Tag Archives: Dennis Hopper

Bad Things In Threes, Again

Certainly not comparing it to earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdownbut yeah, famous deaths have a tendency to triangulate. and with Elizabeth Taylor passing today, that’s three in four days, albeit three who outlived their atomic half-life and made tremendous contributions to their art.

Ralph Mooney left us on March 20th. A celebrated musician’s musician, he basically pioneered the steel guitar sound in popular country music and worked with a Who’s Who of famous names. A critical element of the Bakersfield Sound, you can hear that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard influence across the board in Americana and country-rock music. And you rockers, check those Burrito Brothers and Neil Young albums where his sound appears even when his name doesn’t.

Pinetop Perkins walked offstage on Monday the 21st at ninety-seven (!) years old. Last month, he won a Grammy for Joined at the Hip (with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) so he wasn’t exactly slouching. A bluesman from Mississippi like Muddy Waters, he played in the latter’s band for years and was most famous as a sideman…until he was in his eighties. He won a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and was featured in the Martin Scorsese / Clint Eastwood film Piano Blues. Check his website for much more information on the American treasure.

And Elizabeth Taylor shipped off today, March 23rd

I prefer to remember the younger vibrant actress rather than the perfume-pimping Jacko compadre of later years, although during that period she did yeoman’s work on behalf of AIDS. I’ll forever remember her in Giant with James Dean and Rock Hudson, although she interacted with a tremendous cast including Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper, Earl Holliman and Rod Taylor. It was near the beginning of a great run of movies flanked on both sides by forgettable flicks.

I’ll remember the debacle about Cleopatra and the odd relationship she had with Richard Burton and how my Mom was a dead ringer for her when she was young. I’ll try to forget that she was better known for tabloid fodder than natural talent, but I’ll never forget those violet eyes.

They don’t make movie stars like that anymore.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

When I was growing up in New York City, the local stations made a big deal about their weekly countdowns, and every week music fanatics (like me) were glued to the radio, ready to jot them down as they were played and guess which songs finished where. Forget Dick Clark and Casey Kasem, in NYC it was all about WABC and WMCA. At the end of the year they’d do their annual countdown and even mail you the final list if you sent in an envelope. Somewhere in a dusty attic box, I still have a few that I treasured as a kid.

I guarantee that when pop culture historians look at the tail end of the 1960s, they will rate that period as important to music history as the Industrial Revolution was to Western Civilization. Living through it was amazing. But even looking back on how the charts morphed over a decade, it’s obvious that a seismic shift had occurred.

So this week I give you Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the first week of October. It’s only going to get stranger each Friday.

1963) Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton) – The early 60s was crooner heaven, as well as a haven for single-named teen idols. Four lads from Liverpool changed all that the year prior, but you don’t build Rome in a day. I can’t listen to this song anymore without picturing Dennis Hopper.

1964) Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) – I still can’t believe that voice came out of that head. Orbison’s growl on the bridge just made a cool song even cooler – even Van Halen couldn’t ruin this gem.

1965) Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys) – The Ohio State National Anthem, this garage rock chestnut featured a teenage Rick Derringer and still sounds great. A very underappreciated band who cut some great pop sides and then morphed into Johnny Winter’s best band. (This rare version has the extra verse)

1966) Cherish (The Association) – Not quite rock, I know, but you must have that slow grind song for the prom, and this was it – plus it covered the pain of unrequited love! And if you want to punish this great vocal group for being wimpy, you have to give them props for “Along Came Mary”.

1967) The Letter (The Box Tops) – Teenage Alex Chilton hooked up with Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut one of the gruffest, blusiest vocals ever recorded. Absolute killer stuff, in and out in under two minutes and always sounds fresh when you hear it.

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Beginning its nine week run atop the charts, an instant sing-along classic and one of the longest tracks in chart history. Whatever happened to those guys?

1969) Sugar Sugar (The Archies) – If he could make a gazillion dollars with four actors, how much could Don Kirschner make from four cartoon characters who wouldn’t insist on playing their own instruments? This was the song that dethroned “Honky Tonk Women”…I am not making that up.

1970) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross) – Motown ruled the charts in the 60s but this version pales in comparison to the 1967 version by the great Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – a hit three years earlier.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Single and album simultaneously blew up and made rooster head a star. For a couple of years he and The Faces made the best music on Earth and then Rod followed the money, which he is still doing forty years later.

1972) Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me (Mac Davis) – And you wonder why people said “rock is dead”? Other 1972 chart toppers included “Candy Man” from Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson’s turgid “Ben” and Melanie’s screeching “Brand New Key”. The year was so lame that Gilbert O’Sullivan’s nasal “Alone Again Naturally” spent four weeks at the top, lost its place and then floated up again like a dead fish for two more.

Thankfully, album rock was there to save the day.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Dennis Hopper

This pretty much sums it up.

Actor, painter, director, producer, humanitarian, counterculture icon, thorn in the side of the predictable…we lost a great one this week when cancer claimed the life of Dennis Hopper. Like Keith Richards, most felt he wouldn’t make it out of the 60s alive, let alone the 70s, but both proved resourceful and resilient and capable of creating great work… albeit not quite as frequently. We were blessed to share this mortal coil with him for so long. 

Still, Hopper had a long and varied career in television and films, and a definitive best-of is impossibly subjective. But since he was such a character in real life, here are ten Dennis Hopper characters I will always remember: 


01) Billy in Easy Rider. The movie that started it all, or at least launched Hopper and Peter Fonda into the heart of the counterculture film movement that would change the face of Hollywood. “What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about!” 

02) Lyle From Dallas in Red Rock West. It’s really Nicolas Cage’s picture, and one could argue that J.T. Walsh stole the picture (as he often did as  one of the best character actors of all time) in the role Hopper was initially cast in. But Hopper lights up the second half and raises the ante in this great John Dahl film. 

03) The Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. In a world of madness, both real and scripted, Hopper’s acid casualty character might have been as insane as anyone else…or perhaps totally lucid but incapable of expressing himself. 


04) Clifford Worley in True Romance. A highly enjoyable Quentin Tarantino scripted movie that already spiked the oddball meter by casting Gary Oldman and Val Kilmer, among others. But the scene between Christopher Walken and Hopper is worth the price of admission. 

05) Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. An over-the-top performance that would normally have been too scenery-chewing, but how can you be over the top in a David Lynch film? Oh, a few f-bombs, as well. 

06) Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Sharing the screen with heavyweights Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in John Sturges‘ classic western. A small role, but Hopper shone as the kid gunfighter way out of his league. 

07) Jordan Benedict III in Giant. One of two pictures he made with James Dean; Giant had him playing against type as the mild-mannered son of macho Rock Hudson (who knew?) alongside Dean and Sal Mineo. An underrated soapy western from George Stevens featuring a tremendous cast. 

08) Victor Drazen on 24. Sure, it was a bit of a hammy accent, but how cool was it to have Hopper show up as the criminal mastermind to close out the first season? 

09) Shooter in Hoosiers. Yes, it was a part written to tug the heartstrings, and many actors would have cheesed it up beyond belief. But maybe seeing a man who had battled so many personal demons in real life made it more powerful. “Now boys…don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry!” 

10) Feck in The River’s Edge. Things don’t get much stranger than when Crispin Glover is onscreen, but add Dennis Hopper and  an inflatable girlfriend, and there you are. (“Look, I’m not psycho. I know she’s a doll. Right, Elly?”) The movie that might have ruined Keanu Reeves forever

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Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!

Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!

One of my favorite rock’n’roll characters of all time, Ron Wood has enjoyed a solid solo career as well as being a fixture in two of the best bands of all time, The Faces and The Rolling Stones. In the mid-60s he was the guitarist and principal songwriter for The Birds (not to be confused with these guys) and briefly joined The Creation in their waning days before joining The Jeff Beck Group as bassist. While with Beck (along with Rod Stewart and drummer Micky Waller) they recorded two classic albums, Truth and Beck-Ola, before he and Stewart joined the remaining members of The Small Faces after Steve Marriott’s departure.

With Stewart, he rejuvenated the band in a more arena rock direction, and their four studio albums released in the early 70s remain stone cold classics. Although they only had one hit in the United States (“Stay With Me”), their shows were booze-drenched wonders, sloppy yet inspired, brilliant yet imperfect. In other words, everything a great rock band should be. Too many great songs to pick favorites, but with four strong and prolific songwriters in the band, it looked like they would be around forever.

The Faces also acted as Rod’s supporting musicians for the albums he released as a solo act during the same time. When Stewart started hoarding much of his material for himself and his solo success eclipsed the band’s, Ronnie Lane left and one album later it was over…and there was Woody standing at the altar.

Then he had his own album to do.

Perhaps (along with Ian McLagan’s album Bump In The Night) the best Faces album never made, Wood’s solo debut is as fresh and vital today as it was upon first release. Featuring mates from both the Stones and Faces helping out and a first-rate rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark, I Have My Own Album To Do is easily as good or better than anything the Stones or Rod Stewart has put out since.

Live Video: I Can Feel The Fire

His follow-up album Now Look was more r&b oriented thanks to a collaboration with Bobby Womack, one of Woody’s favorite artists. The pace slowed after that, but Wood has released six studio albums (plus Mahoney’s Last Stand recorded with Ronnie Lane); there are also several live and compilation albums available.

It’s odd to think that Wood has been a Rolling Stone for thirty-five years; a tenure as lead guitarist that dwarfs the combined span of Brian Jones (1962-69) and Mick Taylor (1969-1974). In Wood, Keith Richards finally found the perfect mate for his preferred style of guitar weaving; onstage they play like a two-headed, four-armed man. He also found a drinking and carousing buddy, and Wood moved right from the Faces’ pub lifestyle to a new global level of decadence. Despite their years of friendship and Wood’s proven status, he remained a salaried employee for over twenty years before finally becoming an official partner in financial affairs.

For those who loved Wood’s tone and solos with The Faces, however, the Stones years have been a disappointing experience where his songwriting is not welcomed by Mick and all musical direction comes from Keith. Why buy a hot sports car and leave it up on blocks in your garage? Likewise, despite his financial and popular success,  Rod Stewart never again hit the creative heights he did when Wood was his writing partner.

Imagine if the material from Stewart’s solo career from 1971-1974 had been combined with the work The Faces produced – how huge they could have been! But rather than household names and multi-millionaires, their legacy lives on through the hundreds of bands that used them as a step-stool and a model. It is one of the biggest injustices in rock history.

Personally, I look back upon the Stewart-Wood years as pure bliss. Like Jagger-Richard, it’s a partnership that draws the best out of the two halves and a system of checks and balances that helps push the creative work to its peak. I can’t imagine Wood signing off on any of the schlock Stewart released during his latter career, and Stewart’s commercial sense probably would have sharpened Wood’s songwriting.

Watching them reunite for Stewart’s Unplugged special in 1993 briefly recaptured the magic, but in recent years not even their personal bond can overcome the demands that Rod (or his management) continue to throw up as roadblocks to a Faces reunion and tour (a tactic the band may finally have tired of).

I’m not certain what the man himself thinks of the past three decades, but I can assure you that if you want to hear Woody having fun, listen to the New Barbarians albums, where he and Keef are free of Rod and Mick.

Years of booze and smoke wore down a voice that was always rough and ragged to begin with. Perhaps this was never more clear than when Wood covered Bob Dylan’s “Seven Days” and the realization set in that Dylan sounded almost sweet by comparison. But like Dylan, you could look past the imperfection of the technique to reap the emotion and the soul of the performance. Woody always had heart and soul.

Wood is also an accomplished artist and painter whose portraits and sketches are collector’s items; many of his albums include samples of his work.

Sadly, in recent years Wood has been in and out of rehab and has suffered through some serious some family issues as a result. Here’s hoping that body and mind recover fully and we have many, many more songs and paintings and quips from one of the last true rock stars of his generation.

New to Woody? The Essential Crossexxion isn’t a bad place to start.

Ron Wood website – art and music!

Ron Wood discography and wiki page

***

June 1st also marks the 30th anniversary of CNN’s first broadcast as well as the birthday of Pat Boone, Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Jonathan Pryce, Brian Cox and Cleavon Little; it’s also the anniversary of the deaths of David Ruffin and Sonny Boy Williamson.

And a belated R.I.P. to counterculture icon Dennis Hopper. I was traveling when I heard the news of his death (and the completion of the trifecta of Gary Coleman and Art Linkletter). I’ll pay tribute by spotlighting ten classic Hopper performances in this Friday’s TGIF.

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