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VIVA LAS VEGAS '99:
A Great View From Down Below
By Barry M. Klein
In the evenings, as many as 4,000 crazed rockabilly fans bopped to the
sounds of Wildfire Willie, Sonny Burgess, etc., in the main ballroom
upstairs at the Gold Coast. During the afternoons, a smaller but equally
appreciative crowd enjoyed the activities at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame
table at the stage of the Dancehall downstairs.
Bob Timmers, curator for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, who has accomplished
so much on his web site, invited all kinds of rockabilly artists, authors,
magazine publishers, record producers, etc., to join him at his table to
meet their fans. Rod Pyke, the UK and European agent for the Rockabilly
Hall of Fame, assisted Bob in setting up what turned out to be a great,
active part of Viva Las Vegas, especially the last two days when musical
"jam sessions" followed the many appearances of Bob's guests at his table.
The following are just a few of the highlights:
Kim Lenz: I cornered the "Rockabilly Filly" (featured in BSN #43) on
Thursday. I signed a copy of my book for Kim and asked her to sign a frame,
which I was going to use for a picture taken of the two of us together.
Having the experience of signing my book at many signings, Kim and I
exchanged stories about the joys of finding creative ways to sign books and
pictures for people. Kim confided that after signing her picture for a long
period of time, her mind gets "blocked" on coming up with unique things to
say to her fans, so at that point she usually writes "Keep RockinÖ." Kim
told me that one of her career highlights was getting to meet Wanda Jackson,
and in her excitement and enthusiasm she asked Wanda to autograph something
for her. After Kim walked away, she looked at what Wanda had written:
"Keep Rockin Kim!"
Kim was exquisitely creative when it came to signing my picture frame:
rather than signing her name, I got the imprint of her lipstick (and she
took her time doing it!) She also wrote, "Barry, too bad you're already
taken!" (Unfortunately, I dictated this inscription to her.) Now for a
painful, personal confession: I found out a day later that I had no film in
my camera when our picture was taken together, and I never ran into Kim
again, so all I came home with was the picture frame with Kim Lenz' lipstick
Mack Stevens: Of the many wonderful rockabilly artists I met in Las Vegas,
Mack Stevens probably impressed me the most. Mack is a talented performer.
On Thursday night, he was the "Alice Cooper of Rockabilly." During his
standard wild and crazy set, he wrapped two large snakes around him while he
was performing the last couple of numbers, and then set fire to the drum
set. Also known for his writing and producing, Mack is just an all-around
talented guy, but there's more: He really knows his rockabilly history. I
have never seen anyone perform or record the Braves' "Woodpecker Rock" until
I heard him do it Thursday night.
Mack was single-handedly responsible for "getting things going" in the jam
sessions that took place on the stage in the dance hall behind the
Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Mack led off both nights by getting onstage,
inviting other musicians to join him, including his own very talented
Argentinean lead guitarist, and leading the "ad hoc" group into some great
tunes. After being a "headline" act on opening night, it was very
impressive to see Mack "take charge" at the jam sessions and see to it that
other artists got a chance to play for a smaller, more intimate crowd. As I
said to Karina, "Mack es un hombre muy simpatico"! Also, it was interesting
to learn of the fairytale type of love story about Mack and his bride of one
year, Karina. Because Karina was associated with an Argentinean band, she
came to Viva Las Vegas 1 last year, and briefly met Mack. When one of
Mack's friends visited Argentina shortly afterward, Karina confessed to him
that she "couldn't get her mind off Mack Stevens." Upon learning this Mack
called Karina in Argentina and said, " I can't take my mind off you either,
Baby, why don't you come up here and let's get married!" Today, they are
inseparably happy newlyweds, and Karina is helping manage Mack's career,
On Friday evening, I got up enough nerve to come up on stage and sing
"Johnny B. Goode." One of the fellows playing guitar in the jam session
that night was Flavio Casanova, who is the guitarist and singer for an
Argentinean rockabilly group called, "Historia del Crimen" (Crime History).
Flavio was a good sport and played a great lead guitar during the song. I
found out afterward that once upon a time, Karina and Flavio had been rivals
in Argentina, but today they are best of friends.
Mac Curtis: After a universally lauded performance late Thursday night
(early Friday morning, actually) Mac spent some time at the Rockabilly Hall
of Fame table on Friday. He is a very cordial, natural, down-to-earth type
person and accommodated all fans' requests for autographs, pictures, etc.
There are so many nice people in rockabilly, it seems like the not-so-nice
ones stick out like a sore thumb.
Ray Campi: Although he wasn't on the bill to perform at Viva Las Vegas II,
Ray Campi appeared in the dance hall on Saturday and Sunday, signed his
CD's, and interacted graciously with fans, including me. When Ray saw that
Kinky Friedman was the first "endorsement quote" in my book, Ray reminisced
that it was he who originally worked with Kinky on filming the excellent
movie documentary, "Texas Saturday Night", which was hosted by Kinky and
features performances by and interviews with many Texas musicians (including
Ray Campi), and surveys the general landscape of the diverse music emanating
from Texas. After our discussion of Texas music, Ray showed me a CD which I
did not know existed, "Ray Campi With Friends in Texas", recorded in 1986
with the likes of Del Shannon, Merle Travis, Ronnie Mack, Joe Ely, Bonnie
Raitt and Rip Masters. I immediately purchased a copy and brought it to my
"station" at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table.
Several minutes later, I was signing a copy of my book for someone and while
I was talking to that person, Ray, who had a spare moment, approached my
side of the table, opened my CD, took out the cover, and signed it for me!
Ray is one of the headlining acts of the forthcoming Indianapolis Rockabilly
Rebel Weekend June 17th - 20th, and I look forward to finally catching his
Billy Poore: After reading Billy's quintessential rockabilly book,
"Rockabilly: The First Forty Years", I felt that I had already known him for
years when we met in Las Vegas. With apologies to the many people who have
written fine books about rockabilly, Billy's conversational-type prose, his
personal experiences and his true love of rockabilly music, makes him an
ultimate authority. In person, he is the same down-to-earth, "no-airs" type
of guy you perceive him to be when you read the book.
Kay Wheeler: Kay was the exotic-looking young woman featured in dance
sequences in two famous rockabilly movies from 1957, "Rock Baby Rock It!"
(with Johnny Carroll) and "Hot Rod Gang" (with Gene Vincent). Kay
graciously signed pictures of her from "Rock Baby Rock It!", talked with
fans and posed for pictures. When it was my turn to take a picture with
Kay, I put my arm around her waist and said, "Kay, I've been waiting 42
years to put my arm around you!".
Bob Kelly: Other people appearing at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table
included Bob Kelly, who wrote the song "Git It" for Gene Vincent. With his
black cowboy hat and silver sideburns, he still maintained his ruggedly
handsome looks in 1999. You can hear Bob sing a demo of "Git It" and
another song he wrote on "The Lost Dallas Sessions."
Ronny Weiser: Rockin' Ronny Weiser - what can I say about Ronny that
hasn't already been said! Producer, writer, musician, major catalyst of the
rockabilly revival era, and career regenerator for such artists as Jackie
Lee Cochran, Gene Vincent and others. Ronny took great pride in seeing some
of his protegees such as Mack Stevens enjoy major success, knowing that he
has made his contribution to rockabilly music. For Ronny, who lives in Las
Vegas now, Viva Las Vegas was like a family reunion!
Bill Mack: A former member of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps, Bill joined the
band in 1957, and is featured in the current CD, "The Lost Dallas Sessions".
Although Bill is only credited on Track 9 of that CD, "Blue Jean Bop", Bill
says he played on several other tracks. It took some arm-twisting, but we
finally got Bill up on stage to play standup bass during the Saturday night
jam session. On Sunday night at the jam session, he was reunited with Dickie
Harrell, who was the drummer for the Blue Caps and is also featured on "The
Lost Dallas Sessions."
Dave Crimmen: The tall, dark, lanky rockabilly musician from the San
Francisco Bay area appeared at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table to sign his
CD's and talk with fans. I got to know Dave pretty well, as well as Sharon
Caren, who, like Mack Stevens' wife, Karina, shares in Dave's career and
personal life. Dave performed at the jam session on several songs Friday
night, singing, playing lead guitar, and demonstrated why two of his CD's
are in the Hep Cat Records catalog.
I saw Rip Masters, who had been signing his CD at the Rockabilly Hall of
Fame table, watching the musicians perform at the jam session, so I grabbed
his arm and pulled him onstage. Being the pro he is, he did a great job of
singing, and he even made some good "moves" for someone over 30!
One note about the jam sessions: with so many bands and recording artists
attending Viva Las Vegas II who were there as "fans", Bob Timmers and I
often did not know who some of the people were coming on stage or what their
qualifications were. (A real good example of this was when I got on stage
to sing!) There was a young, handsome fellow who asked Bob if he could get
up and sing. Not being an elitist, Bob told him to go up when the current
singer was finished. When asked by the departing singer if he wanted to
borrow the guitar (the guitar actually belonged to Mack Steven's lead
guitarist), the singer said, "Well, I'll pick at that little ole thing a
bit!" Well, this "unknown" turned in an absolutely great performance, both
singing and guitar picking. After he got off the stage, I found out that
this guy was Kenny Love, the Phoenix, Arizona based front man for his group,
"Kenny Love & the Rock-er-Fellas" whose current CD "Rockabilly Swing Thing"
is also currently featured in the Hep Cat Records catalog!
Tony Masserati: Playing rhythm guitar quite a bit of the time at the
Friday night jam session was Austin-based rockabilly musician Tony
Masserati, another artist to have his CD in the Hep Cat catalog. Tony was
an extremely nice guy, frequently sitting on stage and playing rhythm on his
guitar, deflecting the spotlight to the lead guitarist of the moment. Tony
was just trying to "pitch in" and keep the continuity of the jam session
going, and that is certainly what happened!
The drummer for most of the Friday night jam sessions, who could easily have
burned about 2,000 calories, was Kim Lenz' drummer. I believe his name is
Scooty Evans. Because much of the equipment was obtained on very short
notice, through the good graces of Bob Timmers' begging and the generosity
of some bands who happened to have their equipment in the hotel, we usually
had a guitar or two and a standup bass. But the only "drum set" we could
come up with was a snare drum. With a lot of talent and a little bit of
equipment, it sounded great!
I don't remember if he actually came to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table,
but I would be remiss if I didn't comment about how good Curtis Gordon
sounded. I happened to attend the sound check in the ballroom on Saturday
afternoon, several hours before his evening performance. Curtis was an
early to mid 1950's western bop signer on the cusp of the rockabilly sound.
A tall, soft-spoken, gracious man, Curtis was teamed up with Hal Peters &
his String Dusters of Finland for his Saturday evening performance. Many
people who did not know what to expect from this union were very pleasantly
surprised and enjoyed the show. I understand Bear Family Records has a good
compilation of his work on CD.
Although he did not perform, early rockabilly pioneer Sammy Masters appeared
at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table on Easter Sunday. A rockabilly singer
and songwriter (Pink Cadillac, Rockin Red Wing) some of his songs were cut
by the likes of Eddie Cochran and Patsy Cline. Sammy cut a handsome figure,
looking like a "gentleman cowboy", kind of reminding me of a younger Gene
Autry. Rodney Pyke, the UK and European agent for the Rockabilly Hall of
Fame, showed me pictures that he had taken at Sammy's home in California,
including many trophies, mementos, and memorabilia accumulated during
Sammy's long career. Last year, Sammy had a new CD out entitled "Everybody
Digs Sammy Masters".
Other occasional "passers-by" at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table included
Craig "Bones" Maki, who has a cult following (including me) with his
"Rockabilly Roll Call" weekly radio show in Detroit, Michigan. Craig and
his band "Big Barn Combo" will be one of the featured acts in Indianapolis
Blue Suede News Editor/Publisher, Marc Bristol, and his bride (and co-editor
and publisher) Gaby stopped by. One day later, I heard his "Sucker for a
Cheap Guitar" being played from the "Rockabilly Hall of Fame Vol. 1" CD at
Bob Timmers, curator of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, played guitar at the
jam session both Saturday and Sunday evenings. I am sure one of Bob's
highlights was playing with Bill Mack on bass and Dickie Harrell on drums,
both of whom were former Blue Caps with Gene Vincent.
Unfortunately, there were several people on stage during the jam sessions on
both Saturday and Sunday nights that I could not identify. On Sunday, there
was a fellow who had a good rockabilly voice and so many great moves, he
even somersaulted off the stage, landing in the audience, and then flipped
himself backwards on the stage again. His stage antics reminded me of an
even wilder early Elvis, similar to what Jason D. Williams does today in
comparison with early Jerry Lee Lewis.
If I could make only one suggestion to Tom Ingram, the promoter of Viva Las
Vegas for next year, it would be the following: Repeat the jam sessions
again late Saturday and Sunday afternoons, publicize them, give more
equipment to Bob Timmers, and let Bob and his Rockabilly Hall of Fame
associates have more authority so they can better prepare the "impromptu"
jam sessions. For something that hadn't even been planned, it was a gas!
Best Rockabilly Hair Style For A Male Award: Carl Schreiber, guitarist and
vocalist for the Chicago rockabilly group, "The DuValls".
Best Rockabilly Hair Style For A Female Award: Didn't notice - I am a
happily married guy who came to Las Vegas without his wife.
While Viva Last Vegas II was mostly about music, and most of it was
happening in the large ballroom upstairs, the activities downstairs in the
dance hall encompassing the Rockabilly Hall of Fame table, and the jam
sessions on the stage, truly added a unique dimension for fans and artists,
and facilitated some wonderful interaction between them.
ED. NOTE: I want personally thank Barry for all his help at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame Meet
and Greet Table / Jam Session. Also I'd like to mention Garlin Hackney of
Hack & the '57s. for his contributions to the
fun weekend we all had. Good job men ... -Bob Timmers
Readers who would like a signed copy of Barry Klein's book, "Sex, Drugs and
Rock & Roll", please send a tax deductible check in the amount of $7.50 made
payable to The George R. Klein Memorial Scholarship Fund - Oakland
University. Outside North America - $10.00 - firstname.lastname@example.org
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