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GrooveCentralLA……a very special Christmas Holiday edition

XMC46-SANTA-MONICA-PIERHere it is the High Holiday Season, and you can bet Christmas songs will be heard – either through the muffled sound of department store speakers, booze soaked carollers, or the jaunty humming of a family member while cooking with tremendous magnificence.    Christmas songs will be heard, waft around for a while in our cluttered heads, then hopefully drip out our ears in a timely manner.  And for sure, two of the songs that will be heard will be “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas”.

Unknown-2Jimmy Pierpont was a guy from the Boston area and like so many others, made a run for the gold in 1849 leaving his wife and kids for the California Gold Rush.  Jimmy tried mining and came up empty so he opened a photography studio in San Francisco, which like his mining career, went up in flames.  After failing at the Gold Rush, Jimmy returned to the East, grabbedUnknown-1
his wife and children and headed south, a wiser yet poorer man. Always handy with a song and known to tickle the ivories, Jimmy gave music lessons centering on the organ (this very organ currently resides at Florida State University and no doubt has brought inspiration to the many fine and upstanding scholar-athletes who have attended there.)  Trying his hand at song writing, Jimmy came up with a couple of danceable ditties “Ring the Bell, Fanny” and “The Know Nothing Polka” (perhaps you know them well?), but none of these caught on like his 1857 number “Jingle Bells” or as it was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” (I call the song by its original title and I suggest you do the same.) Though originally written as a Thanksgiving song, somehow it found its way into the roasted chestnuts of our Christmas music lexicon forever.  “Jingle Bells” was the first song broadcasted from space in a Christmas themed prank from the great comedy team and Gemini 6 astronauts, Wally Schirra and Tommy Stafford.  On December 16th, 1965 they sent a report to Mission Control: “Gemini VII this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He’s in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a …Very low…Looks like he might be reentering soon. Stand by…You might just let me try to pick up this thing. I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit”  Then the astronauts produced a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells (first musical instruments Unknown-3played in space) and broadcast their rendition of “Jingle Bells”.  Astronauts are known whimsicle jesters and great guys to throw down 7 or 8 Anejo and sodas with at the Shangri-La Hotel.  Next time the opportunity comes up, give it the nod.  Jimmy never made a lot of dough off “The One Horse Open Sleigh” though around the world it remains one of the most recognized and performed songs ever written.  Jimmy called it a day August 5th, 1893 in Winter Haven, Fla and was elected to the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. But if he had lived long enough and things got bad, he always could have borrowed some scratch from his nephew J.P. (Pierpont) Morgan.

c82n530t-FILEID-1.122.43Next time you are headed out to Palm Springs and feeling a quart low, please stop at two or three of the 45 fast food arenas in the Banning, California sector. If done correctly you will leave this burg with a seaweed slippery glaze to your skin. But besides its wonderful name (Yes, I have been offered numerous political and military posts there – none that I have deemed appropriate….yet.) and the massive amount of fast food choices, the City of Banning has an odd claim to fame. The City Fathers say that the great Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” there while at the Briargate Lodge, a claim which I see no reason to doubt. (Those creeps down at the Arizona Biltmore have also raised their squeaky voices claiming the song was written there, and of course there is the laughable idea that he wrote it at his home in New York state.)   Irv Berlin was a Russian born (full name: Israel Isidore Baline) composer and lyricist who wrote some of the great ones: “Blue Skies”, “Putin’ on the Ritz”, “God Bless America” and a song that both my sisters have tortured me Unknownwith “There is No Show Business Like Show Business” while thinking they were conjuring up the ghost of Ethel Merman, but in reality sounded more like the very dead ghost of a booze addled Ethel Mertz (wife of Fred.) But none of Irv’s hits were 41EKY1HR82Lclose to “White Christmas” as far as popularity. The Bing Crosby version has sold over 50 million records, thus being the best-selling single of all time. Irv has another act that will never be topped: he is the only oscar award presenter and award winner to open the envelope and read his own name (for ” White Christmas” of course, from the movie “Holiday Inn” in 1942.) The awkwardness you could have hung Jimmy Pierpont’s organ on, so the powers that be at the academy will not let that happen again.

So there you have it. This year you might be humming “The One Horse Open Sleigh” to yourself as you look at a clear cool night and spy in the sky a command module with a fat guy in a red suit driving with eight smaller modules in front, or munching down on a triple cheese burger with mystery sauce dancing down your chin, slowly nodding your head to “Der Bingle’s” version of ” White Christmas”. As we get closer to wrapping up this eventful year please know in your heart that all of us here at GrooveCentralLA wish you and yours the very best holiday season. Oh and truth be told, my sisters do a wonderful “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and you shouldethel-1974 request their rendition each and every time you see them (also available by phone and phone messaging ). Groove.

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Did Dale know? What about Trigger?

santa-monica-pier-sunrise-josh-whalen   It was a beautiful Sunday morning, crisp and clear, and I was drawn to the venerable Santa Monica pier. I wanted to check on my theory (still under investigation) that the pier fishermen who dress better, will catch more fish. It pieris important when one ventures into that sector of this fair city that it is done early before the pier feels the roar of it’s juices, then proceeds to throw up on itself.

As Catalina lurked out at sea like a huge sleeping seal, I reminded myself that the island gave inspiration to the great screenwriter Robert Towne who wrote “Chinatown” at the Banning Hotel there at the Isthmus.  As I glanced north to the Pacific Palisades, I thought of Alan LeMay who wrote the book “The Searchers” which later became one of my favorite movies.  Alan wrote it from his small office behind the incorrigible “House of Lee” restaurant where I had spent hours swilling Cambodian Mules, Saucy Scorpion Bowls, and Rum Giggles.  (It was also at the House of Lee, as a young child that I was tricked by my family to take a bite of the tightly rolled hot towel thinking it was an exotic appetizer… I hope someday my trust level will return.)  The restaurant is long gone, Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 4.00.05 PMreplaced by a soulless venue. But when you think of the H.O.L., think Trader Vic’s but without any semblance of class, filled with waiters who were incurably addicted to fumbling, whose clientele were sopped with both despair and elation depending on the hour, and was run by those who had an incredible tolerance for the uneven.  The movie “The Searchers” stared John Wayne, Ward Bond (both friends of my grandparents), Jeff Hunter (who lived in the Palisades) and of course a young Natalia Niko Laevna Zacharencho (also known as Natalie Wood).  The movie also has an interesting musical connection – after seeing the movie at the State Theatre in Lubbock, Texas and hearing John Wayne’s character utter “That will be the day” four times in the movie, a young Buddy Holly was inspired to write his number one hit of the same name.

images-1Somehow this all brings me to the end of the Santa Monica pier, where the crust level increases and poorly dressed fishermen, whose hands shimmer with bait fish scales, have as much luck catching fish as a group of alley cats belting out a major cord on key.  A big smiley face with chiclets for teeth holds on to a fiddle in an old poster. His name is SpadeUnknown-2 Cooley.  Spade was huge in his day as an American Western swing band leader, actor, and television personality – hitting it big in the 40’s and 50’s. He and his band battled Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys to be “King of the Western Swing”.  In 1948 he hosted his own variety show, broadcast on KTLA from the Santa Monica Pier Ballroom, thus according to some, Unknown-3was the first variety show on television. His guests included Frankie Lane, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, and the Chairman himself, Frank Sinatra. The Main Spade was very successful at the time, having brought in his future wife Ella Mae Evans (no relation to Dale) on vocals. He packed them in too – sometimes up to 8000 folks would come for the show and dance with their fellow bolo tie and boot crowd.  Spade gave his band members country names like Smokey Rodgers, Cactus Soldi and Pedro Depaul, even though the majority of them were cool city cats from Cleveland, Brooklyn and Milwaukee. It wasn’t till 1956 that Spade’s ratings suffered because of the new guy on TV, Lawrence Welk .

imagesSpade bought a huge pad out in isolated Willow Springs, in the Antelope Valley, where he parked Ella Mae and the kids. AfterUnknown-1 seeing the success of Disneyland, Spade wanted to make a huge water park on his property called “Water Wonderland.”  That didn’t work out and Spade’s world started to unravel.  The marriage between he and Ella was going down the toilet due to Spade becoming a huge booze bag and the wandering eyes of both Spade and Ella. It all came to a head when Ella confessed to an affair with Roy Rodgers (did Dale know? Did Trigger know?) It was April 3, 1961, and Spade’s jealous rampages meant bad news for Mrs. Cooley. He beat her, interrogated her, burned her with his cigarettes, and eventually killed her. The authorities were called and the dark-souled Spade was sent to the Big House – found guilty of murder by his peers after using the old “fell in the shower” line to explain Ella’s beat up body and cig burns. (Has that “fell in the shower” excuse ever worked ?)

scjailSpade was sent to San Quentin then to a softer Vacaville prison where he was a model prisoner.  Ron Reagan became governor of Cal in 1966, waved his magic wand, and Spade was going to be a free man. In 1969 the parole board voted unanimously to parole the country crooner effective on his 60th birthday. He did less than nine years for killing his wife. Four months before his release, Spade was granted a 4 day furlough to perform in Oakland at a benefit concert for the Sheriffs department. The crowd loved his performance and from the side of the stage he remarked “I think it’s all going to work out for me. I have a feeling that today is the first day of the rest of my life.”  WRONGO (my Dad’s saying) – Spade grabbed his chest, dropped his fiddle and fell dead at the age of 59 of a heart attack.

So what did we learn from a trip to the pier on a Sunday morn?  That Roy Rodgers was not as squeeky clean as his wife Dale Evans or his horse Triggerimages-4 had hoped,  that the ” fell in the shower” excuse never works (Greg Hardy), that you can call a Spade a spade, and that the theory that nicely dressed fishermen catch more fish is still being explored and tabulated. Groove.

 

Everyone Loves Stan

thAnyone  who has ever watched television has to groove on Richard Wayne “Dick” Van Dyke.  The guy is 87 years old, looks like a million bucks (ok…maybe $100 grand), is married to a 39 year old,th-10 was a news anchor at the ” CBS Morning News” in 1955 and Walter Cronkite was his reporter, is an honorary member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, appeared on an album with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, lived with Michelle Triola (who famously battled Lee Marvin in the “palimony ” case Marvin v. Marvin) for more than 30 years (not sure that’s a good thing), has had a career that spans 7 decades, th-2and claims in 2010 that  he was rescued at sea by a pod of porpoises (apparently they loved Dick’s version of ” Chim Chim Cher-ee ).

Like many great comedians, Dick’s idol was Stan Laurel of the great comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.  After Oliver Hardy’s death in 1957th-6 (something that friends say Stan never recovered from), Stan moved into the second floor of the Oceana oceana_5Apartments in Santa Monica (now the swank boutique Oceana Hotel on Ocean Blvd.)  There Stan would entertain a long list of admirers such as Peter Sellers, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye,  Marcel Marceau, and of course Dick Van Dyke.  Stan was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1961 and was offered a cameo role in it’s a Mad , Mad , Mad , Mad World (1963), but couldn’t bear to be on any stage without his partner Oliver (Babe) Hardy.

In 1965 Stan suffered a major heart attack and while minutes from death he told his nurse he would not mindth-4 skiing right at this moment. Somewhat taken back, the nurse replied that she wasn’t aware that he was a skier.  “I’m not, but I’d rather be doing that than this!” A minute later he died sitting in his armchair.

At his funeral, comedian Buster Keaton said ” Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man here was the funniest .”  Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy and was rewarded with Stan’s bowler hat by Stan’s wife. Dick th-7said that Stan told him “if anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.”  Stan Laurel was 74 years old.

Comedy lightens our load and allows us not to take ourselves too seriously. So go throw a pie in someone’s face, give someone a hotfoot, and slip on a Mr. Bean movie.  Make sure it’s not my face, not my foot, and not at my house.  I wouldn’t find it funny.  Groove.

Vicious Combo

 A gun, a prayer-book, and a lot of booze. Though we have all faced these non-grooves at one time or another, the facts are that together they will possibly ruin your evening (not always…but that is another story). Christina Griffith was confronted with this combo and it was none of her doing, but the doings of her loathsome scoundrel of a husband Griffith Griffith. Religion, a firearm, and enough alcohol to kill a Clydesdale was about to bring a big hurt on Mrs. Griffith Griffith.

It was the sultry evening of September 3rd, 1903 in Suite 104-5 of the fabulous Hotel Arcadia, the grand dame of Santa Monica. Built in 1887 it was named for Arcadia Bandini De Baker, who was the wife of the co-founder of Santa Monica, R.S. Baker (also where the name Bakersfield comes from). Located where the Loews Hotel is today, the narrow Arcadia steps with a gold painted archway  is all that is left of the original hotel. The Colonel, as he called himself (I have tried for years to be called the Chieftain or the Commodore but as of yet none of these names have stuck) though he never was in any country’s service, made his money when, as a reporter for mining stocks, he used inside information to amass millions. A tiny gent he made up for his lack of stature by carrying a gold-headed cane and was described as a “midget egomaniac” who had the exaggerated strut of a turkey gobbler. To endear himself to society he gave the city of Los Angeles 3015 acres – creating the largest municipal park in the world, Griffith Park. He was also one of those crazy hidden boozers who publicly aligned himself with the temperance movement all the while slurping down copious amounts of brown booze.

Any semblance of respectability and social groove came to a screeching halt that night at the Arcadia.  G.G., out of his head on booze, carrying a pistol in one hand and a prayer-book in the other, demanded that his wife kneel before him. Muttering something along the lines that she was aligned with the Pope to kill him he fires a shot point-blank into Christina’s skull, the bullet hitting her left eye socket and careening away. She staggers to her feet and leaps out the nearest window, falling two stories on to the veranda roof of the Arcadia. Not what one usually sees falling on a beautiful night in Santa Monica.

A sensational trial follows, with Griffith hiring the famous mouthpiece Earl P. Rodgers and the one-eyed Christina the ex-governor of California, Henry Gage. Rodgers puts up the “alcohol insanity” excuse (who hasn’t used that one before), but G.G. is found guilty only to serve two years in the Big House.

After prison Griffith offered the city $100,000 to build a popular observatory atop Mt. Hollywood (formerly Mt. Griffith, but had been renamed while in prison). He also offered $50,000 for a Greek Theater. Though the City of Los Angeles refused all offers because of his past, G.G. would not be denied setting up a trust fund providing for the two facilities after he was gone.

Well, the Colonel died rich, but unloved…and it shows one must consider all options and combinations before they step out into the evening.

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