Kendra Steiner Editions

July 12, 2020

THE ISLAND MONSTER (Italy, 1954), starring Boris Karloff

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THE ISLAND MONSTER (Italy, 1954) starring BORIS KARLOFF

directed by Roberto Montero

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First of all, THE ISLAND MONSTER is not a horror film. The “monster” of the title is a monster in the broader sense—a narcotics kingpin whose organization is run from an island not far from the Italian coast. This film gets a bad rap, with people pointing out that it’s Boris Karloff’s worst film. Maybe it is. However, attacking a film such as this is like shooting fish in a barrel. Forgetting BK’s presence for a minute, it’s no better or worse than the average early 50’s low-budget crime programmer from Spain or Mexico or France or the UK….it’s kind of like an Italian version of a Lippert crime film. It’s competently photographed, the editing is not lazy, it mixes location shooting with interiors, the musical score is adequate, it has a convincingly seedy atmosphere as you’d want in a crime film about the drug trade, it has nightclub sequences (always a plus in a crime film), and it moves well. If you lived in Italy and this was at your local low-priced neighborhood theater on a double bill, it would be a good way to kill 85 minutes after a long work-week. People who complain about the film have probably not seen the bread-and-butter crime films of the period from low-budget producers in Latin America or Europe.

Then people complain about the dubbing. Yes, the dubbing sounds like a radio drama overdubbed onto an already existing film, which in a sense it is. However, dubbing was still a bit crude in the early 50’s, and again, this is typical of what you got in the period….no better, no worse. Anyone who watched old European B-movies on late night US television in the 60’s and 70’s can deal with the dubbing. For me, it does not get in the way. I’m used to it.

The reason most people have heard of THE ISLAND MONSTER is that Boris Karloff is in it. The reason the producers put the word MONSTER in the title is that Boris Karloff is in it. Undoubtedly, the producers felt that paying Karloff for 10 days work (or whatever) was worth the money in that the film could get overseas play dates it would not otherwise have gotten, and they were probably right, as it did get a US theatrical release on the drive-in circuit in 1957 (three years after its release) and from lobby cards I’ve seen, it was also released in Mexico. One problem of course is that the producers did not keep Mr. Karloff around to dub the English track, which would have added another 3 or 4 days work to his fee. With an actor with such a unique voice, this was a mistake. However, to the dubbers’ credit, they DID have someone do a Karloff imitation, which I suppose is better than a bland and anonymous voice. The ”imitation” is about as good as someone at your workplace doing a Cagney impression at the last office party, but at least you can tell who is being imitated. For someone watching this at 3 a.m. on a small black and white TV in 1965 on a UHF station in Great Falls, Montana, after a can or two of Olympia beer, it probably worked OK.

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Karloff gives a very enthusiastic, PHYSICAL performance in the film, perhaps knowing that he would not be heard. When we first meet him, the kindly older doctor who helps the poor, he’s all charm and warmth, with just a slight something “off.” Then he vanishes for about 25 minutes, and when he’s back, he’s a brutal, child-kidnapping drug lord. The main story follows a police investigator on the case of a drug ring whose trail seems to follow the travels of a certain nightclub singer. His child is kidnapped by the criminals. You’d think that they’d blackmail him, but that angle is left undeveloped after being briefly introduced. Also, the real climactic “work” on breaking the case is done by a dog!

More than anything, THE ISLAND MONSTER reminds me of some of the 1950’s Mexican crime programmers I saw on Spanish language TV in the early 80’s, in the early days of cable when networks had many hours to fill, and cheap older films were the perfect filler. My Spanish was just enough to follow the plot (unless you had a fast-talking character who used a lot of slang!)—it’s not like there is much originality in a crime film, so you weren’t thrown many curves. Those were also competently made, featured the usual character types, had nightclub sequences, and moved with a good pace.

Anyone who loves Boris Karloff’s work would probably enjoy watching THE ISLAND MONSTER, in the same way that Christopher Lee fans can watch the German SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE, in which he’s dubbed by someone else, and still appreciate the master’s presence and whatever good elements the film has (that one had excellent atmosphere—like the German Edgar Wallace adaptations of the period set in a Germanic faux-England). I’d enjoy this film for what it is—an entertaining way to kill 85 minutes—if it did not have Boris Karloff in it because I enjoy low-budget crime programmers, pulp crime stories, crime comics, etc. WITH Karloff in it, it’s just icing on the cake. In an interview, BK stated that he had a great time in the beautiful area where the film was shot. The hard-working Karloff deserved a nice vacation.

The 50’s were not the greatest period in Karloff’s career in terms of movie visibility. He worked primarily in television (though he had a lot of credits there), and his film credits were spotty—the odd SABAKA after this, the low-budget VOODOO ISLAND and FRANKENSTEIN 1970. It wasn’t until the British double-header of THE HAUNTED STRANGLER and CORRIDORS OF BLOOD that he started riding the wave of renewed attention that lasted until his death…and continues today, where he’s still revered as both one of the all-time greats of horror AND a first-rate character actor in non-horror films, even this one.

Oh, one nice touch…for those who make it to the end…is that in the final scene, Karloff is carrying the body of the kidnapped girl, running near the sea, and the scene is clearly a homage to the original 1932 Frankenstein, where the monster carries the girl who trusts him alongside the lake….and then drowns her.

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July 11, 2020

Gene Clark’s “She Don’t Care About Time”

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””””””””””’

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In 2017, Mary Anne and I had the privilege of seeing Chris Hillman with his longtime partners Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson at the Cactus Cafe at UT-Austin. It’s a relatively intimate venue, and I have been following Hillman’s work for nearly 50 years, so the performance was a bit transcendent for me. One of the many highlights of the show (which was riding on the wave of Hillman’s Tom Petty-produced album, the last thing Petty did before his passing) was Hillman’s performance of Gene Clark’s song “She Don’t Care About Time,” which Hillman and Clark of course recorded together as the B-side of the Byrds’ 1966 hit “Turn Turn Turn.” Hillman and Clark had a long history together after the initial run of The Byrds (look for my piece on their early 80’s band FLYTE elsewhere on this blog), and I’m sure there were many tears in the audience’s eyes as Hillman made his comments about Gene and turned in such a deep and thoughtful version of “She Don’t Care About Time.” One reason that Gene Clark’s music has such a connection to listeners is that his best songs feel like a poetic soul is sharing a confidence with you, the listener, in a way that seems beautiful and profound but also conversational, and welcoming, and it often leaves the listener with the feeling that some personal truth of our own has been felt and understood by this poet and shared in confidence between him and us. There’s also an elusive, inscrutable element to his lyrics that allow us to re-visit them for 50+ years and have them seem fresh and new and able to adapt to our own growth and new understandings.

Gene Clark was in a league of his own. So many first-rate singer-songwriters have said, in one way or another, “I think I’m good at what I do, and I’ve written some songs I’m really proud of, but I am definitely not on Gene Clark’s level. Gene was beyond all of us.”

I was happy to find online a performance by Chris Hillman of “She Don’t Care About Time” a few months after the one I saw, with Herb but minus John, and I’d like to share that with you. Hillman’s first recordings were in 1963, with the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers for the Crown budget-label in L.A. That is 57 years ago. Thank you, Chris Hillman, for the excellent work pretty much every year since then, never giving up, always moving on, always the professional who cares about giving the public what they paid for while keeping the purity of his art. That’s a hard balance to keep, and few have done it as well as Hillman (and also Roger McGuinn).

The link is right below….enjoy….

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CHRIS HILLMAN & HERB PEDERSEN, “She Don’t Care About Time”…. Fort Collins, Colorado, 5/19/2018 

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Here, the master himself re-interprets the song, as he often did, in a version that will stop you in your tracks.

GENE CLARK, “She Don’t Care About Time”… From the live album “Gene Clark & Carla Olson – Silhouetted in Light”.  Recorded in L.A. Feb. 1990.

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And here is one of my own most-played covers of the song, from the Flamin’ Groovies at their Byrds-iest.

THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES, “She Don’t Care About Time”….from the early 1980’s Goldstar Sessions, which I originally owned on a Skydog 12” EP.

 

in memory of GENE CLARK (1944-1991)

July 10, 2020

5 Favorite Bob Dylan Covers

As I was listening to Chris Farlowe’s classic 1966 Immediate Records album 14 THINGS TO THINK ABOUT tonight (something I’ve done quite often since scoring an original UK Immediate LP in the early 80’s), I noticed that I always start playing the LP with side two, because side two starts with Farlowe’s phenomenal big-beat showstopping version of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, a song that I have played over the decades for many visitors to my home. It’s a stunning re-casting of the Dylan song, and would be included on any “best Dylan covers” album I would compile. Since I’m not compiling one of those right now, alas, the best I can do is to offer you five of my own personal favorite covers of The Master’s compositions (nothing by the Byrds, since you already know that any Dylan cover from any Byrds line-up will be wonderful), each exquisite IMHO, and each really stripping the song to the core and re-assembling it in an original and profound way.

Settle back and enjoy…..(and as always with You Tube, I apologize in advance for the commercials you’ll have to put up with before you get to hear the music)

THE DAILY FLASH, “Queen Jane Approximately” (1966)

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CHRIS FARLOWE, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1966)

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RICK NELSON AND THE STONE CANYON BAND, “She Belongs To Me” (1969)

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ELVIS PRESLEY, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” (1966)

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THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (1979)

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BONUS TRACK

here’s a little something extra for making it this far, for an ever half-dozen Dylan covers

LEROY VAN DYKE, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1965), my father met Leroy Van Dyke once in the early 1970’s (at a shopping mall!) and told me he was a very kind man, very appreciative of his fans

July 9, 2020

ADVENTURES OF THE BIG BOY #126 (1967 promotional giveaway comic)

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ADVENTURES OF THE BIG BOY #126 (1967 promotional giveaway comic)

I’ve never lived in an area with Big Boy restaurants, so I can’t tell you much about the persona of their corporate mascot. The first drawing of the Big Boy character came in the late 1930’s, a few years after the burger chain’s founding, although the character as we know it today (and at the time of this comic) dates from the 1950’s. Evidently, the Big Boy burger concept was operated under different names in different parts of the country (and one of these eventually was spun off to become Shoney’s!), and there was even an East Coast Big Boy mascot and a different West Coast one. According to Wikipedia, in 1979 there were 1000 (!!!!) Big Boy restaurants in the US and Canada. You may have seen one of the massive Big Boy statues in front of one of them in your travels, as I have. The California-based Bob’s Big Boy is perhaps the best-known franchise using the Big Boy moniker (Johnny Carson used to joke about it on the Tonight Show, as I remember), but there were dozens of other regional variations, including the Pittsburgh-based EAT’N’PARK which was Big Boy-related from 1949-1974.

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This particular comic (regular in size but only 14 pages) belongs to that taken-for-granted part of the comics industry, the giveaway (and one would also assume throwaway) comic given to children or with a kid’s meal. These are still given out today at various restaurants, though often they include a coloring book section and some crayons. I’d guess 95% of them are thrown out within a few days of acquisition….or get food stains on them during the meal and are discarded with the burger wrappings and paper soda cups before the family leaves the restaurant.

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This particular issue, dating from 1967 (and one of 466 issues published over decades), hails from the Knoxville, Tennessee area, where I’m guessing Fritch’s was the operator of the Big Boy restaurants, though that’s not stated anywhere on the comic. The only regional identifier on this is a big ad for Channel 10 in Knoxville, which proudly lists its Saturday children’s programming, including Tom and Jerry, the Road Runner, the Lone Ranger, Space Ghost, Underdog, Superman, Mighty Mouse, and Leave it to Beaver! Boy, if that is not a KSE-approved TV lineup, I don’t know what is (all that’s missing is a Bowery Boys film).

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Besides the comic stories, there are of course word games, puzzles, and the like, as well as letters from juvenile fans of previous issues (or, more likely, their parents).

I think you can imagine what the Big Boy character is like. He’s a grinning, amiable guy, a kind of man-child with an “aw shucks” manner, and I can almost imagine him saying “gee whiz!” and calling to some adult, “hey, mister!”

There are only two multi-page stories in this–one before the word games and puzzles in the middle section, one after. The first one, “Facing The Deadly Monster,” has Big Boy heading to Florida to find his older cousin who has sent a cryptic letter. Turns out Big Boy mis-interpreted the letter, and the cousin is doing just fine, a scientist investigating mosquitoes (I’m not worrying about spoilers here as I doubt any of you will ever read this). In the second one, “The Miraculous Cape,” Big Boy sees someone with a Bat cape and buys it from him….only to discover anyone over a few pounds cannot fly in it. Oh, well!

There’s also a “State Of The Union” section, where Big Boy tells us about different states. This issue features Mississippi (and we’re told the next month’s state will be Rhode Island).

The Big Boy crew also includes his female friend Dolly (who in the last month or so here in 2020 has become the temporary mascot of the chain to promote their new chicken sandwich, meaning perhaps that Big Boy himself is associated primarily with beef…) and the dog Nugget.

I often find giveaway children’s comics from previous decades mixed in with old Archie comics and unwanted yellowed magazines in junk stores and flea markets. This one was slipped in free with some Abbott and Costello comic books I purchased–I’m glad it made it through all these years. One wonders if there were also Big Boy comic paper placemats put under the kid’s meal back in 1967 Tennessee. Now THAT would be a collectible….though for whom, I don’t know.

The most interesting thing about this giveaway comic is that except for some minor aspects of the artwork and some of the wording of the dialogue and the letters section, this could be given out today.

Frankly, when I take my grandsons out somewhere for a kid’s meal, I’m often more interested in the giveaway booklet or comic than they are!

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Silent film fans (which I hope means pretty much everyone reading this) also know that there was a juvenile comedy actor named Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian, who made a number of shorts at Educational Pictures. He was a child who wore over-sized adult clothing (see pic). Grapevine Video issued a collection of these shorts, and one of them also appears on Volume 2 of Ben Model’s excellent ACCIDENTALLY PRESERVED series. Other than the name, however, the restaurant character doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the silent film comedian (or for that matter, with western star and character actor and great Texan, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams).

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There are still a number of Big Boy outlets, and on their website, you can even buy items such as their special sauce (pictured above). Next time I’m in an area with Big Boys, I’ll order a kid’s meal and let you know what if any comic booklet I get with it.

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July 8, 2020

RONNIE JONES, “Satisfy My Soul: The Complete Recordings, 1964-1968” (RPM, UK) CD

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RONNIE JONES–Satisfy My Soul: The Complete Recordings, 1964-1968 (RPM, UK) CD

album issued in 2015

1 Night Time Is The Right Time

2 Let’s Pin A Rose On You

3 I Need Your Loving

4 My Love

5 It’s All Over

6 Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)

7 Nobody But You

8 You’re Lookin’ Good

9 I’m So Clean

10 Satisfy My Soul

11 My Only Souvenir

12 Little Bitty Pretty One

13 Put Your Tears Away

14 In My Love Mind

15 Mama Come On Home

16 Without Love (There Is Nothing)

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Once again, RPM has assembled a first-rate album containing the complete UK 60’s recordings of a valuable artist who was limited to singles and compilation tracks back in the day. Vocalist Ronnie Jones was serving in the US Air Force, stationed in England, and as with many R&B loving African-American servicemen at the time, he gravitated to the Flamingo Club when on leave. Having sung  back home in the US prior to his military service (praised by no less than Sam Cooke), Jones soon became vocalist for Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, and the album leads off with their fine bluesy take on “Night Time Is The Right Time,” featuring a blistering sax solo by Dick Heckstall-Smith.

 

Jones returned to America after his military service, but was invited back to the UK by fans who remembered his time with Korner’s group, and he then toured the club circuit extensively and recorded a number of singles in a wide variety of styles, the most successful of which are in the purer R&B and soul veins where Jones is a master. He also had the opportunity to work with well-known producers such as Les Reed and Andrew Loog Oldham on what could be described as “big-beat ballads” (which Jones’s labels no doubt saw as possible hit material), the kind of material one might associate with a P. J. Proby, and some tracks also resemble the pop-soul that Clyde McPhatter was recording for Mercury at the time, though (fortunately) less over-produced. While those tracks will not be the favorite of the blues-loving listener, they do prove that Mr. Jones is a singer who can handle any kind of material, from old-school R&B in the Jimmy Witherspoon vein to contemporary soul in the Otis Redding vein. He is a pleasure to listen to in any style.

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After the last of these UK recordings came out in 1968, Jones relocated to Italy, where he has continued to have a successful career as both broadcaster and vocalist. While it’s regrettable that Jones did not record a full album with the Korner band, what we do have here is proof that Ronnie Jones was one of the great R&B voices of 1960’s Britain.

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PS, you have not lived until you’ve heard Ronnie Jones’s theme song to the late 60’s Italian mind-fry of a film MICROSCOPIC LIQUID SUBWAY TO OBLIVION (there’s a snippet of another song first….you’ll know when the MLSTO theme song starts!). Jones also does three other songs in the film. This is a film that cries out to be restored–someone like Severin or Arrow or Vinegar Syndrome need to search for the negative or at least a quality 35mm print, rather than this awful pan and scan, chopped-up version from a Greek 80’s videotape, which is the only copy circulating among collectors for the last 30 years (the whole film is on You Tube, if you’re so inclined or a fan of Ewa Aulin or Alex Rebar). I wonder how much psychedelic material he did after the move to Italy? Now there would be another compilation I’d love to hear….Ronnie Jones, the Italian Psychedelic Years.

 

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July 7, 2020

genre-film adaptations of HAMLET

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It’s always refreshing to be watching some “crime” or “western” or “adventure” or whatever kind of genre film and realize part-way through that it is a re-write of HAMLET, or MACBETH, or RICHARD III, or SISTER CARRIE, or CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, OR GREAT EXPECTATIONS or NATIVE SON or MOBY DICK or SILAS MARNER or some other classic of literature. Not only are the plots and characters time-tested with audiences spanning centuries and multiple cultures, they can provide a kind of template/foundation on which the screenwriters can build their own edifice. I’ve chosen two of my favorite re-writes of Hamlet below and linked to the entire film online. STRANGE ILLUSION never shows its hand–if you did not know Hamlet, you’d never know the film’s reliance upon it. You’d just think it was an excellent mystery with a creepy man who gets involved with someone’s father. JOHNNY HAMLET, on the other hand, even if you saw it under another title (as many did), shows its hand from the first scene, with the Shakespearean acting troupe and the actual lines from Hamlet itself. After that, though, it goes on its merry way re-casting Hamlet as an Italian western….and doing it very well.

Undoubtedly, many screenwriters were literature majors (as I was), and it’s good to see them getting some use out of those courses in Shakespeare or comparative literature or The Novels of Dickens and Eliot and keeping these precious archetypal stories and character types alive and refreshed.

Enjoy!

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STRANGE ILLUSION (PRC Pictures, 1945), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, starring James Lydon, Sally Eilers, and Warren William  (genre: mystery-crime)

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Johnny Hamlet

JOHNNY HAMLET (aka The Wild and the Dirty, aka Quella sporca storia nel West….Italy 1968), directed by Enzo G. Castellari, starring Andrea Giordana, Gilbert Roland, and Horst Frank. Genre: Italian Western. In the US release of this, The Wild And The Dirty, which I used to own 20+ years ago, Giordana was billed as “Chip Corman.” That version was shorter than the version here, but it was entirely in English. Certain sections here which are in Italian with subtitles were in English in that version, although the drawback was that the copy of that version in circulation (I had a VHS from Grapevine Video, presumably taken from 16mm….it has not been in their catalogue for 20+ years now) was “stretched” in that it was transferred without using a widescreen lens/proper aspect ratio. It was a great version, but the people were eight feet tall. This European version (linked to below) has scenes not in the American version, and those scenes are visually rich and do add a lot to the experience of the film, however. The American version was trimmed to make it more action-oriented.

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July 6, 2020

Oldays (Japan) Reissue #1: THE GANTS, “Road Runner”

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(note: The Japanese label OLDAYS has been doing CD exact reissues (usually with extra tracks) of 1960’s albums in beautiful cardboard mini-LP sleeves for a number of years now, hundreds of them. Some of these, particularly those in the “60’s Garage Rockin” series, are important collections that really fill a gap, so I’m going to be looking at some of these in future weeks. They can be found for as low as $15 or so. As I understand it, Japan has a relatively simple 50-year Public Domain policy regarding recorded works, so technically all of the material on these albums is PD in Japan. The good news is that the sound quality is usually excellent (not always, though), as it should be since these are clearly taken from other CD’s in most cases. If you are expecting a needle-drop of a rare Mono version of a classic album, you’re going to be let down, no matter what the back cover or obi strip says. A few of their releases are actually new creations where no comparable album previously existed, as with the Eddie and The Showmen/Eddie Bertrand album I recently reviewed for Ugly Things. Let’s start with a collection that is wall-to-wall excellence for the 60’s garage-band fan, a 30-tracker from Mississippi’s GANTS….)

THE GANTS

Road Runner

Oldays Records, Japan, ODR 6763, cardboard mini-LP sleeve CD

released in January 2019 (probably sourced from other CD’s)

1 Road Runner
2 Stormy Weather
3 Gloria
4 Six Days In May
5 You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
6 The House Of The Rising Sun
7 Bad Boy
8 My Baby Don’t Care
9 Never Go Right
10 Out Of Sight
11 Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
12 I Don’t Want To See Her Again
Bonus Tracks
13 What’s Your Name
14 Another Chance
15 Little Boy Sad
16 (You Can’t Blow) Smoke Rings
17 Crackin’ Up
18 Dr. Feelgood
19 I Want Your Lovin’
20 Spoonful Of Sugar
21 I Wonder
22 Rain
23 I’m A Snake
24 You Better Run
25 Somebody Please
26 Oh Yeah
27 Dance Last Night
28 Greener Days
29 Drifter’s Sunrise
30 Just A Good Show

all songs originally released on the Gants’ 3 LP’s (ROAD RUNNER, GANTS AGAIN, and GANTS GALORE) and various singles for Liberty Records, 1965-1967

The Gants are SID HERRING, JOHNNY SANDERS, VINCE MONTGOMERY, DON WOOD.

Here’s a nice newspaper story about the band around the time a public marker was put up in the band’s hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi, and it’s NOT hidden behind a paywall, for once….

https://www.clarionledger.com/story/life/mslife/2018/04/27/gants-get-their-music-marker/558437002/

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The Gants were the ultimate example of the 60’s garage-band who put out a record on a local label (their first single, “Road Runner” / “My Baby Don’t Care” on Statue Records) that made noise in the band’s home area, causing it to be picked up by a nationally distributed label—-in this case, Los Angeles-based Liberty Records—-which then led to a string of singles and multiple albums on that larger label, and a good-sized body of excellent work that’s not hard to find today.

Their first album, ROAD RUNNER, was recorded in Nashville with producer Hurshel Wiginton, acclaimed studio vocalist and bass voice in the legendary Nashville Edition, who was featured extensively on the Hee-Haw TV series. Wiginton as a producer totally “got” what 60’s garage-band rock and roll was about, perhaps because he was surrounded by so much basic-format rockabilly as an Alabama native. On the Gants’ 3 LP’s and their singles (except for two, near the end of their run), we basically had the core Gants only—–singer/rhythm guitarist (Sid Herring), lead guitar, bass, drums, and everyone on vocal harmonies (a few tracks had an added keyboard also). They had a twangy sound. The second and third albums, GANTS AGAIN and GANTS GALORE, though produced by Dallas Smith (presumably at Liberty’s home-base in Los Angeles—Smith was best-known for Liberty artists such as Bobby Vee, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the pre-Allman Brothers ‘Hour Glass’), pretty much kept the successful formula: energetic, stripped-down rock and roll by the quartet, with a mix of tempos, covers of a number of songs from various sources mixed with songs Liberty had the publishing to mixed with Herring originals.

The music on those 3 albums has not really dated as it is timeless small-group rock and roll without any pretensions—-well-played, well-sung, cleanly recorded without any studio trickery or layers of overdubbed frosting (which Smith had a tendency to do with some of the other artists he worked with). The band simply delivered the goods. Of course, Sid Herring’s vague resemblance to Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits probably did not hurt the band’s teen-female appeal, and Herring was also a man who could sing in a number of styles with ease, which allowed the band to adapt material from British groups, tin pan alley, Bo Diddley, or Liberty songwriters with equal ease. Herring also contributed some classic songs of his own such as “My Baby Don’t Care” and the amazing “(You Can’t Blow) Smoke Rings.”

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The final three songs on this 30-track Oldays collection come from their last two 45’s, from 1967, and show producer Smith and arranger David Gates (pre-Bread) moving the group into a kind of a sunshine pop vein, though from fifty paces they still sound like the Gants. The core identity of The Gants was as a rootsy frat-rock quartet with a twangy rock and roll sound that showed the influence of the British Invasion, but on a rootsy, gutsy Mississippi level, straightforward and without pretensions.

The Gants have been fortunate re-issue wise….during the LP era there was a fine compilation on Bam-Caruso (UK), and then CD’s on RPM and Sundazed that compiled the majority of their output on a single disc. The Gants are a band that benefit from getting 30 straight tracks in a row–you both hear multiple examples of what they are very good at (the Bo Diddley rockers, the covers of others’ hits such as “You Better Run” or “Rain” or “Gloria”) and realize their ability to play in a number of styles while remaining instantly recognizable as The Gants. A popular live band throughout the South, they had to be able to play in various tempos for the dancers, to play their own singles, and to play recognizable hits in order to keep those audiences excited and wanting the band back in a few months—-their records capture that mix perfectly. Considering that you get 30 tracks here in a beautiful heavy cardboard mini-LP sleeve replicating their ROAD RUNNER album, this seems like an essential purchase….the one Gants album you should own, and yes, you should own a Gants album. I’ve had the 3 LP’s since the late 70’s and they  have never been far from my turntable.

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Gants leader Sid Herring was also in an interesting group in the early 70’s called WATCHPOCKET, who recorded in Memphis for Steve Cropper’s TMI label. I stumbled across this album, noticed Herring’s name, and assumed it was the same man. I’m glad I did. It’s first rate Southern country-soul, most of the material is written or co-written by Herring, he’s reunited with Gants drummer Don Taylor Wood, and Steve Cropper’s guitar is all over the album. There are also two singles under Herring’s name from this period, and I assume they are from a similar pool of musicians. Some label should license all of this material and put it on one CD…the album, the non-lp side of Watchpocket, and the two Sid Herring singles. Ace Records or Grapefruit Records or Real Gone Music would be excellent labels to take on such a project.

You can read about that material here:

http://badcatrecords.com/BadCat/WATCHPOCKET.htm

gants marker

Public marker honoring THE GANTS in their hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi, reads “They were Mississippi’s Beatles”….yes, they were, and Mississippi’s Stones and Mississippi’s Standells and Mississippi’s Paul Revere And The Raiders and Mississippi’s Yardbirds and Mississippi’s Dave Clark Five! Prior to COVID-19, I would get over to Mississippi every few years, so I’ll make a point of visiting Greenwood and checking out this marker and the general vibe of the town. If it produced the Gants, it’s got to be of interest. I’ve been in many a Mississippi town, but not Greenwood.

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And as thanks for reading this far, here is the entire WATCHPOCKET album for your listening pleasure!

July 4, 2020

TRAPPED IN TANGIERS (Italy-Spain, 1957), starring Edmund Purdom, directed by Riccardo Freda

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:01 am
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trapped 1

With the first scene taking place on the Tangier docks in the murky evening—-a sports car whose driver’s face is not clearly seen is extracting a gun from the car’s glove compartment—-and with a slow and moody jazz vocal (kind of a cross between Julie London or Anita O’Day at their most languid, trading lines with a mellow and bluesy muted trumpet) on the soundtrack from the start, you know immediately that the makers of AGGUATO A TANGERI (aka TRAPPED IN TANGIERS) understand what a crime film is expected to deliver. Nightclub scenes, rich people having tedious parties where they sit around and drink, Interpol agents looking at maps and discussing strategy, narcotics deals transacted in seedy alleys after midnight, a hero (Edmund Purdom) pretending to be someone else for the majority of the film—in fact, the way Purdom is nursing a drink, smoking cigarettes, and hitting on the ladies, it’s as if he took a page out of Eddie Constantine’s playbook! And there’s no better crime-film playbook than THAT in 1950’s Europe!

Director Riccardo Freda was a master in many genres, including classics of sword and sandal/historical adventure, Eurospy, Eurowestern, and Euro-horror (I VAMPIRI, and Barbara Steele’s THE GHOST, the sequel to HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK). He does an excellent job here of channeling the best elements of 1950’s B&W French and British crime films into the visual style, and the film moves as quickly as the better Columbia B-crime programmers of the late 40’s and early 50’s.

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Star Edmund Purdom was at the beginning of his long and successful European career at this point, after his short Hollywood starring phase. He is mostly known nowadays by MGM completists and fans of Euro genre and exploitation films. Originally a British stage actor with a Shakespeare background (he’d been in Lawrence Olivier’s Shakespeare troupe!), he came to Hollywood right as the old-school star-making system was coming to an end. His first two major roles in American films were as replacements for other actors, Mario Lanza and Marlon Brando. Obviously, stepping in unwanted for someone else who is loved by the audience is not the best way to start one’s career push. Then he was in two big-budget historical spectacles (THE PRODIGAL and THE EGYPTIAN) that did not do as well as expected because the wave of widescreen historical films coming out after THE ROBE was winding down. He was excellent in his next film, THE KING’S THIEF (with David Niven, George Sanders, and Roger Moore), which allowed him to turn on his natural charm and show his gift for swashbuckling with a light comedic touch, but by then Hollywood had moved on, and his final Hollywood film was done at Allied Artists (MGM to Allied Artists! Wow!), the bizarre STRANGE INTRUDER, where he plays a character dealing with what would nowadays be called PTSD, put into an over-the-top melodramatic plot. He was chilling in the role, but the film was not exactly commercial—-after all, a film where an emotionally scarred veteran is on the verge of killing the children of his old war buddy is not exactly a date movie! In fact, with the Warner Archive having reissued a lot of Allied Artists’ output, it’s telling that they have not yet reissued STRANGE INTRUDER on DVD….even today it still keeps its power to alienate! Purdom left Hollywood for good at that point, and started working in Europe immediately after—and he never came back. He was a natural for the historical spectacles being made in Italy in the late 50’s and early 60’s—-he’d starred in REAL Hollywood epics, and he had the Shakespearean background, so if you needed someone to play King Herod or whoever, he was the man. He was also VERY active as an English language voice artist working in Rome on the export versions of Italian films. Dozens of times I have been watching some dubbed film and suddenly, the rich, British stage-actor tones of Edmund Purdom start coming out of someone else’s mouth.

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TRAPPED IN TANGIERS was Purdom’s first film after STRANGE INTRUDER, and it was eventually released in the US in a dubbed version, a few years after its making, although I’ve never seen that English language version offered on the grey market or shown on cable TV or UHF. I have an Italian-language copy taped off European Cable TV in the middle of the night. Purdom is excellent and exudes star quality, whether grinning on the beach trying to seduce a young lady of affluent background, or maneuvering his way through the dark backstreets of the Tangiers waterfront, gun in hand. We’re not sure exactly who his character is until the film is 2/3 of the way through, but at that point, everything that’s happened earlier falls into place. This also features one of my favorite set-ups in a crime film, which has been done so often, I’ve come to expect it when someone is working undercover and posing as a criminal to get “inside” the organization: the inevitable scene where to show his allegiance to the mob, he is asked to kill the person who is ALSO an undercover agent and has been outed and caught. TRAPPED IN TANGIERS, though probably written off in its day as a formula crime film, was an excellent vehicle for Purdom to show other sides of himself that were not an display in his Hollywood work. I’ve seen him in dozens of European films and will probably review some more here eventually (don’t forget that he was the headmaster of the school in the early 80’s Spanish slasher film PIECES). People often write him off as either hammy and over-the-top, or wooden and unconvincing (how could you be BOTH of those things?), but I beg to differ.

With the exciting drug smuggling plot, mysterious waterfront setting, jazz score, crisp B&W photography, car chases, back-stabbing and double-crosses, and the cool and magnetic presence of Mr. Purdom, TRAPPED IN TANGIERS delivers the goods that I want in a 50’s European crime melodrama. The fact that it’s in Italian and not dubbed English just adds to the atmosphere, and this is a film with atmosphere to burn!

trapped 4

July 3, 2020

Elvis Presley, “Almost In Love” (Camden, originally released in 1970)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:56 am
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elvis almost

ELVIS PRESLEY

“ALMOST IN LOVE”   Camden Records (RCA’s budget subsidiary), originally issued in 1970

I own a 1985 cassette (pictured above), on the Camden label but licensed to “Special Music Company,” a major player in the 80’s/90’s budget-label world, especially with cassette tapes.

special music

You could find stacks of their releases, usually for $1.99 or so, at gas stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, etc. I picked this one up in the dollar bin at a used record store in Roanoke, Virginia, in the mid-to-late 1980’s. The great thing about the Elvis budget LP’s on Camden is that they often have a wide variety of then-uncommon deep-cuts from Elvis’ large catalogue of songs, an odd mix of movie songs from films that did not have soundtrack LP’s (some actually getting their first release anyplace on these budget albums), B-sides of singles, and oddball combinations of things going back to the Sun era. These albums certainly showed off Elvis’ versatility as an artist, and to isolated fans in the hinterlands (as I was at varying times), they were even more interesting and satisfying than the better-known, mainstream albums. Let’s be honest….some of Elvis’s 1970’s studio and live albums were not great, and with Camden budget albums selling for half of what a full-price new album on RCA would, it’s not hard to see why these albums full of lesser-known material sold so well, often better than the “new” releases.

These Camden budget albums also had incredible staying power. Discogs lists 48 (!!!!) release variations since 1970 on LP/cassette/8-track/CD, and the album has never been out of print. You can still buy it on CD today, RCA keeps it in print, and I have seen that budget CD at gas station convenience stores here in Texas in the last ten years. Prior to the license with Special Music, ALMOST IN LOVE was sub-licensed to Pickwick in the 1970’s, and who knows how many tens of thousands of copies that cassette sold at the K-Marts of the South and Midwest. For you 8-track fans out there, I’ve put a scan of the Canadian Pickwick 8-track release at the bottom of this post (and as often happens with that format, the songs are in a different running order than on any other format’s version of the album).

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The music on ALMOST IN LOVE is an amazing assemblage of what was probably considered throwaway filler at the time, but as the Elvis Information Network has observed, it  “looks far stronger now than it did when it came out.” I can’t imagine anyone with an unbiased set of ears listening to this album and not concluding that, at minimum, Elvis Presley was a versatile artist capable of an amazingly eclectic set of performances…and most of this material came from within a 2-3 year period.

Let’s take a look at what’s on here:

1 Almost In Love, from LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE, Elvis’s oddest feature film, this is a bossa nova ballad, co-composed by Luis Bonfa, and is Elvis at his most lounge-iest ever.

2 Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On) , from DOUBLE TROUBLE, is a furious rocker that starts off in high-gear and features a sizzling fuzz-tone guitar dueling it out with Elvis….it’s also one of his shortest-ever singles, clocking in at 1:29. It reached #63 on the charts and sold 250,000+ copies. Yes, it’s a tossed-off throw-together with lyrics like a laundry list, but it rocks, it sizzles, and it’s over before you know it. Most people’s reaction, when the single was over, would be to ask, “what the heck was that?” I saw Double Trouble at a cheapo theater on a triple Elvis bill circa 1969, and I LOVED this song. Its presentation in the film makes it even more surreal.

elvis long legged
3 Edge Of Reality, also from LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE, was Elvis’s only foray into psychedelia (well, lounge-psychedelia), and in the film it actually appears in a freak-out sequence!
4 My Little Friend was the B-side of Elvis’s hit single “Kentucky Rain” and NOT a film song. No less than Julian Cope rhapsodized about the song, so let me turn this over to him: “The country-soul flavoured ‘My Little Friend’ is an overlooked gem from the prolific 1969 Memphis sessions which produced the albums ‘From Elvis In Memphis’ and ‘Back In Memphis’ as well as classic singles such as ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘Kentucky Rain’. It appeared on the b-side of the latter, with which it shares a pained vocal style and an incisive arrangement. The piano player and backing singers are content to take a backseat for the most part, giving maximum impact to their strategically-placed contributions. Elvis’s tone of voice is perfectly complemented by the string and horn sections which lurk unnervingly in the left channel, waiting for gaps in the vocal which they fill with bursts of spiky melodicism. It’s a genuinely inspired piece of work which proves that the King didn’t surround himself with mere hacks. And what an amazing opening line: ‘My warped and worried mind resorts to wandering off to ponder things I never talk about.”
5 A Little Less Conversation
6 Rubberneckin’
7 Clean Up Your Own Back Yard
8 U.S. Male  Tracks 5-8 present Elvis at his re-energized country-funk best circa 1968, and getting all these first-rate tracks from obscure 45’s on one album, and a budget album at that, was undoubtedly an exciting experience for the many who bought this album. Of course, tracks 5 & 6 became huge posthumous hits for The King in remixed versions, and may well be among the best-known Elvis songs for those under 30 today. These four tracks are the same Elvis who appeared in the black leather suit in the 1968 comeback TV special, and that period was certainly one of this best-ever periods, when he pulled it all together after too many years in the Hollywood film-soundtrack world.

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9 Charro  The title song from Elvis’s 1968 film, an Americanized faux-Spaghetti Western a la Hang Em High, was the only song in the film. It’s a rich western ballad and started the film off on a good foot. The film Charro has never been a critics’ favorite, though I remember it playing for a year or more on the drive-in circuit, surfacing as a second feature with other National General releases and on Elvis multi-film bills. It was an auteur film for Charles Marquis Warren (originally a protege of F. Scott Fitzgerald, believe it or not, during FSF’s “Pat Hobby” period), who’d done a number of films for Lippert Pictures 15 years earlier. Many Italian Westerns started off with a moody “loner ballad” to set the tone of the film (I can hear about a dozen of them in my head as I’m typing this), and Charro did that very well and was a true prize on this album.

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10 Stay Away  is not the song “Stay Away Joe” (my choice for Elvis’s worst film), although some early pressings of the album DID include that performance. No, this is a rewrite of the melody of “Greensleeves” which appeared as the B-side to U.S. Male. It’s a jaunty song that’s also quite moody and it’s powered along by acoustic guitars and strings and emphatic, fast-paced percussion and later shimmering piano that give it a unique flavor.

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One critic, in a book called THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM: LISTENING TO MEDIA, in a very perceptive section devoted to Elvis’s Camden albums (which I just stumbled across as I was finishing up writing this piece), describes them as “a kind of proto-rarities compilation, a genre of album taken up by labels to head off bootleggers….not unlike the bootleg, the Elvis budget albums present an alternative view of the central image crafted and re-adjusted by RCA and Elvis’s management.”

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Of course, the Camden albums got Colonel Parker a 50/50 cut with Elvis from RCA, much higher than his usual cut on RCA royalties, so the Colonel was motivated to create a number of these albums. A quick advance payment of a few hundred-thousand dollars for each album was nothing to sneeze at, and Elvis didn’t have to DO anything he hadn’t already done for one of these albums to enter the marketplace. Also, they appeared at retailers (usually NOT at record stores, but other kind of stores, getting even wider traction than a “normal” release) across the nation at affordable prices ($1.98 or $2.98), so they were essentially keeping the “brand” alive and visible.

It was a win-win situation for artist, manager, label, and the Elvis fans who bought the albums because they were getting wonderful collections of obscure material, most of a high quality and especially a wide variety of music on each one, even though they usually ran 25 minutes or so, containing only 10 tracks. The Camden albums are an important part of Elvis’s recorded legacy, and even though all this material has since been compiled into meaningful compilations with exhaustive liner notes and finally properly contextualized, the randomness of the Camden albums is one of their strengths. It’s like dipping  your ladle into a pot of gumbo, where you have no idea what ingredients its maker put into it, and getting both a big surprise and an amazing and satisfying meal. And of course, as with an 8-track, it’s always better on cassette tape. I’m glad I still own and listen to mine….50 years after the album’s initial release!

elvis almost 8track

 

July 2, 2020

Wanted: Sabata (Italy 1970), starring Brad Harris

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WANTED: SABATA (Italy 1970)

starring Brad Harris and Vassili Karis

directed by Roberto Mauri

note: I recently acquired the “sequel” to this film, DURANGO IS COMING: PAY OR DIE!, which is a sequel in the sense that it’s from the same production company, Three Stars Films, and also stars Brad Harris. I hope to write about it some time in the future (I’ve watched it twice and it’s quite entertaining and also quite different in tone from its predecessor), but until then, here is a review of WANTED: SABATA I published elsewhere online a year or two ago….hope you find it interesting and worthwhile!

wanted sabata 1

Originally from Sicily, director Roberto Mauri was involved with many worthwhile sword and sandal films and westerns in the 1960’s……and he continued on, doing whatever genre of film was in fashion at the time. 1968-69 alone saw him doing the great western with Tab Hunter SHOTGUN, the beyond-belief KING OF KONG ISLAND, and one of the late-period Kommissar X films, THREE GOLDEN SERPENTS aka Island of Lost Girls, the latter two starring BRAD HARRIS, an American who was quite successful as a sword and sandal star (his FURY OF HERCULES and SAMSON sold tens of thousands of copies each in the early days of VHS) then Eurospy star then Eurowestern star. Harris was also a stunt director who had a background working with second-unit (action) work and as an athlete himself did a fine job of fight choreography. As a lead actor, he had a strong presence and the gravitas needed to play Hercules/Maciste, but he also could radiate a real charm, and in his Kommissar X films with Tony Kendall he had a great sense of humor. Having worked with Mauri before, he was a natural choice for leading man for this low-budget formula Eurowestern made in 1970.

One thing the viewer notices in 1970-71 lower-rung Eurowesterns is how they were no longer being shot in Almeria, Spain—-no more of those endless, expansive stretches of barren imitation US Southwest/Northern Mexico. Instead, they were shot within driving distance of Rome in wooded areas where they could be found (and they weren’t that large when they were found), so the films had a very different look, and with the landscape being a huge presence in the earlier films, with a sense of dread and foreboding and bleakness, the later films had a different FEEL.

wanted sabata 2

Also, there seems to be by 1970 fewer of the operatic, Gothic touches one would have seen in films from 1966-1968. Individual directors would still have their own unique styles (Gianfranco Parolini, aka Frank Kramer, who’d worked a lot with Brad Harris in the early-to-mid 60’s, for instance, played by his own rulebook in the early 70’s), but there were a number of relatively straight-forward, bread and butter westerns that moved from Point A to Point B relatively simply, with the kind of matter-of-fact approach one would see in the series B-Westerns of the 1930’s and 1940’s—westerns that were made because there was an audience wanting to see them and which were ground out  quickly by people who had an intuitive feel for the genre. By 1970, the Eurowestern had its core audience both in Europe and abroad, people who would pay to see anything that resembled what they were expecting, and modest-budgeted films (no expensive location shooting in Spain!) that had few pretensions but delivered the goods had a niche market.

WANTED: SABATA is one of those. The plot could be written on a napkin in magic marker. It could be from a 1930’s Bob Steele western (one where the plot DID NOT involve Bob on the revenge path because his father was killed). Sabata (played by Brad Harris), a simple rancher who’d had some trouble earlier in his life and is trying to rebuild things for himself, is tagged for destruction by someone who sold Sabata some land and wants it back (or something like that….my Italian is not good and the subtitles are minimal, and based on what I do know, not always accurate). This character (Jim Sparrow) is played by Greek actor Vassili Karis, and to say he’s over the top is an understatement. In a 30’s western, the character would probably be played by Wheeler Oakman (as in THE MAN FROM GUNTOWN, with Tim McCoy), at his leering, twitchy best. Just in case you weren’t sure HOW bad a person he is, in the first three minutes of the film, when Sparrow’s brother takes him to task for being so maniacal in his hatred of Sabata, who has done nothing wrong, Sparrow blows his brother away….and then pins the murder on Sabata. Sabata is captured, escapes, flees, and hides out in the hills while plotting his strategy and eventually gets justice. Well, kind of…..a Roy Rogers kind of justice that might seem unsatisfying to Eurowestern fans who grew up on those immortal lines from the trailer of DEATH RIDES A HORSE, “when you’ve been searching fifteen years for a man, it’s a shame you can only kill him once!”

wanted sabata 3

Brad Harris does not get good notices from the few who have written about this film, but he and the director have clearly decided for him to under-play the part, a la Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott. I feel that Harris is a strong enough presence to pull the viewer in, in the way a Randolph Scott or a Charles Bronson could, but you the viewer can decide for yourself.

Not sure that this was ever given an English dub. I watched it on You Tube in Italian with minimal English subtitles. You’ll have no problem following it. I first watched it last summer, when I was in El Paso, and my wife was busy with her Mom running some errands…..I borrowed her tablet and watched it on that while the ladies were out for the afternoon. I’ve now watched it a second time, and I do think that people who enjoy a straightforward Spaghetti Western that is full of action and suspense, has a decent musical score, and moves quickly will find this to be 90 minutes of their life not wasted. Also, Brad Harris has many fans (Mr. Harris just passed away in 2017), and his westerns are not as well known as his sword and sandal and his Eurospy films. Considering this is up for free on You Tube in an OK quality widescreen copy, what are you waiting for?

Oh, this character has zero to do with the Sabata of Lee Van Cleef (or the Sabata through dubbing after the fact of Yul Brynner). Like the many cut-rate Django ripoffs and Sartana ripoffs—or the many Italian “Maciste” films which became Hercules films when dubbed into English–they just took the name and hoped it brought a few more patrons into the theater. For me, that just adds to the charm.

wanted sabata 4

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