam Cooke roared up to Franklin's office in his Ferrari, he left the motor running and the driver's door open. He was wearing his sports jacket, one shoe and nothing else.

He banged on the door, yelling "Is the girl in there?" Franklin still on the phone with Evelyn Carr, tells Cooke that she doesn't know. Franklin recounted her experience to the police,  "He just kept saying where was the girl, I told him to get the police if he wanted to search my place"  He said, 'Damn the police,' and started working on the door with his shoulder ... It wasn't long before he was in. ... When he walked in, he walked straight to the kitchen, and then he came back and went into the bedroom. Then he came out. I was standing there in the floor and he grabbed both of my arms and started twisting them and asking me where was the girl."

Through it all, Evelyn Carr is listening over the phone. Bertha Franklin would later tell police:  “He fell on top of me … I tried to bite him through that jacket: biting, scratching and everything. Finally, I got up, when I kicked him … I run and grabbed the pistol off the TV, and I shot … at close range … three times.” Two of the bullets missed their mark, but one passed through Cooke's heart and right lung. Sam fell back, and then yelled at Franklin "Lady, you shot me!" he then rose and charged  at her, but she repelled his attack with several hard blows to the head and face with a broomstick.

Sam Cooke slumped to the floor next to the damaged doorway, Evelyn Carr then hung up and called the police at 3:15 a.m.,  advising them that "I think she shot him" This was  just minutes after Eliza Boyer had called the police to report that she had been kidnapped. The  police arrived with wailing sirens and flashing lights to find Sam Cooke dead. Just minutes after police arrived at the scene, Boyer walked up and presented herself to them.

An inventory of Cooke's belongings showed that he had a wristwatch, a money clip with $108 and some loose change. Cooke's wallet containing his driver's license and credit cards was never found, (nor were any purchases ever made with the cards)  A search of Boyer's purse showed that she had only a twenty dollar bill. Sam Cooke is believed to have retrieved $5,000 in cash from a safe deposit box earlier in the day. Al Schmitt reported that Sam was flashing about $1,000 at the bar. It has never been determined where that money went.

"It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die 'Cos I don't know what's out there beyond the sky"

Sam Cooke's funeral included three full days of viewing in L.A. his $4,000 casket was fitted with a glass top to allow his fans one final look at "The Father of Soul" The body was then flown to Chicago for a funeral in his hometown. Cooke's remains were then returned to Los Angeles for another funeral and burial. The  Staple Singers, Lou Rawls, Billy Preston & Ray Charles all presented musical tributes to Sam Cooke. The most poignant being Rawls rendition of  "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."

Etta James would later state in her autobiography that "the injuries she observed were well beyond what could be explained by the official account of Franklin alone having fought with him." James described Sam as "having been so badly beaten that his head was nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed and his nose mangled. However, the infamous death photo that shows Cooke slumped in the doorway and subsequent photos taken during both funerals, do not back up her claims.

A coroner's inquest was convened to investigate the incident.  Elisa Boyer, Bertha Franklin, Evelyn Carr and other witnesses recounted their stories. Test showed that at the time of death, Cooke's blood alcohol level was at .16 (twice the legal limit to drive a vehicle) The shooting was ruled "a justifiable homicide" and the case was closed.  To some Bertha Franklin was hailed as a brave woman who stood up to a misogynistic bully, while others called her  a murderer. She started getting death threats and had to quit her job and go into hiding.

Side Notes: (1) Bertha Franklin had a past of her own, she was an ex-madam with a criminal record. She filed a lawsuit against Sam Cooke's estate for $200,000 in punitive damages and injuries, the estate is rumored to have settled out of court for $30,000. (2) Barbara Cooke was shamed by the circumstances of her husband's demise, but she too was having an affair with a local bartender. This caused a scandal when he showed up at the funeral wearing one of Sam's rings and his wrist watch. (3) Barbara Cooke would soon dump the chump and marry Bobby Womack (a few years later, Bobby's brother married one of Sam's daughters)

The truth about Elisa Boyer came out a month later when she was arrested in Hollywood for prostitution. It turns out the innocent victim, Ms. Boyer was in fact nothing more than a common bar girl. (Boyer's reputation was furthered stained in 1979 when she was found guilty of second degree murder in the death of her boyfriend) These facts cast a new light on what may have taken place that night at the Hacienda Motel. It appears that Sam Cooke, who was no novice when it came to dealing with prostitutes, had been worked like a common street john. Whether or not Franklin and Boyer were working the scam together is unknown.

Both claimed to not have know each other before that fateful night. It's never been established if Sam Cooke had ever rented a room at The Hacienda Motel before, Franklin said that she was unaware that he was a celebrity. For one reason or another, Cooke believed that Boyer was hiding in Franklin's apartment (which doubled as the office) He may have thought that the two women were in cahoots with each other and that he had  been set up by them.  If neither Cooke nor Boyer had ever been to the Hacienda Motel before, then why did they choose that particular place?

Cooke drove a long way just to get a $3 room for a sexual dalliance. It would seem that if Boyer planned to rob him from the time they met at Martoni's, she would have suggested a motel closer to the one she was staying at. Instead of a  flea bag in the colored part of town, where she would have been stranded without a way to get home. If robbing Cooke and then claiming rape was Boyer's plan, it worked for her, even if it had fatal consequences for Sam. Elisa Boyer like most prostitutes was an opportunist, when the opportunity presented itself, she snapped at it and ran.

Sam, an experienced john, should have know better than to leave his wallet and cash unattended while he used the bathroom. Taking a john's belongings is an old whore's trick. The man is less likely to chase after you if he's stark naked, barefoot and humiliated. Sam Cooke however was drunk, enraged and given his star status, made the mistake of taking matters into his own hands. The rational thing for Cooke to have done (had he not been intoxicated) would have been to drive his bare ass home and tell Barbara that he had been robbed. 

The single bullet theory or "Nice shot Ma'am!"

"I could have filled a hundred pages of the book with an appendix on all the theories about his death. Central tenet of every one of those theories is that this was a case of another proud black man brought down by the white establishment who simply didn't want to see him grow any bigger" Sam Cooke's biographer Peter Guralnick

As in the case of Bobby Fuller, conspiracies abound concerning Sam Cooke's death.  However, it's hard to buy into conspiracy theories, when the facts are so damned obvious.  While all these conspiracy theories are extremely interesting, none of them are accompanied by any real evidence. It's been forty six years since Cooke's death and no evidence has ever been adduced to prove any of these theories. 

Did Elisa Boyer conspire with Evelyn Carr & Bertha Franklin to rob Cooke, with his death being an unexpected complication?  Boyer had never met either woman. That's not to say that some motels in Los Angeles didn't do that kind of thing or that prostitutes (such as Boyer) didn't know about them. In this case that's just too far fetched.

Sam Cooke had just signed with Allen Klein, which some have suggested infuriated a few executives associated with "the mob" Sam's involvement in the Civil Rights movement and his desire to record more politically relevant music made him a marked man for white record executives. The West Coast mafia killed him and the LAPD covered up the crime (this same theory is used by Bobby Fuller conspiracy buffs)  Sam supported Malcolm X after his split from Elijah Muhammad, did that make him a marked man in the eyes of The Nation of Islam?

Maybe, white supremacists killed him because he was getting a little too uppity, or as one woman friend of his said: “He was just getting too big for his britches for a suntanned man.” Others claim that Barbara Cooke devised the entire set-up and contracted a Mafia hit on Sam to pay him back for his cheating ways and the death of their son Vincent (supposedly, Cooke had doubts that the boy was actually his) 
One theorist even surmised that Franklin could not have shot Cooke, because the gunshot (which pierced both Sam's heart and right lung) was something only a trained mob assassin could pull off.

"I would say within the community there is not a single person that believes that Sam Cooke died as he is said to have died: killed by a motel owner at a cheap motel in Los Angeles called the Hacienda which he had gone to with a prostitute named Elisa Boyer"  ~Peter Guralnick~

Sic transit gloria mundi

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

(Radio is) A Sound Salvation


The post war irradiated youth of the fifties were a fortunate bunch. These teenagers were the first  subjected to mass marketing based on demographics.  The first generation of kids that grew up with television, top forty music charts and those cool little 7" vinyl platters known as singles. Their record purchases were duly noted and tracked using a primitive system pioneered by radio legend Todd Storz. American teens in the 1950's were highly mobile, independent and had money to burn (well the white kids anyhow)

Nobody captured the zeitgeist of  1950's music and fashion like Elvis Presley. His carefully coiffed hair  and "aw shucks" mannerisms came to exemplify the era. He copied the look from Tony Curtis, after watching the 1949 motion picture "City Across the River" A movie about life in the Brooklyn slums with predictable hoodlums and results.  Based on Irving Shulman's novel "The Amboy Dukes" (which was the source of the name for Ted Nugent's psychedelic rock band from the 1960s)   

Hair was the thing, and as the decade went on, rockabilly receded like a balding man's hairline. Americans became more conservative and flat tops or buzz cuts became the norm. Tonsorial splendor was fine, to a point. Conway Twitty for instance, he started out as Harold Jenkins, but changed his name in 1957 to "something that had a ring to it" Twitty's splendid pompadour became as well known as his singing vocie. (he could be considered the Mike Score or Sonny John Moore of his generation)

Let's take today's emos with their Skrillex hair and dubstep beats as an example, or our own generational albatross (if you're at least 50) Flock of Seagulls, a group best remembered for Mike Score's freakish hair styles, as much as their tepid synthesizer new wave music. Both trends were driven by the inherent need for teenagers to differentiate one's self from the pack of nilly willy conformists. Because, if one thing has held true through the ages, it's the fact that nobody wants to like their parents or listen to the same music.

 Hang Loose Mother Goose, Here Comes the Show!
The Dorsey Brothers were too cool for school when Pops was a teen, but they were dull as dishwater compared to Elvis, Jerry Lee or Little Richard. America's rebels without a cause were being suffocated by life in little boxes and cookie cutter conformity. Television was mom & pop's domain, which meant the teeny boppers had to make do with radio. Fortunately for them, it was a period of transition for radio, big changes were taking place.

Recorded music had replaced live performances as a way to enjoy music and radio was the medium by which to promote and sell records. At the end of  World War II, there were 200 disc jockeys (give or take a few)  in the entire U.S., by 1957 there were more than 5,000. America was in the midst of a musical explosion, major and indie labels were producing recordings at a rate previously unheard of. It didn't take long for the labels to recognize that dee jays were a vital cog in the hit making machine.

Time magazine called these early spin jockeys, "the poobahs of musical fashion and pillars of U.S. low and middle brow culture" Little did Time realize just how low these guys could go.(prostitution, bribes, extortion, drugs etc.)  It all had to start somewhere and Alan Freed is generally considered to have been the first to play something that resembled rock & roll. In the late 1940s while working at WAKR in Akron, Freed starting spinning rhythm & blues records, Leo Mintz a Cleveland record store owner noticed that sales of whatever records Freed played would increase almost immediately.

Cleveland was considered a "breakout" city, where regional tendencies could translate into national trends. Mintz knew that Alan was on to something and he encouraged him to play more R & B. Freed had a preference for black music, he played honkers & shouters (manic sax driven music) R&B ballads, and uptempo jump tunes that could be considered the precursor to rock & roll. In fact that's what he came to call this infectious blend of black musical styles, "rock & roll" Freed left Akron in 1949, but he would soon meet up with Leo Mintz again

In 1951 Alan landed his first radio gig in Cleveland, playing classical music at WJW. It was a strange start for the man who would coin the very term "rock & roll" Leo Mintz, however came to the rescue. Mintz proposed buying a block of airtime on WJW devoted to R&B recordings. In the summer of 1951 Alan Freed took to the airwaves with this revolutionary format. The show was christianed "The Moondog House" a name he lifted from Louis "Moondog" Hardin's "Moondog Symphony" an instrumental that became the show's theme music. The show took off and WJW wasted little time expanding Freed's time spot.

On a Side Note: Louis Hardin was a blind avant garde street musician (he lost his sight in a farm accident at the age of 16) He was a fixture on the streets of New York City, often dressed as a Viking (thought to be homeless, he actually had an apartment in upper Manhattan) Hardin was a serious composer and "Moondog Symphony" was his very first recording. Moondog, also invented several musical instruments and released various recordings during his lifetime. (he recorded for major labels, Epic & Columbia)

In 1956 urged on by fellow musicians who felt that Freed was exploiting him, Hardin took court action charging Freed with infringement. Alan was using the name "Moondog" to market and promote himself (The King of the Moondoggers) his radio show (The Moondog Rock & Roll Matinee) the first rock & roll concert ever held (the Moondog Coronation Ball, which ended in a riot) Louis Hardin was  awarded $6,000 in damages, Freed was forced to issue an apology and ordered to stop using the name "Moondog" to promote his various enterprises.

The Moondog affair was just a hiccup for Alan Freed, as his popularity continued to grow. Tapes of his show had found their way to New York City and Radio Luxembourg. For many young English musicians such as The Beatles, (who once called themselves, Johnny & the Moondogs) this was their first exposure to the music of Elvis, Bill Haley, Little Richard etc. Alan Freed's appeal came from his delivery, it was energetic but not frantic. He spoke to his audience like they were part of a hip cult that worshiped black music, Alan of course being the high priest.

Freed soon found himself  working the airwaves in the Big Apple, courting both the kings of the music industry and impending disaster. Alan Freed and a score of free wheeling disc jockeys were the collateral casualties of an ongoing war between the ASCAP and BMI, the two entities entrusted to collect licensing fees from users of music and distributing them back to their members as royalties. BMI was the upstart, racially diverse and associated with many of the young R&B, Rock & Roll acts. The ASCAP was the old guard, still stuck in the swing era and rapidly losing ground.

The ASCAP charged that this was unfair, that the BMI had built its advantage through the use of "Payola" a word unique to the world of radio, better defined as "pay to play"  It was the first salvo in a battle that almost destroyed rock & roll and that led to a loud media outcry & public backlash. A congressional hearing was held to to root out "the cancer of payola" Which Billboard stressed "cannot be pinned on rock 'n' roll" In truth it was a practice that was as old as radio itself. Alan Freed and Dick Clark the two most prominent radio announcers were called out on the Senate floor.

At the 1960 Senate hearings, Freed was described as "a walking example of an insomniac" Alan, a chain smoker and alcoholic did not present a dashing figure.  Dick Clark on the other hand was described as  "clean cut, slim & a fine young man" Both men were cast into a big 'ol pile of shit, Clark came out smelling like roses, while Alan Freed, simply came out smelling like shit. It was his own damn fault, he was uncooperative, feisty and bitter, for all intents and purposes his career was dead. Freed was fired by WABC, during a dispute where he refused to sign a statement certifying that he had never accepted payola.

For Alan Freed it was all over except for the binge drinking and premature death (he died a broken man in 1965) His reputation in radio was shot. Alan wasn't the only one that accepted payola, but he was the scapegoat for an entire generation of dee jays. In 1960 Congress amended the FCA to outlaw "under the table payments and require broadcaster to disclose if airplay for a song has been purchased" Payola, however, was hearty as a cockroach and continued unchecked well into the 1960s and beyond. Although, tighter playlists did make it harder to get away with such shenanigans.

Zoom-Boomin' on up the Tower of Power

Pete Myers under most normal circumstances was a quiet, reserved man. He was in fact a study in contradictions, Pete rose to fame as the "Mad Daddy" a fast talking jabberwocky, who could rhyme faster and longer than anyone before or after. Yet, he spent a large part of his career, spinning Frank Sinatra platters to an audience of housewives. A student of Japanese culture, Pete Myers was radio's first and last Samurai. A man who took it upon himself to expand and explore the limits of what a disc jockey could do on-air. Others benefited more from his daring efforts, than he did.

The story is told that while Myers was stationed in Japan broadcasting propaganda to North Korea, he improvised his own version of Orson Welles' War of  the Worlds, actually convincing some Koreans that dragons were rising up out of the sea to attack North Korea. Gen. Douglas MacArthur caught wind of the prank and Myers was soon called before the man. That brought Myer's armed forces broadcasting career to an abrupt end. Once back in the states, post war... his brother a disc jockey in California convinced him to give it another go. Pete landed a job with a San Diego station, which bored him to no end.

Myers felt constrained by the style and music of that station, he packed up and went east, determined to make it to Cleveland. Instead he wound up in Akron, at WHKK radio. Pete was fully aware that his career path was following that of Alan Freed, and like the Moondog, Pete wanted to use Akron as a stepping stone to Cleveland and then eventually New York City. Another thing he had in common with Freed was his love of black music, he played the honkers of course, but he also dug up obscure off beat R&B tracks, which he would call "wavy gravy" or "mello jello" depending on his mood.

At heart Pete Myers was a beatnik, he was hipper than Alan Freed could ever hope to be. Myers was younger and had the lingo down pat. His amazing ability to spontaneously create rhymes through an entire four and a half hour show. (including commercials) set him apart from the average joe. Remember this was in the days before pre-recorded jingles, commercials or sound effect carts (cartridges similar to 8-track tapes) were in common use. It was inspiration born of desperation, with the "Big Break" within reach Myers went for broke, his credo became "A fella'd have to be mad, mad, mad... to do what I do!"

He was the Wizard of Oobladi (Ohio) and his fans were Oobladoodians. ( a term he lifted from "In the Land of Oo-bla-dee," a bebop fairy tale spun by Dizzy Gillespie) "once upon a time in the land of Oobladi"    He would open the show with a countdown: fiver, four, three, two, one...  followed by his theme song "Night Train" and immediately his listeners were emerged in a world of kooky jargon, annoying echo, madcap laughter and off the cuff rhymes. "Welcome little stinkers to the land of winky blinkers, we've boiled up wavy gravy and it's ready to flow, so hang loose Mother Goose, here comes the show." 

His mad minions were representative of Cleveland's youth population "throttle jammers (gear heads) Mello Muffins (girls) Ghoul Rockers (horror movie fans) Rockabilly Cats, Stan Freberg types (nerds) and of course beatniks" Mad Daddy would do a language drill he called "Zoomerating" where he would start at the top of the alphabet and go all the way through Z, while coming up with different words to describe his show. Myers was at his zaniest while at WJW, but he reached his peak of popularity when he switched to WHK (the infamous Dracula Hall)

The move to WHK wasn't without drama or flair, banned from Cleveland's airwaves for ninety days due to a non-competition clause in his WJW contract, Mad Daddy unleashed a headshrinker's delight of stunts designed to keep him in the public eye. His antics culminated with a tricky and rather risky plunge from an airplane into Lake Erie, he survived although the initial reports said that he had been killed. The stunt had the desired effect and once he returned to the airwaves, his popularity went through the roof.

Mad Daddy played the part, zoom boomin' around Cleveland in a pink Pontiac while wearing a black cape. He endorsed footwear called "Batty Bucks" (black buckskin loafers, with Bat wing flaps) that sold so fast that the factory couldn't keep them in stock. He hosted a late night "television fright show" during which his image would be upside down on the television screen, (many people found this disturbing) He cashed in on his fame by recording a two sided single, What is a Fisteris/ I Love a Good Practical Joke! (as The Joker, both tracks later became staples on Doctor Demento's radio program)

"What is a Fisteris" (set to the instrumental track of Chuck Berry's "Wee Wee Hours") combines a beatnik aesthetic  with Dr. Suess wordplay "Fisterises like pretty girls named Ingaborg with silver snoopers in their hair, sometimes moping about the snurds and limrocks they've loved and lost, sobbing big teedle-dools. Like everyone, they dislike artichokes for breakfast when the bumble bugger's gone."  "I love a Good Practical Joke" is a manic bongo driven romp, that has two jokers escalating their war of practical jokes with fatal results.

Having conquered Cleveland, The Mad Daddy was now ready for the Big Apple. WHK's sister station WNEW signed him on. Myers bid Cleveland farewell and then rode a wave of fanfare into New York City. His dream of being the biggest guy in the biggest city was about to come true. Events unfolded differently than he expected, however. On July 4th 1959,  The Mad Daddy took to the airwaves of New York City, he pulled out all the stops, he was zany, over top and just a few minutes into his show the phones started ringing off the hook.

As Myers wrapped up his show, someone told him the switchboard was jammed, but his elation soon turned to despair as he realized that without exception all the calls were negative. "He had come a long way to a dead end, the big break was a big mistake, Mad Daddy was a no-go in New York City" The Mad Daddy's run in NYC had lasted one show.   The next day Myers met with the WNEW brass and was told in  no uncertain terms that The Mad Daddy would never make another appearance at the station.

Staid, middle class Manhattan didn't get it, and Pete obviously didn't know his audience. Myers was under contract for four years, if anything it meant he would continue to collect a nice paycheck. As a consolation he was given a day slot as "the loveable & laughable Pete Myers".... cue the Nat King Cole. Upper crust Manhattan could relax, the barbarians had been stopped at the gate. A true pro, Pete, accepted his fate and did the best he could with his new bland persona.

Pete Myers finally escaped from the stifling clutches of WNEW in 1963. He was hired at WINS, an actual rock & roll station and home of Murray the K. Then much to his surprise Pete discovered that his Cleveland sidekick, Neil McIntyre (his former gofer and biggest fan) would be his boss. Myers convinced McIntyre to resurrect the Mad Daddy character. Myers was back on the airwaves as his old self,  " rockin' and reelin'.... hanging from the ceiling"

He worked it hard, and won over a section of NYC's radio listeners. The show also went into syndication, with taped versions going out to cities where he was popular (including Cleveland) However, the feel of the show wasn't quite the same, music had changed... the madcap sax drenched raunch of old was passé. The kids were different too, Myers found them "strange and preoccupied. Who could blame them, JFK had just been gunned down and the entire nation was in a perpetual funk.

The Mad Daddy's last hurrah in rock & roll radio came with the arrival of The Beatles. Murray the K quickly latched on to them, becoming known as "the fifth Beatle" Pete Myers found himself playing second banana. In 1965, WINS went to an all-news format, The Mad Daddy would be no more. The quiet Pete Myers returned to WNEW once more and settled back in to his customary day slot... cue the Sinatra. Radio had changed dramatically since Myers' days at WJW. With more money at stake, stations could no longer trust disc jockeys to pick their own music.

George Carlin's skit "Son of Wino" said it best: "Hi gang!, Scott Lame here. The Boss jock with the Boss sound from the Boss list of the Boss 30 that my Boss told me to play" "Boss Radio" or The Drake format, was a modified version of the Top 40 formula used by stations around the U.S.  It was developed by Bill Drake & Gene Chenault, and while today it seems like nothing, when it was first introduced it was revolutionary. The Drake system incorporated market research & ratings demographics to maximize the number of listeners. Drake introduced concepts such as music sweeps, radio contests and counter programming to the loosey goosey world of Top 40 radio.

Each show was tightly scripted, dee jays, while high energy and "fun" were kept on a tight tether. There was little or no deviation from the playlist and the program director called all the shots. "Less talk, more music, more commercials and more money" Drake fine tuned his system at KYNO in Fresno, Ca. before taking it to a larger audience in 1965, by hyping the arrival of "Boss Radio" at KHJ (Los Angeles) Within a few years, Drake's format or variations of it, had swept the radio landscape across America and Canada.

It was all too much for Pete Myers, a student of Bushido, who likened himself to a Samurai. As he lost more control of his professional life, he turned further into himself. Almost 40 yrs. old, his future in radio was shakey. In an attempt to revamp the station's image, WNEW made line-up changes in 1968. Myers was stripped of his hard earned 1-4 pm slot and moved to the 8pm to midnight spot. He was now back where he had first started in Akron. "Station officials later said they thought that Myers was enthusiastic about the change"

On Oct. 4th. 1968 Pete Myers, arose at his usual time and put on one of his finest suits. His wife awoke and half asleep thought to herself that he looked very elegant indeed. Under the bushido ideal, if a samurai failed to uphold his honor he could only regain it by performing seppuku. A gun collector, Myers took his prized shotgun, quietly went into the bathroom, closed the door and blew his brains out. His obituary would state that a note found near his body "indicated that Mr. Myers had been despondent over a plan to shift the time of his radio show"

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sleaze Rock

I neglected to post Sleaze Rock last month, so those of you who thought the feature was discontinued... rejoice!  Sleaze Rock will never die, there's too many crappy videos out there for that to happen. Stand by to have your sensibilities assaulted....  it's time for this edition of Sleaze Rock!

This sleaze rock special "Moonlight" is brought to us by that old witchy girl Stevie Nicks. A blatant attempt to reach out to  Twihards. Stevie looks a little long in the tooth and her voice is nothing more than a thin warble. That she's crazy as fuck is beyond the shadow of a doubt. Top YouTube Comment: "Love her as an artist though... Just dont understand the chubby cheak fillers" tpezz1 

This sleaze rock special is Phantom Blue's Time to Run, it features Gigi Hangach, who is the best female rock vocalist you've never heard of. Michelle Meldrum (r.i.p.) and Karen Kreutzer blast out blowtorch guitar riffs just like the guys. Top YouTube Comment: "This band has more balls than Poison and Mötley Crüe put together" toodrunktomakelove

This sleaze rock special is Saraya and "Back to the Bullet", executives at Polygram envisioned Sandi Saraya as a sex symbol, the "Next Bon Jovi". Problem was, Bon Jovi was prettier.  The producers pulled out every cheesy 80's hair band trick in the book for this one.  Top YouTube Comment: "Brotha please, you're opinion is waaaaaaaaaaaaay off base" gornhorror

This sleaze rock special is the double entendre ditty  "Hard on Me" by Bonfire. Lead singer, Clauss Lessman coined the term "does this make me look gay?" Originally known as Cacumen, they were the heavy metal equivalent of those black & white generic products popular in the 8o's. Top YouTube Comments:  "i miss my hair and snake skin boots" johnnysilverheels