Book Review: A Lively Look at the Death of 1980s Wrestling.

Cover design : David A. Gee

 

Tim Hornbaker’s “Death Of The Territories: Expansion, Betrayal, and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever” (ECW Press, 2018) is a historical lesson covering how the end of the wrestling territories came to be and the reasons for the demise.

Before the WWF took over wrestling in the 1980s, there were many different territories where wrestlers could go and , in some cases, get quality television exposure. If a wrestler’s appeal with the audience was wearing thin, they could go to a territory and either revamp their characters, or learn more skills before returning months or years later.

Some of the many states that had their own territories included Memphis, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, California, and St. Louis, which were all run by different promoters. Many of them bonded together as part of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), until divisions started when Vince McMahon Jr. bought his father’s company and started invading the territories for their stars.

Hornbaker’s book covers many of the different promoters like Bill Watts, Joe Blanchard, Leory McGuirk, Jim Barnett , and Verne Gagne. Other promoters covered in his history include The Poffos, The Sheik (Ed Farhat), Ann Gunkle , Don Owen, and the Fullers.

The book covers how each of the special territories ran their local television productions. Some of the main television programs were WCCW (from Texas) and the AWA (Minnesota) on ESPN, Jim Crockett Promotions and Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS, and the WWF’s syndicated programs, which started invading the other television stations with better deals for the advertisers by giving them bigger star names, which became a main reason the other leagues folded.

One of the interesting parts of the book is when the author details how some companies would try and enter the other’s area, and with the help of researched attendance numbers, show that some of the fans in certain areas of the United States did not accept the WWF when they ran shows. Memphis was one state that held better television and attendance numbers for their own stars, like Jerry Lawler, as opposed to lower numbers when the WWF tried to come into the area. There were areas where the WWF ran shows that barely drew at the time, as opposed to the myth that every state wanted the WWF in its town.

The story of Vince McMahon Jr’s rise to the wrestling empire by using business techniques such as banning other photographers from his ringside area, to his use of pay per view to help the product, and grabbing stars from other areas are all covered here, including when he aired WWF programming on WTBS. Georgia Championship Wrestling’s booker Ole Anderson’s counter to this time is also interesting, as well as how the other promoters and bookers handled the WWF invading their areas.

I was also intrigued when Hornbaker writes in 1983, McMahon Jr. took over the Ohio region with his show being on Channel 23 in Akron (one of the channels I watched WWF on when I started fully watching in 1986), and also held shows in East Liverpool and Struthers, Ohio (both not far from where I live). It was nice to see my local area covered in the book (mostly the WWF was big in Warren and Youngstown when I started watching and attending, although an occasional Struthers show would be held).

The book covers the rise of Jim Crockett Jr.’s taking over the Carolinas, which became so popular that most of the fans called his league the NWA, although there were many other members of the NWA, until Ted Turner bought out Crockett and renamed it WCW (World Championship Wrestling) to avoid confusion with the other NWA territories that were still running shows.

The history of the territories would not be complete without covering the AWA, Memphis, and World Class mergers in trying to keep their leagues afloat, with the WCW and WWF being the big two leagues. The AWA at one time was considered one of the big three leagues, but with Verne Gagne losing steam, the idea to try and co-promote was attempted.

Hornbaker’s writing is entertaining without having a bunch of dates confusing and boring the reader, and his research is wonderfully detailed, so those that want to know the historical dates won’t be disappointed either. He covers the events in readable chapters without bogging down the reader that they are reading a textbook. There is so much information on the topic, he could have easily have made it 300 pages long, but Hornbaker keeps it at a pleasant 241 pages of text (not counting the pages of book notes). The author also doesn’t become one of the “I hate the WWF for taking over” people, nor does join the argument that “All things WWF is great” either. He writes a nice non- judgmental book where the numbers and the research makes the readers decide for themselves.

Being a lover of the territory days (I am in the minority apparently who loved the AWA years after 1983 when they lost many stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Bobby Heenan- the Bockwinkle/Hennig matches are still some of the most underrated matches ever). This book is a must read for those who want to re-live the days, along with learning information that you may not have known (I for one did not know that Gagne once tried to negotiate a deal to sell out to McMahon Jr, long before he folded the league). “Death of The Territories” is a book that needs to be on every wrestling historian and fans’ book shelf.

 

This review copy was given courtesy of ECW Press.

 

“Death of The Territories” by Tim Hornbaker (ECW Press, 2018) IBSN: 978-1-77041-384-9 (softcover), 978-1-77305-232-8 (ePub) , 978-1-77305-233-5 (PDF) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com

 

For information on the author, go to twitter@TimHornbaker.

 

Book Review: Heavy Duty is A Mighty Tale

Looking for a wonderful rock and roll memoir? Look for “Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest” (Da Capo Press, 2018) by ex- Judas Priest guitar player K.K. Downing and writer Mark Eglinton. This book tells the rags to riches story of how Downing formed the legendary band, and helped lead the band to heavy metal immortality.

“Heavy Duty” starts by detailing Downing’s childhood with a father, who had what is now called OCD, along with being a hypochondriac. His father refused to let his children near other kids, due to the fear of them catching some illness. His father would also make the children help out in his gambling addiction by having them pick up paper receipts on the street (thrown away by people leaving shoe stores) to prove to the government he bought shoes for his children with government assisted money, while spending the money on racing bets.

Downing describes his early musical influences with bands like The Troggs, The Rolling Stones, Them , and Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix became his early idol, after seeing him in concert several times, which lead him to buy his first guitar. After quitting school at age 15, Downing worked at a hotel while attending many concerts, which created a deeper love for music, and also got him his stage nickname.

The book takes the reader through the early years of Downing’s guitar playing in many bands, ending up auditioning for the band called Judas Priest, who he auditioned for. The singer left Priest, and joined up with Downing and bass player Ian Hill, bringing the band name with him, which started the groundwork for the iconic band.

“Heavy Duty” is full of great rock and roll stories, from how Judas Priest working their way through the music industry, to stories of being the opening act for many bands, along with their treatment by the headliner acts like Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, and Foreigner . The book covers the several lineup changes of drummers, to the behind the scenes recordings of the legendary albums of the band.

There are many great aspects of the book, including Downing describing rejected names for album titles, the decisions of the cover art work (which defines the band to this day -during the times where artwork was key to the overall product of selling records), and his views on his strained relationship with the second guitar player in the band, Glenn Tipton. The book goes into the famous court case where the band was charged with the deaths and injuries of two teens , to the band having to deal with singer Rob Halford leaving (and coming back to) the band, and the band’s short tenure with replacement singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.

Another entertaining part of the book was how the band was approached to submit a song for an unknown movie called “Top Gun,” and the results which shaped the band’s views on giving songs to soundtracks in the future. The recording of the band’s famous album “British Steel” is also a great read, from how the groundwork for the song “Living After Midnight” was created, the original cover that was proposed, interactions with some of history of The Beatles in the building where it was recorded, to the use of cutlery on the record.

The best thing about this book is the heart filled honesty Downing and Eglinton add to the book. Downing’s book is not a bash-fest, but he states his views honestly, and still shows respect for the band members. Even though he had strained relationships with band members, he still acknowledges that the members were all a part of the whole in the early development of the band, along with his admittance to making mistakes in the career path of the band. When discussing reasons for departing the band in 2011, along with opinions of the band’s nomination of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to his thoughts of the band now, the writers show a man that worked hard to get where he was in one of the greatest metal bands , along with a grateful attitude. Downing and Eglinton describe a man who lived out his dreams of a musician.

Although there are some stories about the rock and roll lifestyle, this book is not a graphic detailed book (like some rock memoirs that are filled with stories of groupies and drugs). “Heavy Duty” is a book about a young boy who had struggles in his childhood, and overcame them for the love of music and to be on top of the world.

This book is for the die hard fans of the band, along with those that casually know the band’s work (I own 6 of the band’s CDs, and did not know how many drummers the band went through). If you like reading rock memoirs, or tales of overcoming obstacles to conquer the world, this is the book to read.

 

The Advanced Reading Copy was given courtesy by Da Capo Press

 

“Heavy Duty Days And Nights In Judas Priest” by K.K. Downing with Mark Eglinton (Da Capo Press, 2018 ISBN: 9780306903311 -Hardcover, 9780306903298- eBook) can be found at http://www.dacapopress.com.

 

For information about K.K. Downing, visit: http://kkdowning.net/steelmill/

For information on Mark Eglinton,  go to his twitter @MarkEglinton

 

 

Concert Review: The Oaks Still Shining

The Oak Ridge Boys

Sept 8, 2018

The Harv at Mountaineer Race Track and Casino

New Cumberland, West Virginia

 

There are few musical acts that can still perform and sound great after a certain age. Those that fall into this category are Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar, and Barry Manilow.

Then there are The Oak Ridge Boys.

To say that these four singers can still go while in their 70s is an understatement, because even with a degree in English, I can not fully put into words how great of a show these legends put on. They combine classic country, gospel, pop, and mix it into a show filled with humor, pride, and excitement.

On this rainy day in West Virginia (it rained constant all day, and the forecast called for more rain next few days due to effects of a tropical storm on the way), singer Joe Bonsall mentioned that this year’s tour has been filled with so much rain that they are known as “The Soak Ridge Boys,” and was thankful that this show was indoors.

The show started with 1984’s “Everyday,” 1983’s “American Made,” and 1977’s “You’re The One.” The band fired off song after song , keeping the audience singing along, and with as many hits as the act has, the band doesn’t want to disappoint in not trying to get as many songs in as possible.

One of the rare aspects of seeing the Oaks in concert is that they embrace the whole history of the band, from their gospel roots, to the time when other members were in the band (they still play songs from the Steve Sanders years, when William Lee Golden left the band for a while). Unlike some other musical acts, who ignore their past, especially when it comes to member changes, The Oaks showed that they are not erasing their history by performing songs like “It’s Gonna Take A Lot Of River,” which Joe Bonsall took the lead parts that was originally done by Sanders, and the last time I saw them live two years ago when Duane Allen took on “No Matter How High I Get” (again from the Sanders years).

Photo by Casey Carman

The set list featured some of the classic songs older fans of the band know, such as the Rodney Crowell cover “Leaving Louisiana in The Broad Daylight,” “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” “(I’m Sittin) Fancy Free,” and “Thank God For Kids,” which ended with William Lee Golden stating not to forget “grandkids too.” Bonsall, when introducing the band, stated that drummer Austin Curcuruto “wasn’t even born yet” when these songs were hits, being the young guy on the tour. Nonetheless he, and the rest of the Mighty Oaks band, were given a nice response for their hard work.

Since the Oaks never do the same set list twice, rare gems were featured as well, including one of my favorites, “Dancing The Night Away.” I used my contact with the band on Twitter to suggest the song, since I’d never seen them do it live. Bonsall made a comment to the crowd to send their pictures of the show to their Twitter page, and the band embraces social media because “they are cool. ” Humor aside, Bonsall was like a twenty year old on this song, dancing and covering the whole stage, while the musicians brought an energy and fierceness to the song that was as rocking as any hard rock act I have seen.

“Come On In (You Did The Best You Could Do),” another rarer song that casual fans may not have known, continued the hard rocking segment, with Duane Allen showing his energy singing lead on the song. There was a guy sitting next to my girlfriend (wearing a Def Leppard shirt) who devil-horned his way during these two songs, which shows that hard rockers found something to be entertained with the show.

After the fabulous bass man Richard Sterban sang his rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” (Sterban shines on this song), the set turned to a gospel revival, with songs from their latest album “17th Avenue Revival.” The song “Pray To Jesus,” a humorous song from the album (and one of my favorites) has a different feel to it live, with a more rocking side to it, and was interesting to hear how the band interpreted it in concert. The lead single “Brand New Star” continued the session, with Bonsall stating that it was a positive take on dealing with death, which got a great response from the crowd. Allen continued the new music with “There Will Be Light.” Anytime I can sit and listen to Allen’s soulful vocals, it’s a treat. The Oaks performed five songs off of the new album, and did not lose their audience; one of the few bands that can pull off that many songs of new music without the audience heading to the concession stands.

Photo by Casey Carman

The beginning of “Let It Shine On Me,” the song the tour gets its name from, was Allen and the piano player taking the revival to it’s climax, with “The Ace” Allen taking me back to my early days of playing in black churches with his vocal range singing “Let It Shine On Me” soulfully and with the feeling that made it seem like the only person he was paying attention to was Jesus himself, singing with all his heart. When the other singers joined in, much like the whole night, the harmonies of these icons proved their worth to any critic that may had any doubt left that the gang could still hit the notes after a 90 minute show. The urban gospel feel at the end of the song, was similar to the scene with James Brown in the movie The Blues Brothers , where not only Bonsall was leading the praise fest with his ad-libs, but the band was backing the power like a locomotive glory train. The only thing missing was people doing cartwheels in the aisles like John Belushi did in the movie, but the same energy was there.

One can not end an Oaks show without “Elvira” and Bobbie Sue,” the two hits that made the pop charts in 1981 and 1982. The crowd was on their feet the whole time these two songs were played, singing and dancing along with the band. A highlight of the song is the crowd trying to compete with Sterban’s famous bass line, which the crowd has a fun time attempting. When Bonsall asked the crowd at the beginning of the night who were first time attendees, the majority of the crowd raised their hands. After the two biggest hits, many of the people were still singing on the way to the parking lot and to the casino, leaving happy while venturing back out into the rain.

Photo by Lance Lumley

One thing that I’d like to state here (I pride on this page being honest reviews) is how professional the crew was at the event. Two years ago, I had a problem with the T-shirt I got when I got it home (it shrunk to the point it was un-wearable when I was told it wouldn’t- my review of that show can be found in the archives). With no disrespect to that situation, the people at the merchandise table this time were friendly, telling jokes, and were overall wonderful and pleasant. Not only were the people at the table nice to deal with, but right before the show, they announced that those of us in the bleachers were allowed to come and sit in any empty seats on the floor to fill in the areas. Not many acts would let the fans do that, so we started in the bleachers before the show, and ended up towards the middle section of the floor. These people, from the tour bus drivers, sound technicians, lighting directors, and those working the merchandise table are some of the unsung heroes that many do not see or think of (for non musicians or those that have never played in bands), but the courtesy of the band allowing people to move up was not only great kindness, but a lasting memory for some of us. The underrated on stage band is just as enjoyable to watch as the guys in front singing. From a business aspect, The Oaks are as wonderful and professional at the same time.

To compliment The Oak Ridge Boys on putting a top-notch concert, while mentioning their age, is a double edge sword for fans like me. In one way, I like to show that these guys still put on one of the best shows in ANY genre of music, while combining country, pop, gospel, and American pride all in one show. However, the fans that have followed the band throughout the years already know what this act can do on stage (I have only seen the band live 3 times, so I missed the major 1970s-1980s live act).

The 90 minute (or so) set was pure entertainment and pleasure, with no slow spots, which can be rare in today’s musical events. This concert showed why Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden are one of America’s finest treasures in the music industry.

 

Set List:

  1. Everyday
  2. American Made
  3. You’re The One
  4. Come On In
  5. Louisiana Red Dirt Highway
  6. This Crazy Love
  7. Gonna Take A Lot Of River
  8. Y’all Come Back Saloon
  9. Leaving Louisiana in The Broad Daylight
  10. Roll Tennessee River
  11. (I’m Sittin) Fancy Free
  12. Thank God For Kids
  13. Dancing The Night Away
  14. Come On In (You Did The Best You Could)
  15. Boom Boom
  16. Pray To Jesus
  17. Brand New Star
  18. There Will Be Light
  19. I’d Rather Have Jesus
  20. Let It Shine On Me
  21. Elvria
  22. Bobbie Sue

To see where the Oak Ridge Boys are touring next, visit http://www.oakridgeboys.com

 

Classic Book Review: The Golden Years Covers Classic Movie Studio

Cover: Sandra Harrison in Blood of Dracula. Photo courtesy of Mark McGee.

 

Gary A. Smith’s “American International Pictures: The Golden Years” (Bear Manor Media, 2013) looks at the interesting films the classic movie company has made throughout the years.

Smith’s book starts by discussing the formation of the company American Releasing Company (ARC) in 1954, by Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson in California. The duo announced that the first film released would be by producer Roger Corman, who would be well known with making films for the company throughout the years. The book goes through the renaming of the company in 1956, after another company closed business, to the more known American International Pictures (AIP).

The film company used some unique business techniques in their career, starting in 1956, by decided to give the theaters two inexpensive films with similar themes on one bill for the same higher fee that the major studios were charging for one film. The company didn’t not always stick to this idea throughout the years, but they kept it going when they could.

The book is filled with humorous stories about crazy advertising schemes, to bad movies, and just strange happenings on the set, like when a real life rat got stage fright and died when looking at the camera during a take, to taking previous released foreign films and renaming them for the U.S. audiences. Gimmicks like “Hypo-Vista,” which demonstrated and explained hypnosis before showing a film, and a “talking coffin” trick used to get people into the theaters are a few more used by the company. Sometimes I wonder if using these old tricks could possibly get more people back into the movie theaters today, but with the skyrocketed prices of going to the theaters, these tricks may not work, but it’ll be interesting to try out.

“The Golden Years” covers many of the famous movies that AIP was known for, from the goofy monster films, to the Vincent Price/Corman Edgar Allan Poe classics, biker films, and the beach movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The company was also one the leader in the Blaxploitation films such as Jim Brown’s “Slaughter,” “Blacula,” and more. Films that included music acts like Fats Domino, The Platters, and Waylon Jennings are covered also in the book.

The unique thing about Smith’s collection is that it is not written as a normal biography of the company. Smith adds notes here and there to help explain to the reader facts or mistakes that are detailed, but the book is mostly press releases and suggestions from the company to the movie theaters on ideas for publicity. The book is compiled by the year dates, along with some nice black and white photographs from the film or movie posters added.

The research of finding all of these press releases, along with the suggestions for publicity, is wonderfully put together. Some of the stunts suggested by the movie company for the theater owners are comical , yet would get me into the theater to see the movie. The book shows many movies that I did not know the company released; I thought the company was only horror based, but they released dramas, biker films, westerns, and sword and sandal films. Smith’s comments are helpful as well, written in bold, so you know who the speaker is on the page. Movie lovers would love the 481 page book (not counting the Index and Appendix), especially horror fans.

Another interesting read is where some critics for the press state their opinions on some of the films. A few of the comments are laughable, stating how a certain actor (like Price) or a film would be bashed and yet ended up doing really well at the box office, or the actor would go on to have a legendary career. Every one has their opinion , but some of my favorites from the studio were not well received by the press at the time, have now become people’s go to for horror (like the Poe series and Price’s Dr Phibes character).

Gary A. Smith has become one of my favorite writers, especially in the movie genre, due to his research and knowledge of the topic, along with his own love for the films he writes of in his books. Smith adds comments throughout the book from Arkoff’s autobiography, and other sources, to help create a nice story of movie history.

Although it is mainly compiled information, Gary A. Smith’s collection doesn’t take away from his editing and writing skills.

 

This review copy was given courtesy of Bear Manor Media.

 

“American International Pictures: The Golden Years” by Gary A. Smith (Bear Manor Media, 2018 ISBN : 1-59393-750-4) can be found at: http://www.bearmanormedia.com