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.
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!).
Before the advent of cable and MTV and music videos, there was The Monkees. Now I know some of you are going give me flak about “The Pre-Fab Four”, how they weren’t a real band, just a commercialized, bubblegum TV concept, so let me put this in perspective… if you were an eight-year-old kid like me back in The Monkees’ heyday, you watched the show every week, bought the records, and actually enjoyed them! That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s why I’m writing this tribute to the late Peter Tork, who passed away today of cancer at age 77.
Peter Thorkleson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, and as a child loved music, learning to play piano, guitar, bass, and banjo early on. After college, he shortened his name to Tork and hit New York City, becoming part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. He was always a musician first and foremost, but when his friend and fellow folkie Stephen Stills (who went on to a pretty damn successful career of his own!) tried out for a part in a new “rock and roll sitcom”, he was turned down, but recommended his pal Pete audition. The young Tork was cast, along with ex-CIRCUS BOY star Mickey Dolenz, Broadway singer/actor Davy Jones, and another musician, Michael Nesmith.
THE MONKEES made its network debut on September 12, 1966, and was an immediate smash! A mash-up of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT , Marx Brothers-style madness, quick jump cuts, and what would later be known as music videos, Monkeemania swept the country, as kids and teenyboppers drank in the weekly ‘youth culture’ antics of these four telegenic stars. Peter was the ‘Ringo’ figure of the group, his character a lovable loser with a sad sack face and not much sense. The Monkees soon found themselves on the covers of teen magazines and racked up such #1 hits as “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”, and “Daydream Believer”:
Though all four were accomplished musicians, only Tork was allowed to play on their first two albums. The musicians used were definitely no slouches; session players like Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Jim Gordon, Louie Shelton, and Larry Taylor all contributed to various tracks. But The Monkees, now bona fide superstars, rebelled, and beginning with their third LP played their own instruments (and yes, that’s really Tork doing the piano intro on “Daydream Believer”). But like most fads, Monkeemania subsided, and the show ended its run in 1968. The boys went on to star in HEAD , a Jack Nicholson-penned, Bob Rafelson-directed piece of psychedelia that bombed at the box office – the younger kids were turned off by it, and the older hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead watching The Monkees! The movie has since become somewhat of a cult classic, and is worth a look.
Peter was the first to leave the group, dissatisfied over their musical direction and off-screen bickering. He drifted back to his roots, trying to get a folk-blues band called Peter Tork And/or Release off the ground without success. He was pretty well broke by 1970, a scant two years after Monkeemania, and a bust for possession of hashish landed Tork three months in a Oklahoma prison. The end of the 70’s found Tork working as a teacher in California (teaching music of course!) and gigging around in small clubs.
Then came the 80’s, and MTV began rerunning THE MONKEES episodes, and suddenly The Monkees were hot again! A tour was put together with Tork, Jones, and Dolenz (Nesmith declined to participate), and the band continued to tour sporadically over the years. I was fortunate enough to catch them in the early 90’s (along with 60’s favorites The Turtles, The Grass Roots, and Gary Puckett), and their combination of comedy and nostalgic hits was one fun night! Over the years, Peter Tork continued to tour with The Monkees and in smaller venues on his own, playing with his blues/rock band Shoe Suede Blues. 90’s kids will remember him for his guest appearances as Topanga’s dad on BOY MEETS WORLD. Peter Tork certainly had a wild ride during his lifetime, but was blessed to spend it doing what he loved – playing music. Say what you will about The Monkees, but the eight-year-old boy in me will sure miss him.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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 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”.
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!
Before MTV ever hit the airwaves, there was TOMMY, Ken Russell’s stylized cinematic vision of The Who’s 1969 ‘rock opera’. It was a match made in heaven, teaming Britain’s Wild Man of Cinema with the anarchic rock and roll of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon (not to mention England’s own enfant terrible,Oliver Reed ). Russell both captures the spirit of Townsend’s hard rock opus and expands on it visually with an all-out assault-on-the-senses musical featuring an all-star cast that includes an Oscar-nominated performance by Ann-Margret as the mother of “that deaf, dumb, and blind kid” who “sure plays a mean pinball”!
Townshend, the group’s primary songwriter, had been experimenting with long-form rock’n’roll since the beginning, notably the nine minute suite “A Quick One While He’s Away” on their second album A QUICK ONE (retitled in America HAPPY JACK). TOMMY was born after The Who’s concept album THE WHO SELL OUT (everybody did concept albums back then), and was a critical and commercial success. Six years later, Russell adapted the rock opera for the screen; he was considered a true maverick in the filmmaking world, on which he’d unleashed such films as WOMEN IN LOVE, THE MUSIC LOVERS, and especially THE DEVILS, a film so controversial that it still shocks audiences to this day, and has never been shown in it’s raw, uncut version.
Russell threw everything into this psychedelic wonderland (with more cinematic references than I could count!), including that all-star cast I mentioned from the worlds of both Hollywood and rock. The Who’s charismatic lead singer Roger Daltrey plays Tommy, and his performance led to the lead in Russell’s later LISZTOMANIA and other film roles. Guitarist supreme Eric Clapton is The Preacher singing Sonny Boy Williamson’s blues standard “Eyesight to the Blind” at the Church of Marilyn Monroe, while Britain’s premier soul screamer Arthur Brown as The Priest belts out “Religion”. Tina Turner, dolled up like some kinda perverted Countess Dracula, does “The Acid Queen” amidst a sleazy porno shop setting. Maniac Keith Moon , The Who’s deranged drummer, is the perverted “Uncle Ernie” – and Moon’s propulsive drumming throughout most of the film (his successor Kenney Jones subs on a few tracks) is nothing short of astounding. No question: Best Rock Drummer Ever! Elton John knocks “Pinball Wizard” out of the park in a particularly bizarre sequence. Jack Nicholson’s singing as The Doctor is the only real disappointment – stick to acting, Jack!
Oliver Reed, who starred in Russell’s THE DEVILS and was a drinking bud of madman Moon, plays Tommy’s stepdad. He mugs it up shamelessly, fitting right in with the film’s lunacy, but as a singer… well, he’s a great actor (Ollie also sang in the 1968 Oscar-winning musical OLIVER!). Ann-Margret deservedly copped an Oscar nomination (losing to Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) as Tommy’s mother, even though she was just three years older than Daltrey as Tommy. She’s the star of this show, giving a spectacular performance, and her scene during “Smash the Mirror”, where she’s deluged with detergent, baked beans, and melted chocolate oozing through the TV screen, is an hallucinatory delight! And God, was she hot!
Russell “fiddled about” with some of the song sequences, adding some and deleting others in order to make Townshend’s opus more of a cinematic experience, and succeeded. The composer, who based his rock opera on the teachings of his spiritual guru Meher Baba, had no objections, and still praises Russell’s vision of his work. TOMMY is meant to be seen on the Big Screen, but even on the telly, it’s a rock’n’roll masterpiece you don’t want to miss!
In yesterday’s ‘One Hit Wonders’ post on the Blues Magoos, I told you Dear Readers my first concert was headlined by Herman’s Hermits, five non-threatening teens from Manchester, UK – Karl Greene, Barry Whitwam, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby, Keith Hopwood, and lead singer Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, known as Herman for his slight resemblance to cartoon character Sherman (of “Mr. Peabody and…’ fame). Their infectious, peppy pop rock and Herman’s toothy grin made the teenyboppers scream with delight, with hits like “I’m Into Something Good”, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, and “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”. Even parents liked The Hermits, and they seemed destined to follow in the cinematic footsteps of The Beatles. MGM, who released their records stateside, concocted a ball of fluff for Herman and the lads called HOLD ON!, and any resemblance between that title and The Fab Four’s HELP! is strictly not coincidental!
It’s your basic Sam Katzman production, who’d been cranking out teen oriented rock flicks since 1956’s ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK . Like most (okay, all) Katzman movies, the budget is decidedly on the low side, aided and abetted by some clever camerawork and plenty o’stock footage, not to mention veteran director Arthur Lubin, who’d been around since the 1930’s, directed the first five Abbott & Costello films, the Francis the Talking Mule series, and created the TV sitcom MR. ED. He wasn’t outstanding, but very competent, especially when it came to comedy.
The plot? It’s thin as a cup of weak tea, with Herman’s Hermits going on a big U.S. tour, and NASA astronauts (or rather, their kids) wanting to name their new space capsule after the band, causing an apoplectic State Department official to send a man to follow the boys a “get a full report”! A couple of subplots (yes, there are subplots!) involve a publicity hungry starlet determined to be linked with Herman, and a rich young girl who falls for the singer. There’s some merry mix-ups and slapstick gags along the way, as a charity ball the Hermits play becomes a catastrophe, but by the end everything works out for the best, as these things usually do.
This flimsy story, written by Robert E. Kent (WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS ) under the pseudonym James B. Gordon, serves as an excuse to hold together a plethora of songs by Herman’s Hermits. Besides the title tune, we get hits like “A Must to Avoid” and “Where Were You When I Needed You”, as well as lesser songs “All the Things I Do For You, Baby”, “Got A Feelin'”, and “Wild Love”. There are a couple of fantasy sequences set to “The George and Dragon” and “Leaning on the Lampost”, but again, this is a Sam Katzman production… don’t expect anything fancy!
The supporting cast consists mainly of TV actors. Bernard Fox (BEWITCHED’s Dr. Bombay, HOGAN’S HEROES’ Col. Crittendon) plays the band’s manager, whose job is to keep girls away from Herman (and vice versa!). Shelley Fabares (THE DONNA REED SHOW, COACH) plays Herman’s love interest, and gets the chance to warble “Make Me Happy” (Shelley had a #1 hit of her own in 1962 with “Johnny Angel”). Herbert Anderson (DENNIS THE MENACE’s dad) is the put-upon State Department guy spying on the Hermits, getting constantly doused with water for his troubles. Sue Ane Langdon, a frequent TV gust star who costarred with Elvis in FRANKIE & JOHNNY, is the publicity-mad actress.
I loved this when I saw it in the theater, but then again I was only 8! Times change, and now that I know a little more about films, I can tell you it’s not all that great. If you’re not a fan of the band, you won’t understand what all the hype was about. The songs are good, but you won’t find any thespic talent among Herman and his Hermits. It’s a time capsule movie of a more innocent era, when the group was riding high on the pop charts. As I said, times change, and the harder, more experimental rock sounds of the late 60’s soon left Herman’s Hermits by the wayside. I still like ’em though, and even own a double-CD of their music (and break it out of a couple times a year). In fact, I’ve heard Peter Noone himself will be playing the Cape Cod Melody Tent later this summer with another 60’s pop rock group, Tommy James & The Shondells. Yeah, you just KNOW I’ll be there!
Direct from Haight-Ashbury, psychedelic hard rockers Blue Cheer ushered in the Age of Heavy Metal with “Summertime Blues”, reaching #14 on the Billboard charts in 1968 (Crank It Up LOUD!):
Singer/bassist Dickie Peterson, who lived on San Francisco’s Haight Street during the “Summer of Love” days, originally formed the band as a five-piece group, but stripped down to the power trio model popularized by Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Leigh Stephens on guitar and Paul Whaley on drums. Blue Cheer’s hair was longer, and their sound more ear-splitting, than anyone around, and the band’s thundering heavy metal noise made both the single and their debut album “Vincebus Eruptum” into classics of early metal then and collector’s items today.
The band went through numerous personnel changes before breaking up in 1970. Peterson reformed the group in the 80’s and toured Europe, bringing their “cranked up to 11” barrage of sound to a new generation of metal maniacs, who worshipped these hard rock pioneers. Peterson died in 2009 from prostate cancer, bringing an end to what many call the Founding Fathers of Heavy Metal. Any act calling themselves Blue Cheer today simply ISN’T – BC without Peterson is like The Stones without Mick Jagger!
As for “Summertime Blues” itself, the song was first written and recorded by 50’s rocker Eddie Cochran, whose original version hit #8 on the charts. The tune became a staple for every bar band in the land, and has been covered by artists as diverse as The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Alan Jackson (who hit #1 on the Country charts with it in 1994), Joan Jett, The MC5, Olivia Newton-John, Buck Owens, Rush, James Taylor, T. Rex, The Who (on their seminal “Live at Leeds” LP), and The Ventures. But nobody, not even Cochran himself, rocked “Summertime Blues” as hard as Blue Cheer did fifty years ago!
American-International Pictures takes the “Beach Party ” concept to the slopes in 1965’s SKI PARTY, an endearingly goofy ball of fluff headlining Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley , and a pre-‘Batgirl’ Yvonne Craig . It sells itself with a sly wink to the audience that says, “We know the whole thing’s absurd, and we don’t care”! Besides the off-the-wall comedy, the film features above average musical interludes by guests Lesley Gore and the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.
Frankie and Dwayne play a pair of slightly overage college students (Avalon was 25, Hickman 31!) trying to woo Deborah and Yvonne. The two knuckleheads can’t figure out why they can’t get to first base, while college Romeo Aron Kincaid scores with every babe on campus. When the whole gang (including Beach movie regulars Luree Holmes, Michael Nader, Salli Sachsee , and surfing champ Mickey Dora) go on a skiing vacation during mid-term break, Frankie and Dwayne disguise themselves as British birds “Jane” and “Dora” in an attempt to learn the secret to achieving paradise by the dashboard lights!
Avalon and Hickman make SOME LIKE IT HOT’s Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon look like a couple of Playmates, but that doesn’t stop Kincaid from falling madly in love with “Dora”! ‘Beach’ girl Bobbi Shaw plays a sexy Swedish ski instructor (“Yah, yah”) who Frankie seduces to make Deborah jealous, with him entering a ski jump contest even though he can’t ski! His brilliant idea is to jump in a helium-inflated suit, with disastrous results. Funnyman Robert Q. Lewis is on hand as the screwball ski lodge director, and a yodeling polar bear keeps popping up for no reason except to add even more surrealism to the story. If you’re wondering where Annette is, she has a cameo in the beginning as a college biology professor (!!), and the ubiquitous Dick Miller appears towards the end as a cab driver.
SKI PARTY was the first feature film for director Alan Rafkin, whose TV resume reads like a Sitcom Hall of Fame. Just a small sampling: MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (27 episodes), GET SMART, THE ODD COUPLE, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW , THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, SANFORD & SON , M*A*S*H, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW, COACH (87 episodes), and SUDDENLY SUSAN. Rafkin’s also responsible for a pair of Don Knotts movies, THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN and THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST.
Also making his first movie straight from the TV ranks was screenwriter Robert Kaufman. Kaufman fared better in his film career, writing the DR. GOLDFOOT spy spoofs starring Vincent Price , DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON, the vampire comedy LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH CO$T OF LIVING. His script finds Avalon and Hickman frequently breaking the Fourth Wall, along with a slew of slapstick hijinks (and you all know how much I love slapstick hijinks!).
As I said before, the music is solid 60’s gold, with Lesley Gore doing her big hit “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”:
The whole things ends up on the beach (where else?) with The Hondells doing a couple of surf numbers. The four main stars get a few decent rocking tunes to sing, but the highlight comes when James Brown and The Famous Flames, playing the resort’s ski patrol, perform the smash “(I Got You) I Feel Good”. And on that note, take us home, James: