Book Review: STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL by Carmine Appice with Ian Gitting (Chicago Review Press 2016)

About three weeks ago, I attended the Vanilla Fudge 50th Anniversary show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. It’s a great venue to see a concert, with an intimate 280 seat capacity. Three of the four original members performed (bassist Tim Bogert is retired from active touring), and their psychedelic, proto-metal stylings had the joint rocking hard. Keyboard wizard Mark Stein, guitarist Vinnie Martell, new bass player Pete Bremy, and legendary drummer Carmine Appice tore the house down with their renditions of hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Take Me for a Little While”, and “People Get Ready”.

Much as I enjoyed all their musicianship, the main reason I went was to catch Carmine Appice,  one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers. The band did a meet-and-greet after the show, and I snatched by a copy of Appice’s recent book, STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL. Mr. Appice (whose drum solo was blindingly fantastic!) was gracious enough to autograph my copy, and the band members were all very cordial (guitarist Martell and I had a fun conversation about the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory). Between all the other things I’m currently juggling, I managed to finish reading this tome on the life and times of one of rock’s truly talented wildmen.

If you’re easily offended reading about the misogynistic sexual escapades of a decadent rock star, this book is not for you. Among the highlights (or lowlights) is the infamous incident involving members of the Fudge, Led Zeppelin, a nymphomaniacal groupie, and a live mudshark immortalized in song by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Appice takes us on a deranged trip from his youthful days running wild with a Brooklyn street gang, to Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic heyday, to his later gigs as drummer for Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and King Kobra. Along the way, he befriends young Jimi Hendrix, smokes pot with Buddy Rich, rooms with Prince, and encounters such movie legends as Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and even Fred Astaire!

Appice and co-author Ian Gittins (who co-wrote Nikki Sixx’s THE HEROIN DIARIES and penned books on Talking Heads and U2) use a light, breezy style recounting the hotel trashings, sexual exploits, and crazy tales of life on the road. I have the feeling Gittins acted more in an editorial capacity, as Appice has had experience writing for Circus Magazine, and wrote his own best-seller THE REALISTIC ROCK DRUM METHOD. Carmine Appice is now 70 and has mellowed out quite a bit, but back in the day he was one of rock’s true characters, and anyone interested in rock history will enjoy this book. And if you don’t know who Vanilla Fudge were, here they are on Jimmy Fallon doing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Enjoy!

     And buy the book!

RIP in Blues Heaven, J. Geils

Appropriately, I was just leaving Fenway Park in Boston with my friends when we heard the news that guitarist J. Geils had died. The J. Geils Band were legendary here in Massachusetts, a gritty, down-to-earth blues rock band who had a string of hits in the 70’s, then reemerged again in the 80’s at the height of MTV’s heyday. The band, fronted by charismatic lead singer Peter Wolf and propelled by the bluesy harmonic licks of Magic Dick, released their first album in 1970, and hit the road to tour the country incessantly. They became known as one of the hardest working (and hardest rocking) bands in America, and hit it big on FM radio with their 1972 LP “LIVE! FULL HOUSE”, featuring the single “Lookin’ for a Love”:

The first time I caught them was in ’73, touring in support of their album “BLOODSHOT”, with the hit “Give It to Me”. More hits followed, but at the dawn of MTV, the boys changed from guitar-based blues rockers to video pop stars with hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”:

Musical differences caused the band to split up in 1985. John Geils turned to his second love, auto racing, driving and restoring Italian sports cars. In the 90’s he returned to music, forming Bluestime with former band mate Magic Dick, and once again hit the road, touring the New England club circuit. There were sporadic Geils band reunion shows, most recently a 2015 outdoor performance for WHJY-Providence’s 34th anniversary. J. Geils was found dead in his home in Groton, MA earlier today at age 71, purportedly of natural causes. Their working class, blue collar ethic made them Boston’s greatest rock band, and I’ll end this tribute with their hard rocking 1980 hit “Love Stinks”. Rock on, J. Geils.

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #10: THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (20th Century Fox 1956)

Frank Tashlin  combines two of 50’s America’s favorite obsessions, sex & rock’n’roll, in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, Jayne Mansfield’s first headlight headlining role. When Jayne sashays across the screen, turning heads, melting ice, boiling milk, and cracking eyeglasses a star is born, in CinemaScope and gorgeous DeLuxe color. But the film is stacked with more than just Jayne’s Twin Peaks; it features performances from rock royalty like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and a host of others.

The plot is very simple (and very familiar): a goony gangster (broadly played by a hilarious Edmond O’Brien ) hires a down-on-his-luck agent (Tom Ewell of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH) to make a singing star out of his honey (our girl Jayne). Only problem is, Jayne can’t carry a tune in a bucket, shattering lightbulbs whenever she starts to warble. Seems she doesn’t want to be a star anyway, just to settle down and be domestic. Tom and Jayne quietly fall in love, the gangster gets jealous, and you just know that by film’s end everything will turn out for the best.

Interspersed in all this are the cream of classic 50’s rockers belting out their big ti.. er, hits! Little Richard does the title tune, “Ready Teddy”, and “She’s Got It”. The Three Chuckles (whose lead singer Teddy Randazzo costarred with Tuesday Weld in ROCK ROCK ROCK  ) perform “Cinnamon Sinner”. Fats Domino lends his New Orleans-flavored R&B to “Blue Monday”. Gene Vincent blasts his mega-hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. Eddie Cochran belts out “Twenty Flight Rock”. Abby Lincoln does a Gospel-tinged “Spread the Word”. The Platters doo-wop to “You’ll Never, Never Know”, and Nino Tempo, Johnny Olenn, Eddie Fontaine, The Treniers, and Freddy Bell & The Bell-Boys also appear.

Tashlin’s trademark cartoony gags bounce playfully throughout the film, beginning right off the bat with the pre-credits introduction by Ewell. It’s packed with double entendres by the truckload, most of them involving Jayne’s ample endowments. There’s a funny fantasy scene where Ewell, still carrying the torch for ex-client Julie London, sees her everywhere singing her own big hit, “Cry Me A River” (and by the way, the future Nurse Dixie McCall of TV’s EMERGENCY was pretty darn hot herself!). Surpassing that is the sight of O’Brien gyrating wildly and croaking out the song “Rock Around the Rock Pile”, a precursor of sorts to Elvis Presley’s showstopping number in JAILHOUSE ROCK .

Despite the classic rockers, Tashlin’s Looney Tunes humor, and a beautiful pastel color scheme, all eyes will be on Jayne Mansfield. She’s really good in this, giving a sweet-natured performance as the girl who just can’t help it. Jayne was red-hot at the time due to her Broadway smash WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (later filmed by Tashlin), and 20th Century Fox signed her as a rival to Marilyn Monroe. She was a good actress, though now best remembered for her sexpot image, and it’s a shame her career took such a downward trajectory so fast. With the right material, we’d probably be looking at Jayne Mansfield today for more than her obvious assets.

Legend has it when THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was released in England, a 16-year-old kid in Liverpool saw his rock idols perform for the first time. The lad’s name was John Lennon, and soon he met 15-year-old Paul McCartney, who auditioned for Lennon’s teenage band by doing an imitation of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” from the film. McCartney got the gig, and within a few years The Beatles  were the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world. That’s how influential THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was in the history of rock’n’roll, and any fan of rock music, Jayne Mansfield, or Frank Tashlin needs to put it on their must-see list.



 

Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll: RIP Chuck Berry

“Johnny B. Goode”. “Roll Over, Beethoven”. “Sweet Little Sixteen”. “Rock and Roll Music”. The most iconic songs of the Golden Age of Rock’N’Roll belonged to one man, Chuck Berry. When I got home this evening and heard the news he passed away at the age of 90, I knew I’d have to preempt my regularly scheduled post and pay tribute. Because without Chuck Berry, there’s no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no Beach Boys, no rock and roll as we know it. He was that influential on 20th century music, and the uncrowned King of Rock and Roll.

Sure, Elvis was bigger, but it was Chuck Berry who wrote the soundtrack for a generation of kids listening to their radios searching for relief from the blandness of 50’s commercial pop. He spoke their language, the language of teenage lust, hot rods, high schools hops, all set to a rocking back beat. Berry was influenced by the jump blues of Louis Jordan and the electric blues of T-Bone Walker, the western swing of Bob Wills and the soulful singing of Nat King Cole, added his own “duck walking” brand of showmanship, all propelled by Johnnie Johnson’s honky-tonk piano, and created something totally unique. He called it rock and roll.

Chuck was no saint. Far from it. As a teen, he did time in a reformatory for armed robbery and car theft. He was found guilty of violating the Mann Act for crossing state lines with a 14-year-old waitress, got sued for installing a camera in the ladies room at his restaurant, did four months for tax evasion, and was busted for possession of weed. Chuck Berry was rock and roll’s real bad boy, and a notoriously cranky curmudgeon, but his fans remained ever loyal despite his flaws. They knew his talent outweighed all his faults.

Much as teens idolized him, the adults hated him, mainly because he was a black man selling teenage sex to their children. But he still sold out concerts and was featured in Hollywood rock flicks like ROCK ROCK ROCK and GO JOHNNY GO! Like most 50’s rockers, he suffered a career slump during the 60’s, but came back strong in 1972 with the #1 double-entendre hit “My Ding-a-Ling”:

The 1987 rock doc HAIL! HAIL! ROCK’N’ROLL a 60th birthday concert filmed by Taylor Hackford featuring a veritable Who’s Who of classic rockers joining Chuck onstage. There was Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, and more celebrating the music of their idol. Earlier this year, on Chuck’s 90th birthday, it was announced he would be releasing his first new recording in 38 years, “Chuck”. I for one am eagerly awaiting it’s release.

Chuck Berry will live forever as one of the greats in rock’n’roll history, and one of the last century’s music pioneers. I own a compilation disc titled simply “Blues” that showcases his best recorded blues performances, and I’ll leave you with his “Wee Wee Hours”. All hail the uncrowned King!:

Rockin’ in the Film World #9: JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH (2015)

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Back in March, I attended the “Experience Hendrix” live show, featuring guitar gods Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Dweezil Zappa, Jonny Lang, and others jamming to the music of Jimi Hendrix. But as they say “Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby”, and the documentary JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH is a full-on aural assault chronicling Hendrix’ 1970 performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival.

Director John McDermott begins the film with some famous talking heads (Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Susan Teschi, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis), as well as residents of the tiny town of Byron, where the festival was actually held (and they seem to be having a ball reminiscing!). There are clips of Hendrix on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW and of segregationist Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox (who hates them damn hippies!).

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Then it’s showtime, as Jimi and his band dive into classics like “Fire”. “All Along the Watchtower”, “Foxy Lady”, “Purple Haze”, “Hey Joe” , ‘Voodoo Child”, and “Stone Free”, which segues straight into “The Star Spangled Banner” and “‘Straight Ahead”. Jimi’s at the peak of his powers, using every trick in his repertoire, playing with his teeth, bending over backwards, working that whammy bar to bend those beautiful notes. It’s easy to forget what a powerhouse drummer Mitch Mitchell was in light of Jimi’s brilliance, but damn if he doesn’t approach Keith Moon territory with his furious playing. Billy Cox keeps a steady bass beat while Hendrix and Mitchell bounce off each other into the stratosphere.

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The performance was filmed on July 4, 1970, and less than three months later Jimi Hendrix was dead at age 27 of a barbiturate overdose. The footage for this film sat in filmmaker Steve Rash’s barn for over thirty years before being made into this documentary and released on the Showtime network. It’s been a long time coming, but now fans can enjoy this seminal piece of rock’n’roll history. It’s on DVD and Blu-Ray, and would make a fine Christmas gift for the classic rocker in your life.

Rockin’ in the Film World #8: BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (20th Century Fox 1970)

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Sex and drugs and rock and roll!! That about sums up BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, a lightning-fast paced Russ Meyer extravaganza covering the end of the decadent 60’s with a BANG… literally! The movie was originally intended to be a sequel to 1967’s soapy and sappy VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, but Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert (yes, THAT Roger Ebert!) changed course and concocted this satirical, surrealistic saga that skewers Hollywood, rock music, the sexual revolution, and anything else that got in its way.

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Like the original, the story concerns three nubile young ladies trying to make it out in La-La Land (that’s Los Angeles, folks), only this time they’re a Midwestern rock power trio named The Kelly Affair. Kelly (Dolly Read, former Playmate and soon-to-be wife of comedian Dick Martin), Pet (model/actress Marcia McBroom), and Casey (Playmate Cynthia Meyers), along with Kelly’s boyfriend and band manager Harris (David Gurian), hit the big city, where Kelly’s sexy Aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis of VEGA$ fame) bequeaths a third of her fortune to her only living relative, much to the displeasure of slimy lawyer Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod).

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The trio attend a hipster party thrown by record producer and scenemaker Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell (a completely over-the-top John LaZar). The promoter digs their sound and look, rechristens them The Carrie Nations, and they zoom to the top of the pop charts. Kelly’s ego gets the best of her, and soon she demands half of Susan’s dough, thanks in part to hustler Lance Rocke (Peter Fonda lookalike Michael Blodgett), who worms his way into her, uh, good graces, leaving Harris out in the cold. Porn star Ashely St. Ives (the immortal Edy Williams!), who gets horny when the wind blows, then sets her sights on Harris’s fresh meat, and what Ashley wants, Ashley gets!

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Drummer Pet (and why is the drummer always black in rock films?) hooks up with earnest law student Emerson (Harrison Page, later of TV’s SLEDGE HAMMER!), but strays with World Heavyweight Champion Randy Black (Blaxploitation/Exploitation fixture James Iglehart). Bassist Casey quickly gets hooked on booze and downers, ends up pregnant by Harris, has a (then) illegal abortion, and falls into the arms of designer Roxanne (Meyer vet Erica Gavin). All these shenanigans wind up in a private party at Z-Man’s, where the peyote-laced wine takes things from love-in to freak-out as Z goes psycho and starts a bloody killing spree…

This delightfully demented cautionary tale moves at breakneck speed, and there’s never a dull moment as we follow the band on their sordid rise to the top. It’s funny right up until things take a dark turn as Z-Man reveals his true nature and, his mind blown from all the drugs, starts chopping off heads and blowing people’s brains out! Ebert’s script is a psychedelic trip through the sleazy side of Hollywood, filled with in-jokes (Porter Hall was a 30’s-40’s character actor specializing in weasels), thinly disguised characters (Z-Man= Phil Spector, Randy Black = Muhammed Ali), and nods to classic film genres. Rated X when first unleashed, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS contains plenty of nudity but no explicit sex scenes. The rating was bestowed more for the bombastic, gore-filled ending, coming so soon after the Tate-LaBianca Manson murders that scandalized the country.

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The Carrie Nations aren’t the only rock band featured here. The psychedelic sounds of Strawberry Alarm Clock can be heard playing at the party, including their #1 smash “Incense and Peppermints”. The band had also appeared in AIP’s hippie drama PSYCH-OUT, a Dick Clark Production, making them the only rock band in history to hold the distinction of working for both Clark and Russ Meyer! Folky singers The Sandpipers (of “Gunatanamera” and “Come Saturday Morning” fame) warble the title song, while blues rocker Lynn Carey (daughter of actor Macdonald Carey) dubs Kelly’s vocals. Composer Stu Phillips (known for his TV scores on THE MONKEES, GET CHRISTIE LOVE!, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, among others) fills the film with groovy period music, and The Carrie Nations’ songs were written by Bob Stone (Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, & Thieves). I really dug the hard rocking “Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man”!

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BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS probably isn’t for everybody, but it’s a delicious treat for many, especially Grindhouse fans. It’s a wild ride to Hollywood’s dark side, filled with sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, and for my money you can’t beat that!

BONUS! Here’s Strawberry Alarm Clock doing their hit, “Incense and Peppermints”!

Halloween Havoc! Extra: Bobby “Boris” Pickett Does THE MONSTER MASH With Zacherley!

Happy Halloween! One of my favorite Halloween traditions is hearing Bobby “Boris” Pickett sing his 1962 smash THE MONSTER MASH, and this year I’ve discovered a real treat. Bobby doing a live performance at the Chiller Theater con in 2005 with none other than the late, great Zacherley! Enjoy!