15 December 2006

The Technicolor Revolution (Part One)

Black Pirate

Lights! Color! Action!
Neon Rainbow
The Technicolor Revolution
by Donny Jacobs
It’s common knowledge that the first commercial motion pictures were quite different from what we see today. They were silent films with no soundtracks; on-screen title cards were used to substitute for dialogue. Also, these movies were shot on monochromatic film, which meant their images projected only in black-and-white or sepia tones. Many people know that commercial sound films were introduced with great fanfare in 1927 when Warner Brothers Pictures released The Jazz Singer. However, relatively few people know that before there was sound, there was color! Black-and-white photography was the standard for Hollywood movies well into the sound era, but 'way back in the glory days of silent cinema, audiences were often treated to the sight of rainbow hues on screen.

Rudimentary color photography was first demonstrated in 1855. Dr. James Clerk Maxwell presented it during an historic seminar on the subject at London's Royal Institute. This led to a twenty-year period of intense experimentation, but by the closing years of the nineteenth century, emphasis had shifted to creating artificial rather than natural color on film. The first motion-pictures produced in color were dyed or hand-tinted affairs. A tinting technique was patented by German technicians in 1897, the same year inventor Thomas Edison produced a tinted Kinetoscope feature called Annabelle's Butterfly Dance. Also around this time, several color-tinted films were shot by Frenchman George Meliés. They include the early silent comedy Trip To The Moon (1902), best remembered for its whimsical depiction of a lunar body with human facial features.

In the early 1900s, another pioneering French filmmaker named Charles Pathé invented Pathécolor, an expensive and very time-consuming process that involved stenciling color tints directly onto film stock. The years of painstaking work required made it a commercial non-starter, but its aesthetic appeal was considerable; the resulting color movies looked stunningly realistic, and were universally hailed by art critics. The best-known of the early Pathécolor silents is Cyrano de Bergerac (1923), which survives and was recently made available on DVD. Visually pleasing this technique may have been, but it no more represented true color photography than any of its crude predecessors. Yet, that didn't keep dyed and tinted films produced in Pathécolor and other experimental processes from appearing regularly in the teens and early 1920s. Monochrome movies with selected scenes tinted entirely in one primary color were the most common; DW Griffith's masterworks Birth Of A Nation(1915) and Intolerance(1916) both contained such scenes. The more adventurous filmmakers flirted with numerous semi-photographic color processes, which sported names like Kromascope, Colorcraft, Kodachrome and Kinemacolor. The latter, developed in England, was reportedly the most impressive, but not even this method produced true-to-life colors on screen. What's more, it was far too technically complex to ever be considered viable in the marketplace.

Then came Technicolor! In 1912, a young physicist named Herb Kalmus took on two business partners and launched a consulting firm for scientific and industrial research. One of his clients solicited help in perfecting a new kind of motion-picture camera. Over the course of working with him, Dr. Kalmus encouraged the client to think about a camera that could film in true color. This led to Herb Kalmus, Don Comstock and Burt Wescott joining financier William Coolidge to found the Technicolor Corporation in 1915. The company's stated goal was to create a three-color film projection process that could accurately reproduce all the colors of the spectrum. A group of cocky young chemists and mechanics were recruited and set up inside a "mobile laboratory"; this was actually a streamlined railway car equipped with darkrooms, a photo lab, office space and a miniature power plant. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Technicolor's mobile office operated under the strict yet inspiring direction of Herb Kalmus. The desired three-color process proved elusive, but before long, the laboratory had developed a promising two-color technique that utilized red and green light filters to expose film. Its inventors named it "Technicolor Process Number One." A year after work had begun, the company felt confident enough in its new color method to produce a short film. The mobile office traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, towing a Pullman car filled with actors and technical experts.

Once on location, it was the experts who proved most valuable to the production, because there were technical glitches galore! Technicolor's first production ended up going thousands of dollars over budget. However, with lots of experimentation and teamwork, the problems were overcome and the film was completed in the summer of 1917. Starring Niles Welch and Grace Darmond, the movie was called The Gulf Between; Technicolor executives screened it to a select audience of critics on September 21, 1917 at New York City's Aeolian Hall. Reaction was decidedly mixed. Reviews in the Motion Picture News raved about "colors (on film) that are really natural," and noted how often the audience had burst into applause at the beautiful outdoor scenery. Yet they also complained about blurred faces and backgrounds. Other reviewers took a much more negative tone; color photography, they sniffed, wasn't so spectacular that it called attention away from a lethargic storyline! Unfortunately, The Gulf Between does not survive, so there's no way for modern connoisseurs to pass judgment on it. Historical documents do tell us how Herb Kalmus felt about the movie. His judgment was that Technicolor Process Number One had failed to make the grade. His mind was made up after diabolical projection problems plagued a series of limited screenings of The Gulf Between for general audiences. He and his partners decided that the mobile laboratory was too restrictive an environment for research, and it was abandoned. The Technicolor Corporation set up shop in a building on Boston's Brookline Avenue and got busy inventing Process Number Two.

It proved to be such an expensive undertaking, William Coolidge withdrew his financial support. However, Dr. Kalmus refused to give up. By 1920, he'd secured a new group of investors, and in 1922, a revamped two-color projection system was perfected. The blurring problem was solved (under optimal laboratory conditions, at least), and another film project was given the green light. The Gulf Between had been a one-reeler, but this time, the company would showcase its product with a feature-length film. A professional cameraman, Ray Rennahan, was hired; it would be the first of many Technicolor assignments for him. Metro Pictures, the direct ancestor of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, agreed to distribute the film. Toll Of The Sea was filmed in Hollywood in 1922; it was a screen adaptation of the famous Japanese-themed opera Madame Butterfly. During this period, Caucasian actors were always hired to play Asian roles, but Technicolor couldn't find a White actress who was willing to star in their experimental film. The lead role ended up going to a bonifide Asian actress, Anna May Wong, which made Toll Of The Sea a revolutionary production in more than one respect. However, the only revolution Dr. Kalmus and his associates wanted to foment was at the box office, and happily, they succeeded. The film, resplendent in shimmering pastel hues, proved to be both a critical and box office smash when sampled by theatre patrons in early 1923.

Anna May Wong
ANNA MAY WONG
Star of the first hit movie in Technicolor

Hollywood jumped at the opportunity to cash in on Technicolor's apparent commercial appeal. Ray Rennahan was quickly hired to shoot color sequences for Cecil B. DeMille's lavish Ten Commandments epic, and Jesse Lasky's Famous Players Company contracted with Technicolor to photograph a second feature-length flick, Wanderer Of The Wasteland. Samuel Goldwyn's romantic tearjerker Cytherea, filmed on location in Cuba, followed in 1924. Herb Kalmus was particularly pleased with the Goldwyn movie; all Technicolor productions up to that point had been filmed outdoors, but Cytherea demonstrated how good color could look in the artificial light of a studio set. Profits from Toll Of The Sea were channeled into a new processing plant in Boston and a photo lab in Los Angeles; it seemed that Technicolor was well on its way to becoming the norm in silent pictures, but such proved not to be the case. When Cytherea and Wanderer Of The Wasteland failed to duplicate the commercial success of Toll of The Sea, Hollywood studios resisted embracing Dr. Kalmus's technology. They felt its high cost would cut into profits; what's more, the intense lighting required for indoor color photography raised movie sets to such a broiling temperature, actors complained of heat exhaustion! Most of the major movie directors dismissed color movies as a fad. As for movie stars, they adored the way black-and-white photography's dramatic shadow effects enhanced their profiles. Silent screen divas like Mary Pickford, Mae Murray and Theda Bara were in no hurry to see their onscreen mystiques destroyed by color.

In 1925, Paramount, Universal Pictures and the newly-rechristened M-G-M Studios were the only major film companies to use color in any of their releases, and in each case, it was color sequences added to an otherwise monochrome movie. It was hard to get filmmakers to commit even to the sequences! The classic original version of Ben-Hur, released in 1926, was filmed mostly in Technicolor, but director Fred Niblo decided it was too much of a distraction and threw out most of the footage; only a handful of color scenes appeared in the completed melodrama (fortunately, they survive). Hopes were high when legendary action star Douglas Fairbanks resolved to film his next adventure flick in Technicolor. The subsequent movie, The Black Pirate (1926), was heavily praised by critics for its "unrivaled beauty . . . mindful of the paintings of the old masters," and the public turned out in droves to see it. However, movie house projectionists were untrained in the idiosyncracies of color film. They frequently screened prints of The Black Pirate out of focus, eliciting howls of protest from indignant audiences; the old complaints about blurry scenes came back with a vengeange! Douglas Fairbanks communicated his displeasure to Herb Kalmus in no uncertain terms. Despite the acclaim his latest movie had attracted, he vowed never to shoot another one in color.

With a star as important as Fairbanks turning a cold shoulder to Technicolor, the rest of Hollywood followed suit. To Dr. Kalmus’s great dismay, interest in his company's product all but evaporated in 1927; only three films were produced in color that year, and two of them were black-and-white productions with color sequences inserted. The Technicolor Corporation dug in its heels during the dry spell, developing a third two-strip process that was easier to project. The new method was marketed in a series of historical short subjects which the company was unfortunately forced to produce at its own expense. Though strapped for cash, Herb Kalmus and his partners felt they'd come too far to throw in the towel; they were determined to sell color to a stubbornly disinterested Hollywood. It was especially hard to generate enthusiasm for Technicolor productions now that The Jazz Singer had dazzled the public with spoken dialogue. Studios were pouring nearly all their resources into building soundstages. However, consistently positive critical reaction to the short films, especially to one called Lady Of Victories (1928), was enough to get M-G-M Studios knocking at the company’s door. The studio agreed to distribute another color feature film, but offered nothing more; the Technicolor Corporation would have to cover all production costs on its own. It was a tall order that required a frenzy of fund-raising, but somehow, Dr. Kalmus once again managed to meet the challenge.

Technicolor Fiesta
THE GARLAND SISTERS featuring JUDY GARLAND
with PAUL PORCASI
in the Technicolor film short Fiesta De Santa Barbara

13 December 2006

The Technicolor Revolution (Part Two)

Robin Hood
Lights! Color! Action!
Neon Rainbow
The Technicolor Revolution
by Donny Jacobs
Herb Kalmus's production of The Viking, starring Pauline Starke and Donald Crisp, is the most impressive of all silent films ever shot in color; its visual glory even surpasses that of The Black Pirate. As Douglas Fairbanks' film had demonstrated, the dreamlike, ethereal look of two-color Technicolor was ideally suited to historical costume dramas. Kalmus's production crew made sure there was plenty of period costuming for viewers to feast their eyes on, and plenty of actors to wear it onscreen. At times, the movie's teeming battle scenes almost rival those found in the films of DeMille and Griffith. Technicolor even paid for a synchronized orchestral soundtrack to enhance the on-screen action. The finished feature was screened for M-G-M executive Irving Thalberg, and it left him breathless. He was so impressed, he convinced his studio to purchase the rights from Technicolor, and the company was subsequently reimbursed over $300,000 in production costs. As an official Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release in 1928, The Viking wasn't the smash hit Herb Kalmus had hoped it would be, but nonetheless, he viewed it as an unqualified success. His company had recouped its investment, and the movie reviews were mostly glowing. Even more important, he knew that Irving Thalberg was highly respected in the movie colony; once news of Thalberg's enthusiasm for Technicolor's latest project had spread to other studio executives, good things were bound to happen. All he had to do was wait.

He didn't have to wait long! Suddenly, Hollywood's biggest moguls were clamoring at his company's door again. Foremost among them was Jack Warner, CEO of Warner Brothers Pictures. With The Jazz Singer, he had proven the profitability of talking pictures; now Warner was eager to top himself by releasing hit movies that boasted both sound and color. Three subsequent films produced in 1929, The Desert Song (featuring color sequences only), Gold Diggers Of Broadway, and On With The Show (the first Technicolor movie released with synchronized dialogue) helped Warner Brothers dominate box office receipts that year. Rival studios panicked, fearing they were about to miss out on the Next Big Thing in movies. By January of 1930, the Technicolor Corporation had been contracted to photograph three dozen Hollywood productions, and found itself sitting pretty on a million dollar bank account. It was a heady time for Dr. Kalmus and his partners.

The 1930s kicked off with a slew of two-color Technicolor releases, the most significant being the costume dramas The Vagabond King (starring Jeannette MacDonald) and Song Of The West, the musicals King Of Jazz (which won an Oscar) and Sally, and the ribald comedy flick Whoopee, starring Broadway sensation Eddie Cantor and featuring elaborate Busby Berkeley dance sequences. However, Technicolor found that new problems came with its new visibility. The 1929 stock market crash had thrown the country into economic collapse, and it soon became apparent that the novelty of color wasn't enough to draw jobless people into movie theatres. Box office flops multiplied. What's more, many of the new color movies suffered from bad scripts and deplorable directing . . . and that included art direction. Scenes filmed in garish, clashing colors became so common, movie critics took to complaining of eye strain. Dr. Kalmus's wife Natalie, who served as Technicolor's chief color consultant, was particularly appalled at this development. For his part, Herb Kalmus was no longer satisfied with the implied realism of the two-color process. From the beginning, his goal had been true-to-life color, and despite what dozens of fawning reviews were claiming, red and green filters alone couldn't achieve it. The only way to reproduce a full spectrum of natural hues was with a three-color process. As contracts for new film productions failed to materialize, Kalmus realized it was do-or-die time: Only the success of Technicolor Process Number Four could save his company from bankruptcy!

Marlene Dietrich
MARLENE DIETRICH
made Technicolor look like money in the bank
It took technicians another three years to perfect the three-strip process (which exposed film through red, green and blue filters), but by the summer of 1932, it was finally ready for its debut. However, Technicolor's most spectacular innovation yet came very close to being dead on arrival. Hollywood was now in the depths of the Great Depression; studios were struggling to make a profit, and this new color process was almost prohibitively expensive. Herb Kalmus had door after door slammed in his face; at Paramount, M-G-M, Warner Brothers, Universal, and on all the other movie lots, he was persona non grata. He could only raise interest at animated movie studios, and even they were cautious. However, he reasoned correctly that some adventurous producer would be intrigued with the idea of color cartoons. That producer was Walt Disney. In late 1932, Disney released an animated short subject called Flowers And Trees in the new full-color process. Critics were ecstatic, audiences were enchanted, and the film industry would up giving the cartoon an Oscar. The same thing happened in 1933 when Disney's second color feature, The Three Little Pigs, hit theatres. Black-and-white cartoons became obsolete overnight, and just in time to fend off angry creditors, the Technicolor Corporation claimed a roster of steady animation clients. Live-action studios remained stubbornly resistant, though, until Jack Warner agreed to gamble again on the old two-color process. In 1932 and ‘33, his studio spiced up a pair of horror films with it, both starring a soon-to-be famous actress named Fay Wray. The most successful and best-remembered of the two movies was Mystery Of The Wax Museum.

Triumph in the cartoon genre notwithstanding, the devastated American economy was almost too high a hurdle for Technicolor to clear. Salvation came in the form of two big-talking investors named Merian C. Cooper (director of the megahit King Kong) and Jock Whitney. Cooper and Whitney were bowled over by the sample live-action color footage Dr. Kalmus screened for them, and they contracted with Technicolor to photograph every movie they planned to release through the independent studio they'd co-founded. The two men may have been high-stakes gamblers, but they weren't beyond hedging their bets; in order to test the feasibility of their proposed venture, they decided that the first Pioneer Pictures release would be a film short. Character actors Don Alvarado, Paul Porcasi and Steffi Duna were engaged along with a Mexican dance troupe, and the cantina comedy La Cucaracha went before the cameras in early 1934. Cooper and Whitney gave their gambling impulses free reign during the production. They spared no expense; the final budget was in excess of $60,000, making La Cucaracha the most costly two-reeler filmed up to that time. Luckily for them, the money was well-spent. The combination of Mexican song and dance with splashy primary colors yielded a big hit, both commercially and critically. Hardly any reviewers bothered to comment on the comic storyline or exotic musical segments; they were too busy proclaiming the arrival of rich reds and true blues to the American cinema palette. Everyone agreed that this was the most vivid color process seen to date. Clearly, the limitations of two-color photography were now a thing of the past, and nothing underscored that fact more strongly than the Oscar awarded to La Cucaracha for Best Comedy Short Subject of 1934.

Pioneer Pictures only completed two full-length movies before going belly up: The historical drama Becky Sharp, and the period musical comedy Dancing Pirate. Neither made money. However, a three-strip Paramount Studios production called Trail Of The Lonesome Pine did turn a profit, and the time Technicolor staff spent working on all three productions taught them some valuable lessons. They discovered that camera glare was a problem with the new process, so certain costumes and props had to be color-treated before filming. A new kind of pancake makeup was needed to keep skin tones pure, so Max Factor began developing one in close consultation with Ray Rennahan and other Technicolor cameramen. Most important of all, film sets needed to be designed for color so that intense hues wouldn’t clash or distract audience attention from the storyline. Much to the chagrin of directors, Natalie Kalmus began to assert herself more forcefully on Hollywood movie sets. No production could begin without one of her color charts being on hand for art directors to reference!

Armed with new expertise, the Technicolor Corporation was raring to go when Jock Whitney convinced maverick producer David O. Selznick to pick up Pioneer Pictures’ movie option. The deal brought with it something Dr. Kalmus and his associates had been craving since their ill-fated collaboration with Douglas Fairbanks: Major movie stars willing to be filmed in color. For his first production, Selznick cast Charles Boyer and Marlene Dietrich in the lead roles. Miriam Hopkins had starred in Becky Sharp, and an up-and-coming player named Henry Fonda had led the cast of Trail Of The Lonesome Pine, but in 1936, neither actor could match Boyer and Dietrich’s international star power. Miss Dietrich’s ravishing beauty and glamorous costumes proved to be the main selling points for Selznick’s Garden Of Allah, and sell it did. The lavish desert romance broke big at the box office, and while it didn’t win any Oscars, the Motion Picture Academy saw fit to honor it with a special color photography citation. This led directly to the establishment of a Color Cinematography Oscar in 1939.

Profits + Star Power = a formula that finally convinced Hollywood's skeptical studio executives that Technicolor was bankable. Accordingly, the late 1930s were awash in color spectacles, several of which have attained the status of legend: Walt Disney's Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs; Warner Brothers' The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Dodge City and Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex, all starring Errol Flynn; 20th Century Fox's Drums Along The Mohawk, another box office smash for Henry Fonda; M-G-M's timeless Wizard Of Oz featuring Judy Garland; and David O. Selznick's classic melodramas A Star Is Born and Gone With The Wind. Among the rack of Oscars awarded to the latter film was Technicolor's first for photographic excellence. The avalanche of acclaim these productions garnered flung open the door for a multitude of color extravaganzas, which held forth on movie screens with ever increasing frequency through the 1940s and '50s. Female stars like Betty Grable, Doris Day, Esther Williams, Carmen Miranda, Maria Montez and Maureen O'Hara became known for appearing almost exclusively in color films. By 1955, it was rare to see a musical or costume drama filmed in black-and-white, and by the late 1960s, movies in monochrome had become the rarity Technicolor films once were. Now, over 100 years after Thomas Edison experimented with clumsy hand-tinting, the tide has turned completely in color's favor.

Frank Morgan may have played the Wizard Of Oz in the famous 1939 movie, but he doesn't deserve the title. Herb Kalmus was the real wizard! Without him, there might never have been a yellow brick road for Judy Garland to dance along, or sparkling ruby slippers for her to wear. It was Dr. Kalmus's vision, his brilliance, his tenacity and his Technicolor wand that transported Hollywood over the neon rainbow.

La Cucaracha

STEFFI DUNA and DON ALVARADO
in the climactic scene of La Cucaracha


Quotes and other information for this essay were taken from the book Glorious Technicolor: The Movies' Magic Rainbow by Fred E. Basten (Technicolor, 2005). It contains a complete list of Technicolor film productions released between 1917 and 2005, as well as hundreds of stunning color publicity stills.

09 November 2006

Patrice Holloway

Patrice Holloway

God Bless Patrice Holloway
Woman With A Feeling
by Donny Jacobs
She sang every song as if it might be her last. Much like her older sister, Motown chanteuse Brenda Holloway, this Black Latina didn't let go of a lyric until she'd wrung every bit of emotion out of it. With sensual gasps and cries punctuating a vocal style that dripped with raw passion, Patrice Holloway put her stamp on Rock ‘n’ Roll. She made an impact regardless of whether she was on lead or background vocals. Singing background was her bread-and-butter, and what she did for most of the 1960s and ‘70s. Her church-trained alto voice bolstered harmonies behind such stars as Sam Cooke, Joe Cocker, Barry White, Johnny Rivers, William Bell, Ike and Tina Turner, Delaney and Bonnie, Thelma Houston and Neil Young. Patrice didn’t do nearly enough lead singing, but when she did, she left as powerful an impression as Mexico's legendary reina de la canción Lola Beltrán. She had perfect pitch, and her combined African-American and Spanish heritage was reflected in her incendiary style of phrasing.

The rare solo sides she cut for Taste, VIP and Capitol Records are highly-prized collector’s items. So are the sides she led as a member of the comic strip-inspired Rock trio Josie and The Pussycats. You can still hear her belting out “Voodoo”, “Stop. Look And Listen”, “Clock On The Wall” and other numbers on the cartoon soundtrack of Hanna-Barbera’s “Josie” series, which still airs occasionally on Cartoon Network. Cheryl Ladd was a member of that group, and also sang lead, but make no mistake: Patrice Holloway was, and is, the main reason Josie and The Pussycats are revered by knowledgeable Pop music lovers. The belated acclaim she won for those wonderful performances (especially the one she laid on the unforgettable “Josie” theme song) were the closest she ever came to stardom in the United States.

She came much closer to grabbing the brass ring on the other side of the Atlantic. Soul aficionados from Northern England fell hard for her handful of Capitol sides, and to varying degrees, they all became underground hits in the 1970s. Deejays would spin them by popular demand at dance clubs like The Twisted Wheel, Blackpool Mecca, The 100 Club and Manchester’s legendary Wigan Casino. Today, Soul fans from Great Britain and other parts of Europe snatch up original copies of those sides as if they were hotcakes right off the griddle. They consider the name Patrice Holloway to be on a par with soul superstars like Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin or Luther Vandross. Howard Earnshaw, editor of the fanzine Soul Up North, elaborates on the celebrity status Patrice Holloway still enjoys on the British “Northern Soul” club scene. He says:


“For those who are aware of the Northern Soul scene, it will come as no surprise that (Patrice) was and is held in high esteem by our fraternity . . . Northern Soul is an esoteric music scene where the chart action or high record sales of an artist plays little part in whether that artist is judged successful. In fact, some of the most popular singers and musicians on the Northern Soul scene are hitless! Nevertheless . . . the fans of this scene do recognize real Soul talent when they hear it . . . when an artist does gain popularity on the scene, and if that artist does visit these shores, they are overwhelmed by the reception they get, and surprised to find out that these Soul fans know all their recording history . . .“

As far as we know, Patrice Holloway never performed in the British Isles. She was told about her popularity in the United Kingdom, but unfortunately, she never got to experience it in person. She would’ve been delighted to discover that she had hundreds of adoring fans, most of whom had never even heard of Josie and The Pussycats! Howard Earnshaw describes how her second Capitol single, 1966’s “Love And Desire” became an underground cult favorite:

“I first became aware of Patrice in my late teens via the release on the (UK) Capitol label (of) “Love And Desire.” At that time here in England, the Soul scene was not mainstream . . . (there were) only a couple of radio shows aimed at Soul music. However, to the Mods (members of the legendary youth-oriented music and fashion movement that was the rage of swinging England in the ‘60s), this was their chosen favorite sound, and they championed the cause! Discotheques up and down the country were catering to this demand. In fact, “Love And Desire” was issued (along with several other singles) under Capitol’s Discotheque ‘66 series . . . this single is highly desirable to record collectors in this country, and is a perfect example of what a few years later would come under the banner of Northern Soul. Of course, the record failed to chart in the UK . . . but once the Northern Soul crowd had taken it to their hearts, her other singles were eagerly sought out.”

They were well worth seeking out, too. The thirteen sides that Patrice Holloway cut between 1963 and 1972 trace the development of her exceptional artistry. Most of them are excellent. Collectively, they amount to a Greatest Hits album that never got released.

Do The Del Viking (Parts One and Two)
(Brenda and Patrice Holloway)
This was the very first Patrice Holloway single, and if Hanna-Barbera Studios’ publicity department can be believed, it was a turntable hit on R & B-oriented radio stations in Los Angeles. Hal Davis, who in later years would produce The Jackson Five and many other Motown stars, supervised the recording session and sang background vocals. Davis’s baleful bass chanting, as well as Brenda Holloway’s robust backing voice, can clearly be heard on this record. Yet, it’s the unbridled fervor of prepubescent Patrice that grabs your attention. She sells her self-penned novelty dance step with such fiery emotion, you’d think she was a junior Pentecostal minister preaching her first sermon!

He Is The Boy Of My Dreams
(Hal Davis, Frank Wilson)
Marc Gordon, the future manager of The Fifth Dimension, teamed with Hal Davis to co-produce Patrice’s first and only single for VIP Records, a Motown subsidiary. This tribute record to Stevie Wonder (which opens with the letters of his name yelled out cheerleader-style) might be seen as the Rock ‘n’ Roll equivalent of Judy Garland’s 1937 ode to Clark Gable, “You Made Me Love You.” Unlike Garland’s recording, it unfortunately didn’t prove to be a precursor to commercial success. There’s plenty of feeling in Patrice’s vocal reading, but few of her distinct mannerisms; here she simply concentrates on playing the role of a star-struck teenybopper, and does so at the top of her lungs! Despite her decibel-shattering lead, big sister Brenda can again be detected on backing vocals.

Stevie
(Frank Wilson)
As should be obvious from the title, this is another Stevie Wonder tribute, and a much better one than “Boy Of My Dreams.” Not unlike some of Mary Wells’s big hits, this second Davis/Gordon production features an understated cha-cha rhythm, which initially prompts Patrice to discard her power ballad style. Pretty soon, she’s busy shaking the rafters again, but she plays it cool long enough to reveal rudiments of the purring “Pussycat” vocal delivery that will characterize much of her later work at Capitol Records. This altogether pleasant song ends cleverly with a direct swipe of the say yeah! refrain from Stevie Wonder’s 1963 breakout single “Fingertips, Part Two.”

Stolen Hours
(Billy Page)
Billy and Gene Page brought Patrice Holloway to Capitol Records and co-produced both sides of her unforgettable debut for the label. Coming across like a naughty little girl caught with her hand inside the cookie jar, she vamps her way through a steamy confession of adulterous love. Somehow the girlishness of her voice makes the adult subject matter seem that much more wanton! Patrice’s total lack of repentance becomes more apparent as she nears the song‘s chorus, and by the time she reaches it, she’s worked herself into an orgasmic frenzy! The barn-burning vocal style that marred her Motown sides has evolved into her trademark Pussycat purr. When she opens up the throttle now, it’s only for a moment or two, and mainly for lyric emphasis. This technique is best employed when Patrice and her background singers emit wicked cat yowls at strategic intervals; this feature in particular surely must have driven British dancers wild! “Stolen Hours” would ultimately become her biggest hit on the Northern Soul circuit; the mid-60s Latin boogaloo rhythm never got a better showcase than this song and this singer.

Lucky, My Boy
(Billy Page)
The flipside of “Stolen Hours” features another sexy song, but instead of the boogaloo, it chugs along to a foot-stomping beat that evokes Diana Ross and The Supremes’ early hits. “Lucky, My Boy” might’ve become almost as popular on the dance floor as “Stolen Hours” had deejays chosen to give it enough play. Purring with decadent pleasure, Patrice anticipates a lovemaking session with her boyfriend. She makes his kisses sound more delectable than a strawberry ice cream cone; don’t be surprised if you’re yearning for a little taste of something yourself by the time the needle hits the runoff grooves.

Love And Desire
(Billy Page)
Love and desire/Are two different things, sugar baby! So purrs our favorite Pussycat on the record that first brought her fame in Northern Soul circles. Like “Lucky, My Boy,” this number has a definite Motown flavor to it; Barbara Randolph’s cult hit “I Got A Feeling” (a Hal Davis production to which Patrice almost certainly contributed background vocals) may be its template. The mood on this follow-up Page Brothers production is celebratory, the orchestrations fabulous, and the vocal arrangements rousing. Exuberant is the only word that could possibly describe the lead vocal track; the talented teenager sounds absolutely filled with delight. Completely caught up in the sheer enjoyment of singing, she scales the octaves in order to put the song's climax across with maximum effect.

Ecstasy
(Billy Page)
With her voluptuous curves and caramel skin, Patrice had more than a passing resemblance to erotic film star Vanessa Del Río. On this Billy Page beat ballad which slyly celebrates the loss of virginity, she sings the way Miss Del Río acted, tantalizing her audience by inviting them closer and then abruptly holding them at arm’s length. After telling teenage girls how much of a thrill sexual love can be (My cup‘s filled to overflowing), the high school bad girl suddenly gets religion; she stops them at the bedroom door by waving a finger of warning (Little girls, wait ’til you’ve done growing)! Then she immediately resumes singing the praises of carnal indulgence (It‘s ecstasy). How shamelessly she teases! With the possible exception of “Voodoo” by Josie and The Pussycats, this was Patrice Holloway’s only record to feature a Wall of Sound production. Co-producer Gene Page, who arranged The Righteous Brothers' smash hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" undoubtedly had a lot to do with its Spectorish ambience.

Stay With Your Own Kind
(Kay & Helen Lewis)
With the Page Brothers, Patrice found a style of her own, but their work together didn’t translate into record sales. Capitol's A & R department broke off their collaboration and teamed her with Lou Rawls’ producer, David Axelrod. Fortunately, it was another good match. Perhaps curious about whether she was as strong a balladeer as her older sister (who by this time had scored a national hit with “Every Little Bit Hurts”), Axelrod gave Patrice a Romeo and Juliet-styled love song that all but demanded a wrenching vocal treatment. Girlfriend didn’t disappoint. The abundance of pathos in her feverish performance is potent enough to rend a listener’s heartstrings. It sounds like she’d actually lived the torrid lyrics, and experienced rejection by a lover’s family due to skin color prejudice. Radio probably found “Stay With Your Own Kind” too intense for airplay, especially in the volatile social climate of the ‘60s. Released in early 1967, this may have been the first Rhythm and Blues record to deal with interracial romance; it predates Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers’ controversial hit “Does Your Mother Know About Me?” by a year.

That’s All You Got To Do
(Willie Hutch)
For the flipside of “Stay With Your Own Kind,“ David Axelrod chose a song from the pen of a future Motown hitmaker. What a shame deejays didn’t flip the single over, because "That's All You Got To Do" would likely have been the hit everyone was hoping for. This fabulous, slow-burning Soul tango would more accurately have been titled “Love Your Woman With A Feeling” because of the irresistible way Patrice phrases those words in the song’s chorus. As she offers soulful advice to a male friend who’s clueless about how to please his woman, her simmering passions seem to flame up unexpectedly and then subside like a dormant volcano rumbling back to life. It's the quintessential Patrice Holloway vocal mannerism, seldom employed more effectively than she employs it here. "That's All" is the disc to play for anybody who doesn’t know what real Soul music sounds like! The commercial failure of this superb two-sider ended Patrice's first stint as a Capitol solo artist, but cult star status and immortality in the form of a Saturday morning cartoon series lay just around the corner.

Evidence
(George Jackson, Ray Moore)
Josie and The Pussycats have come and gone, but producers Danny Janssen and Bobby Young are so dazzled by Patrice’s vocal ability, they've secured a new Capitol Records singles deal for her. Keyboard wizard Clarence McDonald, who played a prominent role in the Pussycats sessions, signs on as co-producer at Janssen’s urging. If you didn’t look closely at the label, you’d think “Evidence” was a single by Detroit’s Honey Cone, the fondly-remembered femme Soul trio of the early ‘70s. Talented as she is, Honey Cone lead singer Edna Wright couldn’t possibly have interpreted this sizzling Blues ballad any better than Patrice does. Josie's hippest Pussycat calls to mind sassy TV detective Christie Love when she confronts her man with evidence of cheating. It's all over when she pins that joker to the wall with her claws and wails I’ve got enough clues to put you away! Nothing less than an essential Patrice Holloway recording, and a fine showcase for her talent when she sang it on “Soul Train” in January of 1972.

That’s The Chance You Gotta Take
(John Baer, Ken Morris, Jr, Eddie Singleton)
This selection from the songbook of the prolific Eddie Singleton appeared on the flipside of both “Evidence” and Patrice’s final Capitol single. It’s a sprightly track that has a lot in common with “One Bad Apple,” the George Jackson-penned chart topper that gave the Osmond Brothers their first major hit. With Patrice coming across like a female Michael Jackson circa 1970, “That’s The Chance” would’ve made a great Josie and The Pussycats soundtrack number. However, the cold market reception given to the Josie album and singles was proof that what works on Saturday morning television won’t necessarily work on radio. From a Soul music standpoint, this song was simply too derivative, and the production had too much Pop sensibility for its own good. “Evidence” may have failed to chart, but it was definitely the right side for Capitol Records to promote.

Black Mother Goose
(Sid Jacobson, Lou Stallman)
The precocious girl singer Motown didn’t know what to do with had fully blossomed into womanhood by late 1971, when her last solo record was waxed. Yet, even though her singing style and subject matter had matured, Patrice Holloway maintained a decidedly girlish quality about her. Brenda Holloway has indicated that it was an inherent part of her sister’s personality. Producers Janssen, Young and McDonald certainly capitalized on it with tunes like the aforementioned one and this unusual number. There'll probably never be a more unique children’s song than this whimsical Black history lesson written by two veteran songwriters of Jewish background! With a hint of streetwise cockiness in her voice, the former Pussycat delivers a stylish musical retelling of popular nursery rhymes. Soul fans shouldn’t be put off by the juvenile-sounding song title; the explosive phrasing she lays on the line Jack be nimble/Jack be quick alone is evidence enough that “Black Mother Goose” is suited to the dance floor and not the nursery.

In vain, Patrice’s fans anxiously awaited new solo sides. As time passed, she developed serious health problems which forced her into early retirement. By the turn of the century, it was apparent that these recordings (along with those she made with Josie and The Pussycats and a short-lived studio group called The Belles) would comprise her complete works as a lead singer. There can be no doubt about that now. On October 1, 2006, a fatal heart attack snatched Patrice Holloway permanently from the embrace of her devoted sister Brenda, her beloved son Nikko, her four precious grandchildren, and her many friends and fans. “When news of Pat’s death was broadcast, several high-ranking Northern Soul clubs paid tribute to her,” reports Howard Earnshaw. “(Deejays) played tribute to her and played Patrice Holloway records (for) appreciative dancers. I remember listening to her recording of ’Stolen Hours’ with a lump in my throat.”

Here at the Pop Culture Cantina, we feel the same deep sense of loss. We doff our sombreros in memory of and tribute to the underappreciated but supremely talented Patrice; the song stylist who combined Gospel training with the passionate style of Mexican ranchera singers to create her own distinctive sound; the child prodigy who had mastered five musical instruments by the age of nineteen; the lead singer of the first prominent interracial Girl Group; the visual model for the first lead cartoon character of color (Josie and The Pussycats’ Valerie Smith); the co-writer of one of Rock music’s most enduring standards, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”; the session stalwart whose musical abilities earned her the respect and adoration of countless peers; the best Motown vocalist Motown ever let slip away; the woman with a feeling who left a little bit of her essence in every musical number she wrote, arranged, played or sang. “Her music will live on,” Howard Earnshaw assures us, “and will always feature highly on the Northern Soul scene.” God bless Patrice Holloway.

Dedicated to Brenda Holloway, 
the sweetest older sister a girl could ever have.
Special thanks to Mick Patrick and Howard Earnshaw.

07 October 2006

Mad Hot Book Review #4

Tropicana Nights

Tropicana Nights
The Life and Times of The Legendary Cuban Nightclub
by Rosa Lowinger with Ofelia Fox
(Harcourt Books, 2005)
Reviewed by Donny Jacobs
Do you know what glamour is? No, I’m not talking about surly male hip-hop stars loaded down with miles of gold neck chains, or trashy female pop singers dolled up in Marilyn Monroe drag. I’m talking about real glamour! The kind you see in old movies starring screen divas like Marlene Dietrich, María Montez, Rita Hayworth and Greta Garbo. The kind that’s almost impossible to find in today’s culture of tacky tawdriness. The last time Americans were exposed to real glamour was undoubtedly in the 1950s, the years of tail-finned automobiles, Christian Dior’s “New Look” for women, Audrey Hepburn’s rise to movie stardom, Biblical epics in Cinemascope, Lawrence Welk’s “champagne music“, Arthur Murray’s easy-to-learn dance steps, a fabulous new vacation resort called Las Vegas, and Desi Arnáz conducting his Latin house band on “I Love Lucy.” A great new book called Tropicana Nights will take you back to that golden era. Specifically, it will usher you into the glittering world of 1950s Cuban nightlife, where glamour was definitely a given.

In this fascinating story of Cuba’s most famous nightclub, you’ll meet Victor de Correa and Alberto Ardura, cabaret impresarios par excellence. You’ll meet Rodney, the mad genius of Cuban floor show choreography. You’ll meet Valentín Jodra, master of the roulette wheel. You’ll swing and sway to the music of Armando Romeu, leader of Cuba’s finest nightclub orchestra, and marvel at the keyboard skills of his virtuoso Afro-Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdés. You’ll thrill to the fancy steps of exhibition dancers Ana Gloria and Rolando, Leonela and Henry, and Chiquita and Johnson. You’ll gasp at the sight of gorgeous showgirls like Alicia Figueroa, Sandra Taylor and Jenny Léon. You’ll rub shoulders with legendary international celebrities like Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Pier Angeli, Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Sammy Davis, Jr., as well as sinister Mafia figures like Santo Trafficante, Frankie Carbo and Lefty Clark. All of these colorful characters revolve around Martín Fox, a shrewd and ambitious entrepreneur who began his career as a lowly numbers runner and ended it as the owner of what was arguably the most celebrated casino in the western world. Fox didn’t create Club Tropicana, but as you’ll learn reading this story, his vision created its legend.

Author Rosa Lowinger deftly divides her book’s contents between descriptions of Club Tropicana’s cabaret and casino operations, with just the right amount of gossip thrown in among the facts. She also provides readers with a detailed lesson in Cuban history, complete with economic and political intrigue. Chronologically, she shifts back and forth between a narrative set in the 1940s and ’50s and present-day reminiscences of Martin Fox’s widow Ofelia and several of her husband’s former employees, all living in exile across the United States. Señora Lowinger weaves an engaging tale that positively drips with gusto, excitement, atmosphere, and that most important ingredient of all, glamour.

The spectacular showplace that was Club Tropicana evolved out of a Depression-era bohemian nightclub called Edén Concert, operated by Victor de Correa. One day, two casino operators approached Correa about opening a combination casino and cabaret on the outskirts of Havana. They cut a deal, and in December of 1939, Correa moved his company of singers, dancers and musicians into a converted mansion located on the estate of a deceased Cuban sugar baron. Originally known as El Beau Site, the club’s popularity with tourists grew steadily until the outbreak of World War II, which sharply curtailed tourism to Cuba. During this time, Martín Fox began renting table space in the casino. Eventually, he would amass enough profits to buy out Victor de Correa’s partners and take over the lease of Club Tropicana. Hanging in through tough times, which included a temporary ban on casino gambling, Martín Fox bought out Correa’s interest in 1951 and tapped Alberto Ardura to replace him. This is when Club Tropicana’s glory years really began. Ardura hired maverick choreographer Roderico “Rodney” Neyra away from his chief rival on the cabaret scene, the Club San Souci, and Fox contracted up-and-coming architect Max Borges to revamp the look of the club. Borges’ avant garde design of glass arches (known as arcos de cristal) atop the building’s indoor/outdoor cabaret room would draw as much critical acclaim as Rodney’s daring floor shows.

Club Tropicana’s headliners during the ‘50s were the cream of Spanish and Latin-American musical talent: Cuban singers Miguelito Valdés and Celia Cruz, Mexican tenor Pedro Vargas, Argentinean balladeer Daniel Riolobos, Brazilian movie star Carmen Miranda, the man known as the “Cuban Sinatra“, Beny Moré, the all-singing, all dancing, multi-instrumental group Los Chavales de España, and one the greatest interpreters of Cuban bolero music, Olga Guillot. Numerous North American performers graced the cabaret’s stage as well, among them Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Yma Sumac, Liberace, and the Xavier Cugat Orchestra featuring Abbe Lane. Superstar Nat “King” Cole was one of Club Tropicana’s biggest attractions, as well as a frequent celebrity patron of the club along with his wife, Maria. Interviewed for the book, Maria Cole paints a colorful portrait of the venue in its heyday: “It was breathtaking! My mouth just fell open . . . there was so much color, so much movement . . . and the orchestra! The house band had forty musicians . . . I said to Nat, ’that’s the house band? (Are there) that many showgirls?” The multitude of statuesque and scantily clad showgirls she refers to was known collectively as las diosas de carne (fleshly goddesses). The job of the diosas was to basically saunter across the cabaret stage and stun male audience members with their ravishing beauty and bountiful physical charms. Evidently, they did the job well, because their reputation has carried down in entertainment circles through the decades.

At the height of Club Tropicana’s fame, an enraptured entertainment critic wrote: “The luxury of the costumes, the rapturous music and Rodney’s choreography combine in the proposal that Tropicana, jewel of the Americas, offers (the) public: That Cuba can compete with any other country in the presentation of dazzling musical revues.” And what revues they were! Shows devoted to Mexican ranchera music, Italian opera, Brazilian samba, Argentinean tango, Spanish flamenco, and of course, Cuban music and dance. Club Tropicana was one of the first Havana nightclubs to present authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms to tourists. Rodney mounted elaborate Christmas shows, lavish historical costume pageants, musical tributes to Broadway, the circus, Asian culture and Greek mythology. His boundary-breaking concepts involved dancers hiding in the audience, disrobing onstage and executing dangerous stunts high above the stage. His versatile troupe showcased ballet, jazz and modern styles, spiced liberally with rhumba, mambo and cha-cha-chá moves. A complete list of Tropicana stage extravaganzas presented between 1952 and 1960 is included in the book.

As if the club’s gambling and entertainment offerings weren’t sufficiently tempting to draw patrons by themselves, Martín Fox sold a special Club Tropicana tourist package, consisting of a round-trip charter flight that shuttled well-heeled night clubbers from the United States directly to Havana for dinner, drinks, a show, an overnight hotel stay and breakfast. The plane featured a wet bar stocked with a bevy of cocktail selections, as well as a scaled-down version of Armando Romeu’s orchestra for anyone brave enough to dance in the aisles. Upon debarking in Cuba, passengers were treated to mambo lessons on the airport tarmac! Talk about clever marketing!

The events leading up to Fidel Castro’s 1959 coup are recounted in some detail. Rosa Lowinger describes how Castro’s evolution into a dictator and the advent of communism ripped the heart out of Club Tropicana; its management and stellar talent roster fled into exile over a period of years. The club survived Cuba’s régime change, but it was never the same again. The golden era of Cuban nightlife came to an abrupt end. However, Señora Lowinger’s dynamic prose brings it back to glorious life for her readers. Ofelia Fox's vivid recollections (as well as her startling personal revelation near the end of the book) form the backbone of an excellent story told exceptionally well. This is one of those books that prompts you to ask “When’s the movie coming out?” as soon as you’ve finished it. Please don’t wait for the movie, though; buy the book! Even if you disapprove of gambling and aren’t particularly enamored of Cuban dance music, it’s well worth buying. Once you’ve read it, you simply won’t be able to resist longing for those fabled Tropicana Nights.

27 July 2006

Howard Greenfield

Howard Greenfield
Stairway To Heaven
The Howard Greenfield Story
by Donny Jacobs
His friends called him “Howie.“ He was the Billy Strayhorn of the Brill Building, a genius of a musical collaborator who dared to be openly homosexual long before it was safe to do so. He was warm, sweet, impulsive, bossy, funny, sexy, ambitious, energetic, emotional and a great friend. Everybody who knew him seemed to love him, and Pop singers went absolutely crazy for his songs. Dozens of them were recorded by Neil Sedaka, Brenda Lee, Jimmy Clanton, Gene Pitney, Tony Orlando, Timi Yuro, Petula Clark, The Shirelles, Captain and Tennille, The Fifth Dimension, The Everly Brothers, Cher, Tom Jones, The Four Tops, Carol Burnett, Dionne Warwick, Connie Francis and many other stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Before his untimely death on 4 March 1986, the million-sellers Howard Greenfield wrote had garnered a whopping twenty BMI awards and topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart four times.

He was a songwriter in the grand tradition of Tin Pan Alley legends like Gershwin, Berlin, Loesser and Porter. Anybody looking to find a satirical or campy sensibility in Howard Greenfield lyrics will be disappointed. He wrote boy-girl love songs that were so authentic, they put most heterosexual lyric writers to shame! Using the work of showtune master Lorenz Hart as his inspiration, Howie married Broadway-calibre wordplay to Top Forty commercialism. His teenybopper tunes overflowed with romantic imagery; in less than three minutes, he could turn a Jack and Jill high school crush into a lover’s saga worthy of Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet or Rhett and Scarlett. In Howard Greenfield’s world, you knew Venus in blue jeans was sure to find her Frankie where the boys are. You knew they would build a stairway to heaven together and climb up to the highest star! He’d be her puppet man and she’d be his calendar girl. Sure, he’d leave her cryin‘ in the rain every so often, but she knew in her heart that love would keep them together. Before long, they’d be playing tag with Stupid Cupid again, and planning for that day when rainy day bells would ring in the chapel.

Neil Sedaka played Duke Ellington to Howard Greenfield's Strayhorn. They met in 1952 when both of them were teenagers. At the time, Howie was setting poetry to rudimentary melodies, and sensing that he needed a good collaborator. His mother felt Neil might be the right one; he lived in the same building, was studying classical piano, and rumor had it he could sing just like Johnny Ray. Neil was unwilling at first, but he eventually succumbed to Howie‘s infectious enthusiasm. The boys set at the task of songwriting with a strong sense of discipline that was unusual for their age; they completed one song every day for a year, honing their composing skills to a fine point. They were quite versatile; their output ranged from classically-influenced airs to uptempo doo-wop swingers to torrid R & B ballads. During this period, Neil actually taught Howie how to sing! Soon, Neil was landing professional piano gigs and cutting one-off recordings of their original songs.

Meanwhile, Howie was securing odd jobs at music publishing houses and making important connections. Those connections led to some early Greenfield/Sedaka compositions being recorded by The Cookies, The Clovers and other Atlantic Records R & B artists. By 1958, the talented pair were driving into Manhattan to make the rounds of Tin Pan Alley publishers. Armed with reams of sheet music, they had their hearts set on staff writer jobs. However, the old-school song factories despised Rock ‘n’ Roll, and they felt threatened by Rock ‘n’ Roll songwriters. R & B scribe Doc Pomus advised them to try Aldon Music, a brand new publishing company located at 1650 Broadway. It was run by Al Nevins, a member of the successful ’50s Pop trio The Three Suns, along with his inexperienced but extremely savvy partner, one Don Kirshner.

Howie and Neil were not terribly impressed with the Aldon setup. “It looked like they were trying to figure out how to pay the rent,” Neil remarked years later. Nevertheless, the boys agreed to sign on if Nevins and Kirshner could place one of their songs with a major Pop recording artist. As it happened, Don Kirshner was friendly with a hot new singer named Connie Francis. He dispatched them to her home in New Jersey where they met the “Who’s Sorry Now” girl and played several numbers for her. Although Connie hit it off with Howie immediately, she didn’t initially like the songs he and Neil were pitching; she thought they were too sophisticated for teenagers. At Neil’s instigation, they all but rocked the keys off her piano playing “Stupid Cupid,” a tune they’d written with teen idol Sal Mineo in mind. She loved it, cut it in June of 1958 with Neil playing piano in the same maniacal way, and scored a national Top Ten hit. That same month, Greenfield and Sedaka became the flagship songwriting team at Aldon, a company that would evolve into Screen Gems, the music division of Columbia Pictures. By the time that happened, its catalog boasted million-sellers penned by legendary talents like Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Hank Hunter and Jack Keller.

With and without Neil, Howie went on to write a string of Top Ten hits for Connie Francis including back-to-back #1’s, “Everybody‘s Somebody‘s Fool“ and “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own.” However, he hardly had to depend on her patronage for income. He had the incomparable Sedaka singing voice to fall back on, and it wasn‘t long before Al Nevins fell in love with it. Neil was actually a much better singer than his idol Johnny Ray; he was a pure tenor who could leap into countertenor range at will, and convincingly put across anything from traditional Hebrew melodies to African-American Gospel standards. Nevins arranged for him to record for The Three Suns’ label, RCA Victor, in the fall of 1958. Neil’s very first release was “The Diary,” a song inspired by some playful repartée between Howie and Connie Francis. It became his breakthrough hit, and inaugurated a five-year string of Neil Sedaka chart records, 95% of which were co-written by Howard Greenfield.

Sedaka and Greenfield went together like latkas and applesauce. By themselves, both were great, but together! Man, oh, man, what a sensation! To be sure, they didn’t need each other’s help to write hit songs; While Neil was off on tour, Howie racked up chart records with Jack Keller, Carole King, Barry Mann and Helen Miller, among others. Later on, Neil’s work with Roger Atkins, Carole Bayer-Sager and Phil Cody pulled in some very nice royalty checks. However, they always wrote their best tunes with each other, and if Neil recorded them, nine times out of ten the records would be brilliant. Neil’s work under the production supervision of Al Nevins represents some of the greatest music making of the twentieth century.

Every Greenfield/Sedaka number Neil cut sounded like something straight out of a Broadway show: “Oh! Carol,” with its exotic rhumba rhythm; “Stairway To Heaven,” whose majestic Wall of Sound production laid a template for the kind of records Phil Spector would later make; the international smash “Calendar Girl,” which showcases Howie’s clever phrasing at its best; “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” so visual you can practically see the streamers and confetti; “Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do,” a hand-clapping, finger-snapping schoolyard anthem that would return to radio years later as a cocktail lounge ballad par excellence; and the sassy “Next Door To An Angel,” a rollicking song that fairly begs to be turned into a Busby Berkeley production number. Not to mention lesser known gems like “Let’s Go Steady Again,” “Alice In Wonderland,” the magnificent Rock ’n’ Roll pasodoble “King Of Clowns,” the drama-drenched “Without Your Love,“ excellent covers of the Connie Francis hits “Stupid Cupid” and “Fallin’,“ and “Sunny,” the best Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons single those Jersey boys never made. Later on, Howie got to do a bit of recording himself. He scored a one-off novelty hit in 1964 called “The Invasion” with former Dickie Goodman cohort Bill Buchanan.

Howie was open to collaborating with anyone when Neil wasn‘t around, even novice Aldon writers like Toni Wine and Ron Dante. “I met Howie the first week I was signed to Aldon Music,“ Dante recalls. “He was in the next room writing a song with Helen Miller. Two weeks later, that song was on the radio and a hit for The Shirelles called ‘Foolish Little Girl!‘ I had the opportunity to write with Howie while (writing and producing for) “The Archies” and (for) another TV series called ‘The Amazing Chan and The Chan Clan.’ Howie wrote exactly to the melody that I would come up with, and work for hours on just the right word or phrase.“ Dante admiringly calls him “a totally professional word man, but (he) had a great ear for melody, too. Of all the Kirshner writers, Howie was my favorite . . . he was the most fun to write with, and had the energy of a teenager during the writing sessions.“

He could be a stern taskmaster, though! In 1978, Neil Sedaka described the process of writing with Howie as they worked on material for his Elektra Records album All You Need Is The Music. “(Howie said) ’Neil, watch the vocal range! Make sure there are pauses between the musical phrases! Do the syllables match each note exactly? How is the attitude?” Nothing less than perfection would do . . . which suited Neil just fine! Howie’s fussiness didn’t bother him at all. By then, they’d been collaborating for a quarter century and knew exactly what to expect from each other. Neil always looked forward to sampling their unique creative synergy. “Howie is an inspiration to me,” he said in his album liner notes. “He is a master at his work, a craftsman.” Many other people in the music business agreed. His solid reputation as a lyricist won Howie the chance to write songs with noted composers like Lalo Shifrin, Maurice Jarre and Anthony Newley.

By the time Neil Sedaka’s contract with RCA expired and the British Invasion transformed the music industry, Howie had become a regular contributor to movie and television projects. It had started in 1960, when Connie Francis commissioned him and Neil to write the theme song for her debut film appearance in M-G-M’s Where The Boys Are. The runaway success of that immortal ballad opened the door for him to pen lyrics for a string of musical comedy and action flicks: The Victors (1963), Winter A-Go Go (1965), the Dean Martin/Ann-Margret espionage vehicle Murderer’s Row (1966), Kiss The Boys And Make Them Die (1966) and other Hollywood productions. A decade later, he was still busy at it, lending his magic touch to the soundtracks of such films as Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978) and Grease 2 (1982). The dawn of the new millenium saw Howie’s older Pop hits being recycled in big budget blockbusters like The Cable Guy (1996), The Princess Diaries (2001) and Starsky And Hutch (2004). Of all his movie songs, none is more beautiful than the sumptuous theme he and Jack Keller wrote in 1965 for Connie Francis’s fourth film, When The Boys Meet The Girls. It’s a gorgeous, totally cinematic ballad worthy of classic M-G-M musicals from the 1940s.

Screen Gems Music’s affiliation with Columbia Pictures brought Howie lucrative assignments to write theme songs for TV shows. That’s how his credits came to be attached to classic ’60s sitcoms like “Bewitched,” “Hazel,” “Gidget” (the unforgettable jazz number “Wait ’Til You See My Gidget” sung by Johnny Tillotson), “The Wackiest Ship In The Army” and “The Ugliest Girl In Town.” Television and movie soundtrack work kept him busy for more than a decade. However, he and Neil Sedaka still found time to pen best-selling Pop material. The British were treated to Tony Christie’s hit 1972 version of “Is This The Way To Amarillo.“ Back home, Captain and Tennille’s chart-topping 1975 cover of “Love Will Keep Us Together” and Wayne Newton’s successful 1976 waxing of “The Hungry Years” kept Howie’s name riding high on the charts while Neil successfully jump-started his solo career with a new writing partner. By the time Howie wrote the theme song for the short-lived Paul Schaffer/Greg Evigan musical showcase “A Year At The Top” (1978), the Pop hits had slowed to a trickle. Still, he stayed active on the commercial side of things almost to the end of his life. The last major chart record Howard Greenfield was involved in writing was Air Supply’s 1982 hit “Two Less Lonely People In The World.”

Let’s take a moment to shine a spotlight on ten of Howie’s choicest hits and rarities:

My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Jack Keller
Recorded by Connie Francis

This mariachi-flavored million-seller from 1960 is one of Howard Greenfield’s most lucrative copyrights. It happens to be Connie Francis’s all-time best-selling song in the United States. The record’s distinctive guitar and horn parts weren’t originally on the single; they were overdubbed for a second pressing at the insistence of the writers. Howie was a perfectionist long before 1978! Nearly all the Brill Building tunesmiths acquitted themselves well with Country material, but Howie seemed to have a special affinity for the Nashville sound. He wrote numerous other Country/Pop items for Connie Francis, including her last American chart entry to date, 1983‘s “There’s Still A Few Good Love Songs Left In Me.” He also penned words and music for Brenda Lee’s 1963 Top Forty platter “Your-Used-To-Be,” erroneously issued with a Jack Keller co-credit.


Rainy Day Bells

Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Neil Sedaka
Recorded by The Globetrotters

Taken from the soundtrack of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series inspired by the famous exhibition basketball team, this is one of Neil Sedaka’s all-time favorite compositions. Basically, it’s Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector’s “Chapel Of Love” updated and kissed with an irresistible tinge of melancholy. Written and demo’d a few months before the TV series hit the airwaves in September of 1970, “Rainy Day Bells” sounds like it hails from the height of the doo-wop era. It got lots of regional airplay, but The Globetrotters’ single never charted. Even so, its authentic “retro” sound made it a much-sought-after cult item among Southern “beach music” enthusiasts. It has since appeared on surf music compilations, and even rated a reissue on 45 by Collectables Records a few years back. In 1978, Connie Francis had the song translated into German and subsequently waxed it for the European market under the title “Das Regenlied.”


Fallin’
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Neil Sedaka
Recorded by Connie Francis
This is one of the rare instances when Neil Sedaka did not record the definitive version of a song he wrote with Howie. “Fallin’” is Greenwich Village coffeehouse Rock, tailor-made for the guys in black turtlenecks and the chicks in French berets; it’s steamier than a demitasse of Espresso! Naturally, the subject is falling in love, and metaphors abound: Stars descend from Heaven, mountains crumble into rockslides, rain pours down, towers tumble. La Franconero sings this number like a woman possessed. It should’ve gone Top Ten, but Connie’s fans reportedly felt it was “too sexy” a number for her. Whatever!


Wheeling, West Virginia
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Neil Sedaka
Recorded by Neil Sedaka
A breathtakingly visual story song, originally recorded by Meredith MacRae, Lori Saunders and Linda Kaye Henning, the girls from the popular ‘60s TV show “Petticoat Junction.” This Country/Pop tale of a small-town girl coping with life as an M-G-M starlet works just as well when sung by a boy, and when that boy is sterling-voiced Neil Sedaka, the version can’t help but be definitive. You can find it on Neil’s 1969 Australian album Workin’ On A Groovy Thing, alongside recordings of dazzling Greenfield/Sedaka gems like “Puppet Man” (a hit for both Tom Jones and The Fifth Dimension), “Summer Symphony” (cut by Lesley Gore for her final Mercury Records single) and the fabulous “Johnny Walker, Ol’ Grandad, Jackie Daniels And You,” of which more will be said shortly.


His Lips Get In The Way
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Helen Miller
Recorded by The Shirelles
What a joke of a song this might have been . . . all about a guy with huge liver lips that girls can’t bear to kiss . . . snicker, snicker, har-de-har-har. It’s not that kind of song at all, though. It’s a clever tune about a guy who kisses so good, his girl can’t bear to break up with him! What can I do? wails Shirelles lead singer Shirley Alston Reeves as her group mates sha-la-la their way through the chorus. What can I say?/Each time I try to say goodbye/His lips get in the way. A very catchy tango rocker this is, and a fine example of Howie’s rhythmic approach to lyric writing; every note of the verse is matched with a corresponding word or syllable.


Don’t Lead Me On!
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Neil Sedaka
Recorded by Neil Sedaka

The boys decided to write a bluesy number to showcase Neil’s Johnny Ray vocal stylings. “Don’t Lead Me On!” was the sizzling result. The cries, the sighs, the fevered emotion . . . it’s all there. Damned if it doesn’t sound like Patti LaBelle trapped inside the body of a twenty-two-year-old Sephardic Jew! When this track was issued back in the early ’60s, common wisdom held that White people couldn’t (and shouldn’t) sing as soulfully as Black people did. Those who tried were regarded as freaks and/or degenerates (as demonstrated by the indignant reaction to Elvis Presley). Given the prevailing attitude toward musical miscegenation, RCA Victor might’ve been wise to hide Neil’s fiery performance of this tune on the flipside of “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen.” In retrospect, though, it seems like one Hell of a missed opportunity! With the right promotion, “Don’t Lead Me On!” could have topped the R & B charts and broadened Neil’s fan base considerably.

Don’t Turn Around

Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Neil Sedaka
Recorded by Connie Francis

After being released from her M-G-M Records contract in 1970, Connie Francis chose to launch her short-lived stint on the Ivanhoe label with a Sedaka/Greenfield song. “Don’t Turn Around” was an excellent choice, the musical document of a woman’s struggle to leave her abusive lover. It’s definitely one of the grandest of the grand Greenfield romantic epics, underscored by a pull-out-the-stops orchestral arrangement by Charlie Calello. Sadly, few people other than her most ardent fans heard Connie’s virtuoso performance of this exquisite power ballad; Ivanhoe Records just didn’t have enough clout to give her single the kind of promotion it deserved.


Johnny Walker, Ol’ Grandad, Jackie Daniels and You
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Neil Sedaka
Recorded by Neil Sedaka
The lyrics seem to have been written for a woman to sing, but who can blame Neil Sedaka for gender-bending them? He probably couldn‘t cut them fast enough, because they’re quite simply the best honkytonk lyrics ever to come out of Howie’s pen. There are thousands of Country drinking songs, but how many of them portray brands of whiskey as respondents in a forthcoming divorce suit? While most girls have just one man, Neil sneers, You have quite a crew/Johnny Walker, Ol’ Grandad/Jackie Daniels and you. No Music Row scribe ever wrote a better line than that one! This song’s sassy attitude is timeless; it’d be perfect for Gretchen Wilson, Lee Ann Womack, The Dixie Chicks, or any of the rockin’ Country femmes currently on the Nashville scene.

It Hurts To Be In Love

Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Music by Helen Miller
Recorded by Gene Pitney

The hands-down best song Howie ever wrote with Swing Era songwriter Helen Miller, and arguably the most commercial of any song he wrote. Greenfield and Miller also arranged and produced the hit version. The title and theme neatly sum up the sentiments of every teen heartbreak ballad ever played on a jukebox. Despite the yearning background vocal contributions from Toni Wine, this isn‘t a ballad, though. The lurching Habanera Rock rhythm and stumbling drum accents signal that this track was designed for the discothèque; you can easily imagine the madly mod dancers from England's "Ready, Steady, Go!" TV series doing the Jerk to it. Neil Sedaka’s unreleased original version hews close to the foot-stomping cha-cha rhythm Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons made famous, while Gene Pitney’s single leans more toward a Tex-Mex/Country sensibility. In either interpretation, “It Hurts To Be In Love” is the quintessential East Coast Rock ’n’ Roll record.


God Bless Rock ‘n’ Roll
Music by Ron Dante
Lyrics by Howard Greenfield
Recorded by Ron Dante
A West Side Story-inspired tale of a street gangster who reforms after joining a Rock ‘n’ Roll band. Slipping on a leather jacket, torn T-shirt and mirror shades, Ron Dante leaves his Archie Andrews persona far behind on this metal-tinged track. Taken from his 1980 solo album Street Angel, “God Bless Rock ’n’ Roll” somehow got pressed on the wrong side of a single; as an A-side, it could easily have jump-started his dormant recording career. When Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1996, Ron Dante was among the star-studded crowd in attendance at the gala ceremony. “Howie was the best of the Brill Building writers,” he declares. “His lyrics to songs like ’Love Will Keep Us Together’ and all the Neil Sedaka hits will be remembered for hundreds of years. His was truly the Golden Age of songwriting, and he led the pack for sure.”

Gay historians love to unearth forgotten heroes from the past, trailblazers who can be cited as role models for homosexual youth. They still haven’t gotten around to recognizing Howard Greenfield, and it’s high time they did! True, he wasn’t the kind of personality Gay culture tends to idolize these days. Howie wasn’t a porn star, a closeted stage or screen actor, a Disco-singing drag queen, a guerilla theatre impresario or a flamboyant makeover artist; he certainly wasn’t some kind of wild-eyed Gay activist, charging down Tin Pan Alley and screaming “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it!” Oh, no. He strolled through that venerable district like the real cool cat he was, and took his place alongside Neil Sedaka, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Leiber and Stoller and other distinguished colleagues. He belonged in their company. He was an extraordinarily gifted poet and musician whose gifts helped define American popular culture for a whole generation.

Howie’s place was squarely in the mainstream of society. He didn’t shut himself away in some bohemian Gay enclave, and aren’t we lucky that he didn’t? No doubt he experienced both anti-Semitism and heterosexism during his abbreviated life, but prejudice didn’t deter him. With plenty of guts and a truckload of talent, he forged ahead in his chosen field, leaving in his wake an amazing treasury of beloved Rock ’n’ Roll standards. What would we do without wonderful compositions like “Venus In Blue Jeans,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Where The Boys Are,” “Cryin‘ In The Rain,” “Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do” and “It Hurts To Be In Love?” It doesn't bear thinking about. The music world was richer for Howard Greenfield’s presence, and without a doubt, it’s much poorer for having lost him prematurely.

Howard Greenfield was one of the dearest people I have ever known. Not only was he a wonderful lyricist, but he was a kind, gentle, loving man. Daryl (Dragon) and I treasured our friendship with Howard and his long-time partner, Tory Damon. We were devastated when we lost both of them to AIDS within weeks of each other. I wrote LOVE SURVIVES in honor of Howie's memory, because, even though he is gone, his songs will live on as long as there are singers to sing them . . . Love survives in a song and a memory/Love survives, though everything else has gone/In the darkest night, there will always be a light/Because love, love will survive.*
MISS TONI TENNILLE
*Lyric excerpts from "Love Survives" by Toni Tennille
Copyright 1995 Moonlight & Magnolias/Windswept Pacific Music (BMI)

Dedicated to Ella Greenfield and Eleanor Sedaka, without whom there would have been no music.
Special thanks to Toni Tennille, Becky Greenlaw, Rob Cotto, Laura Pinto
and Ron Dante.

HOWARD GREENFIELD
with DON KIRSHNER and NEIL SEDAKA
howie, don & neil

15 July 2006

Mad Hot Book Review #3

Tex Mex

Chili Queens, Fajita Combos and Margarita Madness!
The Tex-Mex Cookbook
by Robb Walsh
(Broadway Books, 2004)
reviewed by Donny JacobsIs there anything quite so beautiful as a Tequila sunrise? What’s more satisfying to the soul than a savory bowl of chili con carne? Could the western world survive without tostadas, enchiladas and refried beans? And what kind of place would the Pop Culture Cantina be without Laura Pinto’s delectable shrimp tacos? Believe me, you don‘t even want to know! Around here, we hold Mexican food and drink in very high regard. Nothing goes better with retro pop culture! From time to time, my staff and I toy with the idea of transforming this joint into a full-fledged Mexican bar and restaurant. If we ever do, you can be sure that most of our recipes will come from un libro bien maravilloso called The Tex-Mex Cookbook. Published two years ago by Random House’s Broadway imprint, this remarkable resource was penned by Robb Walsh, a noted connoisseur of Texas food and culture. He serves up a tantalizing menu of tried-and-true specialties and fascinating historical narrative that’s guaranteed to tempt your palate and keep you coming back for more. ¿Te encanta la comida Mexicana? Do you adore Mexican dishes like Stuffed Animal does? Then Señor Walsh is just the caballero to teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the food he identifies as “America’s oldest regional cuisine.”


To be sure, his book is more than just a collection of recipes. It contains dozens of rare photos, vintage menus, original chili powder and picante sauce ads and transcribed oral histories from famous Tex-Mex restaurateurs and their descendants. Various Mexican-American dishes are listed and described in detail, along with an array of chili peppers (Ay yi yi! Watch out for those habaneras!) and kitchen equipment needed to create Tex-Mex cuisine, such as tortilla presses and bean mashers. Walsh covers all the expected topics in his chapters: Tamales, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, Mexican desserts and chili. Naturally, the book includes numerous chili recipes, perhaps the most notable being one called “carne con chili.” This one’s a must for hombres like me who consider putting beans in chili a transgression akin to blasphemy! The venerable Mexican combination platter is honored with its own chapter, as is the ever-popular Margarita (unfortunately, my Cactus Daiquiri didn’t make the book, but it’s still a relatively new invention. . . give it time). There’s even a chapter devoted to Mexican “junk food,” which means you’ve got a handy recipe reference for suburban favorites like Tamale Pie, Frito Pie, Seven-Layer Bean Dip and Chili Mac! Be warned, though: Walsh’s recipes call for plenty of lard (which, he argues, isn’t really as bad for your health as you think).

The early history of Tex-Mex food is spun out in a series of vignettes set among old Spanish missions and cattle ranches. Researching the type of foods that were common among nineteenth century Anglo migrants to Texas, Walsh discovers a less-than-appetizing diet of “bacon, and cornbread, coffee sweetened with bee’s honey . . . butter, buttermilk and sometimes crackers.” Meanwhile, natives were chowing down on beef, venison, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk, sugar-sweetened tea and chocolate! “No wonder the Anglos became fond of Texas-Mexican food,” he wisecracks. Non-Hispanic Americans became fond of it as early as 1893, when Texas chili caused a sensation at the Chicago World’s Fair. Within a few years, tamale vendors had spread across the southern and Midwestern United States, most of them refugees from the bloody Mexican revolution of 1910-20. Right around this time, enterprising migrant women known as Chili Queens set up Mexican food stands in San Antonio’s Haymarket Plaza and began selling hot lunches to hungry cowboys. By the 1920s, the Chili Queens were doing brisk business. At one of their outdoor establishments, the uninitiated could sample the rudiments of what would become basic Mexican restaurant fare: Tacos, tamales, enchiladas, chile rellenos, frijoles, huevos rancheros (first called huevos revueltos) and, of course, chili con carne.

During the Great Depression, chili houses began to proliferate. They were literally lifesavers, providing thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans with inexpensive meals. By the late ‘30s, family-run Mexican restaurants were popping up all over the southwestern United States. Some catered to Latino migrants, but most drew a largely Anglo clientele. Robb Walsh uncovers early Mexican food menus that differ quite a bit from what you find today; alongside tacos and tamales, there frequently were North-American staples like spaghetti, scrambled eggs and bacon, and white bread! What’s more, picante sauces were toned down considerably for pepper-sensitive gringo palates. It took several more years before Mexican restaurants could fully live up to their name. That happened once the mixed plate caught on with the public. Invented by San Antonio’s Original Mexican Restaurant during the first World War, mixed plates (or combination platters) placed the emphasis squarely on indigenous foods. Dinners featuring Spanish rice, refried beans and grilled meats wrapped in fresh corn tortillas became widely popular by the 1940s. Was this food really indigenous to México, though? You certainly couldn’t buy a mixed plate in México City in 1942. Neither could you find dinners garnished with chili gravy, melted cheese and sour cream. No, this wasn’t indigenous Mexican food. It was something new, and gradually, it acquired the name “Tex-Mex.”

Mexican-American cooks created a distinctive regional cuisine which drew from traditional Mexican foods but took advantage of ingredients that were more readily available north of the border, like inexpensive cuts of beef. Unlike México’s haute cuisine which was based on continental European dishes, Tex-Mex reflected the tastes of working class Anglos and Latinos. What was called “Mexican food” in the United States ended up being far more American than Mexican in character. Food critics blasted Tex-Mex cooking as inauthentic, but most Americans couldn’t have cared less. They were too busy enjoying their burrito spreads! Robb Walsh sums up their attitude quite nicely, concluding that “authenticity is highly overrated.” Tex-Mex cuisine thrived during the '40s and ’50s, but in the 1960s, Americans of all ethnicities were seduced away from it by McDonald's and other fast food franchises. Mixed plates began falling out of favor and came perilously close to becoming chili-and-cheese-covered relics of the past. Happily, the advent of fajita combos and frozen Margaritas in the early ’70s revitalized Mexican restaurants and brought people flocking back to them. Current south-of-the-border crazes like fish tacos, Mexican pizza, meat nachos and monster burritos are a sure sign that America’s Tex-Mex tradition is still going strong. The Tex-Mex Cookbook documents its century-spanning journey from border town greasy spoons to chic European bistros. Along the way, it commemorates such legendary Mexican eateries as the original Casa Río Restaurant, the Old Borunda Café, El Matamoros, Molina’s Restaurant, the Texas Grill, Henry’s Puffy Tacos, the Chuy’s franchise, the Loma Linda, El Fenix and El Chico chains, and the original Cadillac Bar.

Learn how to make delectable Mexican dishes like Ox Eyes (eggs fried in oil), Barbacoa (cow’s head), Lengua (beef tongue), Fried Oyster Nachos and Café de Olla (coffee with unfiltered grounds)! Learn why Velveeta and Rotel are not necessarily bad words. Discover the real difference between “authentic” Mexican food and Tex-Mex (and why your authentic Mexican menu had better have chips and salsa on it if you want to stay in business)! Read about Carolina Borunda, the Depression-era restaurant owner who beat rowdy patrons over their heads with her bean masher; Big Rikki, the Guacamole Queen of Austin, Texas, who catered to a rock star clientele; Houston’s beloved Mama Ninfa, who popularized the fajita combo platter; Nacho Anaya, inventor of everyone’s favorite football game snack, the nacho; baseball game mascot Wes Ratliff, who regularly risks life and limb by appearing in public dressed as a Puffy Taco; Mariano Martinez, the hombre who’s most to blame for Margarita madness; and Mexican-American restaurant king Felix Tijerina, the very embodiment of Chicano pride and upward mobility. Have a seat at the outdoor dinner table of a turn-of-the-century Chili Queen, sample Mexican dishes the way they’re prepared in Paris, France, and learn the truth behind the rise and fall of the Frito Bandito. You can find it all inside this invaluable reference book.