Thursday, June 30, 2011

Little Cowgirl Book Club: Ranch (a seek-and-find)

This is a pretty cute seek-and-find type book that takes place on all the different areas of a working (modern) ranch. Each page (or two-page spread) shows a section of the ranch (barn, cookhouse, etc), describes it briefly then gives you a long list of things to find. The depth of detail is impressive, and we had fun finding everything (3 chaps! 7 cowboy hats! 2 coyotes!) but we ran into a few problems - the biggest one being that the binding process obscured a few of the items we were supposed to be finding (too much glue -- about 3/4" was just gone from the center of one illustration) and the art style made a few things hard to identify. Luckily, the keys in the back let us figure out where the missing things were. Fun to go through once, but I don't know how many kids would want to read through it more than that. And definitely for the younger kids. Worth a library visit for sure, though!

Check it out on Amazon; or find it at your local library!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Music On Monday: Blood On the Saddle

New Blood

Another of the 80s LA cowpunk bands, Blood on the Saddle was formed by guitar player and vocalist Greg Davis who said that because he liked punk, but he wasn't a punk, he tried to come up with a sound that combined all the things he liked. In the process, he formed what was probably one of the key cowpunk bands of the era, performing covers of songs like "Blood on the Saddle" (you're surprised, right?), "Ring of Fire" and "Wish I Was A Single Girl Again" along with the band's originals.

He added then-girlfriend Annette Zilinskas as vocalist before they recorded their first album (she is unfortunately better known for being an early bass player in the Bangles). They harmonized much in the same way that Exene and John Doe of X do (not surprising since their first date was at an X show!), but also, as Davis pointed out in an interview, the way that Johnny Cash and June Carter did. Unfortunately they only lasted a few years in this incarnation but they left behind a lot of great songs. Here's a live performance of one of my favorites, "Poison Love"

And here's an actual video for the song "Promise Your Heart to Me" -- well, it's one of those "let's lip-synch in the bed of a truck while driving around the city" videos, but still fun to see:

Someone, presumably connected with the band (or maybe just a fan) has set up a Blood On the Saddle YouTube channel -- these two videos can be found there as well as several rare live appearances and a 10-minute interview about the band with Greg David and Annette Zilinskas. If you enjoyed these two clips, definitely head on over and listen to more!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gene Autry: The Sagebrush Troubadour (1935)

The Gene Autry Collection: The Sagebrush Troubadour

"Gene Autry's Vagabond Troubadors" (that would be Gene, Frog and a donkey loaded with instruments) are yodeling through the sagebrush when they reveal that they have evidence that will hang somebody....and it's their job to track that man down! (The evidence is a broken-down swaybacked horse...and a guitar string.) Why, they're not wandering troubadors at all!  They're Rangers, sent out to solve the murder of "old" Frank Martin.

On their way to the Martin ranch, they're forced off the road by a coach being driven recklessly by a young lady; Gene jumps aboard, pulls the wagon to a stop and then gives the young lady a paddling!

This is what you get when you are reckless with good horses.

But it seems he's made a bit of a faux pas when they discover the young lady is Joan Martin, the granddaughter of the murder victim (she's returning to the area after being back East for a long time, apparently since she was a young girl). As Smiley says, "That just proves that you shouldn't spank girls before you're introduced to 'em."

In town, Joan is practically barraged by men -- her uncle John, greets her, old friend Lon Dillon declares his intention to start courting her, and then she's whisked off to see lawyer Nolan. He tells her that her grandfather had secrets, which he was murdered for. He then reads the will and John, who was the foster son of Frank Martin, is shocked to learn that he gets just $5,000 while Joan gets the rest of the estate, including the ranch. However! If she dies, John gets everything. And if she and John die? Lawyer Nolan gets everything! Intrigue ahoy!

Meanwhile, Gene and Frog have caught up and gotten into town, where they immediately begin to get offers for the swayback horse...because everyone believes that Frank Martin discovered gold on his ranch and that the horse can lead them to it. (Don't forget the guitar string, though -- because somewhere there is a guitar missing a string and clearly, it will lead to the murderer!) They turn everyone down, which results in Uncle John telling Joan that he insists she throw a dance party and hire Gene and Frog as musicians for it. She thinks this is not super-appropriate, considering that her grandfather was just murdered, but Uncle John insists, claiming that Gene is the murder suspect. (Because he plays the guitar, and somehow everyone knows that old man Martin was killed with a guitar string, even though Gene has it in his pocket!) She asks them, and they agree to follow them to the ranch right away and perform that night.

A weird bit of business follows - someone is shown loosening the wheel of the wagon that Joan is sitting on, and all we see is a male hand and jacket sleeve. It can't be the lawyer, he's by his office. It can't be John's henchman Pablo, he's on the other side of the wagon and is wearing something totally different. It's not Gene or Frog, obviously, and it's neither the "boyfriend" nor the stable owner. And Uncle John's sleeve is different as well. Who can it be? Pablo appears to know what's about to happen, he looks at the wheel as it loosens and jumps from the wagon before it comes off. And when Gene rescues Joan, he takes a shot at the two of them. (Which Uncle John and Lawyer Nolan seem to find funny.) My guess is that you're supposed to think it's Pablo, but when you attempt intrigue in a low-budget film with sloppy continuity sometimes you raise more questions than you mean to!

 Gene serenades Joan while she....hides behind that tree branch?

Gene tells everyone he's locking the horse in the barn (to see who makes the first move), but he actually rides off with it to find out just where it does go. When he gets back, all the men trying to get to the mine have joined forces and have called the sheriff and accused him of the murder. He pulls a nifty bit of business to rescue Frog and they ride off to try and figure out how to sneak back into the party that night. Luckily, Lon Dillon and Hank the stable owner (part of the new partnership) are drafted into playing for the dance, and they happen to be just Gene and Frog's sizes! Gene and Frog take their places during a helpful distraction number, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (song by a little boy in a monkey suit, seated on an organ grinder's music box!) so they can keep an eye on Joan.

Got 'em! Now to steal their clothes!

 Luckily, this insanely cute number was going on , so no-one noticed.

When he sees someone sneaking around, Gene reveals his identity to Joan, then asks to dance with her so he can explain what's going on - seems that because old man Martin was practically blind, he needed the horse to know the way to the valuable gold mine he discovered; and now anyone that gets the horse can follow it to the mine, which has not yet been registered. She actually responds with the line, "Grandad depended so on that wise, old horse...."

It's hat versus hat on the dance floor!

Lawyer Nolan correctly observes "Hmm, I never saw Lon dance like that before!" Joan goes out for some fresh air and gets attacked by....well, once again the low budget makes this confusing, but I think you're supposed to think it's her Uncle John. Gene rescues her from the attempted strangulation (of course), but then needs rescuing himself -- when he goes back inside he's asked to sing and, well, Lon never sang like that before either!

An adoring Joan has mysteriously lost her strangulation marks and gained a huge bruise on her arm.

Then the party is told to unmask; and then Hank and Lon show up and point them out. Yes, their identities are revealed three times, just in case you missed a reveal, I suppose. A guitar is smashed over Uncle John's head and Gene and Frog take off with the posse in hot pursuit, Uncle John and Pablo following the swayback horse to the mine, and Joan locked in the barn. Gene heads back to get evidence from the ranch and releases Joan but tells her to stay put. But remember that she drives wagons like a crazy person? So she follows him and lots of action ensues as everyone heads to the mine for a classic "now that we're all locked in here I'll tell you that one of you is....the...murderer!" moments.

 "The killer is among us! And no-one is allowed to crack a smile at my outfit!"

Gene reveals to our assembled suspects that he's a Ranger, assigned to the murder case - and that his fellow Ranger Frog is...a fingerprint expert! (He seems to actually have a little trouble getting that tidbit of news out). And not only that, but the murder weapon/guitar string shows signs of being played....with a pick! And this conclusively reveals that the murderer is...."You'll never take me alive!" shouts the murderer, attacking Gene and totally falling for Gene's bluff. The ensuing fisticuffs reveal the entrance to the actual gold mine, and the remaining suspects begin to fight over who will get to town first to register the claim. As the culprit is arrested, the rest of the gang races off to town to try and get the mine -- but the last laugh will be on them, as Gene has had the mine registered in Joan's name already!

Happy ending all around, as Ranger Gene proposes to Joan in song and she accepts. Gene kisses Joan, Frog kisses the swayback horse, and we fade out.

 Gene proposes in song....

Joan accepts! And Gene gets his first screen kiss!

And so does the swayback horse.

More than one source (including Gene himself) claims that he only had one screen kiss, and that it was with Ann Rutherford. But no, this is his first kiss, and he definitely had more than one.

You may be wondering if the reveal of the murderer's identity clears up the previous confusion cause by sloppy continuity....well the answer is no. I still could not figure out who on earth was supposed to have actually loosened that wagon wheel or attacked Joan. Presumably the villain had at least one confederate/henchman, but the movie doesn't bother to clear that up.

Barbara Pepper plays Joan Martin with a sort of low-rent Jean Harlow vibe, I thought she was okay here, but only okay. She is replaced with a double in a good bit of the movie, so that doesn't help. Her story is a sad one, she never really succeeded in films despite a bright start as a Follies Girl and favored ingenue. She had a less-than happy personal life and ends up running a laundromat by the 1950s. She did end up with one last major role - Doris Ziffel on Green Acres. The transformation from deco starlet to ravaged tv "hillbilly housewife" tells you all you need to know about how her life went, really.

She was truly stunning, wasn't she?

The cute kid in the monkey suit is Tommy Gene Fairey, who sings a song written by Smiley Burnette. He was a 4-year old from Texas who made just this one film and then went back home. He didn't vanish though, and he had a very good life! I always wonder what happened to kids who pop up in just a film or two, but in this case I actually know - I've recently exchanged emails with Mr. Fairey and I hope he'll let me post some of the amazing photos he has of his days on set and after!

Difficult moments: there is an offhand remark (by bad guy Hank the stable owner) that "the boys killed a chinaman the other day" but no more is said about it. And at the party, if you look closely (I didn't even see it the first time - he's always in the background and the scene is a little murky) one of the guests is in costume as Jolson. In blackface. Both of these moments are brief and went completely over the kid's head, but they did make us wince.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Music on Monday: Ann Jones and her Western Sweethearts


Ann Jones was a very popular (and prolific) Western vocalist (called the "Kate Smith of the West"!) who had a long career as a singer, bandleader and radio host - and apparently was a WWII-era softball star as well, returning to music in 1947. In the early 50s she formed an all-girl Western Swing band, her "Western Sweethearts" and toured with them through many lineup changes into the 1970s, releasing a few albums along the way. One reference says the band formed in 1955, but they were touring by July of 1954, as you can see by this ad which ran in Washington state on July 22nd of that year:

There is a CD available of her work, including this track which I would have been my theme song if I'd known it when I was babysitting age:

And here's something for the grownups:

To be honest, I'm not sure if any of her "Western Sweethearts" are actually on these tracks; they are recorded from 1949-1954 and she was a solo act for several of those years; additionally, she apparently used studio guys when making records. The Sweethearts may have been a touring band only at this time. But whether or not the musicians on these recordings are wearing heart-motif cowgirl outfits, they are still worth a listen!

A note: I had to take an internet break due to the loss of our eldest cat this past week; this post was the only one I'd pre-written and scheduled before everything happened. I'll be back before next Monday, I promise!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Music On Monday: Wall of Voodoo

Dark Continent / Call of the West

The Stan Ridgway era Wall of Voodoo was an amazing band, which unfortunately is remembered by most people as a one-hit-wonder for the (semi) hit "Mexican Radio", which, well, okay, let's just get this over with:

You know it, everyone knows it, and truth be told it's pretty great. But MTV played it to death and it has totally overshadowed the rest of their work. Not that there's all that much of it - just two album's worth before the band broke up in 1983 (although two members immediately re-formed with a different line-up and continued to work under the name Wall of Voodoo*). A favorite track of mine was their cover of "Ring of Fire" -- I still have the 7"! You can hear the shortened single version here, but here's a great live version of the whole thing -- warning, the full version can make some people go crazy. Bail out anytime after about 3:15 if it's getting on your nerves.

Finally, what was probably my favorite song of theirs, "Call of the West". For me, this song totally sums up everything about Wall of Voodoo that I loved, the creepiness, the Morricone influence, the not-exactly-nostalgic feel for the West, and of course, Stan Ridgway's weird narration/vocal style.

Just about everyone in the band did lots more after they broke up (for the first time) in 1983, but I don't know that anything ever lived up to this handful of recordings that they made.

A funny bit of trivia: according to legend (i.e. Wikipedia), the band got their name when Stan Ridgway was playing some tracks for a friend (Joe Berardi of The Fibonaccis). Stan joked that the music had so many layers of organ and drum-machine it was like a "wall of sound", and Berardi countered that it sounded more like a "wall of voodoo". Stan, being no dummy, obviously realized that was a brilliant name and used it for the band. The funny part? The drum machine was a gift from voice actor Daws Butler. I say, "?!?"

*Personally, I was never a fan of of Wall of Voodoo 2.0 -- I know there are people who feel the exact opposite though, so feel free to check them out. Marc Moreland, the guitarist, was in both versions, and he was fantastic. So I thought maybe I should give them another chance, and I checked out their hit. Nope, still don't like them...but you may feel different!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sew Western! McCall 1332 comes around again!

Amazingly, I found another vintage example of McCall 1332! This version has been made up in a less-flashy color combo than the first one I found, but the maker went the whole nine yards and did all the embroidery: front yoke, back yoke, collar and cuffs.

Something about the embroidery and some weirdness around the piping make me think this one was made up by a different person. But who knows. I love seeing these patterns as they were originally made up - I'm so glad a few have survived!

Big thanks to Mark of  Dead 'n Gone Vintage (Firefly Vintage on ebay) for letting me use his images!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Music On Monday: the Bluegrass Champs

Here's possibly the most hyper bunch I've ever seen on stage outside of a Minutemen show, the Bluegrass Champs with their winning performance of "Salty Dog Blues" on Arthur Godfrey's talent scouts in 1956. Donna Stoneman is bouncing all over the place while she plays! And especially check out their awesome Western outfits -- everyone's shirt bears the motif of the instrument that they are playing. Brilliant.

You can see the guy's shirts clearly in this press photo -- Donna isn't wearing hers, perhaps because sister Peggy had joined by now and she didn't have one!

The Bluegrass Champs were the group formed by the younger generation of the famous Stoneman family in 1955 - they took over the Stoneman Family name not much later and continued their energetic style for many years. Donna and Peggy, along with sister Ronnie are still performing, in fact! Here's a clip from 1965, looks like Donna is even more hyper -- seriously, how does she play while she jumps like that?

And finally, here's how we discovered the younger Stonemans -- performing in Road to Nashville (which, by the way, is worth fast forwarding through but a bit painful to watch). We were blown away when we saw them totally wigging out in the midst of a lot of soppy 60s Nashville artists. Just watch:

Now if all that doesn't perk you up on a Monday, I don't know what will! Have a great week!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sew Western! Another real-life handmade 1940s shirt

This time it's Simplicity 3054, which I do own. This one came out in 1949 and is quite a bit simpler than McCalls 1332, it's just your basic yoked Western shirt with "smile" vent pockets and, of course, optional horsehead embroidery. Here's my copy (note the original owner's opinion!):

Simplicity 3054 (1949)

And here it is actually made up!

The maker only did the horses on the yoke; they left the triangles off the vent pockets and I think they may have put the cuffs on backwards, there's something really odd looking going on there. (Note that they did put the sheaf-of-wheat motif on the cuffs.) Still, it's an impressive amount of work!

Big thanks to Mark of  Dead 'n Gone Vintage (Firefly Vintage on ebay) for letting me use his images! You can see the shirt  here until it sells.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Crafty Cowgirls: Jessie Get Your Gun!

Toy Story Jessie The Yodeling Cowgirl
Last year, #1 on the Little Cowgirl's Xmas list was the talkin', yodelin', "Woody's Roundup" Jessie doll. She was thrilled to get it (and if we ever manage to find a Bullseye at retail price she might be getting him next Xmas) but soon began to ask me why Jessie didn't have a gun when Woody did. (Of course, not having the Woody doll, she didn't realize that Woody only has a holster and no gun!) The problem was solved when we had my Marx West Family girls out recently (Jane, Josie and Janice), she quickly assigned Jane's "peacemaker" gun to Jessie and when the West girls got put back in their box, the gun stayed out. See, it's actually the perfect size!

I dug through some felt scraps and found leftover brown wool felt (from making toy gingerbread cookies a few years ago) that was a close match for her belt, traced around the toy gun and drew up a quick holster pattern and then whipstitched it together with red embroidery floss. Threaded the loop through her belt and tacked it with a few stitches on the back of the holster and ta-da! I had one happy cowgirl.

If you've got a cowgirl doll in need of a holster, you'll just need some felt and floss (any color, although I'd stick with brown for the felt). If you have a Marx Peacemaker (or no gun at all), you can print out this pdf pattern I made (right click and save); if you have a different little gun, you can still use the pattern, but trace around your toy gun for the holster shape. Thread the long piece through the belt and then tack it down to the back of the holster, and trim off the excess. (Need a gun for your Jessie? There are reproduction Marx accessories available on ebay very cheap - here's a seller with great prices.)

Now if I can just figure out where Jessie can put the rifle....
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