Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ben Harper's ROCKIN' '64 Riviera, and his special Weissenborn guitars

Ben Harper, shown here performing with the Blind Boys of Alabama in 2004, has a daily driver, a cherry '64 Buick Riviera, profiled in the March issue of Maxim. For a musician who's an indefatigable world-traveling performer year in, year out, it's surprising he actually has a special car. I mean, when can he find the time to drive it?
Harper says one of the Riviera's special aspects is the low-ride shocks. "It's really strange being lower than a Honda," he told interviewer Jon Guzik.
He doesn't sing much about cars per se, but on his true debut album, "Pleasure and Pain" (a limited release on vinyl back in 1992), he included "Quarter Of a Man," which begins:
"There's a quarter of a man in the market
With a quarter of a car so it's easy to park it.
He gets to the counter, he pays what he can,
But he only pays a quarter--he's a quarter of a man."
When I was looking up Harper's accomplishments on the Internet, I found he played his signature instrument, a Weissenborn hollow-neck acoustic Hawaiian lap-slide guitar, on Beth Orton's song "Stolen Car," the lead track on her 1999 CD "Central Reservation."
The Weissenborn, produced in the 1920s, is quite rare for rock music. It's fretless and made from Hawaiian koa wood, imparting an unusually sweet but also boldly resonant tone--which gives Harper, a greatly skilled guitarist, a wide range of expressive possibilities. It plays like a cello, actually, with considerable sustain. "With this instrument," wrote one music historian, "Ben can generate a musical style that's deeply rooted in the blues, yet in his hands becomes unique and quite personal." The older, original Weissenborns suffer when pressed to travel, and are affected by temperature changes, so Harper has had several custom-built. Kinda like how a gearhead might go at it!
For an in-depth look at the man and his music, there's a wonderful interview with Ben Harper from Madison magazine, November, 1999 by Mark Mordue--which took place in the backseat of a Ford Falcon parked backstage at the 10th East Coast Blues and Roots Music Festival in Byron Bay, Australia:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ROCKIN' receives magnificent spread in KUSTOM: IL MAGAZINE DELLA KUSTOM KULTURE (Italy)

Seems like I've been buds with Ron Donovan and Chuck Sperry forever. They're the great renegade rock poster-makers outta San Francisco who're known as the FIREHOUSE KUSTOM ROCK ART COMPANY all over Europe, where they travel and teach screenprinting to rockers nearly every year. You see their work in many spreads in ROCKIN', with Chuck pictured on page 198. Both were featured in my and Dennis King's book, ART OF MODERN ROCK which came out in 2004. This rainy day, as I write this, they're putting the final touches on their latest Eric Clapton tour poster, set in motion thru mutual friend and marketer, Steve Gerstman.
Two years ago Ron and Chuck traveled back to the US with Luca Mattioli, direttore responsabile for KUSTOM MAGAZINE, a fine, fine--if not the finest--kustom kulture mag in Europe, published in Italy. I told Luca what I was up to, creating ROCKIN' for Motorbooks. Luca said, "when you're ready, you and Brent (that's Brent Rector, the book's art director and designer) should get some of the content over to me and we'll create a great magazine piece. Everyone in Europe will want to read about it!"
And now Luca's done it! Check out these spreads from issue #50, just released (hopefully you can find it in cosmopolitan newsstands in the big cities). Also, gotta give major props to Kustom's direzione artistica, Stefania Gabellini, who assembled everything so very creatively.
In addition, in this issue there's also a nice spread on the "Cars and Guitars of the Stars" exhibit (part two) from the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. The Catallo family's Little Deuce Coupe sure looks fine.
ROCKIN's premise, that cars and rock & roll go together like . . . cars . . . and rock & roll . . . is shared all over the world. Thanks Luca and staff, for putting the word out in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Sweden and Denmark, 'cause as we all know, THERE'S GOOD ROCKIN' TONITE!

Monday, February 26, 2007

ROCKIN' world report #2: Details concerning the lifesaving, car-flipping stage jump of Kaiser Chief Ricky Wilson

May 24, 2006
"You may have heard that Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson was hit by a car while crossing the street in Leeds the other day (he'll be okay). According to the band's website, it was Ricky's patented stage jump that saved his life."
From the band's website:
"He's the luckiest man alive--because he's STILL alive. It sounds daft, but a well-timed 'Ricky trademark leap' probably saved his life. The jump meant he was flipped over the top of the car, hitting the windscreen, rather than getting trapped below the car."
FYI, the Kaiser Chiefs are a British indie, post-punk rock band from Leeds. Initially formed in 1997 by school friends Nick Hodgson, Simon Rix, and Nick Baines, they were subsequently joined by Andrew White and art school grad Ricky Wilson (who they spotted singing with a Rolling Stones tribute band).
They won three Brit Awards for 'Best Group,' "Best British Rock Act,' and 'Best Live Act' in 2006. Their second album, entitled "Yours Truly, Angry Mob," was released this past weekend (February 25, 2007). They were named after the South African Kaizer Chiefs Football Club, the former team of long-serving former Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe. The band is a huge supporter of Leeds United.
Wilson told the BBC earlier this year that the Kaiser Chiefs songs are about "life in Leeds, and being British, young, and hip." He continued, "Our music is quirky and spooky--and you know the British have always done that best, from Franz Ferdinand all the way back to The Beatles."
Wilson has made a reputation as one of the best live performers on the British rock circuit, with his wild jumps. The antics of the entire band have made them favorites at annual festivals like Glastonbury.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

a ROCKIN' team: Metallica's James Hetfield and Scott Mugford (Blue Collar Customs, Sacramento)

San Francisco's own James Hetfield is the main songwriter, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and a founding member of Metallica. I earlier blogged about his lavender-color '53 Buick which created such a stir at the SF Rod & Custom show at the Cow Palace earlier in the year.
I saw Hetfield's latest ride-to-be, a impossibly air-riding low, extended-cab 1956 Ford F-100, at the Sacramento Autorama's "Suede Palace." For almost two years--maybe more--the big hot rod shows like the Grand National, the Fresno Autorama, and Sacramento have created a comfortably low-key, up-close-and-personal showcase for ol' skool creations. Myself, I was most impressed with the just-on-the-ratty-side-of-funk full-building display at the SF Rod & Custom show, as well as the Billetproof outdoor event in Antioch, CA last September (where the ROCKIN' book effectively made its debut).
To do justice to the pickup, Hetfield once again has teamed up with Scott Mugford (the two of them are shown here at the Sacramento Vintage Ford historic-rods display at the Autorama; Hetfield is wearing his car club's Beatnicks from Koolsville jacket, Scott is turned toward him on the right). Scott is partners with Phil and Rob Cannon (same last name, but not brothers actually) in Blue Collar Customs. Their shop (see photo) is in Sacramento, and it's where Hetfield's '36 Ford (shown here in the BCC yard, on the street, and at Billetproof--and you can see other photos by Brent Rector from Paso Robles, where it debuted, on ROCKIN's page 233) was truly created; it apparently began its 'new life' elsewhere, but was given a much more complete build-up and refinement at BCC. In the next year, according to Scott, the '36 will really come into its own (there's a rumor it will re-appear in a magnificent metallic flat purple).
Mugford himself drives the "Watson & Young" B/GS Model A, a vintage relic from the '60s which was discovered by family members down in Graham, TX and was left on a pallet for several decades. You see it here at the Sacramento show, near Hetfield's '36, as well as in profile. It's a soulful machine, absolutely feel-good in its authentic street and drag garb.
The vision-thing for Hetfield's F-100 is really beginning to take shape now. You can see how the bed and rear of a '57 Ranchero was grafted-on beyond the extended cab. "James has a good eye for cars," says Scott. "Plus, gotta say, he's a cool guy himself. I think we work well together because we both have an appreciation for the traditional styles which are on their way back. This may well become a daily driver for him." I myself have had the pleasure of rounding a corner in San Rafael--where the Grateful Dead long had their office, a few small towns and cities north of the Golden Gate Bridge--and seeing the '36 headed straight at me, so I know Hetfield puts his rubber on the road.
Mugford will be profiled in an upcoming, June-release book, HOT ROD KINGS, authored by Kevin Thomson with photos by Vallejo-based David Perry (you know his HOT ROD PINUPS book). Here, "all-steel apostles" Cole Foster (who's built for Mike Ness), Gary Howard, Keith Tardel (son of the famous Vern Tardel), the Kennedy Brothers, Jimmy White, Mike Smith, Rudy Rodriguez, Mercury Charlie, and Scott "get to the heart of what makes builders worth watching." Be sure to check it out!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

ROCKIN' with Alan Mayes in Ol' Skool Rodz (see fine review in the May issue)

Alan Mayes and I first met at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. He was autographing copies of his newest book, OLD SCHOOL HOT RODS, and I was signing ROCKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY. We instantly found each other to be kindred spirits.

Alan also is managing editor of Ol' Skool Rodz, the fine bi-monthly magazine about all things rod and custom. He wrote a splendid review of ROCKIN' in the latest issue, #21 (May, '07).

Here's his first para:

"Amazing. It's amazing that someone didn't do this book before now. The connection is so obvious; the shared subjects are so cool. And what could be cooler than cars and rock & roll?"

Ol' Skool Rodz is such a good read, replete with mouth-watering photos of babes and rides, that I just have to commend it everyone--along with its companion mag, DeLuxe Car Kulture.
Wop Bop a Loo Bop!!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A historic ROCKIN' song . . . The Beatles "Drive My Car"

"Drive My Car" was written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon and was first released, as performed by the Beatles, on the UK version of the December, 1965 album Rubber Soul (it also appeared in the US on the June, 1966 Yesterday . . . and Today LP. It was the opening track for both albums.
The plot ot the song is: a male narrator is told by a woman she's going to be a famous movie star and she offers him the chance to be her chauffeur, adding "and maybe I'll love you." After a bit of back-and-forth, he finally agrees to her proposal, but then she admits she doesn't have a car, "but I found a driver and that's a start." A bit reminiscent, in spirit and intent, of the classic "Me and My Chauffeur Blues," sung by Memphis Minnie (see ROCKIN' page 29).
According to historians, the song began when McCartney arrived at Abbey Road Studios on October 13, 1965 with a rough draft. However, Lennon dismissed the initial lyrics as "crap," because of what he perceived as previously relied-upon cliches. McCartney agreed and together they rewrote the lyrics. It's actually Lennon who came up with the "drive my car" orientation.
McCartney later would perform the song live during halftime at Super Bowl XXXIX, and samples from the song are featured on the "Drive My Car" medley on the Beatles' Love album, released in November, 2006.
Beatles fans have always enjoyed the song because it's fun--in fact also more than a little bit risque (the term "drive my car" may be an old blues euphemism for sex)--and has a solid rock straightforwardness thanks to Ringo's drumming. While the Beatles largely stuck to love songs on Rubber Soul, the lyrics represented a quantum leap in terms of maturity and--what would serve them well over the next albums--ambiguity. Many fans feel Rubber Soul (the UK version) and the LP that followed, Revolver, were pivot points in their growing infatuation with the full recording studio (editing and inserting, in particular). The feel and complexity of their new work is noticeably different from A Hard Day's Night, released barely a year before.
McCartney's inspiration for the song could have been Alf Bicknell, chauffeur to the Beatles at the height of their fame. Bicknell began working for the Fab Four in 1964 during the filming of the movie Help. Bicknell once told the story that Lennon stole his chauffeur's hat, pitched it out the window, saying, "Alf, you don't need that anymore--you're one of us now."
Bicknell first drove the band around in an Austin Princess with blacked-out windows, and later in Lennon's Rolls Royce Phantom V. He stayed in their employ until they decided to end touring in 1966. Bicknell officially retired as a chauffeur in 1980 and died in 2004. In an interview he said, "the qualities of a chauffeur are to be a good driver, to be discreet, to be honest, and not to get carried away with the people in the back, It can be summed up in one word: loyalty."
A couple of things to check out: the CD Fried Glass Onions, where Memphis musicians take on Beatles songs--and are particularly effective with "Drive My Car." Also, the erudite UK review of Rubber Soul at and "Notes on "Drive My Car"" written by Alan W. Pollack at which at one point cites the song's 'home key' as having a "perilously high, and therefore inherently unstable, center of gravity."
Beep beep mmm beep beep, yeah!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Keith Moon's ROCKIN' cars, part 3

The vintage Chrysler owned by Keith Moon, shown on page 152 of ROCKIN' (Moon playing at Bonnie and Clyde with his wife Kim and daughter Mandy) was sold at auction in February, 2006 by British Car Auctions at their impressive Blackbushe facility.
The new owner, unnamed but apparently an operator of a high-end rental car service, queried about its history (the car, with license plate FLB 864, is pictured here as well).
"I recently acquired a 1939 Chrysler Wimbledon Limousine--basically an American 6-cylinder "long-chassis" Plymouth assembled in Kew and known in the UK as a "Kew Chrysler." It's in excellent condition, has only 80,000 miles recorded and is thought by the mechanics at my business to be genuine. I've been told it was official transport for the American Ambassador [to England] early in World War II and also was once owned by the late Keith Moon. What is it worth? And, could its history make it worth more than a standard Kew Chrysler?"
The responding automotive historian replied, "Plymouth was the Chrysler Corporation's low-priced model. Next up was Dodge, then DeSoto, then Chrysler itself, and, sitting imperiously on the top, Imperial. By the early '30s, Walter P. Chrysler had set-up an importation and assembly operation near the world-famous Royal Botanical Gardens, on the banks of the River Thames on Mortlake Road, Kew, Surrey. Plymouths and DeSotos assembled at the Kew Coachworks from 1932 to 1939 were badged "Chrysler" with the addition of names of London suburbs such as Croydon, Richmond, and Wimbledon. From the shape of the grille, your car, a "Wimbledon," is based on a 1938 model year American Plymouth (they became more streamlined with lights in the fenders for the 1939 US model year). Based on what similar models are fetching at auction, yours should be worth $10,000 - $14,000, but of course it's all about what someone's willing to pay."
Moon acquired the right-hand-drive car in 1962. He owned it for eleven years, and possibly put it in a duck pond by accident at one point.
The drummer also owned a 1929 limo, according to musician Alice Cooper, who remembers it was grey and "huge." Cooper told an interviewer that Moon had the back seats and surrounding interior removed so he could put a gold throne in the back. Going down the road, Moon would sit on the throne holding a gold goblet and would, from time to time, stand up (the car had a sunroof) and wave to passers-by.
At some point earlier, The Who's bassist, John Entwistle, shared ownership with Moon of a one-off Bentley designed by UK coachbuilders Freestone and Webb which debuted at the 1950 Geneva Motor Show. The two had it fitted out with a Tannoy speaker behind the grille and "deployed it in a series of Pythonesque practical jokes," according to reporter Richard Fleury. "These typically involved cruising through Home Counties villages impersonating the local Tory candidate, warning of imminent invasions by boatloads of refugees. Or they'd pose as police hunting for deadly snakes. The concealed PA gave Moon so much pleasure he installed it in his next purchase, a "vast" two-tone S1 Bentley converted to look like an S2." (note: this S1 was the one with which Moon accidentally killed his chauffeur, and was subsequently sold).
Next up was a ten-year-old Rolls Royce Silver Cloud MK III, equipped with a state-of-the-art eight-track hi-fi, drinks cabinent, and briefly an onboard TV (which Moon pitched out of the window when it failed to work). The flagship of the UK Moon fleet was a brand-new white Rolls Royce Corniche which Moon apparently wrecked several times (once, coming back from a party at Ringo Starr's home when he hit another car and went straight through a picket fence into his daughter's school playing field).
In 1974, Moon moved to Los Angeles, extensively remodeled a beach house next to actor Steve McQueen's home, and bought an exclusive Cartier Lincoln Continental paid for with dollars stuffed in a suitcase.
A year later, while partying nightly with similarly inebriated companions like John Lennon and sometime during the many months he was completing his only solo album, TWO SIDES OF THE MOON (shown here), he bought a vintage Rolls, apparently once the property of Spain's General Franco, in order to shoot the memorable front, back, and reverse-front-insert covers.
Moon also owned two Excaliber exotics (a '70s interpretation of a '30s Mercedes sports tourer), one of which was purchased from Liberace (which the piano player had several times driven onstage in Las Vegas).
Note: there are many excellent short-form videos of Keith Moon in action at
Also noted: British Car Auctions has handled many musician/celebrity auctions, including Rod Stewart's Lamborghini Countach and George Harrison's 1969 Ferrari 365TC (which Pink Floyd's drummer--and classic car connoisseur--Nick Mason also had owned).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Keith Moon's ROCKIN' cars, part 2

NOTE: the pictures shown here of a 1972 Ferrari Dino 246 GT are representative of the car which Keith Moon owned.

When The Who's lead singer Roger Daltrey bought a Ferrari Dino, drummer Keith Moon had to have one too. He and his mechanic/friend Peter 'Dougal' Butler went halves on a brand new 1972 mid-engined Ferrari Dino 246 GT. "I loved driving that one," Dougal told UK Channel 4 reporter Richard Fleury.
According to, the Dino family of Ferrari's was named after founder Enzo Ferrari's son, who played a significant role in the development of the Dino-series V6 drivetrain. The Dino 206 GT was the first road-going Ferrari to adopt an aluminum V6 engine which previously had been exclusive to race cars. Beginning with its release in 1969, the 206 opened up Ferrari's market, as this was a less expensive (also less powerful) model than all the other Ferraris at that time. This put the 206 and the subsequent model 246 in direct street competition with marques such as Porsche.

Just one year after the 206 GT debuted, it was replaced by the 246 GT. The new model was heavier thanks to the inclusion of a Fiat-built, cast-iron V6 with increased engine capacity. It was one of the first times a mass-produced engine was used in a Ferrari. The 246 Dino GT sold for six years and nearly 3,900 were manufactured.

"Moon and I had the Dino for only four weeks," recalled Dougal. "Then I got a call. Moonie says, 'Dougal, you ain't gonna believe this . . . but, well, there was a couple of bikers outside--nice fellas--and they just wanted to have a go with the Dino. So, I let them. But unfortunately they didn't see the roadworks sign and they put it straight down a f__king ditch! Complete write off!!'"

Moon also had another race-worthy car for a time, an AC 428 Frua previously owned by Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. The Frua was powered by a seven-litre Ford engine, and was, according to Dougal, "unbelievably fast," until the day it broke down on a railway crossing and stopped commuter trains for an hour and a half.
Another Keith Moon story involving a sports car was recalled on "While driving his sports car [the report does not say which car specifically] at more than 100 miles per hour one day, Keith Moon suddenly shifted into first gear. The rear wheels locked and the car was launched into a series of somersaults before coming to rest just a few feet from a sixty-foot drop. The first person on the scene happened to be a policeman on a bicycle. "Hello Keith," the bobby remarked, surveying the damage. "I knew it was you.""

Saturday, February 17, 2007

ROCKIN' back to one of the great rock-and-cars birthday parties

Be Here Now is the third studio album by the English rock band Oasis, released in August, 1997 at the height of their fame. It became the UK's fastest selling album of all time, eventually topping 8 million copies worldwide. During its creation, the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, were said to have been major-league substance abusers in the manner of The Who's drummer of extreme notoriety, Keith Moon, who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed being seen doing so.
The Rolls Royce parked in the pool on the cover of the album (shot at Stock House in Aldbury, Hertfordshire, which was the rural hangout of Playboy UK) has been widely assumed as a tribute to Moon, who allegedly drove (or rolled) a (Cadillac) or a (Lincoln Continental) into a Holiday Inn swimming pool during his 21st birthday party.
Many regard The Who as the first punk-rock band. Actually, they were Mods (as opposed to Rockers) and mod-ism is well-explained in this couplet of the times:
"I can do anything right or wrong
I can talk anyhow to get along
I don't care anyway, I never lose
Anyway, anyhow, anywhere I choose."
Moon was a man seemingly in control of being out of control. He wrecked cars, homes, hotel rooms, and restaurants. It was once estimated the total damage wreaked by Moon around the world over a span of 14 years exceeded a half million dollars. Sadly, his own need for attention and his penchant for outdoing himself to amuse others lead to his death (a prescription drug overdose) in September, 1978.
He was one of rock's greatest drummers but never had a drum set in any place he lived, and he never practiced. In some ways his lack of discipline made his drumming unique and exciting. Moon could not drive (or, rather, he didn't have a license) and crashed cars on multiple occasions. Guitarist Pete Townsend said, "He simply did not know how to steer a car. He just couldn't do it." Later, Moon, while escaping from skinheads who were trying to attack him and his friends after an altercation in a pub, accidentally ran over and killed his chauffeur, Neil Boland. It was an accident, but Moon was haunted by it for the rest of his life.
Moon was born on August 23, 1946. Twenty one years later, that same day in 1967, he celebrated his birthday at an airport Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan. The Who were the opening act for Herman's Hermits and the bands had just played Atwood Stadium, a timeworn high school venue, under cloudy skies and with just a few thousand in attendance. As was typical, they left the stage with destroyed equipment everywhere, then trashed their dressing rooms. That night a huge birthday cake featuring a half-naked pop-up girl with frosting-coated breasts was furnished to Moon by Premier Drums and Decca Records.
Either later that night or throughout much of the next day, a drunken food fight erupted. The hotel's manager was called and what remained of the cake was thrown in his face. Before the police were called, Moon (and apparently others) took fire extinguishers outside into the parking lot and sprayed a half-dozen cars, peeling their paint. At that point, it's recalled (possibly apocryphally) that Moon, now either stark naked or in briefs, jumped into an unlocked Lincoln (but, might have been a Cadillac) parked on slight hill, released the parking brake and (without keys to start the car) was unable to stop it from rolling through a fence and into the hotel pool.
Then, upon climbing out, trying to evade the police who'd arrived with guns drawn (to quell the disturbance now involving drunken members of all the bands' entourages destroying snack machines and throwing tables and chairs into the pool), Moon slipped on what was left of the buffet, flew through the air, lost a front tooth, was handcuffed, arrested, and taken to a dentist. He spent that night in jail and upon being released was advised never to visit Flint again. The bill for the entire incident was reported to have been $24,000, paid off in cash the next day by all the band members and roadies who each gave up $1,000. Rumor has it the Holiday Inn handed down a lifetime ban to The Who, although it was never enforced and in fact the band stayed at Holiday Inns many times afterwards.
Moon himself recalled in detail--although likely greatly embellished--the entire episode when interviewed by Jeremy Hopkins in Rolling Stone #124 (12-21-72). "So there I was," Moon chortled, "in the driver's seat of a Lincoln Continental, underwater. And the water was pouring in--coming in through the bloody pedal 'oles in the floorboard, squirting in through the windows. In a startling moment of logical, I said to meself, 'well, I can't open the doors until the pressure is the same.' It's amazing 'ow I remembered that from my physics class! I knew I'd 'ave to wait until the water crept up to me nose. AH-HAHAHAHAHA!"
Another good account of that day appeared in Hard Rock magazine (January, 1979), and still another was later posted online by Flint's onetime WTAC DJ Peter C. Cavanaugh (WTAC is said to have been the first US radio station to play The Who's first single, "I Can't Explain"), who himself was there at the station when The Who did their on-air promotion the day of the concert, then at the concert itself, and afterwards at the Holiday Inn.
Here's what singer Roger Daltry recalled. "I saw it. I remember the car in the pool. And there was incredible, bloody chaos everywhere. One of the best rock & roll birthday parties . . . ever."

Friday, February 16, 2007

ROCKIN' with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in Memphis, TN

Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue, just released, is its usual celebration of babes on location. This time they also shot in Memphis, TN, at the beautiful new home of Stax Records and at Elvis Presley's always inspiring Graceland.

Here you see Tori Praver with Iegend Isaac Hayes and his ride (photo by Walter Chin) and Oluchi Onweagba at Graceland with a fine '59 Caddy (photo by Randall Grant). Oddly, Elvis himself was not photographed often with '59 Cadillacs, as flamboyant as they were (and are still).

There's lots (!!) more to see from the Memphis shoots at

Thursday, February 15, 2007

ROCKIN' world report #1: Details on the latest episode of Chinese rock star Dou Wei versus the media (and a car)


This as reported by the Beijing News and seen on the internet:

[in translation]

At around 10 am on February 10, rock star Dou Wei went to the office of the Beijing Times, demanding to see the reporter named Zhuo Wei, who had written several reports about him. When Zhou did not appear, he smashed a television set and a computer. When the News Department head came to see him, Dou Wei tossed a glass of water into the person's face. Two friends helped calm Dou Wei down, and he left, saying he would be back.

At around 5 pm, Dou Wei returned but did not do anything. He just stood outside on the street looking dispirited.

At around 5:30 pm, Dou Wei took out a small bottle and poured liquid on a car that belonged to a Beijing News worker. Then he set the liquid on fire (as shown in the picture). According to eyewitnesses, there was a heavy smell of gasoline, but Dou Wei did not leave the scene.

Soon three fire engines arrived, along with the police. They took Dou Wei back to the police station. He said nothing during the police interrogation, except for one statement: "Someone is trying to harm me."

At around 4 am, Dou Wei came out of the police station and left by car.

Dou Wei rose to fame as lead singer of the rock band Black Panther in the early 1990s before branching out into more experimental music.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ROCKIN' with Umphrey's McGee at Downing Creek Studios

This beautiful new (December, 2006) on-the-road-to-find-out poster for jam-band Umphrey's McGee at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago was designed by Jeff Wood and printed by Jeff at Drowning Creek Studios in Georgia. Drowning Creek is one of the most honored and distinguished design and print studios in all of rock & roll.

Though UM's approach to their live performances has much in common with Phish and the Grateful Dead (ever-changing setlists, constant improvisation, two sets per night, open-taping policy), they're really much more influenced musically by progressive rock bands like Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis as well as heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden. They also identify the Beatles, the Monkees (!!), and Led Zeppelin as primary influences.

The band was formed at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN in December, 1997, and came to considerable prominence by playing major festivals between 2002 - 2006 such as Bonnaroo in rural Manchester, TN. The band's odd name is taken from a relative of guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss.

Judy Gex, manager of Drowning Creek and life-partner with her sweetie Jeff Wood, says to appreciate Jeff's work you have to travel far in your imagination . . . "eyeball it, then let go and see what happens in your mind," she put it. "That's pretty much how Jeff goes about it himself. It's a 'deep-vision thing,' and has a lot to do with Native American thinking."

"In describing Umphrey's McGee, Jeff and I use the phrase 'aggressive progressive jazz fusion' crossed with Metallica," Judy continued in speaking with me earlier this week. "There are lots of timing changes and long, extended, but not noodly jams. They also do a GREAT job--along with a couple of members of the Disco Biscuits--in playing Pink Floyd and Beatles cover sets. They call that incarnation 'the Brain Damaged Eggmen.' Anybody who'd like to check out Umphrey's for the first time should go to the podcasts available for free on iTunes."

To see more of Drowning Creek's incredible body of work, go to Trust me, it will enlarge your credulity for what's possible to achieve in a rock concert poster.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sherry and Bob Bjork, devoted Elvis fans, as in story below

Below, the story of Sherry and Bob Bjork (and note especially the scarf which Sherry is wearing), to which I can only add this quote, from Elvis himself, in 1956:

"Sure they tear off my clothes, they scratch their initials on my cars, they phone my hotel all night . . . when they stop, I'll start to worry."

Amen to that. We miss you Sherry, but Bob is keeping all the flames well lit.

A good ROCKIN' Elvis tale from the Sacramento Autorama

Phil Young (left in photo) and his great friend Bob Bjork pulled up to my booth at the Sacramento Autorama on Saturday, intrigued by the sight of Darrell Mayabb's ROCKIN' book jacket. After spending some quality time riffling through it, Bob suddenly leaned over to me and said, very quietly, "let me get one for Phil." And so he did.

Then, Bob and I started talking. Turns out his late wife Sherry was one of Elvis' most devoted West Coast fans. She and Bob went to The King's shows at the Las Vegas Hilton and the Sahara at Lake Tahoe, CA. Just as had happened with my dear friend "Rockin'" Robin Rosaaen, vaultkeeper of All The King's Things archive (whom you met in an earlier blog), Sherry was given a scarf--Elvis leaned down from the stage and put it right around her shoulders--and she kept it for the rest of her life. Bob says even when it finally dried it was so soaked with Elvis' sweat, you could have cloned a thousand Elvis' from the DNA.

As serendipity would have it, Bob keeps photos and ticket stubbs on his person--these from the May, 1973 concert series. In the photos above this blog, you see Bob and Sherry's '73 Riviera which took them to Tahoe from the Bay Area. See, it's really all about rockin' down the highway, isn't it?

Elvis first played the Sahara Tahoe in July, 1971 (the first two-week "Elvis Summer Festival"). According to historian Robert Gordon (author of THE KING ON THE ROAD: ELVIS LIVE ON TOUR 1954 - 1977), "the Sahara had contracts with Johnny Carson and Buddy Hackett assuring them the highest pay; others could make as much but not more. After negotiating with Elvis' manager Col. Tom Parker, the Sahara had to raise fees for Hackett and Carson--by $90,000 per week."

When Elvis returned to the Sahara in 1973, there were 300,000 phonecalls from people trying to score tickets; the venue seated 61,000 and many people bought tickets for multiple dates. Billboards contracted by the Colonel flashed Elvis' name in twenty-four-foot high letters, in brilliant red. After that, his Las Vegas billboards would feature psychedelic glow-in-the-dark inks. Elvis also played multi-day engagements at Tahoe twice in 1974 and again in the early summer of 1976, a year before he passed.

ROCKIN' with American Graffiti's Candy Clark at the Sacramento Autorama

Candy Clark, one of the stars of American Graffiti (1973), was at the Sacramento Autorama at Cal Expo this weekend. She and pinstriper Herb Martinez, with whom I shared yet another booth, are friends. When she stopped by to see Herb, I couldn't resist asking for this photo.

In the smaller picture here, Candy is shown in 1998 with Paul LeMat (aka John Milner, who drove the yellow '32) and Rick Figari, who meticulously restored the coupe and I believe still owns it.

The movie was all about 1962, impersonating film director George Lucas' hometown of Modesto, CA (although the film was actually shot--mostly at night--in Petaluma and San Rafael). Candy's scenes with Charles Martin Smith (aka Terry Fields, the ducktailed kid known as "The Toad," who is said to have represented Lucas) are of course still classic. She played the 'experienced' peroxide-blonde class of '61 (Dewey High School in the movie) grad named Debbie Medway. When she gets in the '58 Impala loaned to Terry by Steve Bolander (played by 19 year old Ron Howard), she tells Terry, "Peel Out. I just love it when guys peel out."

Friday, February 09, 2007

ROCKIN's big thanks to John Buck Enterprises--and looking to Sacramento Autorama this weekend

John Buck Enterprises gave Herb Martinez and me a primo booth location at the Grand National, and the two of us are very grateful to John, his family, and staff for the generosity and support. It was because of that fine positioning that we met so many people. Thank you, John!

As you can see, that Sunday--the final day of the event--it seemed like the whole autoshow gathered at the big stage, right in front of our booth, to watch the trophies being awarded.

At Sacramento, look for the connected A & B Buildings, cause that's where we'll be.

See you there!

ROCKIN' history with graphic artist Keith Neltner, Hank III, and the ghost of Hank Sr.

I spoke at the Cincinnati Art Academy several weeks ago, at the request of Professor Mark Thomas and graphic artist Keith Neltner. Keith does a lot of work for Hank Williams III, better known as "Hank III," including some inspired CD packaging and many of his tour posters. You can see many fine pieces at

Knowing my interest in all things Hank Williams (and remembering the full page story in ROCKIN' on the death of Hank Sr. in his Cadillac), Keith sent me these strangely moving photos which Hank III commissioned, using a '53 Cadillac (not in the same car, but the same year and model of the Cadillac which bore his granddad to his death).

The top photo is of Hank Sr. performing on a flatbed truck around 1950. Notice the resemblance?