Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Five Favorites for 2015

Looking back on 2015, as years have gone, it was a better year than some. Watching my friends growing old was startling, at times. Still, it beats burying them. For me, the year that is about to end has been busier than any in a good while. That's chiefly because of my work to do with the Bijou Film Center.

Mostly because of The Bijou, I've met a lot of people and made some new friends over the year. That's been quite a departure from recent years. At 68, with so many of my memories fading into the mists, I've found the challenge that new friends have presented to be invigorating. And I discovered that stretching to navigate those challenges could be fun, even comforting. Maybe I didn't know if I could still stretch.

On top of that, it's been a pleasant surprise to learn firsthand – in some cases learning from new friends – how much Richmond has evolved, culturally, since my old days managing the Biograph, publishing Slant, etc. For that reason, as much as anything else, it's no stretch for me to be optimistic about The Bijou's chances to become more than an imaginary cinema.

As an artist/writer who likes to see his signature and byline in print, fortunately I've had plenty of years when I sold more work. But I've also endured the gloom of years in which I was less productive and sold less. Of the pieces I created in 2015, not counting stuff associated with The Bijou, here are my five favorites:

"Cream Pies for Bullies: The Importance of Satire" (my suggested title was "Avoiding Dead Wrong") was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Jan. 25. My illustration accompanied the text. 
In such a world without maybes, should we now be denouncing the murderers of cartoonists in Paris? Or should we be denouncing the insulting work of irresponsible provocateurs who bent the wrong people out of shape?
Click here to read it.

"Brand Wringing" (my suggested title was "To Havoc, or Not To...") was published by Style Weekly on April 14.

This one is about Will Wade, VCU's basketball coach, and the pressure on him to extend "Havoc" as a slogan/motto/brand for the Rams style of play. Click here to read it.

"Maybe We Should Wrap Those Monuments" (my suggested title was "About Those Monuments") was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Jun. 27.

In light of simmering controversies in other parts of the country, to do with Confederate memorials and flags, etc., this one is about Richmond's Confederate heroes monuments on Monument Ave -- propaganda in bronze. Click here to read it.

"The Bluster Meister" (my title was used) was published by Style Weekly on July 21. My illustration accompanied the text.  
Like a movie monster created by a mad scientist, the candidate that Donald Trump has become was created semi-unwittingly by mischievous ultra-conservative Republicans who’ve relished annoying Democrats to distraction for the last six and a half years. Naturally, when the monster came alive, its creators marveled at their work and assumed they could control the creature when the time came for it.
Click here to read it. 

"Bernie's Bandwagon" (my title "Bernie's Bandwagon" was used in the paper edition, but not online) was published by Style Weekly on Sept. 29. My illustration accompanied the text.

This one looks at the presidential race with summer in the rear-view mirror. Mostly it's about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, with a little bit of Donald Trump thrown in. Had to put a dash of Trump in there so people would read it. By autumn the Bluster Meister had grown into a monster that was dominating nearly every news story about the race. Click here to read it.

From my drawing table and keyboard to you, dear viewer/reader -- Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Drive Trump Off Before It's Too Late

Rank and file Republicans are rapidly approaching decision time: Is their dislike for Democrats – Barack Obama, in particular – going to lead them into allowing Donald Trump (depicted above) to destroy their chances of electing a Republican president, 11 months from now?

If the leadership of the party permits him to dominate the early primaries, THEN they try to cobble together a Stop Trump coalition, in March or April, it may be too late to avoid a virtual bloodbath in November.

Not so much too late to stop Trump from getting the nomination, which I suspect he can't accomplish. No. Too late to keep his poisonous bluster from dooming the GOP to losing not only the White House, but also control of Congress.

The all-out battle to run Trump out of the Republican Party needs start now. In my view it's a campaign that needs to have been won before springtime sets in. His threat to go third party simply must be laughed off. If Trump wants to spend millions of his own money, just to punish Republicans and win nothing, let him do it.

No doubt Trump will continue to make such threats, but will he really follow though? Plus, reaping-what-you-sow-wise, it's fair to say the Republicans have it coming to them. The extreme rhetoric of their more vociferous, mean-spirited spokespersons in recent years surely set the table for an opportunist like Trump to do exactly what he's been doing.

If the leaders of that movement to drive Trump off do face the music, ASAP, and succeed in a timely fashion, they will look like brave heroes to many people – not just reasonable Republicans, but a lot of people who follow politics. On the other hand, if Republican leaders remain scared of Trump's bluster -- imagine his speech at the convention -- the losses their party could sustain in November could set some new records.

-- words and art by F.T. Rea

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

Note: After attending the memorial ceremony for a friend, a man known to many of his fans as Eric E., 12 years ago, I wrote the piece that follows for

RICHMOND, VA (August 19, 2003): The horns wailed as they entered the Arthur Ashe Center. At about 12:30 p.m. a brass New Orleans-style procession playing "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" led the family, friends and fans of the late L. Eric "Rick" Stanley into the memorial ceremony.

It was a service for the deejay known to his local listeners as Eric E. Stanley died on August 12, 2003.

The program billed the occasion as a "celebration of life." What followed the procession, two hours-plus of music and colorful Rick Stanley anecdotes with a somewhat restrained dose of old-time religion, lived up to the billing.

Many of the faces in the crowd of approximately 1,500 were familiar to anyone who has followed the live music scene in Richmond over the last 20-some years. Interestingly, for a city reputed to be trapped in habits that separate blacks from whites, Stanley once again demonstrated his unique ability to appeal to both sides of Broad Street.

Eric Stanley, who was 53 when cancer took his life, was the host and producer of the Bebop, Boogie, & Blues Review, a radio show of his own invention that was heard most recently on WJMO-105.7FM on Sunday nights. As well, he was a promoter/producer of many live shows.

Stanley's bright-eyed daughter, Erin Stanley, closed her remarks with her father's trademark radio sign-off: "Gotta go ... gotta go."

Tears flowed – of course they did – but the overall mood in the room was decidedly upbeat. Stanley's presence was symbolized throughout the cavernous space by photographs and other traditional remembrances on display, which included his own harmonica – a Hohner Pro Harp, a 10-hole diatonic with black cover-plates.

For the recessional the musicians played "When the Saints Go Marching In" to lead the gathering into the sunlight.

Those who were so disposed went to the closest restaurant/bar, Dabney's, where a lively reception ensued, and lingered. No doubt, it was a crowd Rick Stanley would have enjoyed being a part of.

His silent black harmonica was there.


Note: A year-and-a-half before that ceremony I wrote this profile of Rick Stanley for
Fifty Plus, a local magazine.

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

By F. T. Rea

FEBRUARY 2002: Richmond’s Eric E is a jukebox of colorful anecdotes about American music. Push any button and out comes another of his takes on some aspect of the music he has found in his midst. Then you get a set that might include a mix of Jazz, Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Zydeco, Rockabilly, Country & Western, Hip Hop, Soul, Gospel, or Du-Wop. You name it.

Otherwise known as Eric E. Stanley, Eric E has made a lifelong study of American working-man’s music styles and the connections between them. His understanding of those integral connections -- synapses between genres -- lies at the core of his own authentic style.

All that said, Stanley is on the air, again, with a better-than-ever version of his trademark radio show: the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue. He’s back after dodging a bullet that came at him out of blue -- prostate cancer. After a routine test alerted him to his situation, he was basically out of the game for a year.

With that ordeal behind him, what comes out of his listeners’ speakers on Sunday nights, between 7 p.m. and midnight, is the Eric E jukebox of Americana. His free-association decision of what recording to play next can be as improvised as a jazz musician landing on just the right note and quirky pause to justify the experimental riff he just played.

Seamlessly, Eric E moves from Jimi Hendrix to Patsy Cline to Muddy Waters to Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes to Stanley Turentine, all, without worrying about why.

In an age of ubiquitous ticky-tacky radio programming, Stanley’s variety-oriented ideas can’t be packaged into a standard format. Thus, his current arrangement with WJMO, 105.7FM, allows him to do as he pleases with the five-hour block of time. He not only hosts the show and selects the music, but he also arranges for the program’s underwriting. In effect, Eric E. is his own boss.

The product, the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue, is an utter delight. Typical of the Eric E style, he also does the commercials live. With no canned hype, the ads come off more as endorsements than intrusions. At this writing, BB&BR’s five sponsorships, one for each hour, are the Richmond Jazz Society, Plan 9 Music, Kuba Kuba restaurant, the Commercial Taphouse, and Creole Arts.

“If you advertise with me, I’m going in your business,” says Stanley. “If I haven’t been in the place, I don’t accept the ad.”

The Path to Radio

As a child, Eric Stanley spent as much time as he could at his aunt’s restaurant, a spacious old log-house with a stone fireplace. The Hilltop Restaurant, located on US Route 1 in Ashland, catered mostly to a rural black clientele. In the summer he’d cook hamburgers and do what he could to seem useful.

The Hilltop featured live entertainment, mostly acts from what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. Down in the basement, Stanley’s uncle poured off-the-record shots of liquor. Fascinated with the raw music and the natural scene surrounding it, Ricky -- a skinny kid with glasses -- soaked up all he could from traveling bluesmen such as Jimmy Reed and Elmore James.

Sometimes Reed would baby-sit for precocious Ricky (who tended to ask too many questions) when his aunt and uncle were running errands for the business. “I remember it from the late '50s to early '60s,” says Stanley with his easy smile. Of the legendary Reed, Stanley recalls: “He’d give me a quarter for the vibrating [lounge] chair, drink whiskey from a little bottle, and play his guitar.”

Stanley’s favorite hit tunes from his childhood? Off the top of his head he answers, “‘In the Still of the Night,’ ‘It’s All in the Game,’ and ‘Twist and Shout,’ the Isley Brothers version.”

During his high school days, playing drums and harmonica in bands, together with performing as a dancing drum major, Stanley leaned that he enjoyed performing in front of a crowd. That yen would resurface.

In 1968, after Stanley finished Virginia Randolph, he went on to study advertising at Virginia Commonwealth University for a couple of years. For the next nine years he was away from the Richmond area, for the most part, studying Early Childhood Education at Bowie State College in Maryland and working as a day-care teacher in Washington. It was during his period in D.C. that he fell into broadcasting.

A friend was hosting a radio program with commentary about prison life. He helped her with the project and began playing some jazz here and there to broaden the narrowly focused show’s appeal. That led to Eric Stanley’s first program of his own, a 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. gig on WPFW-FM.

Color Radio

In 1979 Stanley returned to Richmond, and in 1982, while managing a Reggae band, Awareness Art Ensemble, he found his way to Color Radio. “I got involved with Color Radio because Charles Williams, of the Good Guys band [bass guitar], called and told me they were starting a station on Continental Cablevision and I should get involved,” says Stanley.

Color Radio (1982-84) was the sound heard behind cable television company’s static color-bar test pattern on Channel 36. The station was started by alternative music enthusiasts who were, for the most part, neophyte broadcasters. Some had had experience at college stations.

The sound traveled by phone line from a makeshift studio over Plan 9 record store in Carytown to Continental, which sent the signal out on its lines. The DJs were invited volunteers -- several were musicians -- and they essentially played and said whatever they liked.

The eclectic, spontaneous style Stanley developed then is what he has used when he could ever since. He dubbed his show, “The Frontline -- 360 degrees of Ba-Lack Music.” Stanley closed each show with what has become his signature sign-off as Eric E, the performer: “Gotta go … Gotta go.”


In the radio business some things change fast, others never change. One day you’re the toast of the town. The next week your front door key doesn’t work because the station’s locks have been changed; you’ve been sacked. Eric Stanley, like anyone who has hung around for any time in the radio biz, has been buffeted about by a variety of stations through all sorts of changes in ownership and format.

The story of how he came to his present gig on Sunday nights picks up in 1988, when WRNL, 910-AM, hired Eric Stanley to host an oldies midday show. Later, he expanded into Saturday nights, with an R&B-oriented oldies show.

In 1990 Harriet McLeod, popular music writer for the Richmond News Leader wrote:
Stanley, music director since January, has set out to make it [WRNL] Richmond’s funkiest radio station, adding to the oldies format B-sides, album cuts, tunes that never charted in the era when sales in black-owned record stores, and often sales of black artists, weren’t counted for the charts. Stanley draws much of his playlist from a personal collection of 5,000 albums, singles, tapes, CDs.
His move to WRXL-FM marked the beginning of the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue, which Eric E hosted on Sunday nights. Although it was Blues-based, this time he got the freedom to do something closer to what he had done with his Color Radio show. At this point he called his format “free-form.”

Among other things freeform meant taking risks in stride. In speaking of two of his favorite musicians, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Stanley says, “The ones [musicians] who got the most respect took chances.”

His next move, in 1992, was to WVGO, 106.5-FM. The new station positioned itself as an alternative to "classic rock" and took the Richmond market by storm. Soon Stanley was recognized widely for his amazing crossover success: in other words, a black radio personality appealing to a white audience. Suddenly he was everywhere; hosting live events for the station and the darling of local entertainment writers.

On the air Eric E pushed the envelope, even for a station with a so-called “alternative” format. In addition to his “almost anything but opera” style of presentation he made a point of playing the recordings of local acts, too; such as Boy O Boy, the Good Guys and Theories of the Old School.

In 1994, having acted as DJ/host of a blues night at Mulligan’s Sports Bar for five years, he moved his act to Memphis Bar & Grill in Shockoe Bottom. There he played records and presented live music on Wednesday night for two years. But in October of 1995 the wind shifted in the market once again. Eric E and WVGO went their separate ways. And the next year he moved his live version of Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue to the Moondance Saloon. At this point he was also busy doing voice-overs for commercials and acting as a consultant and/or executive producer for several area bands' recording projects.

Diagnosis and Recovery

Over the years the resourceful Eric Stanley has worked a number of jobs to fill in and around his show business activities. It was in one of those situations that he suddenly learned of a totally unexpected problem. A screening for prostate cancer, conducted through his workplace, Haley Pontiac, revealed that he had no viable option to surgery, which took place in July of 2000.

Since this meant no work for a lengthy spell and his insurance was inadequate to cover all the ramifications, money problems loomed, not to mention the natural worry about his prognosis. Although these were dark days, there was a shaft of light at the end of the tunnel.

Enter two friends: Marilyn Marable and Lee Pillsbury. Overnight they organized a benefit show at Alley Katz, a Shockoe Bottom live stage. The all-star lineup included; Plunky & Oneness, Rene Marie, Jazz Poets Society, Bio Ritmo, The Deprogrammers/Good Guys (a combination of the two bands), Car Bomb, Inc., The Nighthawks, Helel, and Fighting Gravity.

Of the night of the Alley Katz extravaganza, Stanley says: "The most humbling thing was when they put that benefit on."

Today, cancer free and undergoing no cancer-related treatment, he laughs at an unflattering photograph of a somewhat wan-looking Eric E that accompanied an article about the benefit. "When I saw that picture of me I thought I was dying."

Since then the American Cancer Society has approached him about acting as a spokesman for the organization, speaking to groups of men on the importance of testing.

“Since I’m exercising and eating better, I may be healthier than I was,” says the ever upbeat Stanley. “Last year, I was diagnosed and treated for cancer. Thanks to God, a real good woman [the previously mentioned Marilyn Marable], a good doctor, and the mojo [a green bag of mysterious herbs, bone powder and who-knows-what? he picked up in New Orleans years ago] I keep in my pocket, I'm still here and laughing at you."

Sunday Night Live

Now that Eric E is back in the saddle, the last Arbitron ratings book [as of this writing] reported that the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue had already shot to a close second to WCDX-FM, Power 92, in his time-slot, among listeners in the 25-to-54 demographic.

So instead of complaining about how lame radio in Richmond can be, the reader is advised to tune in to Eric E for an escape from the ordinary. On top of its entertainment value, his show is not unlike a class in music history. Yes, Stanley sounds very much the professor as he explains, for example, how Muddy Waters put together the traditional electrified blues ensemble of two guitars, drums and harmonica, with piano on occasion.

In fact, Professor Eric E is teaching a class, American Music: Blues, Hip Hop, Jazz, and Rock 'n' Roll, at St. Catherine’s School this semester. So the young ladies on Grove Avenue, nestled up to the Country Club of Virginia, are learning how Chuck Berry took Country & Western songs and gave them a Blues shuffle-beat in order to become a Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer.

Those private school students will also be exposed to Eric E. Stanley’s well-honed thoughts on the power of music to reach across cultural barriers. Of music’s ability to bring people of different backgrounds together he says: “Many times it’s the hammer that breaks the wall down.”

From the Hilltop Restaurant, by way of countless hours of platter-spinning air-time, Eric Stanley, 52-years-old on February 26 (a birthday he shares with music legends Fats Domino and Johnny Cash), is at the top of his game, again.

Meanwhile, as the former hamburger flipper and dancing drum major would no doubt say at this point, “Gotta go … gotta go.”

-- 30 --

-- Photo by Al Wekelo

Tipping Point for Poison Rhetoric?

"You take that back!" says a red-faced boy, as he pushes up his sleeves. His command is directed at a smirking kid, who just lobbed an insulting remark his way. They're facing one another on an asphalt basketball court, surrounded by a forming circle of witnesses. "Take it back!"

Trouble is, nothing we say can ever be taken back. As much as we might want to unsay words, adults know it can't really be done. We can be truly sorry we said those damn words. We can apologize until we're blue in the face. We can claim our words were misunderstood. So what?

Words can't be unsaid. Moreover, adults also know the reckless use of words, whether it's a blunder or it's designed to inflame a situation, can get people killed. So, regardless of our beliefs and philosophies, there's really no point in pretending we don't all know that.

Thus, when unscrupulous right-wing politicians on-the-make inflamed their most unstable followers – by demonizing Planned Parenthood, using bogus videos and rhetoric like, “baby parts” – they knew it amounted to throwing lit matches at an open box of cherry bombs.

Of course, beyond words used recklessly, manipulative language and is nothing new. French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PĂ©rigord’s (1754-1838) words on the topic of language remain crisp today. Talleyrand offered: “Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.”

Talleyrand's wisdom recognized the artful use of language. Using words to throw gasoline on a fire is different. In the new millennium the raw meanness of words we routinely see/hear strung together, to express political and religious ideas, seems to be escalating. Civility is becoming a quaint notion.

The outrageously insulting comments that regularly appear under any editorial or article published about politics have been accepted as a sign of the times. Then throw in all the insults that flash before our eyes on social media. It's hard to see much good in the role those modern ways of venting anger play in our lives. 

When it comes to flinging poison rhetoric to and fro into public discourse, as a society, are we getting close to reaching a tipping point? Since we know words can't be taken back, can the poisonous rhetoric keep getting more potent without it delivering us to a day of reckoning? With mass murders becoming daily occurrences, can it get any worse?

Of course it can. Stay tuned...