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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Corman

“I daydream about a high school where everybody plays the harmonica”*…

Lee Oskar, seen here performing with WAR in 1970, was so frustrated with the quality of Hohner’s harmonicas at the time that he eventually founded his own harmonica company

In the late 1960s, as the general manager of Don Wehr’s Music City in San Francisco, Reese Marin sold guitars, drums, keyboards, and amps to the biggest psychedelic rock bands of the late 1960s. His customers ranged from Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service to Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Guitarists as musically diverse as Carlos Santana and Steve Miller could find what they were looking for at Don Wehr’s; so did jazz virtuosos George Benson and Barney Kessel, who would walk down Columbus Avenue from Broadway in North Beach—where the jazz clubs competed with strip joints for tourists—whenever they were in town.

These legends were some of the most demanding and finicky musicians on the planet. So it should have been easy for Marin to sell a couple of $5 harmonicas to Lee Oskar, whose melodic riffs on hits like “Cisco Kid,” “The World is a Ghetto,” and “Low Rider” gave one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, WAR, its signature sound. Oskar, however, heard imperfections in his chosen instrument that Marin didn’t know existed. Oskar was not tentative in his quest for what he considered a “gig-worthy” harmonica. “I spent all my money on harmonicas,” Oskar told me recently, “just to find 1 out of 10 that was any good.”

Marin says Oskar was exaggerating, but not by much. He was actually behind the counter when Oskar made his first of many visits to Don Wehr’s and asked to play all of the harmonicas the store had in stock in C, A, F, G, and E—the keys where rock bands live and die. On any given day, Marin maintained an inventory of 10 to 20 harmonicas in each key for each model they sold. That was a lot of harmonicas for Oskar to put his mouth on, so Marin decided to be firm. “I said, ‘You can’t play ’em unless you buy ’em,’” Marin told me, “and he said, ‘I don’t mind.’”

Shrugging, Marin rang him up, then Oskar proceeded to play every single harmonica on the sales counter, which he then divided into two piles—one for the gig-worthy harmonicas and another for the rejects, which were 80 to 90 percent of the total. “When he was done, I said, ‘Lee, what do you want me to do with all these harmonicas?’ and he said, ‘I don’t really care. I can’t use them.’” Marin ended up giving away a lot of used Lee Oskar-played harmonicas. “Lee did this over and over, every time he was in town,” says Marin. “It was crazy.”

Until relatively recently, playing a harmonica was sort of crazy, too, since doing so was essentially the same thing as destroying it. For harmonicas like the Hohner Marine Bands Oskar road-tested that day at Don Wehr’s, a player’s saliva would soak into the wood inside the instrument, causing it to swell. At the end of a gig, the wood would dry out and shrink. This process would repeat itself over and over, until the wood had swelled and shrunk so many times it would split and splinter, often causing a player’s lips to bleed. “I used to hack off the ends of the combs on my harmonicas with a carpet knife,” recalls Steve Baker, a London-born harmonica player and an authority on the Marine Band. Most players would never do that, of course, content to just toss their worn-out wrecks in the trash.

For Hohner, this must have seemed like a very good business model. After all, the Marine Band had been Hohner’s most popular harmonica brand almost since 1896, the year it was introduced. In the United States, in the first half of the 20th century, American folk musicians and blues artists alike embraced the Marine Band as their own, giving the instrument originally designed to play traditional German folk tunes an aura of cool. With sales soaring after World War II, Hohner found itself making an instrument everybody wanted, even though it needed to be replaced regularly. How could a manufacturer’s product get any better than that?

Well, answered harmonica players and a small but influential community of harmonica customizers, how about an instrument that doesn’t wear out, is built to be serviced and tuned to a musician’s needs, and is made out of materials that don’t cause our lips to bleed?

In the 1970s, Lee Oskar and Steve Baker were at the forefront of a movement to get those questions answered…

In the 1970s, Hohner, the world’s largest harmonica manufacturer, changed its flagship model– and in the process, its signature sound. A few musicians and harp customizers waged a quiet rebellion. And they won. The full (and elegantly told) story: “The Return of the Harmonica.”

* Richard Brautigan

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As we blow, we might recall that it was on this date in 1979 that the classic film Rock and Roll High School was first publicly shown. (Some sources report that the movie opened on August 4 or August 24 of that year– and “officially,” one of those dates is likely right.  But according to director Allan Arkush, in an interview with The Village Voice, the movie played in April in Texas and New Mexico, and did not reach New York City– and national consciousness– until August.)

A Roger Corman production featuring a remarkable cast, it is nonetheless probably best remembered as “the movie with The Ramones.” Amusingly, Corman originally wanted Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren to play the band, but schedules didn’t mesh, so he was forced to find an alternative… at which point Paul Bartel (who played a key role in the film) suggested The Ramones.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 25, 2021 at 1:01 am

B-ing all that they can B…

As the emphasis at American Movie Classics has slid every more completely from “Classics” to “American,” viewers have had to take consolation in channel originals like Mad Men and (the less-well-known, but arguably even better) Breaking Bad

Now, as though in penance, AMC has fielded “BMC”– “B-Movie Classics“– a web site on which one can stream the best of the worst…

Bikinis! Monsters! Motorcycles! Welcome to BMC, your new go-to site for B-movies by the likes of John Carpenter (Dark Star) and Roger Corman (Saga of the Viking Women). Now online and in full screen, watch unsung classics like Asylum by Psycho screenwriter Robert Block or Corridors of Blood with the inimitable Christopher Lee. Want to see international icons before they made it big? Check out Raquel Welch in A Swingin’ Summer or kung fu king Sonny Chiba in Terror Beneath the Sea. Looking for the unexpected? How about The Ruthless Four, a spaghetti Western starring Klaus Kinski.

Now updated with even more B-movies featuring femmes fatales (The Cat Girl), jungle adventures (Curse of the Voodoo) and talking ventriloquist’s dummies (Devil Doll). Whatever your B-movie taste, BMC has got you covered.

(As a special treat, check out Carnival of Souls— a B-Movie that transcends…)

As we salt our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that the Vatican opened the seven-year trial Italian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno– whose championing of heliocentrism and an infinite universe landed him in the dock.  Bruno’s theory went beyond the Copernican model in identifying the sun as just one of an infinite number of independently-moving heavenly bodies; indeed, he was the first person (Western person, anyway) to have understood the universe as a continuum in which the stars one sees at night are identical in nature to the Sun…  Not a view comfortable to the Orthodoxy.  Bruno was convicted of heresy in 1600, and burned at the stake.  All of his works were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1603.

Giordano Bruno

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