Friday, December 19, 2014

VIRNA LISI - "How To Murder Your Wife" (MIKE CLIFFORD)

Maybe somebody will be offering a DVD of "How to Murder Your Wife" as a Christmas present this year…not knowing that its exotic female star just died. Look, as un-PC (and comedy challenged) as the film is, at least it's just a film. It's more likely that Christmas Day's newspapers will be loaded with real-life wife-murders, and worse.

For a while there, a few years in the mid-60's, Virna Lisi (November 8, 1936-December 18, 2014), was the blonde bombshell competition for Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida and the older Italian sex symbols including Sophia Loren. That she never quite made it only puts her in the company of light-haired Carol Lynley, Barbara Bouchet, Joan Delaney, Sigrid Valdis, Elke Sommer, Joey Heatherton, various Bond girls and many others who had an exotic accent, a unique stare, or a curvy body.

Virna Pieralisi was already a star in Italy in the late 50's, that country's version of Marilyn Monroe, right down to the mole near her lip. Her hits included "Don't Tempt the Devil" in 1963 and "Casanova 70" in 1965. The question was when Virna would try, ala Sophia Loren or Brigitte Bardot, to crack the American market and start making films in Hollywood.

Her USA debut was "How To Murder Your Wife" in 1965. One of many banal movie sitcoms of the day, the hook was that it was supposed to be a "black comedy" of sorts. Jack Lemmon (grandpa's version of Tom Hanks) went through the motions with nothing much to work with, and Terry-Thomas was wasted. That left it to Virna, who at least made a memorable entrance popping out of a birthday cake in a bikini. Unfortunately her Italian accent was more annoying than exotic, and some viewers remained viewers, because listening to her was too much of a chore.

Neil Hefti (yes, "The Odd Couple" composer) was not well-served by the dopey lyrics to his theme song, but (unlike "The Odd Couple") at least the lyrics were used for several attempts at a hit single. The unlikely Aretha Franklin covered it, as did British crooner Mike Clifford.

Another tepid and terrible movie sitcom, "Not With My Wife You Don't" was just as bad, if not worse, with Tony Curtis playing opposite Virna. The lady did a bit better with yet another comedy, "The Birds, the Bees and the Italians," but that was about it. 1965-1966 were busy years for Virna in and out of Hollywood (she also starred with Sinatra in "Assault on a Queen") but by 1968 she was leery of more sexpot roles, and even turned down "Barbarella," which made Jane Fonda a star.

Virna remained a big star in Europe through the years, and long after her bombshell days, she won critical acclaim and some awards for "Queen Margot" in 1994, as the un-sexy but ultra evil Catherine De Medici (with Isabelle Adjani playing her daughter). Unlike some of her screen characters, Virna was happily married (from 1960 until her husband's death in 2013). Legend has it her husband was only briefly unhappy. This was when reporters asked the "Do you sleep in the nude" question. Virna replied, "It depends on who I'm sleeping with."

Not fluent in English, and not wanting her husband to start raging, she explained further. If she was sleeping in a hotel with her secretary as companion, she wore a nightgown. If she was home with her young son, she would wear pajamas. And yes, if she was with her husband, she slept nude.

The lack of nude scenes in those silly 60's movies may have helped keep a certain fascination and mystery around Virna Lisa, and enhanced her cult status for some fans. As to how to murder a peculiar novelty song…your download is below.

Mike Clifford How to Murder Your Wife

I WANT TO BITE YOUR HAND - Gene Moss, not Christopher Lee

Is it nice that Christopher Lee just released yet another heavy metal howl? Actually, it's horrifying in every sense of the word, but at 92, it's nice to know the undead star is still alive and growling. "Jingle Hell" is exactly as expected...a terrible punk bunch of headbanger clods slam at the melody. Lee either shouts his karaoke over it, or did it beforehand and the band just tried to add backing. Either way, it's a one-joke novelty that'll cost you a buck to buy.

The concept of a horror voice used to try for a novelty hit ain't new. Oddball tracks from a previous generation of horror stars exist. Boris Karloff sang on the Broadway cast album for "Peter Pan," Vinnie Price is represented by a variety of tracks from Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" to a re-working of "Monster Mash." Lon Chaney Jr. covered "Monster Holiday," and Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, John Carradine and others recorded as well.

Impressionists have done their best Karloff and Lugosi and Lorre impressions for novelty 45's, and both Guy Marks and Paul Frees issued full length albums of celebrities singing. When The Beatles invaded America, it was inevitable that somebody would try a horror-novelty..."I Want to Bite Your Hand." It's the work of Gene Moss (Eugene Harold Moshontz).

In its sepulchral silliness, it's actually right up there with Chris Lee's gothic goofiness. The dead-serious Count offers his version of Beatle lyrics, with the added grunt of "Sure," here and there. Just where Moss picked up this as a Lugosi catch-phrase, I have no idea. He died back on July 15, 2002. He remains undead thanks to this novelty single on RCA, which became part of an entire ridiculous "Dracula's Greatest Hits" album.

Gene first made some bucks in the record biz by writing album notes for Capitol. Following his lone comedy album, he and his writing partner Jim Thurman wrote the "Roger Ramjet" cartoon show. Gene voiced Noodles Romanoff, while Roger was handled by Gary "Laugh In" Owens. Moss became a local TV kiddie host in Los Angeles via KHJ, His "Dr. Von Schtick" is fondly remembered by some California kids, though the nostalgia remains greater for musty sufferers like Zacherley, Ghoulardi and Vampira. Moss and Thurman were rewarded with a late night talk show but they kept their day job, running an ad agency.

Gene continued to do voice work through the 80's (notably as the latest Smokey the Bear). His son, Chuck Moshontz, became a newscaster at KLOS-FM in L.A. And every Halloween, or every time a guy like Christopher Lee tries for a horror-novelty, "Dracula's Greatest Hits" gets dragged out for an airing. Maybe when he turns 93 Chris, the Hammer "Dracula," might want to take a stab at "I Want to Bite Your Hand." His reputation wouldn't be at stake.

PS, in the case of Gene Moss, the original record IS actually valuable, if the album also includes the "monster trading card" page that RCA thoughtfully tucked in with the vinyl. (Don't hunt for a cover that has Gene Moss in the lower right corner...that's a Photoshop job done here at the blog).



I don't think you'll find a more moving photograph relating to aging, grief, and death, than this one posted on Facebook by the wife of the late Richard Crooks.

Nina Robinson Crooks: "My Angel, Richard, will live on forever in all our hearts. My pain is too much to bear, but, I know I am the luckiest woman on the planet because he chose to marry me and be my soulmate. Thank you, Richard for 23 years of sheer bliss…I have selfishly been hoping that he would some how win at least another January in his many painful battles with health issues that have slowed him for years. Gratefully his pain is over. In a sad way the beat does not go on. He will be missed. May you rest in peace my friend. You made the world a better place…. I will love you until the end of time and beyond."

For most of you, Richard's name is linked with Bob Dylan, although he worked for many years with Dr. John, and played with dozens and dozens of other legends. In September of 1974, Crooks joined Eric Weissberg, Charlie Brown, Tony Brown and Tom McFaul in backing Bob for the "Blood on the Tracks" sessions. Bob's comeback was hurried and bewildering. As Crooks recalled, "…you never knew what Dylan was going to do next... You couldn't rely on there being a predictable set of chord changes all the time; you had to be free-flowing enough to go with the flow.”

Crooks was a Californian who attended San Jose State where he earned his BA in music. He was one of the most dependable session drummers on either coast, and was dubbed "Father Time" for his ability to hit the beat for most any kind of music. This included the bayou rock of Dr. John, who said, "none of them New Orleans motherfuckers play as good as Richard Crooks." Dylan's back-up musicians always respected Richard, and when Soozie Tyrell assembled a band for her first album, Richard Crooks joined veteran Dylan bassist grinning Tony Garnier, and touring guitarist handsome Larry Campbell.

Richard had health setbacks in his later years, including a liver transplant. In 2008 he moved to Key West, Florida, but did not give up on music. He could be seen at the Green Parrot, Sloppy Joe's and BO's Fishwagon. He had lots of friends down there, and they were delighted when, on his 72nd birthday, he was able to get behind the drums for a set. It was one of his last.

Below is "Meet Me in the Morning" from one of the September 1974 sessions at Columbia A&R Studios.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Sometimes I check for news about old favorite singers. I found out recently that Turley Richards just published his autobiography. Great. I found that the neglected pop group Gunhill Road has put out their first new album in 40 years. Great.
I wondered what Priscilla Coolidge was up to (covered here June 9, 2010).
I learned that on the evening of October 3rd she was shot in the head by her husband, and he then turned the gun on himself.
It happened in their home, marked by the red dot, which is in a peaceful suburb of California called Thousand Oaks. You can see there's a golf course on one side. There are mountain views on the other.

While Illville is mostly populated by talented people who, for one reason or another, aren't as famous as they deserve to be, it's a bit surprising that Priscilla's death got almost no coverage in the news. She wasn't, as headlined here, merely "Priscilla Coolidge." Or Priscilla June Coolidge. She was the ex-wife of not one but two celebrities, Booker T. Jones (the 70's) and CBS "60 Minute" icon Ed Bradley (from 1981 to 1984). She was also the sister of Rita Coolidge, and together (with Priscilla's daughter) they formed Walela, singing an unusual mix of rock with some Native American-influenced rhythms and lyrics.

America is such an equal-opportunity for murder, isn't it? Look at that first album cover, "Gypsy Queen." With the blond hair, and carefully styled make-up, she was promoted in an almost Sharon Tate way. But no crazed hippies came after her. When she let her hair go back to natural brunette, and became (along with John and Yoko, I suppose, and Leon & Mary Russell) one of the few interracial couples issuing albums, she and Booker T.

Fortunately no racist tried to attack her on stage. No enemy of Ed Bradley came after her. No psycho with a grudge against "Indians" fired a rifle at Walela when they took the stage. No. She survived all through the years.

But retired, at 73, she was killed. Neighbors reported the sounds of an argument, and a few minutes later, this talented singer and lyricist, beloved sister, mother, grandmother...was gone.
It happened where it's clean and quiet; the modest three-bedroom homes go for the typical upper-Middle class price of about $600,000. Some folks rent their places out for $3,000 or so a month.

You'll find the basics of Priscilla's career in the entry for her elsewhere on the blog. Just type her name in the "search" feature in the upper left-hand corner. There's a "Priscilla June Coolidge" Facebook page that is adding, now and then, snapshots from happier times. It's apparently run by her daughter from the Booker T. marriage.
Below are a few tracks from Priscilla's first album. It was originally issued on Sussex. I have no idea what the label's strategy was, but the ambitious debut covered a lot of territory. Some cuts were soulful, some had a kind of funky bayou tang to them, and a few were more mainstream folk-rock. "Come On Sweet" could easily have been on the soundtrack to some "Easy Rider" type movie of the day, with its California dream of romance. Perhaps some reviewers shied away because Priscilla's lyrics (she wrote most of the album herself) were loaded up with some pretty erotic and obvious imagery:
"Catch me in the sunlight in the morning. Catch me in the morning when I'm new...
Flood me 'cause your rivers run so deep babe, and I will bear your seed before this noon...
Catch me when I'm blooming in the evening, and you can taste the honey from my tree..."
Soon we'll know the darkness coming home babe, just take my hand and lay down next to me."

OK, that stuff got my attention, and I played Priscilla's album on the radio, and that included the next track, "Salty Haze," which was loaded with the hippie-dippie heavy lyrics we disc jockeys were awed by, whether from a Dylan, a Keith Reid or a Gypsy Queen:
"Yesterday some people say, we change our ways and take the graves, but tomorrow, never came from yesterday.
Yesterday the wind would say, was only time and only play for people born into the world of no tomorrow.
But today the ocean waves a misty blue and salty haze over the eyes of people born of yesterday..."

Yes, the lyrics were on the back of the album, including the note that the album was produced by one Booker T. Jones.
Soon, "Booker T. and Priscilla" were on A&M, Priscilla's first album was re-issued on A&M, and there was some hope that perhaps the rising interest in A&M's Rita Coolidge might create some kind of dynasty. And let's not forget the "Kris and Rita" album. How about THIS picture, which includes Priscilla's daughter Laura from an earlier marriage (yes, the one who would later join Priscilla as part of Walela).

You know the rest, obviously. You've heard of Rita Coolidge. You know she was married to Kris. You might even have some of their albums. But it's only through this blog that you've ever heard of Priscilla. The third and last Booker-Priscilla album was issued to great apathy in 1973, and in 1979 she somehow managed one last shot at a solo career with "Flying," an album that you can find on eBay for a buck with no takers. A few years after that, she was the bride of newsman Ed Bradley, which does give you an idea that this very attractive and intelligent lady's range of interests went well beyond the world of rock.
Priscilla seemed to have no shortage of admirers. One of them was William D. Smith, a chunky-looking R&B singer and songwriter who made a few obscure (but not all that interesting, otherwise they'd be on this blog somewhere) albums in the 70's.
Smith: "Priscilla said hey come live with me…Even though I didn't want to move in with her, I did it anyway. The first month I moved in with her, we got along great. No fussing or fighting. She had a great sense of humor. I would walk in the room, and I could tell she had been there by the way it smelled. We hugged and kissed all the time…" Priscilla even wrote some lyrics for his songs, including "I Need You."
. The good times didn't last long: "Priscilla and I started to argue about all kinds of things. I was frustrated and she was frustrated. She had just gotten out of a bad marriage…both of us had come from bad marriages. She was seeing a therapist…Priscilla and I kept fussing…stomp-down arguments…Finally, we both agreed that if we could split up, we wouldn't have so many problems. You know, Priscilla and I could have had a beautiful friendship…"
It seemed that things were pretty nice in the house in Thousand Oaks, where a couple were growing older, and getting visits from loved ones, children, and grand-children just waiting to come into this lovely home in a sunny part of the world.

Priscilla, married at least four times, found a fatal match in Michael J. Seibert. I have limited time in researching material for this free blog, but I tried to get some background on him. He seems to have been previously married to a lady named Toshiko Kikuzaki, and worked for Catapult Entertainment, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and WebTV. He's also used the alias Michael Seibertreata. There was a minor legal action filed against him on August 8, nearly two months before the murder/suicide. Seibert was asked to fork over about $7,000 in attorney fees involving a "confession judgment" against him going back to 2009. The judge "denied without prejudice" the claim, based on a technicality. The judge was leaving the case open for the plaintiff to file once again against Seibert. I don't know if this, or other financial woes weighed on Seibert over the two months he (and Priscilla) had left.
Priscilla had at least four children, including Paul and Laura Satterfield from her first marriage, and a son and daughter via Booker T. Jones: Booker T. Jones III and Lonnie, who has her own Facebook page, the one for Priscilla, and an Instagram account with lovely photos of herself, her husband and kids, and her beloved mom. Rita's only public statement is a simple one: "“Words cannot express the devastation our family is feeling with the loss of my sister, Priscilla. We are asking for privacy during this time of mourning.”
Two songs from Priscilla's first solo album: Come On Sweet/Salty Haze

MANGO! Italian singer suffers fatal heart attack on stage

No, not THAT "Mango."

THIS Mango:

Most Americans only know of "Mango" the strange cabaret dancer in the pink beret and gold hotpants (played by Chris Kattan on "Saturday Night Live.") "Mango" was overtly gay and creepily given to the kind of pouts and hip-thrusts even Carmen Miranda only used sparingly, but that was the gag. The horrible "Mango" somehow brought out the latent homosexuality in Garth Brooks and other guest hosts, and the heart-broken cry of "Mango!" had audiences roaring with laughter.

No doubt there was a heart-broken cry of "Mango!" when Giuseppe Mango collapsed while performing one of his biggest hits, "Oro."

The Italian pop star (November 6, 1954-December 7, 2014) suffered the "romantic" death many singers hoped: on stage in front of an audience. It's just that he probably didn't want it to happen when he was just 60. An Orbison-type (Roy's heart attack came even earlier, at age 52), Mango enthralled audiences with an unusual voice that could stretch into the higher registers. In the tasteless 80's, some of his pop videos were pretty remarkable for a certain garish, Fellini-esque quality of color and symbolism (like black smoke wafting over a cheesy day-glo dump filled with peculiar looking objects.

Mango's first album was released in 1976, and several of his songs were covered the better-known Italian singer Patty Pravo. The buzz for Mango continued through the next ten years, with "Oro" topping the chats in 1986. Like most Italian pop singers, he was more popular in his native country than in the U.K. or U.S.A., where it's always rare for a foreign language single to get any play at all. The enduring Mr. Mango stayed fresh through 1992 (when he released "Come L'Acqua") and he capped another ten years with "Disincanto" in 2002, and nearly ten years later, he released "La Terra Degli Acuiloni." This 2011 album turned out to be his last.


Addams Family's PUGSLEY dies: KEN WEATHERWAX (Mizzy Music)

KEN WEATHERWAX musical tribute below: "One Little Two Little Three Little Tombstones" by Vic Mizzy.

Once you get above 50, the obit page seems to have two subliminal words on it: YOU'RE NEXT. You're looking at people you grew up with, and people who aren't much older than you. Suddenly the macabre world of "The Addams Family," for example, is not quite so funny. It was amusing when pudgy, dumb-looking Pugsley and his family held a picnic in a cemetery. But…

…with the recent deaths of Jack Bruce, Bobby Keys and Ian McLaglen, it does make it more difficult to ignore mortality. Hell, Ken Weatherwax was a kid at a time many of us were also kids! This guy could've been an older brother. Or a younger brother. (In fact, he was the brother of the kid who played "Porky" a few years earlier on the "Lassie" TV series).

Bruce, Keys and McLaglen are frankly too well known to be on this blog of less renown. Their music has been happily stolen "in tribute" on many blogs. The usual parasitic worms have happily filled their wormholes with every "RIP" request to own all of Jack Bruce and Cream, all of Bobby Keys and the Rolling Stones, all of the Faces albums, etc. etc. Below? Oh, just one cut from the "Addams Family" soundtrack, in honor of a guy I did actually meet.

I met Weatherwax over 20 years ago, and he wasn't as Weather-beaten as he looks in the photo on the right. He had no beard, and he was still pretty chunky (your typical burly stagehand type). He told me that he had been typecast after playing Pugsley, and by the time he got out of the Army, he was just an ordinary guy who wasn't so balloon-y he could get comical fat guy roles. So he drifted behind the scenes and worked in set design and other union jobs. He made a decent living which, later, was augmented when he sat a desk doing the $20-per-photo bit at memorabilia conventions.

I met most of the "Addams Family" gang at one time or another, as interviewer or photographer. They were all very pleasant, down to Earth people. I'll admit that I was far more interested in Lisa Loring (who blossomed from pale, sullen Wednesday to an attractive 20-something) than Ken! John Astin was friendly and intellectual. Jackie Coogan was courteous and serious. Carolyn Jones was like royalty.

Ken, not a trained actor, had gotten the Pugsley job because he was part of a show biz family (Rudd Weatherwax trained Lassie the wonder dog) and there weren't all that many fat kids who looked, well, Pugsley-esque. He was down to Earth, not at all bitter, and seemed grateful to have a little fame and fortune for himself. Not many could parlay a few years on one sitcom into a "hobby" of Comic-Con shows and getting a steady amount of fan mail. One of the shows lesser characters, all he did was show enthusiasm over eating spiders and playing with guillotines and wrecking toy trains and whatever else was Pugsley-esque.

"The Addams Family" soundtrack featured songs for Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Thing and Lurch, but no signature tune for either of the kids. However in tribute to Ken, I've selected the playful "One Little Two Little Three Little Tombstones" to honor him. It's a variation on the finger-snapping title track, with a certain nursery-tune element to it.

If you prefer, the three little tombstones could be for Jack Bruce, Ian McLaglen and Bobby Keys.

One little Two Little Three Little Tombstones