Cracked Rear Viewer Gets Interviewed by John Greco on CMBA

2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year. A short time ago, I was contacted by John Greco, board member of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which I joined a little under a year ago (John’s own blog, Twenty Four Frames , is well worth seeking out!). The interview is now available on the CMBA website, and it’s an honor to be singled out and share my thoughts on classic film and my humble little site. The interview can be read at this link:

Cracked Rear Viewer Profile

And I hope you Dear Readers will check it out! Thanks again to John and all the CMBA members… gee, am I blushing?

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Southern Fried Slasher: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (AIP 1976)

In 1946, the town of Texarkana, on the Texas-Arkansas border, was rocked by a series of brutal attacks on its citizens from February to May that left five people dead and three seriously wounded. The psycho, who wore what seemed to be a white pillowcase with eyeholes cut in it, caused quite a panic among the townsfolk, and the local and national press had a field day sensationalizing the gruesome events. The case was dubbed “The Texas Moonlight Murders”, and the mysterious maniac “The Phantom Killer”. Famed Texas Ranger M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullus was brought in to lead the investigation and rounded up a few suspects, but no one was ever formally charged with the grisly crimes. To this day, the case has never officially been solved.

Forty years later, Texarkana native Charles B. Pierce produced, directed, and costarred in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, a film based on those infamous past events. Pierce had grown up a movie-mad kid, and had a variety of show biz related jobs, including TV weatherman, running his own ad agency, and set decorator for films like WACO and PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW . In 1972, he borrowed $100,000, grabbed a 35mm camera, hired a bunch of locals, and made his own film, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, a horror tale about the fictitious Foulke Monster who lived in the swamps of Arkansas. Released by South Carolina-based Howco International, the low-budget regional thriller raked in almost five million bucks at the box office, mainly in drive-ins and on the Southern circuit. Pierce’s next solo effort, the action comedy BOOTLEGGERS (starring a pre-CHARLIE’S ANGELS Jaclyn Smith), also did well, but a pair of Westerns (WINTERHAWK, THE WINDS OF AUTUMN) didn’t, so the Arkansas auteur returned to horror with this creepy little gem.

Producer/director/actor Charles B. Pierce

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN isn’t perfect – there’s a lot of padding involving an inept cop named Benson intended for comic relief. In fact, Pierce himself plays the dumb cracker, and director Pierce should’ve told actor Pierce to cut the crap and get out of the story’s way! That story, written by Earl E. Smith (who also has a role, as a shrink brought in to consult on the case), is one of those “the incredible story you are about to see is true… only the names have been changed” types, as intoned in Vern Stierman’s narration. Our Phantom Killer debuted two years before Michael Myers, four years before Jason, and eight before Freddie, making him one of the first (if not the first) of the silent slashers (well, silent except for the chatty, pun loving Freddie).

The opening scene is pretty damn frightening, with our hooded killer emerging from the woods and attacking a young couple parked out on Lover’s Lane. On a rain-soaked night three weeks later, Deputy Norman Ramsey hears shots fired out on a lonely back road, and discovers two dead bodies. The town is now up in arms, literally, as area gun shops quickly sell out. Texas Ranger Capt. J.D. Morales (like I said, “the names have been changed”) vows, “I plan on catching him… or killing him”. But in another three weeks, the killer strikes again, this time a pair of teens out late after the prom, and he ties the girl to a tree and murders her in an skillfully directed and edited scene involving a trombone! The final attack finds The Phantom shooting a man down as he sits in his easy chair, then stalking the man’s wife (effectively played by GILLIGAN’S ISLAND star Dawn Wells) with a pickaxe, as she barely escapes with her life.

“Skipper! Gilligan! HELP!!!”

Besides the former castaway Mary Ann, the cast features Oscar winner Ben Johnson as the Texas Ranger Morales. I don’t know if it’s just Johnson’s laconic style or he’s walking through the part, but he doesn’t seem very interested to me. Better is Andrew Prine as Deputy Ramsey, who acts like he’s actually invested in his role. Stuntman Bud Davis plays The Phantom Killer, and he’s quite menacing with his size and heavy breathing underneath that pillowcase mask. The rest of the cast is populated by locals and non-actors; the victims give it their all in the wide-eyed screaming department under Pierce’s direction.

Proto-slasher: The Phantom Killer

Charles B. Pierce directed a few more films (including a BOGGY CREEK sequel that later got the MST3K treatment), but none of them matched the success of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. The movie began the onslaught of psycho-killer films to come, and slasher fans can be grateful for that. It’s certainly not the greatest film ever made, but Pierce, like other regional auteurs working outside the studio system,  did the best he could with what he had. Like Herschell Gordon Lewis and George Romero before him, Pierce helped usher in an entire new horror genre, one that’s still going strong today.

Happy Noir Year!: THE BIG COMBO (United Artists 1955)

(ATTENTION: There’s a surprise waiting for you at the end of this post, so read on…)

Joseph H. Lewis started his directing career with low-budget Westerns starring singing cowboy Bob Baker and East Side Kids programmers, and ended it back on the range doing epsiodes of THE RIFLEMAN, GUNSMOKE, and THE BIG VALLEY. In between, he created some of the finest films noir the genre has to offer: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS , SO DARK THE NIGHT, THE UNDERCOVER MAN, and especially GUN CRAZY . His last big screen noir outing is the culmination of his work in the genre, 1955’s THE BIG COMBO.

The plot is fairly simple: Police Lt. Leonard Diamond is out to crack gangster Mr. Brown’s “combination”, which controls crime in the city. But Philip Yordan’s screenplay takes that plot and adds exciting twists and turns, indelible characters, and a level of violence audiences weren’t used to seeing at the local bijou. Lewis, aided and abetted by cinematographer John Alton , uses that script as a springboard for some darkly dazzling visuals; the opening scene alone, with a young girl being chased down a dark alley by two menacing thugs, finds Lewis and Alton showing off their talents. The film moves at lightning speed, a pedal-to-the-metal noir that doesn’t let up until the chilling conclusion inside an airplane hangar.

Cornel Wilde  is the obsessed police detective determined to put an end to Mr. Brown’s reign of terror. Wilde had started his own production company along with his wife Jean Wallace (who plays Brown’s moll Susan), and this was their first release. Wallace does fair work in the part, though her performance is eclipsed by the rest of the cast. THE BIG COMBO got them off to a slam-bang start, and their next production, STORM FEAR, found Wilde in the director’s chair for the first time, a seat he would take again for films like THE NAKED PREY, BEACH RED, and NO BLADE OF GRASS.

Mr. Brown wasn’t Richard Conte’s first gangster role, nor would it be his last, but it may very well be his best. Mr. Brown is a smug cocksure sadist, deriding Wilde’s Lt. Diamond every chance he gets (“Book me, small change”, he sneers, referencing the cop’s low-wage job), and his staccato line delivery aids the film’s breakneck pace. Brian Donlevy , no stranger to gangster parts himself, plays his second-in-command McClure, once a big shot, now reduced to flunky status. Donlevy was one of noir’s greatest character actors, and his McClure adds another fine portrait to his Rogue’s Gallery. Helen Walker , in her final screen role, plays the mysterious “Alicia”; to say more about the character would spoil the film, and I want you to see it for yourselves! Suffice it to say Miss Walker gives a bravura career finale.

Many modern critics see ‘gay subtext’ everywhere they look in older films; most of the time it’s something that’s not really there. But the characters of Brown’s hit men Fante and Mingo are without question “more than just friends” in this one. It isn’t anything overt, but Yordan’s script subtly suggests these two psychcopaths are homosexual lovers, and the performances of screen tough guys Lee Van Cleef (Fante) and Earl Holliman (Mingo) leave no doubt in my mind about their off-duty relationship. They don’t flaunt their sexual persuasion or camp it up, but watching their nuanced performances, you just know there’s something beneath the surface. Kudos to both actors for giving these stone-cold killers a deeper shading.

THE BIG COMBO is a gripping crime drama in every way, and a fitting end to Lewis’s film noir body of work. It’s dark, sordid, and unsavory, and must-see for fans of the genre. Those who’ve never had the opportunity to watch it are missing a real treat – and since it’s in public domain, I’ll give you that opportunity right now! Consider it my “Happy Noir Year” present to you and enjoy!:

Cracked Rear Viewer’s 2018 Year in Review

Happy New Year, Dear Readers! 2018 was a banner year here at Cracked Rear Viewer, with a record-breaking 58,214 views from 36,781 visitors. As Sally Field said, “You like me, you really like me!”. I appreciate all the support for my efforts to entertain and enlighten you about classic film, TV, music, and pop culture. In fact, I appreciate you so much, it’s time to put the spotlight on YOU…

WHO ARE YOU?

You’re obviously a diverse and intelligent group of people who visit this site from various sources. Most of you arrive via Google Search, though following close behind is the Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook Page, where you also enjoy some bonus features. WordPress Reader is next, then CRV’s sister site Through the Shattered Lens , where Lisa, Arleigh, and the gang allow me to repost my musings (thanks, guys and gals!). The WordPress Android App was next, something that surprised me… guess you’re busy, on-the-go people like me!

What really never ceases to amaze me is all you Dear Readers around the globe! Though the United States remains first in readership (USA! USA!), rounding out the top ten are the UK, Canada, India, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, France, Japan, and Italy. A special shout-out goes to those solo viewers in Cuba, Antigua, Granadines, Angola, San Marino, Bhutan, Fiji, Belize, Sudan, Mongolia, St. Kitts, Brunei, Gambia, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Guam, Tanzania, Caicos Islands, Botswana, and Moldova… please start spreading the word!

WHAT YOU LIKE 

Instead of the usual Top Ten of 2018 litany (everybody does that), I thought it would be interesting to see what you liked most on a month-by-month basis this past year:

January: Pre-Code Confidential #16: Gable & Harlow in RED DUST

Though you’re an eclectic bunch to be sure, I can tell by looking at this year’s stats you really dig films of the Pre-Code Era. There’ll be more to come in 2019, I promise!

February: Moanin’ Low: On Claire Trevor and KEY LARGO

You also liked different takes on classic films, such as this post spotlighting Claire Trevor’s Oscar-winning performance as the boozy gangster’s moll Gaye Dawn. I’m going to continue to challenge myself with more posts in this vein…

March: SUNSET BOULEVARD: Film Noir or Hollywood Horror Story?

…like this “Fresh Take” on an old favorite! Finding a way to add to the classic film conversation is my goal for 2019.

April: The Horror Stars of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Believe it or not, this was a “throwaway” post I came up with after my annual Easter viewing of the Cecil B. DeMille epic, which surprised me when it became the most-viewed new post of the year! (Second place was another surprise: Familiar Faces #8: In Search of Angelique Pettyjohn . See, eclectic!)

     May: Drive-In Saturday Night: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE & DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS

I began a new series to go along with all the others (That’s Blaxploitation!,  Pre Code Confidential,  Rockin’ in the Film World, etc), and since I grew up loving those low budget 60’s & 70’s drive-in/exploitation movies, rest assured there’ll be more to come.

June: Forgotten Horror: THIRTEEN WOMEN

I’d never heard of this minor 30’s proto-slasher starring the exquisite Myrna Loy before, and was thrilled to bring some attention to it!

July: Pre Code Confidential #21: Wheeler & Woolsey in DIPLOMANIACS

I’m a latecomer to the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, but quickly became a fan. Apparently, I’m not alone!

August: Pre Code Confidential #22: GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE

See what I mean about you loving those Pre-Code films! This post caused a bit of controversy over on Facebook… but hey, what doesn’t these days, right?!?

September: Star Vehicle: Burt Reynolds in WHITE LIGHTNING

This 2017 post gained traction with the death of superstar Burt Reynolds. To find out how Burt landed me in Facebook jail, click this link!

October: Halloween Havoc: THE BLACK CAT

This year’s annual Halloween Havoc frightfest (31 horror movies in 31 days!) was devoted to Universal Horrors, and this first pairing of horror legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (directed by Edgar G. Ulmer) topped the list. Halloween Havoc is a labor of love for me, not to mention a lot of work! I think I’ll start planning it sooner this year – like, next week!

November: The Origin of Billy Jack: BORN LOSERS

TCM ran a Billy Jack fest, and this post from 2016 became a popular read. For more on Tom Laughlin’s mystical martial arts master, see The Legend of BILLY JACK Continues,  Heavy Hitter: THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK,  and Strange Bedfellows: BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON.  Now, if someone would air THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER…

December: 12 Days of Random Christmas Songs: “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” by Cheech & Chong

From 2017, the Godfathers of Stoner Humor’s Xmas comedy hit was the Yuletide season’s most popular post. More C&C, anybody?

WHAT’S NEXT?

Well, for me personally, I’m starting a new job tomorrow. It’s quite an ambitious project I’m pretty excited about, but it may have an effect on my postings for a time. I’ll be busy, busy, busy, but I’m going to keep the blog going as much as time permits. The Friday afternoon posts will probably fall by the wayside, and I really can’t say whether I’ll be able to maintain the three-times-a-week schedule. Time will tell…

I recently did an interview via email with John Greco over at the Classic Movie Blog Association – be on the lookout for that soon! Meanwhile, I’ll continue my mission to bring you Dear Readers the things you want to read. Let me know what you want more of (or less of, for that matter), and thank you all for your continued support – especially that guy over in Moldova! Happy 2019!

In Memorian 2018: Pro Wrestling

The squared circle tolled ten bells for “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino , probably the most popular wrestler of his generation, who died at age 82. Bruno held the WWWF/WWF (now WWE) world title longer than anyone, 11 years in two title reigns (1963-71, 1973-77), took on and defeated all comers, and sold out New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden a record 188 times. Sammartino was a legit tough guy who once held the record in the bench press (565 pounds), and had a no-nonsense rep backstage. You just didn’t mess with Bruno! He appeared at the first WRESTLEMANIA, in the movie BODY SLAM, and was indicted into numerous Halls of Fame celebrating his almost thirty year career. A hero to millions of grappling fans (including Yours Truly), there will never be another Bruno Sammartino.

Many of Bruno’s in-ring foes also took the three-count in 2018. Pittsburgh native ‘Luscious’ Johnny Valiant (74) wrestled for Bruno’s local promotion and WWWF as a “good guy” named John L. Sullivan before teaming with his kayfabe brother ‘Handsome’ Jimmy Valiant to win the tag team titles on two occasions (and five tag titles in other promotions). Upon retiring from the ring mayhem, he started a second career as the hated manager of The Dream Team (Brutus Beefacke & Greg Valentine). Later, Johnny became a stand-up comic and actor of note (THE SOPRANOS, LAW & ORDER).

Nikolai Volkoff (left) with Fred Blassie and The Iron Sheik

Nikolai Volkoff (70) was once known as Bepo Mongol, and challenged Bruno under both monikers; he also held the tag championship with The Iron Sheik. Don Leo Jonathan (87) was a 6’6″, 300+ pound Canadian who grappled around the world, winning many titles; his 1972 battles with Andre the Giant are legendary. Larry “The Ax” Hennig (82) was a hated heel wherever he went, and the father of Curt Hennig, aka ‘Mr. Perfect’ (and grandfather of current WWE competitor ‘Curtis Axel’). Masa Saito (76) hailed from Tokyo, and competed for his country in the 1964 Olympics before turning pro; he was a two-time WWF tag champ with Mr. Fuji, held the AWA World title, and once had a “death match” on a deserted island with Japan’s Antonio Inoki that lasted two hours!

What time is it?… Vader Time!

Big Van Vader (63) was a former football player named Leon White who was amazingly athletic for his size, and won World titles in WCW and New Japan. Tom Billington (60) was known as The Dynamite Kid for his eye-popping aerial maneuvers, and made a formidable teammate for The British Bulldog. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart (63) was the brawn of The Hart Foundation alongside his partner Brett “The Hit Man” Hart (Jim’s daughter Natalia currently wrestles in WWE). Big Bully Busick (63) is remembered for his thick handlebar moustache, bowler derby, and ever-present stinky cigar. Matt Cappotelli (36) won WWE’s TOUGH ENOUGH III, and was slated for mat glory until being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and being forced into retirement (as an aside, his cousin Lisa Campbell once won TV’s BIG BROTHER competition).

Jose Lothario (right) with his protegee Shawn Michaels

Jose Lothario (83) was extremely popular in Texas and Florida, and was the trainer for ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels. Brickhouse Brown (57) wrestled mainly in the South as well, and was also a fan favorite. “The Rebel” Dick Salter (67) could work as a face or heel, depending on where he was; either way, he was another legit tough guy. “Grandmaster Sexay” Brian Christopher (46), son of veteran Jerry Lawler, won many titles (including the WWE tag straps), but unfortunately his demons got the best of him. Chris Champion (57) was one half of The New Breed with Sean Royal. Frank Andersson (62) won a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics before embarking on a brief pro career.

Rayo de Jalisco (right) and tag partner El Santo

Rayo de Jalisco (85) was a legend in his native Mexico, tag partner of El Santo, and appeared in many lucha libre films. Raul Matta (71) was popular in both Mexico and California. Universo 2000 (55) competed for over thirty years. 4’7″ Piratita Morgan (48) was one of Mexico’s top mini-luchadore stars. And last but not least, Larry Matycik (72) started his career at age 16, becoming one of the sport’s top TV announcers (St. Louis’s “Wrestling at the Chase”), matchmakers, promoters, and author of many books on the subject. All entertained their audiences for decades, and will be missed.

 

 

In Memoriam 2018: Pop Culture


There’s no doubt Stan Lee (95) had the biggest influence on today’s pop culture. Getting his start at age 17 working for his uncle Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics in 1941, the young Stan was appointed editor after the departure of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, creators of Captain America. Stan spent the next two decades writing thousands of words for superhero, humor, crime, horror, western, and other comics (whatever the market dictated) until he reteamed with Kirby on something daringly different. That something was The Fantastic Four, a quartet of all-too-human superhumans that set the comic world on it’s ear. Now renamed Marvel Comics, Stan co-created with Jack and artist Steve Ditko a line-up of heroes with human foibles: Spider-Man, The Hulk, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, and other names you all now know. Stan promoted Marvel incessantly, giving his artists nicknames, writing a monthly column (Stan’s Soapbox), lecturing on college campuses, and raising comic book consciousness to another level. The Marvel Super Heroes are now everywhere, thanks to the box office success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Stan’s cameos in the films will certainly be missed by True Believers the world over. Excelsior, Stan!

Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man

Ditko also passed away this year at age 90. His rendition of The Amazing Spider-Man helped turn the puny Peter Parker, bit by a radioactive spider, into a pop culture icon, and his trippy work on Dr. Strange set a new standard for weirdness in comics. Ditko lent his distinctive touch to Charlton’s Captain Atom and Blue Beetle, DC’s Hawk and Dove and The Creeper, and his objectivist Mr. A, incorporating the philosophies of writer Any Rand. His deceptively simple yet complex style contains much nuance, and he was truly one of a kind, on the page and in his personal life, declining interviews even after his creations became world-famous. Steve Ditko was a unique individual, and will also be missed.

One of Russ Heath’s “Toy Soldier” ads

Russ Heath (91) was noted for his DC war comics (The Haunted Tank), but also worked in other genres for EC and Marvel, and drew those ubiquitous “toy soldier” ads that appeared in the backs of comics. Marie Severin (89) had her own unique style; remembered for her work on The Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and others, she drew superhero satires for Marvel’s brief but memorable “Not Brand Echh” during the Swingin’ Sixties. Mort Walker (94) created the still-running Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois newspaper strips. Writer Gary Friedrich (75) is remembered for his run on Sgt. Fury, and co-created Marvel’s supernatural superhero Ghost Rider (and the now-forgotten but personal favorite of mine, Hell-Rider for Skywald). Nick Meglin (82) was the long-time editor for MAD Magazine. Carlos Ezquerra (70) co-created the legendary Judge Dredd. Takahiro Sato (41) is well-loved among Manga buffs. William O’Connor (48) illustrated the games Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.

American writer, Harlan Ellison, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 9th November 1977. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

Science Fiction readers were saddened by the loss of Harlan Ellison (84), a true genius and noted provocateur. The eloquent Mr. Ellison wrote some of the genre’s classic short stories (“Repent, Harlequin… Said The Tick-Tock Man”), novels (A BOY AND HIS DOG), edited the essential volume DANGEROUS VISIONS, dabbled in comics (The Hulk, The Avengers), and my favorite STAR TREK episode, “City on the Edge of Forever”. Ursula K. LeGuin (88) was another genre author whose greatest accomplishment  was the EARTHSEA series. Dave Duncan (85) was known to fans for WEST OF JANUARY and his SEVENTH SWORD series. Peter Nichols (78) compiled THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION. Jack Ketchum (71) was a horror writer whose books (OFF SEASON, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, RED) scared the daylights out of readers (including yours truly!).

The dapper Tom Wolfe

More mainstream authors who left us included the white-suited wordsmith Tom Wolfe (88), pioneer of the “New Journalism” style (THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST, RADICAL CHIC, THE RIGHT STUFF, BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES); Philip Roth (85, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, THE HUMAN STAIN); humorist Cynthia Heimel (70), a feminist who wrote a monthly column for PLAYBOY; sarcastic political columnist Nicholas von Hoffman (88); Drue Heinz (103), publisher of THE PARIS REVIEW; Jerry Hopkins (82), ROLLING STONE writer who penned biographies of Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison; and physicist Stephen Hawking (76), whose A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME became an unexpected best seller.

The once omnipresent Blockbuster Video chain

Businessman Wayne Huizenga (80) put Blockbuster Video on almost every block; he later owned the Miami Dolphins. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (65) also bought sports teams in his native Seattle. Charles Lazarus (94) gave us the late, lamented Toys’R’Us. Dave Edgerton (90) established McDonald’s chief rival Burger King. Fashion designers Hubert de Givenchy (91) and Kate Spade (55) became iconic brands. John Coleman (83) was a meteorologist who co-founded The Weather Channel. Dennis Hof (72) owned Nevada’s notorious Bunny Ranch; Hof was elected to the Nevada State Assembly this year… a month after he died!

The infamous Whitey Bulgar

Astronauts John Young (87) and Alan Bean (86) both walked on the moon. Adrian Cronauer (79) was an Armed Forces DJ whose life was turned into the film GOOD MORNING VIETNAM. Chef Paul Bocuse (91) was a pioneer of Nouvelle Cuisine. Larry Haney (70) was co-founder of the Burning Man festival. Graphic designer Art Paul (93) was PLAYBOY’s Art Director for 29 years. Whitey Bulgar (84) terrorized Boston for decades as boss of the Winter Hill Gang; unbeknownst to his criminal cohorts, he was also a rat for the FBI. Whitey went on the lam for 16 years before being captured, tried, and sentenced to prison. And you know what happens to rats in prison…

Melvin Dummar (left) lawyered up

Two people who left us this year defy traditional classification. Melvin Dummar (74) was a humble gas station attendant who claimed to have found an elderly man in the Nevada desert and saved his life. That man, so said Melvin, was billionaire Howard Hughes. A handwritten will allegedly left him part of the vast Hughes estate. Melvin never did collect that money, but his story was turned into Jonathan Demme’s entertaining 1980 film MELVIN & HOWARD. Was Melvin telling the truth? We’ll never really know…

Naomi Parker Fraley at work

Naomi Parker Fraley (96) was working at an aircraft assembly plant in Alameda, California, during WWII when her picture was taken by a news photographer. The pic was widely distributed in the press, and artist J. Howard Miller based his famous poster on Naomi’s image…

Thanks for keeping ’em flying, Naomi. You’re still an inspiration to us all!

Next: Pro Wrestling  

In Memoriam 2018: Music

There was no bigger loss in the music world than the death of ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin at age 76. Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha originally sang Gospel at her father Rev. C.L. Franklin’s revivals. She signed on with Columbia Records, who tried to pigeonhole her with safe Easy Listening standards. Moving over to Atlantic Records in 1966, Aretha began recording at Muscle Shoals for producer Jerry Wexler, and belted out R&B hit after hit: the raucous “Respect”, “Baby I Love You”, “Natural Woman”, “Chain of Fools”, “Since You’ve Been Gone”, “Think”, “Spanish Harlem”, “Until You Come Back to Me”. Hitting a slump in the mid-70’s, Aretha came back strong with 80’s successes “Jump To It”, “Freeway of Love”, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who”, and duets with Eurythmics (“Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves”) and George Michael (‘I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”). The word “icon” gets tossed around all too frequently these days, but Aretha Franklin was a true pop icon, with a booming voice that will not be silenced as long as there are fans of music around.

Aretha with Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy (and The Blues Brothers)

Rock’n’roll lost some true pioneers this past year. D.J. Fontana (87) played drums in a band called The Blue Moon Boys with guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and a young singer named Elvis Presley. Fontana spent 14 years as Elvis’s drummer, laying down the beats on classics “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, and so many others. Nokie Edwards (82) was the innovative lead guitarist for instrumental group The Ventures, whose hits include “Walk Don’t Run” (on which Edwards played bass) and “Theme from Hawaii 5-0”. Matt “Guitar” Murphy (88) joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band in 1948, and was a sideman for blues legends Memphis Slim and James Cotton before hitting it big later in life as a member of The Blues Brothers.

Roy Clark  (85) was a multi-talented instrumentalist who had a #1 hit singing the melancholic “Yesterday, When I Was Young”, as well as co-hosting the long-running country music program HEE HAW. Singer Marty Balin (76) soared to fame with Jefferson Airplane (and later incarnation Jefferson Starship). Ray Thomas (76) of The Moody Blues sang and played flute, notably on the group’s “Nights in White Satin”, which was a hit in two different decades. Cranberries lead vocalist Delores O’Riordan (46) died far too soon. Hugh Masekela (78) brought the sounds of South Africa to America, wowing the hippie crowd at the ’67 Monterrey Pop Festival with his trumpeting prowess, and scoring a #1 hit with “Grazing in the Grass”. Dennis Edwards (74) lent his soulful singing to such Temptations hits as “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion”, and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” during the Motown group’s most creative period.

DJ Avicci (top); crooner Vic Damone (bottom)

Techno artist/DJ Avicii  had a huge following; his life was tragically cut short at age 28 by suicide due to mental health issues. On the other side of the spectrum, singer Vic Damone lived to the ripe old age of 89; the popular crooner counted a #1 hit (1949’s “You’re Breaking My Heart”) among his many Top Ten tunes, and was regularly featured on TV, in movies, and Las Vegas. Other voices stilled by death include France’s Charles Aznavour (94), Scott Boyer of Cowboy (70), Cajun legend Vin Bruce (87), Big Band vocalist Don Cherry (94), Buzz Clifford (75, “Baby Sittin’ Boogie”), Gospel’s Del Delker (93), Jimmy Farrar of Molly Hatchet (67), rockabilly’s Billy Hancock (71), country’s Freddie Hart (91, “Easy Loving”, “My Hang Up is You”), Mike Harrison of Spooky Tooth (72), Edwin Hawkins (74, who had a surprise hit with the Gospel tune “Oh, Happy Day”), Scott Hutchinson (36, Frightened Rabbit), Hawaiian superstar Ed Kenney (85), Leah LeBelle (34, AMERICAN IDOL runner-up), Dean Lima of LFO (41), Reggae’s Trevor McNaughton (77), Tom Netherton (70, THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW), death metal’s Frank “Killjoy” Pucci (48), Tom Rapp (70, Pearls Before Swine), bluegrass star Randy Scruggs (64), Gayle Shepherd of the Shepherd Sisters (81, “Alone”), soulful Lowrell Simon (75), Daryle Singletary (46, “I Let Her Lie”, “Too Much Fun”, “Amen Kind of Love”), Mark E. Smith of The Fall (60), jazz legend Nancy Wilson (81), Lari White (52, “That’s My Baby”, “Now I Know”), Tony Joe White (75, “Polk Salad Annie”), and Betty Willis (76).

Funk Brothers Wah Wah Watson (top), Eddie Willis (bottom)

If there’s a rock’n’roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band with the additions of guitarists Tim Calvert (52, Nevermore), Eddie Clark (67, Motorhead), Ed King (68, Strawberry Alarm Clock , Lynnrd Skynnrd), Danny Kirwan (68, Fleetwood Mac), Glenn Schwartz (78, Pacific Gas & Electric), Wah Wah Watson (67) and Eddie Willis (82) of The Funk Brothers, Fred Weiland (75, The Strangers), and Todd Youth (47, Danzig); bassists Max Bennett (90, LA Express, Wrecking Crew), Mars Cowling (72, Pat Travers Band), Alan Longmuir (70, Bay City Rollers), Craig McGregor (68, Foghat), Jim Rodford (76, Argent, The Kinks); keyboard wizard Roy Webb (70, Lanny Kravitz, Suzy Quatro); sax players Ace Cannon (84, Bill Black’s Combo) and Charles Neville (79, The Neville Brothers); drummers Mickey Jones (76, The First Edition, who later enjoyed an acting career), Nick Knox (60, The Cramps), Vinnie Paul (54, Pantera), Jabo Starks (79, James Brown’s Famous Flames), Pat Torpey (64, Mr. Big), Charlie Quintana (56, Social Distortion); multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock (61, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull); and cellist Hugh McDowell of ELO (65).

Blues giant Otis Rush

On the blues side of town, legendary singer/guitarist Otis Rush (83) wrote and recorded such now-standards as “Double Trouble” and “All Your Loving”. Denise LaSalle (78) had mainstream success with the hit “Trapped By A Thing Called Love”. Big Jay McNeely (91) honked his badass saxophone on countless blues records. Maurice Reedus (65) played his sax on Cleveland street corners, so well a documentary was made about him (THE SAX MAN). Little Sammy Davis (89) blew his harp for blues lovers for over seventy years, while Lazy Lester (85) did it for sixty. Guitarist Preston Shannon (70) backed Shirley Brown before striking out on his own, while Floyd Miles (74) played with Clarence Carter and Gregg Allman. And we must give a tip of our porkpie hats to Louisiana’s Jewel Records owner Stan Lewis (91), who released hits from Lowell Fulsom (“Reconsider Baby”), Dale Hawkins (“Suzie-Q”), and John Fred & His Playboy Band (“Judy in Disguise”), and Arkansas’s Sunshine Sonny Payne (92), who hosted the seminal “King Biscuit Time” on radio’s KFFA for over fifty years!

Jazz greats Sonny Fortune (top), Cecil Taylor (bottom)

Jazz buffs are mourning the losses of Big Bill Bissonnette (81, trombone), Shelly Cohen (84, clarinetist and assistant music director for Johnny Carson’s TONIGHT SHOW), Nathan Davis (81, sax), Bill Hughes (87, trombonist for Count Basie), Sonny Fortune (79, sax), Coco Schumann (93, guitarist and Holocaust survivor), Tommy Smith (81, Canadian pianist), Cecil Taylor (89, avant-garde pianist), and Bill Watruss (79, trombone). Producer and songwriter Rich Hall (85) was known as “The Father of Muscle Shoals”. Harvey Schmidt (88) composed the long-running musical “The Fantasticks”; Carol Hall (82) wrote the music and lyrics for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. Kenny O’Dell (73) wrote country classics “Behind Closed Doors” and “Mama He’s Crazy”. Scott English (81) wrote rock hits “Bend Me Shape Me”, “Help Me Girl”, and Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”.

Gary Burden’s cover for The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel”

In the studio, engineer Geoff Emerick (72) worked with The Beatles beginning with 1966’s “Revolver”. Jimmy Robinson (67) engineered recordings for Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Led Zeppelin. David Bianco (64) produced albums by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, and many other artists. Gary Burden (84) created iconic album covers for Steppenwolf, The Doors, CSNY, Joni Mitchell, and most notably Neil Young. Peter Simon (71) was a noted rock photographer closely associated with The Grateful Dead. Joe Jackson (89) was patriarch of the musical Jackson family.

Barbara Cope served the music industry in her own way during the heyday of psychedelic hard rock. Barbara was a famed groupie known as “The Dallas Butter Queen” (use your imagination!). She was ‘friendly’ with Hendrix, Zeppelin, David Cassidy (whaaat!), Joe Cocker, and other luminaries, and was immortalized in the Rolling Stones song “Rip This Joint”:

Leaving the rock scene behind in 1972, Barbara sold her vast collection of rock memorabilia to make ends meet, keeping her private memories instead. She died in a house fire on January 14 in East Dallas at age 67, gone but not forgotten. Rock’n’roll forever, Barbara!

Tomorrow: Pop Culture