Pickwick: Dukes of Deception

Pickwick International, those masters of mis-marketing, did whatever was necessary to trick you, potential chump, into buying one of their albums — namely, by dressing up outdated material so as to appear fresh and contemporary through the use of titillating imagery, stylish typography, and razzle-dazzle promotional hype.

“NOUVEAU – A NOW RECORD BY DESIGN”

DESIGN – an imprint of Pickwick International

 

I, too, was initially blindsided by 1966’s Groovy Greats and its alluring cover images that all but promised British beat groups with guitars.  But the juxtaposition of a lithe go-go dancer – enveloped in Union Jacks and hoisting a Vox Teardrop* – with monophonic recordings that go as far back as 1949 (albeit “electronically enhanced for stereo”) is an act so openly contemptuous of its intended customer base as to be comical.

Note how the back cover text artfully dances around the fact that the artists featured on this collection of pre-Beatles tracks set the stage for the exciting mid-60s sounds that are nowhere to be found on this 1966 release:

Today’s scene is psychedelic, kinetic and wild, a free swinging world mad, mad mod and the big beat takes over au go-go from The Strip to Carnaby St.  The big names of rock and soul that geared the world for their kind of action are here, blasting and groovin’ for your own freak out! Pow! Zap!

Pretty humorous to consider that none of the musical artists included on Groovy Greats  — Johnny Rivers, Ray Charles, Lou Christie, Bobby Goldsboro, Ronnie Dove, Joe Tex, Chuck Jackson, Bobby Freeman — could remotely be considered mod, psychedelic, or freaky.  Or British.

Track Listing

A01   “Your First and Last Love”   Johnny Rivers   1959

A02   “If I Give You My Love”   Ray Charles   1949

A03   “You’re With It”   Lou Christie   rec. 1963 and/or rel. 1966

A04   “Dizzy Boy”   (Bobby Goldsboro &) The Webs   1961

A05   “I’ll Be Around”   Ronnie Dove   1959

B01   “I’ve Had My Fun”   Ray Charles   1950

B02   “Tomorrow Will Come”   Lou Christie   rec. 1963 and/or rel. 1966

B03   “(I’ll Be a) Monkey’s Uncle”   Joe Tex   1960

B04   “Ooh, Baby”   Chuck Jackson   1959

B05   “I Still Remember”   (Bobby Freeman &) The Romancers   1956

How curious to discover Groovy Greats has a Cincinnati connection via the inclusion of two Lou Christie & the Classics songs originally issued as 45 sides on Cincinnati indie label, Alcar, whose artist roster at one time included Jim & Jesse, Sonny Osborn(e), Delbert Barker, Red AllenJimmie FairRenfro FamilyDale Wright & the Wright GuysRay Baker & His Happy Travelers, and even Chuck Jackson.  “You’re With It,” the better of the two tracks, was likely recorded in 1963, according to the person who posted this audio clip on YouTube:

“You’re With It”     Lou Christie & the Classics    “Probably recorded in 1963”

My edition, somehow, does not contain the typo (“Bobby Golsboro”) that seems to be a standard feature on all other releases — I feel cheated.  Ironically, perhaps, the Bobby Goldsboro song “Dizzy Boy” is the one track on Groovy Greats to feature prominent guitar work in a modern style as implied by the album cover images.

     Musical Misspelling – no extra charge…          … But Sadly, no typos on my LP

As with Out of Sight!, the previously featured Pickwick album from last December, Groovy Greats is another marketing triumph from Design Records, Pickwick’s budget subsidiary label.

The Kapa Minstrel:  Affordable Version of the Vox Teardrop

*The Vox guitar being held on the cover is actually a 12-string lookalike – the Minstrel – made by Kapa, a “bargain” guitar made in Silver Spring, Maryland.  According to Pat Veneman Stone, her father Koob Veneman, who “opened Veneman Music in Silver Spring, MD in the 1960s,” was the “sole creator and manufacturer of KAPA guitars,” a name that stands for Koob, Adeline (wife), Patricia (daughter) & Albert (son).  This guitar reference guide (which locates Veneman Music in nearby Hyattsville, by the way) indicates that approximately 120,000 Kapa guitars and basses had been made by the time the company closed up shop in 1970, with parts and equipment then sold off to Micro-Frets and Mosrite Guitars.

Unique Guitar Blog‘s tribute piece to KAPA guitars is chock full of historical details:

  • The necks, pickups and electronics originally came from German manufacturer Hofner (in later years, they made their own pickups, which looked similar to Hofner units).
  • The tuners were made by Schaller.  Kapa made his own bridges and tremolo assemblies.
  • According to one comment:  “Actually, while Veneman’s was in Hyattsville, the guitars were built at a plant on 46th Avenue in the (nearby) town of Edmonston, Maryland.  I was raised on 49th ave, in Edmonston and remember the place very well.  In fact, as kids, we used to dig through the Kapa guitar factory dumpsters and bring home pieces of the refuse.”
  • Other comments recall time spent at Veneman’s music stores located in Silver Spring on Georgia Avenue near Bonifant Street, as well nearby Wheaton Plaza and Rockville (even Springfield, Virginia).
  • One purchaser of a KAPA bass guitar, who can be seen in this 2008 performance clip from Conan O’Brien’s NBC show, also testified as to the deep bottom end of the Kapa bass, whose fullness of sound surpasses even the almighty Fender Precision:

Hello. I purchased my Kapa bass after Two guys tried to rob me outside of Detroit and take my wallet after a gig.  My left pinky finger was dislocated and at nine o’clock before having it set.  I needed a short scale bass because my left pinky finger and the one next to it were taped together for a while so it could heal.  I went to a store called Junk Yard Guitar in Royal Oak, Michigan and played every short scale bass they had, and they had several vintage basses and the Kapa I picked up sounded better than any of them so I asked the owner if I could take it home and try it and he said no problem.  He also had a total of three Kapa basses and I said if this bass sounds as good as I think it does, work with me and I’ll take all three.  Well just as I thought it sounded fat, full and more even sounding than both my old fender basses so I took all three.  Fast forward several years later and now I own 12 Kapa Basses.  I have been gigging with Rockabilly Greats Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding and that first Kapa bass I bought several years ago has been to eleven different Countries, and also made an appearance on the Conan O’Brien show a couple years back and it still has the same strings on it from when I bought it, and still sounds great.  I do think I should thin the Kapa herd a bit, Naaah.

Guitar Player‘s Tip of the Hat to the 1967 Goya Rangemaster

Hey, dig those radical split pickups and fret markers purposely aligned left (not center), in direct violation of the unwritten code.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point

Thanks to the Unique Guitar Blog for clarifying the difference between the semi-hollow body Goya Rangemasters, with the single or double “Florentine” cutaways, versus the solid-body version (above), with a six-on-a-side elongated headstock (as shown on Groovy Greats).  There is photographic proof of Jimi Hendrix playing a Goya Rangemaster off stage.

In 2014, Guitar Player‘s Terry Carleton reviewed one of the solid-body Rangemasters in a piece entitled “Whack Job!“:

“We sure liked our guitars to have buttons back in the ’60s.  Before our love affairs with pedalboards and rack systems, the more buttons, knobs, and switches a model had, the more potential it had to help one find his or her voice on the guitar.  The Goya Rangemaster, with its nine pushbuttons, offered more choices than just about any guitar out there, aside from Vox models that actually had built-in electronics.  This [1967] specimen was manufactured in Italy— perhaps by EKO—but the bridge was made in Sweden by Hagstrom.

Weirdo Factor

Other than all of the buttons and the special quad pickup design, one of the weirder features of this instrument is the elongated headstock that looks like a large fish scaler.

Headstock can be pressed into service as a fish scaler

Playability & Sound

Weighing in at about eight pounds, the Rangemaster 116-SB is a double-cutaway model with a very subtle contour.  The 25”-scale maple neck plays great, and there are 21 perfectly dressed frets on the rosewood fretboard.  A slotted string spacer on the headstock levels out tension while feeding the strings into the 1 5/8” plastic nut.  There are six chrome machine heads that feel great to the touch and are nicely accessible, due to the crescent-moon shaped headstock cutaway.  The Rangemaster also includes a faux wood-grain pickguard, an adjustable neck, a chrome vibrato with a detachable bar, and a three-way adjustable bridge.  The lowmass, surface-mounted Hagstrom bridge feels remarkably smooth and holds its tune fairly well.  Living up to its name, the Rangemaster has quite a variety of tonal possibilities.  For one thing, there’s almost six inches between the bridge and neck pickups.  That’s a big gap, and it makes for a very unique sound.  Then, unlike other push-button guitars—of which there were many—the electronics on the Rangemaster 116-SB include two pairs of split pickups, as well as six pickup-selector buttons, three Tone buttons (Lo, Med, Hi), and a master Volume knob.  In addition to conventional bridge or neck pickup selections, the Rangemaster also lets you do things like push the 2+3 button to get the bridge’s bass-side pickup and the neck’s treble-side pickup.  The result is a very funk-friendly, out-of-phase sound.  Finally, there’s the rockin’ ALL button for when you need that “extra push over the cliff” (thank you, Nigel Tufnell), and a master OFF (or kill switch).

Value

I bought mine about ten years ago from Guitar Showcase in San Jose, California, for $400.  Today, this 9-button Euro freak is known as one of the Goya “holy grailers,” and it can go for well over a thousand dollars.

Why It Rules

Like so many of the Italian, Swedish, English, and German guitars of the ’60s, the Rangemaster not only has a great and freaky look, but it plays and sounds like a dream.  For whatever reason, these time-tested guitars are still relatively affordable, and that rules!  As Goya said in their beat-era Rangemaster ads, ‘Plug it in and turn everybody on!’”

WORLD’S FIRST PSYCHEDELIC GUITAR“?

“Frankenstein’s Party” Turns 60

Five years before “The Monster Mash,” King Records would peddle their own piece of Halloween pop in 1957, with the only release ever by The Swinging Phillies on DeLuxe — “Frankenstein’s Party” (backed with “LOVE“):

“Frankenstein’s Party”     The Swinging Phillies     1957

Thanks to the unnamed Discogs contributor who posted this biographical sketch:

The Swinging Phillies are a Philadelphia-based group, and are composed of Charles Cosom, lead; Philip Hurtt, first tenor; Richard Hill, second tenor; Ronald Headon, baritone; and Al Hurtt, bass singer and founder of the group.

More band history below courtesy of the “bio-disc“:

Frankenstein's Party - The Swinging PhilliesHard to believe that people have paid hundreds of dollars for an original copy of this doowop 45, but they have.

A search of the 45Cat database seems to suggest strongly that DeLuxe 6171 is the first of the “Frankenstein” songs, two years before Buchanan & Goodman’s “Frankenstein of ’59” (and one year before Bo Diddley’s “Bo Meets the Monster” – although this source says 1956), but is it also pop music’s earliest Halloween-slash-horror song?  All attempts to find “scary” songs earlier than 1957 – using such search terms as monster, ghoul, vampire, mummy, spooky, haunted, Halloween, et al. – have not yet proven abundant.  According to AllButForgottenOldies, the “flying saucer” songs of 1956 would kick start the teen horror fad in popular music, which merely echoed the big screen — although I’m not sure I would include “Old Black Magic” (especially as rendered so touchingly by the Glenn Miller Orchestra; same goes for Margaret Whiting’s “Old Devil Moon” — ditto Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart“) on a ‘Halloween Oldies’ song list.

“Frankenstein’s Party” just might be King’s only Halloween and/or horror tune.

Q:  Aside from the “flying saucer” discs of 1956, can you find a Halloween/horror tune earlier than 1957?

LINK to other Zero to 180 Halloween & Horror history pieces