Friday, September 18, 2009

Bang The Drum All Day

Apparently, Marlon Brando once wanted to be a jazz drummer, and was a big fan of Gene Krupa. Widely considered to have been the first drum soloist, Gene Krupa interacted with his fellow band members in such a way as to introduce into jazz music the extended drum solo. His flamboyant performances are preserved in movies such as Hollywood Hotel (1938), Ball of Fire (1941), Beat the Band (1947), and The Glen Miller Story (1953). Watching Krupa in these movies, flailing away with his sticks as he performs his sexuality and masculinity, was clearly an influence on many of the first generation of rock drummers (check out Krupa’s performance in this youtube video).

Given that early rock culture was so influenced, if not outright imitative, of jazz culture, especially in its emphasis on individualism, it is not surprising that rock drummers eventually incorporated the extended solo. The Who’s Keith Moon, perhaps the most overtly imitative of all rock drummers of Gene Krupa’s flamboyant style, no doubt contributed to the popularity of the drums. The popularity of drum solos seems to have grown during the 60s, peaking around 1968-69, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts once remarked, “I don’t like drum solos, to be honest with you, but if anybody ever told me he didn’t like Buddy Rich I’d right away say go and see him, at least the once.” I happen to agree with him: I’ve never particularly liked drum solos. I think they are boring. But if you twisted my arm, though, I’d probably say that Ron Bushy’s drum solo in “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” as the one I dislike the least, primarily because of his use of the Leslie speaker. Nonetheless, there are more than a few drum solos worth mentioning.

12 Songs With Drum Solos:
Ron Wilson – “Wipe Out” (Wipe Out, 1963)
Hughie Flint – “What’d I Say” (Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, 1966)
Keith Moon – “Cobwebs and Strange” (A Quick One, 1966)
Fito de la Parra – “Fried Hockey Boogie” (Boogie With Canned Heat, 1968)
Ginger Baker – “Toad” (Wheels of Fire, 1968)
Ron Bushy – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, 1968)
Bobby Colomby – “Blues, Pt. 2” (Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1968)
Danny Seraphine – “I’m A Man” (The Chicago Transit Authority, 1969)
Ginger Baker – “Do What You Like” (Blind Faith, 1969)
John Bonham – “Moby Dick” (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
Michael Shrieve – “Soul Sacrifice” (Woodstock, 1970)
Bill Ward – “Rat Salad” (Paranoid, 1970)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teen Idol

Teen Idol – the term is ambiguous. Does the term mean the idol in question is a teenager, or someone widely admired by teenagers? According to several reputable sources, the term “teen idol” was first used by Life magazine in its 1 December 1958 issue—to refer to Ricky Nelson, at the time eighteen years old. So I’ve come to the conclusion that for someone actually to be a legitimate “teen idol,” he or she must be a teenager idolized by other teenagers. Hence Elvis was never a teen idol, because by the time he burst onto the national (as opposed to regional) stage in January 1956, he was already twenty-one years old. Tommy Sands may also be considered as having been a teen idol, although his reign was very short, because seven months after he became nationally known as a result of the Kraft Television Theatre program, “The Singin’ Idol,” he turned twenty. So indeed, the first true “teen idol” was Ricky Nelson, whose first LP, Ricky, was released in November 1957, at which time Nelson was seventeen years old. Technically, given the fact that his first hit, “I’m Walkin’,” was released in April 1957, he was actually sixteen years old. Thus Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and Bobby Rydell can all be legitimately considered teen idols as well, although I accept the assertion that the encomium was first applied to Ricky Nelson (has to be, as these other figures were only emerging as stars at the time). As for Elvis, he was never formally a teen idol, but there would have been no teen idols without him. Like Moses, he led the way for others, but never participated in the experience himself.

Timeline: The Rise of the Teen Idol


27 January – Season 4: Ep. 16, “The Car Mix-Up,” of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (ABC). Ricky Nelson is 15 years old.

28 January – Elvis’s first national TV appearance on the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show (CBS). Elvis is 21 years old (barely).

17 February – Elvis is awarded his first gold record, for Elvis.

1 April – Elvis does a screen test for Paramount. He’s quickly signed to a contract.

8 May – Ricky Nelson turns 16 years old.

22 August – Elvis begins shooting his first movie, Love Me Tender.

16 NovemberLove Me Tender opens to massive box office.

31 DecemberThe Wall Street Journal reports Elvis’ gross 1956 income near $22 million.


21 January – Elvis begins filming his second movie, Loving You. He is 22 years old.

30 January – Tommy Sands, a Colonel Tom Parker discovery (like Elvis), appears in “The Singin’ Idol” episode of Kraft Television Theatre. He is 19 years old. About a week later, “Teenage Crush” is released as a single and becomes an immediate hit.

10 April – Season 5: Ep. 28, “Ricky, the Drummer,” of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Also around this date, Ricky Nelson releases the single “I’m Walkin’,” which becomes a hit.

8 May – Ricky Nelson turns 17 years old.

13 May – Elvis begins his third movie, Jailhouse Rock.

27 August – Tommy Sands turns 20 years old—no longer a teenager.

2 October – First episode of Season 6 of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.

ca. 1 NovemberRicky, Ricky Nelson’s first LP, is released.


21 February – Tommy Sands’ Sing Boy Sing, loosely based on Elvis’s story, opens.

8 May – Ricky Nelson turns 18.

2 JulyKing Creole, Elvis’s fourth film, opens. Ricky Nelson, Ricky Nelson’s second LP, is released about this time.

4 AugustBillboard introduces the Hot 100 chart. Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” becomes the first song to earn the No. 1 position on that chart.

1 October – Elvis arrives in Bremerhaven, West Germany. He will be stationed in the town of Friedburg for the next year and a half.

1 December – Ricky Nelson appears on the cover of Life magazine and is billed as “The Teen-Agers Top Throb” on the cover. In the article, he is referred to as a “teen idol” - a teen idolized by other teens.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stephen Weeks' Ghost Story

I’m pleased to announce that next month, on 26 October, Nucleus Films (UK) will issue Stephen Weeks’ 1974 chiller Ghost Story as a special edition double DVD set. Three years ago next month, Stephen visited Becky and me here in Kearney for several days and I managed to get him to sit down and watch Ghost Story with me and do an audio commentary, on the assumption that someday someone might want to use it. Happily, earlier this year, Marc Morris, head honcho at UK’s Nucleus Films, emailed me asking for Stephen’s contact information, and I used the opportunity to mention to him that I had Stephen’s commentary on Ghost Story as well and that he was welcome to use it. I’m pleased to say that he decided to use that commentary on the forthcoming DVD set. Stephen did a splendid job, and my task was an easy one, as I simply had to provide him with a prompt now and then. Here is the text of the official announcement released yesterday from Nucleus Films:

Revered, misunderstood and oft-discussed, Stephen Weeks’ rarely seen 1974 dreamlike chiller is the very definition of a cult British Horror film. Set in 1930s England, it tells of three former public schoolmates, Larry Dann (The Bill), Murray Melvin (The Devils) and the enigmatic Vivian Mackerrell (the inspiration for Bruce Robinson’s creation Withnail, of Withnail and I, seen here in his only major screen role), who reunite in a country mansion haunted by the spirit of insane former resident Marianne Faithfull. The haunting transports them to a surreal world of demonic dolls, sadistic doctors, incest and murder. Hammer fans will see Barbara Shelley (Dracula Prince of Darkness) and Leigh Lawson (Hammer House of Horror), among the cast, cult TV enthusiasts will recognize Anthony Bate (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Beasts), and sitcom lovers will enjoy a cameo from Penelope Keith (The Good Life; To The Manor Born).

This combination of 1970s Britsploitation and 1930s quaintness, realized perfectly by Weeks and soundtracked by Pink Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin, have made Ghost Story legendary. Now, for the first time on DVD, Nucleus Films proudly presents this pristine 2-disc collectors edition including “Ghost Stories,” an in-depth featurette about the curious tale about the making of the film, an audio commentary, a trailer and a selection of Weeks’ fascinating early shorts and commercials including the rarely seen Tigon film 1917. This latter film, set in the trenches of World War I, led to Stephen being offered the chance to direct his first feature film at the age of twenty-one, I, Monster, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

2 DISC COLLECTOR’S EDITION – with booklet and essay by Darius Drew Shimmon

DVD Extras include:

  • Ghost Stories – an all-new 60-minute featurette including interviews with Director/Producer Stephen Weeks, Actors Larry Dann and Murray Melvin, British Horror Icon Barbara Shelley, composer (and Pink Floyd collaborator) Ron Geesin, with comments from UK critic Kim Newman
  • Audio Commentary with Stephen Weeks, moderated by Sam Umland
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • The Chelsea Cobbler store commercial
  • Alternate opening credits sequence
  • Stephen Weeks' The Making of Ghost Story (.pdf)
  • 7 early previously unseen short Stephen Weeks films:
  • Owen’s War (1965 / b&w / 10m)
  • Deserted Station (1965 / b&w / 7m)
  • The Camp (1965 / b&w / 4m)
  • Moods of a Victorian Church (1967 / Color / 9m)
  • Two At Thursday (1968 / b&w / 10m)
  • 1917 (Tigon, 1968 / Color / 35m)
  • Flesh (1969 / Color / 3m)
Additional information can be found at Nucleus Films’ website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don’t Take Your Trips on LSD

Among all forms of popular music, one generally thinks of country & western when one is asked to think of songs proclaiming conservative values—Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” for instance, or Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.” If these songs, lyrically speaking, express conservative values, what might constitute a conservative rock song? Strong support for family values? Opposition to pre-marital sex? Strong anti-abortion sentiment? Fear and distrust of government? The right of the people to keep and bear arms? If all of the above constitute what we could call “conservative values,” then here’s a selection of conservative rock songs that also celebrates the virtues of diversity.

A Few Con Rock Classics:
Paul Anka – (You’re) Having My Baby
The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice
The Beatles – Taxman
Bob Dylan – Neighborhood Bully
Sheena Easton – Morning Train (Nine to Five)
Grand Funk Railroad – Don’t Let ‘Em Take Your Gun
The Kinks – 20th Century Man
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama (Response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”)
John Mellencamp – Small Town
Ted Nugent – I Am The NRA
Elvis Presley – U. S. Male
Marrilee Rush and the Turnabouts – Angel of the Morning
The Sex Pistols – Bodies
The Spokesmen – Dawn of Correction (Response song to Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction”)