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The Father of Prog Rock speaks: Exclusive interview with Billy Ritchie
11.10.2016
09:04 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture

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Revolution starts with a solitary idea that only builds into purpose when shared with others. In early 1967 three Scotsmen started a revolution when they played a legendary residency at the Marquee club in London. The trio was Ian Ellis (bass and lead vocals), Harry Hughes (drums) and a maverick keyboard player Billy Ritchie. Together they were called 1-2-3.

As a band 1-2-3 had a short lifespan—lasting around two years from 1965-1967. Yet, their impact—their musical idea—was remarkable as it spawned a whole new musical genre called Prog Rock. At the heart of their success was the unique talents of keyboard wizard Ritchie who invented this strange new soundscape that influenced the likes of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, the Moody Blues, Jon Anderson, and Robert Fripp. Among their fans was Jimi Hendrix and a young David Bowie who wrote a letter highlighting this new sound to the music press.

1-2-3 were loved by musicians but loathed by some of their “hippie” audience. Their impact was immediate. They were signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein to his talent group NEMS—but his untimely death in August 1967 left 1-2-3 open to the fickle fate of the music business. While other musicians quickly adopted and adapted 1-2-3’s musical style, Ritchie and co. were left to languish by new management who did not know what to do with them.

Eventually 1-2-3 signed a new record deal with Chrysalis Records in 1968. Chrysalis wanted the band to change its name and fit in more with their label. 1-2-3 became Clouds and their unique trademark sound was distilled to fit better with the label’s roster. Three albums and two world tours followed—but it was all too late—The Nice had pinched their act and King Crimson and Yes were already on the horizon.

In the 1990s, David Bowie once again enthused about seeing 1-2-3 play in 1967. It led to renewed interest in the band and their follow-on Clouds.

Not so long ago, I wrote on this site about Billy Ritchie and his creation of Prog Rock. This led to contact with Ritchie who agreed to an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds.  I wanted to know more about the man who had started a revolution and what that had led to.

I started off by asking Ritchie about his earliest memories, his childhood and first interest in music.

Billy Ritchie: My earliest memory is of going to the local school, it seemed a daunting prospect, a rough place, I was faced with aggression, but my response to that was to override my sensitivity and fight for my place, I even gained a reputation as being tough, when I was actually a sensitive soul—just good at covering that up, and dealing with adversity head on, but of course, it all had an effect on me, made me very tense and vigilant, never relaxed. I didn’t have any thoughts about music at all ‘till much later. 

I was the first of six children. I was followed by two sisters, Catherine and Grace, then a brother, George (who died two years ago); then another sister, Elizabeth, then a brother Brian, who was born when I was fifteen.

My childhood seems, in hindsight, to have been stressful, though I have also memories of cowboys and Indians, then playing football in the streets – no cars in those days at all. I fought with my sisters a lot – doesn’t everyone? – there was great sibling resentment on my part, and probably theirs as well. As a young teenager, I built model planes, and dreamed of being a pilot. I also used to pray that I could be Superman, and astound everyone by flying. 

When did you start taking an interest in playing music?

There weren’t many instruments that were deemed respectable in that society, just accordion mainly, though harmonica was OK to play on coach trips etc. I think that I just wanted to be accepted, or maybe to stand out in some way. I certainly didn’t play because of enjoyment, it meant nothing that way. Most guys played in a vamping style with the tune heavily disguised and swamped by the “chords” (as far as I was concerned anyway). I didn’t like the mess of that – without knowing it, I was already making musical discriminations – so I gravitated towards the Larry Adler/Tommy Reilly kind of playing, using a Super Chrominica (that could play half-notes).

Most people around me frowned on all that – perhaps it seemed too pretentious, but I was happier with that clean sound. I played anything that I thought people would like. I remember a school concert with me playing “Danny Boy.” I was pleased with myself, but people weren’t impressed because there was no vamping, so I ended up disgruntled and a bit resentful. When I calmed down I thought I must be no good at it when people didn’t react. I had no thoughts at all about writing songs or even considering if I was any good at any of that. I suppose I was trying to impress my peers any way I could. I wanted to be a great football player, because that’s what seemed to impress everyone most.

Which musicians did you like?

I didn’t have any thoughts at all about music or music artists, I found it boring when my friends got excited about their heroes, like Elvis or Buddy Holly etc. Sometimes I tried to go along with their conversations, so I wouldn’t be an outsider, but I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about, it didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t have any thoughts or influences, none of that was relevant at the time.

When did you start playing keyboards?

When I was about eight, a neighbor threw out a piano, because no-one had managed to play it, I think. My parents took it in because it was something for nothing. For the first week or two, all five of us children banged at the piano all at the same time, so I gave up and let them, I couldn’t stand the discordant noise—always hated jams and tuning up sessions where everyone plays at once, making an awful racket!

When my siblings all gave up and got fed up with the piano, I crept back and began to see what I could do with it. I played by following my instincts about what was right and what was wrong.

What was unusual (without me knowing it) was that I also wanted to know why I was playing the sounds, how it worked as well as making it work. But I didn’t think anything of it, and never had any thoughts about whether what I was doing was any good or not, it wasn’t important enough to me, it was just something to do when there was nothing else, no different to building model airplanes, in fact, not as interesting.

I got bored with things easy, so I found that when I was at a loose end, I could fiddle around with the piano, trying to play things, finding out how music worked, it was a kind of curiosity as much as anything. The background accompaniment was everyone in the house shouting at me to “pack it in”! Good practice for the music business!
 
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The Satellites.
 
When did you first join a band?

I was fifteen when my friends decided to form a band called The Satellites and become rich and famous. As they were talking about it, I was feeling a bit of panic, wondering how I could fit into all this – it was all about guitars.

My best friend Flam (Robert Fleming) played a bit of guitar (he ended up making a living from it), Jim Stark was in the pipe band, another friend, Duncan Blair was keen to try playing bass, and Jonny Moffat fancied himself as a singer. Jim said “What are you doing to do Wullie?” All eyes on me. “I’ll play electric organ” I blurted out. I could see the others were asking themselves what the hell that was. I don’t know to this day why I said that, it just came into my head.

I felt a bit of a fraud, the Pete Shotton of the band. My main contribution was suggesting my cousin, William Ritchie (“Big Wull”) to play lead guitar, as he had a Futurama and had been taking guitar lessons.

When we got to the first rehearsal, the others were struggling to learn a song, and I was a bit puzzled, it seemed easy to me. I played the whole thing, and my friend’s faces were a picture. I suddenly realized I was good – very good. It changed everything.

What were your first performances like?

The first thing I learned about doing gigs is that you can rehearse all you want, but it doesn’t teach you anything about playing on a stage in front of an audience. So that was a big leap.

The others were scared, but I felt confident, I knew what I was doing, I could feel what had to be done to make things work, even though I had never done it before. I wasn’t so much inspired as exhilarated to be in control and ahead of everyone else, it gave me great confidence.

Before the advent of the band, I had never even thought about being a musician, it didn’t mean anything to me. If my friends hadn’t decided to form a band, I doubt that I would ever have taken the path I did.

Ironically, I never got the same feelings from music that they did, and I was only ever interested in my own music, not anyone else’s. It’s only recently that I’ve realized that this attitude – as bad as it is in some ways – is the reason I “invented Prog.”

I had no influences or attitudes about what I should play, it was all up for grabs as far as I was concerned, I had no barriers and no important influences looking over my shoulder.

When it finally came to 1-2-3, I had a creative freedom that no-one else I knew had. That opened the doors to all that followed.

The early sixties seemed optimistic, like something was waiting to happen. That was even true in the outposts where we lived. Soon after we formed the band, there was the coming of The Beatles, and a new era definitely arriving. The music culture was linked inextricably to the social culture too, everything seemed part of an upward step. Even for a natural pessimist like me, anything seemed at least possible.
 
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You mentioned 1-2-3, can you tell me how you came to join that band?

After a disgraceful redundancy in my first job, I landed another job in an office, and there I met Archie Colquhoun, who was to play a big part in the first days of 1-2-3. He knew Ian Ellis and Harry Hughes, who had a band called The Premiers, and they were thinking about having an organist in the band. Archie (typically) said he knew where the best organist in Britain was, and put me forward.

I didn’t really want to know, as the guys were dead snooty about it all, especially when they knew I came from Forth, which was considered the home of “The Sheep Men.”  They were thinking they would be doing me a favor, when I thought it was the other way round.

I had no intention of joining them. But when I heard them play, I realized they were miles more professional than The Satellites, so I agreed to a rehearsal.

At the rehearsal, the same thing happened as at The Satellites first get-together, I played a song from scratch, and they were hooked, even though they thought my equipment was embarrassing—a linear amp in a wooden box, and a Hohner clavinet on stilts so I could stand and play. They all had shiny Selmer amps with little green lights flickering in a row. They called my amp “the blue box” because it had blue vinyl covering the wood. They said “That fucking blue box is messing up our look!”

Within weeks of my joining, the lead guitarist, Derek Stark left, feeling overshadowed by the organ. For a year or two, we played all the main Scottish gigs, supporting The Kinks one night in Edinburgh.

After a trip to London with Cyril Stapleton the band leader didn’t achieve anything, the band broke up, but after a few months, Ian and Harry and I decided to form a trio, and from that, 1-2-3 was born.
 
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The original Prog Rock band 1-2-3.
 
Billy Ritchie: When 1-2-3 began playing, we quickly found that we divided opinion in the audience.

Half would hate us, and the other half—usually other musicians—would be delirious with shock and joy. We thought Scotland must be too square for us, and thought we could find acceptance in hip London, but when we got there, we found exactly the same equation.

That was to be the situation for all of 1-2-3’s short life.

How did you get the residency at the Marquee club in London?

It was Archie who talked John Gee into giving us an audition. What we didn’t know at the time was that John was a musical snob, he thought “pop/rock” was rubbish. He loved jazz, to him, that was “proper” music.

When he heard us, he thought he had found the missing link, a pop band that played like a jazz band. He got people like Chris Barber down to hear us and sit in with us.

The gigs themselves were chaotic and revolutionary.

As in Scotland, half the audience were furious, fights were breaking out everywhere throughout the club, the other half—musicians—were ecstatic.

John came on stage a couple of times to restore calm. Being John, he had to say “If you want boring R & B, I suggest you fuck off to the 100 Club in Oxford Street”.

The atmosphere was electric. On our first gig, Roger Chapman of Family came into the dressing room—“Great stuff guys, but you’ll never get away with it”.

People like Robert Fripp and Keith Emerson would buttonhole us after the gigs, and Jon Anderson was always hanging about us asking questions and making comments about the music. Not just at The Marquee, but all over the country, 1-2-3 caused the same reaction. Quite often other musicians would be in tears, or hysterical, it was that radical, so different.

We knew we had made a fuss, people from the music business were drawn there to see us, Pete Townshend (as he mentions in his autobiography), and of course, Brian Epstein saw us and signed us up.

We were quite blasé about it all, being young, we thought it was our due! We also felt like we were “making it.” One big regret is not taking a photo of the lifesize picture of 1-2-3 in the Marquee foyer. 
 
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1-2-3 listed as ‘a great new group from Glasgow’ in this advert for the Marquee.
 
Did you know you were creating a new sound?

The sound took care of itself, we knew it was unique at the time, we were the first true Rock organ trio.

Other organ trios soon existed, but they were often more swing/jazz based, the organs were not played in a rock style, the music was soft, not rock. Organ had always been a background instrument until then, guitars led the field on stage till I came along.

Then came the music itself. It was a completely different concept from any other band at that time, that approach would still sound unique today. The arrangements were so radical, and each song had its own character, the band was not defined by any one song. Each song was merely an aspect of a band that took many forms and had no limits. Though all those other bands tried to copy us, it still didn’t end up anything like 1-2-3, all they took was the concept of music that sounded more like film tracks than three-minute songs.

What keyboards did you play and how did this change?

I began with a Gamages mini-keys organ, and then quickly to a Hohner Clavinet that my cousin put on stilts so I could stand and play rather than sit. When I joined the Premiers I graduated to a Vox Continental, then a Hammond M102.

Eventually, my instrument of choice was a Hammond C3. I had the biggest organ sound ever heard on a stage.

I also played everything like two right hands, two organists at once, it made the sound very powerful, octave or harmony solos, left hand as fast as the right.

Till I hit the stage, organs had always been background instruments, but I had no intention of being behind anyone, I wanted to be in front, be the leader.

Most organists then, and even much later (including Keith Emerson) were heavily influenced by the famous jazz organists like Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, but I didn’t like the way the Jimmys and others played, it definitely wasn’t rock! I approached it all completely differently, I wasn’t influenced by anyone, I just played it all as I saw it, and made sure every note counted. I intended to blow any guitarist off the stage.

Rick Wakeman said recently that until synths came along, keyboard players couldn’t get in front of guitarists – that wasn’t true when it came to me – I didn’t do background for anybody.
 
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1-2-3 ‘have created an entirely new sound in pop group music.’
 
How did you get signed with The Beatles manager Brian Epstein?

The fuss we made at The Marquee brought many people down to see us, and Brian Epstein was one of them. He was smooth and charming, and almost aloof/superior. But then, he was The Beatles manager, so we expected that or saw it as his right. We weren’t overawed though. As I said, at that age, we thought it was our right too!

He said: “Sophisticated music must be presented in sophisticated clothes” and dressed us in pin-stripe suits with smart cravats. We looked a lot like The Jam did, only decades later. We thought nothing of it at the time, but in hindsight, it’s intriguing to wonder what he might’ve made of it all. He certainly seemed to understand something that others didn’t, perhaps that’s why he put us on that concert with Jimi Hendrix. Makes you wonder what might have happened had he lived long enough to do something about it.
 
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1-2-3 on the bill with Hendrix.
 
1-2-3’s residency at the Marquee in early 1967 introduced Prog Rock to the world and changed music. Can you tell me more about the response from other musicians?

It wasn’t just the residency at The Marquee – though that was obviously the most important and highest profile. As I said, the same thing happened all over the country, wild reactions and shock from other musicians and clued-in punters, hate and fury from the average punter, which should have told us something!

At The Marquee, as I said, it was Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, Jon Anderson (not Ian Anderson, that connection came much later). I think the Moody Blues saw us when we were staying in Birmingham for a couple of months in a house rented for us by NEMS. I was friendly with Jeff Lynne (who was in The Idle Race at the time) and Bev Bevan (of The Move at that time) was a big fan. The Beatles in general never saw us play, but Paul McCartney used to see us at The Pheasantry club in Kings Road, Chelsea. His girlfriend Maggie was a waitress there. The DJ was John Anthony, who later produced Genesis and others. At the time of The Marquee, we seemed like we were at the centre of the storm.

What other musicians understood for the first time when they heard us was that songs didn’t have to be done in the format presented on a record.

Not only that, you could have different sections, different tempi, different forms of music all in the same piece. You could have inspirational playing and great melody at the same time. To The Nice/ELP, the concept of a rock organ trio playing classics previously reserved for orchestra and the Royal Festival Hall; to King Crimson, the concept of a song like “21st Century Schizoid Man”; to Yes, in particular, the idea of a band without any musical barriers and so on and so on…..

We didn’t know we were pioneering a whole new sound and movement as such, but we knew we were out there on our own in terms of creativity and power, there was nothing like 1-2-3 before or since.
 
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1-2-3 signed Brian Epstein’s NEMS management in 1967—what could possibly go wrong?
 
What happened to 1-2-3 after you signed for NEMS?

Only a couple of months after signing us, Brian Epstein died, and we were left in the hands of Robert Stigwood, who had just signed The Bee-Gees, and already managed Cream.

He didn’t know what to do with us, we were so different from any other band. He sent us on a cabaret tour between fire-eaters and jugglers. That tells you everything you need to know. He lost us our advantage.

How did 1-2-3 change into the band called Clouds?

After Brian Epstein died, and we left NEMS and Stigwood behind, we played some faceless gigs and fell by the wayside till Terry Ellis saw us in a club in Ilford called the Golden Glove.

Chrysalis didn’t exist then, it was only Terry and his partner Chris Wright in a tiny office in Regent Street. Chris managed Ten Years After, who were just beginning to make a name for themselves. Terry wanted his own band, and signed us. He insisted we change the name to Clouds – I hated that name, and I was right, 1-2-3 would have weathered the storm so much better.

He also insisted that the 1-2-3 too-clever-by-half material would have to be scrapped. The only song we were allowed to keep was “Sing-Sing-Sing,” because it was Harry’s drum solo. We never played any 1-2-3 material again, including “America,” which was seized on by Yes as a concept they used (though nowhere near as good in my opinion).

David Bowie used the concept of the middle section of our “America” as the opener in his “Concert for New York” appearance.

Bowie was a major fan of 1-2-3. He wrote a letter to the music press which hailed the group as ‘three thistle and haggis-voiced bairns had the audacity to face a mob of self-opinionated hippies, with a brand of unique pop music, which, because of its intolerance of mediocrity floated as would a Hogarth cartoon in [the children’s comic book] Beano.’

It’s quite funny for me to try and deal with all this Bowie thing now. A bit frustrating too, as people seem to think how privileged I was to know him, when in actual fact, at the time, it was him who wanted to know me!

He was bright, clever, a good conversationalist, we got on like a house on fire, though at the time, I thought of him essentially as a young gofer.

I met him first in Dundee when The Premiers were doing a gig with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, and David’s band were also supporting. We got on, and vowed to meet in London when we eventually got there.

He came down The Marquee when he heard about us doing his song, and we quickly renewed our acquaintance.

When we played the Savile Theatre, I introduced David to Jimi Hendrix, something that has gone down in folklore and legend , as witness the V & A exhibition, where Japanese tourists are trailed round the capital and stood outside the site of The Savile Theatre, then told “This is where Billy Ritchie introduced David to Jimi Hendrix”. I find it quite amusing/bemusing. It seemed no big deal at the time. I similarly shocked Ian Anderson very recently when I told him that David had been in our dressing room (with Jethro Tull and Ten Years After at The Royal Albert Hall). Ian said “I don’t remember that!” But of course, he wouldn’t. David was just a bloke then, not the famous Thin White Duke…..
 
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David Bowie’s fan letter about 1-2-3 as sent to the Record Mirror.
 
More from the Father of Prog, Billy Ritchie, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘My name is my cocaine’: That time Michael Caine had a hit with a song about an IRA informer
11.02.2016
11:24 am

Topics:
Movies
Music
Politics
Pop Culture
Superstar

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Apparently, the easiest way to improve your Michael Caine impersonation is to say:

My name, is my cocaine.

See. It works.

Now, Peter Sellers used to do a superb Michael Caine impression which began something like that and then going on to detail some utterly trivial boring fact (a bit like the one above…) before finishing, “Not a lot people know that.”

“Not a lot of people know that…” became the catchphrase most associated with Caine though he never actually said it. However, the great movie star did say “My name is Michael Caine” for a top ten chart hit by band Madness in 1984.

Anyone who has seen Caine’s stellar performance in the movie Little Voice will know that he is not the world’s greatest singer. Thankfully no singing was required with the song “Michael Caine.” When first approached by London’s nutty boys Madness to add his voice to their single, the great actor knocked it back. But then he had a change of heart as he explained to William Orbit in 2007:

My daughter, who was 10 at the time, said: ‘You’ve got to do it, dad, it’s Madness!’ I did it for her.

 
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Caine as he appeared on the back cover of the single ‘Michael Caine’ by Madness.
 
Written by Madness sometime vocalist and trumpeter Carl Smyth (aka Chas Smash) and drummer Daniel Woodgate “Michael Caine” might at a first listen sound like some strange hybrid pop song about spies and celebrity and wanting a photograph or something or other. But the song is actually far more complex than its catchy little tune suggests.

I recall it was the NME that first highlighted the deeper (darker) significance of the song “Michael Caine” in its inky black pages. The NME revealed Madness’ eighteenth single was in fact about an IRA informer “forced to live under an assumed name.” When the strain becomes too great for this unlucky chap—he “cracks under the pressure” and all he has as a reminder of his past life is a photograph.

The lyrics are certainly oblique enough to disguise any direct correlation between a world class movie actor, spying, the IRA and “The Troubles”—which was the rather twee term used to describe the war in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998. Anyhow, the lyrics go as follows:

He’s walking where I’m afraid I don’t know
I see the firemen jumping from the windows
There’s panic and I hear somebody scream

He picks up useless paper
And puts it in my pocket
I’m trying very hard to keep my fingers clean
I can’t remember tell me what’s his name

And all I wanted was a word or photograph to keep at home
And all I wanted was a word or photograph to keep

The sun is laughing its another broken morning
I see a shadow and call out to try and warn him
He didn’t seem to hear
Just turned away

The quiet fellow follows and points his fingers
Straight at you
He had to sacrifice his pride yes throw it all away

His days are numbered he walks round and round in circles
There is no place he can ever call his own
He seems to jump at the sound of the phone

Staring out the window there’s nothing he can now do
All he wanted was to remain sane
He can’t remember his own name

 
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Madness.
 
It’s obvious from these lyrics the song’s about something nasty in the woodshed. But wait—this was Madness who weren’t exactly known for putting out deep political songs. They were considered “a singles band” which was greatly unfair considering the magnificence of their fourth studio album The Rise & Fall—which is to be frank is their Sgt. Pepper moment—a literal classic. But yes, Madness was seen as a jolly, happy, fun bunch of guys whose ska-influenced music was deeply joyous entertainment.

But then again “Michael Caine” wasn’t the band’s first foray into politics…

Watch ‘Michael Caine,’ after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The mysterious ‘Love Is A Drag,’ an album of songs for gay lovers from 1962
11.01.2016
03:38 pm

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture
Queer

Tags:


 
Anyone who thinks the vinyl revival is some hipster fad that’s going to fade as quickly as a cloud of Beaujolais-flavored gas from a ten dollar vape pipe is not paying attention. With 1000s of new titles being released every month and instantly selling out, crate diggers who run indie record labels are plunging further down the vinyl mine shaft and coming up with freshly discovered gems that were obscure even in the years they were released. The thrift store and garage sale flotsam and jetsam, the goofy records we used to chuckle at as we ransacked cardboard boxes looking for first pressings of Pink Floyd or 13th Floor Elevators albums, are now the new drug for vinyl junkies. Lunatic lounge singers, hippie dippy regional folk albums, high school band recordings from the astral plane and scores of vanity projects slapped on wax by the delusional, demented and visionary have always had a fan base among a certain kind of hardcore collector, but the audience for outré coolness on vinyl is expanding as music lovers are demanding more than the umpteenth re-issue of Hendrix and Floyd on 180 gram virgin vinyl. We’re all looking for the next vinyl high, the record that drops our jaws as soon as the needle drops into the groove.

The future of vinyl is as endless as its own past. And man I love it. Among the very best labels resurrecting lost titles from the vinyl crypt is Sundazed Music and their new off-shoot Modern Harmonic. With a focus on loungey exotica, Sun Ra’s interplanetary space jazz, experiments from John Cage and soft-pop chanteuse Margo Guryan, Modern Harmonic’s taste in the offbeat and wonderful is impeccable. That’s particularly true of their latest release Love Is A Drag, a five-decade old lounge record that shatters taboos with its low-key subversion.

Love Is A Drag (“for adult listeners only”) has been veiled in mystery since it was first released in 1962. On the surface it sounds like dozens of similar jazz records of the era fronted by a male vocalist with a seductive style of crooning. What makes Love Is A Drag unique and groundbreaking is that all of the tunes on the album are love songs from one man to another. Titles like “The Boy Next Door” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” are Sinatra-like amorous ballads but from a gay perspective. There’s not a hint of camp or irony in the vocals and the backing band, composed of jazz pros, is playing with heartfelt conviction. The subject matter might be gay, but the artists are playing it straight. That’s what makes Love Is A Drag so unusual. It’s not a novelty record played for laughs. It’s as sincere as anything recorded by any A-list lounge singer celebrating heterosexual romance.

Up until a few years ago no one knew who the singer on Love Is A Drag was. From a professional standpoint singing gay-themed love songs was probably not a great career move in 1962. Though the record sold well in certain circles and had admirers like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope (!), anonymity was essential for the guy doing the vocals, particularly if he was heterosexual and married. Finally, the mystery was solved when the identity of the man behind the songs surfaced when J.D Doyle of the Queer Music Heritage project was contacted by a friend of the singer and shared what he knew. Vocalist Gene Howard who fronted Stan Kenton’s big band was the voice that sang so convincingly of the love that dare not speak its name. Gene died in 1993 so sadly doesn’t know that his legacy lives on thanks to Sundazed.
 

 
Love Is A Drag is being released on November 25 as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday event. Even though I own a record store, I avoid Record Store Day for reasons I won’t go into. But this record may be worth fighting the crowds to get your hands on. Or you can wait for it to pop up on eBay and buy it for some inflated amount. Or maybe Sundazed will re-release it for those of us who buy records when and how we want. As a vinyl guy, I can’t imagine owning Love Is A Drag in any other form. Another example of the vinyl revival continuing to surprise and please.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Garbage Pail Kids take on the 2016 Election
11.01.2016
11:06 am

Topics:
Amusing
Art
Politics
Pop Culture

Tags:


 
I’m not going to get all political here with my own personal (Fuck Trump) politics and thoughts (Fuck Trump) about the 2016 election. Besides, who gives a shit what I think, anyway? (Trust me, I don’t care what you thnk either) I’m simply just going to post these election Garbage Pail Kids trading cards here, sans commentary. You can decide where you stand, okay? (Just fuck Trump.)

The cards are by Topps, and according to their website the cards are only available to purchase for 24 hours. It appears a lot of these are already sold out. Boo!


 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Awesomely evil-looking soaps that really tie the bathroom together!
10.27.2016
10:09 am

Topics:
Pop Culture

Tags:


 
If you, like me, are missing that certain evil je ne sais quoi in your bathroom, why not spruce up the place with these wicked-looking hand soaps? I’m seriously digging on these handmade “demonic” soaps called “Art of Dying’” by Canadian artist Eden Gorgós. They’re just too perfect. I’d probably never use the Baphomet as actual soap as I’d hate to watch him slowly dissolve away.

That would be too sad.

Anyway, the soaps are made with 100% coconut oil, colored naturally, and scented with pure essential oils. If you enjoy scents like ginger root, sage, birch, sweet mint, spice and citrus… these might be right up your alley. As a side note: they do come unscented, too. You just have to make that request.

The Krampus-appropriate soaps won’t be available until November 1. These aren’t just for the holiday season, in my opinion, but for all year around!

Click here to purchase your demoic soap!


 
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Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Stray Cat Beat Girl: Meet the electrifying ‘Aretha Franklin’ of Japan, Akiko Wada
10.25.2016
10:40 am

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Feminism
Movies
Music
Pop Culture

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Akiko Wada.
 
The arrival of the “beat girl” archetype in Japanese culture back in the 60s came with numerous girl rockers taking the helm of bands, cranking out garage rock sounds and pop-inspired hits some of which would go on to sell more than a million copies (such as the 1965 smash sung in English by Emy Jackson “Crying in a Storm”). Of the many that were a part of this movement, one of the most notable was a woman often referred to as the “Japanese Aretha Franklin,” Akiko Wada.

Born Akiko Iizuka (according to her website) to Korean parents, she soon adopted her maternal uncle’s name (Wada) and started skipping school (before dropping out of high school entierly) to enjoy the nightlife of Osaka. At the age of seventeen she had added “runaway” to her growing rebellious teenage resume after a trip to Tokyo. Wada’s “look” was perceived as “unconventional” even during her childhood. In elementary school Wada was already over five-feet tall and by the time she stopped growing she stood approximately 5’9. Not only did Wada sound more like a man she was also taller than most of her male counterparts on the hit parade. Due to her unique looks and vocal style she was often referred to as being “butch.

It’s important to note here that being labeled as “butch” is a distinct inference of homosexuality. And being gay in Japan isn’t merely frowned upon, it is also considered an “unacceptable” lifestyle (though there has been some progress over the last two decades). Despite assumptions regarding her sexuality Wada has been married to a man (photographer Koji Iizuka) for the past 35 years.

Wada would embark on her recording career in 1968, singing on an astronomical number of records (somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 singles) since the release of her first single “Hoshizora no Kodoku” (“The Solitude of the Starry Sky”). Fast-forward to 2016 and the unstoppable Wada shows no signs of slowing down. Her latest release “All Right!!!” came out in July of this year—three months after her 66th birthday.

Wada also appeared in a few memorable films, a few which audiences outside of Japan may be familiar with such as the 1970 Japanese chick biker-flick (the first of the long-running franchise) Alleycat Rock: Female Boss where Akiko gets to play the cycle-riding biker girl “Ako.” Wada would reprise the role of “Ako” in the follow-up film, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo. Wada has also hosted her own TV show, Akko ni Omakase (“Leave It To Akko”), as well as a radio show DJ Akko No Panic Studio. I’ve included a number of cool tracks from Wada’s vast catalog for you to listen to below and the groovy trailer for Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (which was lovingly remastered back in 2014 by Arrow Films) that features Wada looking larger than life, rocking out in a sweet brown pantsuit.
 

The trailer for the 1970 film ‘Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo’ featuring Akiko Wada.
 
More Akiko Wada after the jump…

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Meet the ‘black Charlie Chaplin’ who devised the Moonwalk before Michael Jackson
10.18.2016
10:29 am

Topics:
Dance
Music
Pop Culture

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Johnny Hudgins is not the first name to come to mind when considering influential 20th century comic performers—but perhaps he should be.

I had never heard of Johnny Hudgins until about a week ago when his name popped up in a conversation about long forgotten vaudeville stars. An old archivist friend was telling me how there were once many African-American blackface performers—among them Johnny Hudgins who became an international star in the 1920s. Hudgins was more than a star—he was hailed as “the colored Charlie Chaplin.” Famed for his trademark dance and comedy routines, Hudgins literally spawned a host of imitators I was informed—most notably Josephine Baker who copied his act and took it to France where she became a star.

I noted my friend’s information—it was one of those useful kernels to be tucked away for later use.

Then last night while catching-up on TV, I watched a documentary called Trailblazers of Dance—one part of the excellent Trailblazers of… series narrated by Slade’s Noddy Holder no less. From what I’ve seen of this series, it’s certainly one I’d recommend. Anyhow—in this documentary Hudgins again popped up—this time being credited as the originator of the “moonwalk”—the impossible-seeming dance step Michael Jackson made famous in his video for “Billie Jean.”
 
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Johnny Hudgins with the Blackbirds.
 
This spot of serendipity led me to do a little research on Johnny Hudgins.

For someone whose career apparently influenced the iconic Josephine Baker and Michael Jackson, who had Duke Ellington serenade him at supper, whose portrait was painted by Kees van Dongen, who was even filmed by Jean Renoir and who was so famous he had a kid’s doll made after him in France—there really isn’t a heck of a lot of stuff out there on dear old Mr. Hudgins—well, other than passing mentions in academic texts like this from Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance:

Virtually forgotten in the early twenty-first century, Johnny Hudgins was a celebrity in his day. Born in Baltimore in 1896, Hudgins began performing as a song-and-dance man on the burlesque circuit before joining Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s all-black revue The Chocolate Dandies in 1924. A successor to the song-writing team Sissle and Blake’s earlier hit, Shuffle Along (1921), The Chocolate Dandies was more ambitious—it featured extravagant stage settings, including live horses running on a treadmill during a horse race scene—but ultimately less profitable, closing on Broadway after ninety-six performances.

During his run in the musical, Hudgins developed a series of comic pantomime acts that won him acclaim nationally and internationally. The most famous of these was his “Mwa, Mwa” routine, in which he opened and closed his mouth in silent mimicry of the “wah wah” sounds of an accompanying trumpet or cornet.

Branded both the successor of the celebrated blackface vaudevillian Bert Williams and “the colored Charles Chaplin,” Hudgins spawned a host of imitators, among them Josephine Baker, who appeared with him in The Chocolate Dandies.

After touring Europe for several years in the mid-1920s, Hudgins returned to the United States to star in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928. By 1930 he was reported to be the “highest paid night club entertainer of his Race.” He continued to tour Europe, South America, Canada and the United States through the 1940s. Due in no small part to his use of blackface, Hudgins fell out of favor with a later generation of performers and critics. He died in 1990.

 
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Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Disgusting hyper-realistic busts of Ren and Stimpy
10.14.2016
09:17 am

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Art
Pop Culture
Television

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The Ren & Stimpy Show, often simply called simply Ren & Stimpy, was a madcap and often subversive cartoon show produced by John Kricfalusi for Nickelodeon between 1991 and 1995. The sometimes controversial program featured Ren, “an emotionally unstable chihuahua,” and Stimpy, “a good-natured, dimwitted cat,” and was filled with gross-out humor and and jokes that only the adults in the audience were likely to get. The show paved the way for more adult-themed cartoons such as Beavis and Butthead and South Park, and still enjoys a large cult audience today.

Artist Andrew Freeman of Immortal masks has recently paid homage to Ren Höek and Stimpson J. Cat by creating “hyper-realistic” silicone busts of the duo.

The masks are absolutely grotesque, keeping in line with the original show which often featured disgusting close-ups of the cartoon pair. The intricate details on these busts are amusingly disturbing, from the gross rotten teeth to the “magic nose goblins” in Stimpy’s nostrils.

The full silicone busts were designed, sculpted and painted by Andrew Freeman with the assistance of his team at Immortal Masks, and the finished pieces are being displayed at Think Tank Gallery in downtown Los Angeles October 8 through the 31st

Happy happy, joy joy!
 

 

 
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Psychedelic Day-Glo screenprints of Marilyn Monroe by ‘Last Sitting’ photographer Bert Stern
10.13.2016
09:52 am

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Art
Pop Culture

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Photographer Bert Stern is forever tied to the legacy of Marilyn Monroe by dint of one fateful job in 1962—a three day photo shoot/bender with Monroe at L.A.’s Hotel Bel-Air, which turned out to be the last shoot Monroe would pose for before her overdose death. Posing nude on white luxury hotel linens with champagne and gauzy scarves, Monroe produced some of the most iconic images of her career, with a simultaneous playfulness and resignation poking through the photos’ sex appeal, mirroring her career as a comic actress whose gifts could never emerge from under a crafted glamorous image too powerful to yield to a real human being. The fact of her death so soon after the shoot made the photos a badge for her martyrdom to the star system, which was creepily underscored by the many images in which she’s Xed out with red marker—Monroe had crossed those images out of the contact sheets herself, but her death gave them an unintended meaning. The shots have come to collectively be known as “The Last Sitting,” and naturally, they’ve been the subject of a few books.

Less well known than those photos was the series of psychedelic silkscreen prints Stern produced from those images a few years later, printed in Day-Glo colors so bright as to threaten the viewer with a subconjunctival hemorrhage. The March 1968 issue of Avant Garde magazine published a portfolio of the prints, and they had this to say about it:

Hundreds of artists have been hung on Marilyn Monroe ever since she died five years ago (including Dali, De Kooning, Linder, Rauschenberg, and 38 other greats who participated in an “Homage to Marilyn” show at the Janis Gallery in New York last month. Perhaps none has been more preoccupied with the image of Marilyn, however, than photographer Bert Stern who, through a quirk of fate, became the last man to photograph her. Stern’s portraits of Marilyn, shot at the Bel Air Hotel in Hollywood on June 21, 1962 are classic and have been published time and again. “Still, I have never been entirely satisfied with them,” says Stern. “Because of photography’s technical limitations, they never quite communicated the dazzling image of Marilyn that existed in my mind’s eye at the time I photographed her.” As a result, over the past five years Stern has been experimenting with various new techniques that would enable him to capture and preserve the image of Marilyn he saw at the time he photographed her. Just this past fall he hit upon the answer: an amalgam of the dramatic technique of serigraphy and the blazing colors of Day-Glo ink.

Stern must have made TONS of the prints, because they’re astonishingly affordable to procure. There seem to always be some available on auction sites, and they tend to go for ballpark $30-50ish. Comparisons to Warhol’s 1962 Marilyn screenprints are unavoidable, but Stern’s prints, despite the magnified vividness of their colors, are coarser works that delight in a psychedelic extremity that the Warhol works can’t touch. The images that follow are spreads from the aforementioned Avant Garde portfolio. Clicking spawns a larger image.
 

 

 
More Marilyn after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Mind-blowing psychedelic 60s posters of Hendrix, Dylan, Pink Floyd, Yoko Ono & The Who
10.12.2016
11:08 am

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Art
Drugs
Music
Pop Culture

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Martin Sharp, ‘Exploding Hendrix,’ 1968.
 
The late great counter cultural figure, poet and publisher Felix Dennis collected an incredible array of psychedelic advertising posters during his lifetime, from the 1960s and 1970s.

Dennis (1947-2014) started off as co-editor of Oz magazine and was responsible for the legendary issue #28 of the magazine better known as “Schoolkids Oz” which led to the magazine’s famous obscenity trial in 1971. After his experience with Oz, Dennis went onto become a very rich and successful publisher of various magazines like Maxim, Fortean Times, Bizarre and Viz Comics.

Apart from publishing, Dennis also had a passion for collecting—the scale of which was only apparent after his death in 2014. Dennis collected original American underground comic book artwork, woodcuts by Eric Gill, and some 23,000 books—including rare editions by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. However, books and comics were for reading and enjoying—his real passion was collecting original psychedelic posters.

Dennis was very particular in which posters he collected—he was more interested in following individual artists than “obsessively ticking things off a list.” He was a fan of original Oz artist Martin Sharp, and followed other graphic artists such as Hapshash & the Coloured Coat, Victor Moscoso and Ivan Tyrrell.

The following selection is but a small selection from the Felix Dennis Collection—but gives a rather dazzling (if retina burning) flavor of 1960’s psychedelic art in all its glory.
 
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Bob Dylan: Martin Sharp‘s poster ‘Mr Tambourine Man – Blowin’ in the Mind,’ 1967.
 
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Pink Floyd/UFO Club:  Hapshash & the Coloured Coat‘s poster ‘CIA vs. UFO,’ 1967.
 
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The Chambers Brothers: Victor Moscoso‘s poster for a Chambers Bros gig at the Matrix, 1967.
 
More candy-colored psychedelia from the collection of Felix Dennis, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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