Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Addition to the Obits

Category: News/Obituary

Sadly, another verse must be added to the list of 2008 musical losses.

Delaney Bramlett, who co-wrote Eric Clapton's hit "Let It Rain" and had a hit on his own with then-wife Bonnie Bramlett with "Never-Ending Song of Love," died Saturday (December 27) from complications of gallbladder surgery.

"Never-Ending Song of Love" was credited to "Delaney and Bonnie and Friends" and reached the top 15 on the Billboard charts in 1971. Dicky Lee's cover in country made the top ten that year.

Bramlett was 69.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Musical Farewells of 2008

Category: News/Obituary

The list of people who played their last notes in 2008:

Edie Adams (October 15, pneumonia and cancer, age 81). Tony award-winning singer and actress.

Rod Allen (January 10, liver cancer, age 63). The lead singer of the British band the Fortunes, who had the hit "You've Got Your Troubles" in 1966.

Joe Ames (December 22, 2007 - not announced until January 15, 2008, heart attack, age 86). The eldest of the singing Ames Brothers, the pop quartet of the 1950s.

Eddy Arnold (May 8, complications from a fall, age 89). Country music's #1 singles artist according to Billboard magazine, Arnold also had numerous pop hits. He was also the only artist to win the CMA "Entertainer of the Year" after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Sally Arnold (March 11, Alzheimer's disease, age 87). The woman who inspired Eddy Arnold's love songs, his loving wife passed away two months before he did.

Neil Aspinall (March 24, lung cancer, age 66). The road manager for the Beatles.

Jimmy Carl Black (November 1, cancer, age 70). Drummer for Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.

Bill Bolick (March 14, natural causes, age 90). The elder of country music's Bolick brothers who performed for decades as the Blue Sky Boys.

Lawrence Brown (April 6, respiratory ailment, age 63). An original member of the R&B group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

Nappy Brown (September 20, illness, age 78). A 50s R&B singer with three charted hits, all of which made the top ten: "Don't Be Angry," "Little By Little," and "It Don't Hurt No More."

Ola Brunkert (March 15, accident [bled to death after falling through a glass door], age 61). The drummer for the pop band ABBA.

Hiram Bullock (July 25, throat cancer, age 52). The guitarist for David Letterman's "World's Most Dangerous Band" in Letterman's NBC days.

Jheryl Busby (November 4, natural causes, age 59). President of Motown Records during the 1990s.

George Butler (April 9, Alzheimer's disease, age 76). A record producer who worked with the likes of Shirley Bassey and Harry Connick, Jr.

Madame Marie Castello (June 27, unknown causes, said to be in her 90s). A fortune teller who gained international notoriety in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)": "The cops finally busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do."

Page Cavanaugh (December 19, kidney failure, age 86). The leader of the jazz group the Page Cavanaugh Trio, who appeared in several movies including Romance on the High Seas with Doris Day.

Jerry Cole (May 28, heart attack, age 68). Rockabilly Hall of Fame guitarist who played as part of the Champs on "Tequila."

Paul Cole (February 13, natural causes, age 96). An American man who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to become part of pop culture: he was walking along Abbey Road when the cover of the Beatles' album was shot.

Philip Costa (February 14, natural causes, age 91). A big band-era saxophonist who played with the likes of Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.

Opal Courtney, Jr. (September 18, heart attack, age 71). A member of the band the Spaniels, famous for the song "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight."

Clifford Davies (April 13, suicide [gunshot], age 59). Former drummer for the Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent.

Danny Davis (June 12, cardiac arrest, age 83). In the 40s he was a trumpet player for Gene Krupa. In the 50s, he produced records for Connie Francis. In the 60s, he moved to Nashville to continue producing. He also formed the Nashville Brass, winning a Grammy and six CMA Instrumental Group of the Year awards.

Paul Davis (April 22, heart attack, age 60). Pop songwriter and singer, best known for his 1977 hit "I Go Crazy." He also had two #1 country hits as duets.

Bo Diddley (June 2, heart failure, age 79). A founding father of rock and roll.

Danny Dill (October 16, unknown causes, age 84). Prolific country songwriter, his masterpiece was co-writing (with Marijohn Wilkin) Lefty Frizzell's 1959 hit "The Long Black Veil," which went on to be covered in rock (the Band), bluegrass (Bill Monroe), and everything else in between (the Chieftains and Mick Jagger).

Klaus Dinger (March 20, heart failure, age 60). Drummer for the German band Kraftwerk.

Bobby Durham (July 7, lung cancer, age 71). Jazz drummer who played with a number of the legends, including Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Duke Ellington.

Ray Ellis (October 31, melanoma, age 85). Pop music arranger who worked on such classics as "Splish Splash" and and "Chances Are."

Bob Enos (January 11, heart failure, age 60). The trumpet player in the band Roomful of Blues.

Danny Federici (April 17, melanoma, age 58). The original organist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

Steve Foley (August 23, accidental prescription medication overdose, age 49). A session drummer who worked with, among others, the Replacements.

Chris Gaffney (April 17, liver cancer, 57). Songwriter for alt-rockers the Hacienda Brothers and Dave Alvin.

Mel Galley (July 1, cancer, age 60). Guitarist for Whitesnake.

Mort Garson (January 4, renal failure, age 83). A songwriter, best-known for "Our Day Will Come."

Gidget Gein (ne Bradley Stewart) (October 9, heroin overdose, age 39). Former bass player for Marilyn Manson.

Drew Glackin (January 10, thyroid problems, age 44). Member of the alt-rock band the Silos.

Alan Gordon (November 22, cancer, age 64). Songwriter of such hits as Three Dog Night's "Celebrate" and the Turtles' "Happy Together."

Davey Graham (December 15, seizure/cancer, age 64). A British folk guitarist, his work influenced no less than Jimmy Page.

Cherry Green (September 24, heart attack, age 65). Lead singer of the Wailers, the band that backed Bob Marley.

Earle Hagen (May 26, illness, age 88). Best known for writing "The Fishin' Hole," the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show.

Jim Hager (May 1, heart attack, age 66). Half of Hee Haw's Hager Twins.

Connie Haines (September 20, myasthenia gravis, age 87). Pop singer who worked with Frank Sinatra.

Buddy Harmon (August 21, congestive heart failure, age 79). "The most recorded drummer in Nashville" played for the biggest acts in country music. He was also the drummer for the Grand Ole Opry's staff band.

John Hart Sr. (April 11, heart failure, age 67). Original member of the R&B band the Trampps.

Isaac Hayes (August 10, heart attack, age 65). Innovative soul singer (he once released an album with only four songs on it, one of which was a 14-minute version of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"), he was best-known for being the bad mother-shut-yo-mouth who did the Oscar-winning theme to the movie Shaft.

Robert Hazard (August 5, cancer, age 59). Rock songwriter who penned Cyndi Lauper's breakthrough hit "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

Jeff Healey (March 1, cancer, age 41). Blues-rock guitarist best known for his cover of John Hiatt's song "Angel Eyes."

Neal Hefti (October 11, unknown causes, age 85). A former Count Basie trumpet player who is best remembered for performing the theme to Batman.

Don Helms (August 11, heart attack, age 81). The final member of Hank Williams' backing band, the Drifting Cowboys.

Pat Holley-Kaiter (September 25, unknown causes, age 78). The sister of Buddy Holly.

Steve Isham (December 9, cancer, age 56). Keyboardist for the 80s band Autograph and co-writer of their biggest hit, "Turn Up the Radio."

Leo Jackson (May 4, suicide [gunshot], age 73). Prolific country session guitarist who got his start playing as a member of Jim Reeves' Blue Boys.

Pervis Jackson (August 18, liver cancer, age 70). The bass singer for the R&B band the Spinners.

Hugh Jarrett (May 31, injuries from a car accident, age 78). Member of the Jordanaires.

George "Wydell" Jones (September 27, cancer, age 71). A member of the band the Edsels and writer of the song "Rama Lama Ding Dong."

Hal Kant (October 19, pancreatic cancer, age 77). Lawyer for the band the Grateful Dead.

Eartha Kitt (December 25, cancer, age 81). A singer -- and then some.

Sean Levert (March 30, complications of sarcoidosis, age 39). An R&B singer on his own, he was also the son of O'Jays Eddie Levert.

Larry Levine (May 8, emphysema, age 80). A record engineer, he worked on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and won a Grammy for his work on Herb Alpert & the Tiajuana Brass' hit "A Taste of Honey."

Bobby Lord (February 16, illness, age 74). Country singer from the 1950s and 60s, his biggest hit was "Without Your Love."

Robert Lucas (November 23, drug overdose, age 46). Replacement singer for the band Canned Heat.

Teo Macero (February 19, illness, age 82). A jazz producer best known for his work with Miles Davis.

Kenny MacLean (November 24, drug overdose, age 52). Bass player for the band Platinum Blonde.

Buddy Miles (February 26, congestive heart failure, age 60). Drummer in Jimi Hendrix' Band of Gypsies band.

Mitch Mitchell (November 12, natural causes, age 61). British drummer best known as a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

LeRoi Moore (August 19, complications from ATV accident, age 47). Co-founder of the Dave Matthews Band and the group's saxophone player.

Gilbert Moore Jr. (August 31, throat cancer, age 67). Member of the band the Esquires, who did "Get On Up."

Frank Navetta (October 31, illness, age unknown). Guitarist and co-founder of the punk band the Descendents.

Ken Nelson (January 6, natural causes, age 96). One-time A&R man at Capitol, he became one of country music's most prolific and influential record producers, working with nearly everyone on the Capitol Records country roster.

Larry Norman (February 24, heart failure, age 60). Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame member, considered by many to be the father of the "Christian rock" genre.

Odetta (nee Odetta Holmes) (December 2, heart disease, age 77). "The Queen of American Folk Music" who influenced numerous folk singers from Dylan to Baez.

Clyde Otis (January 8, unknown causes, age 83). Songwriter who penned "Endlessly" and "Broken Hearted Melody."

Ray Overholt (September 23, heart failure, age 84). Gospel songwriter who wrote the classic "Ten Thousand Angels."

Earl Palmer (September 19, illness, age 84). A session drummer who performed on such classics as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "Tutti Fruiti."

Dottie Rambo (May 11, bus crash, age 74). Gospel Music Hall of Fame singer/songwriter, considered by many to be the queen of the genre.

Jerry Reed (September 1, emphysema, age 71). Acclaimed country singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor who appeared in the Smoky & the Bandit films.

Jack Reno (November 1, brain cancer, age 72). Country singer with a dozen hits over a seven-year career, the biggest being "Repeat After Me."

Jody Reynolds (November 7, liver cancer, age 75). The singer of the hit "Endless Sleep."

Nick Reynolds (October 1, respiratory disease, age 75). Founding member of the Kingston Trio.

John Rutsey (May 11, heart attack, age 55). Co-founder and original drummer for the Canadian rock band Rush.

Charlie Ryan (February 16, heart disease, age 92). The writer of the classic "Hot Rod Lincoln."

Merl Saunders (October 24, stroke, age 74). Keyboard player for the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band.

Mike Smith (February 27, pneumonia, age 64). Lead singer for 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Dave Clark Five.

Norman "Hurricane" Smith (March 3, natural causes, age 85). A recording engineer who worked with Pink Floyd and on the Beatles' Rubber Soul.

Tony Snow (July 12, colon cancer, age 53). The former White House press secretary and Fox News anchor was also a member of the rock band Beats Workin'.

Jo Stafford (July 16, congestive heart failure, age 90). One of the greatest pop singers of her generation -- or any other.

John Stewart (January 17, stroke, age 68). A member of the Kingston Trio in the 1960s, he also found success as a songwriter ("Daydream Believer") and singer ("Gold").

Levi Stubbs (October 17, stroke and cancer, age 72). The lead singer of the Four Tops, he also provided the voice for Audrey II in the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors.

Captain Tony Tarracino (November 1, heart and lung diseases, age 92). A legend in Key West, the subject of Jimmy Buffett's song "Last Mango in Paris."

Studs Terkel (October 31, complications from a fall, age 96). Among his many talents, he was one of the greatest authorities on the diverse Chicago music scene and host of a long-running Chicago radio program showcasing that music.

Ira Tucker (June 24, heart failure, age 83). A singer in the legendary gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds.

Phil Urso (April 14, illness, age 82). Prolific jazz saxophone player as a solo artist and with Chet Baker, who called him "the most underrated of America's jazz players and composers."

Charlie Walker (September 12, colon cancer, age 81). Texas honky tonk country singer with a string of hits starting with "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down."

Jerry Wallace (May 5, congestive heart failure, age 79). A singer with a two-stage career: 60s pop singer ("In the Misty Moonlight," "Primrose Lane") and 70s country singer ("If You Leave Me Tonight, I'll Cry").

Ruth Wallis (December 22, 2007 -- not announced until January 8, 2008, Alzheimer's disease, age 87). A singer of risque songs in the 1940s and 50s ("Queer Things," "The Dinghy Song") that, unlike Rusty Warren's, are still risque. The play Boobs! The World According to Ruth Wallis was based on her music.

Dee Dee Warwick (October 18, illness, age 63). The sister of Dionne Warwick who performed the first hit version of the song "You're No Good."

Jerry Wexler (August 15, congestive heart failure, age 91). Atlantic Records' legendary record producer.

Norman Whitfield (September 16, complications from diabetes, age 67). Motown songwriter who penned such hits as "War" and "Ball of Confusion."

Al Wilson (April 21, kidney failure, age 68). R&B singer who had a #1 pop hit in 1973 with "Show and Tell."

Richard Wright (September 15, cancer, age 65). Keyboard player for Pink Floyd.

Richard "Popcorn" Wylie (September 7, heart failure, age 69). A piano player who worked on numerous Motown sessions (including "Shop Around" and "Please Mr. Postman") as well as his own recordings.

Dennis Yost (December 7, respiratory failure, age 65). The lead singer of the band the Classics IV.

Farewell, and thanks for the music.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Attention Deficit Video

Category: Review/Rant

Tis the season for PBS fund raising, fa la la la la. The local PBS stations like to do that with wall-to-wall music on Saturday night. That doesn't necessarily pull my money in, but it does get my attention.

This past Saturday featured some great concerts by Victor Borge (without question one of the funniest things I've ever seen), Elvis Presley's gospel roots, and a 1977 concert by the Who that was filmed for the documentary The Kids Are All Right.

There was one other show, and it was an absolute pain to watch. It was a Steve Miller Band concert filmed in Chicago. No, it was not painful because of Miller's sometimes horrid songs ("Abra, abracadabra, I wanna reach out and slap ya"). What made this concert so impossible to watch was the nonstop switching of camera shots. In all seriousness, there was no shot on any member of the band for any longer than five seconds. Meanwhile, for every five seconds of band shot(s), there was about 15 seconds of audience.

There's something bad to be said about editors who think people want to have their eyes spinning around with this nonstop scene changing. Concert videos shouldn't be chop cut the way an MTV (sorry, VH-1...I forgot, MTV doesn't play videos anymore) video is. I tuned in because I wanted to see Steve Miller, not a five-second close-up of Norton Buffalo's hand followed by half a minute of audience footage singing along with "The Joker."

Austin City Limits (now if PBS wants me to donate, they can show THAT all Saturday night, along with old episodes of Soundstage) had audience shots, but I always dismissed those as a way of showing the viewer that they were editing something out of the show. ACL was great at showing the performer, and NOT at a ratio of three seconds to every ten of the audience. They also kept the camera on the performer instead of bouncing between angles as if they were following a tennis ball.

Perhaps people making concert videos need to watch the grandfather of concert videos, Stop Making Sense. That movie is all about Talking Heads, and that's the way a concert video/movie should be. It's not about the audience, and it's not about "how many camera angles can I present in ten seconds." It's about a band and their music, period.

I would like to see a Steve Miller performance (for some reason I liked him when I was a teenager, and he was part of the very first rock concert I ever attended [with the Eagles and Eddie Money]) presented as if the editor/director were interested in the artist instead of seemingly trying to present an attention deficit mentality.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Accolades for One of the Best


One of America's best songwriters is getting his due.

In October, the Americana Music Association presented John Hiatt with a "Lifetime Achievement" award for his 38-year songwriting career. Earlier this month, the Nashville Songwriters Association inducted Hiatt into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

Although Hiatt has never had a hit on his own, several of his songs have found their way to the top of the charts by other artists. Hiatt-penned tunes include "Sure As I'm Sittin' Here" (Three Dog Night), "Thing Called Love" (Bonnie Raitt), and "The Way We Make a Broken Heart" (Rosanne Cash).

Hiatt is currently on tour in support of his most recent album, Same Old Man.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seve Ballesteros Update

Category: Sports News

Seve Ballesteros remains in serious but stable condition after last week's six-hour operation to relieve pressure on his brain and remove more of a cancerous tumor.

The golfing great and two-time Masters champion, 51, was diagnosed with brain cancer after collapsing at the Barajas airport in Madrid.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sick Call: Seve Ballesteros

Category: Sports News

Spanish golfing great Seve Ballesteros underwent surgery for a brain tumor earlier this week. The news was terrible: the tumor was malignant. Now Ballesteros, 51, is in a fight for his life and facing more surgery.

Ballesteros suffered swelling of his brain and bleeding as part of post-op complications, which required part of his skull to be removed. Now a third operation will be performed Friday in an attempt to remove the remainder of the cancerous tumor that, according to the press releases, is "lodged deep inside the brain." The type of malignancy was characterized as an oligoastrocytoma.

Among Ballesteros' golfing accomplishments are two Masters victories (1980, 1983), three British Open championships (1979, 1984, 1988), and serving as captain of the victorious European Ryder Cup team in 1997.

Please keep this golfing legend in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Missing From Baker Street

Category: News

While playing music trivia on AOL, Gerry Rafferty's name came up. Most people remember him as the lead singer for Stealer's Wheel with their one big U.S. hit, "Stuck in the Middle with You" (they had one other hit, "Star," in 1974). He had a major solo hit in late 1978 with "Baker Street" from the spectacular album City to City. Two more hits followed from that album, but he never equaled that success in the States.

Apparently Rafferty, 61, was in St. Thomas Hospital in London for liver failure treatment or alcohol treatment (it is unclear which, or it could be both). He checked himself out of the hospital August 1, leaving his clothes and personal effects behind. The hospital filed a missing person report with the police, but to date Rafferty has not been seen since.

Here's hoping Rafferty turns up soon and is able to get his personal problems sorted out.

And, if you want to hear some of the best music of the last 30 years, put on City to City.

Link to story

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What a Fitting Day to Clinch

Category: Sports/Music Tribute

On Saturday, September 20, the Chicago Cubs clinched the National League Central Division for the second consecutive year with a 5-4 victory at Wrigley Field. They could not have scripted a better day to clinch. September 20th was also the 24th anniversary of the death of Steve Goodman.

Most knowledgeable music fans know the connection: Goodman's 1984 song, "Go Cubs Go," blares over the Wrigley Field PA system after every victory.

Steve Goodman was born in Chicago and spent most of his career based there. He made friends with another Chicago folk singer, John Prine, and the two became best friends. They wrote one of Goodman's signature songs, "You Never Even Call Me By My Name," although Prine never accepted royalties for the tune that became popular thanks to David Allan Coe's recording.

As a Chicago resident, Goodman was a Cubs fan. He lamented the bad days of the Cubs in "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." Cubs officials weren't very impressed with Goodman's hilarious but true (at the time) observation that the North Siders were "the doormat of the National League" and the dying man was going to "see the Angels play, but you the living, you're stuck with the Cubs, so it's me that feels sorry for you!" As the Cubs improved, in 1984 Goodman penned the far more optimistic "Go Cubs Go," originally pegged as the opening for WGN radio's broadcasts. The Cubs won their first division since 1945 in 1984.

Sadly, Goodman didn't live to see the clinching game. Four days before the Cubs made their first post-War post-season, Goodman died. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 20, Goodman lived for 15 years in remission. When things took a turn for the worse, a bone marrow transplant was performed. Post-operative complications set in, and Goodman's kidneys failed, claiming his life at the age of 36 on September 20, 1984.

Goodman's legacy lives on, however. He was awarded two posthumous Grammy Awards, the first in 1985 as songwriter of the "Best Country Song" because of Willie Nelson's woefully inferior recording of "City of New Orleans" (first a hit by Arlo Guthrie). His fans keep his memory alive, most notably John Prine (who included "Souvenirs," the duet version with Goodman, on the Rhino Great Days anthology) and Jimmy Buffett, who has recorded such Goodman gems as "Door Number Three," "This Hotel Room," and "California Promises."

Now, thanks to the people at Wrigley Field, Goodman now has his biggest hit: "Go Cubs Go." Hopefully, sometime during this playoff season, one of the networks covering the games will do a tribute to the man behind the song.

I also hope that, when the dust at home plate clears, they no longer "still sing the blues in Chicago" but sing "Go Cubs Go" throughout the World Series championship celebration.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's Jim Brady All Over Again

Category: News Rant

If you are old enough, you remember the assassination attempt on the life of President Reagan on March 30, 1981. Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, was shot in the head during the attack. In their rush to be "first with the news," CBS reported Brady died without checking their facts.

Flash forward to August 20, 2008. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Congresswoman from Cleveland, is declared dead by CNN, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, two Cleveland TV news station web sites, a Cleveland radio station, and then it's picked up by everyone as official.

One problem: this was at approximately 2:00 p.m. Tubbs Jones was still alive at the time.

Two hours later, the media outlets are tripping over themselves, blaming -- of course -- everyone except THEMSELVES for not checking sources. A number of comments left at various Cleveland news outlets voiced as much outrage over the inaccurate reporting as the sadness over the sudden loss of their representative.

And they should be outraged. Only one station's web site stated that a news conference was scheduled for 2 PM and nothing else, bucking the trend to be first with the news and settling instead to be first with the correct news.

It doesn't take that much effort to check a source. And the fact that the Congresswoman did indeed succumb to the massive brain aneurysm later in the evening does not excuse the WRONG reporting of her early demise.

WKYC's web site has a motto posted: "Report the facts. Respect the truth." Their site was the sole holdout for confirmation of Tubbs Jones' condition, and as a result they were the only ones who did not have to wipe egg off their face...or require a refresher course in Journalism 101.

My condolences to Stephanie Tubbs Jones' friends and constituents, and especially her family who should not have to endure the added trauma of bad news reporting for the sake of being able to brag they were "first to report" in a future ratings commercial.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Talk About Eerie

Category: Obituary/News

Isaac Hayes was found unresponsive by his treadmill in his Memphis home today (8/10) at about 2 PM central time. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Foul play is not suspected. Although no cause of death has been immediately released, Hayes had a number of medical problems including having suffered a stroke in 2006.

Hayes won a Grammy and Oscar for the theme to the 1971 blockbuster film Shaft, one of the few "blaxploitation" films to achieve a mainstream audience. In fact, one could argue that the success of Shaft contributed to the glut of blaxpoitation films in the early 70s. Hayes suffered a career lull and even had to file for bankruptcy. However, his career revived and introduced him to a new audience when he voiced Chef on South Park.

Hayes' best-known album is Hot Buttered Soul, an album of unconventional (for 60s mainstream radio) songs. Most notable was his 18-minute rendition (complete with an eight-minute introductory rap) of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," the big country and pop hit by Glen Campbell.

What is so eerie about the timing of Hayes' death is that it comes one day after comic/actor Bernie Mac's death from complications of pneumonia. Hayes had recently completed filming a small part in the forthcoming film Soul Man, playing himself. Bernie Mac was the star of that movie.

Isaac Hayes was 65; he would have turned 66 on August 20.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

They've Done It Again

Category: TV Review

For the most part, Animal Planet is tough for animal lovers to watch. Sure, there are those cute meerkats on Meerkat Manor -- but then they show Flower dying after being bit by a puff adder. Certainly any animal lover is thankful for emergency vets, but watching them work can be as heartbreaking as uplifting. However, Animal Planet does occasionally throw us a show that is nothing but pure delight. The annual Puppy Bowl is such a show, where the screen is filled for three hours with puppies doing what puppies do best.

Capitalizing on the success of that annual event, Animal Planet presented Puppy Games 2008 to coincide with the opening of the Olympics. In contrast to the Puppy Bowl, where the little fellas and gals just romp, there was a "competition" theme to this three-hour joy ride: puppies in water ("swimming event"), a boxing ring, gymnastic equipment, and a soccer field. Medals were awarded. It was as cute as it sounds.

The Puppy Games will repeat on August 23 in three-hour loops from 8 PM till 2 AM eastern time. Prepare to "awww" a good deal.

Animal Planet's Puppy Games site

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Category: News/Sports/Rant

The Houston Astros played the Chicago Cubs Monday night at Wrigley Field. The Astros won, 2-0. In actuality, however, every player who walked off the field alive was a winner.

Chicago was hit by severe weather, including a tornado warning. The game was delayed after the 6th inning for nearly three hours because of the severe thunderstorm. When the game resumed, the teams were able to play about another inning and a half before lightning again streaked through the sky. When a bolt hit near Wrigley, Astros center fielder Lance Berkman ran off the field before the umpires could make any decision about the game.

Good for Berkman. He should be given a medal. In contrast, Wally Bell, the crew chief of the umpires working the game, should be strung up a flag pole during a thunderstorm.

You simply do not put people out in an open field with spikes on their shoes and a lightning pole with an American flag hanging from it at the top of the stadium. I would love nothing better than to see the Cubs win the World Series this year (the 100th anniversary of the last time they won the World Series, as the ESPN anchors like to remind us at least 47 times a day). However, in order for them to accomplish that feat, they need to be alive. Bell's inaction put the Cubs and the Astros players at serious risk. I sincerely hope the Commissioner's office will take prompt disciplinary action against Wally Bell for allowing the players to be on the field in such dangerous conditions for as long as they were. Lightning is the #1 weather killer in the United States. Because of Wally Bell's indecision 18 men could have suffered that fate -- as an ESPN audience watched. They could have resumed the game today before the regularly scheduled game or played a day/night double-header.

Former Cubs pitcher Geremi Gonzalez, a friend of Astros pitcher Humberto Quintero (the pitcher on the mound when the game was called) was killed by a lightning bolt earlier this year, although not on the playing field.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Twenty Years of Talk Radio Revolution

Category: News

In 1988, AM radio was a dying entity. With a few exceptions (most notably, Nashville's WSM-AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry), AM radio was relegated to the formats that FM did not want: religious programming, foreign languages, old country, R&B, and pop crooners.

Then on August 1, 1988, the Rush Limbaugh program began, airing on AM radio. The show took off, and in the process revived AM radio as a vibrant, legitimate outlet.

Love him or hate him (it's very difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone in the middle when it comes to the conservative host), Rush Limbaugh's popularity elevated talk radio from a mostly local outlet to a nation, vital necessity. His show is now carried by over 600 radio stations with an audience of 20 million. Before Limbaugh came along, six radio stations and an audience of 20 thousand for a talk show was unthinkable. Now the format is so popular that it's practically all you can find on AM radio.

Happy anniversary to the Rush Limbaugh program!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Oh What a Voice

Category: Obituary

For younger people, "You Belong to Me" evokes memories of either Carly Simon or the Doobie Brothers. However, the older people -- and music buffs -- immediately think of that wonderful song from the 50s and Jo Stafford's remarkable voice.

Jo Stafford died July 16th of congestive heart failure at her home in Century City, California. Most people who remember her probably thought she died ages ago. Sadly, there is not much desire for the popular music she and others of her era performed, so the fact that her name only surfaced in the public eye through death is understandable, though regrettable.

Jo Stafford began as a singer in vocal group called the Pied Pipers in the 1930s. Tommy Dorsey's arranger heard them and invited them to leave California for New York. The band broke up soon afterwards, but Stafford and two others remained in New York and quickly found work with Dorsey and performing on recordings by Dorsey's vocalist, Frank Sinatra.

Stafford became a popular singer on the USO circuit during World War II. After the war, Stafford and Gordon MacRae (no relation to the 70s "Rock Your Baby" singer George McCrae) had a series of successful duets. She also performed with former Spike Jones City Slicker Red Ingle and his new band, Natural Seven, on their country comedy hit, "Tim-Tay-Shun." The comedy routine would serve her well: her only Grammy came for "Best Comedy Performance" in 1960 for Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris.

In the 50s, Stafford found a number of her hits in the country genre. She scored pop hits with "Jambalaya" and "Hey Good Lookin'" (both Hank Williams tunes) and "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I," a major country hit for Hank Snow.

However, if she is best remembered for one song, it is most likely "You Belong to Me," the Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart composition she recorded in 1952. Her vocal performance wowed fans on both sides of the Atlantic, sending the song to #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. It was not only her biggest hit in England, it put her in the record books in Britain, as she became the first female artist to top the British pop charts.

Stafford's career, like many of her pop contemporaries such as Frankie Laine (with whom she had a number of duet hits) and Patti Page, saw their careers plummet with the advent of rock and roll. Stafford, however, maintained a loyal fan base and continued to perform into her 60s.

Jo Stafford was 90.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For Once, I Agree With Stephen A. Smith

Category: Sports Rant

Without question, I am not a Stephen A. Smith fan. In fact, when a SportsCenter anchor says, "Coming up, Stephen A. Smith..." I reach for the remote. However, I have to say his opinion on the Brett Favre situation is dead-on correct.

Smith's commentary on ESPN said, among other things, that Favre has had a remarkable, Hall of Fame career as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers; however, Favre is the one who said, "I'm retiring," and it's time to stop whining about Favre as though the Packers can never win another game if he stays retired or is traded to another team.

I could not agree more. I feel that Favre, who perhaps did not take as much time to contemplate what retirement meant as one might believe, is pulling a Roger Clemens on his team and his fans. Clemens started a nasty habit of stringing everyone along over the winter months and well past spring training, only announcing after the baseball season was a month or two underway that he was signing to the Astros or the Yankees. To me, that's superstar arrogance: let's see Homer Bailey, who's been bouncing between the Cincinnati Reds and their minor-league AAA team for a couple of years, skip spring training and a month of the regular season before deciding to grace the game of baseball with his presence! The message Clemens seemed to be conveying was, "I'm so great that baseball just can't go on without me. Now I'm back. Rejoice!"

Sadly, ESPN and other sports media played along with Clemens, and they are doing so again with Favre. Smith articulated that in his comments. "I'm getting sick and tired of this 'love affair' between Brett Favre and, dare I say it, the media." He called the network that signs his paycheck out on it, too, and he's 100% correct. When the "Bottom Line" has, amid its "WNBA," "NL," "AL," "Golf," and "NHL" tabs, one that says "FAVRE" (or "Clemens" or "Bonds"), there's something skewered with the reporting. Much like ESPN's treatment of the PGA solely in terms of Tiger Woods (how many golf tournaments have you seen reported in any detail since Woods' surgery on his knee, which knocked him out for the rest of the 2008 season? Even with the third major, the British Open, beginning this week, ESPN is ignoring it while the previous two majors were covered weeks in advance -- but only in terms of Tiger. And, on the scant occasions they have mentioned it, it's only to report that Tiger will not be at the British Open!), ESPN is covering the Favre retirement/un-retirement story as if (a) there are no other players in the NFL and (b) everyone in the world cares.

Honestly, I did care; however, now I feel that Favre is being ruled more by ego than good common sense.
Packer fans "got over" the retirement of Bart Starr (who was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, both won by the Packers), and they will get over Favre's retirement as well, if they will allow their brains, not their emotions, to rule. While fans are protesting the management decision to not release Favre and not to return him to the active roster (meaning they'll either trade him or keep him as a back-up quarterback), how will they feel if an injury or bad playing indicates that Favre's return to the NFL was a bad move? Or if he does return and sits on the bench, ending his record streak of 253 consecutive starts? There is a salary cap, and the $11 million base salary he would make can pay for a lot of talent who can carry the team many years into the future.

For those who think Brett Favre's return is a good idea, remember Michael Jordan. Oh, I'm sorry, you don't remember Michael Jordan as anything but a Chicago Bull, do you? There's a reason: Jordan's two years with the Washington Wizards, after he had retired from the NBA then un-retired, saw him with the lowest scoring average of his career (20 points per game his last year). To many -- probably starting with the Bulls fan -- the notion that Jordan has any other team on his career stats list is an insult. The low scoring average indicates that maybe Michael should have given baseball, not basketball, a second try.

Please, Brett, for the sake of your legacy, take up golf on Sunday afternoon. You just may end up as the QB on last year's lovable loser team, the Miami Dolphins, wishing you had stayed retired.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Much Better This Time

Category: Television Review

In March, I reviewed America the Wright Way from the Travel Channel. I was none too pleased with Ian Wright's ridiculous travel across America. In fact, I could not make it past the first commercial break.
Apparently the Travel Channel saw the error of its way: even as frequently as they repeat shows (I have most of the RV Crazy! narration memorized simply from having seen it so frequently), America the Wright Way has disappeared from the station's line-up faster than the "no smoking" signs around Anthony Bourdain.

The Travel Channel has kept the "Brit exploring the States" scenario and revamped it, this time as Lawrence of America. Lawrence of America is hosted by Lawrence Beldon-Smythe, a British reporter and "truth-seeker." Each 30-minute episode has Beldon-Smythe at different American spots in the name of "journalism" (Beldon-Smythe might be the first graduate of the University of Borat): a NASCAR race, Las Vegas, NASA's Cape Kennedy, Nashville's country music scene.

Unlike the earlier attempt at showing us our own country through British eyes, Lawrence of America is funny. Beldon-Smythe is far more endearing to the audience than the obnoxious Ian Wright had been. While not side-splitting (unless you're a major fan of British humor -- or is that humour?), Lawrence could definitely teach some other Travel Channel hosts a thing or two about comedy.

Beldon-Smythe will probably never replace Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, or Samantha Brown on the list of "top Travel Channel hosts," but his brilliantly-portrayed buffoonery deserves to be kept on the channel. It also deserves a couple of those aforementioned repeats, because currently episodes (two back-to-back shows) only air once a week (Tuesday nights at 11 and 11:30, eastern).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Death of a Legendary TV Icon

Category: Obituary

No, not Tim Russert.

With all the nonstop coverage of Russert's sudden death on June 13, lost in the shuffle was the announcement of the passing of legendary sportscaster Charlie Jones.

Much like Jim McKay, who died last week, Jones was an icon of the "three channel days" (as comedian Tim Wilson named them). Jones worked on ABC's Wide World of Sports with McKay. He also covered the American Football League football games before the merger, and even after the merger was a commentator on NBC Sports. He was also a noted regional sportscaster, having covered during his career the Dallas Texans (now the Cowboys) during their inaugural season and the Cincinnati Reds for two seasons in 1973-74.

Jones won an Emmy for his documentary Is Winning the Name of the Game? in 1973.

Charlie Jones was 77 and suffered a heart attack at his home in La Jolla, California.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Let Your Old Captain Handle This

Category: Review

If you think modern television shows have hokey plots, try this one on for size: A millionaire police homicide captain who shows up at the crime scene in a chauffeured car to begin his investigation.

That "hokey plot" is the scenario for Burke's Law, which I discovered in reruns as a teenager. It has since become either my favorite show or in the top three (depending on the mood). The great news is that part of the first season of Burke's Law is now available on DVD in the U.S.

Burke's Law was the first hit for the late Aaron Spelling as a producer, and it was a series that the "A" list celebrities of the day begged to be on. (Examples: Frank Sinatra's cameo in "Who Killed Wade Walker?" Sammy Davis Jr.'s brief dancing appearance in "Who Killed Alex Debbs?") Each episode began with a murder, followed by a phone call to Captain Amos Burke (who was usually entertaining a beautiful woman) and a dash to the scene of the crime in his Rolls Royce. Each episode was titled "Who Killed (the name of the murder victim)?"

So why was this so good? First, the acting. Gene Barry (Captain Burke) was superb in delivering one-liners with the straightest face. Gary Conway (who went on to star in Land of the Giants) played the hotshot young detective Tim Tilson, always trying to show off how much he'd learned in college. Then there was Leon Lontoc, who played Burke's chauffeur/butler, Henry. While sometimes restricted to the typical early 60s Oriental servant stereotype (think of the minimal use of Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet, which star Van Williams objected to and pressured the producers to rectify, resulting in the cancellation of the series after one year), Henry could also rip off some zingers. One of the most classic had Henry mumbling in his native language. When Burke asked for a translation, Henry huffed, "I said I never had this much trouble when I worked for the Green Hornet!"

Secondly was the writing. Ostensibly a crime drama, Burke's Law was dang funny. The plot should make that fact obvious; however, there were other elements that made the show as comical as any sitcom (and funnier than some). For one thing, Amos had a list of sayings about situations, which he would spout off: "Never let your brain interfere with your heart, your stomach, or your wallet. It's Burke's law." (A collection of the "Burke's laws" is one of the extras in the DVD set.) Any time the investigation involved a beautiful female, Burke would tell his associates, "Let your old captain handle this one."

However, it was a crime show, and there was a murder (or sometimes several murders) to solve. The shows were very well written to leave the identity of the murderer hanging. Sometimes the guilty party was obvious; other times it was a total shock.

And, yes, the celebrities (many of whom appear in pre-superstar roles, such as Elizabeth Montgomery in "Who Killed Mr. X?") make the show fun to watch now in retrospect. While most of us remember Paul Lynde as the wisecracking Uncle Arthur on Bewitched or the joking "center square" on Hollywood Squares, he appeared in two episodes and turned in fine performances.

The only drawback is that the series is being issued a little at a time. Only 16 of the first season's 32 episodes are on DVD at the moment, which means (a) more money to spend or, sadly (b) they can stop putting out the DVDs if they don't sell well. I hope the latter isn't the case, though. Burke's Law is a joy, even 45 years after it first appeared on television.

Burke's Law season one, part one

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Thrill of Victory....

Category: Tribute

Once in a while, while murmuring about the rapidly-approaching minimum age to join AARP, something appears in the news that makes me thankful I grew up when I did. Seeing ESPN's tribute to Jim McKay this morning is one of those moments.

Comedian Tim Wilson refers to them as "the three channel days," when there weren't boatloads of choices for sports channels. No NFL Network or NBA Network, just a couple of baseball games every week (Saturday afternoon and, later, Monday night), and football games that were considered an afterthought as evidenced by the infamous "Heidi game" of 1968 (where NBC stopped covering a game with a minute left in order to air a movie in its entirety). It is that era in which I was raised, the era of Jim McKay.

McKay was a welcome friend every week thanks to ABC's Wide World of Sports. His opening catch phrase, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat," has become part of American popular culture. He told us the thrill of victory over 12 Olympics, and the horror of the '72 terrorist attacks on the Israeli Olympic athletes.

That is the sad thing about McKay's passing. I'm sure a lot of people who saw the tributes to him shrugged off the notion of pre-cable days, something that is as foreign to them as someone hosting The Tonight Show before Jay Leno. The fact is that we couldn't have an ESPN or Fox Sports Network or the other multitude of sports announcers without people like Jim McKay paving the way, making the profession respectable and classy.

And that he did, as his 13 Emmy Awards prove. In fact, McKay was the first sportscaster to ever take home an Emmy. Throughout his career he brought numerous sporting events with a rare and difficult combination of fan-like enthusiasm and professional reporter. And, although he has not been active in broadcasting recently, he will be missed. His influence, however, will remain as long as sports are aired on television.

Jim McKay was 86 and died June 7 of natural causes.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rock's Mount Rushmore Loses A Member

Category: Obituary

Here's a story that I really wanna tell
It's about Bo Diddley at the O.K. Corral
Now Bo Diddley didn't start no mess
He had a gun on his hip and a rose on his vest
'Cause Bo Diddley's a gunslinger

("Bo Diddley's a Gunslinger")

The fourth face on a mythical rock and roll Mount Rushmore would probably be open for debate. Buddy Holly or Bill Haley? Jackie Brenston (Ike Turner's sax player under whose name the "first rock and roll song," "Rocket 88," was released) or Little Richard? However, there would most likely be no argument for the other three faces: Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley.

Ellas Bates, or Ellas McDaniel, better known as Bo Diddley, died Monday of heart failure. "Unique and influential" is how Joel Whitburn's entry identifies Diddley. "Understatement" is what most people would say to that description. However, to be fair to Whitburn, he is limited by space in his Billboard books.

Forget what those popular (and very humorous) Nike commercials said, Bo knew Diddley. He knew the blues, too, having grown up in Mississippi. He listened to everything from Louis Jordan to Nat "King" Cole and put it all into his music, which was powered by what he called "drum licks on the guitar" played on that trademark box-shaped guitar of his. He was one of the earliest performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, being enshrined in its second "class" in 1987, and for good reason: Rock and roll would be completely different music without Bo's influence.

Farewell to the legendary Bo Diddley, dead at age 79.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Almost Certain Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor

Category: Obituary

It is with tremendous sadness that I report there is a void in the comedy on this earth.

Harvey Korman died today (Thursday 5/29) of complications from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm suffered four months ago.

While comedy is subjective, I will make the bold proclamation that if Harvey Korman didn't make you laugh at least once, you have no sense of humor to speak of. This man was positively nuts -- in the best way possible. He took home four Emmy Awards for his work on The Carol Burnett Show. In reunion shows he, co-second banana Tim Conway, and Carol Burnett all admitted that Korman and Conway lived to crack each other up. (If you've ever seen outtakes of the show, you have witnessed how successful they were at making their co-stars laugh.)

What may arguably be Korman's legacy, however, is the role of Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. Constantly referred to as "Hedy" to his chagrin (and apparently the real Hedy Lamarr, who sued Mel Brooks over the use of her name -- not that Brooks cared, as is referenced in the film's scene where Governor LePetomane tells Korman's character, "Hey, it's eighteen something, you can sue her!"), Korman played the evil, lusty (remember him fondling the statue of Lady Justice?) attorney general to perfection. In a movie of parodies one of the best was Lamarr telling the gang of thugs he assembled to raid Rock Ridge, "You will be risking your lives, while I will be risking an almost-certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor!"

Harvey Korman in
SurfSide 6, 1961

Korman appeared as an actor in numerous television shows and films. It is his comedic skills on The Carol Burnett Show and in the works with Mel Brooks ("It was comedy heaven to make Harvey Korman laugh," a distraught Mel Brooks told the Associated Press) that will live on forever.

Farewell to the remarkably talented Harvey Korman, who passed away at age 81.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More Obituaries of Note

Category: News

More sad passings to report from the world of entertainment:

Richard "Dick" Sutcliffe (died May 11): The name might not ring a bell with you; however, Sutcliffe gave the world a piece of popular culture. He was the co-creator of the popular religious children's show Davy and Goliath, the Sunday morning saga of a boy (Davy) and his dog (Goliath) that always featured a Biblical message or faith-based lesson. Sutcliffe was 90 and died from complications resulting from a stroke.

Lloyd Moore (died May 22): A man recognized as the oldest living NASCAR driver passed away at the age of 95. According to the NASCAR obituary, Moore finished tied for 15th with Junior Johnson for most top 5 finishes (13) in the first six years of professional stock car racing.

Dick Martin (died May 24): Laugh-In always finished with Dan Rowan saying, "Say goodnight, Dick," to which Dick Martin replied, "Goodnight, Dick." (This is parodied at the conclusion of the Eagles' song "On the Border" from the album of the same name in 1974.) Martin graduated from comedian in front of the camera to director, putting his skills to work on The Bob Newhart Show, Brothers, Mama's Family, and the cult classic Sledge Hammer! Martin was 82 and died from respiratory failure.

Thelma Keane (died May 23): The name isn't familiar, but her character has delighted comic strip readers for generations. She was the inspiration for the wife in her husband Bil Keane's long-running strip The Family Circus. Thelma Keane was 82 and had Alzheimer's disease.

Geremi (Jeremi) Gonzalez (died May 25): A former major league pitcher who pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and New York Mets. Gonzalez was 33 and was killed by a lightning strike in his native Venezuela.

Sydney Pollack (died May 26): A man of multiple talents who could direct a great comedy like Tootsie (in which he also appeared as Dustin Hoffman's frustrated agent) or a majestic drama such as his Oscar-winning Out of Africa. Pollack died of cancer at age 73.

Earle Hagen (died May 26): Don't know the name? Betcha five bucks you know his song. Imagine a black-and-white image on a TV with a sheriff and his young son, fishing poles over their shoulders, walking down a dirt road. You're whistling, aren't you? That's Earle Hagen's signature song, which Andy Griffith actually released with lyrics under its title, "The Fishin' Hole." Other TV theme songs Hagen wrote include I Spy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mod Squad, and That Girl. Hagen was 88 and had been in ill health for several months.

A heartfelt farewell.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Obituaries of Note

Category: News

Barry Maggert, 47, killed in a plane crash in Colorado on May 10. Maggert's younger brother is Jeff Maggert, professional golfer. Jeff withdrew from the Players Championship after his opening round to be with his family.

Jerry Wallace, 79, a singer with two distinctive careers (60s pop singer and 70s country performer), died May 5 of congestive heart failure. My country blog has more information.

Dottie Rambo, 74, Gospel Music Hall of Fame singer/songwriter, died May 11 when her tour bus was blown off the interstate in Missouri. The other blog also carries more details.

John Rutsey, 55, died May 10th from a heart attack. The name probably does not ring a bell with anyone except die-hard fans of one band. He was the original drummer and co-founder of the Canadian FM rock power trio Rush. He left the band in 1974 and was replaced by Neil Peart.

Larry Levine, 80, died May 8th (his 80th birthday) from emphysema. Levine was the sound engineer on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album as well as a number of records produced by Phil Spector. Levine also won a Grammy for his work on Herb Alpert & the Tiajuana Brass' hit "A Taste of Honey."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Triumph and Tragedy at the Kentucky Derby

Category: Sports News

Favorite Big Brown won the 134th Kentucky Derby on Saturday (May 3), a race marred by tragedy when second place finisher Eight Belles broke both front ankles in the post-race gallop.

Eight Belles was scratched from the Kentucky Oaks, the traditional race for 3-year-old fillies held on the day before Kentucky Derby day in order to run her in the Kentucky Derby. Eight Belles' trainer, Larry Jones, won the Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell.

This is not the first tragedy to strike horse racing's Triple Crown. In 2006, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down shortly after the start of the Preakness Stakes. He was finally euthanized in early 2007 after a valiant effort by his owners to save his life. In 1993, Preakness winner Prairie Bayou broke down during the Belmont Stakes and was euthanized.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Get Your Stinking Paws Off Me

Category: Obituary

(Note: The title of this blog is from the movie Planet of the Apes. Spoken by Charlton Heston's character George Taylor, it was voted the #66 greatest movie quote of all-time by the American Film Institute.)

But now he's incommunicado
Leaving such a hole in a world that believed
That a life with such bravado
Was taking the right way home

-- Jimmy Buffett, "Incommunicado"

When the news of Charlton Heston's passing broke this morning I could not help but flash back nearly 29 years ago, when John Wayne died. We have had great actors and legendary actors and multiple Oscar-winning actors, but there are very few actors to grace the Silver Screen who truly deserve to be labeled "American icons." John Wayne was one; Charlton Heston was definitely another. Much like Wayne, Heston transcended the films he made. How many times have you heard him referred to as Ben-Hur or Moses -- not the role, the actual person?

That is the mark of a great actor -- one who did his job very, very well. And that describes Heston. We cried with him at the conclusion of Planet of the Apes when he realized just where he was and what had happened. We yelled, "Soylent Green is people!" along with him at the conclusion of that film. And, honestly, who isn't going to be a little disappointed if, when they meet Moses, he doesn't look like Chuck Heston?

Heston announced in 2002 that he had the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease. "I can part the Red Sea," Heston said in his public announcement, "but I can't part with you [the audience], which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life."

Perhaps controversial because of his political stance (he was a civil rights champion when it was not "cool" to be so, and he served as the president of the National Rifle Association for years), Heston will nevertheless be missed by people who disagreed with him as much as people who agreed with him in that aspect of his life. That is because Charlton Heston was one outstanding actor.

Heston was 84.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The World-Wide Leader in WHAT?

Category: Review/Sports

ESPN touts itself as "the worldwide leader in sports." That is only because they have no competition. Any network that came along to give them a run for the title would have no problem, if they actually ran sports and did not try to be an ESPN clone.

What is wrong with ESPN? Where to start? It's baseball season. It's NCAA Final Four season. It's NBA season. It's Masters golf season. With all this going on, what is ESPN's lead story? The release of the NFL schedule. There is a coach in the Women's Final Four closing in on one thousand victories (Tennessee's Pat Summitt). That should generate a little news for the women's tourney, instead of worrying about which end of the opening double-header John Madden is going to call five months from now.

Speaking of the women's Final Four, ESPN ran ads all through January and February that "every game" in the women's tournament would be on ESPN. They were only about 50 games short of keeping that promise.

The women's game raises another issue with ESPN. In January, ESPN honored Martin Luther King's birthday; in February they honored Black History month. In March, they ran Black Magic. However, March is Women's History month, not "black history month II." Couldn't ESPN honor Babe Didrikson in March the way they honor Jackie Robinson in February? If not, WHY not? They'd be the first to jump on a university (or a golf course) that practiced discrimination against women (real or imagined). But can they give women in sports any coverage the way they pay homage to other minorities? Apparently not.

In the early 80s, MTV was a marvelous network, showing videos of bands that could never get airplay on FM rock stations (when was the last time you heard Dave Edmunds or Warren Zevon on FM rock?). Now, when I even think of MTV and its no-music, none-of-the-time format, I wonder why Sting ever lamented, "I want my MTV" in the opening of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." The same is true of ESPN.
We get to endure lame made-for-ESPN movies (the best of which was The Junction Boys, but that's almost like saying Porky's was the best movie in that series) and a TV series (Tilt) about poker. Meanwhile, only the 500 or 600 people who have Versus can watch hockey because ESPN stopped carrying the sport after the NHL strike/lockout canceled the 2004-05 season.

This is not the same network that once regaled us with Aussie Rules Football. And that is NOT a good thing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Knight Court

Category: Sports Review

In his time on ESPN, Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight has done a remarkable job as a basketball analyst and commentator covering the NCAA men's tournament. He has kept his cussing in check, and he has displayed a sense of humor that is fresh and perhaps surprising to many. For all the litany of controversies in the man's career and a longstanding disdain on his part with the media, Knight had adjusted quite well to life in the ESPN studios.

What is more remarkable than Knight not uttering a profane remark as of this writing is the fact that he can actually operate and put together coherent statements while Dick Vitale is slobbering all over him. Vitale's over-the-top hero worship is positively embarrassing. During the NCAA Selection Show, Vitale turned everything uttered into a chance to sing the praises of Bob Knight. Case in point: Vitale was asked about UCLA in the West bracket, and this was his reply: "But you know, when I look at that West bracket, I see Duke. And when I see Duke, I think of Mike Krzyzewski. And when I think of Mike Krzyzewski, I think of Robert Montgomery Knight." Or another case, when Knight told Vitale to come up with a nickname for a player who had made a good pass during a game, Vitale replied, "The greatest nickname I have ever come up with was for Robert Montgomery Knight, whom I dubbed 'the General.'"

Sunday evening, during ESPN's SportsCenter, the basketball chat featured a remote of Vitale from his home (versus earlier in the week, when he had been in the studio sitting next to Knight). Perhaps Vitale had to return home for a doctor's appointment (he missed two months earlier in the basketball season because of vocal chord problems and was afterwards limited in the games he called). Perhaps he got on Knight's nerves so much Bob threatened to use a whip on Vitale.

Bob Knight definitely has a future in the studio as an analyst or courtside as a commentator. One thing is for certain, though: he and Dick Vitale cannot be on the same show together unless Knight is issued one of those "mute" buttons that Toni Reali uses on Around the Horn to shut Vitale up.

The Wright Way is All Wrong

Category: TV Show Review

The Travel Channel has a new program, America the Wright Way, which debuted last Monday evening. Being a Travel Channel fan, I was all set to watch it. The notion of a British tourist traveling the U.S. and seeing the things we as Americans take for granted was especially appealing.

It is a rare instance when I cannot make it through a show I specifically picked to watch. In fact, America the Wright Way is the first time it has happened this decade. However, I found Ian Wright so annoying I could not make it until the second commercial break without changing the channel.

What's wrong with Wright? Imagine Billy Mays with an English accent. Or worse, remember that British chap from the infomercials who just would not shut up? Roll them together and you have Ian Wright. He tries to be funny, but in the few minutes I was able to endure the show, it appeared that even he realized he wasn't funny. It was pathetic. He wants to be England's answer to Samantha Brown in the worst way, but Samantha has far more personality and humor (even when her jokes are old and obvious) than this guy.

I'm glad I have other things planned for Monday night than to suffer through this series. If I didn't have something planned, I would find something.

Travel Channel's show site

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Farewell Sgt. Kinchloe

Category: News/Obituary

Ivan Dixon in a dual role in the Hogan's Heroes episode
"The Prince From the Phone Company"

Ivan Dixon, best known for his groundbreaking role as the radio operator on Hogan's Heroes, died Sunday (March 16) of a hemorrhage in Charlotte, North Carolina. His daughter reported he had also been suffering from kidney failure.

Dixon was a highly-honored actor who appeared in movies (A Raisin in the Sun, Car Wash), plays, and television shows as guest stars. He was nominated for an Emmy for his role in "The Final War of Olly Winter," a CBS Playhouse presentation, in 1967.

Bob Crane & Ivan Dixon

It was his role as Sergeant James Kinchloe, nicknamed "Kinch," for five years in
Hogan's Heroes that brought him his greatest popularity. Dixon had a leading role on a popular program in the 60s, when blacks were few and far between on television. Highlights during his five years on the show included the episode "The Softer They Fall," where the racism of Nazi Germany was a prominent part of the story (General Burkhalter warned Colonel Klink about the repercussions should a Nazi soldier be defeated in a boxing match by a black American prisoner, mentioning that Hitler left the stadium in 1936 when Jessie Owen won gold over Hitler's "master race"), and the first season episode "The Prince From the Phone Company," where Dixon played a dual role as Kinch and African prince Makabana.

Dixon is survived by his wife of 53 years and two children. He was 76.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gross Never Looked So Good

Category: Television Review

Andrew Zimmern, ready to dive in to a grub

The second season of Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern is in full swing on the Travel Channel. Zimmern is one of a number of food-based shows on the Travel Channel (joining Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, various "food factory" shows, Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo, and others). Lest one think that the Travel Channel is becoming Food Network 2, these shows do feature food in various locales.

Zimmern puts a twist in his show. He j
ourneys to countries to sample the nations' cultures through their food. And that can be rather disquieting, to say the least, to the average American eater. In short, don't look for Zimmern in a Barcelona McDonald's. However, are you looking for the Beijing restaurants that serve donkey or the male reproductive organ of various animals? Zimmern is so there.

And, while the food he eats is admittedly grotesque (such as this week's sampling of putrefied shark meat in Iceland), gross has never been so much fun. Part of it has to do with Zimmern's warm, funny personality. Unlike his fellow native New York chef/Travel Channel show host, Anthony Bourdain (who is positively annoying), Zimmern endears his audience to him as he explains the rituals of various food cultures, as well as the history behind them. He does not stop there, though: he also eats them. If that means pan-fried coconut grubs freshly harvested from the Amazon Rain Forest or a mad search for criadillas (please, look that up yourself if you're curious) in Spain, so be it. As Zimmern explains in the opening of the show, "I tend to stray far from the predictable culinary path." Boy, is that an understatement!
Best of all, Andrew does occasionally find something (e.g., stinky tofu from the "House of Unique Stink" or durian) that, as he puts it, "beats" him.

The commercials for the new season of Bizarre Foods are almost as fun as the actual show. One shows Zimmern in the workplace lunch room, offering co-workers worms that are "great with turkey." As he pulls out his lunch, the room quickly clears out. At the end, a man with his lunch cooler comes to the door, sees Zimmern in the lunch room, and quickly backs away. Another shows Zimmern breaking a snack machine that failed to dispense his selection. "What's a guy got to do to get some fish heads around here?" he mumbles as he walks away.

Bizarre Foods may not make you hungry for haggis or yearn for yak; however, the history of how people in other countries came to eat foods that we Americans would not touch with a ten-foot fork is entertaining, educational, and most of all, fun, thanks in no small part to its host.

Andrew Zimmern's web site
Bizarre Foods site at the Travel Channel

Saturday, March 8, 2008

ESPN's New NCAA Commentator

Category: Sports News

Fresh off his sudden retirement as men's head basketball coach at Texas Tech, Bob Knight has been hired by ESPN to provide in-studio commentary.

Knight will go to work during "Championship Week," the week that features the tournaments for most of the college leagues to determine champions and automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, on March 12. He will also provide analysis during the NCAA tournament pre-game and post-game coverage.

Given Knight's legendary ("infamous?") use of profanity, a seven-second delay would be the wisest option. However, ESPN has stated that Knight will be live.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jeff Healey Dies

Category: News

Rock/blues/jazz guitarist/singer Jeff Healey, best-known for his rendition of the John Hiatt song "Angel Eyes," died of cancer Sunday (March 2) in Toronto.

Healey was blinded in infancy by cancer; specifically, retino blastoma. Various cancers attacked him for most of his life. In January of this year, he had a cancerous tumor removed from his leg, then cancer was found in both lungs.

Healey, a native of Toronto, played the guitar as it rested in his lap. He was hailed as a virtuoso on the instrument early in life. In 1988 his album See the Light was released, and the single, "Angel Eyes," became a major hit.

However, Healey preferred jazz to rock and turned his music in that direction. He also became a DJ on CBC radio, hosting the show My Kinda Jazz.

Healey's final album, Mess of Blues, is scheduled for release April 22. He is survived by his wife and two children, his father and stepmother, and two sisters.

Jeff Healey was 41.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Basketball's 800 Win Club Has a New Member

Category: Sports News

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski became the tenth college basketball coach to reach the 800 win mark on Saturday (March 1) when the Blue Devils mounted a come-from-behind 87-86 victory over nearby rival North Carolina State.

With the problems in college basketball, not to mention all of sports, Krzyzewski is a shining example of how to correctly succeed in the game. His teams have won three national titles (1991, 1992, 2001), and he has never been mentioned in the same breath as "NCAA violations." It can be done.

Congratulations, Coach K.

Winningest NCAA Basketball Coaches
(*denotes still active) (win total as of March 1, 2008)

1. Pat Summitt* - Tennessee (women) - 972
2. Bob Knight - Army / Indiana / Texas Tech - 902
Jody Conradt - Texas (women) - 900
4. Don Meyer* - Northern State (Division II) - 886
5. Dean Smith - North Carolina - 879
6. Adolph Rupp - Kentucky - 876
7. Jim Phelan - Mount St. Mary's - 830
8. Clarence "Big House" Gaines - Winston-Salem State (Division II) - 828
9. Eddie Sutton* - Creighton / Arkansas / Kentucky / Oklahoma State / San Francisco - 801
10. Mike Krzyzewski* - Army / Duke - 800

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Bigger Problem

Category: Sports Rant

Indiana University's now ex-coach, Kelvin Sampson

Kelvin Sampson resigned on Friday (2/22) as the head basketball coach of Indiana University. He accepted a $750,000 buyout to step down amid allegations of NCAA violations. As he leaves, Indiana University is facing the possibility of being put on probation should the NCAA's investigation result in sanctions against the school.

Some would say that IU is getting what they deserve. After all, when they hired Sampson, he had the same charge -- inappropriate phone calls to recruits -- hanging over his head when he left Oklahoma University.

However, I think the bigger problem is not so much the fact that IU hired Sampson knowing he had baggage, but rather the NCAA rules that allow the coaches to freely move from one university to another with no penalty for their wrongdoings.

Flash back to 1988, when Eddie Sutton was head coach for the University of Kentucky. Under his tenure, Kentucky was nearly hit with the "death penalty" because assistant coaches sent money to recruits. While Kentucky and the innocent players and fans were hit with NCAA penalties, Sutton waltzed off to Oklahoma State, where he found a new job while Kentucky was banned from appearing on television.

What the NCAA needs to do to put an end to the problem is PUNISH THE GUILTY. In this case, if Sampson is guilty of violating NCAA rules, then he should be banned from getting a job as a coach for two years. IU and their fans -- and, most importantly, the student athletes that the NCAA claims to care so much about -- should NOT be made to suffer for Sampson's sins. If a player runs afoul of the NCAA rules, then he/she should be penalized, not everyone.

There's a great deal about the NCAA I do not like (e.g., the basketball "field of 65" -- how about letting FOUR teams play in instead of just one? And, if that game is theoretically #64 vs. #65, shouldn't the winner be playing the #1 team in the entire tournament?), and a million things I believe they need to change. All talk of a BCS playoff, however, and other petty things needs to be put aside until the penalty problem is resolved. It is just plain WRONG for Kelvin Sampson, should he be deemed guilty, to be able to obtain a new job as a college basketball coach while the Indiana team bears the brunt of the NCAA's sanctions.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Record Audience on February 3

Category: News

Super Bowl XLII was the most-watched Super Bowl in history, and the second most viewed program in history (behind only the "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" episode of M*A*S*H).

However, Animal Planet also had a record audience for Puppy Bowl IV. The fourth annual installment of puppies playing in a playpen decorated like a football field brought in eight million viewers. That was Animal Planet's biggest rating in a year -- probably since Puppy Bowl III.

By the way, Abigail (pictured above) won the MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) on the show, while Jackson raked in over 22,200 votes to win the online voting for MVP.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

THE Must-Watch Event of February 3

Category: Preview

If you're not interested in football, or if your team isn't in the Super Bowl, or if you're just sick of all the talk talk talk about the game, fear not. There is something to watch on February 3 other than the game.

In fact, I would recommend this over the game.

The event is Puppy Bowl IV.

This year's lineup looks to be superb. My eyes will be on Attucker, an adorable beagle, Raven, an mini-pin/beagle mix, and Jack, the mini dachshund. It doesn't matter, however, because these 24 will vie for the honors of MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) as they romp in a playpen decked out like a football field. Highlights include BOWL CAM (a camera beneath a glass drinking bowl) and a caretaker dressed like a referee who throws a flag for personal fouls such as puppy business on the playing field. Apparently, the halftime kitty show will return this year as well.

So, if you're looking for a great alternative to the four hours of so-called "experts" talking about the game, tune in the Animal Planet on February 3, starting at 3 PM eastern time, for Puppy Bowl IV.

A word of warning, though: this show, which runs nonstop for 12 hours, is so addictive, you just might forget the game.