Jody Whitesides | Just Looking for Some Touch

Jody Whitesides

If you haven’t heard of Jody Whitesides yet, well, you have now. And you’ll be hearing more.

At first glance he could be one of those Renaissance multi-hyphenates you love to hate — artist-producer-athlete-businessman-Josh Hartnett stand-in — and then you can’t, because he’s just so damned talented and funny. Politically savvy, too. Plus he bakes. Bakes! Scratch bread, scratch brownies, scratch pizza. I am not making this up.

Yeah, the guy totally cooks. Whitesides is a musician who plays, sings, writes, and produces. He’s got some cool videos on his website, and publishes his music on Spotify and iTunes. He’s so into process, he even makes instructional tech vids for musicians. And posts crazy gifs and vines on Twitter. That’s where I discovered him. And unlike a lot of popular Tweeps who can’t be bothered, he actually interacts with followers. Which is how I ended up at his website, being impressed enough to write all this.

Whitesides prolifically generates fun music that’s infectiously danceable. And he markets all his product himself, making him kind of a poster child for DIY music career success.

Before roaring off on said music career, Whitesides was a nationally ranked freestyle skier and BMX racer. Swapping his earmuffs for earworms, he went on to lend his voice for backing vocals to the Swedish hard rock band Talisman fronted by Jeff Scott Soto, and played some guitar for NKOTB’s Danny Woods. Whitesides has his own studio where he produced recordings for the comedy rock band Throwing Toasters and bass master Seth Horan, among others.

Until recently his bread and butter was scoring video games and film trailers, and creating anthems for various sports (notably “Do You Want to Play,” for the NFL and NHL) and TV shows (“Nightwatch New Orleans,” “Top Golf,” and Dwayne Johnson’s documentary series, “Hard Corps”).

Sounds like a sensory smorgasbord, right? It kind of is, but the main theme of his musical style is this: Nobody sits. His repertoire is a lush and expansive romp covering a wide swath: techno-dance and retro pop, acoustic and power ballads, and high-energy modern rock.

“I take influences from everything around me,” says Whitesides. He credits his artistic open-mindedness to a music teacher who once told him: “Mediocre artists steal from one source. Great artists steal from many.”

“I’ve held to that maxim,” he says. “No two of my songs are ever exactly alike. And no two people will generally compare me to the same artist. That becomes a Catch 22, but I’m okay with it.”

Whitesides, who claims he didn’t start talking until he was two, has plenty to say on his latest single, “Touch.” I listened to it and it’s tasty; you should too. Then I read his bio. That’s where I learned he’s a New Yorker who’s into bikes. Yo — what’s not to like? So I asked if I could interview him. He said yeah. Here we go!

Touch shoot, from Twitter

Q What’s the story behind Google refusing to advertise “Touch”? Is that specifically “Touch (Explicit)”? That was the best version! I love the Borg dancers.
A The official response was that the content of the video was “Too Adult.” It was for the clean version. I didn’t even bother to try advertising the explicit version. The weird thing is, no one is naked.

Q Your newest song, “Thump Thump Thump” — is it out yet?
A It is not out yet, but will be soon. It will be on Spotify!

Q How many/what kinds of instruments do you play?
A Technically I play about six. But I can pretty much play any stringed instrument in some fashion. Guitar, vocals, bass, mandolin, ukulele, percussion. I futz around on piano, drums, and kazoo.

Q What’s the most memorable gig you ever played?
A One time a group of drunk lesbians jumped up on stage and proceeded to grind all the members of the band. This was after they formally announced themselves while jumping on the bar in the back of the venue. It caused quite a ruckus and was entertaining for the audience. I did have to get them offstage once one of them nearly broke my teeth when she knocked the mic stand into my mouth while I was singing.

Q When you were younger, did your parents believe you’d make a living with music, or did they unsubtly push you in other directions? (Can you tell I hang out with musicians too much?)
A My parents never initially questioned my desire to learn to play. Actually, they supported it, probably because they were both artists of their own right. Commercial illustrator, and interior decorator. The one requirement was to attend college and get a degree. So I did. Then I went to music school. [Berklee College of Music and Musicians Institute] While they’ve never come out against it, there have been times when my mom has questioned if I should continue. The typical subtle hint type of stuff.

Q Major influences?
A Anything and everything I’ve ever heard influences me, for good or bad. While learning to play, I did focus on guitar god-type players — Hendrix, Satriani, Vai, Tabor, Wylde, Bettencourt. Once I graduated from music school, I started concentrating more on song writing. That’s a whole different ballgame from being an awesome guitar player.

Q What’s the best advice you ever got?
A “Never quit.” However, there was a teacher at music school who did say: “Never get a day job! You’ll get too comfortable and music will become secondary.” Sure enough, many friends from music school did end up getting day jobs, got comfortable and quit. I took that to heart. Never got a day job.

Q Share some things on your bucket list.
A Win the WSOP Main Event. Mountain bike the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. Start an annual New Year’s Eve event. Tour all 50 states with my music, then tour the world. Restore an old car. Learn to fly a plane.

Q What kinds of bicycles do you own? Specifics, please. Bike junkies here.
A I have a Specialized mountain bike and a Cannondale EVO road bike. I also have a JMC Black Shadow BMX bike that I used to race as a little kid. The big kid in me still likes to ride it around now and then.

Q The skiing — were you on the national team? Pro sponsored? Spend any time at the Olympic Training Center? (The caf slop! Cement beds! Prisonish WCs… Asking for a wistful ex-USAC official.)
A As a skier I was nationally ranked but never on the U.S. team. I had some sponsors over the course of my competitive skiing career. I’ve been to the OTC, but not to train. I wish I had made that level — I missed it by 1/10th of a point, one place out of making the team.

Q What kinds of goodies do you bake besides brownies and bread? Where did your love of kitchen arts originate?
A My most famous dish would be pizza from scratch. I make the dough, the sauce, and on occasion the cheese as well. I’m much more into cooking. My mom had my sister and I fend for ourselves by having us use recipes out of a children’s cookbook. Mom is an excellent cook too, but wanted us to be self-sufficient in the kitchen. A skill that has certainly impressed members of the opposite sex.

Q Got any pets?
A I do have a dog. His name is Dorian. Many people think he’s named after The Picture of Dorian Gray. He’s really named after a mode of the major scale — Dorian.

Q Desert island, five entertainment must-haves, any media.
A:
1. A guitar, to allow me to entertain myself with writing songs.
2. An internet connection.
3. From #2, I’ll be able to watch movies.
4. From #2, I’ll be able to read books.
5. From #2, I’ll be able to listen to other people’s music. 🙂

photog: Brian Gerber

Jody spots the drone bringing his Amazon delivery.

Jody Whitesides’ website: JodyWhitesides.com
Jody Whitesides is on IMDB
Jody Whitesides on Twitter: @JodyWhitesides
Studio photographs © 2016 Brian Gerber
Twitter photograph © 2016 Jody Whitesides
Everything else here Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

guitars

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on AmazonSydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard | Book Review

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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard
by Peter Benjaminson
Book Review © 2014 Sydney Schuster – All Rights Reserved

Whether The Supremes are icons of your youth or a legend you’ve recently discovered, don’t miss The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard. Author Peter Benjaminson skips no juicy details in this splendid biography of the group’s founder and most gifted member.

 

A former investigative reporter and author of the books The Story of Motown and Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar, Benjaminson delivers a seamless portrayal of the R&B luminary who zoomed from projects to stardom at 20, descended into alcoholism and poverty, then died tragically at 32 while attempting a comeback.

Benjaminson’s exhaustive research is impeccable. Every page of The Lost Supreme comes alive with intimate recollections from Ballard and the people who knew her best.

For lovers of showbiz backstory, The Lost Supreme has it all — Ballard’s harrowing rape by an NBA star; her manipulation by Berry Gordy and Diane Ross; the power struggle between the tinny-voiced singer and the throaty, sultry one; the ludicrous contracts; the catfights; the racist attacks; the bizarre meeting with the Beatles; Ballard’s ignominious ouster from the Supremes; the fortune stolen from her; and her unsuccessful $8.7 million lawsuit against Motown.

There are many wonderful quotes, too, like this gem from Ballard about the songs from the Supremes’ first single: “… both flops, but they were good flops.” And this zinger from Mary Wilson: “Whenever Diane would insist on a lead and then sing it, we would sort of look at each other and try not to laugh. She had this weird little whiny sound.”

There are other books about the Supremes, but only this one’s author has a musician’s understanding of R&B, a union spokesman’s understanding of contract law, and a Detroiter’s understanding of the inner city. All serve to illuminate the book’s narrative without overpowering it, as when Benjaminson describes the Motown sound: “This heavy beat was a natural connection between the African past and the mechanized present … African American tradition updated by the incessant pounding of the punch press and buffed to a shiny gloss by contact with an urban society.”

Benjaminson’s writing style is clean and direct but never boring, painting vivid images of civil rights-era America while elegantly putting Ballard’s successes and struggles into perspective. He takes great care to analyze the conflicting reports of certain pivotal events that, Rashomon-like, left fans and historians alike scratching their heads for decades. With a keen talent for juxtaposing quotes and events, he unveils interpersonal dynamics overlooked in other books on this subject.

The author’s wry wit keeps things lively. About Motown’s notorious owner who mixed and matched artists, writers, and producers with wild abandon, he writes: “Gordy hadn’t worked in a factory for nothing: he knew the value of interchangeable parts.”

In short, The Lost Supreme is can’t-put-it-down reading.

The exclusive input from Ballard is riveting. By allowing Flo to speak for herself (based on extensive one-on-one interviews just before her death), Benjaminson and Ballard distinguish fact from myth in the oft-romanticized central story of a beleaguered superstar who stood up to an exploitive recording industry. It all adds up to a remarkable history, brought to life by the people who lived it.

Available on Amazon.
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Don’t miss Peter Benjaminson’s article in Rolling Stone about how The Lost Supreme got thisclose to becoming a movie!guitars

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

MARY WELLS | A Great New Bio About Motown’s First Superstar

Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar
by Peter Benjaminson
Book Review © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about the music world. Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar is a revelation. Peter Benjaminson’s fascinating exposé about this underappreciated hitmaker is a roller coaster ride that will leave you breathless. I couldn’t wait to see how it ended, even though I already knew (or thought I did).

This is the first book written about megastar Wells, and Benjaminson’s third book about Motown (along with The Lost Supreme and The Story of Motown). Clearly a devotee of R&B, he takes special care to explain why this musical genre is so compelling. But this superb book is also a gold mine of historical anecdotes — some humorous, some flat-out shocking, from wardrobe malfunctions to family deathbed fights to celebrity shootings. Lovers of showbiz dish will relish the stories about a teenaged Stevie Wonder groping Wells on the Motortown Revue tour bus, and Wells telling a furious Diana Ross to get a girdle. Reliably, Benjaminson never shrinks from airing the dirty laundry of anyone, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, one of the most feared and loathed gods of the entertainment world.

Gordy was himself a frustrated musical artist about whom Benjaminson explains: “No one found his playing or his singing all that overwhelming.” Gordy was far more successful as a producer and napoleonic CEO. Under his influence, Wells abandoned what the author describes as her “gutsy, gospel-type” singing style for “innocent, vulnerable adolescent lyrics … over a high-production, harmony-heavy vocal and instrumental background best exemplified by [Phil] Spector’s `Wall of Sound.'”

Thus in 1960 Wells became the first superstar of Motown Records. Then Gordy teamed her up with legendary songwriter Smokey Robinson, who, as Benjaminson explains, “encouraged her to sing in a higher register…. She followed his directions, then added her own smooth, knowing coyness, like a layer of delicious frosting, right on top.” Their songs catapulted Wells to crossover superpower status, where the Grammy-nominated phenom spent three years repeatedly topping charts with hits like “My Guy” and “Bye Bye Baby.”

What happened next is truly tragic. Wells’s life became a toxic stew of bad business decisions, aborted career reboots, and volatile romances. For her there would be no movies or TV shows like white pop stars got, and no more monster hits — only indifferent promotion by record companies, industrial sabotage, and substance abuse, all of which ultimately destroyed her.

Great gobs of Wells’s misfortune derived from unscrupulous managers and predatory contracts (she was only 17 when she joined Motown Records). Drugs and booze just made it all easier for her to bear. Hers is a cautionary tale that Benjaminson delivers with the warmth and understanding befitting a star of her caliber. His bulletproof reporting is built on extensive research and interviews with scores of people in Wells’s sphere, spiced with ballsy observations like this one about Wells’s first husband (band leader Herman Griffin, who performed backflips and splits while conducting):

Something other than drugs, liquor, and music was soon occupying her mind. “The audience liked to look at him as much as at her,” said Pete Moore [of The Miracles]. Mary also liked looking at Herman Griffin.

I confess to being a long-time Benjaminson fan. As a scribe, his style is delightful. Take how he characterizes two of Wells’s songs as “enlivened by what sound like farts from a low-pitched tuba.” C’mon, what’s not to like? If he wrote a book about fly swatters, I’d totally read it — and underline stuff and scrawl margin notes and make my friends read it, too.

As an investigator, his digging is so exhaustive it wears me out just thinking about it. Plus, he has a gift for distilling the maddeningly complex legal constructs of music contracts so that the lay wonks among us can appreciate their insanity, too. And he nimbly puts into perspective the numerous and often conflicting contemporary accounts of what really happened to the people he writes about.

I especially enjoy his books about showbiz luminaries, and this one is his best yet. Here Benjaminson delivers a seamless portrayal of an industry that devours its young, and what it was really like for a gifted casualty like Mary Wells.

Available on Amazon.

Mary Wells
Dead SpotCopyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Enright Has Left the Building

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Thom Enright

Thom Enright. Know that name? Well, he’s a musician. Or more accurately, a musician’s musician. Three of Thom’s old bands — plus Thom himself, natch — will be inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame tomorrow.

Thom’s a certified big star in New England. Maybe he’s not a household name where you live, but if you think you’ve never heard him play, think again.

He was a regular member (and MVP, some would argue) of numerous bands of historical significance: The Young Adults, The Duke Robillard Band, The Pleasure Kings, Tombstone Blues Band, Roomful of Blues, Shakey Legs, and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. He was also a first-call guitar and bass player who performed on many Grammy-winning and gold-selling albums for Sony, Columbia, and Rounder. Thom worked with Bo Diddley, James Cotton, Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, Paul Butterfield, Ronnie Earl, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Vaughan, Big Joe Turner, John Hammond, Jimmy Thackery, and Dr. John. You can read more about his career here, here, and here.

As an artist and especially as a friend, Thom was unmatched in grace and style. His wry wit was legendary. He was some kinda snazzy dresser, too. I wish I’d gotten to see 1970s Tombstone Band Jewfro Thom, and skinny-ties Pleasure Kings Thom of the ’80s.

Should time machines ever be invented, here’s the top of my do-over list:

✔ See Thom Enright perform “A Power Tool Is Not a Toy” in a kimono and fishnets.
✔ Buy Apple shares at $22.
✔ Kill Hitler.

Thom and I met in the ’90s during his blazers-and-berets period, after he joined Beaver Brown. JCBBB sax player Tunes Antunes introduced us. “You should meet the new guy,” he said. “He needs a fan.”

He didn’t really. He totally had that covered. But I was sold. Long after Thom departed JCBBB and well into his Barney’s-manager-lookalike phase, I was still bugging him for his gig sked.

He was cute. And funny. And he really could play the hell out of every kind of music. I am not exaggerating. I heard it all.

What I’ve been hearing for the past few days, though, is lots of Thom Enright stories. Here’s one of my personal favorites:

After one of his shows, he was saying his goodnights to everyone. I grabbed his guitar case and said, “I’m carrying this!” He looked at me sideways and argued half-heartedly (girls didn’t carry anyone’s guitars back then, except their own, if they had one). Realizing that resistance was futile, he laughed as we hauled his gear out to the parking lot. One of the band wives happened to see this. We caught her glowering at us (we were both very married to stay-at-home spouses, so this cartage business was simply unacceptable). We paused to speculate about the havoc we’d wreaked on her moral sensibilities. That took, like, two seconds. Then we waved at her and resumed laughing and gossiping and cramming stuff into Thommy’s car.

A prize in every box

For sure, everyone in The Biggest Little knows Thom. It got me out of a traffic ticket once, when I blew through a red light I didn’t see because I was looking at a map instead. The cop who pulled me over asked me where I’d been. I told him I’d just left a Thom Enright show. It was my get-out-of-jail-free card.

Whenever I went to any of Thom’s gigs, I felt like I’d won the nightlife lottery. One time his wife Olga and I alternated loud singing of our favorite Enright tunes with loud yakking about shoe shopping, which I’m sure the band really appreciated. She isn’t your typical band spouse, and it was obvious why Thom loved her. She came to his gigs often, presiding over a salon of sorts with their friends.

There were always interesting people who came to hear Thom play. His audiences regularly included music world royalty, and sometimes Hollywood’s. It seemed perfectly natural to see Duke Robillard, Bobby Farrelly, Paul Geremia, or Barry Cowsill at the bar.

But a lot of Thom’s admirers were just crazed fans. When he was a regular at the Narragansett Cafe and I was in my cowboy-boots-and-DA period, I always got followed into the ladies’ head by an angry Jamestown mob that thought I was some drunk guy stalking their women.

Me, I was just there for some dazzling musicianship. I sometimes had to battle my way out of a restroom for it, but I was never disappointed.

Some Thom history & trivia

Thom elevated every band he ever joined, and he was in a lot of them. I saw him perform with two national acts.

The configuration of JCBBB that included Thom was their best. He gave them an oomph — sometimes on guitar, sometimes bass — that was new for them, yet complemented their style perfectly. One night Cafferty broke a string and ducked offstage to replace it. The band had already started playing their barn burner “Runnin’ Thru the Fire,” so Thommy and Gary Gramolini covered Cafferty’s absence with a dueling guitars shootout. It was such a steaming hot can of whupass, the band kept it in the act.

Thommy eventually left JCBBB for Roomful of Blues, who were willing to perform and record his songs. His blues romp “Love to Watch You When You Go” was the big hit on Roomful’s eponymous album of 2001. The Enright era of the long-running franchise was a particularly successful one. Roomful was so much in demand that Thom had to leave, he told me (with no hint of irony), because the constant travel was killing him.

He started recording his own albums, and it’s too bad there weren’t more of them. Blue Teeth (1994) and Intoxicated (2005) featured original material, plus blues and rock standards stamped with his unique creative spin. Thom was a superb tunesmith. He could also take pop songs you’ve heard a million times — “Don’t Worry Baby,” “To Love Somebody,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” — and finesse them into something refreshingly new.

Reviewing Intoxicated for the Boston Phoenix, Bob Gulla wrote: “The lead title track stands out, with some wicked riffs and an edgy arrangement. If you want to hear what all the fuss is about, you can get Intoxicated here.

Intoxicated - Thom Enright

When he fronted his own bands, serious magic happened. That’s when Thom became a really good singer, too. He sounded a lot like Warren Haynes. I heard him wring the bejeezus out of “Crazy” — any vocalist’s nightmare — and was blown away. I congratulated him on it. And this guy — this honkin’ monster talent who could play everyone else under the table — said this: “Thanks. I’m still kinda self-conscious about it.”

I don’t know which was more amazing — the sheer scope of Thom’s talent or the fact that he never got a big head about it. He welcomed any opportunity to play. No club was too small. That’s what he lived for.

You know, the dude could’ve been a raging egomaniac and no one would’ve questioned it. But he wasn’t. Years ago he asked me to write him a press release. The original title was: All Meat. No Filler. Enright Delivers! He was embarrassed and changed it to something not so Mister Saturday Night. Actually, his title was much better: Plays Right. Sings Right. Enright.

And that was Thom in a nutshell. He towered over everyone in his field (literally and figuratively). Yet he was never a diva, not that I ever saw. He’d be so mortified by this post, he’d turn eighty shades of pink. Sweetest guy you ever met, always with a joke and some gossip, always glad to see you. Unless you were a ginormous dick, in which case good luck with that.

For those who weren’t, an evening with Thom was always fun. Once I asked him to sign one of his CDs for me. “Write something steamy,” I said. He wrote: “Hurl, baby, hurl, all night long!” Another time he asked me if I wanted to sing. Sing? Really? I’d never suggested that was in my arsenal of dubious talents. I was quite shocked and wildly flattered that he trusted me not to skunk up his gig. He admired my fashion statement that night — blinding white Varvatos Cons.

I wore them to his funeral. In 2008 Thom was diagnosed with a brain glioma and given six months to live. He died on February 20 after kicking its butt to hell and back for four years. He never stopped performing, nor being a friend to the many people who now have one more reason to admire him. There’s been a disruption in the force, and it’s big.

Text & Photo Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved.
Thom Enright album covers copyright © Thom Enright.
No, you can’t use them without permission.

No Degrees of Separation | My Date with Kevin Bacon

NO DEGREES OF SEPARATION
My Date with Kevin Bacon

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Anyone who lives in LA or New York (and I’ve lived in both) bumps into famous people all the time. Me, I’ve seen more famous people than the LAPD.

Most of the time I’m underwhelmed. When Walter Wriston was still CEO of Citicorp, I made him give me an office building. When someone introduced me to Elvin Bishop, I asked him why he was late. I ignored Nicolas Roeg at a party at my own house. I got stuck on a post office line behind Phoebe Cates acting all paranoid about people making an embarrassing fuss, but no one gave a crap. You get the picture.

Anyway, you know how, when you unexpectedly run into someone famous, there’s a beat or two during which you know you know this person but can’t remember why? Well, that didn’t happen yesterday when I was in the art supply store, shopping for crazy handmade papers with names like Mango:natural slate. The aisle was very narrow and I’m very wide. Someone who wanted the Marbled momi:volcano I was blocking said, “Excuse me.”

I looked up. Blow me down! It was Kyra Sedgwick. With her was her mate, hat pulled over his eyes and looking down, apparently hoping nobody would ask him to do the Footloose dance.

Go figure. One second I’m fingering weird paper with garbage mashed into it, the next I’m looking into the smiling face of The Closer. And, um, Mr. Closer. In a store that writers and actors totally don’t need, in a city where none of us lives.

Fun facts: She’s a tiny lady with a huge grin that lights up her whole face. He dyes his hair black so fans won’t recognize him (no problem — I’d totally hit that). My half of our conversation: “Uh, sure!”

So it’s official. I am now zero degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Everyone I know moves up five (except my friend Lew who knows Kevin’s sister, and my actor ex-boyfriend, a Kevin Bacon look-alike who lost every part he ever auditioned for to … Kevin Bacon). Plus, I have a big honking girlcrush on Mrs. Bacon. No one’s ever been so nice about telling me to get out of the way.

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

The Phoenix and the Chicken | 1970 Triumph Daytona

I just loves me some old bikes! That’s why I used to write about them for a slew of now-defunct vintage motorjunk rags — Old Bike Journal, Classic Cycle Review, and others. It was truly a labor of love, because the pay truly sucked.

The piece you’re about to read was written in 1994. The photos here are from 17-year-old Kodachrome slides that used to be in color. Trust me, this bike is purple.

Anyway, this piece was never published because I wrote it for a magazine that went under just before I mailed it in. So wait no longer. Enjoy!

Text & Photos Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

THE PHOENIX AND THE CHICKEN
A 1970 Triumph Daytona Gets a Second Chance

“You’ll never find it by yourself,” Ron Butler assures me over the phone. Is he talking about the Titanic? Shangri-La? Inner peace?

Nah. He means his house in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where I’m going to check out his bike.

“Meet me at the Big Chicken,” he says.

The Big Chicken? Right.

So off I go on my mission, which is to inspect not large poultry but rather something closer to eternal life: Ron’s painstakingly restored 1970 Triumph T100R. It’s a shiny purple bomber resurrected from a rust-encrusted hulk. But before we get into that, let’s get you up to speed on this chicken thing.

Unlike Ron’s house, you couldn’t miss the Big Chicken with a busted Hubble. And what the locals call a chicken isn’t a chicken at all, but a rooster. A six-foot-tall rooster. It’s a major landmark here in Lebanon, but it would be equally distinctive anywhere.

roofster

As promised, Ron is waiting for me at the Big Chicken. It squats majestically on Route 322, perpetually trying to hatch a feed mill office. From there we proceed to Ron’s house, where several nice bikes live with Ron. When he’s not crossing your wires in his secret life as a phone network analyst, he’s out cruising blacktop on a couple of big Harleys or a Kawasaki triple.

But the undisputed star of his fleet is the T100R. Also known as the Daytona Super Sports, this unit 500 twin debuted commercially in 1967, the same year the works prototype won at Daytona. The production model was essentially unchanged from the racing version. Consequently, the Daytona holds a special place in history as one of Triumph’s first café racers.

Production continued through 1973, when Triumph abandoned the model as a result of financial woes and the whims of a buying public clamoring for big twins. The Daytona 500 was exported to the U.S. in smaller numbers than the 650 Bonneville and Trophy, making it a rare sight indeed in the colonies today.

Modest sales failed, however, to squelch the Daytona’s historical importance. Among its technological innovations was a radical new unit twin design. Unit construction engines per se weren’t new, having been introduced in 1957. But they’d been well-hidden beneath bathtubs until 1967, the year the new T100’s muscle was exposed for all the world to see. The next year a revolutionary hole appeared in the T100’s primary chaincase that allowed ignition timing to be checked with a strobe light.

The seven-year production span was a parade of firsts, including an oil pressure gauge and a rev counter. When turn indicators and idiot lights made their appearance, they were hot news in the motorhead world.

By 1970 the T100 had morphed into Ron’s version. At 83.25 inches long and 336 pounds, it’s a compact bike with a huge power plant, and so buff that it needs an eight-inch twin-leading-shoe front brake to manage all its fire-breathing horsepower. The spec is 41 BHP at 7,200 RPM; contemporary literature pegs its top speed at 120 mph or so (on leaded gas). When asked to verify that figure, Ron just grins and says his bike goes pretty good.

Fair enough. But no way would you believe it was unrecognizable a couple of years ago, little more than a decaying doorstop in someone else’s garage.

Back then, Ron says, “The engine was a deep red color from the rust” acquired from a decade of hatching dustballs. Complementing that was an attractive topcoat of pigeon dung.

Arguably the scariest part was prying the Daytona from its then-owner, an old-timer who claimed he was “saving” the bike — because it was so rare and valuable! Rare, certainly. Valuable? Maybe to pigeons.

“I mean, it was ugly!” Ron says, laughing now about the treasure he paid “a couple hundred bucks” for after two years of dogged persuasion. When he finally went to collect it, he says, “I didn’t even try to start it up. I kicked it over with the kickstart to make sure the engine wasn’t frozen up. But I wasn’t even going to try to get it going.”

Given the circumstances, “wasn’t frozen up” is compelling testimony indeed to the immortality of the 490 cc OHV motor that once kicked ass at Daytona.

Inertia and corrosion were only two of Ron’s problems. Before abandoning it in the dovecote, the T100R’s former owner had tarted it up with the wrong head and a single-carb conversion, and tossed the original dual Amal Concentrics. The mufflers were incorrect, the electrics were shot, and all the decals and badges were missing. Ditto any chrome that had ever safeguarded its metal parts. Assuming the speedo is original, it’s been a helluva long 18,774 miles.

Perhaps because Ron lives in the shadow of a leviathan pullet, it takes him a while to find a bright side to this chapter. But eventually he recalls something good about the mess he brought home: “I don’t think this bike was ever wrecked!”

He never doubted its potential or authenticity, not even after showing it off to a buddy whose response was, “What the heck did you get that for?!”

A good question. But when the bike going gets tough, the tough go to someone with a storeroom like a transit museum. In Ron’s neighborhood, that would be Hermy Baver, Jr., of Hermy’s Cycle Sales in Port Clinton, Pennsylvania.

Ron told Hermy the project was a piece of cake. “All Hermy had to do was completely dismantle the twin, fix everything, and then just reassemble it again to new condition.” See, men of vision are different from us mortals.

I call Hermy and ask him for any fond memories. “The bars were rusty,” he says after thinking for a while. “And the engine was cracked and had to be welded.”

The job took six months. Ron says the work order was seven pages long.

Fortunately, Hermy’s been around the block with old Triumphs. He dug up new rims and spokes, the correct head, a wiring harness, and stock mufflers. He reinstated the correct Amal carbs. Everything that was ever chromed, he replated or replaced. The hardest piece to locate? That was the styling strip atop the gas tank. Naturally, Hermy triumphed.

An interesting footnote to this restoration suggests hope for the spawn of Detroit. The Daytona’s paint and powder coating were jobbed out to a car dealership, Knopf Pontiac in Allentown, and executed there by master craftsman Jesse Britton. The worst-kept secret in Pennsylvania, Britton reportedly repaints more old bikes than Catalinas, and it shows. During deconstruction Hermy had found traces of the original purple paint on the underside of the tank, which Jesse replicated perfectly. And check out the hand-applied pin striping!

Ron says he fixed up his bike to ride, not show, and boy does he. Dusting the Big Chicken was never so much fun. And how does that Daytona run?

“Great! It’s brand new again!” says Ron. It looks brand new, too. “I’ll be riding it ’til I’m 95!”

Text & Motorcycle Photos Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Big Chicken Photo Copyright © 2011 DEBRA JANE SELTZER
http://www.RoadsideArchitecture.com

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5. Thanks!

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Doesn’t Harley-Davidson Make Training Wheels?

In 1991 Spy Magazine asked the multi-talented Paul Rudnick to write an epic feature about celebrity faux rebels. They asked me to write the sidebar about faux rebel bikers. Because I had a huge file about this sort of thing plus industry friends who were inclined to gossip, mine was the stress-free (and admittedly much shorter) assignment, submitted by deadline. Rudnick’s was not.

The magazine told me they weren’t going to pay me until they got the feature. A month passed with no paycheck, then another.

Rudnick is a celebrated novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He authored (among many other things) the screenplay for The Stepford Wives and satiric film reviews for Premiere magazine as “Libby Gelman-Waxner.” In 1991 he was a regular Spy contributor, and an awesome scribe in early bloom as the Hot New Showbiz Thing. He had more stuff on his plate than a Denny’s Grand Slam.

I’d never met Rudnick, but he was listed in the phone book so I called and asked him what up. (This was before the Internet, when people had to actually talk to each other.) Nicest guy in the world! So mean with a keyboard, so sweet to a struggling freelancer. He asked Spy to pay me immediately, and by god they did!

Rudnick’s delicious main article was called “Everybody’s a Rebel.” It was the cover story for the March 1992 issue, which came complete with lick-and-stick biker tats. What follows is the part I wrote. You can see the entire article as it originally appeared here.

And thank you, Paul.

Doesn’t Harley-Davidson Make Training Wheels?
Copyright © 1991 © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Like the leather jacket, the motorcycle has outgrown its humble beginnings as an item of utility: Bikes are now fashion accessories, props for tediously long ad supplements, and the subjects of custody battles. They’ve inspired charity drives (Harleys for the Homeless!) and preemptive movie-contract clauses (a tradition begun when Warner Bros. forbade Steve McQueen from riding his Triumph to the set of Bullitt). But just as the amateur owners of fancy, professional-quality cameras often don’t know how to work the things, possessing a bitchin’ bike doesn’t necessarily mean one knows how to operate it properly. Herewith, a collection of notable motorheads with varying degrees of road competence.

DAN AKROYD rides a police bike with red lights, siren, and dashboard scanner tuned to police frequencies. He recently hosted a legal-aid benefit for convicted drug trafficker Sandy Alexander, a former Hell’s Angels president so cretinous that even the Angels have disowned him.

GARY BUSEY, an anti-helmet-law lobbyist, sustained temporary brain damage when he crashed his Harley into a curb in 1988. Though he claimed to have been doing 50 mph, a witness said he was cruising at a walking pace. Afterward, Busey told the press he still wouldn’t wear a helmet. He was subsequently fired from the film Cadence because he couldn’t remember his lines. Last seen on talk shows saying he’d reconsidered the helmet thing.

DAVID CROSBY, the ex-inmate and firearms buff, broke his leg, ankle and shoulder when he lost control on a curve in Encino, California, in 1990. He claimed his new Harley’s throttle had stuck open.

The late MALCOLM FORBES, who at one time owned 72 bikes, once suffered a collapsed lung and a concussion and broke two ribs. Nine days later he felt well enough to crash a balloon.

BILLY IDOL ran his Harley through an L.A. stop sign and into a car in 1990, breaking his leg and arm. As a result, what was to have been his first major film role (as a roadie in The Doors) was greatly reduced. [Update: because of his injuries, Idol also forfeited the role of the T-1000 cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which was so memorably performed by Robert Patrick.]

BILLY JOEL, who owns two motorcycles, dresses way down when he takes his bikes in to be serviced to assure that he won’t be overcharged. (One dealer says he once mistook Joel for a bum and chased him away from a $14,000 BMW.) In 1982, driving his Harley illegally with a learner’s permit, Joel collided with a car in Huntington, New York, and fractured his wrist and thumb.

JOHN LARROQUETTE broke his collarbone in a dirt-biking accident in Malibu in 1991. “He’s more embarrassed than hurt,” said a spokesperson, who added that some of his Night Court wardrobe had to be altered “to hide his wound on the set.”

JAY LENO owns 15 bikes, and his two-garage home is equipped with a motorcycle elevator. Around 1977 he trashed a Honda CBX, and in 1991 he fractured his leg when he made a U-turn and was hit by another motorcyclist.

JUDD NELSON drives a bike with “SCUM” painted on it.

MICKEY ROURKE’s mechanic says Rourke “doesn’t care how his Harley runs, as long as it’s loud.” Other biker qualification: hires men to rough up people who look at his woman.

BROOKE SHIELDS was introduced to biking in 1987 by a 420-pound Undertaker (his club, not his profession) whom she met in a topless bar. “She didn’t even bitch about being sore afterward,” he told Outlaw Biker.

ROBERT SINCLAIR, the 59-year-old recently retired CEO of SAAB Cars USA, wiped out at around 100 mph in 1988, breaking his hand and melting his face shield.

KEN WAHL claims that were it not for a teenage motorcycle mishap, he might have become a pro baseball star instead of embarking on the career (gas-station attendant) that led him to acting.

😜😜😜

In the Not For Nothing Department: Yes, Harley training wheels do exist!

In the Not For Nothing Department: Yes, Harley training wheels do exist!

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

Dead Spot

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.