Sunday, May 20, 2007

a ROCKIN' saga of rock & roll and the flatbed truck

(above) lobby card for "High School Confidential" (1958)
Jerry Lee Lewis and band on flatbed truck,
performing song of same name
courtesy John Hazelton, www.filmposters.com
(above) November 22, 2004.
U2 atop a 48-foot truck driving and performing
through the streets of Manhattan
(above) Bjork filming video for "Big Time Sensuality"
atop a flatbed truck in Manhattan, late summer, 1993
(above) 2004: AC/DC receives the honour of a lane in
Melbourne, Australia named for them.
In 1976, several streets away, they had filmed the video for

"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)"

atop a flatbed truck


(above) Ron Wood's painting of the Rolling Stones
performing "Brown Sugar" on flatbed truck
in New York, 1975
(above) May, 1988
New Kids on the Block receive
key to the city from Puyallup, WA mayor
atop a flatbed truck parked next to the JCPenney store
5,000 teenage girls play hooky from school, mob streets,
near-riot ensues. This 4' x 6' poster was found after that event
(above) 8,000 sun-baked Metallica fans greet the band
(atop a semi-truck converted to flatbed)
outside Tower Records. San Jose, CA
celebrating the release of "Load," June, 1996
(above) April-May, 2007
map of UK locations where
LMHR-supporting bands on flatbed trucks will perform
(above and three photos below)
March 3, 1968
Grateful Dead perform free concert on a flatbed truck
on Haight Street (in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district)
across from the Straight Theater
photo courtesy photog. Jim Marshall
(from GRATEFUL DEAD: THE BOOK OF THE DEAD HEADS)
(above) bassist Phil Lesh (l), drummer Bill Kreutzmann (m)
and guitarist Jerry Garcia (r)
photo courtesy Jim Marshall
(above) drummer Mickey Hart
photo courtesy Jim Marshall
Jerry Garcia arriving for free concert on flatbed truck
photo courtesy Steve Brown
(above) rapper Mos Def, September 1, 2006
performing "Katrina Clap"atop a flatbed truck, in protest,
outside Radio City Music Hall during the Video Music Awards
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This weekend I was engaged in correspondence with John Hazelton, proprietor of www.filmposters.com, as I was looking to trade my "Two Lane Blacktop" linen-backed original film poster I'd acquired during the course of producing ROCKIN'. I saw on his site that John had turned up the rarely seen lobby card for the film "High School Confidential" (1958) that featured Jerry Lee Lewis and his band banging out the title song atop a flatbed truck. It's a well-remembered moment from a campy classic.
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So, I got to thinking about this and all the other moments when rock, pop, and rap musicians performed atop flatbed trucks or otherwise interacted (see ALLMAN BROTHERS below). I'll begin with Jerry Lee.
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JERRY LEE LEWIS. "High School Confidential" was one of The Killer's lesser-known hits, although it did reach #12 on both the U.S. and UK Billboard charts in 1958. As noted by www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5867413/ "If there's a deep and profound message for youngsters here, it's to go out and have a rockin' good time: 'Everybody's hoppin', everybody's boppin', boppin' at the high school hop.' This song may be the product of a bygone era, but the message is still the lifeblood of any kid's existence--particularly that of gyrating to rock & roll." It's also, many critics opine, the pinnacle of '50s juvenile delinquent movies. Hella great truck too.
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ELVIS PRESLEY. From ALL SHOOK UP: ELVIS DAY-BY-DAY (by Lee Cotton). "September 9, 1954: Elvis was paid $10 to perform at the grand opening of Lamar-Airways Shopping Center on Lamar Avenue in Memphis. About 300 people--mostly teenagers--attended the 9:00 pm event. Elvis performed with Sleepy-Eyed John and the Eagle's Nest band atop a flatbed truck in front of the new Katz Drug Store, the shopping center's flagship. In the audience was an aspiring singer from Arkansas, Johnny Cash." This would be the first flatbed truck stage--of many to come over the next two years--where Elvis wowed his first audiences.
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ROLLING STONES. The Rolling Stones embarked upon their Tour of the Americas '75 on June 1st of that year. This was their first tour with new guitarist Ron Wood, after Mick Taylor left the band. The tour was unusual in that it was not supporting any new release (it began more than seven months after the release of "It's Only Rock 'n Roll." The 1977 album "Love You Live" partially documents this tour. The announcement of the tour became famous in itself. At a May 1 press conference, the band surprised waiting reporters by driving down Broadway, playing "Brown Sugar," on the top of a flatbed truck in the middle of unrehearsed New York traffic. Apparently drummer Charlie Watts was responsible for the idea, remembering how New Orleans jazz bands promoted club dates. This stunt would later influence U2 and AC/DC. Wood, an accomplished artist, later painted his memory of that day (shown above).
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MIDNIGHT OIL. From www.burnsidewriterscollective.com: "Midnight Oil, from Australia, just like their peers U2, were always out of step in the 1980s. With songs like "Love Shack" by the B-52s and "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" by Wham cramming the airwaves, it's a bit easier to understand how utterly unsexy conscience was during those days. Radio was pop, and rock & roll was such a bore. Peter Garrett, the six-foot-seven front man of Midnight Oil was like a prophet crying in the wilderness. The band's album "Blue Hill Mining" was rock & roll. I remember reading about the band pulling up aboard a flatbed truck in downtown Manhattan, in fron of the Exxon Oil headquarters. The truck was loaded with their stage gear and strung with a banner that read, "Midnight Oil makes you dance, Exxon oil makes you sick."
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ALICE COOPER. from www.alicecooper.com. "Alice Cooper's title track to one of his great albums, "School's Out," was later deemed to be one of the Top 10 greatest summer songs ever, right behind The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" and the Beach Boys' "California Girls." BITCH BITCH BITCH read the muscle shirt Alice wore for the "School's Out" class photo, and bitch, bitch, bitch is exactly what everyone was doing about Alice--and what happened when the Alice Cooper Show invaded millions of North American homes via television on ABC's very first "In Concert" program. In the midst of all the sensationalism, the "School's Out" tour flew across the pond to England. By accidentally-on-purpose stalling a flatbed truck smack in the middle of Piccadilly Circus during rush hour, Alice's press agents drew huge attention to a double-sided billboard atop the truck, featuring Richard Avedon's photo of Alice wearing nothing but his boa constrictor."
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PUNK ROCK. from an interview with Dave Philp of The Automatics, at www.punk77.co.uk:
"We did guerilla gigs everywhere! When big bands we thought were jokes wereplaying inflated venues, we'd put ourselves on the bill and paper the area with posters of us as the main act and them in tiny print as the support act. Afterward the gig when the audience was coming out, we'd roll up in the parking lot on the back of a flatbed truck with a generator and our equipment and start playing. We usually got in 4 or 5 numbers before the police moved us on. We did it to Queen! Freddie was furious because we stole the review in the London Standard! We did another flatbed gig down the Kings Road in the middle of the Great Punk Wars of '77 and nearly died, starting a riot and all."
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NOISE ROCK. From www.waxtraxrecords.com. Duane, one of Wax Trax' founders (Wax Trax is one of the great Denver record stores), remembers: "I grew up in small towns and listened to the radio--WLF out of Chicago. I loved the hits: Elvis, the Drifters, Buddy Holly. Later, I got into the whole psychedelic era, starting with the Beatles, Hendrix, Cream. The Rolling Stones were like nothing I'd ever seen before--wild! I saw Dylan in '67. Later, I saw Black Flag, Flock of Seagulls, and was into Noise Bands for awhile. Ensturzende Neubauten (Collapsing New Buildings) played jack hammers and sand compactors and electric drills--they played Denver in a junkyard on a flatbed truck with four refrigerators on each corner and a yellow VW tilted on a ramp to shine lights on the stage."
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HAIR METAL. You must remember Dokken on a flatbed semi truck performing "It's Not Love," back in a 1985 video. Jon Wiederhorn of www.Amazon.com does. "Sure, they may have been the kings of heavy metal Cheez Whiz, but unlike many image-conscious '80s rockers, Dokken wrote genuinely appealing songs. Don Dokken's voice carried better than most belters and George Lynch was a ferociously gifted guitarist who could tug at the heartstrings as easily as he could burn down the bedroom. By the time of "Under Lock and Key," the band was all about attracting a following. Candy metal softballs like "It's Not Love" were heavy enough to keep the guys rockin' but sensitive enough to attract the chicks. And isn't that what '80s metal was all about?"
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AC/DC. From www.oneplusoneequalsthree.com. "The first Australian promo music video (I believe) was shot back in 1976. Paul Drane, director from Countdown, put AC/DC on a flatbed truck and filmed them playing "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)" whilst the truck ambled down Swanston Street in Melbourne. No post-production special effects, no gimmicks, no animation, no budget! But the clip did feature that riff and that bagpipe solo (!). It's still refreshing to see a truly great song and video that uses nothing except . . . a truck. A raw, rough, and ready Australian rock classic." Editor's note: the song is notable for combining bagpipes (courtesy the Rats of Tobruk Pipe Band) with hard rock instruments, and there was no attempt at lip-synching here: everyone played their instruments atop the truck, and lead singer Bon Scott played the bagpipes as well (in the 1960s he played side drum in the Coastal Scottish Pipe Band). In 2004, the City of Melbourne commemorated the filming by officially renaming a street "ACDC Lane." Jack Black, in the School of Rock film (2003), covered this song memorably.
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PROTEST ROCK. from www.lovemusichateracism.com. "People across the country are holding LMHR events through April and into May (2007), to tie in with Unite Against Fascism's campaign to expose the BNP as fascists and racist liars in the run-up to May 3rd's local council elections. Events including gigs, rallies, mass leafletting, club nights, school & college events, film screenings and a university tour will help mobilise people. Flatbed trucks with PA's and LMHR-supporting bands playing on the trucks will go around major cities." (see map above).
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from www.marxists.org "Concerning the Carnival Against the Nazi's (1978). It was a most exciting-looking demonstration. Trafalgar Square was raked with colour. Yellow Anti-Nazi League (ANL) roundels, punk pink Rock Against Racism (RAR) stars, and day-glo flags oscillated in approval to the speeches. There were streamers, Long Ranger masks, steel bands and reggae and punk from dozens of flatbed trucks, and thousands upon thousands of plastic whistles formed slip-streams of colour and sound. It was a carnival, a positive, joyous carnival against the No Fun, No Future philosophy of the National Front."
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PAUL ROBESON. Robeson was a great athlete, singer, and activist during the 1930s - 1950s. In 1946, on the campaign trail in June of that year, he came to Georgia where he sang before overflow audiences. He rode a flatbed truck through the streets of the Black neighborhoods singing, and when people came out of their homes to hear him, he urged them to register to vote.
In 1952, the State Department banned him from leaving the U.S. to sing at a concert in Vancouver, British Columbia. Labor unions in the U.S. and Canada organized a May 18 concert at the International Peace Arch on the border between Washington State and B.C. Robeson stood atop a flatbed truck on the American side and performed before a crowd on the Canadian side estimated to be nearly 40,000 people.
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CONSEQUENCE. In 1996, rapper Consequence joined with Kanye West to film a most ambitious video in the streets of Manhattan for his song "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." The idea was to film through the windows of a fictional hotel room which itself was traveling aboard a flatbed truck. According to www.digitalcontentproducer.com, "by January they'd secured the necessary permits and hired the right video girls, including vixen Tiffany Webb. Consequence and West found themselves on a traveling set, rolling through New York in frigid conditions, literally freezing while rapping in front of two Arriflex 16 SR 3 cameras. "The look was fine," said producer Susan Linss, "but the concept wasn't tying together. We'd get through the first two verses and then the last verse would be very challenging. It was just the logistical stuff--weather conditions, being on the moving flatbed, with the city passing by--which threw us off our game."
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MOS DEF. from www.mtv.com. "September 1, 2006. Mos Def was taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct after an unauthorized performance outside Radio City Music Hall in New York during the Video Music Awards. According to authorities, the rapper (who had permits) pulled up in front of the venue in a flatbed truck at around 10 p.m. for an impromptu show for the people gathered outside. He was performing "Katrina Clap," a freestyle indictment of the Bush administration's frustratingly slow response to the hurricane victims of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
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BOOTS RILEY of THE COUP. from www.speakoutnow.org. "Boots Riley is a co-founder of the hip hop group The Coup. Together with DJ Pam the Funktress, Riley has helped The Coup's sounds evolve from early '90s Afroethnicity to 21st century Raptivism. In 1991, Riley helped found the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective to use hip hop culture to publicize campaigns against racism. Riley has taught several workshops on arts and activism, sponsored by the California Arts Council, in which he developed "guerilla hip hop concerts" (mobile concerts on flatbed trucks)."
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U2. from www.netmusiccountdown.com. "On November 22, 2004, U2 held a parade in New York City that ended with a free concert by the Brooklyn Bridge. According to www.U2.com, U2's day began on the back of a 48-foot flatbed truck, where the band's equipment had been set up for a video shoot. With the band aboard, the truck then drove through Manhattan and across the Manhattan Bridge, performing the song "All Because of You" from their new album "Hot to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." Bono also entertained the crowds with "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." At the end of the video shoot, directed by Phil Joanou, the truck delivered U2 to Fulton Ferry State Park, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the band performed an 11-song concert for several thousand fans."
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SONGS. To my knowlege, two bands have written and performed their own version of a song titled "Flat Bed Truck." That would be The Dreamsicles ("Live at Schubas 11/20/2004") and the Kenny Floyd Band in 2005 ("Water").
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BJORK. "Big Time Sensuality" was Bjork's fourth single and music video, released in November, 1993. Written by Bjork and Nellee Hooper, and produced by Hooper, the video was shot on location in the streets of New York in 1993 by Stephane Sednaoui, featuring Bjork dancing back and forth and singing on the back of a moving flatbed truck.
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Stephane: "Bjork contacted me to film "Big Time Sensuality." We were supposed to go to Iceland. But no matter how simple the idea was, going to Iceland was too big for the budget."
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Bjork: "We met severl times and I kind of blabbered on about how I wanted it to be, you know, when you're living on the edge and it's about the courage to enjoy life."
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Stephane: "I went to New York and I was in a cab, and I was listening to the song and I looked around me and I saw it would work amazingly with the city. With all the big buildings and everything and her voice. And at the end of the day I called her and said, "I've got an idea!"
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Bjork: "The best way to get me in that state, Stephane told me, was to physically get me in front of a camera on the back of a truck."
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Stephane: "So, that's what we did. We took a truck and drove it everywhere."
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Bjork: "We were driving with a big P.A. I was very, very shy. But you know how New Yorkers are. They were like, "Hi honey, let me get up on there with you." So we drove for twelve hours in circles. And people started following the truck. So it was like a continuous, twelve-hour concert, filmed by one camera in one fixed position."
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Stephane: "The performance was unbelieveable from beginning to end. There was no need to do anything."
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Bjork: "I just had to get extroverted as humanly possible!"
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GRATEFUL DEAD. from www.archive.org (reviewer sinceamelia3). "To me this show (March 3, 1968), which the Dead performed for free on the back of a flatbed truck in the middle of a closed-off Haight Street in San Francisco, is why I came to love the Dead. It's remembered fondly as the band's goodbye to the Haight, and because even with the ravages of the previous summer's "Summer of Love," magic still could happen." The concert was taped by a friend of the band, Steve Brown, on an old Uher tape recorder with a cheap mike he stuck up over the crowd.
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Larry (last name not known) recalled, "I remember getting off the bus on Haight Street that spring day, pushing my way through the crowds to see what all the excitement was about ( I didn't know--did anyone?--that the Dead were parking a flatbed truck across Haight to play a free gig!) So, completely by accident I got within a hundred feet just as they fired up the music. Metaphorically speaking, the bus came by and I got on . . . and I was splattered like a bug on the windshield."
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ALLMAN BROTHERS. from www.snopes.com. "Howard Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia, on October 29, 1971. He was only 24. The band had just released the live double-album "Allman Brothers Band at the Fillmore East." After Duane's death came "Eat a Peach," consisting of leftover live material from their Fillmore East shows, plus three studio tracks already in the can at the time of Duane's death and three more tracks recorded afterwards. It became their biggest commercial success to date, hitting #4 on the Billboard album charts. Allman died trying to avoid running into a flatbed truck bearing a lumber crane.
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"A Chevy flatbed truck that was coming towards Allman slowed down and began doing a slow left turn in front of him. As described in Midnight Riders, Duane gently pushed the bike to his left, toward the centerline, so he could swing around the truck. Then the truck did the unexpected: halfway through the turn it stopped dead in the road, blocking Duane's entire lane. He pushed the bike farther toward the middle of the street. He was only a few feet away from the truck now, and it was still stopped in front of him. He had two options: he could lay the bike down or he could try to veer around the truck. He had an instant to make the decision.
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"For a moment it looked as though Duane was going to be able to finesse his way through. Then his friends Candace and Dixie, following further back in a car, watched in horror as he came off the bike. He had hit something, maybe the cable hanging from the crane or the big weight-ball dangling on the cable, or maybe the rear corner of the flatbed. His helmet flew off and the bike bounced up in the air, landing on top of him and driving him hard into the pavement. The bike skidded ninety feet, leaving three gouge marks in the pavement, then slammed into the curb. It slid along the edge of the street a few more feet and came to rest between the curb and the right tire of an oncoming car. The bike's engine was revved up at full blast. It was screaming. The truck driver climbed out of the cab. He checked the guy lying in the road. Then he walked over to the motorcycle and shut it off. It was 5:44 in the afternoon."
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So, an interesting journey into the world of rock and flatbed trucks. RIP Duane Allman. You are missed greatly, still today.
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