“Batmobile”: Ohio Surf

Once upon a time, American automobile designs were the envy of the world.  Today’s piece is a tribute to the creative genius who not only designed Batman and Robin’s iconic mode of transport but also the Munster Koach, and the unbelievably spectacular Voxmobile that guitarist extraordinaire, Jimmy Bryant, once befriended.  As Barris’s son, Brett, sadly informed the world this week, “Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king, George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky.”

Apparently, I wasn’t the only Ohioan who was smitten in the 1960s with Barris’s radical design for the Batmobile.  Youngstown’s The Squires would bequeath to future generations their musical interpretation of Barris’s most famous creation in pop’s peak year, 1967:

“Batmobile”     The Squires     1967

Guitar:   Phil Keaggy
Guitar:   Al Frano
Drums:  Jim Love
Bass:    Bob Flamisch

Wow, I just discovered that the lead guitar work on “Batmobile” is from that Phil Keaggy – here’s a link to the bio on his website.

As it turns, landlocked musical combos can create credible surf sounds – not just West Coast bands.  Cincinnati’s King Records, you might recall, even delved into the “surf rock” genre via The Impacs, whom Zero to 180 profiled just over a year ago.

Squires 45

Alvino Rey: Steel Guitarist Bandleader

Thanks to Andy Volk of the Steel Guitar Forum for pointing me to Anne Miller’s fascinating profile of steel guitarist bandleader Alvino Rey for the Smithsonian in which we learn Rey, as a consultant for Gibson in the 1930s, helped develop the prototype for the ES-150 (made famous by Charlie Christian), the first modern electric guitar.  Alvino Rey, therefore, is an un(der)-acknowledged “father of the electric guitar.”

Alvino Rey:  musical bat advocate

Alvino Rey - bat fanCan you name any other pop bandleaders who played the steel guitar besides Alvino Rey? I didn’t think so.

In this TV clip, Lawrence Welk informs his audience that Alvino Rey is(was) a Capitol recording artist whose latest album is Ping Pong — and then insists that Rey play a song not even on the album!   Rey’s musicianship in this performance is masterful:

“Hindustan”     Alvino Rey on The Lawrence Welk Show     1959?

The Smithsonian article also pointed out the reason for the facial resemblance between Alvino Rey and Win (& Will) Butler of Arcade Fire:  it’s genetic.  Rey is the Butler brothers’ grandfather – a fact that becomes quite clear when you look at the photo that accompanies this tribute page from the Gibson Guitars website:

“Built by Alvino Rey and John Kutilek as a test bed for their new pickup, the instrument pictured here (below) comprises a simple frame to which a vestigial ‘body’, fingerboard and headstock – all of which are fabricated from sheet brass – are attached.  Hardware includes a brass nut and bridge, inexpensive tuners and a basic trapeze tailpiece.  The pickup itself consists of two magnets with the strings running between the top magnet and a coil of wire.  The pickup was hardwired with no jack socket or controls.”

Alvino Rey with gibson es-150 prototype in 1997     (gibson guitars website)

Alvino Rey with ES-150 Prototype

Alvino Rey:  A Futuristic Musical Coda

Alvino Rey would pass in 2004, and the following year, Arcade Fire would release a split single, with a 1940 radio broadcast of the Alvino Rey Orchestra used for the flip side.  This performance of the song, “My Buddy,” would also feature Win & Will Butler’s grandmother, Luise King Rey (of The King Sisters) on the Sono-Vox, a 1930s electronic precursor to the “talk box” that Rey himself pioneered and was “rediscovered” in the 1960s & 70s by the two Petes:  Drake & Frampton.

“My Buddy” (live)     Alvino Rey Orchestra     1940

Lucille Ball would use a Sono-Vox to emulate the sound of a freight train whistle in this fascinating Pathe newsreel snippet.

1960 Capitol LP

Alvino Rey LP

“Winged Mammal Theme”: Batty B-Side

Michael Stipe and his REM bandmates, it would appear, are bat fans, as evidenced by their non-LP B-side, “Winged Mammal Theme.”   This abstract (near) instrumental take on “The Batman Theme” – flip side to their 1992 hit, “Drive” – would be rejected, interestingly enough, for the soundtrack to Batman Returns. Thankfully, this song, as Tom Hawker observes, would prove useful as tinkly background music for The Weather Channel:

“Winged Mammal Theme”     REM     1992

Before we completely leave behind the topic of bats (as I’m running out of material), it is amusing to note that – as mentioned in this previous Zero to 180 piece about Mayf Nutter – Frank Zappa once wrote (and arranged & conducted) “Boy Wonder I Love You,” a 45 by Burt Ward, who played Robin on TV’s Batman series:

“Boy Wonder I Love You”     Burt Ward     1967

Finally, “Release the Bats” by Nick Cave’s Birthday Party – I feel strangely compelled to confess – once caused a heated argument between myself and Tom Newbold, a close friend who, sadly, is no longer with us.  Tom once played “Release the Bats” at considerable volume in close quarters, at which I took great offense.  At the time, I accused Tom of “musical assault,” while he insisted that he was simply motivated by great art that required sufficient amplification to be fully appreciated.

REM 45The dear, departed “Newbs,” in fact, directly stoked my fascination with music history as a result of my having failed colossally to help Tom settle a musical debate that should have been a slam dunk.  The issue of contention:  rock and roll’s place of origin, geographically speaking.  “Uh, England?” this hopeless Beatlemaniac meekly offered from the back seat.

Johnny Jenkins: Bat-Friendly

Zero to 180’s tribute to the world’s only flying mammal continues into its second day with a B-side from Johnny Jenkins – “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats”:

“Blind Bats and Swamp Rats”     Johnny Jenkins     1970

“Blind Bats and Swamp Rats” can also be found on Jenkins’ 1970 LP, Ton-Ton Macoute, one of 50 albums – according to Rolling Stone – that “every country fan should own.”  Music blogger, Stuck in the Past, laments how Johnny Jenkins’ musical career was sidetracked twice by a “distracted” Phil Walden of Capricorn — first, due to Otis Redding (who got plucked from Jenkins’ band by Walden for a solo career) and second, due to the burgeoning success of the Allman Brothers, a number of whom individually backed Jenkins on Ton-Ton Macoute but then left to form their own band.

Music blogger, Darius, has a bit more to say about this 1970 landmark LP — most intriguingly, that Ton-Ton Macoute was “originally intended as a Duane Allman solo album.”

Ton Ton MacouteMusician & Engineering Credits

Johnny Jenkins:  Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Duane Allman, Paul Hornsby, Pete Carr:  Slide Guitar, Lead Guitar
Berry Oakley, Robert Popwell:  Bass
Butch Trucks:  Drums
Jai Johnny Johanson, Robert Popwell:  Timbales
Eddie Hinton, Johnny Wyker, Tippy Armstrong:  Congas, Percussion
Paul Hornsby:  Piano, Organ
Johnny Sandlin:  Producer, Engineer, Bass, Drums
Jim Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson, Larry Hamby, T. Manning, T. Compton:  Engineer

Derek Trucks, when asked in the October 2013 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine if he uses any vintage Gibson SG guitars, gave the following reply:

“I have a really nice ’61 that I love, and not too long ago I got Johnny Jenkins’ old SG, the one he played on Otis Redding’s ‘These Arms of Mine.’  He broke its headstock at the Atlanta Pop Festival, and I think Capricorn Records bought the guitar from him, had it fixed, and it was in Savannah, Georgia, for years.  It’s a pretty amazing guitar.  He took a soldering iron and wrote his name in cursive on the front – really beautiful script.  It’s part of the Allman Brothers/Capricorn/Duane/Otis Redding lore.  It lives in the studio.”

Al Casey: Friends with Bats

Thanks to Amy Bucci at National Geographic for encouraging my interest in bats by giving me a special set of US postage stamps (“Night Friends” from 2002) that celebrate the world’s only flying mammal.

Bat Postage StampsThe world’s bat population is imperiled for a whole host of reasons and irrationally targeted by fearful humans despite all the good they do for our planet.

Fortunately, Al Casey and his Bats (plus Corkey!) are not giving up — er, I guess they are:

“Give’n Up”     Al Casey (& Corkey) and the Bats     1958

“Give’n Up” was composed by Danny Wolfe, produced by Lester Sill & Lee Hazlewood.  1958 would make this one of Lee Hazlewood‘s earlier productions (although “The Fool,” written for Sanford Clark in 1956, is Hazlewood’s official entré into the music industry).

Five years later, Al Casey would almost hit the Top 40 with the Lee Hazlewood-penned “Surfin’ Hootenanny” – a playful tune that features guitar solos in the styles of (1) Dick Dale, (2) The Ventures, and (3) Duane Eddy.  Though primarily a session player, Al Casey would hit the Billboard Top 100 at least thrice, each time with an instrumental recording.

“Sewer Lady”: Musically Unsanitary

Neil Hefti’s soundtrack to the Batman TV series is top-flight 60s instrumental music – playful and imaginatively-produced.  “Sewer Lady,” from the 1966 album, Batman Theme and 11 Hefti Bat Songs, was inexplicably overlooked by RCA for single release:

RCA Victor would release the “Batman Theme” 45 in late 1965 in the US and in Europe the following year – here’s the 45 picture sleeve for the Netherlands market:

Batman 45 - Netherlands1966 would see the release of Dickie Goodman’s affectionate sample-laden tribute, “Batman and His Grandmother” (who, at story’s end, gets drafted – reverse spoiler alert).

RCA would later issue “Batman Theme” as a single in the UK and Australia with “Holy Diploma, Batman – Straight A’s!” as the B-side in 1988.

“Batman Theme”: Mod + Brass

Les & Larry Elgart get the mod brass thing happening in their take on the Neil Hefti classic:

Batman Theme – Les & Larry Elgart

[Pssst:  Click the triangle to play “Batman Theme” as interpreted by The Brothers Elgart.]

“Batman Theme” closes side one of 1966 Columbia album, Sound of the Times.

Elgart LP

Album review from the July 9, 1966 edition of Billboard:

“Les & Larry Elgart are right in the groove with some swinging contemporary dance music.  There’s “Michelle,” “Taste of Honey,” “Batman’s Theme” and more in the go-go vein.  It’s fine for the youngsters, and the Elgart name will help with the adults who want to cavort like youngsters.”

Lee Hazlewood: Lesser-Known Legend of Surf & Twang Guitar

Even if only for his pioneering production work with one of my guitar heroes, Duane Eddy (e.g., using a gigantic grain tank as an echo chamber), let it be known that Hazlewood, while himself not a hotshot guitarist, co-wrote some of Eddy’s best tunes (including half of his excellent 1965 album, Duane-a-Go-Go), as well as penned a fair number of surf classics for other artists:  “Baja“; “Movin'” and “Batman” for The Astronauts, plus all of Al Casey’s best instrumentals – “Surfs You Right”; “The Hearse“; “Surfin’ Hootenanny”; and “Guitars, Guitars, Guitars.”

Is Hazlewood’s 1961 instrumental – five years before Neil Hefti’s “Batman Theme” – the first musical tribute to the Caped Crusader?

Clink on link to hear Lee Hazlewood’s “Batman” as interpreted by The Astronauts

Hazlewood