(i'm gonna try to do this art fein style, for brevity's sake. ha!)
day 1: we arrived in green bay, befriending janet of bomp records' invisible eyes. we took her to her hotel & went to ours: the wingate is a stone's throw from both the oneida casino, where the fest took place, & austin-straubel airport - convenient. got dressed, got wristbands, got up to the stage for little richard's set. the crowd quickly stuffed the giant oneida ballroom. richard's bandleader came out & said "absolutely no pictures" - a collective groan of protest ensued, but most people complied. (i remember one time taking pic after pic of richard from about 15 ft away altho i could tell the flash was blinding him... yes, best not to take pix so he can concentrate on performing...) richard came out bejeweled & beglittered, pancaked, bewigged, famous ferocious smile flashing, & on crutches. when his brother passed away, his sciatica started acting up - hence the crutches. he still stood between songs to bless & mess with the crowd. he danced at the piano bench. his black eyes flashed, playful, crazy-dangerous. his set was long & loud, with extended breaks for patter & reflection. little richard seems to be feeling his mortality, actually threw into the audience the shiny watch he usually taunts with, talked about old people, going to heaven, introduced his bass player - his son! we'd never seen him do that. two drummers, three sax players, a back-up pianist... 74 yrs old, little richard does what he can to put on the greatest show possible. no pictures, but we were grateful to again get to see the living legend!
(i've already exceeded art's word count, so i'll just go on...) watched a bit of the uptown savages, got the lay of the land for the fest (vendors, purcell lounge, casino stage, where slim jim phantom - with keith richards junkie glamour: greasy pomp, black-ringed eyes, sash around his neck - held nightly jam sessions). we were blown away by the 5 keys, backed by deke dickerson, the horton bros., others... the singer closest to us (stage left - i don't know his name!!!!!) had eyes full of "pain and love and so much emotion," brian later told him. the harmony singing & true emotion had me near sobbing (especially with the first incredible notes of "my saddest hour"!!!), but it was too early for that, so i sucked it up. the studied & rather stoic young(ish) acolytes who backed the 5 keys were a curious contrast to the raw emotion & warmth of the band members themselves: throughout the weekend, the older performers in general were friendlier, warmer, more approachable, with less airs - grateful to be in this place where they were treated with such love & support? old musicians, like old people in general in america, can be ignored, dismissed, even scoffed. at rockin' 50s, all were adored.
we wandered in a daze after that, then called it a night.
day 2: we ran into the 5 keys & brian heartily complimented them. we headed to the "tiki brunch," where the masterful & gentlemanly carl sonny leyland played. this fellow knows his piano!! he ripped through 2 sets of perfect stomps, shuffles, boogie-woogies, strides, sang with a pleasant, unaffected blues voice reminding me of gene taylor a bit, & was very friendly after the set. he backed up at least 8 other acts we saw over the week, & knocked my socks off again when, after all the boogie & rock&roll, he switched into top-notch honky-tonk, too! carl knows all the styles & never misses a lick, providing the backbone of every band he plays with, grinning shyly when a frontman didn't properly cue the band. he never was anything less than perfect & humble. carl sonny leyland rules!!!! also on the day's bill were sonny burgess & rosie flores, billy lee riley, the crickets... we took a break & had dumpling soup, pb&j, & a pineapple malt made with wisconsin ice cream at our favorite dark smoke-filled lounge-restaurant, kroll’s east, on e. main in town… then we returned to the oneida for the performance by carl's alter-ego, incredible, maniacal jason d williams.
i saw jason open for buck owens many many moons ago... at that time, he was downright strange, this skinny, red-headed kid aping jerry lee lewis to the point of obsession. he seemed to play piano even better than the killer, but the considerable talent was placed second to impersonating his idol. now jason's just as skinny, & when you see him play, you'll know why: this is the most athletic, hellfire-&-brimstone kind of pure rock&roll act around - jason runs across stage, leaps atop the piano, stands on it & shakes, lays on it to play upside down, plays mostly standing or crouched on the ground, howls & wails & sings in a strong southern rock&roll yell that rattles your bones, laughs & leers & whoops, flashing his eyes like woody woodpecker on whites... different than the killer is that jason comes off like a crazy but nice southern boy, with the lascivious sneer being fun & buoyant rather than scary. you don't have to fear jason d. - but you'll stand in awe of his talent & energy. at the beginning of jason's set, there were two rows of (mostly) gray haired folks lining the stage, but few of the "hip" kinda rockabillies; 15 mins into his insanely fevered set, i turned & saw an ocean of bobbing & nodding heads - the rockabillies outside the lounge had heard jason williams & ran in for more!! providing perfect foil to jason the mad-rabbit was his calmly handsome, dignified, cash-esque guitarist jimmy davis, who plays also with sleepy labeef. rounding out the band were a bassist & guitarist who kept pedal to metal: i think these guys must lose about 5 lbs at every show! commented brian, "this is why they tried to outlaw rock & roll in the 50s!" watching jason d. williams is the closest a person could come, i think, to knowing what it was like to see jerry lee lewis or little richard in their prime. what an amazing experience!!! (www.rockinjasondwilliams.com)... it actually was hard to watch anyone else for a while after seeing jason d. williams, but we wandered to the casino lounge, where eddie angel's new act, surf-garage rock band the neanderthals played.
that day, too, we watched ferlin husky with leona williams, doing wonderful bakersfield-texas honky-tonk; chicago-style blues from rubber-faced englishman big joe louis & his blues kings (smooth & accomplished jimmy sutton on upright); dawn shipley & the sharp shooters, fronted by dawn's nostalgic voice & girlish comeliness; conny, a rockabilly devotee from japan; & the stars of the 50s show - lew williams, eddie bond, hayden thompson (in strong voice), & glen glenn. i met miriam linna & billy miller of norton records & the a-bones - they were really nice!!!! robert gorden & chris spedding, mike sanchez, dave stucky, the lonesome spurs, the list of amazing acts goes on & on. we had to make choices, tho, so we picked big jay mcneely, who made his entrance by strutting through the crowd all bent over his bass saxophone, in a loud sequined vest. i ran over to try to peek as he pushed his way through, then up to stage right, where i stayed to watch carl play. suddenly, big jay was coming our way! he stopped right in front of me & his eyes bulged: next thing i knew, he'd locked my arm in his, &, still honking on the sax, started strutting up onto the stage. aaaaaah!!!! the crowd cheered as we got center stage & i concentrated on watching him play, then, knowing i was supposed to dance or whoop it up like a carefree 50s gal or seasoned seductress would do, but being a music nerd instead, i lost my nerve & beat it, laughing. big jay is 80 yrs old; brian was right when he said, "he just wanted a pretty girl to go up onstage with." not that i'm so pretty, but i'm sure it's true that he always grabs whatever gal he notices near the stage to go up with him, being the ladies' man that he seems to be… later in his set, he started singing to a group of japanese girls front & center, who screamed like they were watching the beatles. he actually laid down on his 80 yr old belly to croon sweet-nothings to one of the girls, who beamed ecstatically. what fun. :)
that night i returned to the hotel & crashed and burned. too much excitement.
day 3: absolutely blown out, we drove to door county, “the cape cod of the midwest.” saw bright green pastures, jersey cows, old barns, raised wood houses with basements, lake michigan. had an ice cream made with door county cherries. listened to ipod marty robbins. back in green bay’s old downtown, at a place that’s loud smoky bar on one side, clean & cozy, quiet eatery on the other, had the most deliciously fresh beer-battered walla-walla with potato pancakes (corner of howard & broadway). we got mellowed out, replenished to face more craziness & excitement.
on the bill were sid king, frankie ford (in the casino, i heard fats domino! what’s fats domino doing here? i wondered, running for the casino lounge… it was frankie ford, sounding dead-on like the fat man.), the penguins, the lucky stars, the hollywood combo, the justices (crash & rory) and (dang it! i can’t believe i missed them!) the members of high noon doing the day-time jam session. we caught sleepy labeef, “the human jukebox,” who during the stars of the 50s set, ably filled the time slot when two other performers couldn’t show due to illness.
the vincent black shadows, a relatively new chicago 8-piece band fronted by black-haired gabrielle & her two back-up singers, were really fun. sounding like ronettes meet link wray meet wanda jackson, the cramps and a-bones, the vbs’s rocked! gabrielle’s voice was strong & adaptable – she sounded like wanda, like candye, like ronnie spector. this was a hard-rocking, fun-loving act – wow! i really liked their version of “skinny minnie,” here called “skinny jimmy.” they also did some ronnie dawson tunes, and when we left & entered the main ballroom, ray sharpe was doing “monkey’s uncle”! after ray sharpe came barbara lynn, who looked healthy & happy compared to some of the frail old male performers. she kicked off with “good thing going,” then did “please please please”! after this was the head cat, featuring lemmy from motorhead. i noticed a crowd shift as the head cat readied to get onstage – more punks, more metal-looking people, more veiled aggression. the head cat look fantastic – danny b harvey’s shy, blond rockabilly gentleman look contrasting slim jim phantom & rough-looking lemmy, who, with skin-tight pants, “indian” tats, & greasy long-hair & fu-manchu, is bad-biker monstrously ugly & cool. lemmy scream-sings, & plays a washburn bass like a rhythm guitar! picture the origin of this "high concept": “let’s start a rockabilly band fronted by LEMMY!!” danny b harvey actually told us this band’s been together 6 yrs: again, i'm hip to nothing! the head cat’s version of “somethin’ else” definitely was fun, & the novelty kept you wanting to hear more, despite the threat of deafness, – but we truly didn’t want to burst our eardrums, so we called it a night.
day 4: i called art fein to see if he’d gotten to the show. art got hurt! he was stuck in a room in chicago, immobilized, sounding like crap. we also found out bo diddley had had a stroke & wouldn’t be performing at all. what a time for bo & art! bo diddley’s recovering as of this writing, & art is too, tho still not home… charlie gracie, roy head, the clovers, carl mann, levi dexter, jimmy sutton’s 4 charms, 3 bad jacks, charlie thompson, the ecco-fonics, etc. etc. – the music kept coming!... we watched a few minutes of roddy jackson, james intveldt, & got a salad in the lounge, where we saw carl sonny leyland, noshing away at a nearby table with big joe louis & a gal named gail. i think she was the only woman there with her “natural” (silvery-gray, not rollered & pomaded) hair – she was striking for it, with her olive skin & pretty smile. the legends of the 50s hour featured mac curtis, show-stealer ray campi, strong-voiced johnny powers, & joe clay. joe clay, slim & spry as a teen, in pink satin jacket, was greeted with absolute adulation. his songs were not huge-sellers, but were such great ones, they’ve gathered him a strong & adoring following amongst rare record lovers – cracker jack, get on the right track, duck tail, jellybean, 16 chicks… joe kept 'em coming, skipping & dancing around the stage, playing the left hand at carl’s piano, the upright bass, even replacing the drummer for a tune.
then came the act we’d been waiting for – the collins kids. what can i say about them? look at the pictures below to get an idea of the life, grace, & good cheer they radiate. brother & sister larry & lorrie make you feel just wonderful, so happy to be in their presence. (and if not, i don't wanna know it!) larry’s guitar playing is still up to snuff – amazing to see this handsome, easy-going fellow & think of the hyper, hyper-talented little pipsqueak he was! he & deke harmonized & traded off lightning speed solos & duets on double-necked mosrites (made in bakersfield originally, you know). i wondered about how a prodigy makes it to adulthood – so many do not, their own premature brilliance snuffing them out. how does one transition from child savant into well-adjusted adulthood? larry seems to have done it. regarding larry’s older sister, lorrie's youthful talent was singing, & she doesn’t sing at all like she did, but her beautiful smile & shining eyes give her such a lovely & loving presence, it just doesn’t matter... backed by deke dickerson initially, the collins kids were also joined by dave stucky, who jumped out onstage with an acoustic, obviously beside himself with happiness to be with his heroes. the capper was after the encore, when larry & lorrie brought out the one & only legend herself, wanda jackson!!! this was tremendous – we were gonna miss wanda’s sunday show because we had to go home. but there she was, tiny little apple-shaped wanda with her big black hair & red-painted smile & that unchanged voice, sounding kittenish, girly, knowing & naughty… the collins kids, WITH the dave & deke combo (“we’re the only one who can get them to speak!” larry commented), WITH wanda jackson… this was the end-all for our amazing week at rockin' 50s. it was time to come home; we'd've died if we'd seen any more.
what a wonderful & unforgettable experience rockin’ 50s III was. it was definitely worth the trip cross-country, the fatigue, the eye & sinus infection i got from airplanes & allergies & who knows what. no one died, except with happiness at all the great music. in a way these kindsa things are a little like being reborn, revivified, shocked back alive by the thrilling & inspiring force called rocknroll. (check links at right for more information).
Labels: country, doowop, greatest show on earth, green bay, hillbilly, rhythmnblues, rockabilly, rockin' 50s, rocknroll