Friday, May 28, 2010

“Turntable Resurrection”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All Rights reserved

When I moved to Thompson eight years ago, it was with the idea that life on the eastern border of Geauga would offer the kind of pastoral living long gone from more populated areas of our county.

This geographical shift of the Icehouse produced many positive changes. But as I reassembled my home office in its new location, one major difference resulted. With the advance of technology, and a need to preserve useful space, having a full stereo system on duty seemed less important than before.

Feeling regret, I surrendered to modernity and put my turntables and hi-fi hardware into mothballs.

But it was a choice made without conviction.

Though I missed the tactile bond with vintage vinyl, CDs and sound files on my computer sufficed for the moment. From my wife came an MP3 player that offered music portability with 21st Century convenience. Briefly, these new paths toward listening pleasure were satisfying enough. Yet they faded before long.

Meanwhile, my vintage vinyl collection was everywhere – spread throughout the house in shelved towers that bowed under the weight of Rock ‘n’ Roll history.

Audio clips chirped tunefully from my computer. But as the music played, I would sort through those round relics, lovingly pondering every square inch of cover space. Then, sliding a platter from its sleeve, I would peer into the etched canvas of black.

It represented a phantom connection with the music paradigm of old. Even without the spinning analog discs of yesteryear, this need for analog gratification remained.

Soon, I found myself logging in to YouTube on the Internet. Displayed there were video snippets that combined visual cues from the turntable with sound recordings from bygone days. This connection made me realize that I was not alone.

Generations of Rock fanatics seemed to share my affinity for these rotating rounders. It was a revelation of sorts. Through this high-tech website, I returned to the era of proud plastic pancakes, and 8-track tapes.

Finally, the longing became too much.

I had to go back!

After finding a Brazilian stereo cabinet at the Salvation Army in Mentor, I reassembled my system. At first, it looked somewhat out of place next to our laptop, DVD player, and other 21st-Century appliances. But then, this return to retro habits became a cause for celebration.

My turntable glowed from its position atop a stack of amplifier, tape deck, and CD components.

The first record I played was “Gospel Guitars” by Joe Maphis.

This penultimate plucker was known as ‘King of the Strings’ in his heyday. He performed with many popular artists of the era and helped advance the career of guitar builder Semie Moseley because of his use of a custom-built Mosrite doubleneck instrument.

Next in line was Jerry Lee Lewis with the LP ‘Another Place, Another Time.’ Featured on this twirling plateau of toneology was ‘What’s Made Milwaukee Famous Has Made A Loser Out Of Me.’ The alcoholic anthem seemed to fit my mood perfectly.

Next came ‘Wild Berrys’ by Chuck Berry. This artifact offered a period-correct glimpse of Rock as it was evolving from the primal scream of early pioneers into a durable art form worthy of recognition.

After that, I dropped ‘Muddy & The Wolf’ on my neo-antique player. It reverberated with blues power and undeniable longevity. Containing tracks from previous Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf releases, the album made me tingle with excitement.

Then, ‘The De-Fenders Play The Big Ones’ appeared on my stereo. With expressive riffs provided by Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, this platter offered a tour of pop music as it was before Beatlemania.

Following that, ‘The Kingsmen, Volume 3’ took center stage. I listened attentively as classic tunes like ‘The Jolly Green Giant’ and ‘Shout’ echoed from the speakers, offering a historical detour from their noted version of ‘Louie, Louie.’

Junior Walker & The All Stars were next, with ‘A Gassss’ which included their quirky version of Neil Diamond's ‘Holly Holy.’

Then, The Ventures delivered ‘Wild Things’ with a plethora of hits from the period including ‘Hanky Panky’ and ‘Summer In The City.’

Eventually, I began to seek out vinyl albums once again. This made me visit yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores in search of new vinyl conquests. It was a habit forgotten over years of career chasing. But I remembered the routine quickly.

One factor had changed though, since my original love affair with vinyl records. I was haunted by a sense that something had passed. Not just the prevalent use of a simple recording medium dispensing tuneful noise - but instead, the authentically youthful spirit I felt, before.

This point was demonstrated at the counter of a local Goodwill store. While placing an armload of items on the counter, I noted a sign that read:

‘Seniors 50 and over – Half Off Your Order.’

Before I could catch my breath, the clerk looked up from his cash register. “May I ask your age, sir?” he inquired. His look was not far from ‘Shaggy’ in the ‘Scooby Doo’ cartoon series. “We have a discount today for senior shoppers.”

I couldn’t answer. The idea of a fifty-year-old being authentically ‘senior’ in nature was difficult to process.

“Sir?” he repeated.

“Umm, forty-nine,” I replied at last.

He pondered my heap of vintage merchandise for a moment, and then began to ring up the purchase.

“Close enough!” he cheered.

I was dumbfounded that he’d asked such a personal question. But the fifty-percent discount was mine.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Thompson Center Market Visit

I've been meaning to visit the revived Thompson Center Market for an interview and photo session since it reopened earlier this year. Today, I was able to accomplish that journalistic intention by chatting with Danielle Bashlor and Chris Buber, who were on duty at the store.

The market is owned by James Geisert, a long-time local resident.

My column for The Geauga County Maple Leaf will follow. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 21, 2010

“Unsung Hero”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: One of the benefits of writing a weekly column is the ability to address day-to-day events from my own realm of experience in print. Finding a freshly-published book in my mailbox is a joy I cherish. What follows here is a review of the latest volume to appear in that space.

Friends of this column have often heard about my personal connection with legendary California guitarist Davie Allan. For ten years, we have shared a long-distance friendship that has spanned the vast geographic divide between Ohio and the West Coast. It is something I could never have imagined as a teenager listening to his seminal instrumental 45, ‘Blues Theme.’ Yet this connection with King Fuzz himself has endured.

Recently, Allan’s life story helped inspire a new book called “Eleven Unsung Heroes Of Early Rock & Roll.” Written by entrepreneur, music journalist and performer Dick Stewart, the volume offers a portrait of compelling, if overlooked figures from popular music.

Stewart is Editor of ‘The Lance Monthly’ which is an online Rock newsletter that originally appeared in print form during the 1960’s. The careful regard he offers for those who are portrayed is authentic – particularly because of his own lengthy career in the business.

Stewart’s evergreen combo ‘King Richard and The Knights’ were born in the all-too-brief era of instrumental compositions that predated The Beatles. He provides a connection between yesterday and today that is rare and valuable for anyone seeking a closer look at the cultural phenomenon of popular music.

His story about Allan is the ninth chapter of ‘Unsung Heroes.’ Yet it is undeniably the one most likely to leave readers breathless with the power of insightful prose:

“Davie Allan is one of the thousands of guitarists who got caught up in the great rock-and-roll instrumental guitar explosion during the early 60’s. But out of this tidal pool of wild, raw energy, there were only a handful that impacted the era’s vibrant zeitgeist. Although most were one-hit wonders, who carved a notch on their belts and a spot on the charts before they abruptly disappeared, there were others who had hits that suddenly stalled in their climb to the top because of waning support from their record producers. Davie Allan and The Arrows was, sadly, one such band.”

Reading Stewart’s text made me ponder stories shared by my erstwhile New York mentor Paul Race. During the same period, he had formed an Empire State combo named ‘The Savoys’ with friends from school in Corning. Their toneful adventure became the stuff of fantasy as he wielded his Silvertone guitar in the style of Nokie Edwards. But then, John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived.

The seismic shift in pop culture that they sired overwhelmed everything. Race, like Stewart, followed other paths toward creative success.

But Allan used fleeting fortune and adversity to hone his skills as an axeman of consequence. First, this found him assuming the mantle of a stylistic outlaw through cycle-movie soundtracks like ‘The Wild Angels.’ Then, his brilliant artistic statement ‘The Cycle-delic Sounds of Davie Allan and The Arrows’ sealed this position as the genuine ‘Fuzzmaster General’ of guitar fame.

The meaningful slab of vintage vinyl was still reverberating with energy when, many years later, the genre reappeared:

“Early 60’s instrumentals did make a brief but significant comeback in 1994 thanks to Dick Dale and The Del-Tones’ 1962 surf instrumental hit, ‘Miserlou,’ which played a principal role in the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction, the action-filled and dialogue-packed Quentin Tarantino crime flick, mixing brutality and dark humor. Dale’s track contributed to the rise of a second wave of instrumental surf-guitar bands that patterned their delivery after him. Dale was (and some say still is) the King of Surf Guitar and rapid-fire double picking, bathed in dripping reverb was his signature. But there were other early 60’s first-wave bands that they held in high esteem: the whammy-bar specialists The Ventures, the palm-muted guitar master, George Tomsco of The Fireballs, and Arrows’ lead guitarist Davie Allan, now referred to as the Fuzz King.”

Allan observed that interviews were conducted over several months before Stewart had the proper foundation for his chapter of the book. One thing is for certain – the end result made it worth whatever time was invested.

Other little-known artists included in ‘Unsung Heroes’ include Jack Ely, vocalist on ‘Louie, Louie’ by The Kingsmen; Keith McCormack, co-author of the hit song ‘Sugar Shack’ with his aunt; Sonny Curtis, member of The Crickets and writer of ‘I Fought The Law’ which is best known as performed by The Bobby Fuller Four; Jimmy Torres of The String-A-Longs; Robert Kelly, a former Disneyland Caribbean pirate who encountered everyone from Eddie Cochran to the infamous Jack Ruby; Sonny West, author of ‘Rave On’ made famous by Buddy Holly; George Tomsco of The Fireballs; Clyde Hankins, forever connected to both Buddy Holly and the Fender Stratocaster guitar; Larry Knechtel, prolific studio musician; and Carl Bunch, who once played drums for The Crickets but is now an ordained minister.

Stewart has published the modern e-format Lance Monthly since 1998. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico.

To reserve an autographed 5 x 8 paperback copy of Eleven Unsung Heroes of Early Rock and Roll by postal mail, send $25.00 by check, money order, or well-concealed cash to: Mexia Enterprises Inc., Attn: The Lance Monthly Press, P.O. Box 613, Sandia Park, NM 87047

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day 45

"House On The Hill" / The Turtles (White Whale 306)

In 1969, at the age of eight, this was one of my favorite 45s. I played it over and over and over on our Silvertone Hi-Fi... to the point that it became Mom's least favorite Rock 'n' Roll recording of all time. With love and patience, she allowed me to explore those childhood obsessions and grow beyond them... today, I... am thinking of her... too bad she doesn't do cyberspace. But my message is the same... Happy Mother's Day!

The song at MySpace music:

Friday, May 07, 2010


c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a quiet morning at the Icehouse home office.

I had nearly reached the end of a pot of coffee. Crumbs from a breakfast bagel lay strewn across my desk. In the background, radio banter echoed meaninglessly.

Riley and Quigley, my Black Lab and Pomeranian duo, were asleep on the floor.

Outside, the breeze toyed with Christmas lights that still draped my house.

I had begun a research project on Teisco guitars from Japan. While clicking through Internet links, I scribbled notes on scratch paper.

My intention was to compose a column on low-buck 1960’s culture.

Suddenly, I realized that the prevailing wind had become more persistent. A ferocious tapping of light bulbs sounded from the window.

Riley lifted his head.

“Rowf?” he barked, quizzically.

I tilted my head toward the wall. A strange swishing of chopper blades became louder.

“What is that?” I wondered out loud. “Life Flight getting someone to the hospital?”
Quigley began to protest.

“Yap, yap, yap!” he barked.

The odd noise became more intense. With disbelief, I jumped out of my chair, and ran for the back door.

In our yard, a black helicopter was landing. Dry grass flew into the air as it touched down. Trembling, I leaned over the porch railing. The Christmas bulbs rattled, defiantly.

A bullhorn appeared in the aircraft’s window. And the barrel of an automatic rifle.

“Mr. Ice!” a harsh voice commanded. “I need to talk to you!”

Instinctively, my hands went skyward.

“Sure,” I shouted over the mechanical roar. “Would you guys like some breakfast?”

A lone figure appeared. He wore a black business suit, and dark sunglasses. Behind him, a pair of uniformed officers waited, with firearms drawn and at the ready.

“Good morning, Rodney,” he said. “I apologize for visiting you in such a dramatic fashion. But I have come here on a serious matter.”

My jaw dropped. It was the elusive Mr. X.

“Okay,” I groaned. “Forget the friendly offer of grub. Why are you buzzing around my neighborhood?”

“I’m sure you’ve read about the FBI raids in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio,” he explained.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“My friends in Washington have become concerned,” he continued. “Specifically, about your support for Hutaree, the Christian militia group.”

“What??” I exploded.

“You ran a supportive article in the newspaper about Hutaree,” he said, accusingly. “This is very, very serious…”

I shook my head. “Are you insane? That column was about HATARI! – a movie John Wayne made in 1962.”

An uneasy pause elapsed as he whispered into a cell phone.

“Hatari?” he said with befuddlement.

“HATARI!” I repeated. “It was directed by Howard Hawks. Something different for ‘The Duke’ because it was set in Africa instead of the American west.”

Mr. X reddened with embarrassment.

“Africa?” he mused. “Really?”

“He played the part of an animal trapper,” I answered.

“Well, well,” he said, regaining his composure. “We’ve also confirmed your feature about the Ron Paul Revolution. Come clean, Rodney. Spreading anti-government rhetoric… this is dangerous stuff!”

I chuckled. “You’ve got it wrong. Ron Paul is a veteran member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas.”

“Of course,” he growled. “We know that. But what about the extremists using his name? Admit your guilt!”

“It’s just a political support group,” I replied. “A vehicle for nerdy, libertarian intellectuals who are disgusted with the two-party system and want to feel like they made a statement. It gives them something to discuss over coffee at Starbucks.”

Mr. X turned a deeper shade of red. Again, he whispered into his cell phone.

“Mr. Paul was interviewed once on the Morton Downey, Jr. Show,” I remembered. “Since then, I’ve followed his career in public service. He’s definitely not your average Republican…”

“Aha!!” he yelled. “You watched Morton Downey!”

My mood went stale. “I wrote about him after he passed away in 2001. Did you know his last job was on WTAM 1100, in Cleveland?”

“Morton Downey!” he repeated. “Another extremist figure!”

“Oh, please!” I said with a frown. “Get real, Mr. X-Box. Nobody took him seriously, even in the 80’s.”

The dark figure bowed his head.

“Even if all of that is true, you attended the ‘Tea Party’ rally in Burton, last year,” he said accusingly. “Care to deny that story?”

I sighed loudly. “Lots of people were there, including Ken Robinson from WTAM. I went as a journalist. It was good political theater.”

“Theater?” he mused.

“In a sense,” I observed. “It’s all part of the democratic process. Like the groundswell of public support that put Mr. Obama in office. Participation by voters is good, I reckon.”

Mr. X shuddered.

“You went to a ‘Tea Party’ event,” he wheezed. “Where supporters of Lyndon LaRouche were in attendance!”

I laughed out loud. “Another figure no one has taken seriously… a professional agitator for decades. I thought he was out of place there, but that’s just my opinion.”

“You are sailing into dangerous waters,” he proclaimed. “I would advise you to consider your own vulnerability.”

I was stunned. “Is that a threat?”

“Consider it a warning,” he said. “When you write about UFOs or bologna and pork rinds, people are amused. But when you venture into the realm of sedition…”

“Sedition??” I stammered. “You are completely off the wall, Mr. X-Files. Better research would help your cause. I’m just a small-town newspaper columnist…”

“Of course,” he said mockingly.

With a raised thumb, he signaled those still by the helicopter to prepare for flight.
“Tread carefully my friend,” he advised.

More dry grass blew into my face as the aircraft powered up for takeoff.

“What does that mean?” I shouted.

The mechanical roar of his sky-bound vehicle filled my ears. In only a moment, it had begun to rise. Through the windshield, I could see that Mr. X was laughing.

Before long, the black chopper had disappeared. The morning was quiet once again. Now, it was time for a second pot of coffee.

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