Thursday, March 31, 2011

Forgotten Music: The Viceroys at Granny's Pad

Back in the Pre-Beatle age, Northwest bands like The Wailers (I'm talkin' the real Wailers here, not the great Jamaican copycats) and the Ventures fused elements of jazz and R&B to create a new brand of instrumental  rock. The Wailers evolved into a bitchin' garage band in the 60s, and the Ventures evolved into, well . . . the Ventures.

But there were other fine groups playing the field, and one of the best was The Viceroys (and yeah, I'm talkin' the real Viceroys, not those other Jamaican copycats).

At the time, and for many years after, the area's top dj was Pat O'Day of KJR in Seattle. O'Day had a crotchety character on his show called Granny Peters, so when the Viceroys released their first single, they were inspired to name it after Granny. If this was a ploy to get more air time, it worked, and "Granny's Pad" became a huge Northwest hit.

Far as I know, The Viceroys at Granny's Pad was the group's only LP. They continued releasing singles for several years, and the whole shebang is now available on the CD shown at right. Viceroys guitar player and sometime singer Jim Valley (front and center, above) later joined Portland band Don and the Goodtimes, and later still was drafted into the big leagues by ex-Portland band Paul Revere and the Raiders, who had become TV stars on Where the Action Is. Saxophone player Kerry Eggers joined The Wailers when they reformed in the 90s as The Fabulous Wailers.

But you don't need to know all that. All you need to know is that these were some very hep cats. Fire up the tunes below and see for yourself.




Forgotten Music is a monthly groovefest hosted by Mr. Scott Parker. See more of this month's entries HERE.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Overlooked Audio: From the Hells Beneath the Hells by Robert E. Howard

“From the hells beneath the hells,
I bring you my deadly fruits.”
. . . The Song of a Mad Minstrel

One thing I never expected to post on the Almanack was a poetry reading. But here it is. (Actually, two poems and short short story.) Sit back and soak up the culture, folks.



When I posted the proposed radio show version of The Tower of the Elephant some weeks back, Micheal E. Stamm mentioned the LP From the Hells Beneath the Hells, read by Ugo Toppo. It was an album I'd long overlooked, so I tracked down a copy for your listening or downloading pleasure.

The album was issued in 1975 by Alternate World Recordings, produced and directed by Roy and Shelley Torgerson. Cover art is by Jeff Jones.

The back cover says this about reader Ugo Toppo:
Ugo Toppo was born into a famous family with a rich artistic background. His father, Renato Toppo, was a famous artist and portrait photographer; his uncle was a renowned poet, his grandfather, the publisher of La Follia di New York, the oldest Italian weekly in the United States, was a devotee of the arts, possessing exclusive rights to the vast majority of Enrico Caruso’s caricatures.

As a boy, Mr. Toppo sang with the choir of St. James and St Bartholomew’s Church. He has appeared in and directed many Off-Broadway and summer stock productions. His credits include Look Homeward Angel, Dead End, Macbeth, Othello, and Richard III. Mr. Toppo has received critical acclaim for his recordings from the works of Bierce, London, O’Henry and Poe. In addition, he teaches courses in mystery, horror and the literature of the macabre.

The works presented here, all from Side A, are (as described on the back):
THE SONG OF A MAD MINSTREL - A poem of great intensity in which Howard reveals an inner anguish and torment. From Weird Tales February-March 1941.
THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN SKULL - The story of an elder world sorcery, and hate, impervious to Time’s destructions. From The Howard Collector, Spring 1967.
ALTARS AND JESTERS - AN OPIUM DREAM - A poem of vivid imagery which explores the ecstasy and horrors of suffering. Published by Roy Squires in 1974.

In a future post, I'll present Side B, which consists entirely of the King Kull short story, "The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune."

Visit Sweet Freedom for more Overlooked Cool Stuff!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Forgotten Books: Sinners and Shrouds by Jonathan Latimer

After writing five madcap Bill Crane novels in the late 30s, along with The Search for My Great Uncle’s Head (1937), Dark Memory (1940) and Solomon’s Vineyard/The Fifth Grave (1941), Jonathan Latimer devoted himself to screenwriting. Among others, he scripted such films as Topper Returns, The Glass Key, The Big Clock, Night Has a Thousand Eyes and Plunder of the Sun.

But sometime around 1955, he got the bug to write another mystery novel, and this is it. The humor in Sinners and Shrouds reminds me a lot of that in the Crane books, except that the protagonist, reporter Sam Clay, drinks a bit less.

The set-up is this: After going on a bender, Clay wakes up with a beautiful blonde corpse. He doesn’t recognize her, and recalls almost nothing of the previous night’s activities. When the blonde’s maid comes in and discovers the body, Clay brains her with a bottle. Various moments of this opening scene are depicted on the three covers shown here.

For much of this novel, I had a hard time deciding if Latimer was writing a mystery or a parody of a mystery. Sam Clay gets into trouble so deep, and is so likely to caught at any moment, that Latimer pulls rabbit after rabbit out his hat to keep Clay free and striving to clear himself.

Latimer himself tells us how unlikely it is that Clay escapes arrest:

A good part of it was completely inexplicable. The doorman, undoubtedly, had really failed to recognize him. Probably because the entrance to the Little Club was dimly lit. But what about Mrs. Bruce? No explanation. What about the hat? No explanation. Absolutely no way of accounting for either, short of divine intervention.

Two miracles and a bushel of blind luck. Luck with the fingerprints, the doorman, the elevator boy, and Jacques, the picnic-happy barman who’d sold the brandy bottle. And earlier, luck with the bracelet and the blood-stained scissors. Luck with Gwen and the hat-check girl. Ten straight passes at craps. Zero five times running at roulette. Seven races in a row at Washington Park. Once-in-a-blue-moon luck.

In the end, Clay does manage to unmask the real killer, and some of the inexplicable events are explained. But others are not, and we’re left with several instances of that once-in-a-blue-moon luck.

Mystery or parody? I’m still not sure. But it was a barrel of fun. Sadly, Latimer’s plan to “write at least one book a year in the foreseeable future” did not pan out. Though he lived until 1983, he wrote only one more novel, Black is the Fashion for Dying (aka The Mink-Lined Coffin), published in 1959.

I’m intrigued by the line on both the British and American dust jackets that says "he went on to write novels, short stories and films.” Short stories? I’d love to see some, but I’m not aware of a single one. Are you?

This week's round-up of Forgotten Books awaits you at Sweet Freedom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938


After nearly six years drawing Sunday Tarzan pages, Hal Foster grew tired of doing someone’s else's character, and following someone else's script.

So he created a character of his own, called at first called Derek, Son of Thane, and later Prince Arn. But by the time the strip premiered on Feb 13, 1937. a savvy King Features exec changed the name to Prince Valiant.

This new reprint series from Fantagraphics is a new opportunity to read the strip from the beginning, and hopefully follow it at least until 1971, when Foster laid up his pen. (He did continue to write the script, though, until 1980).

The reproduction here is crisper than that in Fantagraphics earlier reprint set (1984-2004), and for the first time, the colors match those seen in the original Sunday papers.

Volume 1 reveals how Val’s father, the King of Thule (now Norway), was driven from his kingdom into the wild fens of Britain, how Val went to Camelot as a squire for Sir Kay and earn the respect of King Arthur and the Round Table gang. By the end of this volume, he’s an accomplished warrior and ready to return to his family and help his father retake his throne. 

Foster’s art is amazing from day one, but grows more sophisticated as the weeks progress. I’m now reading Volume 2, and good as these Volume 1 samples are - the work in Volume 2 is even better.

You won’t see Val wearing his trademark blue tunic and red stallion logo in this book, because he’s not yet a knight. He earns that rank early in Volume 2, so he’ll look more familiar in my next review.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A new Mystery Writer of America in the house

I got a swell letter from the MWA the other day. Congratulations! it said. At the March 9, 2011 meeting of the National Board of the Mystery Writers of America, your membership status was approved and changed to Active.

Included was the 2010-11 Directory of members, my official membership card and the list of programs, discounts and benefits reserved for Active members. I was already in possession of the official lapel pin, and I trust my official secret decoder ring will be arriving any day now.

On this auspicious occasion, I am reminded of many of the other illustrious groups I have been privileged to join over the years. The list below is by no means complete. These are the outfits I either remember, or still have a tattered old membership card for, in more or less the order I joined up. My humblest apologies to the MWA if my association with any of these groups tarnishes the reputation of their fine organization.

Cub Scouts of America
Supermen of America
Tri-City Numismatic Society
The Three Stooges All American Fan Club
Merry Marvel Marching Society
Herb Smiles Army
Boy Scouts of America
KJR Go-Go Club
The Strychnine Five
International Order of DeMolay
People Wildly Indignant Towards Cap’n Cy
The Company Soul
Kappa Sigma Fraternity
Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks
Phi Kappa Phi
Capitol Record Club
American Automobile Association
Sinister Cinema Fan Club
The Brotherhood of Bronze
The Shadow’s Secret Society
Communications Workers of America
Science Fiction Book Club
Paperback Collectors Guild
Cascade Blues Association
Toastmasters International
The Alamo Society
Willamette Writers
Zorro’s Fighting Legion

Friday, March 18, 2011

Forgotten Books: LEPROSY, ANYONE? Cardinal Rock by Richard Sale

I suppose I should have offered a SPOILER ALERT, but now that you’ve read the title of the post, it’s already too late. Sorry.

BUT, I figure most of you won’t be reading this book anyway. It's not one you're likely to stumble across, and I'm not going to send you looking for it. Anyone who does want to read it will be either a serious leprosologist, or (like me) a hard core Richard Sale fan, and will insist on owning it no matter what I say. So here’s the poop:

Cardinal Rock
, first published in 1940 (the book pictured here is the Harlequin edition from 1950), is Sale’s third book. It’s about an American doctor, Nick Adams by name (a nod to Hemingway?), who’s been traveling the world for three years treating all sorts of disease. He suddenly gets a bug up his butt to go home (New York) for Christmas, even though he has no family there.

On the way, he stops in Tahiti to visit an old friend - a famous novelist. There he hears of Cardinal Rock - a small island of red volcanic stone, owned by a reclusive Englishman who had a castle transported stone-by-stone from Scotland. The guy has a bunch of perpetually sad men working for him, and his employees have a unusually high death rate. The only contact they have with the outside world is to journey 500 miles south to Tahiti for supplies, and even then they never come ashore.

Though the novel is by no means a mystery, the mystery of the island is the major driving force for the first half of the book. Once we learn that Cardinal Rock is a leper colony, the mystery becomes Why was Adams summoned here?

Well, here’s a real SPOILER ALERT, because I’m going to reveal that, too. The rich Englishman is himself a leper, though he has the disease under remarkable control, and has been working on a possible cure. He wants Adams to take his findings back to civilization where other doctors can perform further tests.

In a minor romantic subplot, Adams meets an emotionally damaged woman in Tahiti who is later (quite conveniently) shipwrecked, rescued and brought to Cardinal Rock. Adams falls for her, but (another SPOILER ALERT), she falls for the head leper instead.

Adams accepts this with good grace, but when he finally gets to New York, he learns (final SPOILER ALERT) the island has most likely been destroyed by an earthquake.

Some fun, eh? Actually, I enjoyed reading it. Sale just can’t help being good. And it’s sort of a precursor to his most famous mystery novel, Lazarus #7, which also involves leprosy.

Eventually, I hope to review all fourteen of Richard Sale's novels.
For reviews of Not Too Narrow . . . Not Too Deep (1936) and Is a Ship Burning? (1937), plus a complete Daffy Dill story and a complete Candid Jones story (both from Detective Fiction Weekly), and more, click HERE.

For more of today's Forgotten Books, many of which have NOTHING to do with leprosy, please visit the blog of Mr. George Kelley.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Breakfast with Superman

In response to yesterday's post about the 50s TV series The Adventures of Superman, Mike Doran offered this intriguing comment:

One of the joys of collecting videos of ancient TV shows is finding the occasional local commercial spot, frequently for something like a brewery or a bank.

The Cisco Kid, for example, was sponsored in its original run by Interstate Bakeries, makers of Butternut Bread - in the midwest, at least ("Tut-tut Nothin' but Butternut Bread!"). But I've got a few episodes in my collection with spots for Weber Bread - same packaging, even the same jingle ("Can't get enough o' that Weber Bread!").

I also recall how Lloyd Bridges would appear at the close of Sea Hunt to say a few kind words about Heileman's Old Style Beer - here in Chicago,anyway. I don't doubt that he spoke with equal fondness of other brands in other markets.

During its original run, Kellogg's sponsorship of Superman was proclaimed right in the opening credits, accompanied by commercial spots by the cast members - all of which had to scrapped when the show went into its later syndication phase.

The cast of Superman plugging breakfast cereal? That sounded pretty cool, so I checked YouTube and found quite a few commercials. Thanks, Mike, for hepping us to the jive! Some samples . . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overlooked TV: It's a bird! It's a plane! Nope, it's You-Know-Who

Here's one you don't see TV anymore (and least I don't), but it used to be a GIANT. Luckily for kids like me, the whole series is now available on DVD, and I've been watching it again.

The Adventures of Superman ran from 1952 to 1958, for a total of 104 episodes. The show was originally broadcast in black and white, but half the episodes were filmed in color, and are presented that way on DVD.

Though the show was aimed at kids, some of the episodes are surprisingly well done. Two very early adventures seem like mini-movies starring Jimmy (episode 2) and Lois (episode 4), with Superman merely swooping in at the end to save the day. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that these, and perhaps many others, were based on earlier feature films.

Other episosdes, of course, are purely kid stuff. One has an organ grinder's monkey dressed in a Superman suit, and another is about a sick girl whose fondest wish is for Supes to take her to the fair. But even the most sacharin stories have redeeming elements, like bad guys with guns.

The Season One set has 26 episodes, plus the 1951 feature film Superman and the Mole Men. That's where George Reeves debuted in the role, taking over after Kirk Alyn had done his stuff in two 15-chapter serials, Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs Superman (1950) (You can see movie posters for those HERE.)

Superman and the Mole Men also introduced Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane (who had been played by Noel Neill in the serials). Phyllis continues that role in the first season of the TV series, and the more familiar Noel takes over in the second.

Check it out. It ain't too late to be a kid again.

For links to more Super Overlooked Films & Stuff, put on your cape and fly on over to Sweet Freedom.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Forgotten Books: Death Reign of the Vampire King (a dreaded UPDATE of the Spider)

Perhaps the most reviled series of pulp hero reprints ever done (and for that matter perhaps the only reviled series of pulp hero reprints ever done) are the four updated adventures of the Spider published in 1975 by Pocket Books.

When I read them then, I found the updating annoying, but I was still glad to have the stories. At the time, aside from the four books published by Berkely in the late 60s, they were the only reprints of the Spider readily available.

Annoying as the updates were, it wasn’t hard to mentally substitute the old weapons and old vehicles for their modern equivalents. And the pounding prose of Norvell Page was still enjoyable. For me, the worst thing was the dropping of the word “the,” so that the Spider was always referred to as simply “Spider.”

Now that I have a couple of unexpurgated editions of Death Reign of the Vampire King, I decided to take a closer look at the revisions. I did this by reading both versions side by side. For much of the time, I actually had a paperback open in each hand, reading from one to the other. (And yes, turning pages was a bitch.)

I found it mighty interesting.

First, there were the updates to weapons and vehicles I’d noticed the first time. The Spider’s automatics are changed to Colt Python .357 revolvers. A jiu-jitsu blow becomes a karate blow. His Daimler sedan becomes a Mercedes. His plane, a Norththrup, be comes a Boeing. In similar changes, a Minerva becomes a Rolls-Royce, a flivver becomes a car and a police radio-roadster with curtains drawn becomes a police car with the windows down.

Other examples: Richard Wentworth no longer wears goggles when piloting his plane. His plane’s machine guns are no longer behind the propeller. The speaking tube is gone from his car. When he sends a message via radio, it's via voice rather than Morse code. Cops no longer carry billie clubs. 

History had to change: Wentworth and his chauffer Jackson originally served together in France. That’s changed to Korea. Wentworth’s record as an intercollegiate sprinter becomes an Olympic record.

In one glaring error, one character is said to have been a big shot during prohibition, but the guy is nowhere near old enough to have been an adult in the 20s.

Many changes are due to “Spider’s” new, more debonair image. As envisioned by Robert Maguire on the cover, he’s a white-clad, blond-haired version of The Executioner. In the story, he still dresses in black, but since he no longer wears a hat or cape, they had to be weeded out of the text.

OLD: He was a hunched, grotesque figure and his long black cape made his body blend with the darkness.
NEW: He was a hunched, grotesque figure and his black turtleneck made his body blend with the darkness.

OLD: So much he said before he realized that this sinister, caped man with hunched shoulders - with cold eyes gleaming beneath the brim of a black slouch hat - was no comrade of his.
NEW: So much he said before he realized that this man with the cold eyes was no comrade of his.

In one original scene, the Spider is running at a girl who is shooting at him. He billows his cape, which hangs nearly to the ground, to confuse her as to where his body is. Bullets tug at it as she misses. In the update, with the cape deleted, the bullets still tug - but we don’t know where.

The update editor ran into other trouble with the cape.
In the old version, the Spider runs through a bat attack with his cape over his head.
With the cape removed, this line doesn’t make sense:
Wentworth dared not uncover his head, lest the bats strike at him, and without better vision, he could not shoot. (The reason he can’t see is the cape)

In one scene, the Spider lures bats into his car and swats them to the floorboards with his hat. Since the revisionist couldn’t think of an alternative, for that one scene “Spider” has a hat.

The Spider used make-up and false teeth to turn his face into sort of a fright mask, and sometimes wore a hump on his back . . .

OLD: He donned dark tweeds. When the time came, he would add cape and broad-brimmed black hat, alter his face . . . And the Spider would step forth from the car in all his sinister fearful majesty
NEW: He donned a dark turtleneck and comfortable pants. When the time came he would step forth from the car in all his fearful majesty.

Apparently the Spider’s trademark was considered too corny, so lines like this were deleted entirely:
He slew and left a mocking vermillion seal upon their foreheads to show that vengeance had been exacted by the champion of oppressed humanity - nemesis of all criminals - the Spider!

Some updates reflect changes in word usage . . .

In the old version, the bats “brought their poisoned death to the gay crowd before the motion picture shows.” In another instance, a character was described as being “gay and carefree.” You can guess which word was deleted.

Here’s one due to a yet-to-be-born cultural icon: The villain is originally called The Bat Man. In the update, he’s simply The Bat.

Some changes stem from an effort to be more politically correct . . .

OLD: Dangerous work, this, racing into the muzzle of an automatic, even though it was light in caliber and a woman handled it.
NEW: This was dangerous work, racing into the muzzle of an automatic, even though it was light in caliber. 

In the original version, Wentworth’s servant Ram Singh addresses him as sahib, and calls Wentworth’s lady friend Nita Missie sahib. Someone must have considered this too slavish. Sabib is dropped. And Ram Singh is less deferential.

OLD: “Bring me the cage of bats!” Nita ordered.
Ram Singh sprang from the car and salaamed profoundly. Wah! This woman was a fit mate for his master - a tigress whose claws were as deadly as those of the old one himself. Bring back the bats? He would bring back heaven and hell, let her but command it!
NEW: “Bring me the cage of bats!” Nita ordered.
Ram Singh sprang from the car. Bring back the bats? He would bring back heaven and hell, let her but command it!

In the original, Wentworth addresses Ram Singh, out of respect, in formal language. I can only guess this was mistakenly thought demeaning . . .

OLD: I’m afraid I lost thy knife, O warrior!
NEW: I’m afraid I lost your knife.

In some cases, the old prose was apparently considered too purple, or too archaic . . .

OLD: Greatly they loved, but the Spider could never marry.
NEW: They loved each other, but Spider could never marry.

OLD: Almost he had despaired
NEW: He had almost despaired

OLD: If the gods were good
NEW: If luck was with him

OLD: In a trice
NEW: Soon

OLD: Good God, what an end for a man!
NEW: What an end for a man!

OLD: “Geez!”
NEW: “Jesus!”

To all of which I say, “Geez!” and “Good God, that’s enough for me!”

Covers, top to bottom:
1. 1975: First in Pocket Books updated series.
2. 1935: The Real Thing.
3. 1976: British updated edition from Mews (NEL).
4. 1992: Carroll & Graf #4. The original Death Reign is one of two novels in this book.
5. 2003: From Action Ink. Original text, plus all of the original interior art.

More Forgotten Books: pattinase!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Remember the Alamo Neckties

Other samples of my classy necktie collection, featuring such icons of style as Clint Eastwood, 007, Mighty Mouse, King Kong and Heckle & Jeckle, can be seen HERE.

Conan of Pastichia