Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Addicted To The Needle - The Podcast Where A Vinyl Addict Meets His Dealer

Are you addicted to collecting records? Do you have black wax coursing through your veins? Has your vinyl dependance gotten out of control? Amassing 45s has become an obsession? A brand new podcast will help you get you through until your next fix. Do our hosts Ben Shulman and Patrick Foisy offer a cure? No they don't. In fact, they are afflicted by the same sweet disease. Get ready for a fresh new podcast to hit your data stream. When analog clashes into the digital world, you get... Addicted To The Needle - A Vinyl Addict Meets His Dealer.

I met my good friend Ben on a cold January morning, seven years ago. He's responsible for getting me hooked on collecting records again. I blame him for being the addict that I am. I met him on the second floor of a dingy Montreal flea market. He was tucked away in a secluded corner surrounded by bargain records. He was selling the overflow of a well known local record shop.

Dressed as a Mod would in the Great White North on a glacial Sunday morning, I had my winter parka on with a couple of pins on the collar. I told him that I wanted to get back into collecting. Noticing my pins, he replied: "I think I have an idea of what you would like." He then reached in a box of 45s that was set under a table. I can't recall if I bought more then one 45 that day but one record still stands out to this day. I left with Wilmer and the Dukes - Give Me One More Chance and a dollar poorer.

THE record that started it all.
When I got home and put it on the turntable, I was hooked. I went back to the stall a few weeks later and Ben remembered me. I would later learn how phenomenal his memory is. I said that I wanted him, from now on, to find me gems like that Wilmer track every chance he got. What started has a business relationship transformed into a deep, meaningful and solid friendship.

Barely legal Ben and myself DJing at the Mod Club.

Ben has been an independant contractor for almost as long as we have known each other. In other words, he's a skilled vinyl picker. I affectionnately call him my record pimp. He'll jump into his white beat up Hyundai and drive from Montreal to Chicago or from New York to New Orelans just to scour a musky basements in search of that elusive Soul gem. Luckily, I'm his number one customer. Everything he doesn't keep to feed his own insatiable habit, I get to have first dibs on.

Set aside many exciting road trips, some successful nights DJing side by side, even having Ben perform a song at my wedding, the most memorable times were spent together down in my basement, listening to records and having long talks about changing the world.

Who would have thought that a young jewish kid from the suburbs of Montreal would become close friends with a French speaking Mod elementary school teacher in his mid-forties? Not me. For a long time, I tried to convince Ben to start his own podcast about Soul music. I'm constantly reminded of the depth of his knowledge about 60s music. I swear, he's a Soul savant! In this situation, I'm not the teacher, I'm the student. He knows every little detail about the labels, the producers, the back-up band, the kind of soda the sound engineer likes to drink when he mixes the final track. Everything! Plus, unlike me, he remembers it all.

So the last time he came over to sell me records, I had a flash. "Ben, you know how I'm always coxing you in starting a podcast? Here's the deal. Why not just record our listening sessions? A raw, unedidted version of what we have been doing every other week for the past seven years."

"I think you might have something here..." So I'm proud to official welcome you to the new kid on the block: Addicted To The Needle. You can listen to Episode 1 on Mixcloud, Soundcloud and PodOmatic. A few more providers will be added soon.

For all the latest updates, join us on the Addicted To The Needle Facebook page here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Top 10 Northern Soul and Garage Tracks from the 60s about Batman

As Adam West and Burt Ward hit the small screen in January 1966 in the widely popular The Batman TV series and amidst America's dance craze, a slew of Soul and Garage acts recorded singles praising the exlpoits of the Caped Crusader. More than any other superhero, the Dark Knight was by far the one that incited the most people to hit the dance floor. In one of the episodes of the series, they even came up with a dance called the Batusi!

Batman's popularity inspired many bands to ride the Batmobile straight to the recording studio. The show's  theme song, penned and arranged by jazz composer Neal Hefti, started it all. Seamingly simple, it's surf like guitar riffs, swinging horns and Mod Jazz organ won Hefti a Best Instrumental Theme Grammy in 1966. Covers of the theme song invaded the airways like an army of thugs descending on Gotham. Mod favorites like The Who, The Kinks and The Jam all took a stab at it.

I could write a whole blog post exclusively about covers of the original theme song but instead I'll try to introduce you to the rare, different and unsual tracks that are sure to please the Mod ear. These are the deep cuts that I managed to find on 45. The criteria are the same as for all the other "suites" that I published on this blog. If I don't own it, it can't make the list. You can listen to all the tracks, in order, on the Parka Avenue Podcast here.

1) Batman - Les Hou-Lops - Apex

I certainly couldn't do a Top 10 without including a local band from my own province of Quebec. Les Hou-Lops were a Garage band with a strong RnB influence. In 1966, the same year this single came out, they opened for The Rolling Stones at the Olympia in Paris.

They recorded a cover of the theme song and simply added some lyrics that are worth paying attention to. Being from Montreal, I have the added bonus of understanding the lyrics. The weird lyrics are, for me, what makes it memorable. At one point he sings: "Batman and Superman, beat up all the bad guys. Batman and Superman, you too will be grown-ups. If you love somebody... and if somebody loves you. Batman." If you think that something has been lost in translation, don't worry, nothing has. Trust me, it doesn't make any more sense in French.

This video of them performing on a local TV show is just a treasure throve of weirdness. Notice the singer Gilles Rousseau push away his guitarist on two accasions so he would have the spolight and show off his ackward dance moves.

2) Butch Baker - Batman at the Go Go - St. Lawrence

What's interesting about this single is that it originaly came out as Batman at the Go Go, with Robin at the Go Go as the b-side, but was quickly withdrawn after a "cease and desist" demand from DC Comics. Existing promo copies were ordered to be destroyed but a few survived. Some stock copies resurfaced years after its initial release. The label reissued it under Fatman at the Go Go / Working at the Go Go.

It is said that Butch Baker was a pseudonym for Jerome Rogers. Apprently, he was renamed by the record label for two main reasons. His grandfather was a minister and he didn't want him to be associated with secular music and his nickname was Butch.

3) Combo Kings - Batman A Go Go - Jamie

Look at that! Batman must have been popular at the Go Go because here he is again. The Combo Kings laid a solid party starter with this one. Far from being based on the Batman theme, with some infectuous horns, this is a true original. Do The Fizz on the b-side makes it a genuine double-sider.
The Combo Kings were a Philly suburbs group that formed in 1959. They were the back-up band that you turned to when you came to Philadelphia to appear on the American Bandstand Show. They performed alongside Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, Dee Dee Sharp and Frankie Beverly.

4) Lavern Baker - Batman to the Rescue - Brunswick

Holy seven inch Batman! This uptempo dancer will have you swing off your Bat-Grapple straight onto dance floor. RnB and early Rock & Roll diva Lavern Baker recorded this track in 1966 in the Brunswick studios. Batman to the Rescue was basically a sped up remake of her early 1956 hit Jim Dandy released during her prolofic time at Atlantic. The Brunswick management simply wanted to capitalize on the Batman craze of the moment and her early success at Atlantic. My copy might be a bit rough but a Canadian pressing does not come up often.

5) The Camps - Batmobile - Parkway

This Garage / Surf hybride came out in 1967 and was penned and arranged by Sunny Curtis, best known for the hit I Fought The Law. The promo copy strangely credits The Campers and even has a typo in the A-side title, The Ballard of Batman.

6) The Invisible Burgundy Bullfrog - Batman Rides Again - Panther

The Invisible Burgundy Bullfrog... What a great name for a Garage band! Hell, it could make for a perfect super vilain! I can picture a "Pow!" and a "Zoink!" suddenly appearing on the TV screen while Batman gives that nasty Bullfrog a lesson. Quick question. How do you know if a bullfrog is burgundy if it's invisible?

Not much is known about the band except that they hailed from Geensboro, North Carolina. Batman Rides Again was the b-side to their only single, a cover of Cry Me a River.

7) The Sensational Guitars Of Dan & Dale - Robin's Theme - Tifton

It's about time we give a little recognition to the Boy Wonder. Always the b-side, poor Robin doesn't get the attention he deserves. On this record, the Batman Theme gets it's ass kicked by the much stronger Robin's Theme on the flip. The crazy guitar solo is worth the price of admission by itself. It can put any cheesy 80s Heavy Metal guitarist to shame. I must admit, I really like this one.

Who are these mysterious Dan & Dale? Members of Sun Ra's Arkestra and the Blues Project making sure they wouldn't be caught making a novelty record.

8) Gate Wesley & Band - (Zap! Pow!) Do The Batman - Atlantic

Gate Wesley really hit a double whammy with this funk number, attacking on two fronts. He juiced both the Batmania sweeping the nation and the danze crazes that were popular in the 60s. Speaking of juice, you continuously hear the singer ask for some O.J. Why? Probably because Batman needs his vitamin C to catch all the meanies roaming the streets of Gotham.

9) The Spotlights - Batman and Robin - Smash

The Spolights who later became The Allman Joys recorded Batman and Robin for the Smash record label in 1966. Lou Courtney, one of my favorite Soul singers, is credited as being one of the producers. 4000 promo copies were sent to radio stations accross the land before its release. The track is a fine example of solid Garage. The lyrics recount the tales of Batman and his sidekick laying a trap to catch some criminals. Crime doesn't pay but a good song will.

10) Scotty McKay & His Orchestra - Here Comes Batman - Claridge

Watch out! Here comes Batman... at the same time every other Batman record made its way to the record shop in 1966. Released on the New York label Claridge, I own the rarely seen Canadian pressing that came out on Barry.

The song was performed by Texas native Scotty McKay aka Max Lipscomb in the 1967 made-for-television b-movie, Creatures of Destruction. Here's some footage of his band performing both the solid  b-side, All Around The World and Here Comes Batman.

Another Shag masterpiece called Batman Battle Royale
To hear all the tracks, make sure to leap over to the Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud right here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Expo 67 - A Mod Utopia

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal, Canada, better known as Expo 67. As a Montreal native that was born just a few years after 1967, I'm acutely aware of the impact Expo 67 had on my city.

But the reaches of this International Exposition goes far beyond the borders of my city or my country for that matter. Expo 67 was the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century. It was the single most important event, with the 1976 Olympics, that catapulted Montreal on the world stage.

You might wonder why this subject would be brought up on a blog about Mod culture. This is the reason why. Expo 67 has opened the door to the "modern era". Design, fashion, music, art, culture and architecture was on the cutting edge. In other words, it was a Mod utopia.

To give you a brief idea, check out this video from the National Film Board of Canada. I not only recommend it for the images but for the soundtrack as well. At the 2 minute mark you'll hear a perfect slice of Mod Jazz that is very similar to Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. My favorite track starts at 4:40. It's a very obscure, out of this world instrumental by local band Les Pharaons called La Marche des Martiens (March of the Martians). The 45 is rather rare and has been on my wish list for quite a while.

Many seminal musical acts converged on the city during Expo 67. Take this 1967 Soul classic by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye for instance. This footage of Ain't No Mountain High Enough was shot on the Expo site. The single was released on April 20th, just a week before the world exhibit opened its doors.

Another track that might be of interest to all you Mods out there is this rocksteady groover by The Melodians. Last Train To Expo 67 has all the makings of a classic 60s Jamaican track we are used to sway to.

I'm sure I will write other posts about the Expo in the upcoming months but for this one, I wanted to narrow our focus on the fashion surrounding the event. The world was right in the middle of the miniskirt craze and go-go boots.

Venezuela pavilion - Photo by Helmut Newton 

Here's a video of a Canadian Fashion Industry showcase that was held near the Canadian pavilion. Like any fashion show, some choices are questionable while others are reminders of what came out of Carnaby Street.

Always  the perfect example of poise, grace and style, Jackie Kennedy visited the sites.

[Photographer unknown]
Last weekend I had the chance to visit the Fashioning Expo 67 exhibit at the McCord Museum. You had prime examples of many pavilion hostess uniforms. No less then 62 nations were represented at the World Fair. That makes for some interesting and avant-garde styles. Unfortunately, men's fashion was practically non-existant. A sign of the times, I guess.

Uniforms from the Italian and UK pavilions.

My favorite had to be the USA uniform. The Mod appeal is undeniable. It might be a bit too bold to be worn today but I admire women that have the confidence to wear something audacious.

"The hostess in blue was an Expo icon, providing information and assistance everywhere on the site. To convey a professional image, a conservative knee-skimmimg skirt, common to many other Expo uniforms, was favoured over the more fashionable mini lenght." Designed by Michel Robichaud.

Some of the Canadian provinces had their own pavilion and the uniforms that came with it. Here's the Quebec one.

The Western Canada Pavilion dressed 16 of its hostesses in this vibrant dress and matching coat designed by the John Crowley Company.

Even the Canadian Pulp and Paper pavilion had their own uniforms. 

Many sketches look like they came straight from Mary Quant's draft book.

Uniform from the Canadian Railway Pavilion

This was the entry submitted by Rita Simard for the Master Furriers Association of Quebec design competition.
Some of the outfits seen at the exhibit were not necessarily worm by employees but instead by the public. Here are fine examples.

Label: Pauli
Designer: Helen Harper

Of course, if you're going to visit such an exhibit, you have to dress the part. Daniel and Charlie look like they could have walked out of any of the Expo pavilions. Notice the authentic Expo hostess broach on Charlie's dress.

I might be a tad prejudiced but I'm convinced that my lovely wife would have made a great hostess.

The exhibit will run until October 1st 2017 at the McCord Museum . If you're in the Montreal area, don't miss it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lambretta Jet 200 Time Capsule

Some Mods are part of the Vespa camp while others are die-hard Lambretta devotees. I appreciate and own both. I did tempt contreversy and declare one of the two brands as the ultimate Mod scooter. You can find out what model made the cut here.

The last scooter to be added to the Parka Avenue staple is a 1975 Lambretta Jet 200. When I came accross it at my local scooter shop Scootart, I knew in an instant I had to have it. 

The fact that it had a little less then 500 original miles on the odometer had a lot to do with it. It was pristine. A true barn find and the closest thing to a time capsule you'll ever come across.

If you want to get technical, I'm officially the third owner, if you count the scooter shop, but I'm only the second one to ever ride it. Jean-François, the owner of Scootart recalls how he found it.

"I received a call at Scootart from a man who had just inherited, from his recently deceased estranged father, a house in a small residential neighborhood of Bossard, on the South shore of Montreal. He had a scooter on hand and the only way he could describe it was as an "old scooter". He told us that if we were interested, we had to pick it up by the end of business hours because the house was scheduled to be demolished the following day.

The son of the deceased man hadn't seen his father in 15 years. He had left the family home when he was just 16 because his mother had passed away and his father and him were constantly at each other's throats. His father ended up in an institution for 10 years, suffering from Alzheimer's. Much to his surprise, he inherited the house and found it in disrepair and unlivable. The city ordered it torn down.

So the son complied with the city's orders and hired a demolition crew to have the house demolished and sold the lot. The bulldozer was scheduled to show up the next day.

I called my friend Chris, the guy I always turn to in these types of cases, to land a hand. Once there, we head for the basement where I had to move some dilapidated furniture to get to the scooter. Chris pulled on a sheet to have the dust covered scooter finally revealed. I settled on a price and we pulled it from a ton of debris and shit. We should have worn masks. There was a real danger of getting sick.
The Jet 200 seing daylight for the first time in décades.

Arrived back at the shop, I gave it a quick hose down and that's when we realized that it had less then 500 miles on the odometer. The son had no idea that his father had ever even owned a scooter in his lifetime.

When we discovered the scooter, keys were nowhere to be found. So here's another story how, thanks to our friend Christian D'Amour, it was possible to find an original set of keys without having to change the locks.

A few years ago, Chris went to get a bunch of spare scooter parts that were left abandoned in a garage. The seller also offered him a box that contained more then 200 Lambretta keys. It seems that this person was a Lambretta dealer back in the 70s, also selling Servetas in the 80s. It seems that he had the unusual habit of keeping the doubles when he would sell a new scooter. That way, if an owner lost its key, he would sell the person their own double.That might be a dubious way to do business but we must admit that 40 years later, in the lot of more then 200 keys, there was a winning combination for this Lambretta. It ended up being a blessing for a lot of vintage scooter collectors too!"

The Jet 200 was manufactured by Serveta, under licence in Spain. It's basically the Spanish version of the Italian SX 200 with a few differences. Cosmetically almost identical expect that it had the typical Li front mudguard and horn casting. The first examples of the series III 200cc scooters, also known as the slimstyle, came into production in 1966. The early models had the signature disc brake but it was eventually phased out and the reason is not clear. If you find a Jet200 with a disk brake, you're in luck because they are rare, even in Spain!

In the 70s, the Li style clip-on panels replaced the popular SX flashes, floor runners gave way to floor mats and the air box moved inside the glove box instead of under the seat.

I can't tell you if moving the air box has made a significant improvement on the overall performance of the scooter but one thing is certain, I can hardly fit a pint of 2-stroke oil in that glove box. That's certainly not a concern when I drive my 1965 TV175.

With safety regulations being more of a priroty in the 70s, you saw turn signals appearing at the bottom of the horncast and on stalks on each side of the liscence plate. A rather unatractive switch box was added to the handlebar to opperate them. Now don't tell anyone but I had mine removed. Stylish they are not. I kept them in case I eventually want to put it back to its original state.

The only other modification I had made to the scooter was to replace the battery with an electronic ignition. Everyone will tell you that it's the easiest way to improve relialibility. It wasn't a hard choice to make. How does it feel to drive a Lambretta like it had just came out of the factory? Simply amazing. I'm still breaking in the engine! How surreal is that? I did own a brand new SIL GP200 back in the late 90s. The feeling was pretty similar.

Like any Lambretta, issues did arize in the 200 or so miles I have driven it since I own it. From time to time, the spark plug cap keeps popping off and the back brake seems to have lost it's efficiency prematurely. Something I need to attend to.

I did make a promise to Jean-François before he sold me the scooter. This one wasn't going to be "modded up". No modifications, no drill holes anywhere, no unecessary accesories. This perfect exemple of 70s scooter history had to be kept bone stock. I kept my word and I don't intend to break it.