Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tab Hunter [1931-2018]

Artist: Tab Hunter
LP: Tab Hunter
Song: "But Beautiful"
[ listen ]
Song: "My Baby Just Cares For Me"
[ listen ]

His "only five singing lessons" may be fairly apparent when you listen to this 1958 LP, but still, there's something about Tab Hunter's voice that hits me like a bolt of scraped velvet. Or maybe more like a bolt of scraped Polyester. Tab certainly had an interesting life, moving from young heartthrob in the 1950s to senior gay activist with the release of his autobiography in 2005, in which he finally confirmed all the rumors. But what a career! He's probably the only actor ever to have starred in movies with both Linda Darnell and Divine! It was sad news to hear that Tab suddenly collapsed and died or cardiac arrest on Sunday, just a few days before his 87th birthday tomorrow. You can find his obituary in Vanity Fair here, and go here to read more about his life and career. I just learned that Jack Warner created Warner Bros. Records in 1958 partly just to keep Tab from releasing an album with Dot Records as a follow-up to "Young Love," his #1 hit single for that label, which was owned by Paramount. Fascinating!

I'm currently making my way through "The Great Movie Stars: The International Years" by David Shipman, so I'm including Shipman's write-up on Tab Hunter here, though it only covers up until 1980, when the revised edition was published. 

The Great Movie Stars: Tab Hunter

   Of all the pretty-boy teenage idols, Tab Hunter was probably the most appealing—by half an inch or so. He did at least have glimmerings of talent and might have gone further if he had kept his own name (Arthur Gelien) and not been landed with such a silly one. It might also have helped if he hadn't looked so much like a sugar candy-bar. 
   He was born in New York City in 1931. The family moved to Los Angeles, where he was schooled. He planned to be a professional ice-skater, but did various jobs—drug-store assistant, garage-attendant, cinema-usher, sheet-metal worker, packer. He had been interested in drama at school and "when one day"—went a studio biography—"somebody told him he ought to be in pictures, he decided to do something about it. He managed to get a very tiny role in a film." That was The Lawless (1950), but he was edited out on the cutting-room floor. He got himself an agent, Henry Willson, sponsor of some other handsome young male stars, like Rock Hudson, and Willson got him tested by director Stuart Heisler, who wanted an unknown to play opposite Linda Darnell in Saturday Island (1952). He got the part to qualified approval. Variety: "Hunter, as a young marine, displays a healthy torso, but not a great deal of talent." But he now had a toe inside the glamorous door and producer Edward Small signed him to a three-picture deal: Gun Belt (1953), a low-budget Western, as George Montgomery's brother; The Steel Lady, a low-budget war film with Rod Cameron; and Return to Treasure Island (1954), opposite Dawn Addams as Jamesina Hawkins, descendant of you-know-who. The latter pair were directed by E. A. Dupont, the famous German Silent director, now mainly functioning as a Hollywood agent.
   Warners signed him to a long-term contract. He played Robert Mitchum's younger brother in Track of the Cat, cowed at first but manly later. He was one of the male line-up with Van Heflin and Aldo Ray, in Battle Cry (1955), from Leon Uris's best-seller, as a nice young soldier in love with two girls (the one here and the one back home). That one was a big box-office hit, and Hunter was already a big noise in the fan magazines. After playing a German cadet (under John Wayne's command) in The Sea Chase, Warners decided to star him: The Burning Hills (1956), a western, and The Girl He Left Behind, miscast as a spoilt rich kid who resists discipline till he's broken in and becomes as tough a non-com as there is in this man's army. Natalie Wood was the girl in both: Warners saw them as a great new screen team, but no one else did.
   Things weren't good between Hunter and Warners. He had turned down a supporting role in the egregious Liberace Sincerely Yours, and was suspended for refusing Darby's Rangers, reportedly in revenge when Warners refused to release an album he had made (he had some brief success as a singer). On TV he did 'Fear Strikes Out' and 'Hans Brinker on the Silver Skates'; and in 1957 he made this statement, "I'm typical of where publicity is a zillion years ahead of career." Warners took him back and dressed him in uniform again, a member of the Lafayette Escadrille (1958), with Etchika Choureau, but this World War I drama wasn't a success. He was loaned out for a Western with Van Heflin, Gunman's Walk; and then was good in Damn Yankees, just the right side of obnoxious as the all-American youth—Faust as a baseball player—from a hit Broadway musical with the original cast (except for him). Despite much skill and the delicious virtuoso performance of Gwen Verdon, and good notices, it was a so-so hit in the US and a failure elsewhere. None of these films pleased Hunter much; his agent demanded better parts and better terms. According to Jack L. Warner's memoir, Hunter went down on bended knees asking for his release. He got it on payment of $100,000.
   Which only goes to prove you never know when you're well off. At first he did okay: he was a young GI seeking to take That Kind of Woman (1959) Sophia Loren from George Sanders, not knowing she was That Kind—only his heart didn't seem to be in the part. He was better in They Come to Cordura, supporting Gary Cooper and Heflin, as a meanie; and excellent in The Pleasure of His Company (1961), as a country boy bewildered by the prospect of losing bride Debbie Reynolds to the long-lost father who reappears at the wedding. In Italy he made La Freccia d'Oro/The Golden Arrow (1962), some Oriental claptrap with Rosanna Podesta, playing the head of a gang of thieves. In New York he appeared in Tennessee Williams's flop 'The Milk train Doesn't Stop Here Any More' with Hermoine Baddeley. All Hollywood offered was an AIP war movie, Operation Bikini (1963), supporting Frankie Avalon. In Ride the Wild Surf (1964) he supported Fabian; the British Troubled Waters never seems to have been shown; in The Loved One (1965) he was one of the stars in cameo roles, as a cemetery guide. Then he was in a British cheapie, City Under the Sea, supporting Vincent Price. Things didn't get better: he supported TV comic Soupy Sales in Birds Do It (1966). 
   In Spain he made a low-budget comedy-thriller for PRO, The Fickle Finger of Fate (1967). It occasioned this review in Variety: "Hunter is the major surprise, and his timing and momentum are mainly responsible for the film's fluid pace. More relaxed and charming than he's been for years, he seems to have conquered the stiffness he so awkwardly projected in his Warners contract days." He was in an A. C. Lyles Western, Hostile Guns, with George Montgomery, and was then inactive. On his way to Europe to make Quel Maledetto Ponte sull'Elba (1969)—as a veteran sergeant—he said this was the best time of his life: he wasn't under contract and could pick and choose his vehicles. Like La Porta del Cannone, a second Spanish-Italian war film, and A Kiss From Eddie (1971) with Isabel Jewell. Then he had a featured role in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) with Paul Newman, and he was rather good as a crook. He didn't film again till he did one of the cameos in Won Ton Ton the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976).

Tab Hunter
[ July 11, 1931 — July 8, 2018 ]
We will miss you, Tab.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Richard Swift [1977-2018]

Artist: Richard Swift
LP: 7" single
Song: "Artist & Repertoire"
[ listen ]

I first happened upon Richard Swift when I bought his 2003 "The Novelist" CD, sound unheard, at Easy Street Records in Lower Queen Anne, just because I liked the look of him on the cover. It turned out to be a terrific set of tunes and I instantly became a fan. That Easy Street Records is gone (replaced by a branch of Chase Bank), and now Richard Swift is gone too. He died earlier this week down in Tacoma, after being hospitalized for something or other in the middle of last month. So now the brilliant Mr. Swift is suddenly dead, and yet Jeff Sessions lives on forever. I'm telling ya, it's getting so that I just can't feel at home in this world anymore. You can read about Richard Swift here, visit his website here, and go here to find his obituary.

Richard Swift
[ March 16, 1977 — July 3, 2018 ]
We will miss you, Richard.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Bauhaus

Artist: Bauhaus
LP: 12" single
Song: "Telegram Sam"
[ listen ]

With the arrival in my mailbox yesterday of this 1980 Bauhaus 12" single from my new friend Philippe in Poitiers, France, my early-4AD catalog collection is complete! Originally a popular single released in 1972 by T-Rex, this Bauhaus version—catalogue no. AD 17(T)—was very popular with the people of New Zealand, going all the way to #12 on their charts.

[ Bauhaus ]

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Randy Bell

Artist: Randy Bell
LP: 7" single
Song: "Don't Do Me"
[ listen ]

The instructions on the cover say to cut along the dotted yellow lines, and then you end up with a sexy mini-poster of singer Randy Bell exposing his hairy chest and torso, attractively tanned. You also end up with nowhere to properly store your record. (Using the modern miracle of Photoshop, I was able to create the sexy poster of Randy without cutting on dotted lines, see below.) The poster does seem decidedly at odds with the title of the song, especially as performed by someone called "Randy." Reverse psychology, perhaps? Randy Bell's "Don't Do Me" single peaked at #90 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in July of 1984. 

I found my copy at Bill's Records when I was in Dallas, Texas, for the AIRS conference last month. The single was mixed in among about a million others that were all scattered helter-skelter on the shelves at Bill's, not in neat little stacks as shown in the photo here. Bill had warned me when I first asked if he had any 45s: "Just be sure when you're looking at them that they don't slide off the shelves and onto the floor." The man doesn't know me, clearly. Of course I put them in neat stacks after I had sorted through them, partly so they would look neat and I could tell which ones I'd already sorted through, and partly because I was hoping Bill would notice and give me a discount for helping to organize his store.

Anyway, Bill showed me his shelves of 45s, gave me a chair, and I sat down and began sifting. I found some neat things, though nothing was priced. I'd arrived at around 9pm and the store closed at 10, but Bill said he was willing to stay if I was still shopping. Finally at 10:25pm I decided I'd better head back to the hotel so I'd be fresh for my early morning at the conference the next day. (I hadn't even made it through half of Bill's singles; I could have stayed 'til 10am.) I went to the counter and handed Bill the 20 singles I wanted and he counted them several times. There were 20 every time. While I was waiting, a portly young man with the strongest, cutest Texas-hick accent I've ever laid ears on came up to the counter to purchase a single record. (He said he had traveled to the big city from a small town about an hour away.) Since all Bill had done with my order so far was count my records three times, I suggested he ring this other fellow up before he continued helping me. 

Bill looked at the record the guy wanted, flipped it over, then noted, "Al B. Sure...and it's a promo 12" single, those are rare. It doesn't have a cover..." (it's true, the guy was buying a record in a plain white paper inner sleeve, with no cardboard outer cover. And the white paper sleeve was even bent at the corners!) "...how about ten dollars?" The rural Texas Al B. Sure fanatic handed over a $10 bill as my knees buckled and I fainted to the floor. If Bill was overcharging this poor fellow by $9.85 for some stupid Al B. Sure single with no cover, what would he want me to pay for my stack of 7" singles, all with picture sleeves? 

Well, I didn't find out for about another 45 minutes. Bill instead went on to discuss his dinner (his friend had gotten it for him from McDonald's), the history of his store (Echo & the Bunnymen once played there in the '80s!), the way his clothes fit (he prefers a looser fit), his long history in the record store business (he's had a store for years!), etc...all of which was fascinating, but none of which got me any closer to my bed at the hotel, with or without these 45s. I figured this must be the Texas way of doing business, so I just nodded and smiled, nodded and smiled. Bill finally did get around to naming a price, which he told me was a deal. I'm not even going to tell you what it was, but let's just say I made a counter offer, which was rejected. I even mentioned my straightening of the shelves, but to no avail. Bill pointed out that a few of the items I wanted were imports that were new when he'd obtained them, which I have to admit is true. Bill didn't want to lose money on them. But another thing that's true is that these valuable imports had been gathering dust, stuffed in among scuffed copies of Debbie Gibson, Carly Simon, and Huey Lewis 45s on his plywood shelves since the year 1990, so they probably should have been priced to move about 22 years ago. 

I then tried to negotiate by reducing the number of singles I was buying, but after I removed some from the pile (brand new Erasure imports from the late '80s) Bill began counting and re-counting the records again and I realized I was back to square one. I finally agreed to buy all 20 singles after talking Bill down from the absurd dollar amount he was asking to a slightly lower amount that was merely ridiculous. Anyway, I'd had such a weirdly wonderful visit during my extended time there, I figured I probably owed Bill at least a little bit of money for that.

My cell phone battery had died right when I got to Bill's Records, which is why I've had to borrow photos of Bill and his store from the web. Not only was I bummed that I had no means of snapping my own pictures there, but I also had no way of radioing a Lyft driver to get a trip back to my hotel. I was planning to walk. Bill wondered aloud if this was safe, since several police officers had been assassinated just down the street several months ago. He consulted with the friendly fellow who was taking the trash out from the bar next door, and they agreed that I should walk several blocks in a different direction to catch the train instead, since it would take me downtown and drop me near my destination. The trains were running until midnight, so I still had 25 minutes. I ended up back at the hotel just after midnight. 

If you're ever in Dallas and you collect vinyl, I definitely recommend you go to Bill's...after stopping by an ATM to withdraw way more money than you'd ever imagine you would need to buy a few records.

 [ Bill's Records — Dallas, Texas ]

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Silvestre Mendez, El Rey del Canto Afro-Cubano y Su Orquesta

Artist: Silvestre Mendez, El Rey del Canto Afro Cubano y Su Orquesta
LP: Oriza (Afro-Cuban Rhythms)
Song: "Nueva Oriza"
 [ listen
Song: "Laye Laye"
[ listen ]
Song: "Malambo"
[ listen ]

The other day after work I was in serious need of some vinyl retail therapy, so I stopped by Daybreak Records on my way home. This spectacular collection of Afro-Cuban rhythms from Silvestre (Mendez), the King of Afro-Cuban Singers (or Rhythms, or both!) and His Orchestra is one of the things I found. According to the online Seeco Album Discography, this LP (catalog #CELP-426/4260) was the label's final release of 1959. I've got the stereo version, which turned out kinda' crappy on my rinky-dink mp3 converter turntable. The horns and Sylvestre's lead vocals shine, but the backing vocals and cowbell (on "Laye Laye") aren't done justice here. You'll just have to come over to listen on my Gemini turntable instead. According to what I've found here, Silvestre Mednez was born in the Jesús Maria neighborhood of Havana in 1921. He left Cuba for Mexico in 1945 and never went back.




 [ Silvestre Mendez: December 31, 1921 — 1997 ]

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Baby Called My Name

Elliott Bay Public House and Brewery on Lake City Way, Friday, June 22, 2018 at around 7:15pm: Darla Helen O'Connor called me "Uncle Alex" (well, "Unk Alks") for the very first time. I floated away on air!

side one:
01. Baby, Oh No - Bow Wow Wow
02. Give Me Your Love - Frank Duval
03. Sweetness and Tenderness - The Rentals
04. She's My Girl - Bearz
05. Meu Delicado Drama - Evaldo Braga
06. Treasure Hiding - Cocteau Twins
07. The Last One to Be Loved - Burt Bacharach
08. I See a Star - Mouth & MacNeal
09. Love Is What We Need - Back In Time
10. My Life Will Be Sweeter - The Dixie Hummingbirds
11. Mon Amour - BZN
12. Here - Richard Cocciante
13. Girl - Jay and the Americans
[ listen ]

side two:
01. Why Are Babies So Wise? - Bow Wow Wow
02. King of Your Castle - Echo & the Bunnymen
03. Surrender to Your Kings - The Amboy Dukes
04. It Didn't Have to Be this Way - Hidden Strength
05. Black Wings - His Name Is Alive
06. It's Snowing - Linda Yamamoto
07. I'm Alive - Electric Light Orchestra
08. One More Time - Biky
09. Love Is All I Can Hear - Music Go Music
10. A Smile Is Diamond - A Band Called "O"
11. We Put a Pearl In the Ground - St. Vincent
12. Room For the Life - Kate Bush
13. I Melt With You - Modern English
[ listen ]

Thursday, May 31, 2018

M

Artist: M
LP: 7" single
Song: "Official Secrets"
[ listen ]

A genuine one-hit-wonder in the USA, M was the talk of the town when "Pop Muzik" zinged all the way to #1 in 1979. But none of M's other singles even cracked the Top 100. "Official Secrets," released a year later, crept its way to #64 on the singles charts in the UK, where M comes from. You can read more about all that here. I shut my eyes and randomly plucked this one from my singles bins for posting this evening.

[ M — aka. Robin Scott ]

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Diamond Reo

Artist: Diamond Reo
LP: Diamond Reo
Song: "Rock and Roll Till I Die"
[ listen
Song: "Ain't That Peculiar"
[ listen ]
Song: "I'm Movin' On"
[ listen ]

Here's some good old fashioned 1970s American rock and roll from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (I found this 1975 Diamond Reo debut LP a few months ago at Vortex Music & Movies in Kirkland, WA, which is probably the least rock-and-roll city in my county, not counting Medina and Yarrow Point.) Diamond Reo doesn't have a page on Wikipedia (but the Christian country music group Diamond Rio certainly does) so I had to scrounge around online a bit to find out who these fellas are. The first thing folks need to understand is that Diamond Reo are in no way related to Reo Speedwagon, since they are, of course, a wagon, whereas Diamond Reo are a truck

From what I can gather, Diamond Reo formed from the ashes of late-'60s blue-eyed soul band The Igniters, which featured future Reo members Frank Czuri and Bob McKeag. The Igniters were briefly signed to Atlantic Records and had a semi-hit single in the late '60s on the local Pittsburgh airwaves. In the early '70s, Frank and Bob were joined by drummer Robbie Johns and bassist Norm Nardini and Diamond Reo was born. Warren King is credited as playing lead and slide guitar on their debut LP, but he doesn't seem to have been an official member of the group when the record was released. My guess is that he joined soon after, replacing Bob McKeag who had gone on to pursue a solo career. (Warren is the blonde on the left in the black and white band photo at the end of the post.) Diamond Reo produced some snappy, straight-forward rock and roll, touring with the likes of KISS, Aerosmith, Frank Zappa, Blue Oyster Cult and Canned Heat. They released three LPs.

Anyway, as I gazed upon the members of Diamond Reo on the cover of my record, I couldn't help but daydream which of them I would have wanted to take me to prom if I had been of prom-going age in 1975 and if all four of them had been interested in spending a romantic evening with me. They're all pretty glamorous in their own way, you must admit. But I've made my decisions—based on a combination of factors, including hairstyle, wardrobe, facial expression, ability to accessorize, and footwear. My rankings are included below.

[ #4: Frank Czuri ]

I think Frank is probably one of those people who's actually a lot more 
attractive in person. Here he looks kinda' like the mom that always 
shows up to the PTA meetings either drunk or with a really 
bad hangover. Plus, you can't see his shoes.

[ #3: Rob Johns ]

It takes both daring and finesse to attempt the wearing of a plastic pink sport coat.
But not only does Rob pull it off swimmingly, he even tosses in
a pair of knee-high black leather boots...to boot!

[ #2: Bob McKeag ]

The shades, the 'stache, the hairy chest (subtly exposed), the semi-casual 
ketchup-colored aerobic-instructor evening wear featuring sour-cream piping, 
button-down pockets and a braided belt. There's really nothing more that 
needs to be said about Rob. Except maybe "holy cow," and "Yes!"

[ #1: Norm Nardini ]
 
  It's always exciting when, after you've initially dismissed some handsome 
fellow as a boring, macho, bro-dude type, you suddenly notice there's 
something a little peculiar going on. There's a strange sort 
of sheen to his pants. Is that black silk? And Dude! 
You're wearing jungle-red heels, paired 
with sparkly metallic socks of gold! 
You sexy devil, you. 
Take me to prom!

[ Diamond Reo ]