About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE EVERLASTING FIRST, Part 5: My First Exposures To Some Singers And Superheroes



Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

TODAY'S LETTER IS E



THE EASYBEATS

Building upon our influences plays a large role in shaping who we are, and what we become. As a kid in the '60s, and as a teenager in the '70s, my personality, and my likes and dislikes, were molded in part by the pop culture I absorbed via TV, comic books, movies, and AM radio. A Hard Day's Night. Batman. The Monkees. WNDR- and WOLF-AM in Syracuse. Throw in some baseball, some random 45s, some more TV (from Gilligan's Island to The Guns Of Will Sonnett to Star Trek to Supersonic), some books on World War II, some Disney, Marx Brothers, and Jerry Lewis flicks, and some surreptitious glances at Lorrie Menconi and Barbi Benton in Playboy, and you have a partial portrait of the blogger as a young man.


                        Y'know, it ain't polite to stare, mister!
 
And throw in some rock 'n' roll magazines, too. I've already written at length about the importance of the '70s tabloid Phonograph Record Magazine, and I will still have more to write about PRM in future posts. I saw an issue of Circus some time in the mid-'70s, and I fell in love with Suzi Quatro when I saw her on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Later on, I'd immerse myself in Trouser Press, Creem, New York Rocker, Rock Scene, Punk, The Pig Paper, and also a little thing called Goldmine, for which I freelanced for almost twenty years. But the most important single issue of any rock mag I ever read? No contest; that was the February 1978 issue Bomp! magazine: the power pop issue.

The way I read and re-read and re-re-read that issue, it's a miracle its cover is still attached. I was 18. I was a fan of The Beatles, The Monkees, The Kinks, The Raspberries, and The Ramones. I'd just seen The Flashcubes for the first time, so I was already a fan of theirs, too. The power pop issue of Bomp! was Heaven-sent, a manifesto for what I already believed, but couldn't yet articulate. And its pages contained scores of recommendations for more acts I should check out as a nascent power pop acolyte, bands like The Flamin' Groovies (who I'd already heard, but needed to hear more), The Creation, The Dwight Twilley Band, and The Nerves; and there was quite a bit of coverage of some band called Big Star, and some group from the '60s: an Australian band named The Easybeats.

Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza!, the auteurs behind Bomp!'s power pop extravaganza, cited The Easybeats alongside The Kinks and The Who as power pop's founding fathers. That's pretty heady company to keep, so I certainly wanted to learn more about The Easybeats. If there were any Easybeats records in print in the U.S. in '78, I wasn't aware of them; I don't think I could even find an Oldies 45 reissue of the group's lone American hit, "Friday On My Mind." So Easy Fever had to be deferred for me.

It may seem odd in retrospect that I'd never heard "Friday On My Mind," but I don't think I had. I finally heard it in--I think--the summer of '78. Tip-A-Few, a bar on James Street in Eastwood, specialized in playing oldies while thirsty patrons tipped a few (or, sometimes, more than a few). The DJs at Tip-A-Few were armed with a massive collection of 45s--no need for LPs, because they would only play hit oldies--and I was there with decent frequency, tippin' a few while requesting singles by Gene Pitney, The Beau Brummels, The Knickerbockers, and The Fireballs. And, one night, I requested "Friday On My Mind" by The Easybeats.

I liked it, of course, It wasn't immediately revelatory, but it was catchy rock 'n' roll music, and that was fine by me. That fall, I picked up a used copy of David Bowie's covers album, Pin Ups, which contained the former Mr. Jones' take on "Friday On My Mind." That track was, in fact, the very thing that prompted me to buy my first Bowie album, so yes indeed, thank you, Easybeats! I did eventually score an Oldies 45 of The Easybeats' "Friday On My Mind," a record which I grew to love more and more with each easy spin.

It took me a while to expand my Easybeats stash beyond that one 7" single. In the mid-'80s, Rhino Records' The Best Of The Easybeats rewarded me with a glimpse into the true and enduring greatness of The Easybeats. "Friday On My Mind" was their only Stateside hit, and on some days I'll agree it was their best track. But most days, I'll dig in my heels, and I'll insist, Yeah, "Friday On My Mind" is great, but "Sorry" is better!  "Sorry" struck me as the perfect melding of The Monkees and the early Who, so sign me up for a new religion based on those Australian pop gods, The Easybeats. "Good Times." "Made My Bed (Gonna Lie In It)." "St. Louis." "She's So Fine." "Sorry." "Friday On My Mind." Scripture. Chapter. Verse. Easy!


E-MAN



The Charlton Comics line eschewed superheroes after the demise of its Action-Hero line in the late '60s. By the early-to-mid '70s, Charlton's only superhero book was The Phantom, plus Popeye if you wanna stretch the superhero tag to broader parameters. Revivals of Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Peacemaker, Judo Master, and Peter Cannon...Thunderbolt were unlikely, and it was equally unlikely that Charlton would create any new costumed heroes to take their place. Charlton editor George Wildman was amiable, but firm: superhero books did not sell for Charlton.

So the 1973 appearance of two new action series from Charlton was, to say the least, unexpected. Yang was a martial arts series, so that made commercial sense amidst the frenzy of the kung fu craze. But there was also a new superhero book--a quirky, energetic, unique superhero book, drawing more inherent inspiration from the Golden Age charm of Plastic Man or the original Captain Marvel than from anything else DC or Marvel was doing at the time--but it was undeniably a superhero book, a bona fide Charlton superhero book. It was E-Man, created by writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton.

For most of these entries in The Everlasting First, I've been able to call to mind some specifics about when, where, and how I first became aware of the pop subject at hand. But my initiation into E-Man fandom is a jumble of tangled, thorny, conflicting memories. E-Man debuted at a time when I was become ever more active in seeking out new comic-book superhero thrills; it was a little before the short-lived Atlas Comics line, so Charlton's return to the superhero wars stood out even more. I think I remember purchasing an issue of E-Man (and definitely an issue of Yang) at a convenience store in Clifton Park. I remember a coverless E-Man scored at Van Patten's Grocery in North Syracuse. Later on (1974? '75?), while traveling with family from Southwest Missouri to the Florida panhandle, I know I bought an issue of E-Man during a pit stop somewhere in Arkansas. How did I first hear of E-Man? What was the first issue I saw, and/or the first I read? That memory is lost. All I can tell you is this: however I came on board, I was an E-Man fan instantly. I tracked down all the back issues, bought each new issue, and was crushed when it was cancelled. Superhero books did not sell for Charlton.

E-Man deserved a much, much better fate. This book was simply unlike anything else on the stands at the time. Jim Hanley's Captain Marvel pastiche Goodguy came closest, but that was a black-and-white strip that appeared sporadically in fanzines (and I would really love to see that stuff collected in book form!); DC's Shazam! (starring the actual Captain Marvel hisself) never quite gelled, and Simon & Kirby's The Sandman was weird and kinda fun, but still more weird than fun. By contrast, E-Man sparkled with the positive energy promised by its hero's insignia:



(And E-Man's constant companion Nova Kane was the sexiest character in mainstream comics in the mid-'70s. I mean, sure, she was an exotic dancer, and that reinforced her pulchritudinous appeal. But her comic book appearances somehow avoided pandering for the most part. Nova was never, ever portrayed as any kind of bimbo or sexpot, and was usually the smartest and most sensible person in the room at any given moment. She was capable, and in control, simultaneously good-natured and wordly. Nova was the heart of E-Man.)




E-Man lasted for a mere ten issues at Charlton. Hard-boiled private eye Michael Mauser was introduced in E-Man # 3; presumably intended as a one-off character, Mauser eventually became a key member of the E-Man cast, and has appeared in solo adventures as well (initially as a back-up strip in Charlton's Vengeance Squad). Nova acquired super-powers in E-Man # 8; I thought this detracted from the engaging interplay of the grounded, sensible, street-wise Nova and the cosmically naive E-Man, but I grew accustomed to the idea over time.

And I did have time to grow accustomed to the idea; First Comics purchased the rights to E-Man from Charlton in the early '80s, and began a new series of E-Man adventures. Joe Staton returned to the art chores, but Cuti was unavailable; his replacement, Marty Pasko, had done some fine work for DC (including a delightfully goofy run on The Metal Men, with art by Staton), but his E-Man didn't seem quite right to me. Cuti returned to his co-creation with First's E-Man # 24. First Comics withdrew from the comics biz years ago, but E-Man, Nova, and Mauser still pop up from time to time from various publishers. One of these days, I need to go back and re-read the lot of 'em.

Quick Takes For E:



ECLIPSO: I don't think I'd even heard of Eclipso--"Hero And Villain In One Man!"--until my sister's boyfriend gave me all of his old comic books in the summer of 1970. Eclipso had been featured in DC's House Of Secrets in the early '60s; the character was a sort of Jeckyll and Hyde, as good-guy scientist Bruce Gordon transformed into the evil Eclipso whenever an eclipse occurred (an event I'm guessing is more commonplace in the DC universe than it is in our boring ol' universe). Shortly after reading these early Eclipso adventures, I read a Batman giant devoted to the women in the Caped Crusader's life; that giant included a few panels from The Brave And The Bold # 64, which told the tale of a spoiled hussy named Marcia Monroe. Ms. Monroe stole Batman's heart, but then jilted him, and teamed with Eclipso in some evil attempt to do evil things. Evil! Decades later, a talented musician--also named Bruce Gordon--decided to embrace his evil namesake; Bruce called his rockin' pop act Eclipso, and released a stunningly good pop record called Hero And Villain In One Man. DC's legal representatives then demonstrated their superhuman lack of any sense of humor, so Bruce changed his nom du bop to Mr. Encrypto, and shortened his first album's title to Hero And Villain.  Mr. Encrypto released a second album called Secret Identity Crisis, and Bruce told me this weekend he's working on some new material right now. Whatever name he uses, Mr. Encrypto makes terrific records, so go buy 'em both: Mr. Encrytpo. Evil must not win!



EDDIE & THE HOT RODS:  Another Phonograph Records Magazine discovery, though I believe I also read about them in Playboy. The 1976 Live At The Marquee EP was their initial jolt of rock 'n' roll greatness (with a smokin' cover of Bob Seger's "Get Out Of Denver"), but I probably didn't hear it, or the debut LP Teenage Depression, until much later. The Flashcubes covered "Get Out Of Denver" in their live shows--'Cubes guitarist Paul Armstrong credited Eddie & the Hot Rods, but introduced it as "a song Bob Seger wrote ten years ago, when he was still cool"--so that was my intro. The 'Cubes also covered an Eddie & the Hot Rods original called "Do Anything You Wanna Do," and that was sufficient motivation to pick up the Hot Rods' 45 of that incredible power pop tune. I soon added the Hot Rods' second album, Life On The Line, to my collection as well. I love Eddie & the Hot Rods, but The Flashcubes' version of "Do Anything You Wanna Do" is definitive.



ELLERY QUEEN:  Probably the TV series, starring Jim Hutton? I had heard of private detective Ellery Queen, and I'm sure I'd seen issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, but I may not have read anything until after the short-lived TV series debuted in the fall of 1975. But I adored that TV show, and that inspired me to seek out the books.



THE EVERLY BROTHERS:  I was born in 1960, so I don't know of a world without The Everly Brothers. That said, I don't have any specific memories of the Everlys, either. We had the A Date With The Everly Brothers LP in the family record collection, with "Cathy's Clown" and "Love Hurts," but none of this made an impression on me in the '60s. It would fall to TV ads for oldies records in the early '70s to introduce me to "All I Have To Do Is Dream" well after the fact, but no matter; great pop music has no expiration date. I'm delighted that I had a chance to see an Everly Brothers performance at the New York State Fair many years later. My favorite Everlys track is "Gone, Gone, Gone," but there is just so much great stuff in their catalog, including some wonderful records they were making in the '80s. A world without The Everly Brothers? Not this world, not ever.

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: F is for....