Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

November 23, 2022

JOHN LEE HOOKER—Documenting The Sensation Recordings, 1948-1952 (Ace, UK), 3-cd box

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JOHN LEE HOOKER—Documenting The Sensation Recordings, 1948-1952 (Ace, UK), 3-cd box


In some ways, this mammoth 3-cd box of prime early Detroit Hooker is a companion volume to the four LP’s on Third Man entitled Early Recordings, Detroit and Beyond, reviewed by yours truly in 2019 in Ugly Things magazine. This new Ace box contains most (though not all) of what else remains from that period: the material Hooker’s producer (and Sensation Records owner) Besman licensed to Modern in L.A. (where Hooker had his first hit, “Boogie Chillen”), along with additional material which came out on Sensation, and more that came out later on Specialty…not to mention whatever scraps and alternates Modern or Besman retained and never got around to releasing. It’s ALL here, on three fully-packed discs, and it sounds amazingly full and vibrant and in-your-face.


As Besman explained the approach to recording Hooker, “First we put a mike onto his guitar and we put a speaker in a toilet bowl next door. Then we put a mike under that so the sound would echo off the water. Then I put a board under his feet to make his tapping louder, and put a mike down there.” There were also some primitive overdubs and the occasional additional musician, but most of this set is Hooker’s smoky, insinuating voice, his over-amplified electric guitar, and his stomping foot, pounding out his unique brand of angular, jagged, but aggressively rhythmic boogie.


There are multiple versions here of various motifs, like preliminary sketches an artist would make to test differing approaches, each one fascinating in itself. Since Hooker never performs a song the same way twice, “repetition” is not really an issue. Hooker’s Mississippi roots were steeped in the urban tangle of steel mills and auto assembly lines, electrified, and came out with the distorted, pounding, soul-rich hardcore blues found in the 71 tracks included here. If you are new to Hooker, this is a great place to start as he’s at his purest; if you are already a fan, you know you need all of the early Hook you can get.
The booklet essay by Dr. Wayne E. Goins explains in clear and precise language exactly what John Lee was doing with both left and right hands on the guitar, his tunings, his picking patterns, etc., and much of the rest of the booklet contains pictures of worn acetates and tape boxes, undoubtedly causing salivation among dedicated Hooker fans. An essential set that will never grow old!

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2020

November 16, 2022

CORKY (1972), starring Robert Blake and Charlotte Rampling

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CORKY (1972)

8/10
Robert Blake in an intense performance and totally unsympathetic role

Wow! CORKY, which played the drive-in circuit briefly in 1972 (it was the only Blake starring role I missed back then), must be listed among Robert Blake’s greatest and most intense performances of the late 60s and early 70s. However, be warned that Corky Curtiss is a totally unsympathetic character who treats everyone horribly, is on an ego trip, and sets out to wound the people who care for him. The film begins in Texas, where Blake and his pal played by the under-rated Chris Connelly, are driving in minor car races on the weekend and working for shop owner Patrick O’Neal during the week. Blake is married to Charlotte Rampling, who looks the part but whose accent wavers and sounds like Duchess Sarah Ferguson auditioning for Hee-Haw. After alienating everyone in the town and abandoning his wife, Blake and Connelly take off to take on the southern racing circuit. Blake’s abusive behavior toward the easygoing Connelly finally makes CC split from Blake, and Blake’s a**hole behavior winds up digging himself a deeper hole and leaving him more alone and stranded. He fails to learn anything from this, and I’ll leave you the viewer to watch the final 20 minutes…everything from when Blake meets the two boys at the swimming hole on through the violent ending.

If you are a Blake fan, you will go crazy over this film. He’s over-the-top from beginning to end, struts around without his shirt on and with a beer in his hand, jives everyone he meets, and perfectly captures the loud, offensive, boorish, vain good-old-boys we all can’t stand in real life. The film’s title during its making was LOOKIN’ GOOD (and there is a song by that title played in the middle of the film), and that fits things well as about the only thing that Blake cares for is strutting’ and LOOKIN’ GOOD. Talk about an anti-hero, Corky Curtiss makes Kowalski from VANISHING POINT and the leads of TWO LANE BLACKTOP look like Mother Teresa. This is the kind of post-James Dean, out-of-control Method performance that only a few people, Mickey Rourke among them, can get away with. To the film’s credit, it gets small-town life down perfectly in every detail. When Charlotte Rampling is trying to get a GED, working two jobs, and pulling her life back together, I thought “I KNOW dozens of people just like her,” just like I know dozens of people like her a**hole husband Corky.

It’s no surprise this film wasn’t a hit, although that could also have been due to distribution, because who would want to see such a downer of a film? The Robert Blake fan, that’s who. And if you are one, track down a gray market copy of this film immediately (note: after this review was originally published, CORKY was released by the Warner Archive on DVD–it’s also played on TCM a few times). Mine was taken from an old 1980’s TNT TV broadcast, but the days when films like this were shown on TV are long gone. As this was an MGM release, perhaps you could write Turner Classic Movies–I’d LOVE to see Robert Osborne’s introductory comments about CORKY! This would be perfect on a double bill with THE DAREDEVIL, starring George Montgomery. Blake was untouchable in his prime, and films such as this one contain the proof. Director Leonard Horn, who passed away a few years after this, worked mostly in television, except for the strange 1970 release THE MAGIC GARDEN OF STANLEY SWEETHEART. With that and Corky as his two big-screen directorial efforts, one wonders what Mr. Horn would have done if he’d been given creative freedom to make low-budget feature films instead of TV episodes and TV movies. Someone should interview Blake or Rampling (Connelly, O’Neal, and Ben Johnson are gone) about this film and about Leonard Horn.

Robert Blake and Ben Johnson

Bill Shute, review originally published elsewhere online in 2006

November 9, 2022

TOMMY HUNT, The Complete Man—60’s NYC Soul Songs (Kent, UK)

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1 I Don’t Want To Lose You
2 Hold On
3 I’ll Make You Happy
4 The Clown
5 Lonely For You
6 The Pretty Part Of You
7 Never Love A Robin
8 The Work Song
9 What’s The Matter Baby
10 One Of These Days
11 Who You Gonna Thrill Tonight
12 And I Never Knew
13 Human
14 Searchin’ For Love
15 The Complete Man
16 Searchin’ For My Baby (Lookin’ Everywhere)
17 I Need A Woman Of My Own
18 You’re So Fine
19 I’m With You
20 The Door Is Open
21 How Young Is Young
22 Girls Are Sentimental
23 Son, My Son
24 Born Free
25 I Believe

TOMMY HUNT—The Complete Man—60’s NYC Soul Songs (Kent, UK), CD
In 1997, Kent issued a 29-track collection of New York-based soul singer Tommy Hunt’s 1961-67 Scepter/Dynamo output, The Biggest Man, which many felt was one of the best archival soul reissues of the late 90’s (my copy always accompanies me on road trips and gets played regularly at parties). This new 25-track album, The Complete Man, presents the rest of that output, along with Scepter material found deep in the vaults since 1997, and perhaps most importantly, both sides of his amazing one-off singles for Capitol and Atlantic in 1965-66, between his Scepter and Dynamo periods.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Hunt came to national fame in the 1950’s as part of the Flamingos vocal group. Upon leaving the group, he signed with Scepter as a solo artist and “Human,” the B-side of his first 45 (not the side being promoted), took off and became a significant hit, which was soon followed up by his interpretation (the original version) of the Bacharach-David classic, “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” His 1961-1964 Scepter output would often present him in dramatic orchestral setting, where his soaring, pleading vocals flowed like honey, never “over-singing” a song or engaging in annoying mannerisms—“The Door Is Open” is a perfect example of everything great about the Scepter-Hunt duo. Like George Jones in country music, Hunt savors and caresses every line, wringing out the maximum meaning and sensitivity from the words while sounding natural. Even a cliched lyric sounds convincing in Hunt’s hands. Money was spent on these Scepter sessions, and there’s a wide variety of instrumentation from track to track. Hunt seems to combine the best qualities of a Chuck Jackson (his label-mate) and a Roy Hamilton, while being entirely his own man with an instantly recognizable style. “Uptown” 60’s NYC soul does not get better than these Scepter sides.
When Hunt’s mentor and champion at Scepter, Luther Dixon, left the label in 1964, Hunt felt a bit abandoned, and moved on, looking for greener and more appreciative pastures. Atlantic was quick to pick him up, and he definitely brought his “A”-game to the 1965 single “I Don’t Want To Lose You”/”Hold On”, majestic like his earlier sides, deep and soulful as one would expect from Atlantic. However, Atlantic was releasing many great records in 1965, and Hunt’s no doubt got lost in the shuffle. Hunt then moved on to Capitol for another one-off single, “I’ll Make You Happy”/”The Clown,” conducted by uptown soul master Bert De Coteaux. This single had all the fine qualities of the Atlantic sides, but also failed to become a hit. These two singles are both masterpieces and, for me, are worth the price of the album themselves.
Hunt next answered the call of his old friend and mentor Luther Dixon, to record for Dixon’s Dynamo label (he did five singles and an album there), and eight of the songs here are from that period, running the gamut from a cover of the easy listening standard “Born Free” (which turns magical in his hands) to a remake of his earlier hit “Human,” along with many new songs, sympathetically produced and/or arranged by respected professionals such as Jimmy Wizner and Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams. The quality was kept high at Dynamo.
Tommy Hunt relocated to the UK in the early 1970’s and eventually re-invented himself as a leading live performer in the burgeoning Northern Soul scene, captured on his high-energy 1975 Spark LP “Live At The Wigan Casino”. He’s been mostly European-based since then, and as of this writing, he’s still performing, with multiple shows in the UK and Spain in the last year. Based on the You Tube clips from those shows, he’s still sounding as supple and soulful as ever. We’re fortunate that another 25 tracks of prime 1960’s Tommy Hunt have been assembled, in crystal clear sound and with informative liner notes. Many of these tracks are like the NY Soul version of Hollywood production numbers, with sweeping, dynamic arrangements and breathtaking climaxes. It was a great period, and Tommy Hunt is one of the finest performers of the era, whose approach has not dated at all. An essential album for the fan of “uptown” NYC 60’s soul, worth the 22-year wait since the earlier collection!

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2019

November 2, 2022

BOBBY WOOD, I’m A Fool For Loving You: The Complete 1960s Recordings (RPM UK, 2-cd set)

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1-1 Everybody’s Searching
1-2 Human Emotions
1-3 The Day After Forever
1-4 Everybody’s Searching
1-5 I Still Hurt Just The Same
1-6 You’re Gonna See
1-7 Do Darlin’ Do Remember Me
1-8 That’s All I Need
1-9 If I’m A Fool For Loving You
1-10 My Heart Went Boing! Boing! Boing!
1-11 This Time
1-12 That’s All I Need To Know
1-13 Miss You
1-14 Until You Go
1-15 I’m Your Used To Be
1-16 Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)
1-17 Human Emotions
1-18 Cry, Cry, Cry
1-19 Out In The Cold Again
1-20 So Cruel
1-21 (With All My Heart) I’d Do It Again
1-22 Bed Of Roses
1-23 Show Me
1-24 When A Lonely Boy Meets A Lonely Girl
1-25 Fool’s Paradise
1-26 What Am I Gonna Tell Myself?
2-1 My Special Angel
2-2 I’d Rather Forgive You
2-3 Who’s The Fool Now
2-4 What Am I Gonna Tell Myself
2-5 When A Lonely Boy Meets A Lonely Girl
2-6 Bed Of Roses
2-7 Show Me
2-8 What Am I Gonna Tell Myself
2-9 My Last Date With You
2-10 Everybody’s Baby
2-11 Break My Mind
2-12 This Thing Called Love
2-13 Say It’s Not You
2-14 Is That All There Is To It
2-15 Mary (Dont Read Between The Lines)
2-16 The Big Buildup
2-17 (Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn
2-18 I’m The Name Of Her Game

BOBBY WOOD—If I’m A Fool For Loving You: The Complete 1960’s Recordings (RPM, UK), 2-CD


Bobby Wood may be best-known as pianist for Memphis’ legendary American Studios house band, but prior to that, he was a solo artist who released a number of singles and an album in the 1961-1969 period, starting at Sun (in its indecisive early 60’s period), then moving on to the Joy label, where most of his releases came from, and then his producer Stan Kesler, through his links with Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and The Gentrys, got him on MGM for the final singles here, from 67-69.
It’s always exciting to find such a large body of work (44 songs) that’s been largely unreissued, particularly from a Memphis artist. Wood’s records do have a distinctive sound—after hearing three or four of them, you could easily recognize another one—but it’s a sound that night not appeal to all UT readers. The best comparison would be to the early 60’s post-rockabilly work at MGM by Conway Twitty (when he moved to MGM in 1967, Wood even worked with Twitty’s old producer, Jim Vienneau) or Narvel Felts’ 1964-1965 post-rock and roll singles for the Ara label, though Wood’s voice is lower than Felts’ and higher than Twitty’s.
The earliest tracks here would fit well into one of the Teenage Dreams compilations, a youthful (clearly Southern) voice hovering over too many backing vocalists and layered with strings on top of a beat that was somewhat danceable. As the mid-60’s arrived, Wood continued on in a similar vein, not really influenced at all by the British Invasion, producing records that could get airplay on country radio without really being country and on pop radio aiming at the same market that bought records by B. J. Thomas or Joe South or Gene Thomas. Fortunately, the Memphis rockabilly roots do emerge on a few songs (“I’d Rather Forgive You”), and overall, Wood is a singer/pianist who manages to remain rootsy whatever material he’s performing and whatever background he’s put into. If you can imagine a Memphis-born version of Bobby Vee being produced by Gene Pitney, some of the material here sounds like that. The later tracks at MGM move more into an organ-based sound and the horns often have a soul tinge to them—they also highlight Wood’s vocals much more than the Joy sessions. And the wonderful electric sitar one associates with Memphis late 60’s sessions emerges here and there.
Pre-Beatles musical styles held on in the South longer than they did in other parts of the US, so it was possible to have success in 1967 with a record that sounds like something Conway Twitty might have issued in 1962.
This 2-cd set collects a large body of work that can transport you to a 1966 burger joint in Tennessee where Elvis is still the style model for the males and records like Bobby Wood’s are popular on the jukebox. Wood later had incredible success as a key musician on million-selling records by Crystal Gayle and Garth Brooks and many others, so Wood went on to sustained commercial success as a sideman that he never saw as a solo artist. However, there is a lot to enjoy here for the listener who enjoys records by Southern pre-Beatles artists hanging on and trying to find a place in the post-Beatles world by going back to their roots and doing what they did best.
Also of interest is that four of the songs here were co-written by Tommy Kaye, presumably the same Thomas Jefferson Kaye famous later for his great work with Gene Clark.

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2019

October 26, 2022

Jack London and the Sparrows (Capitol Records of Canada, 1965)

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Our Love Has Passed
Sparrows And Daisies
Take It Slow
You Don’t Want Me Now
It’s Been One Of Those Days
If You Don’t Want My Love
Give My Love To Sally
Glad To Be With You
Give My Love To You
Leavin’ Blues
Dream On Dreamer
I’ll Be The Boy

(track 3 is credited to Jimmy Reed, while all other songs are group originals)

Lead Vocals, Guitar – Jack London
Piano, Organ, Harmonium – Art Ayre
Vocals, Bass – Nick St. Nicholas
Vocals, Drums, Harmonica – Jerry Edmonton
Vocals, Guitar – Dennis Edmonton (tracks: Vocals on A3 and B4)

Ontario-based JACK LONDON AND THE SPARROWS were a Canadian beat-band who recorded a 1965 album with 11 out of 12 songs group originals, fronted by British emigrant Jack London (real name Dave Marden). The group is best known today for evolving into Steppenwolf after the departure of London (and a move to the US, with new lead vocalist John Kay) and also for sharing/trading members with the Toronto-based Mynah Byrds, Neil Young’s early group (Young’s fellow Mynah Bird and Buffalo Springfield member Bruce Palmer played in a version of the Sparrows prior to the recording of the LP).

While stories circulate online about London’s wanting the rest of the band to affect English accents, there’s no evidence of that on the album, and London himself would not be pegged as a Brit either, based on most of his vocals here.

What’s most interesting on first listen about the album is how it does NOT sound like a Merseybeat or British Invasion record: there’s not much emphasis on vocal harmonies; they don’t seem to have a background in blues or R&B (I could imagine them being folkies a few years before the album); the piano (electric piano on a few songs) is as dominant an instrument as the guitar; and there is little that is stomping or “beat”-oriented. I’m reminded most of the softer side of the Fantastic Dee-Jays (songs such as ‘Two Tymes Two’ or ‘Shy Girl’), though less jagged and less raw. One track (Sparrows and Daisies) is heading toward Peter & Gordon territory, and another is leaning in the direction of Freddie & The Dreamers, but only the album’s closing track sounds anything like British beat music.

I’m quite impressed, though, at a band offering a full album of almost all group originals (it’s interesting that the two songs sung by Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire, are both blues tunes), which was not common at that time. It’s also mind-blowing to think about how in the space of little more than one year the core of this band, minus Jack London and with the addition of John Kay, evolved into The Sparrow, an amazing group who were, for me at least, one of the great bands of the mid-1960s. Listen to their 1966 single TOMORROW’S SHIP and then to any song on this Jack London and the Sparrows album. It’s as if The Beatles went straight from Please Please Me to Tomorrow Never Knows with no stops in-between. It must have been a fascinating year for The Sparrow, as they were known post-Jack London. If only people had been able to document daily activities via amateur video done through cell phones in late ’65 and early ’66 the way that they’ve been doing for the last 15 years, then we’d be able to re-experience this miraculous transition. Without that, though, we can only spin this Jack London and the Sparrows album, jump to The Sparrow, and marvel at how quickly major changes in music happened in that golden age, where 6 or 9 months difference seemed like a lifetime.

The whole album is available for your listening pleasure on You Tube, and for those who want a physical copy, a needle-drop CD exact reissue was released on Radioactive which can’t be that much of a big-ticket item (I could not find a copy for sale as Discogs blocks Radioactive releases from sale, being unauthorized reissues, and I did not see a copy for sale on US Ebay), and there was also a vinyl reissue on the UK Sweet Dandelion label which, as of September 2022 (when I’m writing this), can be gotten for $13.

October 19, 2022

Ring Of Fear (1954)

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Ring of Fear (1954)
Mickey Spillane investigates crimes at the Clyde Beatty Circus in cinema-scope!
===============
Well, say what you will about RING OF FEAR, it’s certainly a novelty. First of all, the real “Star” is the Clyde Beatty Circus, which couldn’t have purchased better advertising than this beautifully shot color and cinema-scope production, half of which must be the circus’s best acts. A psycho is at loose in the circus, so the great crime writer Mickey Spillane, playing himself, is called in to investigate! Spillane himself calls in for a fellow investigator to help, and that guy poses as a magazine reporter. Pat O’Brien plays the manager of the circus, and Clyde Beatty himself also appears and does a number of lion and tiger-taming routines. Irish actor Sean McCrory, in an over-the-top performance, plays a one-time circus employee who became a stalker of a lady working at the circus and escapes from a mental institution to re-join the circus (and this is NOT a spoiler–all this is shown in the first few scenes), where he’s accepted back as ringmaster. There’s even comedy scenes with Batjac Productions regular Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez! My favorite scene is one where Mickey Spillane shows up at the circus and runs into the uncredited comic master Vince Barnett, who is reading Spillane novels on the job all day and explains to Spillane himself how his productivity has gone down so much due to Mick’s novels! Mick then produces his newest one, hot off the press, and hands it to Barnett, who almost salivates over it!

There’s not much “mystery” here since we know exactly how each crime is committed, and we only get to know about a half dozen employees of the circus at all, so obviously the suspect pool from which Spillane and assistant have to choose isn’t really that large. No, what makes the film entertaining is the circus setting, the idea of Mickey Spillane playing himself, and the colorful performances. Pat O’Brien (no relation to the bar or the TV gossip host) could play a role like this in his sleep, but he still has the gruff authenticity that makes him so watchable and loved by audiences for decades. Spillane comes off as an amiable and sarcastic yet tough guy. Sean McCrory, the “human star” of the film (the circus itself being the main star), chews the scenery and one wonders how ANYONE would not instantly think he was guilty of SOMETHING. This film will no doubt get a large audience through its being included in the new box set JOHN WAYNE’S SUSPENSE COLLECTION, which contains four Batjac Productions. It’s a fascinating curio that’s worth watching once, and may have some camp appeal for future viewings. As a Spillane fan, I’m happy to see the master in anything, so I may well watch it again. The transfer is superb on the DVD with rich colors and fine widescreen composition. One can only imagine how beautiful and awesome the circus scenes were on a large 1950’s movie screen.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2006

October 12, 2022

GHOST MANOR #2 (Charlton Comics, September 1968)

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High school always seemed like a waste of time to me, so I put very little into it. By the time I came along (I graduated in 1975, a week before turning 17), many standards and any idea of a “classical education” had been thrown out the window in the late 60s and early 70s….however, the barrage of standardized tests that students coming along after the mid-80’s had to endure did not yet exist. Thus, I could fill my schedule with “creative courses” which required little work. Had basket weaving been offered, I would have taken it. And because I pretty much blew off my junior year, and the counselors wanted me graduated, they created an especially soft senior year for me….in fact, I even got two credits for working at Burger King (as a “home economics related occupation”).

Back during my sophomore year, one non-demanding course I enrolled in was Family Living, which was basically a euphemism for sex education. They were still showing those old instructional slideshows and 16mm films (probably dating from the 1959-64 period) with detailed drawings of human plumbing, cartoons of the travels of the sperm going its merry way toward fertilization, and the highlight of the semester, the color birth of a baby footage. We might have had quizzes on some of the anatomical things–I don’t remember–but they were of the “take it over again until you get them all right” variety. The main grade was for discussion, but that posed a problem because the girls would not discuss anything at all with us two boys in the class (it was about 15 girls and then the two boys)–they would ask us to leave and wait in the hall, and then when the discussion was over, generally a few minutes before the class ended, we’d be let back in. So I was in a class where the grade was primarily on discussion, but we were not allowed to participate in the discussion, and fortunately we were not penalized for that…meaning, I did next to nothing and got credit for it.

The other male in the class was Tom G. He was an OK guy, relatively speaking. The thing I remember most about him was that he lived next to a massive electrical generator. It must have been about two stories high and the size of four houses. It made deep metallic clunking, clanking, and droning sounds, 24 hours a day, that pre-dated Industrial Music, and it also had all kinds of warning signs on the fence surrounding it….not just to not enter, but to not get close. However, Tom’s house was right next to it. I always wondered about that.

I did not belong to any clique in high school–I was part of the group of people who were not wanted by any clique and thus became their own clique…..kids who were anti-social, kids who were bussed in from a rural county next to us in the mountains which did not have its own high school, kids who were home schooled previously and thus were not really socialized, kids who had specialized interests (ragtime music or Russian language and culture or Civil War history or libertarian economics), stoners, kids of ambiguous gender, kids who had non-traditional parents (practitioners of Wicca, officers in the John Birch Society, nudists, people who filed nuisance lawsuits against the city and/or the state every month). In my case, I’d attended a different junior high school than the ones 98% of the students at Golden High School had attended, so I did not really know anyone there when I began, and my observation was that the cliques from junior high school were just moved to the high school level and continued. I tend to lay back and observe when I’m put into a new situation, rather than put on a show in the hopes of being snapped up by one team or another….but you are put into a group whether or not you choose to be in one. As long as you are dealing with people on a daily basis, you cannot really remain “above the fray”–at that age, I was still naïve enough to believe that I could.

Dress was also unimportant to me (it still is, as anyone who’s met me can attest!). Comfort and cost were always my two priorities. Also, at that period, I sometimes shared clothes with my father, who was the same size I was. His style of dress was rooted in Nat King Cole, circa 1958—the fedora, the polo shirt, etc. However, since I was a heavy jazz and blues person, that was fine with me. The early 60s John Lee Hooker used to dress that way, and I had albums by people like Red Garland and Sonny Stitt who proudly wore that look, at least in the early 60’s, when the used albums of theirs I owned dated from. My own idols at that time in terms of style were the American 60’s bands who aped the Stones and the Yardbirds and the like…bands such as the Standells and the Chocolate Watchband…or the Count Five…or the Shadows of Knight. I’d even peroxided my hair a few years earlier to look like High Tide and Green Grass-era Brian Jones (and when I later scored a copy of DISTORTIONS by the Litter, I realized that I was not the only one who idolized that style….although I was a bit late at it). What else was there to follow in this pre-punk early 70’s period. The MC5 had broken up….Iggy was Iggy, so there was no need to imitate him as he was one of a kind. People who should have known better were championing things like Steely Dan or Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie (I did like Bowie a few years later, in the period from Station to Station up through Scary Monsters—-I had the privilege a few years later of seeing Bowie’s STATION TO STATION tour, the one where the film Un Chien Andalou by Bunuel was the “opening act”–I sat in front of Carlos Alomar’s Marshall stacks and thus heard his guitar for days after the show, but Ziggy and Aladdin Sane and the like always struck me as over-rated and made for critics….and they still do). I’m one of those people who considered Iggy and Lou Reed superior artists to Bowie–purer, deeper, people for whom life was their artwork. Bowie was an intellectual who’d studied the history of aesthetics and self-consciously “used” their purer art as spice for his own work, the way a chef would use cayenne pepper or cilantro to make a bland recipe more distinctive. We had no name for what we were into in those pre-punk days. When I stared at a Standells album cover or listened to the Shadows of Knight LP’s on Dunwich, I did not label it “punk” or “garage” or whatever. It was just good; it was rock and roll; it knew what was hip and what wasn’t. You want to praise “Ziggy Stardust”? Take a listen to my Dunwich 45 of the Shadows of Knight’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” at maximum volume, my friend….and then go crawl back under your rock!

Mostly, I wore a used army jacket back then. It often smelled of fried chicken. We had a Shakey’s Pizza down the hill from my home, outside of Golden, Colorado, and they had a $2.99 buffet. I would eat there maybe twice a month, and I would stuff my pockets and the lining of my coat with fried chicken from the buffet (and also pizza), and my family would live off that for days. I could literally stuff 20-22 pieces of fried chicken into that coat. My parents were both light eaters, so they could make the leftovers last…and it was cheaper than cooking.

Tom G looked kind of like Keanu Reeves at his most ragged. He also liked to exaggerate…and beyond. Knowing what kind of music I liked, he once told me that he’d been in the 60’s band The Yellow Payges, who’d recorded for Uni and whose album I owned and loved (I also had a few non-LP 45’s). I asked him why he was not on the album cover, and he told me he’d missed the photo shoot. Then I asked him to tell me about the songs on the album, since he was on it. He then claimed he was actually in the band BEFORE they made an album. He left them because he thought they were “going commercial” by recording for Uni. This was quite interesting, as he’d have to have been 10 or 11 years old when the Uni album was recorded, so he’d be even younger in the days prior to that album. However, even at that age, I realized that the best way to deal with such a liar is to just “let it go,” not ask any further questions, and move on.

I got to know Tom quite well for the half-a-school-year we sat out in the hall a few hours a week while the females discussed something about sex or human reproduction in the classroom we’d been sent out of. He had a few older sisters who’d gotten pregnant while in high school and had to drop out, and he told me that they believed things like “you can’t get pregnant the first time” and other myths of the ill-informed teenager. A shame they never took the class before dropping out….they could have even stayed during the discussions, as Tom and I could not.

We would often bring something to read during this class when we were in the hall.

As I remember, Tom would often read a sex-oriented letters mag that was in a small digest format. I was thinking it was PENTHOUSE VARIATIONS, but looking that up, I see that PV did not start until a few years after we graduated, so it must have been something else. He thought he was being tough reading a sex-oriented mag in the hall of the high school. Because it was letters and articles, it had no obscene pictures on its pages, and he’d keep it folded to some inside page, so the cover, which DID have an obscene image, would not be visible. As for me, I would sometimes have a literary work by Theodore Dreiser or Richard Wright or Gertrude Stein or William S. Burroughs, or a book of poems from Ted Berrigan or Paul Blackburn, but most of the time, it was a used comic book I’d gotten from a junk store or a flea market or a used bookstore. I could slip a few of them into the inside pocket of my army jacket (a pocket that had probably held some napkin-wrapped greasy legs and thighs a few days prior), and they were ready to take me to some other world whenever I had time to kill and wanted to veg-out.

This Family Living class was held in the main hall of the main building of the high school, the same hall where the main office was, but down toward the cafeteria side (at the other end was the band hall and the auditorium). The assistant principal (assistant principals are often the “enforcers” at high schools), Mr. Cochran (who would have been played by Myron Healey in a 50’s movie or Harvey Keitel in an 80’s movie), would often stand in the hall, his arms crossed, projecting authority. He was a fair man, and even if he’d never been a Marine, he projected that same calm-but-intense gravitas needed to keep order in a high school. I liked him, but then, I always stayed under the radar and never gave him any reason to “call me in” to his office. He would often be standing in the hall while I read my comic book and Tom read his sex-letters digest. During the first week of the semester, when we were sitting out in the hall, he came over to speak with us, thinking we’d been ejected for bad behavior, but we explained the situation to him, and he shook his head, looked at us as if we’d just told him that 1 + 1 = 3, and said, “that’s absurd.” Then he smiled and walked back to his position on the wall outside his office. He knew how much was absurd in the system he was a part of, and I’m guessing he just figured that this was one of the absurd aspects of the system that would never blow back toward him, and we seemed to enjoy the time off, so he was fine with that, one less thing he had to worry about.

I have no idea where I scored this copy of GHOST MANOR….junk store, used bookstore, the budget boxes at a comic store….but I did not buy it new (I bought the majority of my comics from secondary outlets–they were cheaper that way). GM had a relatively good run, 18 years and 96 issues, although it changed its name to GHOSTLY HAUNTS after a few years. Charlton in particular had a few superb horror/ghost anthology comics, as did DC and Marvel and Gold Key/Whitman. The 1950’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT/VAULT OF HORROR/HAUNT OF FEAR series from EC were probably the inspiration for most, and the long-term popularity of the BORIS KARLOFF–TALES OF MYSTERY comic did not go unnoticed either. Generally, these “ghost” comics would offer three or four separate, unrelated pieces, often introduced by a narrator character who was featured in a kind of frame story. No concern with story arcs or consistent character details was required with these as every issue had totally different characters and settings. Unless Boris Karloff was the narrator, I usually paid little attention to the “host” of these comics. As the 1970’s came in, these hosts tended to become more ironic and/or sarcastic in tone, and by the mid-1980’s the old-fashioned horror/ghost genre in comics pretty much died. For me, this was simultaneous with the death of “classic” comics and also the death of Charlton. However, this copy was early in GHOST MANOR’s run, and the mag was quite fresh and vibrant. A number of European horror films with an “old dark house” premise played the drive-ins of America in the 1960’s, and these also may have influenced the various ghost comics.

GHOST MANOR #2 has TWO copies of the same cover stapled on it, a nice reminder of Charlton’s quality control. How considerate of them to provide me a second one so I could tack it up on my bedroom wall

Take a look at the cover of this issue of GHOST MANOR….the screaming maniacal woman, the vicious bird on the attack toward a miniature man, trying desperately to defend himself. Then the catchy tagline WITNESS TO A MURDER, POLLY THE PARROT! What teenager looking for a 12-cent thrill would not throw down his or her change on the counter for such a comic book! Please remember that back in those days, one did not have portable movie entertainment as people have today. If you wanted to see a horror movie, you had to go to a theater….or wait for one on TV. If you wanted to see an anthology TV series devoted to the odd and the supernatural, you had to wait for whenever something like NIGHT GALLERY aired….or reruns of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or ONE STEP BEYOND. You could not watch them anytime you wanted on your phone anywhere you were. Comics allowed you to take over-the-top supernatural stories ANYWHERE you went—-in my case, in the hall outside the sex education class I was not allowed to attend 2/3 of the time. Hey, I was getting a much better deal than the students stuck in that tedious class.

As with many of these anthology horror comics, there was a throwaway frame story of the ghoulish narrator, some hunchback with a patch over one eye. Soon, however, we move into the meat and potatoes of the issue. WHO’S DOWNSTAIRS, set in France, has a sinister old building set for demolition—-the elderly caretaker warns the uppity civil servant who wants to raze the building to respect the building’s history and to, whatever he does, NOT go into the cellar. Turns out Mr. Leech, the civil servant, doesn’t take that advice. WITNESS TO MURDER–POLLY THE PARROT (and, by the way, in the great tradition of exploitation film and B-movie posters, the scene on the cover appears NOWHERE in the story!) features a lady who is mourning the death of her fiancé, who was murdered in the main room of her apartment, the room where Polly’s cage is, and she is being hit on by a sleazy guy wanting to take advantage of her during her weakened state. Anyone who’s seen the film FREAKS can guess how this one ends. THE FIRES OF HELL trots out that old favorite plot, the crooked North American out to steal native relics of spiritual significance from some tribe in South America. He certainly pays the price for not respecting the local culture and traditions! In addition, you get a one-page short story about a Professor who swerves to avoid hitting a girl on the road and thus crashes into a lake….and awakens to face Death incarnate, who makes him, as the Godfather used to say, “an offer you can’t refuse.” Also, we get a one-page comic called THE WITCH’S CURSE. Add to that the usual ads for song-poem companies, model rockets, lifts for one’s shoes (to make you two inches taller), skin-clearing anti-blemish creams, money-making opportunities which involve sending a company some of your hard-earned cash first, etc…and you’ve got a better window into the world of the average small-town Joe or Jane of 1968 than anything the History Channel can provide.

Looking up this issue at Comics.org, I see that Charlton later cannibalized these stories in early 1980’s issues of their various horror-genre titles like GHASTLY TALES and HAUNTED (and also later issues of GHOST MANOR itself, #56 and #59)…and why not! The same people who bought comics in 1968 were probably not still buying them in the early 80’s, and even if they were, with so many of these horror comics dipping their ladles into the same well of images and plots, the average reader would just assume this was yet another story with the same archetypal plot elements. In the pre-internet age, things were not as meticulously documented as they are today. You could sell the sizzle from the same steak multiple times and get away with it more easily then.

I bought this comic used in the early 70’s for a dime or whatever, I read it multiple times then, I then re-read it at later times in my life when I had no money and could not afford a TV or other entertainment, and an old comic book provided late-night chills and thrills….and now 40+ years later I’m enjoying it again. Quick, efficiently told stories full of fast-moving visual images, able to take me to a place far away from my freezing apartment in a neighborhood full of domestic violence, alcoholism, minimum-wage jobs, dodgy used-car lots, half-abandoned strip malls, pawn shops, payday-loan stores, and people who will not talk to you if you do not attend their church—-Yes, indeed….CHEAP USED VINTAGE COMICS ARE YOUR BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE!

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2017

October 5, 2022

TEX RITTER WESTERN #25 (Charlton Comics, October 1954)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:59 am

Those who were the stars of the classic B-Westerns of the 1930’s and 1940’s came to their positions from a number of different routes–some such as Buster Crabbe (USC), Johnny Mack Brown (University of Alabama), and Tex Ritter (University of Texas, then Northwestern University Law School) were successful college men. Among those, TEX RITTER always had a unique persona as a Western personality, both in his films and in his even longer and more successful career as a recording artist. Ritter had studied Western History and Folklore at UT with legendary folklorist J. Frank Dobie and was quite an authority on original cowboy songs of the 1800’s. After his college and law school days were over, he went to New York where he was a pioneer in early radio broadcasting and, like Will Rogers before him, appeared on Broadway, milking his western persona. Although he had many records in the country charts over a 30-year period, he sounded like no one else, with his well-worn baritone delivering songs and recitations that truly sounded like they were from an earlier age. His lugubrious (I’ve been waiting to use that word) delivery on his best known song, the ‘Do Not Forsake Me….” theme from the film HIGH NOON, is typical of his “western balladeer” style. No one would ever describe Tex Ritter’s voice as “pretty” (as they might for Roy Rogers, who also trafficked in songs rooted in the West), but it had a gritty authenticity and could be very moving.

Like Ernest Tubb or Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter, Ritter had an uncommercial voice, but a voice that was trusted.

Although Ritter’s B-Western starring career lasted just under ten years, he worked steadily…starring in 52 features….first with his own series at Grand National. GN was an odd studio, best known (if known at all) as the studio that James Cagney retreated to for two films while he was on strike against Warner Brothers. Those were GN’s most successful releases, but when Cagney went back to WB, Grand National began to flounder and only lasted a few years. One odd thing about much of GN’s product is that, unlike the usual low budget studio such as Monogram, which tended to favor action and comedy to mask their poverty row economy, Grand National’s features tended to be talky and stage-bound. They really needed the quickie location shooting one would find in other low-budget films in order to give the films some grit and rawness. Tex Ritter’s films for GN, independently made by producer Edward Alperson, were unlike most of the studio’s product and resembled the typical B-Western product made by other indies….except for the persona of their star.

While Tex could be authentically tough and was quick with a gun, he had a laconic and cerebral quality….so you had a man whose songs (he sang in most of his features) were old-fashioned cowboy- themed material echoing an earlier age, a man who was slow to anger and in his thick Texas accent spoke slowly and carefully, and a man who was both the ultimate good ole boy yet also had something of the intellectual about him–in fact, in his final run with eight films at PRC in the Texas Rangers series, with Dave O’Brien (one of the great leading men of low budget movies of the 30s and 40s, now best known as the psycho “Ralph” in Reefer Madness) and the great Guy Wilkerson as the comedic “Panhandle Perkins,” Ritter played an attorney (Tex Haines), fast on the draw but pursuing justice. He would often be perusing his law books and take a break to launch into a song! However, three things Tex Ritter ALWAYS had in his films were qualities that could not be faked: gravitas and presence and authenticity.

As with most B-Western stars of the 30’s and 40’s, early TV gave their careers a shot in the arm as their old movies were played constantly as cheap filler and brought them legions of young fans, the kind of people who bought comic books. That’s why comic books emerged in the 1950s for people like Bob Steele and Tex Ritter, both of whom had stopped making B-Westerns in the mid-1940’s. In Ritter’s case, his continued success as a recording artist and as a radio and television figure kept his name current, so he actually had a comic book of his own as late as 1959, which was 14 (!!!!) years after his last western at PRC.

Tex was a unique figure in both western films and in country music, and while this comic under review is no classic, it does manage to capture some of his unique qualities–in the parts of the comic devoted to him, that is.

On the masthead on page one of the comic, we learn that it is produced by the Al Fago Studio….and many will remember Mr. Fago as the man behind ATOMIC MOUSE. Although I have no evidence to support this, considering Charlton’s modest page rates, I would not be surprised if Fago delivered a complete magazine to Charlton for a set fee. So many of the comics professionals back in that day were able to work equally well in any number of styles—they had to as it was a job, and the more eclectic you were, the more work came your way.

One aspect of country music that died decades ago (for the most part it died in the 70’s, when country music started trying for “respectability,” not realizing that its strength was its unique rural and heartland identity) was the “show” aspect. It was not just a concert. You got with your show ticket baggypants rural comedy and maybe even horse performances, perhaps a Gospel mini-set, some recitations, etc. Even Elvis—in his pre-RCA days—followed this tradition, as bassist Bill Black would do comedy skits, “ride” his bass, etc. as part of the “show.” In a sense this comic book follows in that tradition….although I’m not sure if that’s intentional or just an outgrowth of padding a comic book with unrelated filler to get it up to the required length (if I were a betting man, I’d bet on the latter—but that certainly does not take away from my appreciating it as if it were for the former reason).

The two long stories featuring Tex Ritter are exciting, seem to capture his screen persona adequately, and could be plots from one of his films (though, obviously, there’s no songs in them). We also get a “note” from Tex (see pic) telling us a story. The odds are 100-to-1 that Tex never even saw that note, let alone wrote it, but it would be fine for a 12 year old fan….and considering how most press releases from the film studios of the day were composed by the PR department and put into the mouths of the stars, it probably reads like something Grand National might have issued on behalf of Tex, had they bothered to do that!

The issue also features (is padded with) a 3-page story featuring Indian hero Young Falcon, two half-page western slapstick strips featuring Whiz Banks, another half-page humor piece featuring Wagon Wheels, another half-page humor piece featuring Wilbur The Waiter which is funny but not even a western (!!!), a six-page western comedy piece featuring Denver Mudd and Bushy Barnes (imagine Vince Barnett meets Al Fuzzy St. John), another non-western half-page comedy strip from Vita Min (a young girl), a half-page from Tumbleweed Jr., and finally a full-page black and white strip from Happy Homer (see pic) which has a style not unlike that later made famous by Robert Crumb. Oh, the back cover has a black and white still from one of Tex Ritter’s films.

Well, you be the judge….either this comic book presents a wide variety of entertaining and diverse selections, anchored by the great Tex Ritter….or Tex is a guest star in his own comic book! The two Ritter stories are relatively long—-8 and 10 pages, respectively—-so I’m not complaining.

You can read and download this entire issue at comicbookplus.com—-if you enjoy it, check out one of Tex Ritter’s PRC “Texas Rangers” westerns (there were 8 of them). GANGSTERS OF THE FRONTIER (see poster) is available for free on You Tube. Ditch the Netflix and Amazon series and let Tex Ritter, Dave O’Brien, and Guy Wilkerson entertain you in classic B-minus-western style! You get THREE songs from Tex AND the comic genius of Wilkerson as Panhandle Perkins. That, my friends, is entertainment!

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2017

September 28, 2022

 OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 (Modern Comics, 1978)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:49 am

In my earlier days, when I would juggle multiple part-time, no-benefit jobs to make ends meet….or later, to support the family….I would often fall back on security guarding, as I had done it numerous times before and thus did not need extensive training (and could start quickly, if needed), I had a state license (or could easily renew it if I’d let it lapse), I projected a relatively stable persona, and I could keep my mouth shut–those two latter ones being the essential qualities for the position. With today’s economy, who knows….I may well be back in the blue guard uniform with the piping on the slacks some time in the future. I’ve always specialized in looking inconspicuous, so I’ve got that part down, and I can definitely keep quiet….especially when I’m being paid to do so.

During my longest stint (2 ½ years) as a night-shift security guard, in the 1980’s, I always needed some reading. I could listen to all-night radio for some of my eight-hour shift, but that would get old fast. Larry King was still mostly a radio person at that time, and he had a midnight national two-hour show each weeknight, which was very popular with night-shift workers and insomniacs (when he was on vacation or on weekends, he’d be subbed by Jim Bohannon—-a name very well-known to night shift workers, and someone we all thought of as a friend—-who eventually took over the show when Larry went totally to TV….and who was fifty times better than Larry!). Larry’s interviews with authors, celebrities, political people with a book out, and the like were somewhat entertaining, but that show would run for only two hours and then they’d re-run it, so you could not listen to it twice. If you’ve never worked the night shift, you may not really understand that while your body is up, your brain is not. Oh, you can do the tasks you need to do to get by. If you work with numbers (and I had to do some minimal record keeping and tracking of the ins and outs of employees during my shift) or work in a hospital, you can train yourself to do what needs to be done in an acceptable manner, but I think any night shift worker would agree that higher-level thought deteriorates in that environment. Let’s just say that it would not be the time to read the prose of Henry James or the poems of Robert Browning (if there’s EVER a time to read them!).

No, night shift is the time for a Mickey Spillane novel….or a copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine….or, if you’re so inclined (I usually was not), something by Jackie Collins or Harold Robbins. Something that requires no thought and which has its own kind of internal momentum to move your half-awake carcass along from one chapter to the next. I would have also handicapped the horses or dogs on a racing form, but there were no racetracks in that area, alas. One of the managers of the company who owned the building would sometimes give me his old copies of The Wall Street Journal (when it was worthwhile, before Rupert Murdoch took it over) and The Economist, and those helped.

For me, however, the perfect night shift reading was comic books. During an eight-hour shift running from midnight to 8 a.m., I’d have to make the rounds three times with my time-clock and key, call the country sheriff at the beginning and end of my shift to check in, meet the sanitation guy out on the loading dock at 4 a.m. where I’d wheel out the dumpsters (and we’d talk about sports and women and the weather), meet the mail drop-off at 4:30 a.m., and then be ready to greet and observe the employees who came in at 5, then at 6, then at 7:45, right before MY shift ended. Other than that, the time was my own, but I had to man the front desk and observe the video monitors for the property at all times. You get to the point where you can do all of this in your sleep….and during the night shift, you sometimes did! I could basically be asleep, but if anyone approached the building within 50 feet or if there was any movement on the four black-and-white video monitors of the property, I would wake myself quickly.

I was fortunate during that period in the 80’s as it was the golden age of Dick Tracy reprints, with the DICK TRACY WEEKLY, a large magazine of vintage newspaper strip reprints which came out EVERY WEEK. Tracy was always my go-to comic read, and I’d read each one multiple times. However, I also was on the lookout for cheap used and multi-pack comics to kill time in an entertaining manner. For instance, if I could buy a used regular (32-page) Tarzan comic and a used TARZAN GIANT (52 pages) for the same price, I’d go for the Giant.

One item you’d find often in cheap used comic racks (and in old multi-packs which were still found in dusty racks at K-Mart, Ben Franklin, Woolworth’s, Phar-Mor, etc.) was the MODERN COMICS line of reprints which Charlton did of its back catalog and which were originally sold bagged for a cheap price. They wound up being re-sold unbagged at many low-end retailers, and you can see the 6 for $1 sticker on the front of my copy. Charlton eventually went entirely to reprints in the 1980’s. MODERN had a diverse array of offerings: military, horror, superheroes, westerns, hot rod, romance, etc. The material seemed to range from five to twenty years old, and usually they would reprint the entire comic, including cover, and keep the same number. All that would be different would be the MODERN logo instead of Charlton….and of course a new masthead with publishing info. When I looked up this particular issue at comics.org, I learned that it was an exact reprint of Charlton’s OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 from November 1969, but with new ads, a new publishing masthead, and the short story deleted (to make way for another page of ads….remember how in previous reviews I’ve described the short stories in comic books as “disposable” or “throwaway”—-they disposed of it in this reprint!). From what I’ve read about the Modern Comics methods of distribution, I’m guessing that circulation of the Modern reprint of a Charlton title would probably have been larger than the Charlton original (at least during the early days of Modern)–they are certainly easier to find and cheaper when found than the originals, except for some late Moderns which dealers label “short run.”

Classic western comic books—-set in an imaginary Old West which is timeless—-usually do not date. They are also the perfect 3 a.m. reading. Night shift workers (and anyone else forced for one reason or another to keep such hours) are in some unnatural state with artificial lighting keeping you up, your brain is in a kind of netherworld, and your connection to most people’s “reality” is tenuous at best, so the perfect venue for that punchdrunk imagination is a mythical Old West. The REAL Old West was probably a lot like what’s depicted in the 1972 Michael J. Pollard vehicle DIRTY LITTLE BILLY (we’ve included the poster for that, which says it all)–a classic of a sort, certainly, but who needs to re-live THAT downer of an experience! Life sucks enough without rubbing my face in its suckiness in a western, which is supposed to be escapist entertainment. As I would look out the window from my guard post, illuminated by fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, and see a well-lit but nearly empty parking lot (there were about five computer-room night shift employees at the massive insurance office where I was guard–that was it–most everyone else was day shift with a handful of evening employees) bordered by tall pine trees on three sides, I could summon up any scene, any reality in my imagination. It’s amazing how we may have millions of people around us, but 99% of it shuts down each night–except for the occasional police siren or ambulance screech or loaded individual playing loud music in his or her car (or in some neighborhoods, gunshots–this office building was on the outskirts of town, though). Even now, I enjoy sitting on my porch after sundown or before sunrise–listening to the environment, imagining what’s going on in the sealed-up and dimly-lit houses and apartments. Remember the old line from the 1950s NAKED CITY TV show: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” You can see how one can easily slip into and out of some alternate reality in the middle of the night. And an alternate reality I remember enjoying was found in the 6 for a dollar comics I would buy and read at my guard post in between tasks and after Larry King signed off for the night.

OUTLAWS OF THE WEST #79 has a lot to offer in its three long stories. “The Endless Trail” features comic book stalwart Kid Montana (who had been graying at the temples for a few years at this point) in one of those always-enjoyable “existential gunfighter” plots (which were re-written in 1970’s action films as “existential hitman” plots) where the aging gunfighter is looking to settle down and find peace. He’d only shoot when shot at–he never looked for trouble–but when you are a legend with a gun, there’s always some young punk who thinks he’s on his way up who’s looking to take you on, and will bait you into a fight you don’t want. Yes, you’ve seen that plot before with Alan Ladd or Robert Taylor or Audie Murphy….heck, even John Wayne’s final film, THE SHOOTIST (which I saw theatrically in its initial run at the Brentwood 4 in West Denver), was a variation on that old plot. No one who has ever seen a B-western has any doubt about where the plot is headed here, but does anyone really NOT know what the outcome is in most genre entertainment, be it low-budget films, quickie genre novels, or western comic books. That was NEVER the point. It’s how you get to the climax, and how the sleight-of-hand of the creator gets you focusing on the smaller details and the immediate moment. That’s what provides the pleasure. After all, everyone knows where a roller coaster is headed….you can see its course before you get on….but the ride is still a thrill, isn’t it?

The second story, “A Share of Evil,” has a criminal gang shoot a drifter who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but when he doesn’t die immediately, they decide to keep him around to do forced labor for them. Of course, as you can imagine, he eventually picks them off one by one. If this were a Universal made-for-TV western of the late 1960’s, I could imagine Don Stroud in the role of The Drifter (or in a Eurowestern, Peter Lee Lawrence). One of the advantages that a comic book has over a low-budget B-western is that the artist and writer can create anything on the page that can be imagined, and not worry about locations, sets, production design, etc., so the settings here are dynamic, the action fast-paced.

At this point in the original Charlton comic, there was a one-page short story, but that’s been cut here for a full-page ad for a four-dollar portable AM radio (see pic). Many of us owned these chintzy but convenient battery-powered radios back in the day. I first heard the Kinks and The Bubble Puppy and The Standells and “I Am The Walrus” and old reruns of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” radio shows on such a cheapo machine. This deal even throws in a free battery….so you can play it right out of the box.

The issue concludes with an odd story called “Dare To Enjoy It,” featuring an arrogant outlaw, whose Achilles Heel was his vanity. A brutal killer and robber named Rogg, who wears a beard and has long dark hair and a large floppy hat, decides to re-emerge as a newcomer in a town he just robbed and killed a few people in. However, he’s now clean shaven, has rinsed the dark color out of his hair and is a blond, and also has a short haircut…and no hat. He also talks differently….or at least attempts to. He does this out of his conceit and his belief that these stupid locals are too dim to notice….it’s almost like a challenge to them. Of course, we all know where this will eventually head, and it’s quite satisfying as the clever locals catch on to this jerk as he slips up here and there. He finally gets what he deserves from the locals, and the reader then has a full page ad for a KISS pendant (as a public service, we are NOT reprinting that page here) staring him/her in the face…..and it’s probably almost 4 a.m. back at my guard post. Time to make that last run with my watch-clock before meeting the sanitation guy and his garbage truck out at the loading docks.

He’ll tell me some witty stories about the work-sites he’s visited since coming on at midnight, and we’ll have a cigarette or two on the edge of the dock and look out into the darkness as the first cars start to emerge on the main road down the hill with people who have to be at work at 5 a.m. He might tell me about how he’s still flirting with that red-haired divorcee he sees at the flour mill….and how she’s going to say yes one of these nights. He might tell me how much he’s bet on football and basketball games this week. He might tell me of some new beer he’s tried, which is just starting to be sold in the area (he also hits a beer distributorship on his run each night, and they give him samples of items they are considering stocking). I won’t mention that I just got back from hanging out with Kid Montana….better brush that trail dust off my guard uniform before I start pushing the first dumpster out to the loading dock.

Bill Shute (originally published elsewhere online in 2016)

September 21, 2022

Richard Talmadge in THE FIGHTING PILOT (1935)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:12 am

Richard Talmadge’s name is beloved by fans of 1920’s and 1930’s low-budget indie action films. An ace stuntman (who’d doubled Douglas Fairbanks, among others) and later successful second-unit director on major studio films, Talmadge (real name Sylvester Ricardo Metzetti, he was born in Germany of Italian-Swiss background) entered show business as a member of an acrobatic trio, The Metzetti Brothers, with his two brothers, Otto and Victor, who often found their way into his films. His jaw-dropping acrobatic and daredevil abilities were just what was needed in the world of stunt work in films in the 1920’s, and Talmadge made a name for himself while still a stuntman. He parlayed that into a series of low-budget silent films beginning in 1923, such as LET’S GO and THE PRINCE OF PEP (both of which are available online), which he also had a hand in producing. He was very much like the later stars of straight-to-video action films in the 1980’s and 1990’s in that his films were fast-moving, unpretentious vehicles for his incredibly dangerous stunts, all shot in such a way that it was ALWAYS clear that it was Talmadge himself doing the stunt and there was no fakery. The films were built around a series of death-defying feats, and Talmadge always delivered the goods. He was a bubbly, likeable screen presence with endless enthusiasm, and based on reports I’ve read in the trades, he was quite popular among exhibitors and neighborhood and small-town audiences, in the kind of theaters that featured low-budget indie product. Talmadge knew what his audience wanted and delivered it….with a smile and usually a refreshing dose of humor.

When sound came around, Talmadge’s thick accent (I once made a copy—back in the VHS days—of Talmadge’s 1934 serial, PIRATE TREASURE for a friend, and he wrote me back saying that he really enjoyed it, but wondered “what language is Richard Talmadge speaking?”) became a bit of an issue, but he seemed to understand what his gifts were (death-defying feats, like a cross between Houdini and Evel Knievel) and how to best market those gifts, so he moved into the lowest rung of the indie feature world and began producing a series of action-filled features putting him in one setting or another but built around a series of amazing physical stunts. His boyish enthusiasm and charming screen persona made the accent a non-issue (in fact, it may have helped him project a kind of “humble but enthusiastic immigrant made good” image). Speaking of accents, I’ve always wondered if Talmadge learned his English from a New Yorker, as he’s got a kind of German-Italian spin on a Brooklyn accent. It’s certainly unique!

After that 1934 serial for Universal (one of his few starring roles for a major company), Talmadge’s final round of starring vehicles came in the 1935-1936 season for Bernard B. Ray and Harry Webb’s RELIABLE PICTURES (also known as AJAX PICTURES, best-known for their fine group of Jack Perrin films). The series of six films consisted of THE FIGHTING PILOT, NOW OR NEVER, THE LIVE WIRE, NEVER TOO LATE, STEP ON IT, and my own personal favorite, THE SPEED REPORTER.

THE FIGHTING PILOT (I have it on a Grapevine DVD double-bill with ON YOUR GUARD from 1933, but it’s available for free online in a very good quality print) has all of the best qualities of a Talmadge film, so if you were going to see only one of his films, this would be a good choice. There is an experimental airplane being designed by the firm Talmadge works for. Sleazy heel Robert Frazer (well-known to fans of 30’s indie films….Frazer goes back to the 1910’s, where he starred in silent films, and then with the coming of sound, he was a supporting player, with an old-fashioned stage actor’s delivery….nice to see him smoking a cigarette and playing a gangster here for a change) is trying to get the plans for the plane and sell them to a competitor. The nice thing about a film like this is that you can take its one-hour running time and cut it up into segments, which is surely what the producers did and then informed the screenwriters. You get three minutes of conspiring among the crooks; you get two or three minutes from Talmadge’s comic sidekick, who is no doubt channeling an old vaudeville routine; you get two to three minutes of Talmadge talking with his girlfriend, played by personal favorite Gertrude Messinger, who’d been in Hal Roach’s BOYFRIENDS shorts in the early sound days and who was a charming and spunky leading lady on poverty row in the early to mid 1930’s; you get a fistfight that kills two or three minutes; you have Talmadge doing a dangerous stunt for three or four minutes; you have a few minutes of aviation footage. Etc. Etc. Then you repeat and alternate those elements, have the bad guys defeated at the end, have a happy ending, keep it all family-friendly but fast moving, and you’ve killed 60 minutes and you can put it in the can and get it out to exhibitors on the States Rights circuit in the mid-1930’s.

This is exactly the kind of entertainment that bread-and-butter audiences in the midst of the 1930’s Depression wanted and needed….and that people like me (and I hope YOU) still want and need today. It delivers the goods, crams as much action into an hour as you’d get in a 12-chapter serial, has humor and romance, and has death-defying stunts by one of the greats, Richard Talmadge.

Talmadge’s career lasted well into the late 1960’s, and once his starring career ended in 1936, he stayed behind the camera working as a stunt director and/or second-unit director on such A-product as HOW THE WEST WAS WON, NORTH TO ALASKA, CIRCUS WORLD, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, and CASINO ROYALE. However, he also was involved with (as director or second-unit director) some of the most bottom-of-the-barrel product imaginable, such as the 1950 Spade Cooley vehicle BORDER OUTLAWS (mine is the only review of that on the IMDB—check it out), the 16mm feature JEEP HERDERS from 1946, the 1953 sci-fi feature PROJECT MOONBASE (which used some of the same sets as CATWOMEN OF THE MOON), and the 1956 Johnny Carpenter (as John Forbes) western I KILLED WILD BILL HICKOK (which you can see for free online). During his heyday as a leading man in low-budget 20’s and 30’s action films focusing on his amazing prowess as an acrobat and stuntman, however, Richard Talmadge was the master—add to that his comfortable and amiable and enthusiastic screen presence, and his ability to know exactly the kind of projects to properly highlight his gifts (and cover-up his deficiencies) and to make them quickly and inexpensively so they would turn a profit and more of them could be produced. He is still working his magic today for anyone who’ll take the time to watch THE FIGHTING PILOT or THE SPEED REPORTER.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2019

September 14, 2022

TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM (1941), starring The Three Stooges and Rudy Vallee

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:03 am

This 1941 Swing-oriented musical comedy, made by the Stooges’ own studio, Columbia (not a loan-out as with Stooge features such as SWING PARADE OF 1946, made at Monogram, or GOLD RAIDERS, an independent film released by United Artists), is a pleasant surprise, which I stumbled across accidentally online. When I was first learning about the Stooges’ history, by reading about them in books in the library back in the 70’s and 80’s, a film like this would just be a title to me—what would be the likelihood of it ever playing on TV in my area? Not much, so I just filed it away in the back of my head….evidently, pretty far back, as I’d completely forgotten it. It’s not like today, where you can Google it and start watching it in fifteen seconds, for free.

Every studio churned out bottom-of-the-bill Swing musicals in the late 30’s and early 40’s, and the studios that made the best B-movies tended to make the most entertaining ones because they understood good pacing, alternated three or four clever subplots throughout the running time (which they kept brief), and had talented comic performers under contract (or available cheaply). The better films also had some hot swinging musical numbers and not just syrupy ballads by “boy singers” and “girl singers” as they were then known. Some band leaders, such as Ozzie Nelson (watch the 1942 STRICTLY IN THE GROOVE sometime, which pairs Nelson with Shemp Howard, Leon Errol, and Franklin Pangborn!), had a comic persona as part of their regular “act” that they could exploit, beyond just leading the band.

Before we get to the Stooges, the comedy front-line in the film is first-rate….longtime dim-witted comic flunky-to-gangsters ALLEN JENKINS, along with the dim-witted cop from the Boston Blackie films (made at Columbia) RICHARD LANE, and doing a great lampoon of his own stuffed-shirt Ivy League background, RUDY VALLEE (always good at comedy—watch him as the song-stealing “America’s Beloved Tunesmith, Alvin Weiner” in the mid-70’s ELLERY QUEEN TV show with Jim Hutton and see how the man was still a scene-stealing supporting actor nearly 50 years after his initial fame as a late 20’s crooner, in the pre-Bing Crosby age) run a low-rung talent agency looking for cheap acts to exploit. Their cynical and threadbare and hare-brained schemes are a riot, and I wish they’d later been given their own comedy shorts or movie series as they are so good in this.

One of the musical sequences is wild also. Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, who made many pile-driving uptempo records in the early 30’s but were still a crack outfit in the early 40’s, do a novelty rhythm tune called “Boogie Woogie Man” that is shot in the dark with the musicians playing glow-in-the-dark instruments, a routine later used by Louis Jordan and band in the film SWING PARADE OF 1946 a few years later, which coincidentally also starred The Three Stooges.

The Stooges themselves get four featured sequences spread throughout the film and are also around at other times. They are unemployed actors trying to get bookings through the Jenkins-Lane-Vallee agency. I don’t want to give away what their scenes are—I did not know going into the film exactly what they would be doing, and I appreciated them suddenly appearing out of the blue a lot more than I would have if I knew what they would be doing. Let’s just say that one of their classic routines is premiered here before they even did it in one of their own shorts, they also revive an old routine from their early 30’s Ted Healy days, and they are even featured in the blow-out final musical number, with Curly “in character” doing an outrageous impression of a certain exotic songstress of the day.

Running a brisk 74 minutes, TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM is almost a textbook example of how the makers of these B-programmers knew how to pack so much into a brief, entertaining, and fast-moving package, giving you comedy, music, and romance….and most importantly, tying it all up before you are ever tempted to look at your watch. The first rule of entertainment and the arts should always be “leave them wanting more.” What a Golden Age this period was! And the crew that made this probably churned it out in 10 days, and then moved on to another project—they did not sit around whining about being misunderstood artistes!

—————–

BILL SHUTE, originally published elsewhere online in 2019

September 7, 2022

WILD WATERS (1935), starring Flash The Dog and David Sharpe

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Flash, The Wonder Dog paired with action star David Sharpe

I recently watched two 1935-36 features starring and written by future stuntman David Sharpe (Social Error and Adventurous Knights), which prompted me to dig out this old favorite, a 20-25 minute “featurette” where Sharpe and the amazing German Shepherd “Flash, The Wonder Dog” are united against a group of crooks building a shoddy dam with substandard materials and placing the whole valley in jeopardy. There’s enough action for a feature film here, and the characters are quickly established in the first few scenes (when someone TRIES to hit a child with a car, you can be fairly sure he’s the villain of the piece!). The location shooting makes the film fascinating to watch, and Flash is an amazing dog who will warm the heart of any dog lover. 30’s b-movie heroine Gertrude Messenger, who was married to Sharpe, is also in the film, but the short running time keeps her character from getting much screen time. It’s all Sharpe and Flash versus the bad guys. Any lover of early 30s Mascot serials should enjoy this entertaining short (in some ways, Sharpe is like a taller Frankie Darro!). Although this was no doubt a throwaway short rented for a low flat fee, the filmmakers did a much better job than they needed to, and there are some surprising point-of-view shots from a runaway mining rail car and an out-of-control auto with two little children trapped in it. If you like low budget, independent 1930s action films, be sure to see Wild Waters. By the way, fans of the classic serial THE LOST CITY will recognize the canned music from that film about halfway through this short.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2002

August 31, 2022

TAKE THE STAND (1934), starring Jack LaRue and Thelma Todd

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:50 am

Murder mysteries were quite a staple in the early days of sound film, and hundreds were made both by the B-programmer divisions of the established studios and by independent production companies that distributed through the states rights market. They tended to be largely talk (or if set in old dark houses, they’d also have atmospheric creepy production design), and because of that, could be shot on a handful of small sets, with different combinations of the cast shot from different angles, and audiences would be paying attention to the dialogue and the performers, not the furniture.

A fine example of an indie murder mystery from the early 30’s period is TAKE THE STAND, which moves quickly, has a colorful cast, has a raw urban feel to it (though shot entirely on small sets and with no outside or location shots at all, except for about 15 seconds of stock footage of a hockey game), and keeps one guessing until the end. The great movie tough-guy Jack LaRue plays a muckraking journalist and radio broadcaster, who through his columns and radio broadcasts casts aspersions on all kinds of business people, pillars of society, bankers, gangsters, couples in the society pages, etc. Not by name, but by innuendo. He even threatens to out someone he describes as a “soprano crooner” (yes, this is a pre-code film). In the first ten minutes of the film, we see a number of his columns on screen, along with the reactions of the people hurt by the claims. Then for the next twenty-five minutes, we see the various victims of the gossip trying to find and threaten LaRue, all of them of course saying or doing something that could later be considered a threat to kill him. This gives master character actor LaRue the chance to strut around, putting the others in their place, and it’s a joy to see a pro like him at work.

At about the 35 minute point (the film runs just short of 70 minutes), LaRue is killed while broadcasting (or so it seems)….in a room locked from the inside….and we hear a shot on his broadcast, and his begging “don’t shoot,” but it seems as though he’s been stabbed….and there is no knife in the locked room. Pretty much every suspect is out in the hall at the time of the murder, listening to the broadcast from a room with a speaker, after having been at his office trying to stop him from doing that night’s broadcast.

Each person is grilled by the police, and of course everyone was right near the scene of the murder and everyone hated the victim. People who watch murder mysteries regularly might catch a few tossed-off details earlier in the film, which would perhaps provide a special motive unlike the others for one character, and the opportunity for another character. Still, though, how the murder is committed is quite novel….although it was more novel in 1934 before it’s been used fifty times in later films.

The great lady of early 30’s film, Thelma Todd, loved for her Laurel and Hardy work and for her comedy shorts with Zasu Pitts and later with Patsy Kelly, plays LaRue’s assistant, who runs his office, and she does a fine job of seeming alternately sympathetic and suspicious. Also, as the over-eager sidekick of the gangster character is KSE fave Vince Barnett (see B&W pic of him brow-beating Thelma Todd), the bald, usually mustachioed, jittery scene-stealer who had his own comedy shorts at one time and appeared in hundreds of films as a supporting player. He’s constantly asking his employer, “ya want me to rub him out, boss? Ha, do ya?” and the like.

TAKE THE STAND does what it needs to do quickly and efficiently. Director Phil Rosen had a long and productive career, often in crime films and mysteries (including some Monogram Charlie Chans), and never keeps any scene running too long. After a long day at work in a sweaty print-shop or driving a cab or bagging groceries or whatever the typical reader of this blog would have been doing to pay the rent in 1934, TAKE THE STAND is the perfect escapist murder-mystery entertainment, much easier to enjoy than reading a mystery novel, and with unforgettable character actors like Jack LaRue (see pic), Thelma Todd, and Vince Barnett. And thanks to Mr. Public Domain, it’s ready for YOU to watch online the next time you’ve got a spare 70 minutes.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2019

August 24, 2022

WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD (1967), directed by Ron Ormond

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:04 am

The perfect 60’s Southern drive-in car racing and moonshine film, from Ron Ormond

With WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD, writer-director-producer-photographer-editor-actor Ron Ormond created the ultimate low-budget, 1960’s Southern drive-in car racing film. Ormond’s mid-60s output is quite impressive (see my reviews of GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW, FORTY ACRE FEUD, and PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ME), working in genres much beloved by Southern and rural audiences and giving them products that mirrored their tastes and environment. Ormond’s work is well-remembered by people who saw the films way back when (I saw some of them), but not too well known today as other exploitation filmmakers from the same period, which is ironic since WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD and the three films mentioned above are all still not hard to find on inexpensive and good quality VHS tapes as of this writing. This film is rooted in car racing, with a moonshine subplot thrown in in honor of THUNDER ROAD, although the viewer also gets a crime subplot (with Ron Ormond himself as “Slick,” the gangster running a crooked auto parts syndicate!), a shotgun wedding, and a cat-fight between the two main female characters. Earl “Snake” Richards once again stars (he was in GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW) and he is as perfect of a Southern drive-in film hero as Earl Owensby or Joe Don Baker. Richards, also known as Earl Sinks, was vocalist with the Crickets in the period after their break with Buddy Holly (this happening while Holly was still alive, after BH went to New York, and the Crickets decided to stay in Lubbock and work in Clovis) and sang lead on the original version of “I Fought The Law.” In the post-Crickets period he moved more toward country, and made many fine country records. He also had a lot of success as a country songwriter, and continued in the publishing world for decades. He had a brief period in films, but he made his mark–he was really an extension of the late-50s, Elvis-inspired leading men found in drive-in films, with the slicked-back hair, curled lip, and tough-guy attitude. Here he is NOT the hero, but ironically he is far more attractive than the hero, Joe, who is a bit bland and who has a strange accent in the film’s early scenes (I know there are places in Louisiana and Virginia with odd accents, but I wonder if the actor playing Joe is actually a Southerner, or if he’s just self-conscious and screwing up his line readings because he is nervous). Tim Ormond has perhaps his best role in an Ormond family film as the young boy who hangs around the racetrack and befriends Joe (and even helps him in his fights against Snake!). Tim Ormond provides a viewpoint character for the children in the audience (as he did in GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW)–and he also gets the last shot in the film (no doubt a present from his parents, the filmmakers!). Legendary model Arlene Hunter appears as Ruby, the love interest who is desired by Snake but who wants Joe for herself, Joe of course not being interested in her. She eventually marries Snake in the shotgun wedding mentioned earlier. The rural photography is beautiful with lots of striking color, and the racing is well-photographed. Ormond actually staged his own races so there is not the usual five people depicted in a reaction shot looking at a race that is stock footage. The musical score is a grab bag–evidently using all kinds of library music available to him, we hear the old flamenco guitar from JAIL BAIT (which Ormond used in other films too) for ten seconds or so, the amplified harmonica music from the Mulcays used in other Ormond films, music that sounds like it could have come from old Lash LaRue films from 1949 produced by Ormond, and various canned music that could be used in circuses or bank commercials! There’s no consistency to the nature of the music, although the music does drive the action and is well-suited to most scenes. It’s interesting that Ormond DID NOT use any country music in this film. This film should have a large audience. I would think that any network than runs NASCAR or Dukes of Hazzard re-runs could show this film and have it do well–virtually everyone in today’s audience would not have seen it! All of the Ormond family’s 1960s films (I haven’t yet mentioned THE EXOTIC ONES aka The Monster and The Stripper, which has a dedicated cult following and was released in 1968) hold up very well today and are very entertaining. Someone should look into re-mastering the whole lot of them for DVD and getting them into wide circulation. Tim Ormond is still around today (June Carr Ormond is still alive as of this writing, but she is getting up there in age!–note: she passed away in 2006), so perhaps he could provide commentaries and extra material. WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD is a wonderful time capsule that takes us back to the Golden Age of rural drive-in cinema. If you lean toward that form of entertainment, you should find a copy of this immediately and show it to your friends. Bravo to the Ormond Organization! They totally achieved what they set out to do…and how many people in ANY line of work can claim that???

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

August 17, 2022

KING CURTIS, The Complete Atco Singles (Real Gone Music, 3-cd box set)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:46 am

1-1 The Birth Of The Blues
1-2 Jest Smoochin’
1-3 Ific
1-4 You Made Me Love You
1-5 Castle Rock
1-6 Chili
1-7 Honeydripper (Part 1)
1-8 Honeydripper (Part 2)
1-9 Heavenly Blues
1-10 Restless Guitar
1-11 Spanish Harlem
1-12 Boss
1-13 Quicksand
1-14 On Broadway
1-15 You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling
1-16 Make The World Go Away
1-17 Dancing In The Streets
1-18 He’ll Have To Go
1-19 Pots And Pans (Part 1)
1-20 Pots And Pans (Part 2)
1-21 Something On Your Mind
1-22 Soul Theme
2-1 Jump Back
2-2 When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
2-3 You Don’t Miss Your Water
2-4 Green Onions
2-5 Memphis Soul Stew
2-6 Blue Nocturne
2-7 Ode To Billie Joe
2-8 In The Pocket
2-9 For What It’s Worth
2-10 Cook-Out
2-11 I Was Made To Love Her
2-12 I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
2-13 (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay
2-14 This Is Soul
2-15 Valley Of The Dolls
2-16 8th Wonder
2-17 I Heard It Thru The Grapevine
2-18 A Whiter Shade Of Pale
2-19 Harper Valley P.T.A.
2-20 Makin’ Hey
2-21 The Christmas Song
2-22 What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve
3-1 Games People Play
3-2 Foot Pattin’, Part II
3-3 Instant Groove
3-4 Sweet Inspiration
3-5 La Jeanne
3-6 Little Green Apples
3-7 Rocky Roll
3-8 C. C. Rider
3-9 Patty Cake
3-10 Pop Corn Willy
3-11 Teasin’
3-12 Soulin’
3-13 Get Ready
3-14 Bridge Over Troubled Water
3-15 Whole Lotta Love
3-16 Floatin’
3-17 Changes – Part II
3-18 Changes – Part I
3-19 Changes – Part I (Live)
3-20 Changes – Part II (Live)
3-21 Ridin’ Thumb – Part 1
3-22 Ridin’ Thumb – Part 2

     The distinctive raspy-but-controlled sound of Texas-born saxophonist Curtis “King Curtis” Ousley is found on many of The Coasters’ classics as well as on records by everyone from Buddy Holly to Aretha Franklin to LaVern Baker to Bobby Darin. However, as a long-standing sideman on records for Atlantic, it was perhaps inevitable he’d be recording solo for them too, and this wonderful 3-cd set collects in chronological order ALL of his singles for Atco during two periods, 1957-58 and 1966-71.

     King Curtis usually played tenor sax, often working in the upper register which gave him a unique sound, as many of his colleagues worked the lower register for a more guttural feel. He also played a curious instrument called the “saxello,” similar to a soprano sax but with a curved neck and a tipped bell. He played that with the kind of attack you’d expect from an R&B tenor player, which of course made him instantly recognizable.

     The first set of singles, from the late 50’s, are much like the typical rockin’ R&B singles of the period (except for a cover of “You Made Me Love You,” which can best be described as “smoochy”), with the raw sax sound up front, the kind of thing that excited Alan Freed so much about King Curtis.

     We then skip nine years, as 56 of the set’s 66 tracks date from his final period at Atco, up through his death in 1971. They range from funky blues-rock (some featuring Duane Allman) like his hit “Memphis Soul Stew,” through many covers of hits from the day (“Little Green Apples,” etc.), and a number of those contain strings, sounding not unlike Quincy Jones film soundtrack music, but with Curtis as soloist.

     King Curtis always has that unique tone, and fans will enjoy hearing him perform in any style, Getting all of this material in the original mono 45 mixes is a treat, and this set would be the perfect listening for your next road trip.

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2015

August 10, 2022

PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ME! (1963), directed by Ron Ormond, starring Lash LaRue

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:09 am

classic “frigid wife” exploitation from Ron Ormond

The more of Ron Ormond’s 1960’s output I see, the more I’m impressed. This gem comes from 1963, and re-teams Ormond with his longtime partner Lash LaRue, with LaRue playing a psychiatrist who, with the assistance of a hypnotist, helps to cure a young wife of her frigidity, caused by a sexual assault as a teenager. The first scene of the film depicting the attack is accompanied by the guitar music from Ed Wood’s JAIL BAIT; after that we get an overly long lecture on psychology; after that we get at least five minutes of mondo footage; and somewhere in the midst of all this we get a cheesy swirling disc, as seen in the pre-feature intros of K. Gordon Murray’s “Young America Horror Club.” The rest of the film is a bit more restrained, but still outrageous, as La Rue brings in hypnotist Ormond McGill (presumably playing himself), who had previously appeared in Ormond’s vaudeville anthology VARIETIES ON PARADE, to put the wife into a trance, get her to remember her attack, and then convince herself that it was just a scene in a movie and that she should forget it! Besides the guitar music lifted from JAIL BAIT (and also used elsewhere), there’s a lot of fine harmonica duets (heavily echoed) from Jimmy and Mildred Mulcay, who appeared in the earlier VARIETIES and also in the later GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW and THE EXOTIC ONES (aka THE MONSTER AND THE STRIPPER). The effect of echoed harmonica music on the dramatic scenes is quite distinctive and gives the film a strange, unnerving feel in spots. If you’ve enjoyed FRIGID WIFE, TEST TUBE BABIES, or ANY Ron Ormond film, you MUST see this wonderful film, sure to become a cult classic when it gets more circulation. Legit VHS copies are still available (well, they were in 2004, when this was written) at low prices, so grab them while you can.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

August 3, 2022

BARS OF HATE (1935), starring Regis Toomey and Snub Pollard, produced by Sam Katzman

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:51 am


fast-moving, low-budget 30’s crime programmer, with large role for Snub Pollard

Regis Toomey was one of the most reliable leading men of early 1930’s Poverty Row, and he continued to appear in films and television well into the 1960’s. His friendly persona always made him sympathetic, even when playing an ex-con, and he was convincing in any number of different roles and situations. Here he is paired with the great former silent comedian Snub Pollard, in what must be one of his largest roles of the sound era (along with his roles as sidekick to Tex Ritter), as a pickpocket/safe cracker. Directed by journeyman Al Herman, who helmed many films I’ve enjoyed over the years (Phantom of 42nd Street, and the serials The Clutching Hand, and The Black Coin), for Sam Katzman’s Victory Pictures, BARS OF HATE (an irrelevant title if there ever was one–there is someone behind bars, but he is only mentioned and never seen, although his situation motivates the plot) is the model poverty row action film: it starts out in high gear and keeps moving throughout. This formula still works today–I recently saw CELLULAR with a full theater, and crowd completely ate up a similar combination of non-stop action tempered with light comedy. The films begins with a montage of faces yelling out “stop” and “get him” after Snub Pollard steals a woman’s pocketbook. Simultaneously, Regis Toomey is speeding and starts to evade a policeman who puts on his siren and follows on a motorcycle. Snub breaks from those attempting to restrain him, Regis cuts down an alley, and soon enough the two men are together. It turns out that the pocketbook contains something that various criminals are after, so when Toomey and Pollard find the girl to give her the purse, the crooks are also after her… and the next forty minutes are spent with one chase and escape after another, much of it filmed on the streets of Los Angeles. Fuzzy Knight does a nice job as a bumbling crook assigned to watch Snub Pollard, and Sheila Terry (best known to many for the two westerns she made with John Wayne in 1934) is a perky female lead. The always-elegant Robert Warwick plays the governor, and he’s only in it for about three minutes at the end. While rather loose and spontaneous in structure and feel, this film moves along at a quick pace and never really lets up from the first scene. It’s almost a model of how to make a poverty row action film– if it had more stunts and less dialogue from the leading man, it could be a Richard Talmadge film! I especially liked seeing Snub Pollard being given such a large and significant role. One of the joys of watching 1930s movies is never knowing exactly when Snub will show up in a scene, more often than not it seems unbilled! His many fans should seek this film out. The print I saw was in excellent shape also…it had a lot of splices in the last three or four minutes, but looked like it was shot yesterday.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

July 27, 2022

STRICTLY IN THE GROOVE (1942), starring Shemp Howard and Ozzie Nelson

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:43 am

Films like STRICTLY IN THE GROOVE are the reason I continue to seek out and collect obscure b-movies. This is a wonderful combination of comedy (Shemp Howard, Leon Errol, Tim Ryan) and swing music from Ozzie Nelson and his band. Most of the musical numbers are up-tempo and full of exciting solos, and remind us what was so appealing about swing music to the young people of that day. In fact, the film is initially set in a college where the students (led by Ozzie and his friend Bob, played by Richard Davies, who is really the protagonist of the film) talk in outrageous swing jive language and ignore their studies to play music and dance. Davies is a charming and witty leading man– he’s probably best remembered for the Ritz Brothers’s disappointing HI YA CHUM and The Andrews Sisters’s vehicle PRIVATE BUCKEROO. Ozzie Nelson has a warm and engaging screen presence and reminds me of the young Buster Crabbe. The legendary Franklin Pangborn is priceless as the fussy manager of the resort where Bob is assistant manager and that the college crew turn into a swing oasis. If you want pure entertainment with no time wasted on non-essentials, STRICTLY IN THE GROOVE delivers the goods. Don’t miss it!!!

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

July 20, 2022

THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE (1961), starring Jock Mahoney

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:39 am

 Like a pulp detective novel come to life on-screen!

Just watched this again after about five years, and I’m still struck by the wonderful hard-boiled ambiance of the film, which perfectly captures the male-fantasy element of detective fiction. As a reader of things like Mike Shayne crime novels, I think that THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE captures the alcohol-soaked, blonde-loving, tough-guy feel of the typical Shayne novel better than any of the movies that featured the Shayne character. Jock Mahoney, always a reliable leading man with great physical charisma and macho attitude, is perfect as an insurance detective out to crack the case of a phony robbery staged to hide a jewel theft, a case that eventually involves murder. A former agent for Mahoney’s company has gone missing and is implicated in the crime, and this agent had three blondes in his life. Soon, they are involved in Mahoney’s life. I love the way that when Mahoney walks into a room to visit one of these women and question her, he first is offered a drink (he’s a bourbon drinker), and then the woman either comes on to him, or puts up a shrewish front as a cover for the fact that she really WANTS to come on to him! The film is rather low-budget, but is shot very imaginatively. I commented to my wife as we watched this that it had the technical feel of a 50s syndicated TV crime show, with small but efficiently shot sets, but had excellent location photography also which helped create a nice atmospheric Los Angeles feel to it. It’s also lot like a TV crime show. Imagine my surprise when I checked the IMDb credits and saw that director Leon Chooluck’s only directing credit other than this is the HIGHWAY PATROL TV series! Chooluck has a long string of credits as production manager on a number of interesting b-movies, many of which I’ve loved, and he obviously learned how to organize an efficient production. Another interesting aspect of the film is that the production company, Cinema Associates, was a group of four people, one of whom was the legendary Haskell Wexler, of MEDIUM COOL fame. THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE captures the ambiance of a paperback-original detective novel better than most similar films I’ve ever seen. It features a strong, cool leading man in Jock Mahoney, and it deserves to be much better known. Check it out.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2005

July 11, 2022

July 2022 poetry update–new book NEUTRAL coming in January 2023!

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:09 am

I hope you all have been enjoying the weekly Wednesday posts, mostly older pieces of mine that appeared in various magazines and online platforms over the last 25 years but which are now being presented to a new and different audience. At one time I was considering compiling a book of my older pieces, mixing the reviews with the “faux-memoir” pieces inspired by comic books or films/music–some of you may remember the title of that projected book, NERO’S MOTHER MEETS THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER–and there was a good amount of support for that project (in some cases, from people who would never read one of my poetry books!), but I decided to provide that material for free online along with many other reviews which I would not have included in the book. For instance, the Dick Powell “Richard Diamond” review that ran a week or two ago was a good piece but not something I’d ever include in a book. Thanks to those who were championing a book of reviews for years (I’m thinking of you, Greg Woods!)–it’s nice to be wanted.

However, I do want to alert you to my poetry publications of the recent months and other forthcoming projects. The actual creation of the poetic works–along with the editing/formatting/etc. which is inextricably mixed into the process of a piece’s coming-into-being–is what is essential to me, and the self-promotion often gets lost in the shuffle of daily responsibilities. The way I look at it, there will always be time to re-package and promote the “back catalogue” of poetry, but the creative juices won’t flow as well five years from now as they do today–just as they don’t flow as well today as they did five years ago. That’s just part of the process of getting older. Also, the responsibilities on my job keep getting ramped up each year, taking more of my time outside regular work hours than they did the previous year. Fortunately, I will be retiring in the Summer of 2023, and much of the time I spend earning a paycheck can be spent on literary pursuits–finally getting more time to spend in those variorum editions of Wordsworth, the complete editions of William Dean Howells and Washington Irving, the complete poems volumes of Larry Eigner and Philip Whalen and a dozen others, the Yale editions of the previously unpublished works of Gertrude Stein, and so forth (I have worked my way through John Galsworthy’s complete FORSYTE SAGA in the last 12 months, for which I pat myself on the back, and which has made me a finer and richer human being!). Books I presently dip into and find intellectual nourishment in I will be able to devour more fully and ponder and learn from. When I left my full-time graduate studies in 1985 to get married, have a family, and work multiple jobs to support not just me in some furnished room but a spouse and children, I put behind being a full-time literary person. Except on vacations, it’s always been a part-time thing, though thankfully for the last 18-20 years or so, I have produced a steady stream of poetry, from TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY on. Priority one has always been for me THE CREATION OF WORKS THAT I WOULD WANT TO READ BUT WHICH DON’T EXIST OTHERWISE, AND THUS I HAVE TO CREATE THEM. As much as I love the works of the poets I grew up reading and who exerted such a huge influence on my development–Paul Blackburn, Ted Berrigan, Edward Dorn, WC Williams, Diane Wakoski, Charles Reznikoff, John Ashbery, Clark Coolidge, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner–no individual work of theirs seemed definitive or seemed to provide what I was hungering for, so I had to create the works which I myself wanted to read. I took the ball handed to me by Blackburn or Berrigan and ran with it further downfield toward that goal line that few of us mortals will ever reach–we just, if we are lucky, get to carry the ball a few more years from where the previous generation left off. So there is my own view of what I am doing in poetry. Also, as a lover of both music and painting and other art forms of which I am not a practitioner, I am able to use the aesthetics of those media in my poetry, allowing me to take elements from a John Cage or a Cy Twombly and transpose them into the world of poetry.

So….after that grandiose intro, what is on offer? what has been happening?

During my visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in June 2021, I began work on a new book-length poem, titled NEUTRAL, and got a lot accomplished during the two weeks in Mississippi and Louisiana, but I was not satisfied with the end result, and felt that I needed to create a work that was both more expansive and more minimal, under the spell of Frank Samperi’s poetry and Jürg Frey’s music. I also wanted to explore more dimensions of the diptych concept used in my last few books such as COMPLEMENTARY ANGLES and TWO SELF-PORTRAITS (AFTER MURILLO). Those works had been inspired by Wordsworth’s and Robert Lowell’s re-writing of their own works, and the two (or in the case of Wordsworth, often four of five!) different versions of one “work.” In the case of NEUTRAL, I felt inspired by Andy Warhol’s diptychs where one of the panels was essentially monochromatic (or should I say infinite subtle variations on monochrome), while also paying homage to the format of the early home-printed KSE poetry chapbooks, though with the added advantage of using some of the left-facing pages for counterpoint, a kind of Greek chorus reflecting on the right-hand flow. Thus, I continued work (whenever my job responsibilities gave me time) on NEUTRAL in late 2021 and early 2022, composing many new stanzas and incorporating them into the overall mosaic, now running 100+ pages. A draft of the full work was finished during my June 2022 writing vacation in central Louisiana, and upon returning to San Antonio, I spent a week or two on close editing, reading aloud, formatting etc. That work is now ready for publication (see cover above) and is scheduled to appear in softcover in January 2023 as KSE #420. It is both an extension of the form/structure of COMPLEMENTARY ANGLES and TWO SELF-PORTRAITS (AFTER MURILLO) and a trek into refreshingly new territory for me.

Again, NEUTRAL will be available in paperback from KSE in January 2023. I’ll of course alert you all when it is available for order.

I’ve begun work on a new long-form work with the completion of NEUTRAL. I would hope to have a draft of that one (tentatively titled STATIC STRUT) finished by the Summer of 2023, at which time my life-schedule will change a bit because Mary Anne and I will be retiring.

——————

Work has also begun on another long-term project, a hardcover edition of the SATORI IN NATCHEZ collection, originally published in 2018, containing seven pieces written in Natchez, Mississippi, in the Summer of 2017. For some reason (perhaps Jack Kerouac fans are picking up on the title’s reference to SATORI IN PARIS and giving the book a try?) that book has attracted the attention of a number of people who are not regular readers of mine, and I’ve rec’d communications out of the blue from strangers about it, which has inspired the creation of a “remixed” (as they say in the world of music reissues) hardcover version of SATORI with new cover art. No words will be changed, but each open-field page of text will be freshly re-aligned as the clusters of poetic energy return to the page after a gap of four years–one can’t expect each line/each stanza to sit in the same seat in the classroom upon re-visiting the campus after a few years–they will sit where they feel comfortable on that particular day. I’ve started this re-composing these pieces, page-by-page, and hope to have a draft of that done some time in the Fall of 2022.

Speaking of hardcover reprints of earlier works, my most recent book release is still available, LOCKDOWN CORRESPONDENCES (KSE #419), which reprints the three long-form 2020-2021 poems composed during the Covid-19 Lockdown, TOMORROW WON’T BRING THE RAIN, COMPLEMENTARY ANGLES, and TWO SELF-PORTRAITS (AFTER MURILLO), in an attractive hardcover edition with striking original cover art by Wyatt Doyle of New Texture fame (his latest book, a collab with visual artist Jimmy Angelina, BE ITALIAN, is highly recommended…and was the subject of an exciting episode of the late Gilbert Gottfried’s podcast). It costs less than getting the three paperback volumes separately and contains EXACTLY the same content (no “remixing” here). If you are in the US, you can order it here: https://amzn.to/3NnTSxO

If you are outside the US, just go to the local Amazon platform in your country and enter LOCKDOWN CORRESPONDENCES, BILL SHUTE, into the Books section of the search engine, and you should be able to find it, published locally and with only local postage, which will save you money.

All of my KSE poetry books since 2016 are available here, at the Amazon Bill Shute Author Page: https://amzn.to/2XRNgjl

If you have a few extra dollars during this rocky economic period, why not try a few of them….

A physical copy of a poetry book is a friend who will always be there for you (indeed…my original copies of Paul Blackburn’s THE JOURNALS and IN.ON.OR ABOUT THE PREMISES, John Ashbery’s THE TENNIS COURT OATH, and Frank Samperi’s QUADRIFARIUM, all acquired in used racks 45+ years ago, still reside within 50 feet of where I am typing this post and still travel with me across the Midwest/Southwest/South/Texas … and still inspire me and remain fresh), and if the power goes down and the internet/cellular phone grid dies, all you need is the sunlight or a battery powered flashlight and your poetry books will be there for you, simultaneously taking your imagination on a journey, refining and expanding your sense of aesthetics, and (in the case of my own productions) shining a light on daily life experience from unexpected angles.

Wishing all of you reading this an enjoyable and productive rest of 2022. Be sure to check-in weekly here at the KSE blog for new posts.

July 6, 2022

Dean Martin is MR. RICCO (1975)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:07 am

MR. RICCO was Dean Martin’s final starring role (he had only guest star roles after this) in a feature film, and it came and went very quickly. I remember it appearing out of the blue and seeing a newspaper ad for it, but by the time I was able to arrange seeing it, it had vanished from all screens in the Denver area, and I don’t remember it re-appearing later on the bottom of the bill at any local drive-ins. At most, it was out for a week in January 1975.

Of course, Dean Martin would not be the first name one would think of as the star of an urban crime film, which is essentially what this is, although Martin is an attorney, not a cop. You need a jittery, edgy presence, which is why Sinatra could do that kind of cop role well in his later years. Director Paul Bogart had previously directed CANCEL MY RESERVATION, the 1972 swan song of Bob Hope, which did get a theatrical release but seemed to be a network Movie Of The Week within months, so maybe some studio official thought he had a proven track record with past-their-prime household names. The big difference between that and Mr. Ricco is that in the Hope film, Bob was just doing the same old routine and running it into the ground. In Mr. Ricco, Martin is definitely playing against type–there’s no boozing or womanizing or double-entendre dialogue. Martin is playing a real character and not just a variation on his persona. The character is awkward, lonely, suffering from the health problems that come with age, and has a vulnerability that is moving. Of course, Martin had done diverse dramatic roles successfully a number of times before (THE YOUNG LIONS, for instance, with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift) in the post-Martin and Lewis era, but with the success of his weekly TV variety show, where the Dino persona–with a drink in one hand and a scantily-clad blonde on the other arm–was branded permanently into the consciousness of the average American, it was hard to think of him as anything else. This film came after his variety show went off the air but before he took the same boozy persona and brought it to a long series of celebrity roast TV specials, which are still being played on cable TV and sold on DVD today. The 70’s was a Golden Age of urban crime films, and even John Wayne made two of them in the 1974-75 period, MC Q and BRANNIGAN. The makers of this film wisely did not make Martin a cop–he doesn’t seem to have the energy for that–instead, they put him into the world of police and criminals as an attorney, and a burned-out, second-string attorney.

MR. RICCO looks and plays a lot like a TV movie (in fact, Martin’s daughter Deana refers to it as a TV show “that did not last very long” in her book about her father, so even she had it confused with a TV movie!), though with a bit more violence and darker, moodier photography than one would find on TV. Much of the plot revolves around Black characters (with Martin as a kind of outsider to their world) and a Black militant played by Thalmus Rasulala (well-remembered from COOL BREEZE and BLACULA), and the cast also includes Denise Nicholas (from ROOM 222) and the young Philip Michael Thomas, pre-MIAMI VICE. In Nick Tosches’ book on Dean Martin, Rasulala is quoted as describing Martin as detached and somewhat out of it during the film’s shoot, keeping to himself and being polite but not really connecting with the cast. If you were not a Martin fan, you could say he was phoning it in. He was also in the midst of a painful divorce, but he was always the professional and he always made it look effortless. If you decide to watch the film a second time but forget about the “plot” and concentrate entirely on Martin’s performance and characterization, tuning everything else out, as I once did, you’ll probably rate the film much higher and find a lot to contemplate.

The plot introduces many different and interesting elements in its 98 minutes, never really going all the way with or developing any of them but dropping them here and there, which oddly works here since that’s probably how the average police investigation or the average week in someone’s life would seem while you were living it, but the “whodunit” climax is an outrageous cheat and makes me wonder if this project was just finished (maybe I should say “finished off”) because it was contracted and a job needed to be done. I can’t imagine anyone involved in the production thinking that a film with such a ludicrous resolution could ever get a good review. MGM/UA’s dumping of the film onto the market with little fanfare or promotion would also lead one to that conclusion–it was a product that had a contractual obligation to be released, and they released it….and quickly moved on.

San Francisco is always a good setting for a crime film, and the locations are fresh and unfamiliar. The supporting cast, those mentioned above plus Eugene Roche (for years known by all as the dishwasher character selling Ajax Dishwashing Detergent, but also a man with a long string of stage credits, and memorable appearances in everything from SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE to ALL IN THE FAMILY) as the burned-out cop that Martin’s Mr. Ricco tangles with, all do a great job (no doubt thinking it was a good break to get cast in an MGM film starring Dean Martin!). And Dean Martin, although looking tired and detached, creates an interesting character, and those qualities actually help make Ricco seem real. Martin plays him as if he’s not starring in a movie but maybe forced to do jury duty, and having to do it during a week when he’d hoped to be doing something else, yet somehow that approach fits.

Fans of Dean Martin or of lesser-known 70’s urban crime films will want to check this out, and except for the ending, you should find your 98 minutes to be well spent. It’s no classic, but just imagine it as a pilot for an entry in the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE anthology series, except with Dean Martin. I would have watched such a show religiously back in the day. Dean Martin certainly finished off his days of film stardom in a much more classy and successful way with MR. RICCO than Bob Hope did with CANCEL MY RESERVATION, although that’s not much of a compliment.

Bill Shute (originally published online in 2018)

June 29, 2022

RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, VOLUME 1 STARRING DICK POWELL (Radio Archives)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:10 am

For someone who started out as a band singer, then progressed into light comedies and musicals, and then reinvented himself as a hard-boiled (but still witty) detective actor, and then reinvented himself as a producer-director-studio head, DICK POWELL was an amazing talent…and he did it all equally well.

After his success in 1944 as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET, Powell found a new career in crime films and film noir on the screen, and on radio as Richard Rogue in ROGUE’S GALLERY, which ran in 1945-46. In 1949, he became RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE on radio, a show which ran through 1953. Written by Blake Edwards (who went on to take some of the same qualities and use them in the PETER GUNN television series), the show used all of Powell’s strengths. An ex-cop turned detective, Diamond was tough, but tossing off one-liners and sarcastic remarks and even whistling during the show’s theme music. In fact, the theme music captures the contrast of the show—it starts off sounding like comedy music, but then morphs into hard-boiled crime music.

Diamond himself narrates the shows, making it a very character-oriented and character-driven show. The plots introduce a number of interesting elements and are sometimes surprisingly violent or grisly, but a few minutes later things are lightened with humor. You couldn’t get away with this kind of a tonal shift on TV as well as you can on radio, especially when you’ve got an actor like Powell who is associated with both tough guy roles and charming, witty comedies front and center in every scene of every show.

This collection contains 20 shows from 1949-51, 10 hours of Richard Diamond, the early shows sponsored by Rexall Pharmacies, the later shows sponsored by Camel cigarettes, and as a former Camel smoker myself, I can say that the ads make the product sound VERY attractive….and hey, Camels are recommended by doctors (in 1951, at least).

The shows manage to work in a lot of action, both depicted and referred to, and the supporting characters are colorful….the people who hire Diamond, the cops (both helpful ones and bumbling ones), the women (both seductive and deadly), the crooks, the informants, the minor characters like short-order cooks in diners, newsstand boys, garage attendants, etc. The sound effects are quite evocative, making you think you are on a boat off Key West or in a warehouse at night in New York’s Garment District or in the local police precinct office. Tonight, I am listening to a show recorded 70 years ago, and it’s as fresh and alive and engaging as if it were broadcast today. I love the way that at the end of each show, as Powell whistles the theme, the announcer tells you what movie Powell is presently starring in, playing at your local theater! It’s easy from Richard Diamond to see why audiences could not get enough of Dick Powell. I had the privilege of seeing a theatrical screening, from a 35mm print, of his superb 1951 film noir CRY DANGER (see poster), about five years ago in Houston. It’s an RKO film, so keep an eye out for it on TCM. As with most old radio shows, Richard Diamond episodes can be found easily online, although this CD set is attractive, has great sound quality, and can be found inexpensively.

In the late 50’s, Dick Powell produced a TV version of Diamond, starring the pre-Fugitive David Janssen. That’s also highly recommended, though the tone is a bit different, as Powell wisely tailored the show to Janssen’s strengths and didn’t just do a clone of the radio show.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2020

June 24, 2022

Bill Shute discusses Ed Wood on two-part ‘Ephemeral’ podcast

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:32 am

Very happy to announce that the IHeartRadio podcast “Ephemeral” has released a two-show feature on filmmaker-writer Edward D. Wood, Jr., for which I did an interview last December.

The first show deals with Wood’s beginnings through about 1960, and my comments are probably 70% of the content. Kathy Wood’s (EW’s widow) friend Bob Blackburn is also interviewed, providing insight into Wood’s life (I avoided any speculation about his personal life, asking the producers to talk to Bob about that, since he had direct knowledge through Kathy Wood–I usually try focus on the work, not the personal lives of artists and celebrities). The show is very well-produced (production worthy of, say, This American Life), and it would be an excellent introduction to Wood’s life and work for someone who’d just heard his name and knew nothing about him. It should get a large audience over the years.

There is also a second show, the first half of which discusses his career from 1960 on (Bob B and I are included on that too), and then the final half, which is of less interest, has the three show producers chatting about Wood (that can be skipped, IMHO).

Besides giving a chronological survey of EW’s career and explaining that I considered his work up through THE SINISTER URGE as attempts to fit his unique vision into existing genre-film categories (that’s the way you get a film financed and made and released in the low-budget feature film world, then or now), I also wanted to champion Ed Wood’s work, explain why I totally reject the condescending “bad film” approach, and describe how Wood has been an empowering and inspirational figure to many creative artists. Above all, I wanted to present a narrative about Edward D. Wood, Jr. that his grandchildren, if he’d had any, would have been proud to listen to. I also discussed how Wood would no doubt have re-emerged into the SOV slasher/horror market of the 1980s and 1990s, had he lived.

EW’s marginal, z-grade productions are still charming, entertaining, and fascinating audiences today, 60-70 years after they were made. Since the VHS boom of the 1980s, I’ve re-watched a Wood film every month or two, and I still do today. If I’m feeling antsy or bored, not sure of what to watch, I can put on pretty much any Wood feature or short, pre-1962, and I will be entertained and kept glued to the screen.

Fortunately, the producer left in my mention of the recent collection of Wood’s 1970s adult magazine non-fiction pieces WHEN THE TOPIC IS SEX (Bear Manor Media), which Bob Blackburn edited/compiled and I wrote the introductory essay to, and gave it a few other mentions too. If you are looking for 545 pages of edgy, idiosyncratic, free-associational sex-oriented (mostly) writing to meet a deadline and a word count–a situation that curiously allows Wood’s unique themes and images and wording to be front-and-center–you’ve got an incredible bounty of riches here. However, as with rich food, be sure to sample this content sparingly, or you’ll get the mental and emotional equivalent of a tummy ache!

Here is the link to the first show:

https://omny.fm/shows/ephemeral/ed-wood-i

And the link to the second show:

/https://omny.fm/shows/ephemeral/ed-wood-ii

====================

Of course, if you REALLY want to take a deep dive into Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s prolific career as a writer and filmmaker, you need to start with what is the ultimate guide to all things Wood, Joe Blevins’ amazingly deep and amazingly documented ED WOOD WEDNESDAYS. When I try to describe this mind-blowing resource to people, as I often do, I use as an example how readers are provided with transcriptions of the captions Wood wrote for hardcore porn loops. That’s only the beginning, my friends…. Once you go down that rabbit hole, you’ll never come back and you’ll probably become a lifelong Ed Wood champion. You can find the index to ED WOOD WEDNESDAYS here:

/https://d2rights.blogspot.com/2013/09/you-know-what-this-weekend-would-be.html

June 22, 2022

CRAZY MAN CRAZY: THE BILL HALEY STORY by Bill Haley Jr. and Peter Benjaminson (Omnibus Press UK/Backbeat Books US; 2019; 299 pages).

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:43 am

In 1990, Bill Haley’s son John co-wrote a now-rare book, Sound And Glory, which many consider the go-to source for Haley’s work up through the early 60’s and the move to Mexico. Now, Haley’s son Bill Jr. has co-written a new biography, Crazy Man Crazy, which balances Haley’s music and his personal life. It has the benefit of the detailed insights from Haley’s first two wives, Dorothy (who was there for the years of struggle, when Bill was a regional artist and working on his fusion of country boogie/R&B in local bars and on local Philly labels), and Cuppy (who was there during Bill’s breakthrough in the founding days of rock and roll through his biggest fame until things crashed circa 1959 and he left the country), and Haley fans will thrill at the wealth of detail and specifics about the early tours and television appearances and band dynamics and business problems and the like. It’s as if you are there as “Crazy Man Crazy” flies up the charts in 1953, and audiences and radio programmers are trying to figure out what this curious musical hybrid Haley calls rock’n’roll is about…and as “Rock Around The Clock” is featured in the film Blackboard Jungle, months after its original release and modest reception (it wasn’t even the “A”-side of the single!), and Haley and his Comets become superstars, for a time at least.


Bill Haley had a passion to become a famous music personality and an equal passion to create a new form of music, combining the elements of the many American musical forms he loved, from gospel to polka (the early Comets had an accordion) to jazz to honky tonk (the Comets had a steel guitar), though especially country boogie and R&B. Haley tried various approaches, but hit the right combination in 1951 with his cover of “Rocket 88” and mastered the newly created form with his 1953 hit “Crazy Man Crazy.” This book puts you alongside Bill during those agonizing early days as things are coming together.
Unfortunately, you are also right beside Bill as things fall apart in the late 50’s, mostly due to mis-management and Bill’s loyalty to friends from the neighborhood who were in way over their heads in business affairs. Also, Bill was not a model father or model husband with his first two marriages, and the picture emerges of a solitary man with a pleasant and friendly public image who lived for music, but found life and family more difficult to master. Fortunately, his third marriage, to Martha, whom he met in Mexico, proved more successful, but by the late 60’s, when he’d moved to South Texas and began working in the US again (his tax problems resolved), his drinking problem had taken its toll.


Crazy Man Crazy is not a happy read (with Haley’s inconsiderate behavior toward family members and the man’s own sad run of bad luck), but it’s inspiring in a way to see Haley soldier on decade after decade, often in reduced form, excitedly representing pure 50’s rock and roll during periods where few cared. The book is a compelling read and will surely become the standard biography of one of the key architects of Rock and Roll.

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2019

June 20, 2022

15+ hours of vintage 1956 ALAN FREED ‘CAMEL ROCK & ROLL DANCE PARTY’ radio shows

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:07 pm

Though not a musician himself, Alan Freed deserves the title KING OF ROCK & ROLL as much as anyone, in my humble opinion, and he’s called that in the introduction of some of the episodes of his CAMEL ROCK & ROLL DANCE PARTY show from 1956, and thanks to the folks at the Country Music Hall of Fame Digital Collections (who also have episodes of shows from artists you’d associate more with Country Music, such as Pat O’Daniel, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, etc.), we can now listen to OVER FIFTEEN HOURS (!!!!) of prime Alan Freed, when he was still at the top of his game and the height of his national popularity.

Anyone who is a serious follower of Freed and who has heard the albums released under his name (two of which appeared on a wonderful Ace CD a few years back) knows that the man was rooted in the jump-blues/proto-R&B era, and thus it’s no mystery why he filled the bands who played his shows with middle-aged musicians, usually African-American, who’d started working during the swing era but who moved into R&B in the late 40s and early 50s. That music was the core of rock & roll to Freed. It also makes perfect sense that he would have Count Basie’s Orchestra as the house band on a number of these radio shows. The were a riff-oriented band going back to the 30s, and though they moved into more complex arrangements in the 1950s, they could still provide music that was essentially R&B, though with jazz-quality solos. The kind of rock & roll that appealed to Freed was the “jive” sound of Bill Haley or early Charlie Gracie or Jimmy Cavallo. And as many experts on New York-based session musicians and studio work have documented, these Black swing-era rooted, R&B based musicians were the backing band on many if not most of the “rock & roll” records of the mid-to-late 50s recorded in NYC. Freed certainly liked other kinds of music (he clearly loved the vocal group sound and championed that too), but I’ve always had the feeling that his heart was deeply rooted in the R&B side of things, and in his version of Heaven, Sam “The Man” Taylor would be taking tenor sax solos and Mickey Baker guitar solos for Eternity.

These radio shows are a superb document of the excitement that Freed was able to corral and then package and label as Rock & Roll. We’re fortunate that so many were preserved so well, literally jumping out of your computer speakers!

Link to the Alan Freed radio shows (bookmark it!):

https://digi.countrymusichalloffame.org/digital/collection/musicaudio/search/searchterm/Camel+rock+’n+roll+dance+party+(Radio+program)/field/subjec/mode/exact/conn/and/order/title/page/1

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