First Quarter ’08 Third Update

Both Dave Stevens and Mario DeMarco loved the romance and wonder of entertainment from days gone by – loved it so much that they filtered it through their own souls, reshaping it and recasting it, shining it up and sending it out.

Dave, of course, was the artist and writer best known for creating the great comic-book character the Rocketeer, a character rooted in the gosh-wow science-fiction movies and pulps of the ’30s and ’40s. His stunning work on the Rocketeer stories quickly made him one of the first and brightest stars of the independent-comics movement of the ’80s.
Mario, on the other hand, was less well known, his audience comprised mostly of fans of B-western movies, for whom he created pen-and-ink portraits and self-published paeans to the cowboy-movie stars of yesteryear. (His obituary in the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette indicates that he also had a 50-year-career as a cartoonist with the Navy Times.)

They both created a lot of their oeuvre in the ’80s, although I have no idea of whether they were aware of each other’s work or not. They both died in early March, within a week or so of one another. And I knew them both, at least a little bit.

I met Dave Stevens in San Diego in 1974, where I was fulfilling my obligations as a Navy Reservist – following two years on a helicopter carrier – by spending a couple of weeks as part of the crew of a fleet tug. My previous Navy service had included some time in that city, where I’d had the good fortune to meet Shel Dorf and Richard Butner, both of whom were heavily involved with the San Diego Comic Convention (which had then been going only a few years). I believe it was Richard who introduced me to Dave one weekend, when I was able to get off the tug and into town. I was impressed when I found out this young guy was inking backgrounds for one of my comic-book heroes, Russ Manning, on the Tarzan comic strip.

I recall Dave as being pretty shy and reserved that day, but we nonetheless hit it off. Both of us not only dug comics and pulps, but old movies and serials and – perhaps most important – the leading ladies of low-budget horror and science-fiction movies.

As the years went by, we’d exchange the occasional letter or phone call, in addition to seeing each other at conventions, where we’d make the time to do some catching up. After he’d begun dating the ’50s B-movie actress Yvette Vickers, I went to my mailbox one day to find an envelope with an 8X10 glossy, taken on the set of Attack of the Giant Leeches, she’d signed for me. For my part, I sent him a cassette tape of Dreamsville, one of my all-time favorite LPs, featuring Henry Mancini’s ultracool jazz orchestra behind vocalist Lola Albright, who played Edie Hart on the Peter Gunn TV series. In 1991, when Disney put out the Rocketeer movie, I was able to interview Dave for the Tulsa World, where I was working as an entertainment writer. Later, he told me that the picture had been the No. 10 moneymaker for that summer – which, unfortunately, wasn’t quite big enough to trigger the planned sequels and other spinoffs.

After the Rocketeer comic-book stories hit, and especially after the movie, Dave Stevens became a huge star on the convention circuit. His Betty character, a tribute to ’50s pin-up queen Bettie Page, led to Ms. Page’s rediscovery, and Dave ended up becoming the most famous pin-up artist since Alberto Vargas.

As fame increases, so do the demands on a person’s time and energies, and the last few times I saw Dave we talked through a stream of interruptions and distractions, which seemed to bemuse him a bit. It was clear that day that he did what he did from love, not a lust for fame or money. It may be clichâd to say that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Dave Stevens, to the end, remained one of those people you always look forward to seeing again. To know that you won’t be able to do that in this particular sphere of existence has saddened a great number of people, myself included.
While Dave died early – at 52, from leukemia – Mario DeMarco was 86 when he passed, having actually lived through the movie heyday of the B-western stars in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

Mario and I never met, but we wrote one another, and I have several of his handcrafted B-western books in my library. I first became aware of him in 1979, after I’d left my college-teaching job to move back to my home turf and try to make it as a writer. The very first gig I got was at a tabloid-sized newsprint publication called The Big Reel, published out of North Carolina by a man who was, I believe, had a day job as a carpet cleaner. His name was Don Key, and his publication, slanted toward the old westerns, was for folks who – in those pre home-video days – collected, sold, and traded stills, movie-related publications, and 16mm films. Just after we’d moved, I saw a notice that he was looking for a book reviewer for The Big Reel. The pay was a penny a word, and you got to keep the books and magazines sent to you for review, as well as receiving a gratis subscription to the publication itself.

I’ve never been much of a reviewer, but it was a paying gig, so I applied. For the next couple of years or so – before the mag was inundated with amateur critics who’d do the job for free – I got a check every three months right on the dot, and that $45 paid for a lot of groceries in those days.

Mario DeMarco was doing line drawings, coupled with biographical nuggets, for The Big Reel, and he crafted a little logo for my column. Right after I started working for the magazine, he sent me his self-published Yours Truly, Tom Mix, a “photostory” of the great western star, along with a letter talking about how the book “wasn’t meant to be a ‘classic’ – it was printed at my expense (and extremely expensive) for the fans who really loved Tom – and for the collectors too – for in it went a lot of love and care.”

There was a lot of love and care in everything Mario did to help keep the B-westerns alive, and perhaps to help telegraph their joys to a generation that didn’t grow up with Saturday afternoon shoot-’em-ups. And a lot of love and care went into Dave Stevens’ wondrous work as well. They were working very different sides of Nostalgia Alley, certainly, but Dave Stevens and Mario DeMarco covered their respective turfs with joy and wonder, working with the benign ghosts that haunted them to create new images for our dreams and daydreams.

For my money, those were two lives well lived.

(The Internet is full of obituaries and tributes to Dave Stevens. My friend Jim Vance has a very nice one at http://www.james-vance.com/jvblog/?p=80)

First Quarter ’08 Second Update

My webmaster and cyberspace advisor, Jonathan Wooley, having educated me recently about the importance of website blogging, has now advised me that it’s a good idea not only to regularly add links to other websites, but also to write a bit about the linkees. With that in mind, here’s a little something about the folks behind the web addresses:

–Jim Vance ( http://www.james-vance.com ) has been a very good friend and occasional co-conspirator of mine for more years than I’d like to remember. I will not embarrass him here by relating where we met, but I will say that it was at the world premiere of a local movie in which he had, shall we say, a major part. I will also note that he was the sober one at that meeting. In the immediately subsequent years, we visited a lot of comic-book conventions together, notably Larry Lankford’s late and much-lamented Dallas Fantasy Fairs and Festivals, and entered the independent comic-book market as scripters, with Jim receiving well-deserved acclaim. (Among other things, he won a Harvey and two Eisners for his superb graphic novel with artist Dan Burr, Kings in Disguise , a Depression-era tale told from a boy hobo’s point of view. Recently reprinted by W.W. Norton, it belongs in every American’s library. Honestly.)

Jim continues to turn out great work full of wisdom, compassion, and clarity. I also envy him for his ability to knock out first-class blog entries on his site http://www.james-vance.com, most of them having to do with comics and graphic novels, which is where he’s doing most of his work these days.

— Chuck Ayers (http://www.chuckayers.com ) is the creator and host of a fine radio show called the Red River Jazz Cafe, which I’ve been enjoying beginning at noon Saturdays on radio station KZLI (1570 AM). KZLI is (along with oldies station KRVT, 1270 AM) half of a great northeastern Oklahoma AM-radio combine that’s bravely swimming against the current (forgive the mixed metaphor) by offering programming that couldn’t be different from the soulless corporate effluvia clogging our airwaves.

Chuck’s show is a great example of what I mean. It’s full of laid-back, small-combo jazz – often including something from my favorite, Oklahoma boy Chet Baker — strung together with Chuck’s equally relaxed conversational reminiscences of his younger days in California and Oklahoma. KZLI, for all its wonderful qualities, isn’t exactly a clear-channel flamethrower, so if you’re not in the Tulsa area, pick up the cafâ on Chuck’s website. Heck – you can even order up a show from the menu. Plus, there’s some old-time radio programming and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll available there as well.

And while we’re on the topic of music . . . Broadway, concert, and TV star Sam Harris (Did you catch his laugh-out-loud character on last year’s sitcom The Class?) is working on a new album, and he’s released a track on YouTube. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulqENsff5bw to see “War on War,” an anti-war number that, to me, is a first-class, spirited, re-imagining of the late 1960s, when kids marched for peace and love was in the air. (Following my time as one of those peace marchers, I ended up on a helicopter carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, but that’s another story.) Sam’s song hits all the right buttons, spiritually and musically – there’s a little echo of the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” in the chorus, a Beatles evocation on the bridge, and a nod to Edwin Starr’s greatest hit.

Sam’s organized a music-video contest around the song, so those of you who are into that sort of thing should check it out. So should everyone else – except, maybe, those who still believe that folks like Bill O’Reilly speak for America.

Finally, check out the newest two issues of Fangoria the world’s No. 1 horror-movie magazine, for a couple of pieces I’m proud of. I visited the Oklahoma City-based set of the new movie Soul’s Midnight for my report in Fangoria No. 270. It includes a sidebar interview with director (and stand-up comedian) Harry Basil, who talks about both Soul’s and Fingerprints, a second Oklahoma-lensed feature that’s generated a lot of pre-release buzz.

In Fango No. 271, the current issue, my pal and frequent collaborator Michael H. Price joins me for a look at the underrated 1980 horror film Without Warning, which was undoubtedly an “inspiration” for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The big studios co-opted every good idea the low-budget drive-in filmmakers had, pumped ’em up with money and starpower, and released ’em as major movies, without acknowledging their cheap-film roots at all. The Without Warning/Predator similarities, I think, were a harbinger of this practice, which still exists today, you bet.

First Quarter ’08 Update

If you happen to be interested in Oklahoma-related movies and music, you might want to check out a couple of newly released articles penned by your faithful (sort of) correspondent.

The current issue of Fangoria, No. 270, carries the story of my visit to the set of Soul’s Midnight, a vampire film starring Armand Assante that’s due out on DVD even as we speak. My Oklahoma City-based friend and entertainment insider Bud Elder, who was helping with publicity for the movie, got me down to OKC and in to see Gray Frederickson, the Academy Award-winning producer who was overseeing Soul’s Midnight for his company, Graymark Productions. Long affiliated with Francis Ford Coppola, Gray was a producer on the Godfather films (he won his Oscar for Godfather: Part II), Apocalypse Now, and The Outsiders, among many others.

An Oklahoma native, Gray decided to return home a few years ago and make some movies that, thanks to his skill and savvy, look a lot bigger that their budgets would suggest. On Soul’s Midnight, he had a solid group of familiar faces in the lead roles, topped by the veteran Assante. I was able to visit with Mr. Assante in his trailer, and I’m happy to report that he was pretty much how you’d hope he’d be — sophisticated, kind, thoughful, and articulate. In fact, everybody on the set — beginning with Gray — seemed to go out of their way to tell me or show me whatever I might need for the story. In my nearly 30 years of writing about entertainment, I can say that this is something that doesn’t always happen in set-visit situations, and after my evening on the Soul’s Midnight set, I came away pulling for Graymark and for everyone associated with the picture.

One of those people, by the way, is Harry Basil, a stand-up comedian as well as a director, who was a protege of the late Rodney Dangerfield. Basil is justifiably proud of Soul’s Midnight, as well as another Oklahoma-lensed Graymark picture, ,Fingerprints — as you can tell from the sidebar interview I did with Harry for the Soul’s Midnight story.

I’m proud to say I’ve been appearing in Fangoria, the world’s most popular horror-movie magazine, since issue No. 23, which came out in November of ’82. I broke into Fango by writing up an interview with the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Ed Neal, who was a fellow guest at one of Larry Lankford’s wonderful Fantasy Fair conventions in Dallas. For more on the magazine and the whole Fango empire, check out www.fangoria.com

The music story appears in the current issue of Oklahoma Magazine (Vol. XII, No. 2), in which I have a bimonthly (soon to be monthly) column, It’s an interview with my pal David Teegarden, the Top 40 hitmaker (Teegarden & Van Winkle’s “God, Love, And Rock & Roll” in 1970) and longtime drummer with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. Dave tells the story of the long-suppressed rock ‘n’ roll/political documentary, Ten for Two, in which he, Seger, and Skip “Van Winkle” Knape appeared. It’s a fascinating story, and I hope I did it justice.

You can judge for yourself — for free — by picking up Oklahoma Magazine‘s latest issue, available at finer restaurants and clubs (and possibly, a dump or two) in the Tulsa area. I believe they’re also in some Oklahoma City venues as well. And they don’t cost a dime.

For more info, check out www.okmag.com

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Fourth Quarter ’07 Update

So my webmaster son, Jonathan, who is a 23-year-old filmmaker and hip to these sorts of things, tells me the other day that if I don’t start doing a little more blogging in this space no one’s going to visit any more.

I have to tell you that I’m fairly reticent to plunge into this blogging thing, which is no surprise to anyone who’s taken a look at this website over the months and noticed that I update it once or twice a year, when a new book or something else of mine comes out. I figured that would do the job, but apparently not.

Okay, look. Here’s the deal. When I was Jonathan’s age, the closest analogue to blogging we had was fanzines, little magazines done for the sheer love of it, usually having to do with comic books or science fiction and fantasy or old pulp magazines and other nostalgia/escapist topics. A few of us like-minded kids would talk our way into church or school offices and commandeer a duplicating or mimeograph machine, and crank out these little publications in editions of 20 or 50 or 100 and mail them off to people across the country, hoping to get back at least what we called an LOC (letter of comment).

Yes, those were the ’60s and early ’70s, and things change. But chances are if you’re one of those folks who were around when dinosaurs ruled the earth, like yours truly, you’ve got a bit of an approach-avoidance problem with cyberspace. I think some of it can be boiled down to this: It just seems too easy.

Probably, this is just the latest manifestation of that line the old folks have used on every new generation: “Well, in my day, we didn’t have it so easy!” Of course, that’s true. Things do get easier in a lot of different areas as the years pass, thanks to unrelenting technological breakthroughs. And that’s all fine. But I’m with another old poop, the unfortunately late Kurt Vonnegut, who opined toward the end of his life that we’d advanced technology enough – how about trying to advance humanity a little bit?

These days, anyone in the world has the potential to communicate with loads of people via the internet. A person can do this regardless of whether he or she has anything to say, or even whether he or she has the skills necessary to communicate it. (And don’t get me started on how cowardly it is to hide behind a fake name and take ugly potshots at others.)

Chances are, if you’re of a certain age (hint: mine), you’ve blanched at the execrable communications skills flaunted by many of the denizens of cyberspace. Forget such niceties as subject-verb agreement, modifiers that don’t dangle, correct spelling, or actual sentences. Some of the stuff is absolutely incomprehensible, and it’s going out there where tons of people are supposed to see it. In some cases it’s like – as Raymond Chandler wrote in a different context — an idiot with a machine gun. There’s all this power to communicate, and, if you’ll excuse the expression, it’s being pissed away by people who don’t care enough to learn how to communicate.

It’s the same thing with radio call-in shows. Now, I don’t spend one millisecond of my life listening to the saliva-slinging political airhorns, but I do like sports talk about major league baseball and pro football, and I especially like the syndicated Jim Rome show. But we have some good local guys on our sports-talk stations around here too, people who know their topics and do their homework and come up with some intriguing ideas and angles –

And then, they open the phone lines. And here come people who, in what seems to me to be the overwhelming majority of the cases, haven’t given any real thought to what they plan to say (something along the lines of “How ’bout my Sooners?” is all too typical) and don’t have any new angle and just take the air out of everything. Even the callers to Rome’s show — who tend to be of a higher caliber, or at least a weirder bent – are hit and miss, and I find myself switching the channel when they come on almost as much as I do when our local guys open up the phones. I simply prefer to be entertained by professionals.

Just because you can get access to the airwaves doesn’t mean you automatically have something to say. Or, as my pal Jim Millaway once put it, there’s a reason you have a radio receiver and not a radio transmitter in your car.

Now, of course, thanks to the internet, we all have our freaking transmitters, and we can use them at any hour of the day or night. We don’t have to go with an unexpressed thought, and I’m not sure that’s particularly healthy.

I’ve brought up a lot of this with Jonathan, and he’s asked me how communicating on the Internet is any different than writing for the fanzines.

It’s a good question, and maybe it’s simply the far greater number of participants, but I think it’s more than that. I remember when I wrote my first piece for a fanzine – Paul McSpadden and Steve Fears’ MASTERMIND, back in 1964 – I saw it as a huge opportunity, and a big responsibility. I strove to get everything right. I used every English skill I’d learned in school, and went over it several times, looking for the slightest error. I did not shoot it out into cyberspace like some wobbly, slapped-together projectile and go on to something else. I took a lot of time with it.

So, yeah, it was harder. Maybe I even made it harder than it should’ve been. But the people who really interest me in cyberspace are the ones who insist on taking the time to craft something, who realize that just because it’s easy to communicate on your computer, you shouldn’t just throw something out there. Scattering some random thoughts with no regard to communications skills doesn’t make you a writer, just like a bunch of blank verse scribbled after your girlfriend dumps you doesn’t make you a poet. To be good at anything, you’ve got to work at it. I think it may just be that simple.

I realize that I’ve tackled a number of different notions here – but, hey, isn’t that a part of blogging? And please don’t construe this as a rant. I’m more bemused than anything else, and I’m just trying to dope the whole thing out rather than dismiss it out of hand. So, if you’d like to enlighten me, or explain why I’m not looking at it right, or even agree with me, please feel free to send me an LOC. Yes, I’m kidding. Please email me at webmaster@johnwooley.com

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things written in the spirit of the holiday season. The first is a little poem that came unbidden to me yesterday morning. The other is a story I wrote back in 1995 for the Tulsa World editorial section. Those of you who are comic-book fans might want to know that the man I refer to in the opening paragraph of the newspaper piece was the great Funk Age artist and writer Leonard B. Cole, whom I was proud to call a friend.

Puppet plays in black and white

And a starry sky

Gently snowing Jesus Christ

 

(THIS ORIGINALLY RAN ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1995, AND IS POSTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE TULSA WORLD.)

    About a week after we’d sent him a chatty Christmas letter with a
picture of the family, my wife, Janis, and I found out that an old
friend in New York had died. The death of any friend is a tragedy;
the death of a friend you haven’t seen as much as you want to can
be especially unsettling — especially at this time of the year.

“You know,” Janis said as we talked about it that evening, “it
just doesn’t seem right for people to die around Christmas.”

No, it doesn’t. All the accouterments of Christmas, from the
manger scene on the living-room table to the star at the top of the
tree, symbolize joy and hope, not sadness and death. The whole
story of the Savior’s birth is the story of hope fulfilled by God,
delivering on a promise. These days, we react to the spirit of that
fulfilled promise by giving some of what we have to make other
people joyous. The Tulsa World sponsors a drive to help the area’s
neediest families. Churches and radio stations and service
organizations and merchants all organize efforts to help others,
and it’s a rare working man or woman this holiday season who won’t
be helping someone else — a stranger — realize some Christmas
hope.

Maybe in the middle of all of this necessary and wonderful
effort, though, it would be good to remember that without sadness,
there would be no need at all for hope. If we were all joyous and
content, why would we have to hope? For me, the most poignant
Christmas moments of all are those in which sadness and hope are
intermingled, with people nobly overlooking their own sadnesses in
favor of providing hope and joy for others.

It’s the sight of cardboard letters proclaiming “Merry Christmas”
in the smeared window of a subsidized apartment on the wrong side
of town. It’s the aging members of a dying organization pulling
together to decide how many Christmas baskets they can afford to
give away this year. It’s a poor kid, a kid that’s maybe been
kicked around, buying a can of peas — or taking one out of a
meager pantry — to donate to a church food bank. It’s a guy, two
days off the street and two days sober, volunteering to pull on a
Santa hat and ring a bell in front of a Salvation Army kettle. It’s
a child wrapped in rough garments approximating the clothing of
Christ’s time, shivering as he or she stands stock still in a
“living nativity,” watching the cars roar by on the street in front.
It’s even ourselves as adults, remembering our Christmases as
kids, and the precious innocence and sense of wonder that gradually
fell away from us like shed, shimmering skin as we grew up.
There’s no joy, no hope, without sadness. Even the Savior was
born in a stable, to bedraggled and undoubtedly stressed-out
parents who’d looked all over town to find a decent bed and instead
ended up sharing a stable with animals. The moment their blessed
child was born, he was on his way to the cross. And the star of God
shone over it all, over this sweetly transcendent mixture of hope
and pain, sadness and joy.

In this season, we strain toward the light of that star, and its
light, in turn, illuminates us from within, lighting up the
darkness of our lives. We call that light the Christmas spirit, and
nothing is more holy. It continues, as long as we live, to see us
through our sorrows and to shine just often enough through our
mortal eyes in this, the most joyous, most hopeful and saddest
season of them all.

If you’re a fan of ’60s and ’70s music, you might want to catch another piece I’ve just reprinted, concerning my musical hero Augie Meyers.

(Click on the picture to read the article)

That’s it for this go-round – except for a piece of subliminal advertising buy my books and my best holiday wishes. Many thanks, as always, for dropping by.

 

 

 

           — Back atcha soon, you bet…

03 JULY ’07

“You have to be sentimental to be sensitive to impressions of terror, mystery, or the occult. After all, sentimentality is nothing more or less than an overactive imagination, a tendency to try to dramatize impressions.”- FREAKS director Tod Browning, quoted in BELA LUGOSI: DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES by Gary D. Rhodes with Richard Sheffield (Collectables, 2007)

Welcome to the John Wooley website, maintained, supervised, folded, spindled and mutilated by my No. 1 son, Jonathan (check out his award-winning Witch Cop shorts on the new DVD from VCI Entertainment, VCI: Short Films Contest Winners – with, in what I’m sure Jonathan and his filmmaking partner Joey Hambrick see as a primo example of typecasting, yours truly cast as the cranky character “Sarge”).

If you’re one of the new listeners to my Swing on This western-swing radio program (found in the Tulsa area at 89.5 FM and streaming everywhere else in the world at www.kwgs.org every Saturday night at 7 p.m. Oklahoma time), scroll ‘way down on the left-hand side to find (theoretically) the latest two playlists for the show. Maybe you’ve just discovered the show. Perhaps you were in the audience at Snyder, Texas, early in June, when I was honored to emcee the West Texas Western Swing Festival and plug the show. Whatever the circumstance, very glad to have you aboard.
I’m writing this the day before my friend and colleague John McMahan and I leave for the annual Pulpcon in Dayton, Ohio, an event I’ve been attending since the late ’80s. It’s a grand celebration of pulp literature, of a time when working-class folks – and others, of course – found escape from the Great Depression and other challenges of everyday living in the pages of garishly colored, cheaply printed all-fiction magazines. Not meant to last, these pulps from the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s are slowly if inexorably deteriorating, but even though most of them have to be read with care these days, there are those of us who believe there’s nothing better than to read an old Spider or Hollywood Detective or Operator No. 5 in its original form, with the indescribably transcendent smell of the decaying wood pulp adding another sensory level to the experience.

A few Pulpcon attendees are working to preserve some of the best of the thousands of pulp tales printed in the first half of the 20th Century. I’ve been honored to be able to work on some of those projects with my friends John Gunnison at Adventure House (www.adventurehouse.com) and John Locke at the relatively new Off-Trail Publications (so new, in fact, that the usually tech-headed Locke doesn’t yet have an Off-Trail website.)
John McMahan (enough Johns for you?) and I are going to be talking about some pulp projects with both these gentlemen – perhaps over a martini on the rocks with blue-cheese stuffed olives on the top floor of the Dayton Crowne Plaza, but more likely over a few hearty glasses of box wine in one of our rooms – and I should have a new pulp-related project or two to announce here soon.

Meanwhile, I should tell you that Off-Trail has just published a dandy called Doctor Coffin – the Living Dead Man, a collection of stories featuring a character created by early-Hollywood denizen Perley Poore Sheehan. Imagine what might have happened if Lon Chaney had decided to become a crimefighter, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of these immensely entertaining off-kilter tales. I wrote the introduction, and on the back John decided to dub me “the world’s foremost authority on Hollywood detectives.” I guess that’s kind of like being called the fastest gun in the West, except there aren’t as many people gunning for you.

The next weekend, July 13-15, I’ll be at the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma, doing a Saturday morning panel and signing copies of my current music book, From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music – now in its second big printing – as well as the music-related ghost story, Ghost Band. It’s my first time at the annual event, and I’m looking forward to seeing shows from several of my favorite acts, including the Red Dirt Rangers and Kevin Welch.
In other news: Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy, is now out from Midnight Marquee Press. Once again, my pal and prolific Renaissance man Michael H. Price has been good enough to let me gravy-train the franchise he started with the late George Turner, and while Michael is always responsible for the bulk of the work on those books, it’s been a real trip getting to visit, or revisit, some truly strange pictures from late 1946 through 1948, and then put my impressions down on paper. One of those films is Beauty and the Bandit, whose innocuous title masks the most bizarre Cisco Kid movie ever made.

There are, I’m guessing, a couple hundred other titles of that same ilk, with lots of illustrations and an introduction by Michael that is absolutely riveting – and, in fact, that ties in with the recent post-deathbed revelation from a Roswell, New Mexico scientist re: the alleged crash-landing of a flying saucer in ’47, the very year that the bulk of the films in Forgotten Horrors 4 were released. It’s a weird but persuasive personal reminiscence, chilling and funny and mighty fine.

You can order Forgotten Horrors 4 from your local bookstore, the virtual bookstores, or the Midnight Marquee website at www.midmar.com.

In other news: Michael and I continue to write the “Forgotten Horrors” columns for the world’s No. 1 horror-movie magazine, Fangoria. Next up: The amazing story of how Baptist minister Lynn Lemon, of Plan Nine from Outer Space, found himself in the quasi-skin flick, Invasion of the Bee Girls. The story comes from the 90-year-old reverend himself – who, by the way, is an extremely good guy!

Please continue to look for my feature stories, publishing under the general heading of “The Insider,” every other month in Oklahoma Monthly. And Best In Texas magazine is set to publish a piece of mine on Red Dirt Music very soon.

Finally, those of you in the Tulsa area who are matriculating right now should know about the courses I’m teaching on the OSU-Tulsa campus, under the auspices of the American Studies program in the History Department. Starting in late August, I’ll be teaching a 3000-level course called Studying Oklahoma’s Culture Through Music and Movies, and then in the spring I’m set to do one called Horror Movies: Reflecting America’s Fears. These classes will satisfy a number of different requirements, depending on what program you’re in, so if you’re interested, check with your counselor.

That’s it for now. As always, many thanks for dropping by.

Cornball

I’d rather take a chance on being called cornball than to die a wise ass.” — Jim Harrison

The other day, my webmaster and older son (not necessarily in that order) told me that it was past time to update my website, reminding me gently that it was easier to do it now that he’d shown me how I didn’t have to go in, kill everything out, and build it from the ground up any more. The look he gave me while he was explaining all that was the kind of look you’d give a whimpering stray puppy just as you were setting out a big bowl of Kibbles ‘n’ Bits. So, then, here we are with an update, in which — as Jonathan intimated — I need not be logorrheic. Or, as Jack Webb (kids, ask your baby-boomer parents) might’ve said, it’s just the facts, ma’am.

And here are those facts:

1)       Since leaving the newspaper on Sept. 1 of last year, I’ve been able to get into a variety of projects. Perhaps the most high-profile of them was a gig doing all the text for the tour book celebrating music legend Roy Clark’s 60th anniversary in show business. I’ve known Roy for many years, and his manager, Taylor Seale, has also been my pal for just about that long. They are both very good men, and I was honored to do the job. Roy has a year-long tour planned for this year, so if you see him in concert, check out the deluxe tour book, and you’ll not only see the words I wrote, but a wonderful selection of photos — many of them rare — from Roy’s career. The book even includes a CD featuring some of Roy’s most enduring hits.

2)       If you’re in Oklahoma, check out the latest issue of Oklahoma Magazine ( www.okmag.com ), which has a profile of yours truly made to look far better than I actually am by the fine writer Marnie Ducato. Next issue, just in time for Easter, the magazine will feature a story of mine on the strange relationship between one of the all time-great exploitation filmmakers and the annual Lawton, Oklahoma, Passion Play. It’s the first of a bimonthly series Oklahoma Magazine’s publishers have asked me to do.

3)       I’ve also been doing some enjoyable work for the feisty Texas-based music magazine Mavrik (www.LoneStarMusic.com). The January/February issue cover-featured my piece on the guys of Cross Canadian Ragweed, and the new one will have a similar story on the Red Dirt Rangers and their new disc. Working at the Tulsa World gave me the opportunity to cover the still- emerging phenomenon of Red Dirt Music from its very beginning, and it’s a pleasure to put some of that first-hand knowledge to work in a music magazine — especially one out of Texas, where the Stillwater-based Red Dirt and the singer-songwriter style known as Texas Music tend to get all smooshed (to borrow a term from Grandpa in Grapes of Wrath) together.

4)      After a frustrating several months of non-publication (when we expected the opposite, obviously) by another imprint, Mike Price and I are happy to be back with Midnight Marquee Press for Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy. A recent mass email from MidMar’s Susan Svehla indicates that the book will be out by the end of April.

5)        In a related story, look for some new “Forgotten Horrors” columns for Fangoria (www.fangoria.com). Michael and I have a couple in the can, and a couple more on the way. I’m also working on some solo stuff with Fango in mind. Editor Tony Timpone was very kind to me when I left the newspaper, emailing me with the assurance that I’d always have a home at Fango. I’m in the process of gratefully taking him up on that.

6)       I’m happy to say that both of my current books are doing well, even though if you only check www.amazon.com, it’ll look like — in the words of Raymond Chandler — they’re trying to crawl under a duck. I’ve come up with the little conceit that my books are like beer from a microbrewery. They’re not Bud or Coors, and they don’t have a huge corporate distribution machine behind them, but many discriminating souls — bless ’em — people find them not only just as satisfying as the stuff from the big guys, but in some ways, even better.

So, if you haven’t picked up Ghost Band, my novel about a touring musician trailed by specters, or From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music, my non-fiction look at national music trends that originated in Oklahoma — which just became a finalist for an Oklahoma Book Award — this might be a good time. If you’re in the Tulsa area, both are available at brick-and-mortar bookstores, including Steve’s Sundry Books & Magazines and Barnes & Noble. Otherwise, you can them from the usual online sources or order them from your bookstore. Check out the “Books” section of this site for more info.

7) Finally, because of my, ahem, changed circumstances, I find myself doing a lot more personal appearances than I used to. Just this week, I’m going to Bristow, Oklahoma, to speak to their library group, to Claremore for a similar thing, and then to Stillwater for a lecture in its citywide Big Read event. If you know of any similar groups where an Okie writer might fit behind a podium, give a crowd a few laughs, and sell a few books, please let me know.

Many thanks, and so long for now.

You Either Have Too Many Gigs or Not Enough

“You either have too many gigs or not enough.” – Just About Every Musician I’ve Ever Talked To

Well, here’s the Halloween ’06 website update, and for those of you keeping score, it is indeed not the quarterly update I said I’d try to start doing in my last entry. In fact, it missed being quarterly by about two quarters – the last time I wrote something new here was in February. Yipes.

 

      I suppose I could give that great old W.C. Fields excuse: “Things happened.” In fact, they did, but things happen to everybody. However, one of the things that happened may indeed have a bearing on what you see in this space — after 23-plus years, I have retired from the Tulsa World newspaper to – well, I guess the cliché is “to pursue other interests.” So the other interests I’m pursuing will involve staying up with this website a little better, even as I create more stuff that – I hope – is worthy of being talked about on a website.

With that in mind, I’ve undertaken an update and rewrite of all the spots on this site. Because every part is now up to date, this home page will be less unwieldly and long-winded.

So … if you’re looking for the playlists for my western-swing and cowboy-jazz radio show, “Swing on This” (heard on Tulsa radio station KWGS, 89.5 FM, every Saturday at 7 p.m. and streaming at the same time at www.kwgs.com), just scroll down to the “Radio” site, which is kind of hidden at the very bottom of the menu. Now, I’m not saying it’ll be entirely up to date, but chances are good that it will.

And if you want to know about my new books, Ghost Band and From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music, check out the new “Books” site.

Of course, this is how just about every other website works. But it’s taken me a lot of time to figure out that I needed to do this as well. I think this is what Jonathan, my webmaster’s been trying to tell me for years. But since he’s my son, he also knows my Luddite tendencies, so he hasn’t pushed it.

Now, that quarterly-update idea doesn’t sound unattainable at all. So, full of hope and high spirits, I introduce you to the new and improved johnwooley.com website with a few pictures of me and one of my writing heroes, Earl Hamner Jr. Of course, most people know him as the author of the acclaimed novel Spencer’s Mountain and the creator of its wildly successful spinoff TV series, The Waltons. But he was also one of the top writers for Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone series, and his scripts just get better with age. (I refer you emphatically to The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner, published by Cumberland House in 2002.)

      

      Earl is also one of the nicest, most genteel men that God ever put on this earth. I’ve had the good fortune to work with him a couple of times, most recently on Sept. 29 at Teresa Miller’s Celebration of Books, the every-two-years blowout that brings some of the country’s biggest literary names to Tulsa. (For more, see poetsandwriters.okstate.edu) That’s where these pictures come from. Thanks to Teresa and her Center for Poets and Writers, which exists under the auspices of Oklahoma State University – Tulsa. And thanks to P. Casey Morgan, Earl’s friend and Tulsa chauffeur, for the snaps.

      Finally, one of my all-time favorite photos with one of my all-time rock ‘n’ roll heroes. I first heard the great keyboardist Augie Meyers playing in the ’60s on the Sir Douglas Quintet hit “She’s About A Mover,” and I had never encountered anything like the propulsive, absolutely original organ-playing that bumped the song down its two-and-a- half minute path to Top 40 immortality. Over the years, I continued to follow Augie and buy his albums, whether with the Quintet, on his own, or, later, as a member of the Tex-Mex supergroup the Texas Tornados, with his longtime collaborator and friend Doug Sahm. I even got to see the Quintet play the Cain’s Ballroom (home of Bob Wills) in Tulsa in the early ’80s, touring in support of their Border Wave LP and the swell single from that disc, a grinding take on the Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next in Line.” I readily surrendered to my fanboy geek tendencies that night and got Augie, Doug, and guitarist Louie Ortega to autograph my Cain’s membership card. I’ve never had a better time at a concert in my life.

Lots of people feel the same way I do about Augie and the late Doug Sahm. Three of them are the Red Dirt Rangers ( www.reddirtrangers.com ), who brought Augie from Texas to Tulsa to play on their latest album, recorded with Steve Ripley at the fabled Church Studios in early 2006. As it turned out, they needed a classic Vox Jaguar for Augie to play, and since my own 1965 model was at the time reposing in Steve’s studio, it was the logical choice. (The reason I own a Vox Jaguar, aka “a cheesy organ,” at all has a lot to do with my love of Augie’s playing; my own playing is, I can assure you, no particular tribute to him, even though I’ve tried to ape his style for years.)

In the photo, Augie is showing me how to play the opening riff of “Mendicino,” the 1969 Sir Douglas Quintet hit. That lick has buffaloed me for years, but once he demonstrated it, the light went on in my head and somehow got the message to my fingers. (You may be able to see, in the background, my friends Steve Ripley – head of the multiplatinum-selling act the Tractors – Brad Piccolo of the Red Dirt Rangers, and Red Dirt music godfather Bob Childers.)

Of course, Augie turned out to be a wonderful guy, full of great stories about his childhood, the Quintet, hippie days, and the musicians he’s worked with through the years. He signed the Vox for me after he finished, and then we got to go out and have a couple of drinks, joined by Childers, the Rangers, and their drummer, the famed studio and band (J.J. Cale, Gary Lewis and the Playboys) percussionist, Jim Karstein — one of the architects of the classic Tulsa Sound.

It was all just absolutely perfect . I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would’ve rather met and hung out a little with Augie Meyers than to have done the same thing with Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, or any other superstar of my generation. Augie Meyers is my No. 1 musical hero, and I’m proud and happy to be able to post this photo.

 

 

 

           — Back atcha soon, you bet…

An Artist Is His Own Fault

“An artist is his own fault.” — John O’Hara

If you think you haven’t heard from me in a while, you’re right. I’ve been off paving the road to hell with good intentions, which is a dirty job, and pretty hot as well — not to mention clichéd.

The good intentions here refer to my plan of updating this space every three months – or, as they say in the publishing biz, quarterly. It hasn’t exactly happened that way, although the updates to the radio part of the website have come every two weeks.

Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say “every two weeks.” That’s how often I send the playlists for my radio show, Swing on This, to my webmaster, Jonathan “And Girls, He’s Available” Wooley. Sometimes, though, they haven’t shown up on this site with exactly the same frequency. My son Jonathan, you see, in addition to being my webmaster, is a senior majoring in film at Oklahoma State University, where he stays busy making short films like “Witchcop” and “Edgar Allan Po-Mo” – both award-winning, if I do say so myself. And sometimes, between the last camera setup of the day and his fourth Pig’s Eye Light, his webmaster responsibilities float away like wisps of Vicks Vap-0-Rub.

So, if you’re looking for a new playlist — and I’m told that a lot of people do – and it’s not here in a timely manner, just plan to check back a little later and think to yourself, with a smile on your lips, “that darn Jonathan.” It works for me. Occasionally.

I’ve also updated the “Radio Show” section to reflect that it now comes on just before the great local program Big Band Saturday Night, hosted by my friend Alan Lambert, making for a swell three hours of swingin’ tunes. I should also tell you that Swing on This recently scored a 5.6 rating, making it the top-rated program on KWGS. (I hasten to add that this doesn’t mean more people listen to it than they do any other program on the station. What it means is that I’ve got a higher percentage of those listening to the radio at the time my program airs than any other KWGS show. Got it? I’m not sure I do.)

The Big Book of Biker Flicks, written with my peerless pal Michael H. Price, and Voices from the Hill: The Story of Oklahoma Military Academy, both from HAWK Publishing Group, still represent my most current work. This year, however, should see the publication of three or four more, including the elusive Ghost Band. Jodie Nida at HAWK assures me it’s now in the pipeline, and should be on the shelves later this year.

Also, I just finished a pulp-story collection with John Locke, the pulp historian and writer, called Thrilling Detective Heroes, It’s really a dandy, and it should be out from Adventure House in time to make its debut at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback convention, held in Chicago the first weekend in May.

More news as it comes in. Meanwhile, as always, many thanks for dropping by. Please stick around for a while, and remember: Books make wonderful gifts for people who aren’t morons.

 

NEW BOOKS

The Big Book of Biker Flicks a deluxe, oversized, color-interiors volume from HAWK Publishing Group has been out since the summer, but sales continue to be brisk as more and more people discover it. Between my collaborator Michael H. Price and I, we interviewed a ton of biker-film greats for the book, including the likes of Jack Nicholson, Herschell Gordon (She-Devils on Wheels) Lewis, Sonny Barger, Peter Fonda, William Smith, Sam Sherman, Dennis Hopper, Roger Corman, and Billy Gray. The book features chapters on 40 of the best — or at least the most interesting — motorcycle movies of all time, featuring original advertising material. And if you don’t remember, or aren’t old enough to have seen, the newspaper ad campaigns during the bike-picture heyday of the late ’60s-early ’70s, prepare to see some of the roughest, weirdest, and most amusing movie ads ever made!

Big Book has drawn more than its share of nice reviews, including a new one from the writer and movie expert Jan Alan Henderson, who, in a piece for Cult Movies, called it a “sure-to-please volume” that he “more than highly recommended.” Booklist said that Michael and I “consider the canon of the chopper epic enthusiastically and thoroughly, mixing stills and promotional graphics with dead-on thumbnail plot summaries, not to mention pithily noting particular films’ peculiar distinctions.” And my pal Dennis King at the Tulsa World wrote, “In a style that ranges nimbly from academic and respectful to populist and irreverent, Wooley and Price have forged a cult book that’s both keenly informative and outlandishly entertaining.” We even got a thumbs-up e-mail from a Tonight Show staffer, telling us that Jay Leno loves the book!

Michael and I are very proud of Big Book. Please keep it in mind when it’s time to buy a gift for the motorcycle aficionado or exploitation-film fan on your list. You can get it from your favorite store or on the web at www.amazon.com.

– June 1 was the release date for Voices from the Hill: The Story of Oklahoma Military Academy (HAWK Publishing Group). It’s the first book-length history of OMA, an institution dubbed the West Point of the Southwest. From 1919 to 1971, it sat atop College Hill outside of Claremore, OK, about 15 miles from where I type this. Right across from the Will Rogers Memorial, it’s now metamorphosed into the classy Rogers State University.

The book is full of photos as well as text, documenting the famed school’s history in the words of its former students, all placed in historical context. It debuted June 4 with a great signing during the reunion of former OMA cadets, and while those interested in military institutions, Oklahoma history, and OMA itself will be the book’s primary audience, I have to tell you that my research turned up some neat movie and music connections, which the book also documents. In 1935, for instance, when Will Rogers was the No. 1 box office attraction in America, he brought the OMA polo team to Hollywood to play a match with Stanford. An anecdote involving the cadets’ tour of the 20th Century-Fox studios is one of my favorite stories in the book.

To purchase a copy of Voices, contact the Rogers State University Office of Development at (918) 343-7773 or toll-free at (800) 256-7511. It’s also available on the Internet at, you guessed it, www.amazon.com.

— The Price-Wooley team should soon have a second movie-releated volume out this year. Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy is the latest in our series about low-budget independent pictures of bygone days. Our only ground rules are that the films have to have been made by someone other than a major studio, and that they contain horror or weird elements.

This volume deals with films made in 1947 and `48, and includes everything from the Jungle Jim series of pictures to obscure thrillers like The Cobra Strikes to films that defy explanation, like Ken Murray’s Bill and Coo, which is acted entirely by birds. Really.

The book has been in production for some time at the series’ new home, Dinoship Press, and publisher Bob Madison tells us it should be on the market soon. Meanwhile, there’s the preceding volume, Forgotten Horrors 3: Dr. Turner’s House of Horrors, available at your local bookstore or from www.amazon.com or the Midnight Marquee-Luminary Press website, www.midmar.com.

— Finally, book-wise, the new novel Ghost Band, should also make its debut later this year. It concerns a trumpeter named Miles West, touring with a group that still performs under the name of a dead bandleader (these outfits are known in the trade as “ghost bands”). It is, indeed, a ghost story, but I’d like to think that it offers ghosts that are a bit different — that might, in fact, open up our minds to other possibilities. It opened mine, up, anyway. I’m hoping it’ll be out by the fall.

— And don’t forget my pulp-fiction collections Roscoes in the Night (collecting Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective stories by Robert Leslie Bellem) and At the Stroke of Midnight (collecting all the Steve Midnight stories of John K. Butler) They’re both still available, along with a whole bunch of other pulp-related books, from their publisher, Adventure House. They’re also distributed to stores by Diamond Distributors.Roscoes is carried by www.barnesandnoble.com.

 

 

RADIO SHOW

 

Swing on This, my radio show on Tulsa’s KWGS (89.5 FM), is now well into its third season, and if the emails to this website are any indication, we continue to add new listeners. It’s a full hour of western swing, cowboy jazz, hot string-band music, and a song here and there that defies categorization, airing Saturday nights at 7 p.m., right between Prairie Home Companion and a longtime Tulsa favorite that recently moved to KWGS, Alan Lambert’s Big Band Saturday Night. KWGS is Tulsa’s NPR and PRI affiliate, which means there are no commercials and, really, no restrictions on what I can play. I’m trying to be responsible with all this freedom, but I freely admit that I slip from time to time and play something that would’ve gotten me busted back when I was doing a similar show on commercial station KVOO-AM (now regrettably defunct; see below) with country-music great and my hero, Billy Parker.

Tulsa is the place where western-swing grew up, after Bob Wills, Milton Brown, and a couple of others started this new amalgam of fiddle music, Dixieland jazz, blues, hillbilly and pop down in Fort Worth, Texas, in the very early ’30s. Bob was basically chased out of Texas by a vengeful ex-employer in 1934, ending up at Tulsa radio station KVOO, a huge clear-channel station in those days before FM, when it could be heard over most of the Southwest on a good night. Bob’s regular broadcasts from KVOO as he fiddled with and refined his western-swing sound helped build a huge audience for that musical genre. At one point, Wills and his Texas Playboys were the top-earning band in the country, outgrossing the likes of Harry James and Benny Goodman.

Bob broadcast from his Tulsa home, the Cain’s Ballroom, and while that historic venue doesn’t only still exist but has just been wonderfully restored by its current owners, the Rodgers family, KVOO-AM is no more, having succumbed to the regrettable fad of turning AM music stations into repositories of rancorous rants. Once the most famous station in Tulsa (the VOO stood for Voice of Oklahoma), it now has different call letters and air “personalities” offering a baffling mix of pursed-lipped Puritanism and peep-show prurience. A couple of the former KVOO’s FM sister stations still play country music — one of which is actually called KVOO — but I’m told that the music of Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills are pretty much off-limits to the deejays.

So, if you live in the Tulsa area and you want western-swing, please tune into Swing on This.

Those of you outside the Tulsa listening area can pick Swing on This up at 7 p.m. Central Time, right after Prairie Home Companion. Tune us in on the web at www.kwgs.org, and please tell your friends — at least the ones you think might be interested. I appreciate it very much.

 

NEW VIDEO


 

— First of all, VCI has reissued the western-swing documentary I wrote, Still Swingin’, which first came out over a decade ago. It’s now on DVD with a ton of extras, including some interviews I did with Bob Wills’ brother Luke, his sister Lorene, and several members of the Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills bands, material that was intended for a second documentary. There’s also some TV and movie footage of Bob and the boys performing various songs, and lots of other stuff. Chris Lewis, who directed the original, came back into town to shoot wraparounds with yours truly, whose big Okie face introduces the extras on this edition. We shot the new footage in VCI head Bill Blair’s home movie theater, which is beautiful. Bill’s son Bob, also a VCI executive, was there with us as well, and they gifted me with some B-western DVDs starring Ken Maynard, George Huston and Johnny Mack Brown — from their extensive VCI catalog — after the shoot was over.

SECOND PARAGRAPH, FIRST SENTENCE: REWRITE TO READ “The Still Swingin’ video was officially released on March 6th, 2005, the 100th anniversary of Bob Wills’ birth. (He and my younger son, Steven, share the same birthday, albeit 82 years apart). If you’re interested in getting a copy — it retails for $19.99, which isn’t bad for a little over five hours of western-swing music and interviews — contact VCI toll-free at (800) 331-4077 or on the web at www.vcientertainment.com

— I should also mention that I’m working with VCI and my good pal Bill Boyce, the cult-movie star of Slime People, Rat Fink and my own Cafe Purgatory, on another DVD project that should be out by Halloween. I don’t want to say
too much more, except to add that it reunites Bill and me with Leo Evans,
director and co-writer of Cafe Purgatory and writer of the ’80s slasher flick Hell High, which itself was recently released on DVD.

If you’re a reader of
Fangoria
, the world’s No. 1 horror-movie magazine, you probably saw the piece on Hell High that Mike Price and I did in our regular “Forgotten Horrors” column.

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

 

 

— A reminiscence of mine will be coming out sometime in The Phantom of the Movies’Videoscope, having to do with the first horror movie I ever saw and what it did to me, and I’m told my interview with singer Mark Lindsay will be out soon in Discoveries. You can also catch more of my stuff than you’d ever want to read in the Tulsa World the big-city newspaper that’s allowed me to work as its country and Oklahoma music and horror-movie writer, among other entertainment assignments, for 23 years and counting.

 

 

— Back atcha soon, you bet…

A Year Passes Like Nothing

Well, as the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers used to say, a year passes like nothing. (For you youngsters not hip to the underground comics of the ’60s and ’70s, the Freak Bros. were characters created and drawn by the great Gilbert Shelton, who also gave the world Wonder Wart Hog.)

Actually, it hasn’t been quite a year since something new came along in this space, and technically, something new shows up each week, as we (and by “we” I mean my webmaster, Joltin’ Jonathan Wooley, the Co-ed’s Friend) post in a weekly log sheet for my western-swing radio show, Swing on This. (For more on that, including how you can get it outside the Tulsa area, please see the“radio” section.)

Anyway, the reason I haven’t been flapping my gums — or, technically, flexing my fingers — more here is that there hasn’t been a whole lot of a lot of big-time news since last we met here, in mid-spring of ’04. I’m happy to say, however, that situation seems to have improved, and now there’s plenty to talk about.

NEW VIDEO

— First of all, VCI head Bill Blair’s home movie theater, which is beautiful. Bill’s son Bob, also awww.vcientertainment.com

— I should also mention that I’m working with Fangoria, the world’s No. 1 horror-movie magazine, you probably saw the piece on Hell High that Mike Price and I did in our regular “Forgotten Horrors” column.

NEW BOOKS

— There’s a little something for everyone in the books I’ve got coming out this year (he said hopefully).

First of all, late May should see the long-awaited release of The Big Book of Biker Flicks a deluxe, oversized, color-interiors volume from www.amazon.com or the Midnight Marquee-Luminary Press website, HAWK Publishing Group). It’s the first book-length history of OMA, an institution dubbed the West Point of the Southwest. From 1919 to 1971, it sat atop College Hill outside of Claremore, OK, about 15 miles from where I type this. Right across from the Will Rogers Memorial, it’s now metamorphosed into the classy Rogers State University.

The book is full of photos as well as text, documenting the famed school’s history in the words of its former students, all placed in historical context. It will have its debut in June at the reunion of former OMA cadets, and while those interested in military institutions, Oklahoma history, and OMA itself will be the book’s primary audience, I have to tell you that my research turned up some neat movie and music connections, which the book also documents. In 1935, for instance, when Will Rogers was the No. 1 box office attraction in America, he brought the OMA polo team to Hollywood to play a match with Stanford. An anecdote involving the cadets’ tour of the 20th Century-Fox studios is one of my favorite stories in the book.

— Finally, book-wise, the new novel Ghost Band, should also make its debut later this year. It concerns a trumpeter named Miles West, touring with a group that still performs under the name of a dead bandleader (these outfits are known in the trade as “ghost bands”). It is, indeed, a ghost story, but I’d like to think that it offers ghosts that are a bit different — that might, in fact, open up our minds to other possibilities. It opened mine, up, anyway. I’m hoping it’ll be out by the fall.

— And don’t forget my pulp-fiction collections Roscoes in the Night (collecting Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective stories by Robert Leslie Bellem) and At the Stroke of Midnight (collecting all the Steve Midnight stories of John K. Butler) They’re both still available, along with a whole bunch of other pulp-related books, from their publisher,www.barnesandnoble.com

RADIO SHOW

Swing on This, my radio show on Tulsa’s KWGS (89.5 FM), is now well into its second season, and seems to be continuing on an upswing. It’s a full hour of western swing, cowboy jazz, hot string band music, or whatever else you want to call it, airing Saturday nights at 7 p.m., right between Prairie Home Companion and Riverwalk, Live from the Landing. KWGS is Tulsa’s NPR and PRI affiliate, which means there are no commercials and, really, no restrictions on what I can play — which can be sort of dangerous, I guess, but I’m trying to be responsible about it.

Tulsa is the place where western-swing grew up, after Bob Wills, Milton Brown, and a couple of others started this new amalgam of fiddle music, Dixieland jazz, blues, hillbilly and pop down in Fort Worth, Texas, in the very early ’30s. Bob was basically chased out of Tulsa by a vengeful ex-employer in 1934, ending up at Tulsa radio station KVOO, a huge clear-channel station in those days before FM, when it could be heard over most of the Southwest on a good night. Bob’s regular broadcasts from KVOO as he fiddled with and refined his western-swing sound helped build a huge audience for that musical genre. At one point, Wills and his Texas Playboys were the top-earning band in the country, outgrossing the likes of Harry James and Benny Goodman.

Bob broadcast from his Tulsa home, the Cain’s Ballroom, and while that historic venue doesn’t only still exist but has just been wonderfully restored by its current owners, the Rodgers family, KVOO-AM is no more, having succumbed to the regrettable fad of turning AM music stations into repositories of rancorous rants. Once the most famous station in Tulsa (the VOO stood for Voice of Oklahoma), it now has different call letters and air “personalities” offering a baffling mix of pursed-lipped Puritanism and peep-show prurience. A couple of the former KVOO’s FM sister stations still play country music — one of which is actually called KVOO — but I’m told that the music of Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills are pretty much off-limits to the deejays.

So, if you live in the Tulsa area and you want western-swing, please tune into Swing on This. (I should also note that Dave Boyd and his staff at the fiercely independent Vinita-based station KITO — 96.1 FM/1470 AM — also remember the Wills heritage on their programs.)

Those of you outside the Tulsa listening area can pick Swing on This up at 7 p.m. Central Time, right after Prairie Home Companion. Tune us in on the web atAdventure House) atwww.heartlandauthors.com.

SPECIAL OFFER

— Yep. It’s still our indie feature film Cafe Purgatory, which One Step Beyond. It’s also got Elvis in it, or a surprisingly reasonable facsimile thereof, and comes in its own lovely hardshell case.

THAT’S IT

— Again and as always, many thanks for stopping by.

One of us, one of us, gibble gobble, one of us . . .

One of us, one of us, gibble gobble, one of us . . .

The wedding chant of those lovable circus freaks in the greatest horror
film of all time — that would be Tod Browning’s Freaks from 1932 — once
again welcomes you to the John Wooley website. This is the spring-summer 2004
edition, and while it’s the first update in several months (okay, since before
Halloween) it’s not, I’ll tell you right up front, particularly newsy.

I can’t tell you about any new books, for instance, except for the two which had just come out when I did the last update, Roscoes in the Night and Forgotten Horrors 3 (see below). The much-hyped (by me, anyway) Big Book of Biker Flicks has gone through some size and other changes, which caused delays, but it’s now on track for a Christmas season release. Please file that away for the time when you’re thinking about what to get for the easy riders on your Yuletide list. I’m also into the final draft of my first novel since Awash in the Blood (still in print and available for ordering via bookstores as well as online). It’s called Ghost Band, and it’s about music and ghosts, not necessarily in that order. It’s a pretty different book for me, too. HAWK should have it out in 2005.

So here’s the latest:

— Meanwhile, I’m getting a lot of email on Swing on This, the radio show I started last fall on Tulsa’s KWGS (89.5 FM). Interestingly enough, much of it is coming from places that can’t pick it up anywhere but on the Internet. You guys are obviously much smarter than I am when it comes to being hip to streaming — while I was writing that I thought you’d be able to pick it up but I wasn’t sure how, you were just cutting to the chase and getting it. So, thanks. And thanks for all the emails. If you email with a request, you’ll probably hear your name on the air with a dedication. That’s something I learned from the great Billy Parker, with whom I did a western-swing show on the legendary Tulsa station KVOO (home of Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills) for over a decade, before the hate-radio bomb-throwers took over and changed the call letters and pretty much everything else about the station. (Did I say “hate-radio bomb-throwers”? Maybe that’s too harsh. Naw, probably not.)

Anyway, in case you haven’t heard , it’s a full hour of western swing, cowboy jazz, hot string band music, or whatever else you want to call it, airing Saturday nights at 7 p.m., right between Prairie Home Companion and Riverwalk, Live from the Landing. KWGS is Tulsa’s NPR and PRI affiliate, which means there are no commercials and, really, no restrictions on what I can play. In the first couple of weeks of the program, I went from Bob Wills’ “Miss Molly” to Jethro Burns and Tiny Moore doing the jazz standard “Out of Nowhere,” with Eldon Shamblin and Shelley Manne in support. I’ve played all sorts of stuff since then, old and new, from Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies (another pioneering western-swing group, cut short by the death of its leader in the ’30s) and Billy Briggs’ XIT Boys to contemporary acts both familiar (Asleep at the Wheel, Red Steagall, Suzy Bogguss) and less so (Igor’s Jazz Cowboys, Diddy Wah Diddy).

I’m having a ball with the show, and I welcome your input on it. I pledge to answer every email, although I’m about a month behind at this point.

Those of you outside the Tulsa listening area can pick it up at 7 p.m. Central Time, right after Prairie Home Companion. Tune us in on the web at www.kwgs.org, and please tell your friends — at least the ones you think might be interested. I appreciate it very much.

— Good news on Roscoes in the Night, my latest pulp-story collection. At the recent Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention in Chicago — a get-together of pulp, paperback and escapist-fiction fans that I highly recommend (see www.windycitypulpconvention.com for more) — I got some face time with its publisher, John Gunnison, who heads Adventure House, and he told me that Roscoes sold out its first printing and is now into a second. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s a baker’s dozen of stories featuring the peerless Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, written by the late Robert Leslie Bellem. Bellem penned the stories, which originally appeared from 1934 through 1950 in such pulp magazines as Hollywood Detective, Spicy Detective, Speed Detective and Private Detective; John and I edited the book and I wrote the 13-page intro, which includes rare material written by Bellem himself, little-known facts about the million-words-a-year fictioneer, and looks at the two movies featuring the character: Republic’s 1947 feature Blackmail, with William Marshall as Dan, and the 1990 made-for-TV film Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, with Marc (Beastmaster, V) Singer in the title role. (I was lucky enough to write the script for the latter, continuing a long association I’ve had with the character.) There are lots of photos from both features as well, and reproductions of some mighty lurid pulp covers.

Just in case you haven’t encountered them, I should tell you that the Dan Turner stories are pretty much unlike anything you’ve ever read — whizzy, slangy, funny,outrageous, first-person adventures taking place in a Hollywood that never was. If he’s, say, on the grounds of a studio and someone shoots at him, he might tell it like this: “Behind me, a roscoe sneezed kachow! and a
lead pill split the ozone next to my noggin. I ankled the lot, my hip pockets dipping gravel.”

Adventure House also published my earlier pulp collection, At the Stroke of Midnight, which collects the atmospheric, absorbing adventures of cabbie Steve Midnight, “the hard-luck hacker,” by an extremely underrated writer named John K. Butler. It’s still available, along with a whole bunch of other pulp-related books, from www.adventurehouse.com. The books are also distributed to stores by Diamond Distributors, and Roscoes is carried by www.barnesandnoble.com

Forgotten Horrors 3: Dr. Turner’s House of Horrors is the latest in the acclaimed series, a tribute to Michael H. Price’s longtime co-writer on the books, George Turner, the film-industry figure who passed away a couple of years ago. Following George’s death, Michael asked me to step in as collaborator on the books — and he didn’t have to ask twice. I’ve been a fan of Forgotten Horrors from the very beginning.

In case you haven’t seen them, the Forgotten Horrors books deal with movies from small-time and independent producers and studios, each volume breezily analyzing somewhere between 100 and 200 pictures — some fairly well known, some virtually unknown — that feature horrific elements. No. 3, for instance, covers the years 1943-46, and includes entries on the likes of Dead Men Walk, Nabonga, and Monogram’s Shadow films, as well as lesser-known features like Isle of Forgotten Sins, the weird Cisco Kid western Beauty and the Bandit and what may be both the strangest and most perfect Hollywood film of all time, How Doooo You Do!!!. I’m really proud to be a part of this series, and it’s typical of Michael that he took me on as a full partner with No. 3, even though he’d already done the lion”s share of the work on it.

For those of you who don’t know Mike Price, he’s the former senior movie critic for the Fort Worth Star Telegram whose work was syndicated by the
New York Times
for years — but he’s also a true left-of-center Renaissance man: recording artist, songwriter, actor, comic-book and trading-card creator, and one of the best authorities in the world on the obscure and the unheralded in our popular culture.

You can get Forgotten Horrors 3: Dr. Turner”s House of Horrors at your local bookstore or from www.amazon.com or the Midnight Marquee website,
www.midmar.com

— Also, check out our “Forgotten Horrors” column in Fangoria, America’s No. 1 horror media magazine. For Fango, we’re writing about movies that are a little newer and a more explicitly horrific, pictures made between the beginning of the Gore Era (1964) and the home-video era (1984); each column includes a brief interview with at least one person who helped make the picture. We’re getting good feedback and having great fun writing about pictures like Blood Freak, Rattlers, and Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law.

Look for “Forgotten Horrors” out every month or so in the magazine or on the Fango website, www.fangoria.com, which not only occasionally runs one of the columns, but also lets you know which one is coming out next.

And, by the way, thanks to Tony Timpone and Mike Gingold — Fango’s editor and managing editor, respectively — not only for greenlighting our “Forgotten Horrors” idea, which is now somewhere around 18 installments, but also for running a recent review of Forgotten Horrors 3 by Tom Weaver, probably the No. 1 interviewer of classic horror and science-fiction personalities. We appreciate all three of you.

— Finally, you’ll note that this website’s special offer — for the film festival award-winning indie film Cafe Purgatory, which I co-wrote and co-produced — is still in effect. It may not be that special anymore, but it’s still listed because I’m trying to sell more copies. All money we get goes into an account, and when it gets big enough — we’re a little over halfway there — the actors and technicians, who all worked for deferred money, get paid.

No, you can’t take it as a tax deduction, but I think it’s worth 20 bucks. So does the legendary Tim Ferrante of Videoscope magazine, whose three-star review of in the spring 2002 issue said, among other things, “In the rough-and-tumble world of low-budget movies, seldom do we see filmmakers beat the overwhelming odds and produce something watchable. Amazingly, Cafe Purgatory managed to get enough of a toehold to keep me interested without once fast-forwarding. And that is one hell of an achievement!”

He goes on to compare it to the old TV show One Step Beyond (which, probably not surprisingly, was one of my favorites as a kid) , and then concludes with, “If you want to see how an invisible budget blends with intelligent writing and some pretty smart filmmaking, you need look no further than Cafe Purgatory.”

I know in these challenging times not a lot of us have an extra couple of frogskins threatening to burst into flame in our wallets, but I’d appreciate your considering an investment in a copy of Cafe Purgatory, especially if you’re into the unusual and the speculative, you wonder about faith and the afterlife — or you just want to see what the heroic young star of The Slime
People
looks like 40 years later. Check it out in the “special offer” section of this website.

— Again and as always, many thanks for stopping by.

h