Sunday, February 24, 2013

Here's mah mayin mahan doin' his thang on a Friday night at Darrell's Tavern. This is a Zappa number 'Willie The Pimp', with backing by the group Thee Of (dig those Les Pauls). Video by Sandy Buchner (of Randy Hicks Band)...

Also, there's a documentary about the historic Funhouse club in Seattle in the works. There's a taster promo courtesy of Ryan Worsley.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Great Bill Cowsill

This is where the pure gold is. If you like great vocals and great songwriting, especially if your preferences run along Gene Clark, Everlys or Hank III lines. In case you don't know about Bill let me try to hip you...

I was lucky enough to simply stumble upon Bill with Jeffrey Hatcher live with the Blue Shadows group at an outdoor event during some local or provincial holiday back around 1993. It was a hair-raising sound they were laying down, and unforgetable. When their first album was released shortly after I made sure to get the cassette shiny new at the same Sam the Record Man I bought my fave Velvet Underground, Los Lobos, Dwight Yoakam and Doug & The Slugs tapes at (that's what I was into those days). On The Floor Of Heaven... what a masterpiece then and now! I'd actually heard eastern Canadian Jeff Hatcher and The Big Beat before, they'd had a song Man Who Would Be King that was very rockabilly cool but not in any Stray Cats, Neil and The Shocking Pinks or Razorbacks show-offy way (supercool though all those cats were). In a way I'd heard Bill before as well, through an oft spun 45 single of Indian Lake.

There just is not one weak song among the twelve originals on that first album, On The Floor Of Heaven. It has to rank as one of the greatest debut recordings for a group bar none. It would be damning with faint praise to describe If I Were You, a Cowsill/Hatcher collaboration, Byrdsian, that's because had those five cut this wistful number back in the day not only could they have not done it any better, it might well be thought of now as their best song among many greats. No lie. Then you have Deliver Me (check the video at the bottom), written by Jeff but mainly sung as high and lonesome as it gets by Bill. He always seemed to wear a Star Trek badge but it failed to get him beamed up whatever night inspired this killer performance. A Thousand Times and When Will This Heartache End are sweetly pained songs even the Everlys would've loved to have recorded I think, and On The Floor Of Heaven or The Fool Is The Last One To Know could've kept even the Louvins together a bit longer. Seriously, you can't believe you're hearing another stone classic when you (lucky you) put this album on for the first time. I Believe would've a feather in Carl Perkins' cap, and closer Is Anybody Here the same in Roy Orbison's. But who needs any of those stars great as they are or were, because the Blue Shadows based out of Vancouver will never be topped for the definitive renditions. That's why it's such a shock, even after going down a storm at SxSW at the time how the darn album was not released in the U.S.! It makes me want to apologize for Shania Twain if her decent pop made masterpieces chock filled with adult human feeling plus musical chops and hooks galore unmarketable to the big wig Columbia fools of 1993-1994. I'm also sorry it has taken me this long to rave here about these musical treasures.

"To my mind, that is the finest piece of work I ever did. It is just so good. The writing is so good. The production is so good. It is a nice little piece de resistance." - Bill Cowsill (1948-2006)

Bill Cowsill, fired from his family pop band for smoking the devil weed... the best was yet to come. Prior to The Blue Shadows forming Bill was a member of another Canadian combo called Blue Northern. His fantastic Vagabond appeared as a B-side with them and they released one EP and an LP.The follow up to On The Floor Of Heaven, Lucky To Me, has some ace tracks as well, and there equally astonishing rarities and outtakes on second bonus disc that comes with the reissue of On The Floor Of Heaven...

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Trina Tornado

I found out cartoonist/scholar/herstorian Trina Robbins was going to be in Victoria in relation to a documentary film she participated in (Wonder Women), so despite some currently taxing health issues I went downtown to see her. We talked old cartoonists for awhile and I gave her a CD with my cartoon cover. I learned a mutual friend of ours (Barb Rausch), had died though, that's the risk in catching up.

Trina is a great and positive person, more active than me and she's 74 now! I guess that means she must have been my age when I first met her way back. Her 1985 history book (shown left, Eclipse, 1985) done with Cat Yronewode (top Will Eisner scholar) about women cartoonists really got me interested in the work of almost forgotten 1910s-'40s comics creators like Nell Brinkley, Rose O'Neill, Ethel Hayes, Gladys Parker and Tarpe Mills. I did know Tarpe Mills before this thanks to an Archival Press collection of black & white strips which was released circa 1978 (shown below), and why I ever sold it or the many Fiction House comics I had accumulated with women artists like (the still living) Fran Hopper, Marcia Snyder, and Lily Renee in their pages I sometimes wonder about, but they had all become too expensive for me to justify keeping at a critical point in my life. Miss Fury is considered by many the first Superheroine, predating Wonder Woman, Mary Marvel and, (probably the second ever) Bulletgirl. Growing up I loved seeing Batgirl on tv riding her Batcycle, somehow the female body looks better in tights and capes whereas usually the male body just looks dopey or silly, which almost makes me want to splurge on the Phoenix of the X-Men costume on Ebay so I can strut about in shiny boots like I'm all that and a packet of crisps!

In regard to Brinkley there are two books I can highly recommend; Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century, McFarland 2001, and the lavish The Brinkley Girls, The Best of Nell Brinkley's Cartoons From 1913-1940, Fantagraphics 2009, both authored by Trina. For Rose O'Neill I can point to Linda Brewster's Rose O'Neill The Girl Who Loved To Draw, Boxing Day Books 2009 while wishing for an even thicker revamp in the future. So nice just to finally see photos of these pioneering women! Sadly I don't know of any equally good books for Ethel Hayes or Gladys Parker, and very sorely wanted they are.

The Legends shop at which Trina was signing books had a display of often very lavish reprint books like the Tarpe Mills & Miss Fury, IDW Publishing 2011 one I bought for Trina to autograph. I could easily go into the red on just the old Felix the Cat collections and Eric Shanower Oz adaptations I saw. It's not quite a normal comic shop though, the glowering bizarrely muscled modern superheros were not nearly so prominently displayed as were local cartoonists works and vintage bagged funny books! There is a shop in Seattle over by a Dick's Drive-In that also struck me as more inviting to the general populace, but many are more foreboding and cultish much to the detriment of the form that is losing mass media status. In any case, I left feeling somewhat renewed and optimistic about the 'comic book world'. More Owly please, and less 'Owlman becomes a heroin addict and blows Smirky-villain up with frag grenade', or more Beanworld and less steroid-and-helium-boob-world!

Postscript: I once had an early Marvel comic (1949, shown) titled simply Cindy Comics (shown right) and it was filled with some of the most skilled and expressive cartooning I had seen but by an unsigned and possibly still unknown artist (I can rule out Al Jaffee, Dan DeCarlo, Mike Sekowski, and Ken Bald). Trina suggested it could have been Syd Shores, and going buy some of the more realistic art he did at that time I have seen I can almost completely rule him out on this, but other possibilities are Morris Weiss, Earl James or none of these fellows. Trouble is it is very hard to find representative cartoon work by all three. It's possible whoever the mystery artist was they had a connection to Harvey Kurtzman going by the proto Annie Fanny cover art. Again, I sure regret not keeping all my old funny books! I did see the same artist with single also unsigned stories in Patsy Walker comics of the time. I think of them as 'the good Cindy artist'. Patsy Walker is remembered where many other teenage characters are forgotten only because Marvel later made her into a Miss Fury style superheroine (wonder why Millie The Model wasn't similarly recycled). On the slim chance anyone has any examples of teenage strip art by the named cartoonists, or just solid Archie style cartooning from 1945-53 Marvel/Atlas comics, please consider me a fanatic for it.