Hellhound On My Trail: Walter Hill’s CROSSROADS (Columbia 1986)

‘Well the blues had a baby/and they named it rock and roll” –

Muddy Waters

Hi, my name’s Gary, and I’m a bluesoholic! Whether it’s Deep South Delta or Electric Chicago, distilled in Great Britain or Sunny California, the blues has always been the foundation upon which rock’n’roll was built. Yet there aren’t a lot of films out there depicting this totally original American art form. One I viewed recently was 1986’s CROSSROADS, directed by another American original whose work I enjoy, Walter Hill.

Hill was responsible for cult classics filled with violence and laced with humor, like HARD TIMES (with Charles Bronson as a 1930’s bare knuckles brawler), the highly stylized THE WARRIORS , the gritty Western THE LONG RIDERS, and SOUTHERN COMFORT (a kind of MOST DANGEROUS GAME On The Bayou). He scored box office gold with the 1982 action-comedy 48 HRS, making a movie star out of SNL’s Eddie Murphy (for better or worse), but his  follow up STREETS OF FIRE (a “rock and roll fable”) tanked at theaters.

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues (1911-1938)

CROSSROADS is a different type of Walter Hill film. While keeping the ‘buddy movie’ aspect and the humor, Hill tones down the violence quotient considerably to tell his tale, based somewhat loosely on the legend of Robert Johnson. the seminal Mississippi bluesman who allegedly “sold his soul to the devil” to achieve fame and fortune. Johnson’s output of music recorded before his death in 1938 at age 27 consists of just 29 songs, including future blues standards “Come On In My Kitchen”, “Dust My Broom”, “Love in Vain”, ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, and of course “Crossroad Blues”.

CROSSROADS is about a quest to discover Johnson’s missing thirtieth song, as a young Julliard student named Eugene Martone, who wants to be a bluesman, finds elderly Willie Brown (aka Blind Dog Fulton), Johnson’s former harmonica player, in an old folks home. Martone is obsessed with finding the lost song, and the crusty, crotchety Willie agrees to help him, if he’ll help Willie escape from the home. He does, and they go ‘hoboing’ down the backroads headed to the Mississippi Delta, where Willie claims he, like Robert Johnson, once sold his soul to the devil, and now wants it back!

Along the way, they meet young runaway Frances, and go on the adventure of a lifetime, as Eugene (dubbed by Willie ‘The Lighting Kid’) learns what it’s really like to live the life of an itinerant  bluesman. Willie finally makes it back to the crossroads, coming face to face with The Devil himself, and a mystical, mojo-fueled guitar duel takes place between Eugene and The Devil’s own shredder (demonically played by guitar whiz Steve Vai) for both their immortal souls…

Joe Seneca is marvelous as cranky Willie, full of piss and vinegar, and makes a totally believable bluesman. Ralph Macchio, who I usually find quite annoying, as Eugene is good as well. Jami Gertz (LESS THAN ZERO) is appealing as the runaway Frances. Joe Morton (BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET) is The Devil’s Assistant, while Robert Judd (who acted with Seneca in the original Broadway production of MA RAINY’S BLACK BOTTOM) makes an evil, leering Devil (here called Scratch). And it’s a real treat to see veteran Harry Carey Jr. pop up in the brief role of the bartender in a redneck country joint!

Slide guitarist extraordinaire Ry Cooder contributes the rootsy soundtrack, aided immensely by the harp blowing of legendary bluesman Sonny Terry. Other musicians contributing include Frank Frost (harp), Otis Taylor (guitar), and Jim Keltner (drums). Walter Hill has crafted a totally likable musical fairy tale with CROSSROADS, a must-see for lovers of the blues.

Book Review: THREE DOG NIGHTMARE: The Chuck Negron Story (4th edition; independently published 2017)

From 1969 to 1974, Three Dog Night was one of the biggest rock bands in the world, known for smash hits like “One”, “Eli’s Coming”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come”, “Shambala”, “Black & White”, and of course “Joy to the World”. Their squeaky-clean, family friendly image made them popular with both teens and adults, but behind that image lurked a deep, dark secret – co-lead singer Chuck Negron, the long-haired, mustachioed one, was an unrepentant heroin addict.

THREE DOG NIGHTMARE, first published in 1999 and revised in 2017, tells the harrowing tale of the horrors of drug addiction by the man who lived that nightmare for over twenty years. And ‘nightmare’ it truly was, as Chuck tells his tale of going from the pinnacle of the rock’n’roll universe to a Skid Row junkie, lying, cheating, and stealing his way through life leaving nothing but sorrow and devastation in his wake, callously hurting everyone who loved him (including his children) to get his next fix, and getting thrown out of the band he helped put on the charts by co-founders Danny Hutton and Cory Wells.

The original Three Dog Night

It’s an ugly story, and Chuck Negron himself would be the first to admit it isn’t a very likable portrait, but fortunately for him (and us) he lived to tell it, finally getting clean and sober in 1992 after over thirty attempts at detox. His story then turns into a redemption song as he tries to put back the broken pieces of his life together, remaining frozen out of Three Dog Night by Hutton and Wells, and he speaks frankly about the new addiction that gripped him in his first few years of recovery: anger, “a dubious luxury” for an addict, as AA founder Bill Wilson once coined it.

Chuck Negron today: Still Alive & Rockin’

Chuck Negron finally made his peace with the world and with himself, and is now 27 years clean and sober. I’ve seen Chuck perform solo three times, including earlier this year on the ‘Happy Together’ tour (which I wrote about here at this link ). And as someone who is celebrating 16 years of personal recovery himself  today, September 7, I salute you, Chuck Negron, and I thank you for sharing your experience, strength, and hope with the world! If THREE DOG NIGHTMARE can help save just one life, the effort you put into it was well worth it.

You can purchase a copy of THREE DOG NIGHTMARE at Chuck Negron’s website ( http://www.chucknegron.com/ ) or through Amazon. Whether you’re a rock fan or a person in recovery, you won’t be disappointed. Now let’s listen to Chuck Negron and the original Three Dog Night sing their biggest hit, ‘Joy to the World” from a 1975 SOUNDSTAGE TV performance! Peace out, peeps!:

One Hit Wonders #28: “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles (Atlantic Records 1989)

Thirty years ago, Canadian songstress Alannah Myles glided to #1 on the charts with her sultry hit single”Black Velvet”:

Alannah Myles was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and before breaking through with “Black Velvet” she was fairly well known in her home country, even getting a guest shot as a single young mom on a 1984 episode of the popular Canadian TV show THE KIDS OF DEGRASSI STREET.  When her hit tune stormed the charts, that smoky voice and those sexy good looks catapulted her to stardom, thanks in large part to constant airplay on MTV.

She won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance and three Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammies), but her subsequent LP’s and singles went nowhere in America, and just as meteorically as she rose, Alannah Myles tumbled off the radar here. She has retained a fan base in Europe and her native Canada though, and is still making music, which can be found via iTunes if anyone’s interested. Be that as it may, Alannah Myles will always be remembered for “Black Velvet”, a song that still gets airplay today on classic rock stations, a tribute to the guy with “that little boy smile” and “that slow Southern style”…

 

Rock On!: “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed (Wind Up Records 2000)

Yep, it’s another day, another rock show for your Cracked Rear Viewer. Tonight I’m heading down to New Bedford’s 105th annual Feast of the Blessed Sacrament (better known to us locals as The Portuguese Feast!). Tonight’s musical headliner will be none other than Scott Stapp, former lead singer of Creed, so I thought I’d share this cool video of their big hit from 2000, “With Arms Wide Open”, directed by Dave Meyers (who also directed the 2007 horror movie THE HITCHER):

Have a good night, and I’ll see you Saturday. Keep Calm and Feast On!

One Hit Wonders #27: “Wipeout” by The Surfaris (Dot Records 1963)

Kids all across America pounded their school desk tops in the 60’s and 70’s  (and probably still do!) imitating the hard-drivin’ primal drum solo of The Surfari’s “Wipeout”, which shot to #2 in the summer of 1963:

Ron Wilson based his riff on a simple paradiddle, a practice piece most anyone could do. Hell, even I can do a paradiddle, and I have NO musical talent whatsoever (as my good-ole-southern-boy dad used to say, “Son, you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket!”). Only Wilson sped things up a few notches, aided by the twin guitar attack of Bob Berryhill and Jim Fuller, and Pat Connolly’s bubbling-under bass line holding the whole thing down.

At age 19, Wilson was the old man of The Surfaris – everyone else was sixteen years old when the song was recorded! “Wipeout” was first released locally in sunny Southern California as the ‘B’ side to their Beach Boys/Dick Dale inspired “Surfer Joe”, but then radio listeners started requesting the record’s flip side, and the band had an unintentional hit on their hands. Dot Records picked it up for national distribution, and “Wipeout” became a surprise smash! The song was re-released several times, charting again in 1966 and 1970, and  has been used on countless film soundtracks, including THE HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS, THE SANDLOT, WAYNE’S WORLD 2, TOY STORY 2, and DIRTY DANCING:

Rumors that future shock-talk TV host Morton Downey Jr. had a hand in writing and producing the song are completely untrue – “Wipeout” is a pure product of four Southern California kid’s imagination, and one of the biggest All-American rock’n’roll hits of all time! Have a Safe and Happy 4th of July, everyone – surf’s up!

Cowabunga!!

Confessions of a TV Addict #15: Rambling On About The Cowsills, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, HAPPY DAYS, and The Archies!

Last week, I attended one of those 60’s nostalgia concerts, this one called “The Happy Together Tour”. Headlining the bill was The Turtles (well actually A Turtle, but we’ll get to that later), Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Gary Puckett (minus The Union Gap), the founding fathers of The Buckinghams, The Classics IV (well, two of them anyways… The Classics II?), and the surviving members of The Cowsills.

For those of you unaware, The Cowsills were a family band from Newport, RI consisting of brothers Bill, Bob, Barry, John, and Paul; sister Susan, and Mom Barbara, who had a string of bubblegum pop hits in the late 60’s beginning with “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things”:

Bill, Paul, and Susan entertained the crowd with that, plus “We Can Fly”, “Indian Lake”, “Hair”and another number they introduced to the world, “The Theme from LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE”, which brings me to that 1969-74 comedy anthology series. The two-time Emmy-winner featured three-four different segments each week, focusing on some aspect of romance and relationships, with all titles beginning with “Love and…” followed by whatever hot topic: The Pill, The Dating Computer, The Singles Apartment, The Conjugal Visit, The Motel Mix-Up, The Generation Gap… you get the picture!

Guest stars included those on their way up and on their way down. A complete list of them would be as exhausting to write as it would be to read, so I’ll just share a small sample of some of the more interesting Familiar Faces: Joan Bennett, James Brolin, Sid Caesar & Imogene Coca, Yvonne Craig, Broderick Crawford, Richard Dawson, Bob Denver, Davy Jones, Patsy Kelly, Jack Klugman, The Lennon Sisters, Tina Louise, Paul Lynde, Roddy McDowell, Darren McGavin, Burgess Meredith, Mantan Moreland, Ozzie & Harriet Nelson, Julie Newmar, Regis Philbin, Stefanie Powers, Vincent Price (“Love and the Haunted House”), Aldo Ray, Burt Reynolds (“Love and the Banned Book”), Cesar Romero, Kurt Russell, Sonny & Cher, Larry Storch, Tiny Tim (“Love and the Vampire”),  Nancy Walker, Deborah Walley, and Adam West.

One particular 1972 segment titled “Love and the Television Set” featured a hormonal 1950’s teenager named Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard ) and his equally horny pal Potsie (Anson Williams) trying to score with babes after Richie’s family gets the first TV set on the block. This backdoor pilot served as the basis for the hit series HAPPY DAYS, which ran from 1974-84 and introduced the world to Henry Winkler as the ever-cool Fonzie (for better or worse – you make the call!).

As for The Cowsills (Remember The Cowsills? We were just talking about them!), their rock’n’roll family life served as the basis for another hit TV series, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, which ran from 1970-74, and starred Shirley Jones and her soon-to-be-teen-idol stepson David Cassidy, spawning hit records like “I Think I Love You” and “I Woke Up in Love This Morning”:

Earlier, I said The Turtles were really A Turtle on that “Happy Together Tour” I attended (which got this whole rambling post started!). Mark Volman’s musical partner of over fifty years, Howard Kaylan, has been ill, and in his stead singer Ron Dante has been filling his shoes. You may not know the name Ron Dante, but you certainly know his voice: Dante sang commercial jingles for such products as Coppertone Tanning Lotion, Budweiser Beer, Campbell’s Soup, McDonald’s, and both Coke and Pepsi! In addition to producing Barry Manilow records in the 70’s, Ron sang lead for the Saturday Morning Cartoon rock band The Archies, and fifty years ago had the Number One hit on the planet, “Sugar Sugar”:

And that’s more than enough rambling on from me! Have a good night, and drive safely!

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #20: EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (Embassy 1983)

You couldn’t go anywhere in 1984 without hearing “On the Dark Side” blaring from a car radio or your neighborhood bar’s jukebox. That’s thanks in large part to audiences rediscovering 1983’s EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS via repeated showings on HBO, turning the film into an instant cult classic and veteran Providence-based rockers John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band into FM-radio favorites. The film hadn’t done well when first released to theaters, but exposure on the fairly-new medium of Cable TV garnered new fans of both it and Cafferty’s soundtrack album.

Investigative reporter Ellen Barkin looks into the mysterious death of Eddie Wilson (played by Michael Pare’), lead singer of The Cruisers, whose death in a car accident is shrouded in secret, as the body was never found. Was it suicide? murder? or is Eddie still alive? She digs deep to uncover the facts about what happened that fateful night at the recording studio, where the band was putting together an LP titled “A Season in Hell”, based on the dark poetry of Arthur Rimbaud.

Her journey of discovery takes her to Eddie’s bandmates: lyricist/keyboard player Tom Berenger, now a high school Literature teacher; former manager Joe Pantoliano, a New Jersey DJ; bitter ex-bass player Matthew Laurence, leader of a Cruisers tribute band; background singer (and Eddie’s steady) Helen Schneider, a choreographer; drummer David Wilson, working in an Atlantic City casino. She also discovers the fate of saxman Michael “Tunes’ Antunes (the sax player for Beaver Brown, who was born RIGHT HERE in New Bedford, MA!), who tragically died of a heroin overdose (the more things change… ).

Director Martin Davidson (who also cowrote the screenplay) made his debut with 1974’s THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH, a 50’s-set drama that was an early hit for Sylvester Stallone and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler. His films are mainly of the low-budget variety, but well worth seeking out: the Gen-X coming of age tale ALMOST SUMMER, the John Ritter superhero comedy HERO AT LARGE, the sorority life drama HEART OF DIXIE (with Ally Sheedy, Phoebe Cates, and Virginia Madsen), and the Sissy Spacek romantic comedy HARD PROMISES (steer clear of the Davidson-penned, Joe Brooks-directed bit of treacle IF EVER I SEE YOU AGAIN though!). Davidson also worked extensively in TV, helming episodes of CALL TO GLORY, PICKET FENCES, CHICAGO HOPE, and JUDGING AMY, and a pair of TV-Movies starring Miss Madsen: the true-crime drama A MURDEROUS AFFAIR: THE CAROLYN WARMUS STORY and the baseball comedy LONG GONE.

Still rockin’ after all these years: John Cafferty, Michael Antunes, and the Beaver Brown Band

John Cafferty and Beaver Brown enjoyed enormous success after EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS found its way to cable TV, not only with “On the Dark Side”, but the FM hits “Tender Years” and “Wild Summer Nights”. Their follow-up album contained more hits (“Tough All Over” and “C-I-T-Y”), and they recorded the theme to the 1986 Stallone action flick COBRA (“Voice of America’s Sons”). The film’s sequel EDDIE & THE CRUISERS II: EDDIE LIVES!, tanked at the box office (and frankly isn’t very good), but that hasn’t stopped Cafferty and his bandmates from rockin’ and rollin’ after 40-plus years on the road. I’ve seen and enjoyed them several times, and they always manage to get the crowd movin’ and groovin’ (and stole the show from headliners Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes last time out!). The Beaver Brown Band are true rock’n’roll road warriors, and EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS is a must-see for die-hard rockers (like yours truly!).