Archive for August, 2009

Lost Transmission Episode #3

August 31, 2009

It’s time for a brand new episode of Lost Transmission, and this time I’ve got an ecclectic feast of vintage sound waves to satisfy all your entertainment cravings!  Are you hungry from some real boss rock ‘n’ roll, a little Texas R&B, a jumpin’ old-timey spiritual,  another classic ear-bleeder from King Usniewicz, one from the late, great Billy Lee Riley, and a bit o’ comedy sprinkled in for extra flavor?  It’s all served up piping-hot on the house…all you gotta do is point and click.  Order up!

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$3 of Retro Heaven

August 26, 2009

So I stopped in an antique store at lunchtime today.  My eyes about bugged out when I saw this random stack of old comic books for $1.00 each.  How could I pass by these?  Check ’em out for yourself!

Davy Crockett 1955

Davy Crockett 1955

Yup, Davy…Davy Crockett.   The Fess Parker Davy Crockett is still a legendary figure here at the Johnson Family Compound.  Get yer coonskin cap on and give ’em what fer, Davy!!

Mouse Musketeers (Tom & Jerry) 1956

Look, kids – it’s Tom & Jerry!  While Tom and Jerry wasn’t my favorite cartoon series, I still ate a few bowls of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs on Saturday morning in front of the tube with these characters.  What made this find even sweeter was the cool Juicy Fruit ad on the back!  It’s like Bo Diddley said…”You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover…”

Juicy Fruit Makes You Smarter???

Juicy Fruit Makes You Smarter???

Had to make this one big so you could read the thing.  Don’t be a Dopey Dan, be a Safety Sam!!!  Oh yeah, and remind Mom to bring home a “good supply” of Juicy Fruit today!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - May 1947

Finally, check it out…1948,  daddy-o!  What a find, complete with a perfectly-coiffed handsome hero in a bubble-helmet diving suit.  Hey, man, where’s the air hose?  And there’s always some pesky shark guarding the treasure chest!!!

R.I.P. Billy Lee

August 17, 2009

Another music legend gone.  Sadly, this one didn’t get as much press as some others, and I didn’t catch wind of this until today.

On August 2, Sun Records legend Billy Lee Riley succumbed to cancer in Jonesboro Arkansas.  From the Memphis Commercial Appeal obituary…

Riley is considered by many to be Sun Records’ lost giant. A true multi-threat, he possessed the myriad musical gifts of Carl Perkins, the unhinged spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis, and the punkish insouciance of Elvis Presley — yet fate never rewarded Riley beyond cult acclaim.

Real music aficionados understand it’s the names that don’t make the front page that have the most impact.  Billy Lee was one of those.

Billy Lee Riley and his group the “Little Green Men” were the Sun Records house band during the golden days of that little Memphis record label’s run.  Billy Lee himself was a multi-instrumentalist and later worked as a session musician in L.A. for other music legends including Dean Martin, the Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Sammy Davis Jr.  This cat got around!

Anyway, the “Little Green Men” included the great Roland Janes and Jimmy Van Eaton, who backed Jerry Lee Lewis on most all his Sun recordings.

Billy Lee cut some rockin’ records himself.  The first one I ever heard was his classic “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll”.  I’ve got this one on 45.  It’s one of my treasures.  Of course the Sun single “Red Hot” was covered by a number of artists, but the most impassioned performance by far is Riley’s, whose hard-driven vocals always seemed to originate in the soles of his feet.

If you’re a rockabilly greenhorn, I highly recommend you give a listen to “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll”.  It’s truly one of the quintessential 1950’s rockabilly selections – complete with frantic, echo-drenched guitar intro, primal howls from the band, the Killer’s boogie-woogie keys, and space-age theme!  Who could ask for more?

For those interested in seeing some living rockabilly legends like Dale Hawkins, Sonny Burgess and Carl Mann, you can attend the…

BILLY LEE RILEY MEMORIAL BENEFIT SHOW: Sunday, August 30th. Newport, Arkansas at the Silver Moon Club, located on 167 Highway, North of the Rock and Roll Highway. The show will start at 1 pm. Scheduled to appear: Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, WS Holland and his band, Travis Wammack, Carl Mann, Smoochy Smith, Ace Cannon and his band, Jr Rogers, Warren Crow, JM VanEaton, Dale Hawkins, CW Gattin, Teddy Reidel, Jeannie and the Guys, Matt – Jim & Tim the Blues Bros. Band, Teddy Hill, Larry Donn, Ben Cooter Jones

R.I.P Billy Lee, and condolensces to his widow.

R.I.P. Les Paul

August 13, 2009

Today the world lost one of the great musical talents, inventors, and masters of musical/technological ingenuity.  The incredible Mr. Les Paul.

Sadly, this 94-year-old legend was probably unknown to many younger musicians except by the Gibson guitar that bears his name.

A great guitar picker in his own right, his more astounding achievement, perhaps, is his innovations in recording techniques, including overdubbing, multi-track recording, and tape delays.  Our entire recording industry today owes a debt of gratitude to Les Paul for these contributions.

Take a look at these videos for an example of his genius.  The first is with his wife, singer Mary Ford with the classic “How High the Moon”, a song I first heard in my youthful days performed by 1980’s British rockabilly band the Polecats.  When I did a little research into the original Les Paul version and finally heard it for myself, I was completely blown away.

Check out THIS handy gizmo…

Les Paul continued to play live shows into his 90’s.  Guitar greats of the last 50 years have paid homage to this man.  Long live the music and memory of the legendary Les Paul!

Lost Transmission Podcast #2

August 6, 2009

Stop.  Put your pencils down.  Lost Transmission #2 is here with a “Back to School Special”!   This rockin’ school-themed stack o’ wax is gonna ring your bell!  Can you dig Ricky Nelson, Doris Day, Johnny Worth, the Polecats, and more?  It’s time for school, so tune in and turn on…but don’t drop out!

Hey, kids.  If you didn’t get a chance to dig Lost Transmission episode #1, just keep on scrolling…you’ll find it.

Call Me “Googie”

August 3, 2009

You know, I’ve talked before about my obsession with the pop culture of the mid-20th century. This obsession has disturbed some and bewildered others. To those who fall into one these two disparaging categories, I wanted to graciously offer some practical and logical explanation.

You see, I grew up in Southern California – Orange County, California to be exact. Orange County (it wasn’t ‘the OC’ when I was a kid) is a unique place.

California experienced quite a population boom in the dust-bowl years. The people who came there in the 1930’s and the decades following were entranced with the old romantic notions of California. Early European explorers believed California to be an island paradise ruled by Amazon women and their Queen Califia. Remnants of these myths and the fever of the “gold rush” of the late 19th century continued to fill American’s heads with visions of California as the “Golden State”, the tropical paradise where the sun shone all the time and opportunity awaited. And far from the crowded east and southeast, freedom beckoned.

The folks who settled in Southern California had an adventurous spirit and an eye on the future. They dreamed big dreams. This was expressed in virtually all facets of society. By the 1950’s, with post-war consumerism in full-swing, prosperous Southern California was bursting with images of its adventurous mindset. Veterans who had encountered the mysterious and romantic South Pacific islands during the war years brought back the “Tiki” culture. As man ventured into orbit, vestiges of the “space age” were also prevalent. Southern California embodied the pioneer spirit of all Americans. Disneyland, opening in Orange County in 1955, was a prime example, with places like Adventureland and Tomorrowland.

That brings me back to my point. The culture of Southern California is rich with imagery of America’s fantastic mid-century dreams – expressed most vividly in “Googie” architecture, named after a unique coffee shop called “Googie’s” in Hollywood circa 1949. Similar sights could be found along Route 66 leading into the Golden State…beckoning the traveller to this magical world.

I think my fascination with mid-century culture is a direct result of growing up in So Cal in the 1970’s, as I was surrounded by this unique architecture. I lived in Anaheim, home of Disneyland. My grandparents lived about a geographic mile from Disneyland. I must have traveled down Katella Avenue a million times, and I can vividly recall watching through the car windows as neon signs and odd buildings housing kitschy motels of every shape and color passed by. For those who aren’t familiar, to the right is a mid- 1980’s photo of Katella Ave., which borders Disneyland on the south. It was our own little version of the Vegas strip. Not only does this photo illustrate the concentration of gross commercialism that surrounded Disneyland in those days, but also the large number of Googie-styled hotels and motels that dotted the Southern California landscape during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Let’s look at a few examples of some of my favorites on this strip and around OC.

The Space Age Inn might be the most elaborate of the motels on Katella.

This place was super groovy. It had all the elements of futuristic design.

The lighting at night was extra-cool, too…

Magic Carpet Motel (formerly the “Pixie”) was one of several “Alladin” themed motels. The little star at the top added the “space age” element. Another orient-themed motel was the “Magic Lamp” with a big genie sign out front.

These were examples of mysterious foreign cultures imbued into American design.

The Cosmic Age Lodge, like the Space Age Inn, was another typical example of 1950’s outer space themed motels. This “space age” theme was probably the most prevalent theme and the most influential design element, with boomerangs, stars, rings, and atoms galore. I love the sign at the bottom of the Cosmic Age that says “COLOR TV!”.

The lobby of the Cosmic Age Lodge was also a wonder to behold, as seen below.

Then there was the Satellite Shopland sign. When this icon was torn down several years ago, there was a huge uproar. While the “progressive” folks thought it was tacky, other nostalgic folks (like me) thought it was awesome! An artist from Pasedena finally bought it and refurbished it to its original silver color.

Other everyday places in OC were Googie architecture, too. This included Denny’s, Bob’s Big Boy restaurants, various diners, shopping centers, bowling alleys, etc.

Lyndy’s coffee shop is an example. I drove the old ’57 over there a few times for a snack.

As you can see, these eye-catching images of the 50’s and 60’s made a serious impact on me and may partially explain my fascination with mid-century nostaligia. If you’re interested in seeing more, check out the “Googie” link on the “Blogroll” sidebar to the upper right of this page.

So maybe you think I’m weird. That’s OK.

Just call me “Googie”.