Category Archives: Entertainment



Andrew Dice Clay, comedian and patron saint of political incorrectness, plans to re-conquer the comedy world, one show at a time.



(click for larger version)



February 23, 2012

In a meteoric career rise, Andrew Dice Clay parlayed a 1988 show-stealing performance on a televised Rodney Dangerfield special into sold-out tours of arenas across the country. A short two years later, he became the only comic to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights consecutively, an accomplishment he remains very proud of to this day. That was also the year that “Saturday Night Live” cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O’Connor refused to appear on the show the night Clay hosted the program. Dice’s popularity reached rock-star proportions, but also attracted criticism that his act was misogynistic, racist, and homophobic. TV appearances and a feature film followed, but his popularity began to ebb several years later. His newfound status was not something he handled gracefully. He would sometimes threaten to walk out of an interview, as he did on CNN in 2003, when asked about his career going downhill and about his alleged job managing a gym. Dice responded angrily, “This is ridiculous. I come on CNN and the guy doesn’t even know what he’s talkin’ about . . . Jesus f***ing Christ! Every time I do an interview, a guy wants to open his mouth. Can’t even do a little f***in’ routine here. You know what? Go f*** yourself. Go f*** the whole f***in’ network!” as he stormed off the set. (Visit to check out the fun.)

In recent years, Clay has appeared frequently on the Howard Stern radio show and in a cameo role on HBO’s “Entourage” in 2011, all of which has led to his latest comedy tour. We reached Dice recently for a few comments in advance of his Birmingham show.

Black & White: During the 1990 Madison Square Garden sold out shows, I’ve never seen a comic who had the audience in the palm of his hand like you did. They were reciting the jokes word for word.
Playin’ the arenas was really exciting and overwhelming at the same time. The Garden was great, but compared to other shows at other arenas, it was even calm. I sold out every major arena. I did that for about five years. The Garden is the most famous, but in Chicago, I sold [the arena] out five times. I mean, I used to go into these places and do 60,000–80,000 a people a weekend.

It has been rumored that, in the early stages of your career, some comedy clubs called the police to have you arrested.
Not in the clubs, but when I was doing the arenas—I’ll never forget—when I came to Cleveland, Ohio, and all of a sudden, my dressing room was just full of police laying down the law to me, [saying] “If anybody complains, you’re goin’ to jail.” I go, “Well, aren’t these all fans comin’ to see what I do? You tell me what you don’t want me to say, and I won’t say it. As long as I step on that stage, I collect my check.” I was like, what year are we living in?

Do you foresee a return to your heyday?
Well, no, but things are really starting to escalate again. After the success of “Entourage,” I packed a Brooklyn ball park—on a rainy 40-degree night. It was amazing. I am preparing to do a New Year’s Eve special for Showtime. That special will absolutely, hands down, show why I call myself the Undisputed King of Comedy. I mean, I will leave no doubt as to who is the rock star comic in this world. You know, it’s what I do and it’s what I’m great at.

Some people are O.K. at their jobs, but I’m a one-of-a-kind performer. When you call yourself [the Undisputed King of Comedy], and with what I’ve done in the past, it’s almost like a heavyweight fighter getting in the ring one more time. I always had this thing about never giving up, proving what you’re made out of, and my career has been a bumpy road. I’ve had awful marriages and because of that, I raised my own kids. And that’s beautiful. I had to back off for a decade as far as career moves because I had to raise them—which I wouldn’t change for the world—but now it’s time to prove that I’m the champion again.

So, I’m already in rehearsal. Every night I go on stage, every word means every thing to me. You know, a lot of comedians, they just don’t understand. They all want to be big superstars, but they don’t understand what it really takes to thrill the world. That’s why I always study rock stars, not comedians. Comedians, most of ‘em, they know nothing about performance. That’s why it gets boring when you watch a comic after five minutes. I studied all that stuff; it’s what I was about growing up. It was about everybody from Elvis to Led Zeppelin to Sly Stallone to John Travolta to James Dean to Muhammad Ali to Joe Namath—gigantic personalities.

They knew how to thrill the world. Not just with what they were capable of doing in the ring or on the football field, but also the way they would speak to the public. It came naturally, you know what I mean? There’s a million comics trying to be what Dice is, but this is what God gave me to do, this is my gift. &

Andrew Dice Clay is appearing at the Stardome Comedy Club on Tuesday, February 28, 6:30 p.m. Tickets and information: (205) 444-0008 or visit

America’s Girl Singer — APT airs the story of vocalist Rosemary Clooney

America’s Girl Singer

APT airs the story of vocalist Rosemary Clooney.

“She could find the center of a note and just nail it,” Frank Sinatra remarked of legendary singer Rosemary Clooney. Clooney’s wondrous ability to seduce an audience with pop standards from the classic American songbook is documented in the PBS special “Rosemary Clooney: Girl Singer,” narrated by Carol Burnett. Performances on the program are drawn from Clooney’s 1956-57 weekly television series, where her stunning good looks and deep, rich vocals cast a spell as she vamped her way into living rooms across the country.

The PBS special, “Rosemay Clooney: Girl Singer,” will feature performances from Clooney’s 1956-57 weekly television series. (click for larger version)

Rosemary Clooney’s first number one hit was a song she absolutely detested—”Come On-a My House,” written by Ross Bagdasarian, who later created a cartoon combo called Alvin and the Chipmunks under the moniker David Seville. Clooney initially balked at singing the song because of its novelty nature, but when threatened with cancellation of her recording contract, she readily complied.

Clooney’s devotion to family is lovingly detailed in “Girl Singer,” with numerous testimonies from her five children, brother Nick, and famed nephew, actor George Clooney. “When she was at her best was in a cabaret,” remembers her nephew. “She’d be standing up, leaning against a piano singing some phenomenal song, and everybody would fall in love with her . . . She brought sadness but not despair.” He added that she once told him that her secret was to always sing a sad song with a smile on her face. Clooney purchased the house where Ira and George Gershwin wrote their final song together, a home her children fondly remember for impromptu rehearsals around the living room piano. Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole often joined Clooney in song until sunrise.

Irving Berlin’s 1954 classic holiday film White Christmas introduced Rosemary Clooney’s exceptional beauty and remarkable acting prowess to the world. Her duets with costar Bing Crosby on “Counting My Blessings” and, of course, the title track became as essential to Christmas as mistletoe. Unfortunately, her acting roles were few. She won an Emmy in 1997 playing an Alzheimer’s patient opposite nephew George on “ER.”

Clooney got hooked on prescription medication for depression after her first divorce from actor Jose Ferrer in 1960, a marriage that produced five children in five years. She divorced Ferrer a second time in 1967, then witnessed the assassination of Robert Kennedy a year later while standing only a few feet from the 1968 presidential candidate. Clooney spiraled into a nervous breakdown soon thereafter, eventually checking into a psychiatric hospital. A 1976 tour with Bing Crosby to celebrate Crosby’s 50 years in showbiz launched a career singing jazz that blossomed until her death in 2002.

As the “ultimate girl singer,” Clooney left a legacy that will be difficult to match. Among the musical gems showcased in “Rosemary Clooney: Girl Singer” are “My Blue Heaven,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Come On-a My House,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and a dozen others. Nick Clooney summed up his sister’s musical flair: “When you hear her voice, we hear not the way we were but the way we wanted to be.” “Rosemary Clooney: Girl Singer” will be broadcast Saturday, March 13, at 5:30 p.m. on Alabama Public Television. &

Game Show Boss

Game Show Boss

Game Show Night host Barb Barker wields a potholder.

February 17, 2011

“I like questions, that’s why I became a game show host,” deadpans Birmingham’s supreme contest show host, Barb Barker. For the past year Barker has been the MC of Game Show Night at local bars, restaurants, and coffeehouses. Described as “cheesy but brilliant” by observers, most of her contests are based on popular TV game shows from the 1960s and ’70s. “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” is inspired by the 1960s-era show “To Tell the Truth,” when they would have somebody with an interesting story, “maybe somebody who walks barefoot from Canada to Mexico or somebody who made Evel Knievel costumes,” Barker explains. “Somebody not famous who had an interesting story.” Her version of the game, like the original, includes one person telling the truth and two impostors. Contestants must guess who is telling the true story. “Generally, I ask questions [of possible would-be mystery guests] like, ‘What’s the most interesting or creative thing about you or that you’ve ever done?’ I had a guy with a third nipple, but it was kind of disappointing, because we had the guy reveal it to us at the end. And it was a niplet, it wasn’t even a full-grown nipple.”

Barker’s contests rarely include trivia. “That’s already been done. There’s trivia anywhere if you want to find it. Trivia is too much like taking SAT tests, so it’s not something that entertains me. All my games are social, creative, and intuitive.” She does admit that she would probably enjoy administering SAT tests. “I do have the Guinness Game, which is the closest that my Game Show Night comes to trivia, but it’s trivia that nobody would ever possibly know, usually stuff from the Guinness Book of World Records, like, ‘How many milk crates did Sam Bartholowmule of Dubuque, Iowa, balance on his head in 1973?’ People guess 7 or 700 or 12. That’s a warmup game so that you don’t pull a creative hamstring when the real games begin.” Prizes include paid-off bar tabs, restaurant gift certificates, or “a bottle of something.”

Game Show Night host Barb Barker wields a potholder. (click for larger version)




Barker got her start as a performer of sorts years ago selling advice on the streets of Seattle for a nickel, similar to Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip. “We were on a very well-traveled pedestrian sidewalk,” she reminisces. “My crew and I became very famous in that very select subgroup out there. It was really helpful for me because for everybody who would come up for advice, you’d sort of put a little show on for them. So that was kind of my training.”

Barker’s Crazy Commercial Competition game is based on the Home Shopping Network. Contestants are given one of two dozen odd items, which they must tout with relentless enthusiasm and creativity. The contest Human Scrabble involves competitors grabbing a Scrabble tile from a bag. “Each person is a letter,” explains Barker.”If you are an ‘H,’ you would write the letter on a large piece of paper and form coalitions with other people that have letters that you could form a word with, and the group with the longest word is the winner.”

Among the most popular segments of Game Show Night is Game Shows for Drunk People. “Tactile Tummy is really funny. I have about 20 different items and you have a guy who is blindfolded and you have three girls. Each girl will rub a different item on the guy’s tummy and when he guesses the correct item, he wins a point and the girl wins a point. The items might include a hairbrush, a calculator, a clothespin,” says Barker. “It’s really just an excuse to have girls touch guys’ naked stomachs. I also have Drunk People Make Noise. Each contestant has to come up with a unique sound and the conductor plays the people by touching the person’s hand and you have to keep making the sound as long as your hand is being touched. It’s sort of an ‘American Idol’–style competition of whose songs do you like the best. . . . The reason Game Shows for Drunk People came up is because the first few shows I did, toward the end of the night people weren’t paying any attention because they were drunk. So I sort of shortened the show a little bit and have the option of Game Shows for Drunk People, which are much simpler, easier games to play. I start about seven and end around nine, and by the time I end people are happy but not stupid drunk. It can be played by those who are stone-cold sober or you can play it blind drunk.” Barb Barker hosts Game Show Night at Crestwood Tavern (5500 Crestwood Boulevard, 510-0053) on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. and at Rojo (2921 Highland Avenue, 328-4733) the third Sunday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m. Details: &


Same Ol’ Song and Dance

Same Ol’ Song and Dance

The BJCC is forging ahead with a second try at an entertainment district.


February 03, 2011

Nearly two years after developer John Elkington of Performa Entertainment made the last of several unfulfilled promises to put restaurants and other retail businesses in The Forge—an entertainment district adjacent to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex downtown that never came to fruition—the BJCC’s board of directors is pursuing similar grand visions. At the board’s January 19 meeting, interim BJCC Executive Director Tad Snider announced that a Request for Quotations (RFQ) will be issued to prospective developers interested in securing businesses to lease space in the newly proposed entertainment area, to be called Marketplace. Snider said he hopes the board will select a developer by March.

The entertainment district is part of a $70 million complex that will include a 300-room Westin Hotel next to the Southeastern Conference headquarters near the Civic Center. Famous names such as comedian Jeff Foxworthy and local “American Idol” stars Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard had previously been mentioned as possible tenants operating bars and restaurants in the district. Snider said the city was still interested in such “high-profile” tenants. “We’ve got the tenant role that was developed for the entertainment district under Performa, when it was going to be The Forge,” Snider said after the board meeting. “And we’re going to pursue all these different venues that were identified [back then], potential lease holders.” No announcements have been made yet about lessees for Marketplace.

On Monday, January, 24, BJCC officials held a groundbreaking ceremony on the Marketplace site. Ruben Studdard attended and promised to stage a marathon race (starting and ending at the Railroad Park) after the entertainment project is complete. He did not mention if he was still interested in opening a club, however. Mayor William Bell noted that the district will bring “world-class entertainment” downtown when he introduced Studdard as an example of the city’s homegrown musical talent. The mayor also touted the city’s ability to attract a quality hotel. “Westin don’t build shacks. They build quality hotels,” Bell said at the groundbreaking, which took place at Richard Arrington Boulevard and 22nd Street North. The entertainment district will be developed next to the hotel on Arrington Boulevard, extending to 24th Street North, and it is scheduled to open in October 2012. Under the current plan the city will lease the land from the BJCC, which will eventually retain ownership of the acreage.

Birmingham’s flirtation with original developer Elkington devolved into a perpetual guessing game regarding the status of The Forge. Some on the board began to doubt that the developer could deliver. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement about this,” former Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said in October 2008 while serving on the board, calling the proposed tenants “ambiguous,” adding that “quality” tenants must be found. Performa, based in Memphis, was hired to create the development in April 2007. Construction had been scheduled to begin in late 2007, according to the developer’s initial reports.

Despite telling the board in 2008 that 80 percent of the space had been preleased, Elkington later admitted that he faced difficulty securing tenants due to the economic climate. “If we were leasing to Applebee’s, or Publix, it would be a different situation,” he told the BJCC board in September 2008. These are tough times.” Elkington once admitted, “We’re gonna make it, or we’ll have a lot of explaining to do.” Performa projects in Jackson, Mississippi, Shreveport, Louisiana, and Trenton, New Jersey, also ran into obstacles amid much criticism about lack of progress. By April 2009, Elkington was still on board with the development but had changed his mind about building on BJCC-owned land. One month later, Performa’s contract with the BJCC expired.

When asked if the city had any guarantees that the next developer would be a wise steward of the taxpayer dollars that will fund the project, Snider said, “The Commercial Development Authority through the city has the agreement with the developer for the hotel. So they have those safeguards built into that agreement, that the developer’s going to deliver the hotel—on time, on budget, as promised.” When asked to comment on why Performa failed to deliver on its promises, Snider said, “Primarily, while [Elkington] was trying to finalize financing, the economy was beginning to deteriorate. And even though he had a significant component of the space preleased, he still was not able to get the last bit of financing. So…he had to secure all the financing, but he was just not able to quite close out before the economy melted down.” The question remains, however, whether the next entity chosen to fill a BJCC-adjacent entertainment district won’t face the same challenges. &

Bill Cosby, Himself

Bill Cosby, Himself

Cosby discusses turning the other cheek to hecklers and why he resisted the temptation to use profanity in his act.


January 20, 2011

When comedian Bill Cosby answers the phone, his response to a reporter’s greeting of “Mr. Cosby?” for verification, is a playful grumble: “No! This is George Roofles!” before breaking into his slow, wiseass Cosby chuckle: “Heh, heh, heh!” One is never quite sure when Cosby is being playful and when he is genuinely irritated. He speaks in a deliberate cadence he has made his own, slightly stretching out some syllables when not pausing between every other word to get his point across. Cosby is not the easiest person with whom to hold a conversation, but thankfully he answers with engaging, thoughtful responses. When asked if he has ever dealt with hecklers, he simply replies, “Yeah, yeah.” As I waited several seconds for him to elaborate, he suddenly interjects, “There are two of us talking here, so you’re going to have to say something. You asked me about the hecklers, The answer is ‘Yes.’ What do you want to know?” Wow, I was being reprimanded by “the Coz.” Bill Cosby will appear at the BJCC Concert Hall on Saturday, February 5, at 8 p.m. Tickets: $25–$65. Details:, 458-8400.

Black & White: Tell me about the early days when you were a struggling comic.
Cosby: I decided to leave Temple University and to go out for a year to test and see what would happen to me. I got favorable reviews from people who had seen me in different venues around the city of Philadelphia. So I went up to this club at 116 MacDougal Street [in Greenwich Village] called the Gaslight, which had a reputation for having classy entertainment and folk music. In those days there was no comedy club. Plus, there was no profanity. Dick Gregory had come along, it was about 1963. This booker for what they called Negro comics was there. So I brought my storytelling and auditioned and the guy said, “Well, you’re a little raw, but we’ll hire you.” I don’t know that I even had a day off, and I got $60 a week. I want you know that I’m the first old person to say, “And that was not a lot of money!” You hear a lot of old people go, “And that was a lot of money in those days.” Noooooo! By the time I cleaned up that room they gave me—which I’m very thankful for—I had spent close to $60 on mops and stuff to clean and make it look good. I showered without a shower. I used the restroom at the club to take a bath. I started at eight o’clock at night and worked ’til four in the morning, working between the folk singers.

(click for larger version)

How did you deal with hecklers?
After being upset with people, I just decided to go in another direction and not fool with them. Because, you get angry with these people and you start a vocal argument. And many times, for some weird reason, the audience sees you become angry and after a while it has changed the aura in the room. It’s difficult for you to get back to the image that you’re a fun person, even though it wasn’t your fault. But then again, it was your fault because it’s also the entertainer’s job not to lose it. I’ll give you an example. I was at Lake Tahoe in the late ’60s. I already had the mindset that when people wanted to interrupt to say things, the first thing is to understand what they are saying, and then respond as if you were really interested in what a person was saying. When you listen to that, many times if you stay linear with it, you can get rid of ‘em post haste. So I walked out onstage, had on a brown leather suit, and the shoes I had on were high-tops and had sort of like a dark brown mustard color. It was a midnight show, so the people have a chance to medicate themselves with alcohol. The room holds 750—Harrahs, Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. And a woman’s voice shouted out, “I hate those shoes!” And because of the way I think—which is not to challenge, not to beat up the person but to understand what the person has just said and to remain linear—I said, “Madame, you are very, very fortunate, because these shoes will not be performing.” And, man, I never heard from her again.

Were you ever tempted to work as a blue act?
Sure. There was a time when Richard Pryor’s popularity kicked in strong, and there really was a feeling from me—not that I wanted to use profanity—but it just seemed like this was due to Richard’s sales and the publicity. . . . Hey man, it’s a matter of sort of “keeping up with the Pryors.” I was at the Las Vegas Hilton, and it had been on my mind for some time. But I had rejected it because I just always felt I didn’t want it. That particular night I went into a story about my father, and I gave my father the profanity while addressing me. I think I did it for about two or three minutes, which is a long time. The next day, Barron Hilton called the owner of the hotel in Las Vegas. Barron never bothered me, and I was drawing strong, so . . . He said, “Bill, I just want you to read something. And you just do what you want with it.” It was a letter from six nuns who had seen that show. And they very nicely said that they were disappointed that a fellow they felt comfortable with had disappointed them with the use of the profanity. They didn’t ask for their money back, they didn’t say they walked out, but they just felt that they respected this fellow, Mr. Cosby, so much and he really and truly did not need to go in the direction of this, the [foul] language was unnecessary. Then they wished me the best. That was the day . . . that was it. I wasn’t too happy anyway, so the letter just helped close the book on that. And for my not embracing it [working blue], I have been able to turn over volumes of thoughts and write about them and turn them into modernist routines.

When “I Spy” came out, there was a fear that some network affiliate stations wouldn’t carry the show.
It wasn’t only a fear, it was a reality. Television, in those days, people blamed everything on the South. But they were using the South as a reasonable excuse to do what they wanted with their racist thoughts. The beauty of “I Spy” was that even though there were some stations that had people threatening to pull their commercials because of the presence of this actor—this black man—it didn’t have much strength. But I would not be surprised that there were some stations that did put on something else.

How did your life change after the success of “I Spy”?
NBC allowed me to have my own show, “Chet Kincaid,” which lasted two years. Then I had one-hour variety shows with my variety specials, so the change was just tremendous, the acceptance. I think in 1971, I had four LPs on Billboard’s charts. I had four comedy albums in the Top 10 because radio stations were playing them then. So there you can see the strength, the popularity.

Was there any subject matter you wanted to cover on “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” but didn’t feel comfortable approaching?
No, and when you look at the box set of Fat Albert shows, you just look at the titles and see how far ahead that show still is on subject matter.

Which of your television shows had the greatest impact on society?
If you play “Chet Kincaid,” there’s a ton of stuff there, a ton. If you play “I Spy,” you look at it. But people keep saying that I’m the Jackie Robinson of television. And I always say to them, “Well, if I’m the Jackie Robinson, then Robert Culp must have been the Pee Wee Reese and the Eddie Stanky [Robinson's teammates].” We went all around. We went to Mexico, we brought Mexican people into your living room. We brought Japanese, Chinese, and Korean people into your living room because we traveled around the world. We brought Greek people, Italian people into your living room, Spanish people into your living room, English people. So, “I Spy” just wasn’t a black man and a white man, it was all around the world. &


The One-Time King of Local Country Music

The One-Time King of Local Country Music

Country Boy Eddy reflects on a lifetime of making music, pitching products, and just plain fiddlin’ around.

By Ed Reynolds

write the author

December 23, 2010

For 38 years, many in the Birmingham area started most days with the startling sound of a man braying like a mule on their TV sets. “I used to could really do the mule call before I had my teeth fixed. It messed my whistle up some way,” says Eddy Burns as he demonstrates his mule call in a Jack’s Hamburgers in Warrior on a recent weekday morning. “Hee-haaaaw, hee-haaaaaw! People loved that, and then I’d ring the cowbell.” Better known as Country Boy Eddy, Burns is Birmingham’s most memorable media icon.

“The Country Boy Eddy Show” ran from 5 to 7 each weekday morning on WBRC Channel 6. Probably best described as a hillbilly variety show, its audience was a diverse collection of famers, businessmen, housewives, and kids (I recall watching the show in Selma, as Channel 6 was one of only two stations we received in the early 1960s. As a six-year-old, I remember being intrigued—and often scared—of Eddy’s heavy eyebrows and loud, rhythmic, vocal punctuations when he pitched advertisers’ products.) Eddy played fiddle or guitar and sang with his band, though it was his homespun quips for sponsors for which he is perhaps best remembered.

“Most of the time I usually just had a business card when I’d do a commercial (instead of a script). But I could remember what I was supposed to talk about.” He explains. “I’d play my guitar and sing, then go, ‘Uh oh, I gotta tell you about these folks. Eagles 7 Rat Bait!’ That was a funny commercial. Eagles 7 never gave me any script or any copy. I just read it off the box, what all it did. Then I’d add, ‘If you love your rats, don’t put this out there because it’ll kill the heck out of ‘em.’ And man, we sold lots of Eagles 7 Rat Bait. This guy who owned a chicken farm put out Eagles 7, and he told me he picked up four 50-gallon drums full of rats.”

Country Boy Eddy, Outside ABC affiliate WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama

Country Boy Eddy, Outside ABC affiliate WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama

Country Boy Eddy. (Photo by Mark Gooch.) (click for larger version)







When he wasn’t playing fiddle, Burns had an acoustic guitar in his lap, strumming incessantly as he carried on conversations with guests. He often invented songs on the spot when a guest made a reference to anything that inspired him to sing or that he could turn into something funny. Burns was a natural-born entertainer. One of his more amusing habits was strumming the guitar (not always solemnly, either) as he read funeral announcements.

Burns grew up on the same 200-acre farm near Warrior, Alabama, that he and his wife, Edwina, live on today. He learned to play the fiddle at age 13. “I saw an ad in a magazine that said, ‘Sell a $4 order of Garden Spot Seeds and get this beautiful violin.’ Boy, it was pretty,” he recalls. “[It was from] the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) County Seed Company. I sent off and ordered them seeds, it was 40 packages. I sold them for $4. I bet you I walked a hundred miles trying to sell them seeds to farmers that had cribs full of seeds. I started playing and I think I drove everybody crazy, and my daddy sometime would make me go to the barn.” (Laughs)

One of his first audiences was North Korean soldiers during the Korean War. “I was drafted into the infantry and when I got to Japan, they sent me to psychological warfare school for eight weeks,” Burns says. His unit’s role was similar to that of Tokyo Rose in World War II, the difference being that Burns was helping spread pro-American propaganda. “We broadcast on the front lines. We were set up in a bunker and we had our loudspeakers and our record player. We’d play [Korean] nostalgic music and then the Korean interpreter came in and would do whatever he did. And one night our record player broke down. So I said I’d play a tune on my fiddle. I played them a song I had learned over there, a song called ‘China Nights.’ There was all this mortar fire coming at us and I’d be playing my fiddle in the bunker.” His army buddies had chipped in to purchase Eddy a $20 violin in Seoul.

After the war, Burns played with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and honky-tonk vocalist Webb Pierce, often performing at the Grand Ole Opry. “Bill Monroe had heard me on a tape playing with Roland Johnson [a singer on Decca Records, Johnson was also mayor of Garden City, Alabama, for several years] and he wanted to know who the fiddler was. I drove to Nashville to the Andrew Jackson [Hotel] to audition for Bill Monroe. I did ‘Johnson’s Old Gray Mule’ at about six o’clock in the morning in the hotel room and some of them guys [in Monroe's band] were still in bed (laughs). Bill Monroe said, ‘Boy, that’s all right,’ but I knew it wasn’t the best he’d ever heard, but I got the job.”

“You didn’t make much money playing on the road in those days, so I came back to Birmingham and got married,” he says. Burns soon decided he wanted to work in television. “I started on Channel 13 around ’56.” His first sponsor was Big Hearted Eddie’s Used Cars, which he secured before approaching the station, to convince them give him a midnight show on Saturdays after the station’s studio wrestling matches. “Big Hearted Eddie sold 50 cars the next day [after Country Boy Eddy's first appearance]. Bad credit, good credit didn’t matter, Big Hearted Eddie would trade for anything of value—rifles, mules, cows, or whatever it was. Lots of people traded in shotguns on cars. $95 down would get you any car on the lot. Big Hearted Eddie used to say, ‘We don’t condone bad credit, but we don’t hold it against you either!’” Burns says. “I came on at midnight on Saturday nights after the wrestlin’ matches. We were live, I had four or five musicians and we set up next to the wrestlin’ ring at the TV studio. We were on for half an hour after the wrestlin’ went off. We did that for about two years.” Burns recalls a wrestler who took his fiddle away one night. “One night I had this one wrestler who played the fiddle. He said, ‘Gimme that fiddle!’ I was afraid to take it back away from him because I was afraid he’d throw me in a body slam. He was one of them mean-type wrestlers. I finally had to say, ‘Gimme back my fiddle, please.’”

In 1957, Burns got his morning show, on Channel 6, at the 5 a.m. time slot he would maintain for nearly four decades. “I was working on a percentage basis with the station. I was trying to sell and line up the sponsors and everything. I used to run 15,000 commercials a year, 300 a week. I used to make the calls and sell it to the client,” he explains. From 1961 to 1962, Burns also hosted a TV show in Nashville while still doing his Channel 6 program in Birmingham. “Yeah, I was on in Nashville every morning. When I got off at Channel 6 I’d go to Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, and we’d tape five one-hour shows to run every weekday morning. Dolly Parton was on my show up there before she ever became a star. I had Pat Boone and Eddy Arnold on, too. If I had moved there, I could really have done well. They had big billboards all over Nashville of me and Steve Allen. He was on at night, and I was on in the morning. But I stayed in Birmingham because I had a good deal with Channel 6.”

One morning a timid blond hairdresser from Midfield named Wynette Byrd arrived at the Channel 6 studio for an audition. Burns recalls, “When she finished her song, she asked, ‘How did I do?’ And I said, ‘You did terrific!’ (laughs) She sang on my show for a year or so. I finally told her, ‘You need to be in Nashville. Why don’t you go up there and get on a record, there’s nothing around here like that.’” Wynette Byrd moved to Nashville, changed her name to Tammy Wynette, and soon had back-to-back hits with “Apartment Number 9″ and “Stand by Your Man.”

Burns once interviewed baseball pitching great Dizzy Dean on his Birmingham morning show. “Me and Dizzy Dean sang ‘Wabash Cannonball.” Ol’ Dizzy Dean told me, ‘You ought to be making four or five [thousand dollars] a week.’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t take the cut, Dizzy.” (laughs) He later interviewed Steve Allen. “I don’t know who was funnier, me or him,” he says, laughing. “I was advertising Buffalo Rock and he was sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. We was talking and I was drinking a Buffalo Rock and he was drinking Pepsi, and I asked him, ‘Steve, how you like that Pepsi?’ And he said, ‘Boy I love it.’ So I said, ‘Take a drink of this Buffalo Rock, you’ll really like it.’ He took a swig of it and he said, ‘Boy, that’ll rock a buffalo!’ I also had cowboy actor Chill Wills on, then I had [country music performer and comedian] Smiley Burnette. I had Pat Buttram on [Buttram played Mr. Haney on "Green Acres"]. I had Roger Miller on before he had a big hit. He rode a motor scooter from Nashville down here. We also had Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield on—they were passing through town and were on the show, though I forget what they were promoting, probably some movie or something.”

Country Boy Eddy and his band the Country Cousins played grand openings for several of Birmingham’s retail establishments on weekends. They also played a lounge or two. He laughs as he recalls the night they played a club in the middle of nowhere in south Alabama. “The guy working the door at the club had a chainsaw. I said to Zeke the Hayseed—a comedian that worked on my show who could lick his nose with his tongue—I said, ‘Zeke, we’re in trouble tonight,’” he recalls. “They had a big brawl at the club, a big fight broke out,” Burns says, shaking his head. “So we took that chainsaw and cut a hole in the wall and got out real quick!”

In 1995, Country Boy Eddy performed his final live TV show. Regarding his retirement, Burns notes, “Well, after 38 years I kinda got tired. That old mule that I used to ride from Warrior to the TV station in Birmingham was getting worn out. He got to where he couldn’t make it, he was limpin’ on me.” When asked what he’s been doing since his retirement, he says, “I played nursing homes, played at First Baptist Church every year for their wild game suppers—there’d be 3,000 people there, I’d bring my guitar and sing—and also I played different local deals for people I knew. I raised cattle.”

Burns is a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, located in Tuscumbia, where the set from his Channel 6 show is on display. He turned 80 on December 13. Eddy admits he has slowed some in his twilight years, noting, “I’m still kickin’ high, just not quite as high as I used to.”

To see Country Boy Eddy’s show as it was 22 years ago, tune in to FOX6 at 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, Saturday, December 25, when the station will air a Country Boy Eddy Christmas special.

• • •
Let the Good Times Roll

“Doggone, everybody I knew is dead,” says “Country Boy” Eddy Burns, laughing when pressed for names of those who might share observations about his TV career. This isn’t exactly true; many are still “kickin’ high,” and when questioned about Burns, they all impersonate Country Boy Eddy at some point during the conversation, if only for a few seconds. Eddy Burns affects people that way. He’s the most unique personality in the history of local television, who never met a tale he didn’t like to tell.

Keith Williams was an advertising salesman who worked closely with Burns for 38 years. “Eddy has one tendency—and I’ll tell this right in front of him—he sometimes exaggerates,” says Williams. “He used to say, ‘Well, we had 6,000 people [in attendance at a show].’ He probably had 2,000 people, which was terrific. So anything he tells you, divide it by three and you’ll have it about right.” The 83-year-old Williams continues, “When you got up early in the morning and you wanted to know what was going on in the state of Alabama, there was only one station to tune in to, and that was Channel 6, because the radio stations weren’t on; there was nothing live. Maybe you weren’t really a fan of Country Boy Eddy but you wanted to get the information. And you soon became a fan.”

Allen Tolbert began appearing on “The Country Boy Eddy Show” at age six, playing guitar and mandolin with his father, local bluegrass legend Glenn Tolbert. “Eddy used to call me ‘Little Bill’ after Bill Monroe,” Allen, now 24, says, laughing. “We were always up there having fun, getting a cup of coffee after the show was over. He’s a good entertainer. I look at his business model and the creativity it took to be on in that time slot was a stroke of genius because nobody else wanted it. And he staked it out and made it his own.”

Glenn Tolbert played guitar and sang on the show several days a week from 1981 until 1995. “Eddy usually depended on me to do the bluegrass stuff on the show,” the elder Tolbert recalls. “Everybody else was pretty much into country music. Of course, I like country, but he’d always call on me to do a Bill Monroe song,” explains Tolbert, who says Burns’ perpetual upbeat persona amazed him. “If Eddy felt bad, you’d never really know it. If you met him out in the street somewhere, he acted just as down to earth as he did on TV. There wasn’t anything arrogant about him at all, just a real nice person.”

“Guitar Bill” Smelley performed on Burns’ show from 1983 until 1995. He’s 68 years old and lives in Sylacauga, Alabama. “They call me ‘Guitar Bill,’ but I was more or less a guest singer. I didn’t play much guitar,” says Smelley. “I guess you would say I was an extra. I sang on the program, so he featured me a lot. I was kinda like a sidekick, you know? He’d use me around the station to run errands; go get the newsman, the weatherman, and everything like that—I was a gopher man, I guess,” he says, laughing. “But I enjoyed it. I really hated to see that thing come to an end. I really think a lot of Country Boy, he’s my favorite person. He’s meant a lot to me. I wasn’t all that good. [laughs] All those other folks, they worked so hard to play those instruments and got so good at it. But they kinda envied me, I think, because Eddy liked me.” Guitar Bill understood the importance of staying out of the limelight. “Some guys come on the show and they want to do all the talking,” he says. “But I learned pretty quick to listen to Eddy and he could bring out things about you and your personality and everything that you couldn’t do on your own.”

Guitar Bill penned a Country Boy Eddy favorite: “Jesus Loves You Better Than a Cowboy Loves to Ride.” He currently hosts his own Internet TV program at on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 5 p.m. The introduction to each half-hour program includes Eddy Burns welcoming viewers.

Popular local TV personality Tom York, who retired from WBRC in 1989, first featured Country Boy Eddy and his band on York’s Channel 6 “Morning Show” in 1957. “Very shortly, Eddy got so popular that he got his own show. Mine came on at 7 o’clock and they [put him on] at 6 o’clock,” says the 86-year-old York. “And everybody said, ‘Who wants to watch television at 6 o’clock in the morning?’ But he got a big audience, which I inherited at 7, so therefore I had a bigger audience.”

York remembers Burns as one of the hardest-working people in television, selling his own advertising by personally calling on area businesses. “Eddy had a talent for, number one, playing the fiddle. Number two was just talking to people. He would absolutely assure you that he was very genuinely interested in whatever it is you were doing or selling or whoever you are,” says York. “Eddy made a bit of money, and when somebody asks me, I say, ‘Well, I think he owns the south end of Blount County . . . The big [television] bosses from Cincinnati came to town once and Country Boy described them as ‘tall hogs at the trough.’ They loved it!” &


Dead Folks: Business/World Affairs

Dead Folks: Business/World Affairs

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010Roy Disney
At the time of his death, some of the short obituary entries read: Roy Disney, businessman.

They got that right. The last Disney family member to be involved with company clearly possessed the business acumen—and sheer willpower—to twice rescue the mammoth enterprise from spiraling into financial and creative irrelevance. In the movie industry, Roy is known as “the man who saved Disney.”

Roy Disney (click for larger version)

Roy was prepared for that destiny almost from childhood. His uncle Walt obviously instilled in him an abiding fondness for storytelling through animation. His father, Roy O. Disney, ran the business end of the Walt Disney Company in those early years; fierce and long-lasting disputes between Roy O. and Walt about money revealed to Roy, Jr., that there was much more to the Wonderful World of Disney than just cartoons. He worked for the company during the 1950s and ’60s producing True Life Adventures, an Oscar-winning series of wildlife documentaries that eventually became a staple of Walt Disney’s Sunday night TV program.

After years of producing shorts about injured owls, lonesome cougars, and mischievous raccoons, Roy joined the board of directors when Walt died in 1967. The lackluster production of the 1970s-model Disney company left him with not much to do, so Roy departed, established the Shamrock Holdings investment company, and made several hundred million dollars in real estate deals and corporate raids over the next two decades. Still technically a member of the board, but suddenly no longer dependent on Disney stock holdings for his livelihood, by the early 1980s Roy was a formidable force—aka a billionaire with an opinion. It was his opinion in 1984 that a big change was in order for the Walt Disney Company.

Through some bold corporate maneuvers and a very showy “departure” that rattled shareholders, Roy pushed aside management and installed Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg at the top. This period, known as “the reanimation of Disney,” brought a tide of animated hits, box office bonanzas, retail stores, toys, clothing lines, cable shows, and something called Pixar. Two decades later, when company profits were declining again, Roy noticed that Eisner was cutting corners with new theme park construction, shutting him out of new creative development meetings, and alienating the management at Pixar. Shoving everyone out was more difficult during Roy’s second “Save Disney” campaign, but long story short: Eisner no longer has a Golden Pass, and Pixar/Apple Computer head Steve Jobs is Disney’s largest shareholder. At Roy Disney’s passing, Shamrock Holdings was a $2 billion enterprise. (79, stomach cancer) —David Pelfrey

Oscar G. Mayer, Jr.
The biggest name in wieners died this year, but he wasn’t the first Oscar Mayer to make it big in hot dogs. Oscar F. Mayer started the meatpacking empire that bears the name. He died in 1955 and the company was taken over by Oscar G. Mayer—who passed away in 1965. It was left to Oscar G. Mayer, Jr., to see his name become a memorable commercial jingle. There was a time in the early 1970s when everyone’s baloney had a first name and a last name spelled out by cute kids on national TV. Mayer’s death marked the end of a long retirement, as he left the company after celebrating its first billion-dollar year in 1977. Sadly, no one thought to build an Oscar Mayer Wienerhearse. (95, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Jack Kemp
A self-described “bleeding-heart conservative,” former New York Republican congressman and vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp was a staunch believer in tax cuts and supply-side economic policy who often embraced elements of social liberalism. He was a bit of a pariah in conservative circles for his support of affirmative action and welfare. Kemp’s sensitivity to urban problems prompted the first President Bush to appoint him as chief of Housing and Urban Development.


Jack Kemp (click for larger version)

A former pro quarterback who led the Buffalo Bills to a pair of AFL championships in the 1960s, his camaraderie with black athletes during his playing days was one reason he strongly encouraged the GOP to actively seek support from minorities. As president of the AFL Players Association, he convinced the league to move its 1965 all-star game to Houston after black players threatened to boycott the game in New Orleans following ugly incidents of discrimination. He later claimed that sports steeled him for the harshness of political life. “Pro football gave me a good sense of perspective to enter politics: I’d already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded, and hung in effigy.” Among his favorite memories is going to Red Square in Moscow, where he was amused that the line at a McDonald’s restaurant was longer than the one to see Lenin’s tomb. (73, cancer) —Ed Reynolds


Dead Folks: Film, Part 2

Dead Folks: Film, Part 2

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010

Patrick McGoohan
Though born in New York City, Patrick McGoohan was raised in Ireland, where his acting career established him as one of the new crop of Angry Young Men storming the stage during the 1950s. Any plans to become the next Richard Burton changed when McGoohan became a TV star on the long-running UK series “Danger Man” (repackaged as “Secret Agent” for the American audience). McGoohan then turned that simple career move into high art. After three seasons of “Danger Man,” McGoohan essentially took his spy character and placed him in the ambitious sci-fi setting of “The Prisoner.”

Patrick McGoohan (click for larger version)

McGoohan produced, wrote, directed, and starred in what became one of the 1960s most subversive TV shows. The title character of “The Prisoner” was only known as Number Six. Each episode presented him clashing with a new Number Two, whose job would be to psychologically break Number Six among the trappings of the luxury resort that served as his prison. Before it was over, “The Prisoner” became a brilliant mix of libertarian politics torn between Cold War paranoia and hippie hysteria.

McGoohan worked infrequently after that success. He gave up on television after a frustrating stint as a diagnostic physician in 1977′s “Rafferty.” He fared better on the big screen, with great villainous turns in 1976′s The Silver Streak and against Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. He also appeared in David Cronenberg’s Scanners and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

McGoohan also stayed busy working on the “Columbo” TV movies. He played four murderers and directed other episodes. Unfortunately, McGoohan matched only Sean Connery when it came to bad decisions later in his career. His big-screen genre return was a 1996 cameo in The Phantom, based on the popular comic strip. He turned down roles in The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. McGoohan’s last big appearance was returning as Number Six in an episode of “The Simpsons.” The AMC cable channel aired a remake of “The Prisoner” this year. Some wondered if McGoohan dropped dead because he saw how badly the network screwed up the concept. (80, natural causes)

—J.R. Taylor

Jack Wrangler
In the midst of 1970s porn chic, only one gay porn star was able to go legit. Jack Wrangler—born John Stillman—came from a showbiz family in Beverly Hills, and started out as a child actor. He took roles in gay-themed stage productions as a young man, before moving to New York. He ended up working on the stages of Manhattan’s gay bars as a go-go dancer. That’s when he became Jack Wrangler. He was soon discovered by gay porn filmmakers and made his X-rated debut in 1970′s Eyes of a Stranger. The proudly out star became a regular in fashionable Manhattan hot spots. Wrangler later moved on to heterosexual porn in the late 1970s—his most notorious role remains his turn as Satan in 1982′s The Devil in Miss Jones 2. By then, he had scored a legitimate off-Broadway hit with his role in the popular play “T-Shirts.”

Jack Wrangler (click for larger version)




He was a heavy smoker, but a lot of people were surprised that Wrangler was outlived by his wife. Actually, a lot of people were surprised that he had a wife. He had first met Margaret Whiting in 1976. That was several decades after her heyday as a popular singer.

Wrangler went on to promote Whiting’s career and ended up as a busy producer on the cabaret circuit. The couple married in 1994, and raised eyebrows one last time in 1998 when they sued the city of New York for $3 million after Whiting (then 74 years old) broke her hip after tripping on broken pavement. The lawsuit included a $1 million claim over the loss of conjugal relations. (62, emphysema) —J.R.T.

Ray Dennis Steckler
One of Hollywood’s worst directors had a promising start. Ray Dennis Steckler made his directorial debut with 1962′s Wild Guitar, which is actually a stylish—and inept—tale of the rise and fall of a young rockabilly star. The nebbishy Steckler then wrote a role for himself (starring under the name of Cash Flagg) as Mort “Mad Dog” Click in 1964′s The Thrill Killers. Steckler also used his pseudonym to direct himself in that same year’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? The title alone made it an instant cult classic. The film became notorious as a touring show that featured real monsters running through the theater and abducting girls from the audience.

Ray Dennis Stecker’s most famous film. (click for larger version)

Steckler never got a chance at a decent script, though, and his reputation went downhill while making notoriously cheap films like the “Batman” parody Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and directing porn in the 1970s.

He made X-rated films up to 1983, and then began to enjoy some notoriety as his earlier films were discovered on VHS. The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher (1979) plays more like a nihilistic wallow on the level of Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer. Steckler had moved to Vegas by the end of the ’70s, which makes The Hollywood Strangler equally impressive as a travelogue of that city’s sleaziest ’70s settings.

Steckler was happy to be rediscovered and had a pretty good attitude about his career. He was still right to be angry when one of his movies showed up as fodder for an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Nothing really came of his attempted comeback with 1986′s Las Vegas Serial Killer, but he seemed happy to concentrate on his own Las Vegas chain of video stores.

John Quade

Sadly, the director never pursued his idea of reuniting with cast members from his old films to make Steckler’s 11. He did, however, reportedly finish shooting The Incredibly Strange Creatures: One More Time before his death—and for one-tenth of the original film’s $38,000 budget. (70, cardiac arrest) —J.R.T.

John Quade
From the 1960s until just recently, Quade’s mere physical presence made him a first choice for the role of a heavy in any TV series or motion picture requiring an ill-tempered troll. A thick, balding head (sans neck), slits for eyes, and the torso of a young bull combined to suggest an inevitable encounter with menace and mayhem. Yet in dozens of westerns or crime thrillers, something about Quade’s demeanor hinted that he fell squarely into two bad-guy categories: mean and stupid. While one easily imagines him ambling out of a saloon and crossing the street so he can pummel some victim into dust, one just as easily suspects that Quade will forget why he bothered to cross that street once he reaches the other side. Therefore he represented, in most of his roles as a corrupt lawman, renegade biker, or frontier bully, a kind of dangerous nuisance as opposed to a deadly threat. That’s Quade in High Plains Drifter, Any Which Way You Can, and similar fare attempting to open a can of whoop-ass, but ultimately making Clint Eastwood’s day. (71, natural causes) —D.P.

David Carradine

David Carradine
The star of the 1970s drama “Kung Fu” enjoyed a few legitimate screen roles, including Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg and an Oscar-nominated turn as Woody Guthrie in 1976′s Bound for Glory. There were also plenty of classic drive-in epics, from Boxcar Bertha to Death Race 2000. He was always one of Hollywood’s wildest eccentrics, constantly going barefoot and eager to discuss eating the placenta of the child he had with Barbara Hershey in 1972. (That was back when his Boxcar Bertha co-star called herself Barbara Seagull after hitting a seagull with her car.)

His brother Keith went on to the classier acting career, while Robert Carradine got the Revenge of the Nerds franchise. Carradine spent the 1980s and ’90s making tons of direct-to-video schlock with the occasional classy role—including the classic monster movie Q and working with his brothers in The Long Riders. He also spent 10 years working as the writer, director, and star of Americana. That one is a real lost gem worthy of directors like Monte Hellman and David Lynch.

Carradine also kept the Kung Fu franchise going by playing his own ancestor in a long-running syndicated series. He made a true comeback replacing Warren Beatty in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. That didn’t stop Carradine from going right back to making schlock—including the Bangkok-set actioner he was filming when found dead in the closet of his hotel room.

The initial reports of suicide were later clarified as autoerotic asphyxiation. That was certainly in keeping with Carradine’s kinky reputation. The indulgent actor left Los Angeles with something to remember. A few months before his death, Carradine participated in a panel discussion after a screening of Bound for Glory. He complained about the evils off labor unions, threw a microphone at a woman in the audience, and berated cinematographer Haskell Wexler for ruining the movie. Wexler won his second Oscar for his work on Bound for Glory. (72, autoerotic asphyxiation) —J.R.T.

Gene Barry
A handsome leading man in some very minor films and two popular TV series, Barry might have been a bigger star if not for an accident of birth. He did have a starring role in one “A” picture. Playing Dr. Clayton Forrester in the 1953 science-fiction epic The War of the Worlds, Barry sported tortoise-shell horn-rim glasses and a debonair swagger. Forrester provided nerds and science geeks everywhere with the best possible pick-up line: when his fetching female co-star mentions the glasses, he removes them, moves into her space, and intones, “When I want look at something up close, I take them off.”

Gale Storm (click for larger version)

By the time he took a starring role in the TV western “Bat Masterson,” Barry was older—and looking older—than most of his peers who were holding positions as ladies’ men. The detective series “Burke’s Law” had him gadding about Los Angeles in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, solving crimes and turning away eager dames. The show’s bevy of willing babes and surprisingly frank sexual content were intended to maximize Barry’s potential as a major swankster. But in 1965, he looked like the much older brother of Hollywood’s most dashing lads. (90, natural causes) —D.P.

Gale Storm
The filmography of Gale Storm ends like you would expect from an aging star of the 1950s. Her final credits were “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote.” Storm was no typical starlet, though. The former Josephine Cottle spent the 1940s making lots of banal films for RKO Pictures. Things suddenly turned around with the unexpected success of the TV show “My Little Margie.” She was 30 years old when the summer replacement for “I Love Lucy” became a hit in 1952. That was ancient by Hollywood standards, but Storm launched a new career as a hit singer and nightclub act—and followed up “My Little Margie” with “The Gale Storm Show,” which kept her on the air until 1960. (87, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Charles Schneer
Serving in the U.S. Army Photographic Unit during WWII alongside John Ford and John Huston, Schneer got a big case of the movie bug and headed to Hollywood after the war. In the mid-1950s, he joined Columbia Pictures and hooked up with Ray Harryhausen, who had learned a few things about stop-motion animation from the experts who had made King Kong. This was especially appealing for Schneer, who was obsessed with the kind of science-fiction and adventure stories known in the movie industry at that time as “creature features.” Harryhausen was already figuring out how to make those creatures come to life, and Schneer knew how to manage a production unit. It was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

Shooting scale-model monsters on miniature sets (one frame at a time) requires an intimidating amount of time and money, and Columbia Pictures was rarely the studio for big budgets. It was Schneer’s particular genius to find the means to make those pictures anyway. For the duo’s first feature film, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Schneer determined that a giant octopus with only six tentacles would take less time for Harryhausen to pose and shoot than would an anatomically correct cephalopod. He correctly gambled that audiences stunned by the sight of a sea creature tearing out portions of the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn’t take time to count tentacles.

A genre was spawned, aided by Schneer’s youthful fascination with H-bomb tests, UFOs, and any story in the newspapers covering a strange new phenomenon. His collection of clippings was the impetus for low-budget, high-impact wonders such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth. Nontheless, it occurred rather quickly to both Schneer and Harryhausen that alien invaders and radiation-enhanced creatures were tired subjects by the end of that decade. Maybe they could bring a little class to the joint by making pictures about the original gods and monsters of Roman and Greek mythology.

The idea resulted in a second genre of pictures, coinciding with—and borrowing from—the sword-and-sandal epics being made in Europe. Using Mediterranean locations, Bernard Herrmann’s rousing, brassy scores, and Harryhausen’s visual effects system “Dynamation,” Schneer provided three generations of moviegoers with a series of indelible images. Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, and others each offer at least one unforgettable moment. The sword battle with that skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts might be the Schneer/Harryhausen masterwork. (89) —D.P.

Maurice Jarre
A list of the most recognizable motion picture scores would probably include Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, John Williams’ scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Nino Rota’s The Godfather. Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther and John Barry’s score for Goldfinger also make the cut. In all likelihood, Maurice Jarre’s compositions for Dr. Zhivago

(specifically “Lara’s Theme”) will appear in any survey of the most recognizable soundtracks in motion picture history; Dr. Zhivago might even belong in the top five.

Jarre himself might belong on another list: the top 10 hardest working composers in show business. He was meeting impossible challenges early in his career and simply never let up. When producer Sam Spiegel called on Jarre to provide incidental music for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, the plan was to have heavyweights Benjamin Britten and Aram Khachaturian handle all the theme music. The studio then settled on yet another major composer, Richard Rodgers, but the notoriously picky Lean was not satisfied with anything he heard. The entire score was left up to Jarre, who had less than 40 days to compose themes, arrange the score, rehearse with an orchestra, and then conduct that orchestra to synchronize all music tracks with the film. That score, which employed Arabian music for certain motifs, earned Jarre his first of three Oscars. Lean insisted that Jarre work on his next film, Dr. Zhivago, but again the composer was left with the daunting task of crafting a theme and an entire score within a limited schedule. And again, he earned an Academy Award.

His body of work isn’t all lush symphonic music and chart-busting themes. There is often restraint and ingenuity in the orchestration, especially when he is conveying human emotions or signifying key charactters. Witness the off-kilter strains used to suggest madness in Night of the Generals, The Collector, or most ingeniously in George Franju’s horror cult classic Les Yeux Sans Visage. Indeed, there are numerous instances in his career where Jarre’s music outclasses—and out-entertains—the picture itself, certainly in the case of some forgettable westerns. His early scores for Franju, along with those for several French films made before Jarre came to the United States, are essential listening. Highly recommended is a very rare boxed set of Jarre’s early work, “Anthologie-80ème Anniversaire,” released by the French label Play Time in 2005. (84, cancer) —D.P.

Brittany Murphy
A lot of people were shocked when Brittany Murphy died young. Those people hadn’t been following her film career. The former child actress broke big in her late teens, starting with her role as a girl in need of a makeover in 1995′s Clueless. Her next film was the bizarre indie classic Freeway, and Murphy closed out the 1990s with Girl, Interrupted and Drop Dead Gorgeous. The latter was an underseen comedy that still catapulted Murphy into lead roles. She made some bad romantic comedies in the next decade, but Murphy did fine work in 8 Mile and Sin City. She also kept her day job as the voice of trashy Texan girl Luanne Platter on the FOX animated series “King of the Hill.”

By the mid-2000s, though, Murphy was in trouble. Lindsay Lohan made the headlines, but Murphy was going through a similar celebrity meltdown. Her erratic behavior soon had her reduced to crappy direct-to-video productions. Murphy hit rock bottom with 2009′s MegaFault. The disaster movie debuted on the SyFy Channel in a slot usually reserved for films starring Judd Nelson and Coolio.

The biggest project Murphy had going was the upcoming action film The Expendables. She doesn’t star in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle, though. She is part of a kitschy cast featuring faded stars like Eric Roberts and Dolph Lundgren. Sadly, Murphy didn’t leave much to be rediscovered at the end of her career. She had ruined her looks with plastic surgery, and her eyes were as dead as any veteran porn star’s. Plenty of pills were found in her home. Murphy’s husband and her mother, however, insist that their meal ticket didn’t do drugs. They say she died of a heart murmur. “It was hard for anyone to imagine that somebody was so high on life,” explained Mom. She got that right. (32, cardiac arrest, officially) —J.R.T.

Dead Folks: Music

Dead Folks: Music

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.


January 21, 2010

Lux Interior
Since Cramps singer Lux Interior’s cause of death at age 62 was listed as a preexisting heart condition, anyone who saw Lux in action will forever wonder how he made it past 40. In that context, it’s tempting to paraphrase one of the Cramps’ signature cover tunes, “Rockin’ Bones”: his bones will keep a rockin’ long after he’s gone. That’s superfluous, however, because Lux Interior, front man for legendary rockabilly band The Cramps, was a real gone guy from day one.

Lux Interior (click for larger version)

For decades, writers have attempted to capture the essence of Lux, calling him “the high priest of a pagan rockabilly cult,” or “the maddest bad daddy of all the bad, mad daddies.” He was the mayor of Wig City, Maximum Utmost, USA, a shockabilly shaman of the shimmy and shake, or, as the liner notes to The Cramps’ Gravest Hits intones: “Elvis gets crossed with Vincent Price and decent folks ask, ‘What hath God wrought?’” At the time of his death, all the squares in the major media were making the rather desultory observation that Lux Interior sang rock and roll. They somehow missed the plain fact that he was rock and roll.

No one left it all out there on the stage like Lux. Not James Brown, or Iggy Pop, or Mick Jagger, or Jerry Lee Lewis. The show was the thing, but it was all just a way of losing his mind, that being the ultimate result of finding that new kind of kick Lux had been searching for since his early teen years in Ohio. For most of his life and career Lux Interior was rummaging through the nation’s collective garbage can (trash culture), salvaging elements of American music and reconstructing from the heap what he called “bad music for bad people.” For a complete obituary, see “Lux Interior R.I.P.” at (62, aortic dissection) —D.P.

Ron Asheton
After The Stooges broke up in 1971, Iggy Pop went to Florida and mowed lawns for a living. Ron Asheton hung around Detroit and played in a few more pioneering punk bands. It took a few years before people began to think of The Stooges as one of the great rock bands of all time. Iggy cashed in on the band’s reputation, but he spent his career trying to replicate the primitive rock riffs that Asheton came up with for songs like “T.V. Eye,” “No Fun,” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Asheton even became a legendary guitarist despite switching to bass after the band’s first two albums. (That move made him part of a brotherly rhythm section with Scott Asheton on drums.)

Ron Asheton and Iggy Pop. (click for larger version)

Asheton made some acclaimed albums with bands like Destroy All Monsters and the (sort-of) supergroup New Race. He still spent most of his life paying the bills with his artwork—and the occasional cameo in low-budget horror films. Asheton enjoyed proper rock stardom later in life when The Stooges reunited to record The Weirdness in 2007. (Ex-fIREHOSE member Mike Watt played bass.) The Asheton brothers were able to keep up with Iggy to become a great live act, and the reunion paid enough for Ron to hire a personal assistant. That’s who discovered his body in his Ann Arbor home. (60, heart attack) —J.R.T.

Jim Dickinson
Memphis-based album producer Jim Dickinson established a reputation as one of the top session players in the music industry, where he hung out with rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Bob Dylan saluted Dickinson as a “brother” in 1997 while accepting a Grammy for the record Time Out of Mind, on which he asked Dickinson to play piano.

Dickinson was a pioneer of the Memphis sound—a blend of blues, country, pop, and soul. He recorded with Sam Phillips at Sun Records and then formed The Dixie Flyers—a house band for Atlantic Records artists such as Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. Dickinson’s reputation for working with difficult personalities included producing the haunting Big Star pop classic Sister Lovers. His sons, Luther and Cody, have achieved success with their band The North Mississippi All-Stars.

He played elegant piano on the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” because Stones pianist Ian Stewart refused to play minor chords. Later that night, while listening to a playback of the song in a Muscle Shoals studio, Dickinson was astute enough to make sure that Keith Richards knew he had the only joint in the room. Richards no doubt stayed close by, guaranteeing Dickinson an appearance in the documentary Gimme Shelter that was being filmed at the time.

Dickinson never pulled punches when critiquing the Stones. In a January, 2002, interview in online publication Perfect Sound Forever, he recalled taking his sons to see the Stones in the 1990s. “I took my kids to see their last American tour, ’cause they’d never seen ‘em, but it wasn’t a real Stones show—the kick drum was so loud, it sounded like a fu**in’ disco band; and I don’t care who that bass player is, he’s not playing the [correct] parts. The keyboard parts—don’t get me started on them. That no-talent, lounge-playing motherfu**er they’ve got playing keyboards is not even coming close.”

The epitaph he chose for himself reflects his awareness of the eternal life of recorded music: I’m just dead, I’m not gone. (67, died while recuperating from heart surgery) —Ed Reynolds

Gordon Waller
Waller was a Scotsman who made up one half of the acclaimed 1960s acoustic pop duo Peter and Gordon. Their number one hit “World Without Love” was one of several penned by Paul McCartney for the pair. (64, heart attack) —E.R.

Dan Seals
There was never anything hip about England Dan & John Ford Coley. Songs like “Nights Are Forever” and “I’d Really Like to See You Tonight” were so forgettable that a picture of the Bellamy Brothers was mistakenly used on the back of their first compilation album. England Dan still went on to a successful solo career as Dan Seals, scoring hits on the country charts that include “God Must Be a Cowboy” and “Bop.” His last studio album was released in 2002, but there will probably be a posthumous release of duets that Seals recorded with brother Jim Seals—who is the Seals of Seals & Crofts. (61, cancer) —J.R.T.

Ellie Greenwich (click for larger version)

Ellie Greenwich
A lot of people were surprised that the co-writer of “Chapel of Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” and “Leader of the Pack” was only 68 when she passed away. Singer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich thrived in a time when teen anthems were written by actual teens. She was an early shining light of the Brill Building pop factory, with other credits including “Be My Baby” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Greenwich also enjoyed some pop stardom as a member of The Raindrops (with her then-husband and frequent collaborator Jeff Barry) and later on as a solo act. She was also a pioneering female record producer while launching Neil Diamond’s career with hits like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.” Greenwich made it to Broadway when her work was used as the basis for the 1980s stage hit “Leader of the Pack,” and she passed away while still in demand for both pop tunes and commercial jingles. (68, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Sky Saxon
He was a fraud, but Sky Saxon was a magnificent fake who was ultimately consumed by his own pose. The lead singer for The Seeds was best known for 1960s garage-rock anthems like “Pushin’ Too Hard” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” The band had a typically short career, but Saxon went on to spend the 1970s and ’80s making catchy hard rock with flower-power themes. His move from young punk to spiritual type was accompanied by a name change to Sky “Sunlight” Saxon. That amused contemporaries who remembered him as a misogynistic creep out to cash in on the Sunset Strip.

Sky Saxon (click for larger version)

Still, Saxon had probably fried his brains on enough drugs to be almost sincere in his delusional insistence on rock stardom. He got lucky when the Los Angeles underground music scene revived 1960s psychedelia in the mid-1980s. That made him fashionable enough to work increasingly erratic live shows right up to his death. (71, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Jay Bennett (click for larger version)

Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett joined Wilco as its bassist in 1994. That was around the time that the band released the A.M. album and became proper critic’s darlings. Bennett was then kicked out of the band during the travails that surrounded Wilco’s recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—as captured in the 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. He went on to a solo career that was more faithful to Wilco’s country-psych vision than any subsequent album by the band. He was always more entertaining, too. Bennett was frequently complaining about his hip pain, so he might be one of those rare musicians whose overdose was truly an accident. (45, painkiller overdose) —J.R. Taylor

Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons (click for larger version)

Eric Woolfson
The Alan Parsons Project was always a faceless act, with bearded producer Parsons mattering more than vocalists like John Miles, Arthur Brown, and former Zombie Colin Blunstone. That was partly savvy management by composer and co-founder Eric Woolfson, who wrote the songs for the assorted concept albums that made the band a staple of FM radio. Woolfson stayed behind the scenesfor the early albums like Tales of Mystery and Imagination, I Robot, and Pyramid. The scholarly looking Woolfson finally took over lead vocals on some later singles, including the 1982 hit single “Eye in the Sky.”

Woolfson went on to try his hand at stage musicals, staging “Freudiana” in 1990. (His bid to release the soundtrack album as a Woolfson solo project broke up his partnership with Parsons.) His second musical was “Gaudi,” which revisited an earlier Alan Parsons Project album about modernist architect Antonio Gaudi. Woolfson stayed busy with his stage career but marked 2009—and the end of his life—with The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, which compiled lost songs that Parsons had rejected as sounding too commercial. (64, cancer) —J.R.T.

Jon Hager
Jon Hager shot to the top of the death pools after twin brother Jim passed away in May of 2008. The Hager Brothers, of course, were best known for their long stint as toothy and wholesome “Hee Haw” stars. Jon racked up one more birthday than his brother, but was one of 2009′s earliest celebrity deaths. (67, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Jim Carroll (click for larger version)

Jim Carroll
Jim Carroll once looked at a bald guy and said, “He looks like Kojak.” That was a typically useless witticism from the lamest punk/poet in a world filled of moronic punk/poets. By the time Carroll was making his Kojak references, he had moved on to shallow celebrity journalism for Interview magazine. That was after years of coasting on the literary success of 1978′s The Basketball Diaries, where he had written about his fascinating adolescence as a young junkie and male prostitute.

That book’s success was followed by Carroll’s attempt to become a rock star with three dull albums in the 1980s. The debut was Catholic Boy, which garnered some attention with a song called “People Who Died.” Carroll’s songs for the 1995 film adaptation of Basketball Diaries weren’t nearly as good. By the time that he released his last rock album in 1999, he was another old hippie complaining about how New York City wasn’t dirty anymore. He compared modern Times Square to Disneyland. Nobody had heard that one before. (61, heart attack) —J.R.T.

James “The Rev” Sullivan
It wouldn’t be a Dead Folks issue without the death of an idiot musician. James “The Rev” Sullivan was both the biggest name and the most talented musician to make this year’s list—even if he did procrastinate until December 29, 2009. Actually, cause of death hasn’t been confirmed for the fine drummer of the crappy metalcore band Avenged Sevenfold. We can only look back fondly at Sullivan’s constant talk of how much he loved drugs, including a magazine article where he boasted of his massive cocaine habit. Sometimes it’s better to be a poseur. (28) —J.R.T.


The Troubadour’s Champion

The Troubadour’s Champion

June 10, 2010
The former Vestavia Hills acoustic music venue known as the Moonlight Music Cafe has reopened in Bluff Park as Moonlight on the Mountain. The new Moonlight is a casual room, much more suited to acoustic folk singers than its former neon-lit location. The room brings to mind a Baptist church fellowship hall, with Sunday School-style wooden chairs and a few tables scattered close to the stage. After dark, there’s no finer place to be. The city code forced the original blue Moonlight Music sign indoors, but when night falls, it’s easily spotted from Shades Crest Road.

Birmingham’s Act of Congress sold out their recent show at Moonlight on the Mountain. (Photo courtesy of Keith Harrelson.) (click for larger version)



Kevin Welch played the inaugural concert at Moonlight in April. Gretchen Peters, who wrote “Independence Day” for Martina McBride, also packed the house recently. Shows are BYOB, and no tickets are sold; instead, donations are accepted at a suggested price. “Most people have no problem being told what it ought to be,” says owner Keith Harrelson. At most shows, patrons are encouraged to donate $10 to $15, depending on the act. Show times are usually between 7 and 8 p.m. Harrelson, a committed fan of the singer/songwriter genre, had been involved with the Small Stages organization, which hosts concerts by lesser known touring acts in private homes. When the current venue became available, Harrelson grabbed the opportunity to stage shows before larger audiences. So far, the venue has received a warm reception, selling out several of the shows on its selective calendar.

Moonlight on the Mountain is located at 585 Shades Crest Road, in the same strip mall as the Bluff Park Diner. The venue is smoke-free and cash only. Attendees may bring a small cooler. 243-8851,