Saturday, October 23, 2021

In 2022 There Will Be One Issue: Trump

Say what you will about his many flaws, Trump knows how to get what he wants: Right now, it looks to me like the 2022 elections will be entirely about him and his Trumpists. 

In elections coast-to-coast it will mostly be about standing for or against Donald Trump. Therefore, Republican candidates are going to be forced stand in line to kiss Trump's ass in public every day. Meanwhile, Democrats running for office are surely going to portray Trump as the most revolting and dangerous man ever to live; along the way he's bound to say and do plenty to reinforce that image. 

Either way, whatever genuine issues the candidates might want to talk about, I think the opinion polls will keep telling the campaign strategists that what matters most to most voters, donkeys or elephants, is loving or hating Trump. 

So, there's no question in my mind that Trump is quite pleased that it looks that way, just 10 days before election day 2021. In Virginia, we're probably seeing the most nationalized gubernatorial contest in anyone's memory ... and it's all about Trumpism.  

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Fan City Trivia Card Collection (1984)


Note: The Fan City Trivia Card Collection (1984), a set of 12 cards, followed The Brileys later the same year. Like all five of my card sets this one came packaged in a small transparent Ziplock bag. However, after the Brileys series I didn’t include a piece of bubblegum in the package again. 


Stemming from The Brileys card set’s notoriety, I was enthusiastic about finding more ways to sell my cartoons directly to the public. As Trivial Pursuit was a popular game then, I decided to see if I could play with that trend.

With my second effort at producing collectible cards, the back of each card had a trivia question. On the reverse side the answer and an illustration appeared. For outlets I used the same network of a dozen or so retailers that I had created to market The Brileys cards.

A year later that same basic list of locations would be what I used to launch The SLANT. The first two issues  in 1985 were 16-pagers that sold for a quarter per copy. But the history of that periodical is fodder for another project. Anyway, here are the questions and answers for Fan City Trivia, along with some of the art:

Card No. 1: At the 1982 "Atomic Cafe" handbill trial, who was the art professor who testified as to the difference between random soup cans on the street and Warhol's art?
Answer: [Jerry] Donato

Card No. 2: What year did the experts change Grace Street to allow for two-way traffic?
Answer: 1981
Card No. 3: On Mar. 19, 1974, Franklin St. was witness to a riot in which 17 were arrested. What campus fad triggered the melee?
Answer: Streaking

Card No. 4: Billy Burke's late-'70s, Kennedy assassination newsletter was named after a place. What was it called?
Answer: The Grassy Knoll Gazette

Card No. 5: Name the [expatriate] jazz guitarist who wrote a song called "Grace Street" and recorded it on the Kicking Mule label.
Answer: Duck Baker

Card No. 6: Name the erstwhile and notorious umpire who called most of the Fan League's softball games in 1977 and hasn't been seen since.
Answer: Leo Koury
Card No. 7: The last Sal Special was burned to a crisp. Name the eatery that served [that signature dish] until a summer blaze in 1983.
Answer: The Capri
Car No. 8: With the heat lightning flashing on a 1970 summer night, Bruce Springsteen’s group knocked ‘em dead on top of a downtown parking deck. Name the band.
Answer: Steel Mill

Card No. 10: Who plays lead guitar (and the sax) for the Memphis Rockabilly Band?
Answer: Bill Coover

Card No. 11: On an Indian Summer day in 1968, the FBI seized a Yippie petition from what Ryland Street head-shop?
Answer: The Liberated Area

Card No. 12: On April 2, 1982, the Cha-Cha headlined a mud-wrestling bout. Name the two contestants.
Answer: Dirtwoman vs. Dickie Disgusting

Card No. 13: Name the fashionable, underground bi-weekly that documented the campus scene of RPI’s last gasp.
Answer: The Sunflower

The Fan City Trivia Card Collection edition didn't take off anything like the previous set had. On top of that, I wasn’t happy with all of the art. Plus, I was pissed off at myself for one particularly grievous careless mistake I had made in the copy -- I spelled “expatriate” wrong.

Such is one of the problems with working alone. This was the beginning of the time in which I came to realize much more fully that having a staff of smart proofreaders, like I had enjoyed all that time at the Biograph, had been more valuable than I had known then. I also realized the overall production had been rushed because I needed money.  

When I stopped selling the Fan City Trivia cards, not all that long after their release, I did so with the idea I would make a few new cards to replace the ones that needed it. Then I would re-release the deck, maybe with a total of 15 cards.

It never happened, but I did recycle two of the same characters into a subsequent edition of cards called SLANT Legends (1993), which was the third of the five sets I have produced.

-- 30 --

All right reserved by the author.

Richmond's Handbill War of 1982, or 'that would depend on who tipped the can over'


This clipping is from Throttle's July 1982 issue.

In 1982 the City of Richmond tweaked its City Code to crack down on the posting of unauthorized notices on fixtures in the public way. With a particular focus on the Fan District, policemen pulled handbills from utility poles and charged the person(s) they held responsible for posting the flier, and/or whatever entities they determined would benefit from its message, with violating the new statutes. So either a club owner and a band member could be busted for the same handbill.

On June 28 of that same year, David Stover, a photographer and part-time usher at the Biograph Theatre, admitted in court he had posted a promotional handbill on a utility pole. The General District Court judge, R.W. Duling, ordered him to pay a $25 fine. Stover’s misdemeanor conviction sent a message to his band, The Prevaricators, that they needed to find another way of spreading the word about their gigs.

In the weeks before Stover’s court date others in local bands had been fined for committing the same crime. In the early-'80s Richmond’s live music scene may have been the strongest it had been in decades. The convictions made most clubs and bands suddenly afraid to rely on a reliable and essential tool to promote their shows. The crackdown threatened to stifle the nightlife scene.

As the manager of the Biograph, I had been using the same sort of handbills on a regular basis for 10 years to promote that repertory cinema’s fare, in particular the midnight shows. In the last few years xerography had made the cost of a short run of little posters much more affordable. So, my instincts were to not accept a ban on that integral avenue of promotion without putting up a fight.

On top of that, it felt to me like the City of Richmond was not only trampling on my freedom of speech rights, but it was trying to undermine the Fan District's nightlife scene. Given such thoughts, I decided to go on stapling Biograph fliers to preferred utility poles and let the chips fall as they may.

It wasn’t long before a cop showed up at the Biograph with a flier for “The Atomic Café” in hand. It was the movie we were playing at that time. He told me he had removed it from a pole in the neighborhood. I admitted to putting it up. He issued me a summons. It wasn't an unfriendly exchange.

Due to procedural delays, it took over four months for my day in court to arrive. Which was fortunate, because I used that time window to build what would be my case.


In part, the crackdown was spawned in great part by the resentment some property owners in the Fan felt toward VCU’s growing presence. In that time the look associated with punk rock -- how the anti-establishment kids dressed, as well as their art -- was just as off-putting to some cultural conservatives.  The same went for the sound of amplified contemporary music. In a larger sense, it was all part of a familiar culture clash, warmed over from the late-'60s.

Consequently, the leaders of the Fan District Association of that era were dead set against the handbills that promoted edgy happenings in their neighborhood. Prompted, in some part by that civic association’s pressure, the City of Richmond proclaimed outlawing handbills would help with the litter problem.

All of which prompted me to start reading about similar situations in other places. In particular, cases that involved using fixtures in the public way, such as utility poles, as kiosks. I found some useful precedents that backed up my thinking. Plus, I began to study political art and outlaw art, down through history, with a fresh passion. 

Scheming about how to present my argument in court filled my head for the next four months. First, I wanted the court to see an essential context -- our society tolerates all sorts of signage on utility poles, because the messages are considered useful and the practice works.

Then, I wanted to convince a judge that once you considered all the handbills in the neighborhood around VCU, as a whole, it could be seen as an information system. It was a system that some young people were relying on for information, just the same as others might rely on newspapers obtained from a box sitting on public sidewalk. 

After all, what right did the newspaper company have to block any part of the public sidewalk with its box full of information, including a lot of advertising? What allowed for that?

One person might read the entertainment section in a local newspaper. Another person might look to the utility poles in their neighborhood, to read the posters touting live music shows or poetry readings. Some would trust the information found in a newspaper. Others might put more faith in the handbills posted on certain poles they walk past regularly. 

The only reason privately owned utility poles had ever been allowed to impose on public property, in the first place, was that electricity and telephone lines had been seen as serving the commonweal. So, why not use the bottom of the same poles as kiosks?   

Somewhere along the line, I told my bosses it would cost them nothing in legal fees. A couple of my friends who were on the theater's softball team, who were also pretty good lawyers, would handle the defense.

To gather plenty of good examples of handbills to use as evidence, we had an art show at the Biograph (see flier above). On October 5, some 450 fliers, posted on black foam core panels, were hung in the theater’s lobby. In all, there were probably 40 or 45 artists represented. A group of friends acted as impromptu art expert judges to select the best five of the show.

Naturally, there was a keg of beer on hand to grease the wheels of progress.

Two of the handbill art show judges from that night also served as expert witnesses at the trial. They were: Gerald Donato and David Manning White. Donato was an art professor at VCU; White was the retired head of the mass communications department at VCU. The best 100 of the handbills from the show were later taken to court as evidence.

One of Phil Trumbo’s Orthotones (later Orthotonics) handbills was named Best in Show. Most people who knew much about the handbill artists in the Fan would have said Trumbo was top dog, so it was a popular decision by the judges.


Thus, on November 5, 1982, I witnessed a fascinating scene in which an age-old question — what is art? — was hashed out in front of a patient judge, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the parade of exhibits and witnesses the defense attorneys put before him. The room was packed with observers, which included plenty of gypsy musicians, film buffs and art students wearing paint-speckled dungarees.

Trumbo testified at the trial as a handbill expert, to explain how to make a handbill and why they were used by promoters of entertainment. He also described how the music and art associated with the bands and clubs were all part of the same scene that flowed out of the neighborhood's university.

My defense attorneys attacked the wording of the city's statute I was charged with violating as “overreaching.” They asserted on my behalf that it was my right to post the handbill, plus the public had a right to see it. The prosecution stuck to its guns and called the handbill, “litter.”

The judge was reminded that history-wise, posters predate newspapers. Furthermore, we asserted that some of the cheaply printed posters, a natural byproduct of having a university with a burgeoning art school in the neighborhood, were worthwhile art.

At a crucial moment Donato was being grilled by the prosecutor. The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, William B. Bray, asked the witness if the humble piece of paper in his hand, the offending handbill, could actually be “art.”

“Probably,” shrugged the prof. “Why not?”

The stubborn prosecutor grumbled, reasserting that it was no better than trash in the gutter. Having grown weary of the artsy, high-brow vernacular being slung around by the witnesses, the prosecutor tried one last time to make Donato look foolish.

As Warhol’s soup cans had just been mentioned by the art expert, the prosecutor asked something like, “If you were in an alley and happened upon a pile of debris spilled out from a tipped-over trashcan, could that display be art, too?”

“Well,” said the artist, pausing momentarily for effect, “that would depend on who tipped the can over.”

Donato’s punch line was perfectly delivered. The courtroom erupted into laughter. Even the judge had to fight off a smile.

The crestfallen prosecutor gave up; he had lost the case. Although I got a kick out of the crack, too, I’ve always thought the City’s mouthpiece missed an opportunity to hit the ball back across the net.

“Sir, let me get this right,” he might have said, “are you saying the difference between art and randomly-strewn garbage is simply a matter of whose hand touched it; that the actual appearance of the objects, taken as a whole, is not the true test? Would you have us believe that without credentials, such as yours, one is ill-equipped to determine the difference ordinary trash and fine art?”

A smarter lawyer might have exploited that angle. Still, the prosecutor’s premise/strategy that an expert witness could be compelled to rise up to brand a handbill for a movie, a green piece of paper with black ink on it, as “un-art” was absurd. So, Donato, who was a wily artist if ever there was one, probably would have one-upped the buttoned-down lawyer, no matter what.

Perhaps the question should not have been — how can you tell fake art from real art? Any town is full of bad art, mediocre art and good art. Name your poison. The better question to ask would be about whether the art is pleasing to the eye, thought-provoking or useful.

Then any viewer can be the expert witness. However, when it comes to great art, maybe it still depends on who tips the can over.


The next day the story about winning the handbill case was draped stylishly across the top of the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
‘Atomic Café’ handbill case is still clouded
By Frank Green
Sat., Nov. 6, 1982

Though the case has ended, the fallout from “The Atomic Café” may not be over.

Richmond District Court Judge Jose R. Davila Jr. dismissed a charge yesterday against Terry Rea, the manager of the Biograph Theater, who allegedly posted handbills advertising the movie “The Atomic Café” on some utility poles in the Fan in June…

…The case concerned the seemingly simple issue of the allegedly illegal posting of a handbill. But before it was over, the proceedings touched on topics that included free speech, soup cans, and nuclear energy, and invoked the names of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol and the city‘s public safety director.

Rea’s attorneys, John G. Colan and Stuart R. Kaplan, argued the city’s ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated Rea’s right of freedom of speech…

…“The city, GRTC, VCU, churches, the Boys Club and all the candidates use the public’s utility poles to post their signs. They know as well as the general public that there is nothing pretty about a naked pole. Handbills pose no danger to anyone. Is free speech only for some?” Rea asked in a handbill he had printed up before yesterday’s trial. 
Later that Saturday Richmond’s afternoon daily, the Richmond News Leader, carried this story:
Art or litter? Judge rules handbills not in ‘public way’
by Frank Donnelly
Nov. 6, 1982

One man’s art may be another man’s litter, but the real question was whether it blocks the “public way.”

Terry Rea, manager of the Biograph Theatre in Richmond, was charged in June with obstructing a city sidewalk when he posted handbills on utility poles in the Fan District.

Rea’s attorneys, eliciting testimony on mass media and art from several professors at Virginia Commonwealth University, argued yesterday that the city law limited their client’s freedom of speech.

However, Richmond General District Judge Jose R. Davila, Jr., said the issue came down to whether the posters obstructed the public way, and he ruled that the commonwealth’s attorney’s office failed to prove they did.

Davila dismissed the charge against the manager of the theater but stopped short of finding the city law unconstitutional, which also had been requested by Rea’s attorney’s.

The city now must decide whether to find a better legal argument to defend the city law or to revise it, officials said. The law is used by the police to combat excessive advertising in the public way, which is defined as any place open to the public, such as a street or sidewalk.

“The poles were perfectly clean this morning,” Capt. Robert T. Millikin, Jr., said about the possible impact of the decision. “Between you and me, I don’t know what they’ll [sic] going to look like between now and tonight.”

For the last year, Fan District residents have complained to police about the unsightliness caused by posters on trees and utility poles, Millikin said. The police asked businesses in June to stop posting the handbills and most businesses did so, he said.

Rea said he always has relied on handbills as an inexpensive but effective way to advertise movies at the theater, which specializes in the showing of avant-garde movies. Two weeks later, he was charged with a misdemeanor after posting advertisements for the anti-nuclear power movie, “The Atomic Cafe.”

The manager was charged under a law that states: “It shall be unlawful for any persons to obstruct or use a public way for advertising, promotional or solicitation purposes or for any purpose connected therewith ... by placing attacking [sic] or maintaining a sign on or to a fixture (such as a utility pole) ...”

...David M. White, a former VCU professor of mass communication and author of 20 books on the media, said handbills are a unique form of communication. The theater could advertise in newspapers but the cost was prohibitive, he said.

Jerry Donato, an associate VCU professor of fine arts, said that posters in the Fan District contained both art and messages. “The Atomic Cafe” posters, which contained the slogan, “A hot spot in a Cold War,” criticized the use of nuclear power, he said.

Asked by assistant commonwealth’s attorney William B. Bray whether a bunch of soup cans on the ground is art, Donato replied, “It depends on who arranged them.”

The courtroom, which held about 30 artists and supporters of the theater, erupted into laughter.

Bray said purpose of the statute was to prevent littering but agreed that another reason was to prevent obstruction of the public way. The posting of handbills could block the public way by falling off of a utility pole and causing pedestrians to slip, he said. The posting of the advertisements caused a hardship for the police, which sometimes had to take down the posters, Millikin said...

...Before the trial, Rea had argued, “The handbill posted in the public way is a unique and vital form of communication. Production and distribution is direct, swift and cheap.”

That message was printed on a handbill.

Three years later, Richmond once again passed new laws forbidding unauthorized fliers on utility poles. Another crackdown ensued.

This time it spawned a reaction from several of the Fan District’s handbill artists, musicians and promoters -- activists who called themselves the Fan Handbill Association.

Eventually, this issue prompted me to design a two-page, twice-a-week "magazine," SLANT, which was made to be stapled to utility poles. There were cartoons, brief stories and ads. But that’s another story for another day.

-- 30 -- 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Smooth Noir (1992)

Here's a flashback to an issue of SLANT 29 years ago. It was published when the infamous Joe Camel ad campaign was still popular, so I had to weigh in. In this time the USA's tobacco industry was still riding high ... but not for long. In August of 1992 the art above appeared over the text below:

It's Happy Hour. Rebus starts the Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross tape that he had selected to kick off his shift. In walks his first customer.

It's Joe Camel, smooth matchbook celebrity.

Although Rebus recognizes him immediately, even without his makeup, he doesn't call attention to it. Joe looks like he would rather not be bothered.

Joe: Two shots of Cuervo Gold. No fruit. No salt.

Rebus: Hey pal, if it's been that kind of day, let me buy the first one. It's the...

Joe: THAT kind of day? Yeah, I guess it's been about as bad a day as ... forget it.

The bar's only customer slaps the first empty glass down onto the cold marble as Rebus turns the stereo's volume up a notch.

Joe: The tests came back. It's the Big C. I'm doomed. It's too late to operate. Just like that -- cancer. Kaput!

Rebus: Well, er, in that case, I'll spring for the second one, too.

Joe: Thanks.

Rebus: How about a sandwich?

Joe: A sandwich?

Rebus: Sure. Like something to eat. We've got a killer cold meatloaf sandwich, or...

Joe: Cancer of the hump.

Rebus: The hump?

Joe: They said my five-pack-a-day habit probably had nothing to do with...

Rebus: I didn't even know you had a hump. Like, it never shows in the commercials.

Joe: I wear a corset. We all do. It's part of the act. The Mad Ave. geniuses want smooth camels, not hunchbacks. Hey, let me tell ya, they tighten those babies down with a torque wrench.

Rebus: I won't say anything about it.

Joe: I'm not hungry. How 'bout another shooter?

Rebus: Sure, ah, did the doctor, er...

Joe: Did they say how, how long I've got?

Rebus: Yeah and no offense meant.

Joe: Maybe a week.

Rebus: Cancer of the hump! What a bad break.

Joe: I deserve it.

Rebus: Hey, nobody deserves hump cancer. Not even...

Joe: I do man. I'm paying the price for selling my soul to the devil. All those kids.

Rebus: Kids?

Joe: Innocent children that Joe F. Camel suckered into smoking the product. It's karma.

Rebus: You didn't invent cigarettes.

Joe: Above all else, be smooth. Don't you want to be the smoothest dude?

Rebus: Come on Joe, kids are going to smoke cigarettes regardless of...

Joe: Maybe, but this campaign was slick. They brought in behavioral voodoo scientists.

Rebus: Joe, it's not your fault. You've just been dealt a bad hand. Joe, ah, that is your real name?

Joe: What's in a name? What's real? Way back, maybe before your time, people knew me as Clyde. Since then I've...

Rebus: Right! Clyde. I knew you looked familiar. Yeah, you worked with a cat named Ahab the Arab. But, now you look, like, ah, wider.

Joe: You're talking 30 years since that gig. Who hasn't put on a little weight?

Rebus: I can dig it. But it's still not your fault if a kid smokes. Everybody's got to earn a living. You're like Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald, or...

Joe: No! I knew it was wrong. I went to the meetings. I knew the marketing strategy. We were going after third-graders. It was sick.

Rebus: So, what are you going to do?

Joe: Get drunk, then make a plan.

Rebus: Good move. Ready for another?

Joe: I wonder if strapping my hump down made the cancer, ah...

Rebus: Maybe it's never too late to beat the devil. They made you a celebrity; call a press conference. Go public with it. Confess! Drop a dime on the subliminal sleazemeisters.

Joe: Do you really think people would listen?

Rebus: The Marlboro Man went clean.

Joe: You're right! I knew getting drunk was a good idea. Hand me that telephone. I'll do it. I'll blow the lid off the...

Rebus: That's the spirit!

Joe: I've got work to do; call my agent. And, you know what?

Rebus: Chicken-butt!

Joe: Let me try one of those meatloaf sandwiches. And, some coffee.

Rebus opens his eyes. The dream was OK until that business about the meatloaf sandwich. Not to mention the stupid chicken-butt joke.

He gets out of bed and walks toward the bathroom. On the way, Rebus remembers the Joe Camel jacket draped over the chair by the door. A steady customer had given it to him at the bar. He picks it up and throws it into the trash can next to the toilet.

Rebus: Sorry Clyde, I'm not taking any chances.

-- Fini --


Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Banksy's "Napalm"


"Napalm" 2004 by Banksy

Note: This post was prompted by a discussion on Facebook in which a commenter seemed to object to Banksy's use of a detail from the famous photo known widely as "Napalm Girl."  


The last 100 years of media-driven popular culture have given us countless images and phrases that have escaped the boundaries of their original context, because they have been seen and/or heard so many times ... in both deliberate and accidental associations with other ideas. They have gradually become loaded with meanings and connections, so the limitations of their original context and/or their literal meaning are just part of their history. 

Moreover, once one becomes a celebrity, however it happened -- like it, or not -- one's documented persona will always be part of the record. So, in my book, Banksy can use that Vietnamese "Napalm Girl" image in his art. Following the Pulitzer Prize that Nick Ut won for shooting that haunting photo, in 1972, there's just no way to undo the minting of Phan Thi Kim Phúc's status as a nine-year-old celebrity war victim. To many people that picture of her is the first thing they think of when that war is mentioned.

So, for whatever reason, any viewer might not like Banksy's art. That's fine, but that image the artist appropriated from Ut's photo carries a lot of meaning and feeling in the postmodern art world of trampled dignities and scars. Linking it to happy Mickey and Ronald delivers a jarring punch.     

-- 30 --


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Drake the Flake

On Nov. 8, 1992, the revenge-driven crime spree ended when the man I remembered as Drake the Flake blew out his brains with a .32 caliber revolver. In the 11 hours before taking his own life Lynwood C. "Woody" Drake III had shot and killed six people, wounded a seventh and beaten his former landlady with a blackjack.

It had been over 20 years since I last saw him in 1972. It was in the lobby of the movie theater I then managed, the Biograph Theatre. Still, when I saw the AP photo of him in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 29 years ago (in 1992), Drake was instantly recognizable.
More about Woody Drake later, but it should come as no surprise to most film buffs that sometimes there is a dark side to the business of doing business after the sun goes down. Some regulars saw the Biograph (1972-87) as a movie-themed clubhouse. Then again, movie theaters attract all sorts of people who are hiding from reality. 


Although nearly everyone who worked at the Biograph during my almost-12-year-stint as its manager was on the up-and-up, there were a couple of rotten apples. As I hired both of them, I have to take the blame there. But those are stories for another time. Some of my favorite people worked at that cinema in those days, but mostly at night.

Then there were the customers. Plenty of them were fine, but this piece isn't about them. It's about troubles. 

One man died in the Biograph. His last minutes among the living were spent watching "FIST" (1978), starring Sylvester Stallone. The man died in an aisle seat in the small auditorium -- Theatre No. 2.

Yes, the movie was bad, but was it really THAT bad?

At the time I was 30 years old. The dead man was about my age. His eyes were open. As the rescue squad guys shot jolts of electricity into his heart, his body flopped around on the floor like a fish out of water. Meanwhile, down in Theater No. 1 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was on the screen delighting its usual crowd of costumed screwballs. The juxtaposition of the two contrasting scenes was surreal.

There was the night someone fired five shots of high-powered ammo through one of the back door exits into Theatre No. 1. Five bullets came through the door's two quarter-inch steel plates to splinter seats. This all happened just as the crowd was exiting the auditorium, at about 11:30 p.m. 

No one was hit and it seemed no one even caught on to what was happening. Later the police were baffled, leaving us to speculate as to why it happened.

Another night, a rat died in the Coca-Cola drain and clogged it up. Not knowing about the rat, and thinking I knew what to do to clear the clogged drain, I poured a powerful drain-clearing liquid -- we called it "Tampax Dynamite" -- directly into the problem.

Soon a foul-smelling liquid started bubbling and backing up all over the lobby's carpet. A flooding mess ensued. The disaster ran everybody out of there on a busy Saturday night. We had to replace the carpet. Oops.


Back to Drake: The 1992 news stories reported that Drake, who fancied himself as an actor, had compiled a long list of people he intended to pay back, someday. Drake wore theatrical grease paint on his face when he committed his murders. As the cops were closing in on him Drake punched his own ticket to hell.

From what I found out, Drake's childhood was straight out of a horror movie. Apparently he was always a problem to those around him. The photo above -- it was a publicity shot he used to apply for work as an actor -- ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on November 16, 1992. What follows are excerpts of a piece I wrote for SLANT a couple of weeks later.
...The November 16th edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch carried Mark Holmberg's sad and sensational story of Woody Drake. As usual, Holmberg did a good job with a bizarre subject. In case you missed the news: Lynwood Drake, who grew up in Richmond, murdered six people in California on November 8. Then he turned the gun on himself. His tortured suicide note cited revenge as the motive.
An especially troubling aspect of Holmberg's account was that those Richmonders who remembered the 43 year old Drake weren't at all surprised at the startling news. Nor was I. My memory of the man goes back to the early days of the Biograph Theatre (1972). At the time I managed the West Grace Street cinema. So the unpleasant task of dealing with Drake fell to me.
Owing to his talent for nuisance, the staff dubbed him 'Drake the Flake.' Although he resembled many of the hippie-style hustlers of the times, it was his ineptness at putting over the scam that set him apart. Every time he darkened our door there was trouble. If he didn't try to beat us out of the price of admission or popcorn, there would be a problem in the auditorium. And without fail, his ruse would be transparent. Then, when confronted, he'd go into a fit of denial that implied a threat.

Eventually that led to the incident in Shafer Court (on VCU's campus) when he choked a female student [Susan Kuney] who worked at the Biograph.
That evening he showed up at the theater to see the movie, just like nothing had happened. Shoving his way past those already in line, the cashier-choker demanded to be admitted next. I told him he couldn't come in at all. 
An argument ensued that became the last straw. Drake the Flake was physically removed from the building, tossed onto Grace Street, and banned from the Biograph.
The next day, Drake made his final appearance at the Biograph. He bolted in through the lobby's exit doors and issued a finger-pointing death threat to yours truly.
Although I tried to act unruffled by the incident, it made me more than a little uncomfortable. In spite of the anger of his words, there was an emptiness in his eyes. In that moment he had pulled me into his world. It was scary and memorable.
Using a fine turn of phrase, Holmberg suggested that, "Whatever poisoned the heart of Woody Drake happened in Richmond..."
If you want more evidence of the childhood poisoning, take the time to look him up in his high school yearbooks (Thomas Jefferson 1967/68). I did, and right away I noticed that same empty expression in his eyes.
Looking at a couple of Drake’s old TJ yearbook photos reminded me of a line in the movie 'Silence of the Lambs.' In reference to the serial-killer who was being sought by the FBI throughout the film, Dr. Lechter (a psychiatrist turned murderer himself) tells an investigator that such a man is not born; he is created.
A process made Drake like he was. So while we can avert our eyes from the painful truth, we basically know where the poison is administered to the Woody Drakes of the world.

Yes, we do. The assembly line for such monsters runs through their childhood homes. 

The story went that Drake liked to beat up women. After I literally threw him out of the Biograph and he disappeared, 49 years ago, several people came in and told us stories about various females the future serial killer had hurt.

Shortly before Drake ended his wretched life, he woke up a 60-year-old woman by smacking her in the head with a blackjack. She scrambled to hide under her bed, and she lived to tell the story.

-- 30 --

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Mystery of the Lost Time Capsule

The fruitless search for the time capsule dragged on.

The story of the search for a time capsule that might exist stood out from a news-making episode that was supposed to be all about the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee on Richmond's Monument Avenue. Although the old time capsule simply wasn't found in the statue's base, or the skirt around it, etc., nonetheless, a new one -- a cool-looking, stainless steel treasure box -- was installed. 

At this point, I suppose it doesn't do much good to dwell on wondering why there had to be such a fuss over a missing time capsule, a sidebar at best. Anyway, the lede for this story should be that Richmond's last and most significant bronze tribute to the Lost Cause, standing on public property, has come down. 

After standing for 131 years, on the morning of September 8, 2021, that statue's time for casting its shadow over the Fan District expired. For the time being, its now-famous graffiti-covered pedestal remains in place ... behind a tall, no-nonsense fence. As time passes, it will be interesting to see what location in Richmond, if any, will replace the Lee Monument as the magnet that draws to it the most political demonstrations and stunts.

In June of 2020, Richmond's Fan District residents found themselves living at the epicenter of a cultural earthquake. The demonstrations here that erupted in reaction to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis gathered a spirit of outrage and directed it at a local fracas about old statues. Once focused, that spirit chased most of the city's Confederate statues off of their pedestals, pronto.  

The Lee Monument was Ground Zero last summer.  Due to legal action, that statue took an extra year for the Commonwealth of Virginia to remove it.

Having grown up in the neighborhood with Richmond's Confederate memorials, for a long time I had been hoping that I would live long enough to see them come down. Long enough to see the end of the era for tolerating the pedestal of dishonesty propping up the "Lost Cause" version of history. 

Well, although it was stubborn to the very end, now it's evident that a year ago that era ended. Now it's done. 

Looking to the future, maybe solving the mystery of the lost time capsule will become fodder for a new bogus cause.  

-- My photos

-- 30 --

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Terry Garland (1953-2021), Bluesman

Terry Garland

The plainest way to describe the Terry Garland sound is to say he was an “authentic bluesman.” If you were ever lucky enough to catch his solo act in a club – singing, finger-picking, foot-stomping – it's likely you have some feel for what is suggested by that particular term.

It's also worth noting that Garland was quite an accomplished guitarist, which, of course, made taking in one of those live performances all the more entertaining. Some, who go back far enough to remember his early days based in Richmond, in the late-1970s/early-1980s, probably still think of him as the standout rock 'n' roll lead guitarist he was then.

Now, following his death, we will all have to settle for listening to the precious souvenirs of his sound – the recordings of a bluesman, plying his trade in an unfettered, yet crafted, style. Since the late-1980s, as a performer, he has mostly worked alone – picture a man seated on a wooden chair playing a National steel-body guitar.

Among Terry's music associations in Tennessee were two bands in the mid-1970s: Jubilation and Razz. Moving on to Richmond, in the late-1970s, he played in Bull, fronted by Ray Pittman. Then his four years in the Offenders, 1980-1984, put him in front of a lot of packed house rock 'n' roll crowds. The Offenders, fronted by Bruce Olsen, were a popular band in the region.

That time was followed by a stint in a North Carolina-based blues-rock band, the Alka-Phonics. Then came decades of solo shows, performed for audiences all over the world.


Terry was born to parents Ray and Juanita Garland on June 3,1953, in Bakersfield, North Carolina, which is in the mountainous, western part of that state. He grew up some 35 miles away in the Johnson City, Tennessee, area. On September 19, 2021, according to his wife of 22 years, Jo, he died from advanced congestive heart failure in their Richmond home.

In addition to his wife, Terry is survived by his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Gerber; brother Ron Garland; niece Leigh Reid (Jeff); sister-in-law Carol Ann Grow (Bill); sister-in-law Chrissie Gerencher (Tibor); niece Emily Voss (Charles); nephew Matthew Grow (Michelle) and great nieces and nephews. He is also survived by his loyal canine companion, Clive.


“Trouble in Mind” (1991)

“Edge of the Valley” (1992)

“The One to Blame” (1996)

“Out Where the Blue Begins” (2001)

Whistling in the Dark” (2006)

"Rewired" (2013) 

Speaking of Terry Garland

Gregg Wetzel: “RIP Terry Garland. A true original. Terry Garland was a space invader.  When Terry wanted to make a point, which was often, he would get right in your grill and hold forth using the most colorful language he could summon, just so you knew it was from the heart and, of course from his considerable knowledge of things arcane and interesting. A wonderful guitarist and performer, a true believer and a sweetheart of a guy.”

Todd Woodson: “God bless you, Terry Garland. The real deal.”

Joe Sokohl: "Here is a man who recreated Robert Johnson, Johnny Winter, early Muddy Waters, in a style that remained uniquely Terry Garland. Yet he was by no means a ‘blues scientist.’ Instead, TG melded these influences to form his unique musical vision that always struck me in my heart.”

Wes Freed: “That man could pitch a wang dang doodle, all night long. A real troubadour.”

John Moser:I don't think I've ever seen any solo performer who could hold a whole room full of people together like Terry.”

Matthew “Zip” Irvin: “A musical titan - a great loss.”

Steve Payne: “I worked with Terry very closely in Bull and Bruce Olsen and the Offenders for about five years. I kept up with him loosely over the years, but always felt we remained very close on a cosmic level. Terry was one of a kind. A real character and a wonderful friend.”

Chuck Wrenn: “It was easy to become friends with Terry Garland and we hit it off right away. I met Terry in the '70s, when the band he was in and the band I was in shared a rehearsal space in the Fan. Later, my partners and I opened the Moondance on 17th Street and it became a top live music venue hosting local and national acts. Terry played often to sold-out crowds and became a mainstay. But I think his performance at High on the Hog 20, in 1996, outshined them all. He had great respect for the past masters, still he had a way to bring his music to today's forefront.

"Terry Garland was a true treasure. And he sure could pitch a “Wang Dang Doodle” all right! RIP, Terry Garland.”


Notice from Jo:

At Terry’s request, there will not be a service or visitation. A wake will be planned in the future when it is safer for us all to gather. In the meantime, take comfort in your memories of him. He was such a vibrant and personable man and made friends wherever he went. Toast him with a good G&T. If you are so inclined, donations in his name can be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Love and peace,

Jo Garland

*  *  *

Triple Terrys (Rea, Moore and Garland)

 at the wake for Page Wilson in 2011. 

Photo: Cindy Mae Dodd

Friday, September 10, 2021

Evil's Second Coming


Herblock cartoon from 1949
Note: This reaction to 9/11 piece I penned was originally published by Style Weekly on May 15, 2002. Looking back on it, I have to thank Rozanne Epps at Style for deciding to run this one on the Back Page, because the climate at the time was against publishing opinion pieces that questioned the Bush administration's post-9/11 tactics in any way. Many publishers had become too afraid of losing advertising. 
By the way, I added the famous Herblock 'toon to this post. It did not appear with the original piece in Style.


Evil's Second Coming
by F.T. Rea

Washing in on what poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) might have called a “blood-dimmed tide,” the specter of evil suddenly emerged from the periphery of modern life eight months ago. In the blue skies of the time before 9/11’s sucker punch, the notion of pure evil had an Old World air about it. Absolutes, such as good and evil, had no seat at the table of postmodern thinking.

After 9/11, a generation of Americans suddenly learned a bitter lesson: Evil never went away. Living in a land of plenty, it had gotten to be a pleasant habit to avert our eyes from evil-doings in lands of want. Evil had gone out of style, as a concept, only because times were so easy.

The last American president to get much mileage out of the word "evil" was probably Ronald Reagan, with his “evil empire” characterization of the USSR and its sphere of influence. Now, 20 years later, we have a president who sees “an axis of evil” — an alleged phenomenon that puzzles most of the world’s leaders, or so they say.

George W. Bush apparently has little use for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stalwart advice to a nation in need of a boost in confidence — “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Rather than urge his people to rise above it, Bush chooses to color-code fear. The propagandists of the Bush administration have been successful in cultivating the public’s anxiety since September. Whether that’s been done for our own good remains to be seen. Perhaps it has, but this much is clear now — all the official danger alerts about nuclear power plants, bridges and crop-dusters have been effective in keeping most of the natural questioning of the administration’s moves at bay.

To hear Attorney General John Ashcroft tell it, the architects of 9/11 are the personification of the most virulent form of evil ever known. Although much of the evidence that would establish his absolute guilt in connection with 9/11 remains a state secret, Osama bin Laden is said to have shot to the top of the chart.

Forget about Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot. They were amateurs.Then again, evil, like beauty, has always been in the eye of the beholder.

Wasn’t it evil to deliberately dump tons of potent pesticide into the James River during the ’70s to make a greedy buck? Once it was in Virginia’s water, Kepone wasn’t so different from a bio-terror agent in the same water.

With the news seeping out of the cloisters about child-molesting priests and the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-ups, whose betrayal was more evil, the molester or the higher-ups who hid and facilitated his crimes?

Whether evil exists in some pure form, off in another dimension, is not my department. What’s known here is that in the real world evil is contagious. Lurking in well-appointed rooms or hiding in caves, evil remains as it ever was — ready to spread.

None of this is to suggest that al Qaida shouldn’t be put out of business. It isn’t to say that knocking the Taliban off was a bad idea. There’s no question here about whether the United States should protect itself from the networks of organized terror that are hell-bent on destroying the modern world.

Still, today’s evil is the same evil our forefathers faced in their wars. Evil hasn’t changed; technology has. With modern weapons in their hands, the fanatics of the world have the potential to wreak havoc like never before.

What has changed is the extent to which the hate festering in the souls of the world’s would-be poobahs and their psychopathic followers can be weaponized. It’s worth noting that the weapons of mass destruction that are scaring us the most were developed during the arms-race days of the Cold War by the game’s principal players.

So another question arises, who is more dangerous to civilization, the guys who spent their treasure to weaponize germs, or the guys who want to steal the stuff and use it on somebody?

Decades ago this was a concern expressed by some in the disarmament movement. Its scary what-if scenarios always included the likelihood that the Super Powers would eventually lose track of some of their exotic weapons. Looking back on it now, it seems obvious there was no way any government could keep all that material locked away from the greed and hate of determined free-lancers.

A man with a briefcase-style nuclear device may be no more evil than a man armed with a knife. Either danger could kill you just as dead. Those of us who feel connected to others, those who care about humanity's future know which one we should fear the most. The “rough beast” of dreadful evil “slouching towards” us is traveling on the back of technology of our own making.

While we watch out for organized terrorists in the short run, with a handy color code to guide us, it’s time to think more seriously about how to get rid of a lot of very dangerous weapons in the long run.

-- 30 --

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Passing Parade for Style Weekly: Post No. 1

My iPad photo of the rehearsal for the
Robbin Thompson event on 2/29/16

With the announcement that this week's issue of Style Weekly will be the last, I decided to preserve a few of the many pieces I have written for that periodical. How long its archives will remain online isn't known at this writing.

So this first Passing Parade post isn't about the opinions aplenty contained in the 34 Back Pages I penned between 1999 and 2016. Nor is it about basketball. It's about music. 


Dec. 10, 2013: Billy Ray Hatley Tribute Show at the National

Although it was months in the planning the uncertainty that preceded Sunday night’s show at the National was understandable. After all, most of the vocalists had learned songs just for the show. And, while the freezing rain had mercifully changed to ordinary rain, as the stage was being set up the weather was still threatening to sabotage Sunday night’s tribute concert.

The good news is the show went on without a hitch. (Photos of the event can be found here.)

The better news is the Billy Ray Hatley Tribute Concert was show business at it best: the music was joyful and uplifting. The experience of being in that refurbished downtown theater will not easily be forgotten by anyone who was there on Sunday. No doubt that will be especially true for Billy’s wife Sara and their two children, Sierra and Sam.

After the last song was sung by Robbin Thompson, the emcee, Chuck Wrenn, stepped to the microphone to sum up what the musicians had just made happen, “Wow, what a night!”

Although the stage was filled by 24 performers (with a stage crew of eight), the entertainment offered was no jam session and the show ran smoothly. No covers of rock ’n’ roll classics were played. Every song was written by Billy Ray Hatley, who can no longer perform them. In all, one corny old show biz word well describes how the concert went over -- "boffo!"

Why and how did this show happen?

A few years ago longtime Richmond favorite Billy Ray Hatley had the bad luck to have his career ended by a condition (Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia) that can be traced to an operation he had in 2005 and his four years in the Navy (1965-69). Eventually, his friend and sideman/collaborator Jim Wark convinced Sara Hatley that putting a tribute show together, made up of Billy’s music, would be the right thing to do. A team was assembled. Velpo Robertson, Rico Antonelli and Dave Owen, also fellow bandmates and close friends of Billy’s, joined Sara and Jim to produce the tribute.

“We got together to discuss the possibility in March,” said Rico. “The hardest part was deciding what songs to do.”

Decisions had to be made about who to include and who would sing which songs, to play the role that had always been Billy’s. It was decided the musicians who had been the sidemen in Billy’s two bands, Big City and The Show Dogs, would back up the invited singers. As each vocalist would only sing a couple of songs that meant handing small roles to people who were all used to being the stars of whatever gigs they played.

Brad Tucker said, “Egos were checked at the door.”

Space won’t allow a recap of all the material presented, but three highlights include: Bill Blue’s gritty performance of “Elvis’ Motorcycle.” Bill traveled from Key West to be there. Michael McAdam’s soulful performance of “Roll the Dice.” Mike traveled from Nashville to be there. Susan Greenbaum’s stirring performance of “Promised Land,” which provided what was maybe the biggest goose bumps moment of the night.

Appearing in addition to those performers already mentioned were: Charles Arthur, Steve Bassett, Jody Boyd, Junie Carter, Craig Evans, Chris Fuller, Eric Heiberg, Janet Martin, Gayle McGehee, Mic Muller, Li’l Ronnie Owens, Drew Perkins and Jim Skelding. (Bruce Olsen was scheduled to be there but was prevented by a cold that stole his voice.)

After the sound checks, two hours before show time, Wark had reminded the performers, “There’s nothing sad about this [show]. It can’t be about what Billy has been through. It’s about what he gave us.”

Those friends and fans of Billy’s who braved the weather to be in that room shared a one-of-kind experience. Throughout the show the spirit of camaraderie flowing from one song to the next was warm and palpable. Perhaps the peak of that feeling occurred mid-show, when Sara stood behind a microphone and thanked one and all for being there.

Proceeds from the tribute show and a CD anthology of Billy Ray Hatley recordings will benefit the Hatley family and the Daily Planet.

A video of the whole shebang was recorded and will eventually be presented by WCVE in 2014.

In case anyone missed it the first time, Chuck said it again, “Wow!”


Feb. 25, 2014: HOTH: The Gold Standard

The stage was a flatbed trailer parked in a cobblestone alley in Church Hill. It faced the back of Chuck Wrenn's house. The audience spilled into adjacent backyards and wherever else it could. With no licenses to legitimize it, the fourth annual High on the Hog had the edgy cachet of Richmond's freewheeling warehouse parties of the '70s.

On Oct. 11, 1980, Richmond didn't allow large outdoor events combining properly amplified rock 'n' roll music and alcohol consumption, especially on public property. When the Megatonz opened the show, to think the cops would come eventually made sense — which probably encouraged the crowd's collective desire to live in the moment.

Instead, a chilly rain came while the second band, Don' Ax Me ... Bitch, was performing.
Rather than wait out the downpour, Wrenn, the irrepressible impresario, broke out large rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. Armed with staple guns, he and volunteer assistants assembled an awning to keep the rain off the equipment and musicians. The audience followed suit by unrolling more plastic, standing underneath while it was held overhead. Those dancing in the mud felt the power of rock 'n' roll to simultaneously express lamentation and celebration. With electric guitars of wailing in defiance of the rainstorm, the sense of solidarity felt by those baby boomers was the stuff of legends.

The rain subsided. The Memphis Rockabilly Band finished the show. No real trouble from the cops appeared. It was a charmed afternoon.

The series of High on the Hog parties began in 1977 as a small, pork-themed gathering of neighborhood friends. No electric guitars. In the years that followed the event took on a life of its own. Along with Wrenn, those on the team organizing three decades of parties were John Cochran, Larry Ham, Bobby Long, Steve McKay, Dave O'Kelly and Randy Smith. In 1983 that group stuck a deal with city authorities and went legit.

The transformation allowed the stage and festivities for High on the Hog 7 to move into Libby Hill Park. On the bill were the Bop Cats, New Victims of Love, Evan Johns and the H-Bombs and Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band. The turnout was huge, and the untainted success of the event paved the way for a new era. It allowed for Jumpin' in July, Friday Cheers and the countless beer-truck-in-the-street and music festivals that followed.

In High on the Hog's peak years, it took some 350 volunteers to chop the pork, serve the beer, tend the stage. The Silver Stars, a beloved gospel group, set the record for most appearances with 10. While space doesn't allow for the complete list, here are some of the other acts that graced the stage in the park:

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Big City, Big Posse, Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys, Billy Hancock, Billy Ray Hatley and the Showdogs, Bio Ritmo, Car Bomb, Deanna Bogart, Dirtball, the Diversions, Evan Johns and the H-Bombs, Faded Rose Band, Glenn Pavone and the Cyclones, the Good Guys, Good Humor Band, Janet Martin Band, Marcia Ball, NRBQ, Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon, the Radiators, Steve Bassett, Suzy Saxon and the Anglos, Terry Garland, and the Wall-O-Matics. 

A Nor'easter drenched Richmond on Oct. 7, 2006. In the torrent the massive sound system couldn't be erected. Two scheduled acts couldn't perform in the conditions. Nonetheless, Lindy Fralin volunteered a scaled-down sound system. Tarps were lashed to the stage to block the wind-driven rain. The Bop Cats went on for a handful of dauntless regulars in front of the stage. Unfortunately, without the expected income from food and beer sales, the backers' rainy day fund was sopped up. Thus, High on the Hog 30 closed the book on a generation's gold standard for Woodstock-inspired parties. 

The Memphis Rockabilly Band, fronted by the late Jeff Spencer, finished the show. Its encore was Link Wray's "Run Chicken Run," with Bill Coover playing lead guitar for one last dance, with umbrellas, in the mud.


Oct. 24, 2014: The Grace Street Era

Is today's live music and associated art scene in Richmond the coolest it's been for a while? Given the musicians, artists, nightlife venues and galleries, you might think so. And judging from local media, including Facebook posts, it's easy to gather the impression that a lot of people think the answer should be yes.

Maybe it's true. In 20 years we'll be better equipped to say for sure. But if the premise is accurate, then I wonder about timing: Today's in-crowd, music-and-art-driven milieu has been the coolest since when?

If we're to believe much of what was said during the RVA Music History Tour, put on Sept. 27 by WRIR-FM 97.3, the answer is the late-'70s to mid-'80s, centered on the Fan District's nightlife scene. That was when the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street were the epicenter of what was shaking.

The era got under way when undergrad punks began annoying their older siblings — grad students and adjunct faculty, who were still hippies. During that transition, from hippies to punks, a cutting-edge scene emerged. That little section of Grace Street mattered, pop-culture-wise, more so than any other time. It fizzled out in the late-'80s, when the neighborhood fell on hard times. It became scary after dark. Venues closed.

The history tour was led by Gregg Kimball, Don Harrison, Ray Bonis and Bob Gorman and put together by the nonprofit radio station and the special collections and archives department of Virginia Commonwealth University's James Branch Cabell Library. The tour meandered its way from the library, in the heart of the university's Monroe Campus, to the Empire at the corner of Laurel and Broad streets.

About 30 people stopped at various places along the way to hear tall tales recounted about legendary shows and colorful characters: Bo Diddley at Rockitz ... the truncated 1972 Jerry Lee Lewis show in Monroe Park … the Handbill War of 1982 ... early House of Freaks shows at the Jade Elephant ... the Puppy Burn (a war protest rally with a scam for a hook) ... the Ramones at the Franklin Street Gym for Halloween (Single Bullet Theory opened) ... "Rocky Horror" at the Biograph ... the Grove Avenue Republic's secessionists ... Springsteen at the Back Door ... clothing-optional classes at the Free University ... Taj Mahal at the Pass ... Chuck Wrenn busted for selling the Sunflower (a hippie periodical) ... Color Radio getting untamed ... Iggy Pop at the Mosque ... beatniks at the Village Restaurant.

Upon dredging up all that nostalgia, what became obvious was that VCU had facilitated so much of what we discussed. Yet the growth of the university, especially in the last 20 years, hasn't always been seen in a good light. While the university's expansion has done much to rejuvenate downtown Richmond, it's also turned some Richmonders against it. To be fair, it must be acknowledged that the university has critics who have come to see it as a juggernaut, trampling and destroying.

Like plenty of people, I've been unhappy with some things VCU has done during the four and a half decades of its existence. There's nothing wrong with questioning what it's doing and will do. Still, to answer the juggernaut charge, the university has delivered so much that's been a boon to Richmond that harping on the harm it's done along the way can sound petty, sometimes.

While some may decry the startling transformation on Grace Street, which has seen high-rises sprouting from the same lots where townhouses once were situated, I won't jump on that rickety old bandwagon. When I measure VCU's impact, I look more at the talented people in our midst who are associated with the university, and less at the buildings.

Instead of complaining about all the national chains that have shouldered their way onto Grace Street, I'd rather tout the emergence of the stretch on West Broad Street, between Belvidere and Second streets, which seems to be at the heart of a cultural blossoming. Yes, there are other parts of town — including Scott's Addition and Manchester — that also are becoming hubs for galleries, theaters and clubs, but the Arts and Cultural District downtown clearly is the most happening part of this city in 2014.

Walk the area on a First Friday and you'll get the picture. Such a concentration of energy and entrepreneurial spirit is bound to shake things up in the future.

Now the university seems slowly to be moving toward connecting its two campuses. The effect that the university's most significant work in progress, the Institute for Contemporary Art, is going to have on both the Fan and Arts districts will be huge. When the ICA opens, as designed by Steven Holl Architects, it's going to draw international attention.

But it's important to remember the good old days. Because of the university's attention to documenting that era in its archives, my two grandchildren will be able to get a picture of what it was like when I managed the Biograph Theatre from 1972 to 1983 at 814 W. Grace St.

What WRIR's tour of that once-bohemian neighborhood made clear to me is that since that wonderful era for live music faded into the mists, the university clearly has been the best thing my hometown has had going for it.


Nov. 24, 2015: The Dads Second Album Release Party

Enthusiasm filled the room when local rockers the Dads were performing. It exploded from the speakers. Steamlike, it rose from the crowd. Between 1980 and 1985, onstage in a saloon, the Dads delivered like few others.

Richmond was an accommodating home to some noteworthy black leather-clad punk bands during this period. There was an art-rock scene as well. In live-music venues you could hear reggae and hybrid sounds that fused Caribbean tempos with pop. Other rock ’n’ roll subsets were represented. Among them was a crossover scene that mashed up ’60s British rock with ’50s Memphis rockabilly. With two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, the Dads operated somewhere in that groove.

The Dads’ sound wasn’t warmed over from the social causes and political crusades of the ’70s. They weren’t hurling nihilist anger at the establishment. Instead, they filled the air with harmonies and a beat that provoked young bodies to move. Theirs was a catchy sound easy to like, and as it turned out — difficult to forget.

But capturing their act and making it into a consumer product wasn’t so easy. The Dads’ one album, produced during their time as a touring band, was released by CBS/Estate Records in 1984. It was decidedly less than satisfying.

“Very unhappy” is how lead guitarist David Ayers characterizes how the band felt about the album. “It was so light and tame-sounding compared to what we were doing live,” he says.

Having met in 1980 as members of Virginia Commonwealth University’s orchestra, Ayers and drummer Mike Tubb were the two original members featured in every iteration of the band. With other pals along for the ride, the group started busking. Eventually, after some personnel shifts, what became the 1981 touring lineup stabilized: the late Bryan Harvey (vocals and bass); Mark Lewis (vocals and guitar); David Ayers (guitar); Mike Tubb (drums). In 1983, Lewis was replaced by Kevin Pittman on vocals and guitar.

“We were very tight musically and as friends, so our breakup had nothing to do with us not getting along or anything like that,” Ayers says of the band’s 1985 parting. “It was more the feeling that the Dads had come to the end of our road.”

Before the band dissolved there was a second album in the works. Accordingly, 30 years later the chance for another ride down that road has arrived.

Recorded by Sal DiTroia, who played guitar on the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” the tracks were laid down in 1985 at Live Oak Studios in Chesapeake. Recently Tubb and Victor Benshoff, the Dads’ sound man and road manager, dusted off 11 of those tapes. After some tweaking they were made into the centerpiece of a new album. Four songs recorded in 1982 and engineered by Bruce Olsen also are included.

About to be released by Planetary Records, the new album is titled “Redemption.” Isn’t all that good news worth celebrating?

News of this special event was first posted on Facebook by Mike Tubb. Brooke Saunders soon joined to promote it. As the word spread others came forward to volunteer to help perform 30-some numbers from the Dads’ songbook.

Among the musicians expected to gather onstage at the Canal Club are: Coby Batty, Mark Brown, Craig Evans, Gary Fralin, Harry Gore, Paige Harvey, Stephen McCarthy, Suzy Peeples, Kevin Pittman, Rob Reisinger, Brad Tucker, Jim Wark, Todd Woodson and too many more to fit in this space.

“Redemption” CDs will be available at the event and then go on sale at Plan 9 Music. Remembering the death of Harvey and his wife and two daughters in 2006, and the death of Victor Benshoff earlier this year, proceeds from the show and CD sales will go to charities selected by the Harvey family and the Benshoff family.

Now fans of the Dads, both old and new, will be able to travel the down the aforementioned road. The show amounts to a local reunion and is expected to be packed. The souvenir album should better replicate the soundtrack to many a good time back in the day. What’s not to like about that? S

The Dads perform at a CD-release party for “Redemption” on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Canal Club, 1545 E. Cary St. A small army of musicians will perform. The doors will open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.


Feb. 29, 2016: Review of Robbin Thompson's Real Fine Day

Robbin Thompson penned many songs throughout his long career as a songwriter -- one of which was officially designated as Virginia's popular state song last year.

Thompson's last recorded work was a celebration of life itself, entitled “A Real Fine Day.” On Sunday, Feb. 28, the music lovers who packed the National on a sunny afternoon for a tribute to Thompson, the tunesmith, enjoyed an unforgettable experience -- a real fine day, indeed.

Chief among those who put together the well-run event were Bob “Rico” Antonelli, Velpo Robertson, who acted as music director, Skip Rowland and Jan Williams, who acted as technical director.

The show's proceeds are to be donated to two local nonprofits, SPARC and JAMinc. And, speaking of SPARC, one of the highlights of the show was the segment in which a group of youngsters from that splendid program for kids rushed onto the stage to dance along with a recording of Thompson singing “A Real Fine Day.” It prompted more than a few grizzled Thompson fans to wipe tears away from their cheeks.

The show's performers included four musicians from the original Robbin Thompson Band (which goes back to the '70s): Velpo Robertson (guitar), Bob “Rico” Antonelli (drums), Eric Heiberg (keyboards) and Audie Stanley (bass).

All of the songs performed during the concert Sunday were written by Thompson. "At times, the love in the room was overwhelming,” said Skip Rowland, who photographed the event for the planners. “In addition to the music, everyone was treated to video contributions from Phil Vassar and Timothy B. Schmit."

Robbin's stories were told onstage by some of the performers. Mike McAdam reminisced about meeting Thompson when McAdam's high-school band shared a bill with Mercy Flight, at the behest of the late Tom Maeder, who represented both bands at the time. McAdam chuckled, remembering how tough it was to follow Thompson, even then.

Brad Spivey recalled the time he went to a Robbin Thompson show at Ashland Coffee & Tea, and afterward asked Thompson to sign the CD he bought. “I felt a little goofy asking a friend for his autograph,” he said.

Thompson gladly signed it, but he added a message that Spivey imagined would be something like, “To my friend, Brad,” or words to that effect. But when Spivey looked at the CD, over the signature it read, “Listen and learn.”

Performers came from as far away as Chicago and Nashville to be onstage for a song or two. And many attendees also traveled to be there for this once-in-a-lifetime show.

Pam Barefoot made the trek to Richmond from the Eastern Shore. Barefoot, who has known Thompson since their days at Virginia Commonwealth University, is now the president of Blue Crab Bay Co. A few years ago, she put together three Robbin Thompson concerts down in her neck of the woods.

“Prior to the 2011 concert,” Barefoot said, “we walked around town and passed by the Roseland Theatre. Robbin told me his dream was to perform there, so I decided to see if I could make that happen … Robbin has a loyal following on the Eastern Shore.”

From the stage, Chuck Wrenn thanked former-state Sen. Walter A. Stosch for his part in having the General Assembly designate “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” written by Thompson and Steve Bassett, as the popular state song. Wrenn also read a letter from Gov. Terry McAullife.

Like many other baby boomers who were at the National, both Barefoot and Wrenn were at the legendary 1970 Steel Mill/Mercy Flight show atop a downtown parking lot. No concert from the hippie era in Richmond ranks above it in pop-culture importance. Steel Mill was Bruce Springsteen's band; Thompson fronted Mercy Flight. Not long after that show Thompson joined Springsteen's band as the featured vocalist and toured with that group for the better part of a year.

Other supporting players and performers for the National show included: Steve Bassett, Jody Boyd, Marna Bales, Leetah Stanley, Gregg Wetzel, Mike Lucas, Michael Lille, Carlos Chafin, Brooke Fauver Drumheller, Kyle Davis, Jon Carroll, John Stanley, Lewis McGehee, Carter Gravatt, Adam Stubbs, Bill Bevins, Erin Thomas-Foley, Tim Timberlake and Chip Miller.

Two of the other highlights of the show were: McAdam's bluesy performance (guitar and vocal) of “I Won't Quit.” McAdam nailed it. Then there was Miller's singing of “Bright Eyes.” He sounded so much like Thompson that it was noticed by several of the musicians standing in the stage-right wing.

The underwriters of the show were: Digital Video Group Inc. (DVG), Donna Meade Dean-Stevens and The Old Dominion Barndance, Dr. Joe Niamtu, Kirk Schroder and Schroder Davis PLC, Nick and Becky Colleran and Acoustics First, and Virginia Tourism.

Robert W. “Robbin” Thompson (1949-2015) was born in Boston, raised in Florida and he made Richmond his home for most of his life. Rest in peace, Robbin.

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