The Spotlights – Batman and Robin b/w Dayflower

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The Caped Crusaders

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Lou Courtney, Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett

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Listen/Download – The Spotlights – Batman and Robin

Listen/Download – The Spotlights – Dayflower

Greetings all.

Welcome back to the Iron Leg experience.

I hope you all had a chance to download and listen to last week’s edition of the Iron Leg Radio Show. If not, pull down the ones and zeros and give it a listen. I think you’ll dig it.

The tune I have for you today is not only very groovy on its own sonic merits, but carries with it the traces of a very interesting back story.

When I was digging at the Allentown all-45 show a while back, I pulled ‘Batman and Robin’ out ofa box of mixed genre 45s, and due to my own fascination with 1966-era, pop art Batman and any musical manifestation thereof, I grabbed it.

It was only when I got home and took a closer look at the label that I realized that the disc might have a more interesting pedigree than I figured.

The writing of the song is credited to Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett (who were working together frequently in the mid-60s, most prominently on Gary Lewis and the Playboys stuff), but also to a certain ‘L. Pegues’.

Now, to most people that name will mean little to nothing, but to dedicated soul collectors like myself, it rings an especially interesting bell.

That is on account of the fact that Louis Pegues was the given name of soul giant Lou Courtney, who in addition to making a grip of amazing records under his assumed name, also worked extensively as a songwriter and producer.

He wrote songs (first with his composing partner Dennis Lambert) for acts like Freddie and the Dreamers, Leslie Gore and the Nashville Teens, and later (with Bob Bateman) wrote for soul artists like Mary Wells, Lorraine Ellison, the Webs and Henry Lumpkin (among many others).

Though I don’t know the specific circumstances of his artistic intersection with Leon Russell, my first instinct is to attribute it to Leon’s ubiquity in the studios of Los Angeles in the 1960s.

The tune, ‘Batman and Robin’ (released in 1966) is a first rate slice of garagey novelty with pounding piano and organ, comic-book specific lyrics and Leon (I’m pretty sure) on lead vocals.

The flipside is a very cool and extremely unusual instrumental called ‘Dayflower’, in which the band performs a mash-up of the Beatles ‘Day Tripper’ and the old bluegrass standard ‘Wildwood Flower’.

There was also a full LP by the Spotlights (all comic-related titles) which I’ve never seen, and one other 45 with tracks from the LP (‘Dayflower’ was 45-only).

If any of you has any more specific info on the Spotlights, please add on in the comments.

I hop you dig it and I’ll see you next week.

Peace

Larry

 

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PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some soul.

the Knight Riders – I

UPDATE 2/20/10 - Last night someone came into this thread and left several hateful, obscene messages about the band. I deleted them all and blacklisted the IP of the poster.

UPDATE 7/12/08 – Knight Rider Rod Pearce forwarded a picture of himself as he is today, alongside a couple of his boss cars!

UPDATE 6/5/08: UNKNOWN NO MORE!!!
Thanks to Knight Rider Jay Mierly for sending along some rare photos of the band. It blows my mind how this post, on what was basically one of thousands of “anonymous” 60s punk bands, has turned into an e-reunion of sorts, with band menbers, fans and family members sharing their memories of the Knight Riders.
Very Cool.

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The second lineup of the Knight Riders, (Top left) Mike Lentos, (middle left) Rod Pearce, (bottom left) Ryan Clark, (Top right) Jay Mierly and (bottom) right Butch Daniels

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(L-R) The original line up: Ryan Clark, Greg Mahoney and Butch (Virgil) Daniels

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Knight Riders Drummer Mike Lentos

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Knight Rider Rod Pearce today.

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The Unknown Garage Punk

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Listen – The Knight Riders – I – MP3

Greetings all.
I come to you today – as unlikely as this seems – well rested. I took a day off to get some errands run and managed to read almost an entire book (Jim Carroll’s ‘Basketball Diaries’) in the process (if the current pace is any indicator I will indeed be finished before I close my eyes this evening). Fortunately one of the errands involved a trip to the bookstore, so I have a follow up volume ready to roll.
Today’s selection is a tune I kind of picked up by accident some 20 years ago. While prowling a once great record store – now, like almost all others of its ilk reduced to a shadow of its former self – I grabbed an LP called ‘San Francisco Roots’, mainly on the strength of a couple of Great Society tracks that I didn’t have in any other form (this was pre-CD, at least for me). The album turned out to be a compilation of Bay Area, mid-60’s rock, folk rock and pop, much of which had been associated with the Autumn Records organization (produced by none other than Sly Stone).
Not many of the tracks grabbed me, until I got to the end of the first side and heard what was – and still is – for me, one of the true monuments to what I like to think of as STOOPIDITY (sic).
Though the STOOPID ethos finds itself lodged at the edges of all forms/genres of entertainment, some of its prime examples are found in the world of garage punk.
Say what you will – all attempts to “class” up the genre with ill-advised silk purse/sows ear efforts – garage punk is by and large an attitude driven sound. Though there are strictly sonic triggers that signify the garage vibe e.g. cheesy organ, fuzz guitar etc, the dark heart of garage punk is (mostly figuratively) SNOT.
The SNOT I speak of is the lumpy, swirling attitude stew composed of equal parts juvenile bad-assery, male chauvinism, outré displays of unbridled teenage sexuality and greasy haired, clenched fisted defiance.
All of the above, combined with amateurish attempts to rechannel Mick Jagger channeling Muddy Waters, created an entirely new vibe, redolent of moldy basements, Cuban heels and hard-ons (both literal and figurative).
Non-cogito Ergo Garage.
The track I referenced above is a great – and early (1965) – example thereof; ‘I’ by the Knight Riders.
This is a particularly apt exemplar because the Knight Riders are as anonymous a band as the 60’s garage punk underground has to offer*.
Aside from the fact that the group apparently hailed from Belmont, California, and they recorded less than a half dozen tracks – none of which saw release at the time** – before fading back into the wallpaper of suburban San Francisco, I can tell you almost nothing.
What I do know, is that ‘I’ (short and sweet, that) is just over three minutes of pure, unadulterated STOOPIDITY, two minutes and 45 seconds of which are built on a stripped down riff, and the 15 remaining seconds comprise a Yardbirds-esque rave up that would be improved upon shortly by fellow Bay Area-ites the Count Five.
Another thing I know, is that 20 years later, back when my pals and I were exhuming the 60’s, this is EXACTLY the sound most of us were trying to recreate (with varying degrees of success).
Now, another 20-some years down the pike, I may devote much of my listening time to more, how do they say “sophisticated” sounds, I always find my way back to stuff like the Knight Riders when I feel the need to get my STOOPID on.
I hope you dig it.

Peace
Larry

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*So faceless are the Knight Riders (denied even a writers credit on the label), that I have created the Unknown Garage Punk to represent them (and all future bands of their ilk). Though I went to college many years ago as an art major,my pens have been warehoused of late, so forgive my rusty hand.

** The inclusion of ‘I’ on the ‘San Francisco Roots’ LP (in 1969 or 1970) was the first time any of the Knight Riders recordings saw the light of day. A few years ago there was a reissue of three more Knight Riders tracks (Where Did I Fail, Torture And Pain, Won’t You Be My Baby) on a comp of Autumn Records-associated material (Dance With Me: The Autumn Teen Sound) by groups like the Vejtables, Mojo Men, and the Tikis

The Return of Popeye the Sailor

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Greetings.
I come to you following a busy week/weekend, during which my son Miles and I have been digesting – three shorts at a time – the newly released boxed set of classic Fleischer-era Popeye cartoons.
As I am often reminded, there’s a large portion of the adult population that spends little or no time watching cartoons, and this – like many similar ying/yang-ish situations makes me both happy and sad.
I am of course always happy to know that I operate outside of the cultural status quo, but I am saddened that so many folks either consider themselves to old to enjoy cartoons, or (God forbid) consider them to be somehow “beneath” them and unworthy of their attention.
These people remind me of that nasty Eva Braun-ish principal in Uncle Buck who rails at Buck’s niece because she considers her actions to be frivolous, after which the mighty (and mightily missed) John Candy gets up and reads her the riot act about how she’s out of her mind and kids ought to be allowed to be kids (i.e. frivolous in all things).
I couldn’t agree more, and would like to add that I consider myself basically little more (at least spiritually) than a rather large kid (wasn’t it George Carlin who once said that old people are just bent kids?) and despite the shackles of adulthood (working for a living, bills and the like) I can still take time to enjoy some of the things that I liked when I was a kid, as well as watching my own kids dig these things as well.
Part of this is based in my own dislike for a lot of what passes for juvenile entertainment these days (though there are some cool things, like the ‘Upside Down Show’, ‘Jacks Big Music Show’ and the upcoming ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ which looks insane).
Some of it is also the need to recharge via laughter, derived from things almost entirely free of irony or subtext, and I don’t think you need to be reminded that such things are in short supply these days.
Such a thing is the original Popeye cartoons.
Back in the day, when the Fleischer brothers (Max and Dave) pulled Popeye from EC Segar’s pages and whipped him up onto the screen, the character grew in popularity to a point where he rivaled even Disney’s Mickey Mouse (oh, that it were so today….).
The best thing about the 1930’s Popeye cartoons is that they aren’t just funny on a gag level, but like the best cartoons, animated and otherwise, they look funny as well.
All of my favorite cartoonists (a profession to which I once aspired) have always been able to tickle the funny bone with images as well as words. Sure there are cartoons out there that lean more on the verbal side of humor (which kind of defeats the purpose of having illustrations, n’est ce pas??), but the best – at least in my eyes – are those that are able to get laughs via the drawings as well.
The Popeye cartoons mixed memorable stock characters/situations (is there a single short that doesn’t cumulate in a fight between Popeye and Bluto?) with a really unusual drawing style (which was reflected in the 1960’s underground, especially R. Crumb). The animation of the characters is brilliant, especially Olive Oyl who’s wild, rubbery movements are a marvel.
The good folks at Warner Brothers have gone back and taken these cartoons (many of which languished in the public domain, and sub-sub-standard video issues), and reissued them with an eye toward quality (the prints are immaculate). There are also tons of extras including documentaries and early silent animation.
We’re about halfway through the set, and I look forward to a planned second volume (post-1938) coming in the Fall.
I’ll be back later in the week with some more music.
Peace
Larry

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Buy  – Popeye the Sailor 1930-1938 – at Amazon.com

Stardust The Super Wizard!

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Greetings once again, or more likely for the first time, since I doubt anyone’s been here except for little ole me….
I have to start this entry by stating that I was never a comic book kid. This is not to say that I never read comic books, but rather that I never developed any lasting connection to comic books or the characters therein, like so many people I know.
Back in the day, when I was in those prime “comic book years” – right on the cusp of adolescence – the stuff I was drawn to was on the oddball end of the spectrum, with either a supernatural bent (like the Twilight Zone comic digests) or oddball stuff from the bigger publishers like Power Man & Iron Fist.
Now – as two of the tattoos on my arms will attest – I was enamored of comic book characters (i.e. Batman), but only via their video incarnations. When I checked out Batman comics later in life – both the early Bob Kane stuff as well as modern incarnations – I was shocked to discover that they lacked all of the pop art genius and campy fun of the TV series. When I think of the Joker I prefer Cesar Romero’s wild card as opposed to the criminally insane villain of the comics (same goes for all the stock Batman bad guys).
As an adult (using the term as loosely as possible) I got into comics, but only in the artsy, post-modern underground stuff (like Dan Clowes genius ‘Eightball’, and Peter Bagge’s ‘Hate’) and the reprints of the dark Japanese ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’. These allowed me to experience high quality cartooning (a “profession” I once yearned to follow) and retain my own version of alt-slack snob appeal, where I got to sit back and chuckle condescendingly at guys my age that were still reading Spiderman.
Years went by – in which my prized collection of ‘Eightball’s disappeared during some move or other – and I started to wander by the “graphic novel” section of the local book barn. If memory serves this was spurred on by a review of a graphic novel (I don’t remember which one) in which the book in question had been hailed as a kind of ‘anti-comic’, i.e. a book, illustrated in a comic book style, but with a much heavier story (non-superhero in nature) and a more adult storytelling style.
The first graphic novel I remember really digging was ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson, and then a little later Chris Ware’s ‘Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”. Both of these were at least as “heavy” as any non-pictorial novel, and I found myself captivated by authors who were able to deliver a plot in both words and pictures.
Since then, I’ve made an effort to check out new graphic novels when I can find them (the local comic book emporium, where I used to grab ‘Eightball’ and other like books pretty much only features slick “novelizations” of Marvel/DC superhero stuff, wherein the graphic novel’s co-optation of the comic world had been re-co-opted).
Some of these, like Warren Ellis’  ‘Fell’ have delivered excellent storytelling along with edgy visuals. Others, like ’30 Days of Night’ (both beautifully illustrated by Ben Templesmith) read more like an inflated screenplay fragment.
Last month, completely on impulse I picked up Joann Sfar’s ‘Vampire Loves’, which led me to pick up ‘The Rabbi’s Cat’ (amazing) ‘Little Vampire Goes to School’, ‘Klezmer’ (all written and illustrated by Sfar) and ‘The Professors Daughter’ which was written by Sfar but illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert.
Sfar’s loose and wonderfully inked visual style is paired with real talent for storytelling.
Anyway…here I am in the middle of a major graphic novel “phase”, really digging the interesting things that artists are doing with comics these days, when I happen upon a strange and twisted relic of the early years of comic book art.
Thanks once again to the folks over at Boing Boing, I was hepped to a new collection of the long-forgotten work of the twisted mind (and pen) of Fletcher Hanks.
Not much is known about Hanks, other than he wrote and drew some of the weirdest comics ever committed to low quality newsprint back in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
The best of his work is collected in the new Fantagraphics collection I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets’, edited by Paul Karasik.
To say that Hanks’ worldview was “unusual” would be a drastic understatement. Had this not been originally published commercially, I would go as far as to classify him as an “outsider” artist. His artwork, while unlike much of what we consider to be ‘classic’ comic art, isn’t exactly crude, but has a kind of grotesqueness to it that sets it apart. While the likelihood is that Hanks was trying to work in an accepted style, there’s a real weirdness to his drawings (of heroes and villains alike) that looks like someone took one of those back page novelty ads (selling x-ray specs, hot pepper gum and the like) and expanded it into an entire comic book.
That said, Hanks was not an untalented artist, as there are many examples in his stories or beautifully designed panoramas in a single frame.
Now, if Hanks’ art was the only issue here, he would have probably remained in the dustbin of comic history. Because as odd as his pictures are, they pale in comparison to the twisted nature of his stories.
It helps to start with his “main” character, one Stardust the Super Wizard, whose name alone would be enough to draw most people in. Stardust, “whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived” (I shit you not) is a giant from space that bears an uncanny resemblance to Buster Crabbe as ‘Flash Gordon’, is Flash had been a professional wrestler instead of a spaceman. The plots of the Stardust comics (eight of which are included in the collection, along with Hanks lesser creations like Fantomah: Mystery Woman of the Jungle – coincidentally the “most remarkable woman that ever lived” – Big Red McLane – a massive avenging lumberjack (?!?) and Buzz Crandall) bear the marks of what I would charitably call a monolithic imagination.
The plots can be broken down as follows:
a. Some gang of internationally minded racketeers (many of whom, including ‘Slant Eyes’ seem heavily ethnicized) cooks up a cockamamie plot to take over the earth, or more specifically the wealth therein, by either disabling, or completely doing away with literally everyone else in the world.
b. Their dastardly plot is set in motion, wherein multitudes of innocent folk are annihilated
c. Stardust the Super Wizard (safely tucked away on his private asteroid) gets wind of the plot and hurtles toward earth in his “transparent tubular special”, never before the huge casualty count, but always just before the completion of the evil plot
d. Stardust manages to concoct some unbelievable convoluted (but surprisingly apt) punishment for the lead villain that usually includes a truly odd and often sadistic twist (note the Dick Cheney-esque visage of the manrat below…)

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The writing, which is stilted but wholly original is really the best thing about these comics. The world domination plots all presage the James Bond vibe by decades, with each gang of evildoers in possession of some ray, bomb or superweapon, that they always take the time to explain in excruciating detail before putting it into use. The stories are filled with expository asides that boggle the mind, such as:

“Stardust carries artificial lungs that enable him to breathe safely, under any condition – He uses new spectral rays, that can make him invisible, or as bright as the sun –He wears a flexible star-metal skin, controlled through rays from a distant sun and rendering him indestructible by chemicals, or by electrical or violent force.”

That, and the fact that Stardust the Super Wizard (it’s fun saying the whole name, n’est ce pas?) seems – in the style of Courageous Cat – to have a weapon up his sleeve for any occasion, including a suspending ray, fusing ray, gravity control ray, disintegrating ray, panoramic concentration unit, simplified television unit and the eerily Nietzschian “superiority ray” (also used by Fantomah).
This is heavily weird stuff, and I recommend it highly to fans of all strange things.
Weirder still is the afterword (in comics form) where Karasik tracks down Hanks’ son, who reveals that the artist (the son was unaware that his father had ever drawn comic books) was a psychotic, wife-beating drunk who froze to death on a park bench, sometime in his 90’s (?!?), and oddly enough never worked in comics again after 1941.
Crazy stuff.

Peace
Larry

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PS That’s Stardust the Super Wizard in the logo up on top….

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