Saturday, October 14, 2006

Biograph Times; a work in progress

“Biograph Times” is the working title for a writing project of mine to gather and present stories from the colorful popular culture of Richmond’s Fan District (and environs) during the 15-year period (1972-87) in which the Biograph Theatre operated. During that time the live music scene here grew to be particularly vibrant and the nightlife that revolved around the clubs and the bands that played in them thrived.

Although I already have some photographs, handbills and periodicals from that time, I’m hoping to get more help filling in the cracks. So, this is a call for assistance with that part of the project, which will eventually become a series of magazine articles (and perhaps more one day). Those who have photos and artifacts, who would like to make them available for me to look over, and maybe copy for reference or illustrations, please let me know by leaving comments below this post, or by email.

In fact, I’ll take all the help I can get on this project, in whatever form it appears.

My intention to document the pop scene of that time comes partly from knowing some of the material from a firsthand standpoint. During that 15-year stretch I managed the Biograph, promoted some Rock ’n’ Roll shows and worked in publishing. However, in organizing this history -- to be told with anecdotes -- I hope to do more than just wallow in sepia-toned nostalgia.

Truth be told, I happen to have thought then, and still believe, that this city's art and music scene in the late ’70s and early-80s was just as in-touch with what was in the air that was cool and influential as its counterparts in New York, San Francisco, or anywhere else. The list below, which offers s glimpse at some of the topics I’ll be researching and writing about, should give the reader a sense of what I’m up to with "Biograph Times."

WGOE-AM: The hippie radio station that ruled the Fan in the early- and mid-‘70s. Of course the FCC busted them.

The Devils and the Details: A recounting of the first two years of operation of the Biograph Theatre, with the emphasis on the media circus which culminated with the theatre’s second anniversary prank (Feb. 11, 1974).

1974’s hippies vs. cops riots: First the streaking riot was on VCU’s campus, which was followed by the much larger riot at the Cherry Blossom Music Festival, which happened inside what was then called City Stadium.

J.W. Rayle: This was the restaurant/saloon at the corner of Cary and Pine Streets that set the standard for an era. People still brag about how wild the place was.

Color Radio: For two years (1982-84) Richmond had what amounted to an offshore, unregulated radio station. The DJs were volunteers, many were members of bands, or promoters, etc. The sound was heard on the local cable television company’s color bar test pattern, channel (then-Ch. 36).
Handbill art by the Orthotonics bass player Phil Trumbo (circa 1982)
Benny’s: It was the most out-of-control, punked-out saloon -- it could hardly have been called a restaurant -- to have presented live music in the early ‘80s. It was amazing this place lasted a month, much less three years.

High on the Hog: The party really hit its stride in 1980, when it was generally accepted that large-scale outdoor Rock ‘n’ Roll events couldn’t be staged in Richmond. Yet, Chuck Wrenn put three fully-amplified bands on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind his back yard.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: It played for five straight years (1978-83) at midnight only -- only at the Biograph Theatre.

Blue Monday Jam: In summer of 1986 at the original Soble’s, at Floyd and Robinson, this weekly jam session grew to be the best thing of its type ever staged in the Fan. It was coordinated by Jimmy Maddox.

Throttle: It was an offbeat monthly ‘zine which started in the early-‘80s and lasted about 20 years. Its focus was mainly on the artsy punk/hardcore scenes in the Fan, and then Shockoe Bottom.

The Village: The headquarters of Richmond’s beat scene from the late-‘50s through the ‘60s, it remained a watering hole for scenesters throughout the Biograph Times era.

Some of the other clubs to be covered will include: The Back Door, Bird in Hand, Cha Cha Palace, The Copa, Domino’s Doghouse, Going Bananas, Floodzone, Hard Times, The Jade Elephant, New Horizons, Main Street Grill, Rockitz, The Pass, The String Factory, Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe and more.

Some of the bands to be covered include: AAE, the Barriers, Beex, Bopcats, Bowties, The Dads, Death Piggy, Don’ Ax Me... Bitch!, Faded Rose, The Good Guys, Good Humor Band, House of Freaks, I Remember Reality Review, Lamour, Megatonz, Millionaires, Offenders, Orthotonics, Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon, Prevaricators, The Rage, Red Cross, Shake & the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Tom and Marty Band, Toronados, White Cross and plenty of others.

To contact me by email see the address below the photo of me at the top of the page, on the right.
Lit Fuse Productions New Year's Eve handbill art by F.T. Rea (1981)

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