Friday, September 18, 2015

KOMA Oklahoma City Jan 5 1964 restored audio

This aircheck was originally posted on YouTube by Ryan Scriver, whose description reads; “recorded on to reel to reel off the radio in South Shore, South Dakota on January 5 1964” In its original form, frequent signal drops render it largely unlistenable. Not one song is spared the wrath of static, signal pollution and volume drops. Nonetheless, the original aircheck is amazing, as it was surely recorded during daytime hours under less than optimal ionospheric conditions. For KOMA's signal to reach South Shore, S.D. Located in the northeastern corner of the state, near the Minnesota border, wasn't out of the ordinary. KOMA had a tremendous reach with its directional antenna array and 50,000 watt transmitter. To do so during the day, was in fact quite impressive. 

Music and radio were both undergoing a number of changes in 1958 when Storz Broadcasting Co. bought KOMA, Todd Storz, owner of Storz Broadcasting, was of course the man who invented the “Top 40” radio concept. He introduced the same format at KOMA that he had used at all Storz stations, though two other OKC stations beat KOMA to the Top 40 format, (KOCY and WKY) leaving KOMA the odd man out. In 1961 KOMA went to a totally automated format. This January 5th. Aircheck in all likelihood captures an early moment during KOMA's return to “live” programming, which would have taken place on or about New Year's Day 1964. 

Drake-Chenault's “Boss Radio” format killed off this type of radio shows. Storz stations did follow a format, but as you can tell by this aircheck, things got a little loosey goosey at times. It's a Tuesday, pre-Beatles, British Invasion. It's elephant joke day and Don McGregor, like most KOMA disc jockeys is hitting his cues like clockwork, even as he stumbles with some of the jokes sent in by listeners. “How do you make an elephant float?.... a can of soda and two scoops of ice cream.” It's corny as hell, but after all it's Oklahoma, not Southern California. The song selection is an eclectic mix of soul, ballads and rockers... a little something for everyone in less than thirty minutes.

I restored all the music and as much of the deejay banter that I could, I cut two commercials that ran way too long (one for an appetite suppressant that wouldn't air today) In all there were about three minutes of air time that weren't salvageable. This aircheck captures a rather sedate and milquetoast period in the station's history. KOMA wouldn't really hit its stride until the following year, with its classic period coming between 1968-72.  KOMA reached out to New Mexico and the Western States nightly read all about it here:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Plastic Fantastic Vinyl


The third installment of 'Burque Garage, clocks in with twenty five tracks designed to keep your Tote-a-Tune portable stereo bumping for well over an hour. Have those D-cells handy, these tunes will have you cutting a rug like a Veg-O-Matic. You'll slice and dice like a Feather Touch Knife, you gotta hear these songs. They'll change your life, I swear. Albuquerque's music scene in the mid-1960s was prolific and what's even more amazing is that a high percentage of what was recorded is actually pretty damn good. I'm three installments in and there's been little drop off from the first installment. Albuquerque, while lacking a big “breakout” act during the 60s nonetheless holds up well when compared to other cities in the region during the same time period.

El Paso had Bobby Fuller, but the talent thinned out real quick after that. Ditto, Tucson and The Stone Poneys w/ Linda Ronstadt. West Texas churned out some heavyweights in the mid-1950s (Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison) but outside of J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers from San Angelo, 60s bands from Amarillo, Lubbock & Midland-Odessa had little impact outside of the region. In fact I'll even go out on a limb and declare that 'Burque's music scene was equal to that of Denver, which checked in The Moonrakers and The Astronauts (who were actually from Boulder) and a roster of lesser bands that weren't any better than what Albuquerque produced.

As is my custom, I've interspersed DJ platter throughout the mix. In this case the interruptions come courtesy of Tommy Vance, The Monkees (appearing on Bob Shannon's show on KRUX in Phoenix, Az.) and Steve Crosno doing his “Cruising with Crosno” thang on KVLC in Las Cruces. “all accordions all of the time, night & day, day & night” The Monkees work their shtick, improvising a farm report and commercials for Beeline Dragway while keeping the wackiness to a minimum. At one point Mickey Dolenz reminds listeners to come out to their concert the following night, tossing in a snarly aside “and if you don't believe we play our own instruments, come and find out” 

Of all the “Burque bands, King Richard & The Knights were the one that you could say had a distinct sound of their own. This was due to Dick Stewart's distinctive guitar style and the fact that they stayed clear of cover songs, sticking with their own material for the large part. Lindy Blaskey was capable of writing his own tunes, though his best known songs were in fact covers. “Out Here in Vietnam” is credited to Lindy Blaskey (sans the Lavells) and it's.... gasp! A pro Vietnam war song. Those were easy to write, especially if you weren't “Out there in Vietnam” It's some rather trite jingoistic bullshit “thanks be to the day when the Viet Cong will say that they've had enough” Coming from someone who obviously avoided service in Vietnam, it comes off as insincere and self serving. “It's a hard-ball world, son. We've gotta try to keep our heads until this peace craze blows over!”

Dave Rarick and The Morfomen as they tended to do, blow everyone away with three solid tunes. When compared to his contemporaries, Dave was on a whole other level. Quiet, unassuming and  loaded with talent, he worked every angle from doo wop to poppy harmonies and fuzz buster rave ups. Too good to be forgotten and too good to be ignored. The Morfomen are my pick of the week for best band ever. The Fireballs w/ Jimmy Gilmer chime in with a timeless folk rock song, that should have been a hit “Ain't That Rain” Written by George Tomsco and his wife Barbara, “Ain't That Rain” did top the charts... in Hong Kong, when it was covered in 1969 by Michael Kwan, Hong Kong Superstar, singer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist. All things considered and despite some “lost in translation” glitches, Kwan's version ain't half bad. Plus, I can imagine that George and Babs picked up a nice fat residuals check courtesy of Mr. Kwan.

The Fireballs (especially George Tomsco) had a major role in the evolution of New Mexico rock & roll music. They were the first to score a Top 40 hit and the first and only New Mexico based band to record a #1 hit song. The Fireballs transitioned from an instrumental combo that matched beats with The Ventures and their ilk, to a vocal group that shot to the top of the pops (#1 song of 1963 w/ Sugar Shack) once Amarillo vocalist Jimmy Gilmer signed on. They also kept evolving with the changing music scene. A pet project of Norm Petty, The Fireballs worked all genres equally well. Sunny pop numbers, folk rock, frat rock, psyche, garage beat.... before finishing up their long careers as a country rock outfit (for contractual reason they called themselves Colorado)

Speaking of Norm Petty, in the mid-60s he sold off some of his recording equipment to Bennie Sanchez, matriarch of the Sanchez clan and owner of Hurricane Records. Which accounts for part of the reason that The New Things sound “all Buddy Holly” on “This Little Lite of Mine” (yes that's how it's spelled on the label) right down to the rolling toms. The New Things recorded for Hurricane Records (I have no idea who they were) Their other track on this playlist “The Only Woman You Can Trust” (is dear old mom) is straight up a blatant Standells knock off. Right down to the snarling vocals and flippant attitude. Back in those days you could do that and not get sued into bankruptcy.

I've said too much already, it's time for me to shut up and for you to start listening. Text accompanied by music is how I describe the Dirt City Chronicles experience. Outstanding in a field of one, Dirt City Chronicles and don't you forget it.

How About Now?- King Richard & The Knights
Let It Be- Lindy Blaskey & The Lavells
Sunny Sunday Dream- Lincoln St. Exit
Mr. Sweet Stuff- Fe Fi Four Plus 2
Thinking of You- The Morfomen
Ah, You're Dead- The Kreeg
How Far Up is Down- The Burgundy Runn
Please Don't Stop- The Sprytes
This Little Lite of Mine- The New Things
Ain't That Rain- Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs
You're Not Alone- The Morticians
Why Am I Alone- The Chob
She Doesn't Know- The Viscount V
Give Me a Break- The Striders
Don't Go Baby- The Morfomen
Don't Kill My Mockingbird- The Kreeg
The Things You Do- King Richard & The Knights
Sweets for My Sweet- Lindy & The Lavells
The Only Woman You Can Trust- The New Things
Route 66- The Monkey Men
She's The One- The Torques
Rod Hot Rod- The Kingpins
Out Here in Vietnam- Lindy Blaskey
Groovy Motions- Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs
What's Happened to Me- The Morfomen

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Acid Visions: Best of The 60s Texas Punk & Psychedelic_Vol. 2 _ Cassette to MP3

Acid Visions: Best of The 60s Texas Punk & Psychedelic_Vol. 2
Cassette to MP3_Collectables, COL504

Just as my vinyl collection went from several hundred long players down to two and a handful of seven inchers... I whittled my massive cassette collection down to a hundred or so, which includes a few odd cassingles, many moons ago. I've been meaning to convert them to MP3, post 'em on YouTube or burn 'em to CDR. Well, the stars are aligned and now is the time. Acid Visions: Best of The 60s Texas Punk & Psychedelic Vol. 2 shall be the first entry in this long delayed Cassette to MP3 series. Acid Visions Vol. 1 is already available on YouTube. Seek it out, it makes a nice companion piece for Vol. 2.

Acid Visions: Best of The 60s Texas Punk & Psychedelic Vol. 2 was originally released as part of the Priceless Collection on the Collectables label. A series of low budget compilations, that true to their nature, could be found in cut out bins at music stores across the country. Such as Hastings in Rio Rancho where I found my copy in the early 1990s. “Collectables is a reissue record label founded in 1980 by Jerry Greene. It's the largest independently owned reissue label in the U.S., maintaining a catalog of over 3,400 active titles, mostly on compact disc, but also available on vinyl.” The CD versions usually combine at least two volumes on each disc.

Collectables releases have been criticized for their poor recording quality and Acid Visions Vol. 2 is no exceptions. The audio is heavily processed, which gets rid of the pops inherent with 60s vinyl, but it renders the music dull as dishwater in the process. Since the mid-1990s Little Walter DeVenne has remastered and restored many of the label's reissues to good results. (Acid Visions Vol. 2 was released in 1991, pre-Little Walter) A popular Boston radio personality, Little Walter DeVenne was also the host of the syndicated oldies program “Little Walter's Time Machine” on Clear Channel “Real Time Oldies Channel”

The Acid Visions series clocks in at a half dozen volumes with diminishing returns. It's a strange and spotty collection of tracks. A few gold nuggets salted into a slag heap of dubious material. Not for the casual listener for sure. However, it you have a thing for trashy 60s garage/psyche/punk from Texas, this will surely punch your ticket. Amazingly there's three bands on Vol. 2 that share names with El Paso bands from the same era, The Bobby Fuller 4 originally went by Bobby Fuller & The Fanatics, Neal Ford & The Fanatics from Houston, never reached those heights, but it wasn't from a lack of trying. Bill Taylor & The Sherwoods hailed from El Paso, The Sherwoods were based in Houston. The Things, from Houston should not be confused with the Things from El Paso... comprendes mendes? 

You can't tell your Texas 60s garage bands without a scorecard

“From the era of hip huggers, bell bottoms and miniskirts”, Neal Ford & The Fanatics, from Houston, worked really hard to establish themselves as stars. They seemed destined to break through, yet never had much of an impact outside of Texas. The Fanatics released on album on the Hickory label, along with a number of singles on Hickory and other labels. (“Good Men” a compilation released by Ace Records is a great introduction to this highly underrated band) Neal Ford – Vocals, Lanier Greig – Keyboards, Johnny Stringfellow - Lead Guitar, Jon Pereles - Rhythm Guitar, Dub Johnson-bass, John Cravey-drums.

The Sherwoods, a psychedelic garage punk outfit based in Houston, Texas, though originally from Corpus Christi. The Sherwoods peaked during 1968-69 when they signed with Mercury Records subsidiary label Smash Records. The band languished at Mercury (recording three singles) before the draft and lack of success broke them apart. The Sherwoods were Michael Claxton (lead and backing vocals), Johnny Clary (drums, lead and backing vocals), David Franklin (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jim Frye (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals), and Kenny Blanchet (bass).

Thursday's Children were from Houston, they recorded for International Artists and they're best know for their single “Help, Murder, Police” written by Jan Pedersen. The Brother Love Congregation has a great 60s psyche name and little else going for them, probably from the Houston area. The Things from Houston were not the Things from El Paso.... that's all. Long before Space Cadet was synonymous with airheads, there were The Space Cadets who without a doubt hailed from Houston, the Space City. Warlocks was Dusty Hill and brother Rocky Hill's first musical venture. They were joined by Frank Beard, making Warlocks a primordial version of ZZ Top, sans Billy Gibbons. Later on they dyed their hair blue and started calling themselves American Blues.

The flip side of Homer's single “Dandelion Wine” was an obscure Willie Nelson composition “I Never cared For You” recorded long before the “Outlaw Country” movement took shape. Galen Niles, guitarist and songwriter from San Antonio, was the driving force behind The Outcasts, Homer and Ultra. Homer released one album “Grown in the USA” for International Artists in 1970. The final track on this compilation “Outside Looking In” is credited to The Unknowns, claims they're actually The Bad Roads from Lake Charles, Louisiana, though keeping with the Texas nature of this compilation, I would bet that they're The Unknowns from Corpus Christi.... don't mess with Texas punk, ya'll.

I Can't Believe- The Fanatics
I Will Not Be Lonely- The Fanatics
Bless Me Woman- The Sherwoods
I Know You Cried- The Sherwoods
You'll Never Be My Girl- Thursday's Children
I Don't Want to Go- BLC
Loveless Lover- The Things
Nothing Will Stand In My Way- Space Cadets
Love-Itis- Space Cadets
Another Girl Like You- The Things
Life's A Misery- The Warlocks
Dandelion Wine- Homer
Sunrise- Homer
Outside Looking In- The Unknowns

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Decline and Fall of Prince Bobby Jack

History of a hip hustler who became a homeless husk”

Much of the information I've been able to gather on Prince Bobby Jack comes from comments posted on a general discussion thread on Duke City Fix from 2010. The topic of Prince Bobby elicited a number of responses, not all favorable towards him. As it were, unsubstantiated rumors and hearsay is all I really had to go by. I've borrowed the title for this chapter from Solid Ghost's track description for their composition “The Legend of Prince Bobby Jack” from the album “Normal Musik” more on that further down the page. Outside of a grainy photograph and a mention or two in the local papers. Prince Bobby Jack left little trace of his existence in the city he called home for almost forty years. The scrapbook that he carried around with him would fill in many of the gaps, but it's probably buried at the bottom of a landfill. While there is a lack of physical evidence, a large number of locals not only remember him, but can still recall his eccentricities and quirks in detail.

He was an accomplished professional musician and singer, with a career that spanned four decades and yet, to come across even one recording that features him would be akin to stumbling upon Sasquatch at Starbucks. To quote Winston Churchill (or was it Joe Pesci?) Prince Bobby Jack was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In lay men's terms; he was a strange bird, possessed with an idiosyncratic personality and prone to peculiar behavioral characteristics. It's generally agreed that Prince Bobby first turned up in Albuquerque around 1958. Why he came here remains a mystery. The locals took to him immediately, as he passed out his bright red business cards embossed with gold lettering “Prince Bobby Jack, Mr. Ink Spot” It opened doors that a man working this entertainment starved neck of the woods could turn to his advantage.

In all fairness to the denizens of the Duke City, fact checking was a whole different ballgame without the internet. One could claim to be the original drummer in Canned Heat or one of the “original” Ink Spots and who would know otherwise? It wasn't long before Prince Bobby was a fixture in local clubs, including the Chesterfield Club where he played alongside Dick Bills and Eddie Gallegos in a latter day version of Bills' Sandia Mountain Boys. Stranger things have happened, but we're talking Albuquerque in 1959, East Central, The Chesterfield Club. Let me muster up as much discretion as I possibly can and say that a fly in the buttermilk would have gone over like shit on sherbet. If this is true, then I have to give Dick Bills all the credit in the world for being such a visionary. It does change my opinion of the man or maybe I just didn't know shit from shinola to begin with.

Obviously this version came along after Glen Campbell departed to start up his own band, The Western Wranglers. Dick Bills probably saw an opportunity to flex his musical chops. I wonder if they ever played the old K-Circle-B theme song: "Headin' down the trail to Albuquerque, saddle bags all filled with beans and jerky..." Emeritus... so it must be true, ¿que no? The Dick Bills/ Prince Bobby Jack/ Sandia Mountain Boys musical connection comes courtesy of "Albuquerque, ¡feliz cumpleaños! Three Centuries to Remember.” written by Dr. Nasario Garcia with Richard McCord. A leading folklorist and a professor emeritus of Spanish, Dr.Garcia is the author of 18 books, some co-written with the likes of Marc Simmons, John Nichols, Nedra Westwater and Richard McCord, a journalist, who founded the weekly Santa Fe Reporter and was for 14 years its editor and co-publisher.

The Albuquerque Journal ran this blurb: Mr. Ink Spot, Prince Bobby Jack former lead vocalist of The Ink Spots featuring The best of Ink Spots, Best of Nat King Cole, Best of the Mills Bros. Luncheon Show Nightly at the Port O' Call” This clue gives us a rare insight into Prince Bobby Jack's musical style. Despite all his notoriety, few folks around the Duke City knew what he actually sounded like. No recordings were made during his dubious stint with “The Ink Spots” though Prince Bobby did record at least two singles, circa 1959. Bill Stephens, a man who claims to have known him better than most, recalls that he gave two seven inch singles to Duke City DJ, Bobby Box, which he assumes are still in Box's collection. An internet search turned up two items, a recording on the Jaco label (#711) is mentioned and referred to as, Prince Bobby Jack: Introducing.... which sounds more like an album, though the website deals only in 45 rpm singles. No song titles were mentioned.

The other item is interesting, a review from Billboard magazine dated April 13th 1959. Prince Bobby Jack “How Does One Know b/w Margie” Corvette 1009 “Prince Bobby Jack who has a style similar to Tommy Edwards, sings this pretty rockaballad with feeling over a simple arrangement. Pleasant rendering of the standard 'Margie' by the lad.” Tommy Edwards was a smooth R&B singer best known for “It's All in the Game” Rockaballad was an archaic term preferred at Billboard in those days to describe soft rock ballads. The review was placed right next to an ad for Taller Than Tall Paul's single “Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy” a nifty number that was covered with some success by Annette Funicello “I wish I had What Jo-Jo had Drove the crowd Stark raving mad”

Bill Stephens, supposedly Prince Bobby's neighbor on Alvarado SE. remembers Prince Bobby having a wife and daughter (Bobbi) living with him. (also confirmed by Prince Bobby's ward nurse at Casa Real) His wife worked at UNM and passed away from cancer, with Bobbi going to live with Prince Bobby's mother in New York as a result. If Bobbi actually existed, she certainly wanted nothing to do with him in the coming years. Prince Bobby often drove his gold Eldorado to Las Vegas where he had engagements, playing the lounges though never as a headliner. John Truitt, a musician who knew Prince Bobby professionally remarked, “The car was always spotless, appointed with whatever accessories were in fashion, and had his monogram on the door...painted on the older models, stick on letters on the last one.” He was known to frequent a restaurant at Coronado Center (Vip's Big Boy?) and the Village Inn at Central and San Mateo.

There he would hold court. Splendid in a sharkskin suit and tie with a royal crest on the pocket, heavy makeup, pomaded “Eraserhead” hair- do, patented leather high heeled boots, diamond pinkie ring, designer sunglasses and always close at hand, a silver chalice from which he drank. At times he would hold up his Holy Grail as if to bestow upon his fellow diners its special powers designed to provide happiness, eternal youth and food in infinite abundance. “The best things in life are free” The silver chalice was among his most prized possessions, he carried it in a velvet bag, stashed away in the glove box of his Eldorado. John Truitt recalled that whenever he dropped off one of his caddies (he owned several over the years) for service at Galles Cadillac, he would loudly proclaim that if anyone touched his silver chalice, he would have them arrested. Needless to say, no one wanted to work on his car, due to his inevitable complaints that the work had been done improperly or that his belongings had been tampered with.

Address unknown (not even a trace of you)

Prince Bobby Jack's purported association with the Ink Spots opened doors for him, though upon closer examination, his claim to fame was paper thin. Bobby Jack would tell folks that he was an “original” member of The Ink Spots as opposed to being a founding member. It's a fine line that hundreds of “Ink Spots” impostors have walked upon going back to the World War II era. The history of The Ink Spots is well documented, perhaps more so than any other musical act prior to the “rock” era. The Ink Spots formed in the early 1930s in Indianapolis. The founding members were Orville “Hoppy” Jones, Ivory “Deek” Watson, Jerry Daniels and Charlie Fuqua. When lead singer Bill Kenny joined, he introduced the ballad style that would make the group a crossover success in both the white and black communities.

Near the height of their popularity, Hoppy Jones collapsed on stage at the Cafe Zanzibar in New York City and died in October, 1944. This ignited a series of disputes over the rights to use the Ink Spots name. The original group was a partnership, not a corporation, thus Hoppy Jones death effectively terminated the partnership. Over the next ten years, various founding members found themselves locked in court battles for control of the brand. This led to a succession of impostors striking out across the country performing as either The Fabulous Ink Spots, The Famous Ink Spots, The Amazing Ink Spots, The Sensational Ink Spots, The Dynamic Ink Spots and many more. The travesty would culminate in 1967 when US federal judge Emmett C. Choate ruled that since so many groups had been using the name “Ink Spots” it had become “public domain” and free for anyone to use.

By the time Prince Bobby Jack came along in the mid-1950s, The Ink Spots were several degrees removed from the founding members and bore little resemblance to the real Ink Spots other than the fact that they performed some of the same music. Bobby Jack's whispy claim becomes even more questionable when you consider that he performed with an offshoot of Bill Godwin's Ink Spots, Bill Godwin's own ties to The Ink Spots were tenuous. If you're still keeping score.... Prince Bobby didn't perform with Bill Godwin, but with a group of musicians that broke away from one of Bill Godwin's impostor Ink Spots. There were dozens of these groups playing at every lounge, nightclub or casino in the U.S. that would have them.... and some are still out there. I guess it beat digging ditches or washing dishes.

Was Prince Bobby Jack an actual Ink Spot?.... yes, he was. Although according to Judge Choate's 1967 ruling, so are you and so am I... if we so desire. In the late 1960s, Prince Bobby Jack was one of a group of musicians that took control of Albuquerque's musicians union. Prince Bobby was appointed or elected to head up the union. This allowed Bobby and his cronies to cherry pick the best jobs for themselves at the expense of their fellow brothers. This did not go over well and in all likelihood led to an event that started Prince Bobby Jack on his downward spiral.

I found this item online, reprinted from The Eugene Register-Guard, dated Sept. 10th. 1975.
Musician put on probation   Dateline: Albuquerque N.M.
Prince Bobby Jack former member of the Ink Spots singing group has pleaded guilty to embezzling $127 dollars from a musicians union he headed and was given three years probation.
U.S. District Judge Howard Bratton granted probation after Jack's attorney, William Snead, told the court a psychiatric report indicated incarceration would be “destructive” to Jack as an individual.
“I deeply regret the wrongs I caused” Jack told the judge, who made restitution of all funds embezzled a provision of Jack's probation.

I guess the Caddy needed an oil change. Overnight he went from being Mr. Ink Spot to roadkill. His arrogance and condescending demeanor caught up to him. Nobody trusted him and over a period of time, everyone shunned him. John Truitt reports that as a young musician he was advised “that in matters of business, I should keep him at a distance” Prince Bobby Jack tried to keep up appearances, but he was coming undone. Bobby Jack had always had a habit of hitting people up for money, two or three dollars at a time... loans that were never repaid. Bill Stephens, who had maintained a friendship with Bobby Jack, started noticing that he only called to ask for money, two and three hundred dollars in loans that Stephens never got back. Tired of being burned, most of his acquaintances stopped taking his calls or seeking him out.

It wasn't long before people started to notice his black Cadillac parked overnight at Coronado Center or around the University area. He appeared to be living in it. His homeless state took a turn for the worse a few years later when he took to living in the bus stop at Central and Girard. He had with him the telltale shopping cart train full of his belonging, among which he may have stashed his beloved silver chalice and the legendary scrapbook. Then just like that he disappeared from public view. Prince Bobby Jack's fall from grace and subsequent decline played out in slow motion. John Truitt said “Prince Bobby Jack was shunned to the end by those who knew him, and for reasons that went back to his arrival in the Duke City some four and a half decades before.”

In 1993, having retired and taken a job as a pharmaceuticals courier, Bill Stephens found himself delivering to Casa Real, a long term care facility in Santa Fe. There to his surprise he found Prince Bobby Jack. Bill paints a picture of a happy reunion with a “dolled up” Prince Bobby entertaining the residents, “He seemed pretty lucid to me” declared Stephens. His nurse (she posted anonymously) at Casa Real however contradicts Bill's account. “Your memory of a lucid person and that he was his old self, dolled up... couldn't be further from the truth” According to her, Prince Bobby was at Casa Real for three years “He was penniless, homeless, no car, no clothes and no family. He was a ward of the state” Bill Stephens claims he was able to visit him several times a month, adding that Prince Bobby never once mentioned his daughter Bobbi.

The ward nurse recalls Bobby Jack having just one visitor in those three years (Stephens) She mentions that the caller attempted to pry information from the nurses concerning royalties. “The other nurses and I would laugh, because we knew there were no royalties” While making his weekly rounds, Bill Stephens stopped at Casa Real to check on Prince Bobby and found out he was gone. He asked around and discovered that he had been transferred to the state hospital in Las Vegas. The unit charge nurse confirms that Prince Bobby was transferred, though not to a state facility, but to a locked unit at Casa Real to keep him away from the insistent solicitor (Stephens) she then taunts Bill “If you know about the facility as you say you do, then you also know why he was behind those locked doors”

The plot thickens... I remind you that this is all conjecture and hearsay. One side paints a rosy picture and the other views the matter sans rose colored glasses. If I had to pick a side, I would tend to go with the ward nurse, I trust nurses. Although she does mention that Prince Bobby used to serenade her at the nurses' station which totally contradicts her previous statement concerning his lucidity. Prince Bobby's mental state deteriorated and he passed away shortly after his “transfer” “Upon the hill a pauper's grave had been dug to await it's new occupant. A black hearse carrying an indigent casket slowly wended it's way down the central lane followed by a small procession of workers and a backhoe. Over the years, those few that mourned forgot all about Prince Bobby. Dooming him to the worst fate that a vainglorious man could suffer.... eternal anonymity.”

“At first the ghost was no more than a chill in the air, a shimmer of mist, diffuse.” Slowly it congealed into the recognizable form of a man with vacant white eyes, translucent mahogany skin and a toothy smile. Draped in a purple robe, clasping a silver chalice, the ghoul spoke with the rasping tones of a man cultivating a two pack-a-day habit. “Where the fuck all these people come from? I have been playing in this shit hole for years, I ain't never seen this many people in here at once.” He opened his mouth as if to sing, but only a scratchy whisper emerged. At first it was distant, but it came steadily closer and all the while becoming more distressed “I don't want to set the world on fire, I just want to start a flame in your heart” gingerly tinkling the keys of the old forlorn piano, his eyes unfocused “I've lost all ambition for worldly acclaim, I just want to be the one you'd love” as his form dissipated into the misty night.

In 2008, Solid Ghost, a creative duo from the East Mountains, composed of Justin Parker and Arnold Bodmer in collaboration with Dwight Loop, released “Normal Musik” (some people think... this music is normal) which they describe as “a symphony of montages and grooves extracted from the chaos of white noise” “Normal Musik” features “The Legend of Prince Bobby Jack” a homage of sorts to Prince Bobby, which they describe as the “history of a hip hustler who became a homeless husk” It's a dark self propelled piece interspersed with disembodied voices that one could image to be that of Prince Bobby Jack interacting with the pedestrian and vehicular traffic swirling around the bus stop at Girard and Central that became his home.

Arnold Bodmer should be quite familiar to Dirt City Chronicles readers. Arnold's musical legacy stretches back to the mid-1960s when he first hooked up with The Striders in Los Angeles, where he was hanging around Topanga Canyon having just arrived from his native Switzerland. When The Striders returned home, Arnold came with them and has since been involved in enough musical projects and groups to merit his own write up. Dwight Loop of course was the host of Earwaves on KUNM for 23 years (it's now hosted on Dwight is an electronic music producer, performer, music writer/critic (Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, Crosswinds, I.E.) plus he's also the founder of Third Ear, a recording label. Justin Parker (not to be confused with Justin Parker the English songwriter and record producer best known for his work with Lana Del Rey & Bat for Lashes) is also involved with Rampant Egos, a Third Ear project that includes Bodmer and Loop.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Viva Las Vegas!

We can't stop here! This is bat country!!

“Las Vegas is the expression, in glitter and concrete, of America's brittle and mutating id"
~ John Burdett ~

“Lost Wages” “Sin City” “Vegas” whatever your sobriquet of choice is, you're talking about the entertainment capital of the world... Las Vegas. Thanks to a questionable “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” marketing scheme and that shitty trilogy of Hangover movies, a Vegas vacation without self degradation and scandal is no vacation at all. So you would think. That's the Hollywood version of course. In reality the average visitor drops a few hundred in the casinos, drinks too much and fends off time share salesmen at every turn. Every solo artist that hits Vegas needs a band as does every dance troupe and revue. Not everyone playing on the strip travels with their own band like Elvis did. Most have to rely on the venues to supply musicians capable of playing that artists' songs and music exactly as recorded.

No problemo, Vegas has them covered, some of the best musicians in the country if not the world gravitate towards Vegas. Here's something you may not know, for years New Mexico musicians have shuffled to and fro between the land of enchantment and Las Vegas, Nevada. A number of local musicians have made names for themselves there, if nowhere else. Al Hurricane pulled an eight month tour of duty playing behind Fats Domino in the late 1960s. Spinning Wheel worked as an opening act during the same time period. The Killers may be big in their hometown, but I bet the average local knows as much about Sidro's Armada and Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns as they know about Mr. Brightside. “What kind of rat bastard psychotic would play that song- right now, at this moment?”

For all its glitz and glamour, Las Vegas is a factory town. It's a city of clock punchers, everyone from dishwasher to horn player is a working stiff keeping one eye on the clock and one foot pointed towards the door. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ”music industry” Jerry Lopez, who started out playing alongside his father and brothers in a Santa Fe based band, Los Hermanos Lopez y La Compania, remembers how after several years of driving thousands of miles across the western states, playing Vegas was such a refreshing change. Looking around, the Lopez brothers, who had been living on the road and staying in motels away from family, saw that “the road trips were smaller, the musicians had nice cars, nice homes” It was easy money.

Determined to find their niche, Lopez recalled “We kept coming back to Vegas” though their gigs weren't exactly on the Strip. “Our first gig, we were still playing Spanish music, was at a bar in North Town called the Scarlet Wagon” it was every bit as bad as it sounds “We were the band and the bouncers, it was a rough place, you would never go there.” But as luck would have it, while working the Scarlet Wagon they were introduced to Bobby Morris, an agent who's very first question was “Do you guys mind playing in front of topless girls?” Los Hermanos Lopez gave him a resounding “We have no problem with that” this landed them their first big break as musicians for “Get Down” a topless revue that packed the room and had a very successful run (as if it wouldn't, amirite?)

With a foot finally in the door, Jerry Lopez pushed the band in a new musical direction, a contemporary horn driven sound not unlike early Chicago, Tower of Power, Sons of Champlin. Bobby Morris was all in, suggesting that the band would need a new name and since they played like Chicago they should be named after a city. “Where you guys from” Morris asked “Santa Fe” the Lopez brothers replied “That's it!, that's your new name” Morris declared. “We morphed into a lounge band, but not a lounge band in the traditional sense” Jerry goes on “We worked the local nightclubs first, we did lots of original stuff” Jerry Lopez was trying to sidestep a trap that many Vegas bands would fall into “We didn't really want to work the lounges”

As Jerry explains, “Then (the late 70s) being a lounge act meant wearing polyester and ruffles, or tuxedos and playing Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” It's not what Jerry had in mind for the band's long term future. Jerry honed his skills as a band leader, musical director and front man as Santa Fe worked an overnight shift, midnight to 5 a.m. Their act quickly became a popular hangout for other musicians working Vegas and the word got around, these guys are good. Soon Jerry found an ally in the entertainment director at The Mint, who encouraged Santa Fe to work their own material in their own way. It was a big deal and Jerry sings a song about the reaction they got “We had our hair grown long ~ we were looking kind of scruffy ~ the old school cats didn't dig our look”

Santa Fe generated a buzz on the strip earning the respect of the “old school cats” while gaining a reputation as a “must see” act. But, eventually the business end of Vegas started to change. Casinos cut back on entertainment budgets and as Jerry explains “the entertainment directors were no longer entertainment directors, they were coming out of food & beverage, marketing and even the gift shop” It was time for a change ”They didn't respect the musicians” Jerry went out on the road with Tom Scott, Bill Champlin, Kenny Loggins and Luis Miguel. He also found plenty of work as a back up and session musician, touring, recording jingles, television soundtracks. Eventually the road brought him back to Vegas and he assembled Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns (no connection to the Albuquerque band, Fat City.... fairly certain Jerry named them after the song “Fat City” by The Sons of Champlin)

This 15 piece, revamped version continues to work in Vegas to this day. (I don't recognize any of the current musicians other than Jose Jimenez, who I believe worked on The John Wagner Coalition's album “Shades of Brown” in 1976) Along the way Jerry Lopez was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for his work on the “Tortilla Factory's All that Jazz” album and then was up for nomination again in 2011 for his Spanish music album “Mis Raices” which was an inherently personal project, recorded as an ode to his father Gilbert. The CD was on the ballot for Best Regional Mexican or Tejano Album. “It was just something to do to honor my father, but we did a really good job with it,” Lopez says. “Maybe that warmth came through, and that’s how it got all this attention.”

I have a hunch that folks don't go to Vegas for introspective entertainment, they want a buzz saw of excitement to go with their free drinks. By it's very nature, Vegas lounge music is tailored so as not to offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable. Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns give 'em what they want. A good time delivered in the same fashion as those mythical Vegas buffets that always fall just short of our expectations. Big heaping plates of musical meatloaf topped off with mounds of musical mashed potatoes and a huge helping of corn. Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns ooze talent, they grind like no others, the music rips and roars but it's soul music without the soul, funk music without the funk. It just don't stick to your ribs..... let the healing continue, Check Please!

Turn the music up! My heart feels like an alligator!”

Sidro Garcia arrived in Las Vegas long before the Lopez clan. In fact he may well have been one of those “old school cats” that Jerry Lopez sings about. By the time Los Hermanos Lopez morphed into Santa Fe, Sidro and his then wife Beverlee Brown were well established, not just in Las Vegas but all over the U.S. When Beverlee & Sidro first hit Las Vegas in 1966, it was during a transitional period. Howard Hughes was just settling in, having bought the Desert Inn after he was asked to vacate the penthouse to make room for New Year's Eve guests. Elvis Presley who would marry Priscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel the following year, was the talk of the town. Actual Mobsters and the Memphis Mafia rubbed elbows on the strip. Rat Pack holdovers jockeyed for photo ops with the King. Squares still ruled this corner of the world, hippies be damned.

Elvis had been scorned and lambasted after his very first Vegas appearance in 1956 "He stands up there clutching his guitar, he shakes and shivers like he is suffering from itchy underwear and hot shoes," wrote Ralph Pearl of The Las Vegas Sun. "For the average Vegas spender or show goer, [Elvis is] a bore," wrote another of the Sun's critics, Bill Willard. However, “Viva Las Vegas” in which Elvis co-starred with Ann Margaret changed all that. Two years hence, Elvis would play his first sold-out Vegas show at the International, where he would hold court, posting a record 837 consecutive sold out performances over seven years, drawing a total of 2.5 million paying customers to his shows. Over that seven years, Elvis is said to have sold $43.7 million in tickets alone. Cue..... Also sprach Zarathustra, the dawn of a new era was upon us.

Sidro Garcia was destined for success, either in athletics or music. He grew up in Willard, N.M a village located on highway 60, east of the Manzanos. Sidro excelled on the hardwood and diamond, enough so that St. Joseph's college in Albuquerque recruited him to play basketball. He also received an offer to play pro baseball with The Albuquerque Dukes, then playing in the class A Western League as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. His choice was made easier when The Western league and The Dukes folded the same year Sidro graduated from Willard Hs. One of fourteen children, Sidro had started playing guitar at an early age, playing alongside his father and brothers, continuing a long tradition of Garcia family musicians. By the time he graduated from high school he was adept at playing guitar and singing. 

The College of St. Joseph on the Rio Grande (changed to University of Albuquerque in 1966) was a Catholic liberal arts college located at the present site of St. Pius Hs. 6'4” Sidro Garcia arrived on campus ready to suit up for the basketball team and pursue his other passion, music. He was a success on the basketball court (supposedly he received All- American honors) and it didn't take him long to put together The Sneakers, a band that included his brothers Sal, Ray and his cousins Willie and Levi. During Sidro's Junior year at St. Joseph, singer Sue Thompson, touring in support of her hit singles “Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry” and “Norman” came through Albuquerque. The Sneakers either opened for her or someone introduced Sidro to Sue, with Sidro joining her touring band as a result.

A good looking blonde, Thompson's high girlish singing voice had made her a teen favorite even though she was pushing forty at the time. Sidro dropped out of school and spent the next eight months touring the country as Sue Thompson milked her two hits (both written by schlockmeister, John D. Loudermilk) Once the whirlwind tour wrapped up, Sidro returned to Albuquerque and slipped back into The Sneakers. It was at this point that Sidro met his future wife Beverlee Brown, a leggy six foot plus gal who could also sing. Beverlee joined The Sneakers as a vocalist changing the entire dynamic of the band... for the better. Sue Thompson having established herself in Las Vegas, played another important role in Sidro's future when she convinced the band to move to Vegas.

The Sneakers did just that, opening for Jackie Mason at the Aladdin in 1966. Now billed as Beverlee Brown & The Sneakers , they became a show band with a knack for variety while incorporating choreography and comedy bits into their act. Sidro took on the persona of guitar virtuoso and straight man for Bev's antics. Sal Garcia acquired the stage name of Sal Riccardo. (Ray Garcia was no longer with the band) Willie Sisneros- bass, Al Zepeda- guitar, Chris Hamilton- keys and drummer Tom Cross filled out what would be the band's classic lineup. It was the start of a good run as they wowed 'em at the Frontier, Stardust, Sahara, Dunes and the Sands with extended gigs at the Maxim and the Mint. Television appearances on Merv Griffin, Steve Allen, Jim Nabors and Glen Campbell's network shows followed.

Beverlee embodied a slinky Cher Bono persona, while Sidro worked a poor man's Tom Jones shtick. Beverlee's Cher sound-a-like vocals complimented Sidro's deceptively rich vocals perfectly. Naturally, most of the attention went to Beverlee. Chicago Tribune critic Will Leonard noted: “Beverlee is too much. She's a stunningly beautiful gal, an inch or two over six feet tall, in a mini skirt that bestows upon the public some of the lengthiest and prettiest gams on the Near North Side. Wayne Harada writing for Billboard agreed: “Leggy and lovely Beverlee is what singing's all about. She handily delivers the goods” One would think that good legs are essential for good singing.... Wipe the drool off fellas, it's unbecoming of critics. 

The Sneakers opened for Johnny Mathis, George Burns, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson and others. Elvis Presley came to see the band at the Frontier and invited the members to his show - and his parties - at the Las Vegas Hilton (The International) But, as I'm fond of pointing out; “the times they were-a-changing "Disco came along and audiences wanted to dance” Garcia said. “We had worked on being showy. We continued to do that, but we played for dancers as well." That would explain those matching, sea foam opened front jump suits that both Beverlee and Sidro wore.... sexy, yet cringe worthy.... I'm willing to bet that either one of them could still fit into those. Believe it or not the music was important and for all the glitzy lounge act trappings, The Sneakers could play... have you ever seen a bass player and keyboardist play trumpets while also playing their respective instruments? It's totally awesome.

The band could play just about anything you can think of. They even had a routine where members of the audience would call out their hometowns and the band would play a tune associated with that city. Sidro Garcia, is truly a talented guitarist.... possibly the best to ever come out of New Mexico. His tour de force has long been a performance of Ernesto Lecuona's “Malagueña” seguing effortlessly to Mason Williams' “Classical Gas” it was the showstopper. Sidro and Beverlee also took a crack at pop music stardom, releasing a handful of sunshine pop/bubblegum singles on a variety of labels including "It's Just Not Funny Anymore" b/w "I'm Nothing as of This Day" on John Wagner's Delta Records in 1966 (the single now sells for $150)

Beverlee and Sidro had a son (Sortero) fell out of love, divorced and she left the band. Sidro didn't miss a beat, renaming the band, Sidro's Armada (after the formidable yet so vulnerable Spanish fleet) He sailed on with new female vocalists. Brother Sal remained the only constant, "Counting the time we performed together as kids, Sal and I have been onstage together for more than fifty years” Sidro remarried in 1985. Beverlee rejoined the band and they found their second wind. Gradually, in response to changing times and budget constraints. Sidro downsized the band to a quartet. Now in his mid-70s, Sidro still lives in Las Vegas and plays on occasions. His hands are failing him, but the unsinkable Sidro's Armada, having survived the broadsides, isn't quite ready to sail off into the sunset. Sail on, sail on, sailor.