Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Trips to ARROWHEAD MUSIC used to be common in the 1980's, when I was still a newcomer to The Northcoast. It was the nearest full-service music outpost in our area, offering a complete line of instruments and accessories. Extra cash was surrendered here on a regular basis. I once found a classic set of tuners to update my first electric guitar - six pegs on a metal strip, just like the TEISCO original. Later, after reading that Keith Richards preferred ERNIE BALL strings for his Telecaster ('Skinny Top/Heavy Bottom') I bought my first set from Arrowhead.

As years passed, my thoughts turned toward other concerns. For a time, I felt alienated from my collection of vintage guitars. But my nephew, Justin, has helped revive the spirit of Rock 'n' Roll with his own musical adventures.

After purchasing a DANELECTRO 'Longhorn' off eBay, I realized that there were no guitar cords left in the house! And my only shoulder strap was a dried-out relic. So in search of such things, Justin and I headed to ARROWHEAD... and the memories began to appear. In a sense, I felt OLD. But also, very proud to know that my nephew was a standard-bearer for the NEXT GENERATION of rock!


c. 2006 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Being an uncle is important work. Beyond the inherited responsibility of helping to instill family traditions, this duty provides a path toward mutual betterment. It offers a chance to mentor another life with careful prodding and insight, while learning from the process.
For this writer, a favored uncle was Frederick Ice. As our youngest paternal relative, he was most able to relate to youthful awkwardness. Fred played games with us, and shared the experience of reading ‘MAD MAGAZINE.’ My brother and I learned the basics of football from him, including how to properly ‘pass’ the pigskin. (He always reminded me of JETS Quarterback Joe Namath.) We practiced kicking with a makeshift goalpost he constructed by the family barn. Though his sports career was limited to high school play, Fred seemed like a professional athlete from our childhood perspective.
Later, our uncle developed an aura of ‘cool’ that was enviable. He drove a Datsun 280-Z, and rode a sporty Honda CB750-F motorcycle. A college education in electronics yielded world travel, and prosperity for our beloved kin. He was gifted, and popular. I hoped that some day, my own life would gleam with a similar intensity.
When my sister started her family, the tag of uncle came with a sense of importance. This was magnified because I had no children of my own. I wanted to be the sort of helper and role model that Fred had represented. Yet strangely, my life seemed unsuited to the task. I worked without ambition in a common retail establishment. There was no world travel on the horizon. Instead, I journeyed from flea market to thrift store, in search of discarded collectibles. My home boasted oddball treasures - old books, radios, coffee mugs, vinyl records, beer cans, and guitars. I drove a rusty Ford pickup truck, and rode a worn-out 1977 Harley. Black T-shirts and denim were the staple elements of my wardrobe. I wrote and recorded songs in a basement studio, while clinging to the notion of industry success. My hair and beard were thick. I looked like a vagabond minstrel. Thankfully, the kids overlooked these eccentric habits.
While Audrey, Justin, and Steven grew with promise, I wanted to give them something more than my own pale example. It seemed proper to demonstrate the value of our family craft – writing. So I started a series of stories that involved the kids. Each was a trip of fantasy, but placed in the familiar environment of Geauga. The first installment was titled “THE BRAIN STEALER.” I penned it in May, 1996:

“It was a sunny day… the sort of afternoon in mid-summer when the dry gravel and dirt produces a gray dusting on the wind that seems to cover everything. Baby Steven coughed slightly as he played in the bed of Uncle Rod’s pickup truck. Sweat trickled off of his tiny forehead. Across the road, the neighbor’s German Shepherd barked with irritation. The mournful wail of Garth Brooks could be heard. All was as it had been for years.
Suddenly, Audrey Emm burst through the screen door at the side of their wooden porch. ‘Uncle Rod!’ she screeched tearfully. ‘Come quick! Come quick!!’
He turned away as Steven sat down on the spare tire and fumbled with a dandelion. ‘What’s got you all excited?’
She stamped her foot and the porch vibrated with a crack and a thump. ‘Now, Uncle Rod! It’s Justin! There is something terribly wrong!’
They ran inside as Mother Emm grabbed the baby. ‘Little Woman! If this is another one of your pranks…’
‘No, Mom!’ Audrey pleaded. ‘You’ll see! Something has happened to Justin!’
They entered the living room… to find Justin sitting on the couch. He held the remote control for the television tightly. There was a look of emptiness over his face. He flipped from channel to channel, pausing only a moment between clicks of the control. ‘This is the good part…’
‘What do you mean??’ Audrey cried. There was no coherent response.
‘Give me that remote!’ Mother Emm snapped. Justin’s fingers curled ever more tightly around the clicker. The TV continued to hold him in thrall. ‘This is the good part…’ he said in a monotone. ‘This is the good part…’

My tale depicted the brood having to battle a magic figure who had taken control of Justin’s mind through the television. It produced laughs, and good cheer. Depicting my nephew with original verbiage was easy, because he was a typical boy. His clumsy mannerisms were perfect for a child’s story. I called the series “Adventures With Audrey,” and later “Weird Adventures.” The colorful storyline endured for ten issues. I drew covers for the episodes, and self-published them, individually. (Copies were made at an office supply store.) They soon became a familiar component of household literature for every branch of the family.
Soon afterward, I began to lose track of my sister’s children. Career aspirations drove me to seek a promotion to retail management. Freelance writing continued, and I joined THE MAPLE LEAF in 1998. Corporate proposals were drafted for my employer. I attempted business consulting as a sideline. And then… the oldest child was ready to leave for college.
Something in that moment of celebration seemed to re-awaken my family spirit.
As we rejoiced over Audrey’s passage to adulthood, I noticed that Justin was no longer the skinny youngster that had giggled at my collection of yard-sale relics. He was now ‘Juztyn,’ a shaggy, creative trouper! Like his older sister, the growing teen showed great artistic ability. But he also had developed a remarkable understanding of music. After being schooled in piano by his paternal grandmother, Juztyn mastered the accordion, guitar, and bass. He joined ‘The Chardon High Polka Band’ and performed in front of audiences across the county. We soon began to shop together for guitars, and equipment. While visiting stores like ‘Geauga Pawn,’ I recalled my own days as a struggling rocker. A new bond was created. I felt as if a torch had been passed to the next generation!
This revived love of music helped inspire more writing projects for myself. I began to reflect on the cultural importance of tuneful rebellion. When Justin and his friends formed UNDS (The Underground Ninja Death Squad) I was spellbound by their energy. It was the same sort of rock ‘n’ roll exuberance that I had felt over twenty years ago, in New York.
On Saturday, June 3rd, Justin graduated with the Class of 2006 from Chardon High School. It was his day, in every sense. Again, the family celebrated our blessings. I was full of pride and admiration. But another important degree was quietly bestowed on that day. I had truly fulfilled my own mission… as ‘Uncle Rod.’


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Here it is... a modern reissue of the 1958 guitar that LINK WRAY popularized. Few instruments are so distinctive and unique. It was officially called the 'Guitarlin' but is best known by its more common nickname. The L-Horn is purely ROCK 'N' ROLL in all its glorious, cheesy excess.

This particular axe came from a store in Tigard, Oregon. Acquiring it capped a multi-year search. After decades of longing for such a wickedly beautiful guitar, beholding the beast was an ecstatic experience.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


“Retro Rock Rendezvous”
c. 2006 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Once upon a time, in America… during an age not far removed by years, yet seemingly on the yonder side of a cultural division that moved us beyond the age of innocence… there was a thing called Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Typically, journalists from the ‘baby-boom’ era become sentimental over thoughts of postwar, popular music. When considering the birth of ROCK, it is nearly impossible for us to avoid hyperbole. The revolution was so culturally important that it touched everything else. Fashion, sports, politics, and religion were all affected. Our tempo of living accelerated because of this artistic phenomenon.
In current terms, commerce and modern technology are fracturing the genre. No single, pervasive trend holds dominance. The modern music industry now functions like any other retail operation. Groups are efficiently promoted in the manner of a refrigerator, washing machine, or electric toothbrush. Yet some still remember when the music mattered.
For this writer, a reminder of such bygone days came recently, while shopping on eBay. I located a true gem by accident. As I searched with the keyword ‘Fender’ my hunt yielded more than just guitar listings. Also uncovered were two recordings for sale:

ITEM #4878025230 (Compact Disc)
DRAG BEAT (DFCD 70242-2 / Del-Fi Records)
Winning Bid – 3.49

“DRAG BEAT was originally rush-released in 1963 to cash in on the car-song craze that would eventually be wiped out by Beatlemania. The format here is simple--three-chord instrumentals with loosely automotive titles like "Rum Runner" and "Taco Wagon" are overlaid with drag strip "vroom-vroom" sound effects. What keeps DRAG BEAT interesting is that The De-Fenders, led by crack guitarist Tommy Tedesco, were made up of the creme de la creme of L.A. session musicians. Many of the musicians featured on this album played on countless hits by Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Guitarists Glen Campbell and David Gates would go on to do considerably bigger things with Bread. Good, twangy fun.”

ITEM # 4878649390 (Vinyl LP)
Winning Bid – 3.75

“1963 Surf Garage MONO. Front and back of sleeve look VG+, but grades VG- due to seam split along bottom. Vinyl VG to VG+, plays with some noise, not really audible during the rockin’ surf tracks! TRACKS: Wild Weekend, Boss Guitar, The Wayward Wind, Wiggle Wobble, Wild One, Pipeline, Yep, Yakety Sax, All About My Girl, 40 Miles Of Bad Road, Dumplins, Honky Tonk.”

These platters were tantalizing to discover. I daydreamed about Link Wray, Dick Dale, and Davie Allan while reading the item descriptions. They offered a period-perfect view of the pop world as it was before John, Paul, George, and Ringo arrived in America. The arrangements were cheesy and quickly-crafted, but fun. Each track was bright with reverberating guitar riffs. Sassy bursts of saxophone enhanced the party mood. Overdubbed racetrack sounds only served to broaden my grin. Each tune reflected the seductive nature of youthful celebration. But then… there was more. On the flipside of ‘Drag Beat’ (depicted faithfully in the disc booklet) was a list of topical jargon that related to the car-crazed scene. After reading the first definition, I was hooked!


Full throttle, wide open acceleration

A Hot Dog sandwich. Standard fare at Drag track


A constant talker

After-race quarterbacking or theorizing on wins or losses

A car ran like ‘Jack The Bear,’ etc.

A Dodge pushbutton automatic transmission


Type of transmission

Fuel mixture of Nitro, Methane, Alcohol, Crystal T.N.T. used in hot cars

Use of complete fuel mixture

Rail dragster, gas coupe or sedan. High performance car that runs on pump gasoline

Same as above, but on fuel mixture

Special rear tires with little or no tread. Soft butyl or rubber composition, wide surface area that provides good traction for standing start acceleration runs

Loss of part or assembly referred to due to failure

Fast or top running vehicle

Axle-ratio in use by vehicle


Maximum rpm’s of engine

Engine or car speed at end of quarter mile or maximum speed during a run

Type of start on standing quarter-mile run

Easy quarter-mile run on purpose

Poor sport; hides in work area; does a minimum of runs; protests competitors

Cheater. Won’t go by rules

Complainer, i. e. a seagull squawks

Staging area ready for a run

Technique by unnerving competitor by making false starts, etc.

Engine that has been bored and stroked

Mechanism that measures top speed and elapsed time of a run

Size in cubic inches or type of engine

Dodge or Chrysler product

To beat another car

Trophies in lieu of prize money

These terms from yesteryear came as a welcome surprise. I marveled at the stylized verbiage, and cheerful images. This lesson in hot-rod slang magnified my listening experience many times over. Before long, I found myself wanting to share the vintage recording with neighbors and friends who also revered the golden age of hopped-up cars, and crude musicianship!
My next workday drive past THOMPSON DRAG RACEWAY had a different character, thanks to this collection of vintage tunes. I paused at the yellow billboard on Rock Creek Road with a sense of wonder. For just a second, I could see across the ages. Deuce Coupes and T-Bucket Roadsters filled my imagination. Then, I realized someone was following my truck… in a black, Ford ‘Anglia’ Hot Rod! The moment was a stunning coincidence. I turned up my in-dash stereo, and the De-Fenders rocked in time with this custom, V-8 chariot. Sunshine tickled the pavement, and I breathed a silent oath as the recording ended:

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