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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 14, 2016

THE EVERLASTING FIRST, Part 6: 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 F

 

THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES

As a college freshman in the Fall of 1977, I had my ear practically stapled to Brockport's student-run radio station WBSU, a closed-circuit AM signal heard only on campus. WBSU was where I first heard BlondieTelevisionThe DictatorsThe Ramones, all based on my obsessive and insistent requests to finally hear more of this punk rock stuff I'd been reading about in (again!) Phonograph Record Magazine. I was also requesting The Monkees--WBSU's library included a copy of the group's then-rare 1970 LP, Changes, so my (often-futile) pleas for WBSU jocks to play something from Changes were my only opportunity to hear Davy Jones warble "I Never Thought It Peculiar." Okay, you may think it's peculiar, but I never did.

So yeah, I listened to WBSU all the time. And I remember one particularly revelatory afternoon of communing with BSU, as I heard a couple of terrific oldies that I didn't know at the time: "Five O'Clock World" by The Vogues and "Lies" by The Knickerbockers. Both of these tracks have been on my All-Time Top Pop list ever since (and I immediately wrote in my journal that The Knickerbockers "sound more like The Beatles than The Beatles do!"). I believe the DJ also played my request for "Any Way You Want It" by The Dave Clark Five. To top it off, I heard two contemporary groups I'd neither heard nor heard of before, both performing '60s covers: "The Batman Theme" by The Jam, and "Misery" by The Flamin' Groovies.

We'll be discussing The Jam in just a few more letters from now. But the Groovies? Man, I was blown away by this band doing a credible cover of an early Beatles tune, and a somewhat lesser-known Beatles tune, at that. The Flamin' Groovies? Who the devil are The Flamin' Groovies?

An answer to that question wasn't immediately forthcoming. I'd never read anything about them, nor had I seen (or noticed, at least) any of their records at the stores. And, even if I'd seen a Groovies LP on the record racks, as a poor, poor college frosh, I couldn't afford to just buy a Flamin' Groovies album on a whim. I needed more evidence. And that evidence was tough to come by.



In retrospect, you would think I must have started requesting more Groovies music from the beleaguered WBSU jocks I was already pestering anyway, but I don't think I did (or, if I did, I wasn't successful). I mentioned The Flamin' Groovies to my friend Fred. Fred had a decent-sized LP collection, and he came up with a copy of a Flamin' Groovies album called Flamingo. Flamingo appeared to be an older record--so much for my presumption that the Groovies were a brand-new group--and it didn't include "Misery." For some forgotten reason, I didn't borrow Fred's copy of Flamingo, and my obviously-casual Groovies quest went on its obviously casual way.



I did see a Flamin' Groovies record at The Record Grove in Brockport: an import EP with "Slow Death,""Tallahassee Lassie,""Married Woman," and "Get A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues." An EP--even an import EP--was less of a financial risk than springin' for a whole album, but...no. Didn't take the plunge. Not yet.

So The Flamin' Groovies got backburnered. It would be well over a year before I paid any attention to this unsettled matter of The Flamin' Groovies' music. By the spring of 1979, I was dating a girl named Brenda; I think I've mentioned her a few times on the blog, since we've been, y'know, married since 1984. Brenda's pal Christie was seeing a boy named Paul, and it turned out this Paul fellow--a WBSU jock!--shared my fondness of punk and new wave. We all hit it off rather well. In random conversations about this music, Paul mentioned a compilation album he had, an import sampler LP called New Wave. He offered to lend it to me, and I accepted.



We've already discussed this New Wave collection in our Everlasting First entries on The Damned and The Dead Boys, and it will be popping up yet again before our alphabet is spent. In addition to those two acts, New Wave included a few tracks I already knew (by The Ramones, The Runaways, and Richard Hell & the Void-Oids), a great Talking Heads track I didn't know, and a few other things that were new to me, too.  And, of course, New Wave included a Flamin' Groovies song called "Shake Some Action."

"Shake Some Action."

I consider myself fortunate to be the sort of wide-eyed pop fan that can sometimes fall in love with a song or a band instantly. It doesn't always work that way, but when it does, it's magic. It was magic when I heard "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" by The Ramones. It was magic when I saw The Flashcubes live. And it was magic when I heard "Shake Some Action."

The song was just...hypnotic. There were so many little elements combining and clashing within that track, with bits of The Byrds and Phil Spector, a brooding, booming bass, guitars that seemed to snarl and jangle at the same time, punk swagger, pop yearning, and an insistent instrumental hook that grabbed me and whispered silkily in my ear, You're with us now, son. It was a recipe for cacophony, a surefire roadmap to a sonic mess...except that it wasn't. It was precise. It was perfect. And I swear, in that moment, I knew it was The Greatest Record Ever Made.

Okay. Now I was willing to spend money on Flamin' Groovies records! I remembered that I had seen a copy of the Groovies' Shake Some Action LP at a fantastic little record store in Joplin, Missouri over Christmas break--wish I'd heard that damned song a few months earlier! But by now, Shake Some Action seemed to have vanished from retail shelves.



But The Flamin' Groovies had a new album out: Flamin' Groovies Now. I bought a promo copy of that LP for cheap, and it was one of my go-to records for a few months thereafter. I was particularly taken with a track called "Don't Put Me On," if only because it directly copied some elements from the elusive "Shake Some Action." That summer of '79, I had a job at Hofmann Sausage Company, and I would listen to that track (often more than once) every evening when I got home from work, buzzed and hungry, eating my hot dogs and listening to my power pop.

Brenda stayed in Brockport that summer, and we alternated weekend visits, with her coming to Syracuse one weekend and me grabbing the Greyhound to Brockport on the next weekend. On one of those Brockport trips, I found a copy of the Shake Some Action LP in the cutout bin at Main Street Records. SCORE!!! I couldn't buy it fast enough. And that album included the Groovies' cover of "Misery," bringing me full circle to the beginning of my interest in The Flamin' Groovies.



Over a short period of time, Shake Some Action grew to become one of my all-time favorite albums, and the Groovies became one of my all-time favorite bands. It took me a while, but I eventually acquired all of their albums. I learned that the pre-Shake Some Action Groovies was, in many ways, a different band than the Groovies I knew, even though they shared some personnel. The Flamin' Groovies of Supersnazz, Flamingo, and Teenage Head were fronted by the great Roy Loney, and were generally rootsier and less Mersey-smacked; my familiar, (slightly) latter-day Groovies were fronted by the also-great Chris Wilson, and those albums--Shake Some Action, Now, and Jumpin' In The Night--were consciously evocative of the mid-'60s British Invasion and American reaction. I loved both, but I'd be lyin' if I didn't admit my special affection for the Fabmania pop of the Wilson records. The constants in all Groovies incarnations were guitarist Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander; Cyril and George are still Groovies today, and Chris Wilson has even rejoined, too. I wish they'd come to Syracuse!

So my Groovies fandom began with a spin of "Misery" on WBSU, and exploded when I heard "Shake Some Action" on a record lent to me by a new friend named Paul. Back in that spring of '79, Paul asked me if I wanted to be his roommate for senior year, and I agreed. We became great pals for a while, and the friendship continued after graduation. It ended abruptly in the early '80s. It goes that way sometimes. Regrets? I've had a few. More than a few, really. But, even though it ended badly, I don't regret knowing Paul. It was groovy while it lasted.

Sometimes in my dreams, we still talk to each other
Although in real life I know we're done with one another
I don't think I'd want you to return
I'd just feel better if I could learn
What became of you
Because I remember you

Shake some action, Paul.

FLASH GORDON


























In 1964 to maybe '66 or so, our neighborhood rocket ship was parked in my back yard.

There was a large weeping willow towering above the ground behind my house, a tree that the kids on my block could climb and capture and, more importantly, use the boundless power of imagination to launch into outer space, and then fire retro rockets to land on exciting distant planets. With adventure in our hearts and rayguns at our side, the universe was ours! We were Flash Gordon!

Flash Gordon was probably my first superhero, maybe even before Popeye, and certainly before Batman. All the kids on my block watched reruns of the 1930s Flash Gordon movie serials starring Buster Crabbe; the serials were shown every freakin' day on Channel 9 by Baron Daemon, Syracuse's popular TV vampire. Baron Daemon, played by local hambone Mike Price, was a superstar to us kids, and I still regard him as a superstar, honestly. Price was just terrific at chewing the scenery, yukkin' it up, and doing broad schtick and corny comedy to the delight and merriment of every child in the greater Syracuse area. I tell ya, Baron Daemon shoulda been nationwide, and his local hit, "Transylvania Twist," is timeless and irresistible:

 

I hate to be judgmental, but if you don't dig this, then there's something wrong with you.

Price began his Baron Daemon character as the host of Channel 9's weekend monster movies, but the Baron proved so popular that he was given a weekday afternoon slot, The Baron & His Buddies. And, in between Baron Daemon's comic turns, he would show cartoons (including Astro Boy, another favorite!) and he would show Flash Gordon.

As a kid of four or five, I had no friggin' clue what was going on with Flash Gordon. But I knew that Flash was the good guy, and that he would pilot his rocket ship fearlessly through space. I don't even remember Dr. Zarkov, the chick Dale Arden, or the evil Ming the Merciless; Flash Gordon was all we kids on Richardson Drive needed to know. Good thing, too, because I wasn't the only clueless one at the time. I remember watching Flash Gordon, and hearing references to Earth, and thinking to myself, We must live on Earth! I shared this revelation with some friends, and they replied, No! We don't live on Earth! Earth is a planet! NO, IT'S NOT!, I replied, certain that I'd gained cosmic knowledge that my peers just couldn't grasp. I would now like to take a time-traveling rocket ship back to 1964 and give myself such a smack.

(And speaking of giving me a smack: I'm not sure how my parents resisted sending me to the moon--Bang! ZOOM!--when I effectively ruined our little TV set while playing Flash Gordon, moving the antenna and twiddling the knobs as if it were the control panel of a rocket ship. Oy....)



Within a few years' time, Flash Gordon was replaced as our science-fiction reference point by Lost In Space and Star Trek, though I didn't really become a fan of the latter until reruns in the '70s. Although ol' Flash was inarguably one of the most popular heroes of the '30s and '40s, his time had largely passed by the '60s. As far as I can recall, his comic strip was not carried in either of our local papers, The Post Standard and The Herald-Journal. I didn't see a Flash Gordon comic book until 1966 or later, when King Comics began its own short-lived comics line. King's titles were sold in multi-packs--three comics in one bag--so my Flash Gordon comic (purchased at Clancy's Silver Star in North Syracuse) came with an issue of The Phantom and an issue of Mandrake The Magician. The Flash Gordon comic had absolutely gorgeous artwork by Al Williamson. Charlton Comics picked up the Flash Gordon license from King in the late '60s, but I don't think I saw those until much later. Beyond that, my only other Flash Gordon memory in the '60s is via Captain Action, the superhero action figure from Ideal; Flash Gordon was one of the licensed superheroes that Captain Action could transform himself into.


My Flash Gordon fandom grew a bit in the '70s. I saw the original serials at matinee showings, and picked up a few Flash Gordon paperback novels, as well. Plus, there was the dirty-movie parody Flesh Gordon, which screened on a double bill with The Cheerleaders at The North Drive-In in Cicero.




Alas, I hated the late '70s Flash Gordon movie that came out in the wake of Star Wars' success; one can only wonder what would have happened if Star Wars auteur George Lucas had been successful in his original, thwarted effort to license the rights to a Flash Gordon feature instead; it would have deprived the world of both Darth Vader and slave-girl Princess Leia, but it would have given Flash Gordon one hell of a great return to the planet Mongo.

Eat your heart out, Dale Arden!
And I betcha kids in the '70s woulda known Earth was our home, and a planet. Stupid '60s kids....

Quick Takes For F:



THE FANTASTIC FOUR: No idea! I first saw images of The Fantastic Four in Marvel's house ads in (I'm guessing) 1966, the year I developed my life-long mania for superheroes. I watched the 1967 Saturday morning TV cartoon when I could, and I picked up a Fantastic Four comic book in there at some time. I do remember trying to figure out the characters' names; I got The Human Torch, I think I figured out The Thing and Invisible Girl, but I couldn't suss out the name of the elastic fantastic guy who seemed to be the boss. The other characters called him "Stretcho," so it took me a while to realize he was supposed to be Mr. Fantastic. Although it definitely wasn't my first issue, I vividly remember a 1968 FF with guest-stars Thor, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. Artist Jack "King" Kirby made those pages come alive! A couple of years ago, I re-read the mid-to-late '60s run of Fantastic Four, and it held up as just incredible, well-done comics done by creators at the top of their game. Writer Stan Lee always billed this as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" He was right. And Lee and Kirby were fantastic.



THE FLASH: I first saw The Flash near the end of Justice League Of America # 55 in the summer of '67; this was also my very first issue of JLA. The story continued into the next issue, and The Flash was also featured in JLA # 57's "Man, Thy Name Is Brother!" I saw The Flash cover-featured with The Spectre in an issue of The Brave And The Bold, but didn't get to read that comic until many years later. The Flash was one of the revolving guest stars on the Saturday morning cartoon show The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure that fall. My first Flash comic book was Flash # 174 in 1967.



FOOLS FACE: Because I spent so many summers visiting my grandparents in Southwest Missouri, I took special notice in the early '80s when Trouser Press magazine mentioned Fools Face, a great band from Springfield, Missouri. Much later, I'd also discover The Morells/The Skeletons, who were also from Springfield, but I learned about Fools Face first. Trouser Press also provided me with my first opportunity to hear Fools Face; TP subscribers like me used to receive an exclusive flexi-disc with each new issue of Trouser Press, and one month that flexi-disc was Fools Face's "L5" and "Public Places." While I wasn't blown away, I was blown away soon enough. In '82 or '83, rummaging in the used bin of a record store at University Plaza in Buffalo, I found a copy of Tell America, the second album by Fools Face. "L5" was the only song I knew on the album, but I was transfixed on first spin of the LP.  My copy of Tell America remains the only copy of it that I've ever seen. I searched for years and years to find the rest of the Fools Face catalog, but these prizes were elusive. In the '90s, a new online pal named Keith Klingensmith gifted me with a copy of the band's first album, Here To Observe, some other friend--I forgot who!--made me a cassette copy of the Public Places album, and later someone made me a CD-R of Fools Face's extremely hard-to-come-by cassette-only release The Red Tape. I eventually scored a copy of Public Places at a record show, and was thrilled when Fools Face reunited for a brand-new (and terrific) eponymous album. There has also been a vintage live Fools Face performance issued on CD, but the original studio material remains long out of print, seemingly never to be reissued. That's a shame; Tell America remains one of my all-time Top 20 albums, probably Top 10.



THE FOUR SEASONS:  "Big Girls Don't Cry." That falsetto was all over AM radio in the early '60s. I was two, and I remember it!



THE FOUR TOPS: It surely seems like I must have heard The Four Tops' cavalcade of Motown hits in the '60s, but my first conscious memory of them is "Are You Man Enough" from the film Shaft In Africa. "Are You Man Enough" was an AM radio hit in the '70s; I later went back to rediscover The Four Tops' Motown treasures, and The Four Tops remain my favorite Motown group.



FUNNYMAN: Someday, I will write at length about my trip to New York City in 1976, when I attended the Super-DC Con. For now, suffice it to say that I met Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and I bought an issue of their late '40s creation Funnyman in the dealer's room. No one ever seems to have a positive word to say about Funnyman, but I loved The Daffy Daredevil, who was kinda like a superhero Danny Kaye. I did not have an opportunity to ask Siegel and Shuster to autograph my copy of Funnyman # 5, but I did get their autographs in my Super-DC Con program book.
WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS:  G is for