Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ricky Nelson Remembered

It's hard to believe that it's been 20 years since Rick Nelson died in a plane crash in DeKalb, Texas. I was working an early morning shift that day and I had my infant son in the car with me. We were heading to the home of his babysitter, who was about 20 years old at the time. I heard on the news that Rick Nelson's plane went down late the evening before and when I got the sitter's house I asked her if she had heard the news. She said, "Who's Ricky Nelson?" Even though I was only 35, I really felt old at that point. And so, another year comes to a close.

The Desert Sun, Palm Beach, California
Guitarist James Burton reflects on Ricky Nelson’s life and music

In this undated photo, guitarist James Burton (right) plays with friend and collaborator Ricky Nelson (center). Burton went on to play or record with Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Elvis Costello.

Bruce Fessier
The Desert Sun
The "California sound" mined by The Eagles probably came from Alabama and Mississippi.

That's where Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and dozens of Delta blues masters are from.

But, as the 20th anniversary of the death of Rick Nelson nears, you may hear it started with that youngest sire of TV's quintessential parents, Ozzie and Harriet.

Nelson family members and Rick's former guitarist, James Burton, will appear tonight on "Larry King Live" to remind viewers that the rockabilly, pop and country LPs Nelson made from the late '50s to mid-'60s spawned the country rock movement The Eagles refined.

"Music USA," A Rough Guide book chronicling all the regional music making up today's pop, calls Nelson "Los Angeles' first white superstar."

But Nelson, who was managed and mentored by Palm Springs residents Greg McDonald and Col. Tom Parker, forged his sound in harmony with Burton.

"Nelson's records sounded authentic because he used some Southern musicians with a natural feel for the music, most notably James Burton," says "Music USA." "In this respect, Nelson helped set the mold for the L.A. studio system, in which a coterie of top pros would provide the musical backbone for the faces on the record sleeves."

Burton, who was doing studio work when Nelson died in a New Year's Eve plane crash in 1985 at age 45, still champions Nelson today while also acknowledging his place in rock history.

"I don't know if you heard the quote Keith Richards made when he inducted me into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame," Burton said in a telephone interview from his native Shreveport, La. "He said, 'I didn't buy Ricky Nelson records. I bought James Burton records.'"

Burton has played or recorded with multi-generational artists, including Brad Paisley, Elvis Costello, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buck Owens, Nat "King" Cole and Frank Sinatra.

He led Elvis Presley's band from 1969 through the mid-'70s.

It was a 1964 gig with another pioneer of country rock, Johnny Cash, that eventually led Burton away from Nelson and into his role as a studio sideman.

"Johnny wanted me to play a slide dobro on this song that he was going to do on this TV show," Burton said. "Ricky didn't want me playing with other artists because he told me my sound was his sound.

"I thought about that for a little while and said, 'I'm playing slide dobro. I'll tell them not to put me on camera and nobody will even know it's me.'"

It was on that TV show, "Shindig," that Burton was asked to join the band, and that led to other recording opportunities.

But Burton says his country rock collaboration with Nelson actually began when he was living in the Ozzie & Harriet household with Rick and his brother, David.

Burton came to Los Angeles at age 17 in 1957 with country singer Bob Luman. Nelson heard them rehearse at Imperial Records and invited Burton and his bass player, James Kirkland, to watch a taping of "Ozzie & Harriet." They wound up recording for the show and a month later, Ozzie invited Burton to dinner.

"Ozzie excused himself after dinner - he had to go upstairs and work on a script," Burton said. "So he said, 'James, Harriett and I and Rick and Dave would very much like you to be our guests in our home because we know what it's like being away from home.'

"He thought it would be a great idea for Rick and I to spend time together and work on our music. I lived with them for the first couple years."

And, yes, it was an Ozzie & Harriet-type TV lifestyle.

"The whole family was just so wonderful," he said. "Being at home was just like going to work."

Nelson had already recorded his first hit, Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'," and Joe Maphis played lead guitar on Burton's first recording with Nelson.

But Burton said Nelson adopted the sound Burton had developed in the South listening to country, blues and gospel music.

"I already had my sound," he said. "The tone of my guitar is the sound we went for and what I liked and what we basically did on all the records."

Nelson had a run of eight No. 1 singles in his first nine releases from 1957-59. Burton influenced more middle-of-the-road songs, such as "Poor Little Fool," "Lonesome Town" and "Travelin' Man," and gained attention with his distinctive guitar solo on "Break My Chain."

When the hits stopped coming, Nelson recorded two country albums in 1966 and '67 with Burton on dobro and Glen Campbell on lead guitar.

By that time, Burton was going in a similar direction as a studio guitarist for the Byrds, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Then he recorded three albums with Gram Parsons, often called the father of country rock, and his band, the Flying Burrito Brothers.

"I played with the Byrds on their records and that's when I first met Gram," Burton said. "He wanted to be a country singer and that was his main bag. When he got his record deal, he called me and said, 'Man, I'm in the studio, let's go do it.' So I went in and we cut those records."

Burton has to reflect when asked who he thinks is the father of country rock. Was it Parsons? Elvis? Cash?

"I don't know," Burton says wearily. "I think Ricky. We started that many years ago."

Friday, December 30, 2005

Actor Michael Vale Dies

Through the years I've had to work some odd hours. When I had to get up in the middle of the night to go to work, or when I would come home from work in the early morning hours, I used to think about the famous phrase that Michael uttered in those famous Dunkin' Donuts commercials, "Time to make the donuts." The sleepy baker that he portrayed made me realize that I wasn't the only one who worked strange hours. Michael Vale passed away this week of complications from diabetes. He may be best known as Fred, the Dunkin Donuts employee who worked tirelessly to make donuts for the donut and coffee chain, but Vale had many other roles in his career too. Besides 1300 commercials, he also appeared in the films Marathon Man and A Hatful of Rain, as well as the TV shows Car 54, Where Are You? and 3-2-1 Contact. He also appeared on Broadway.

For some strange reason, donuts are not as popular here in Texas, and maybe the rest of the South, as they are in other parts of the country. There are only a few 24 hour Duncan Donut stores in the Dallas area. Most of the donut shops found here are independent and are only open a few hours in the morning. I guess most people don't feel the need for coffee and donuts in the middle of the night in the bible belt. At first I thought that maybe donuts were more of a cold climate item, but I found Winchell's Donut shops all over the Los Angeles area, so that can't be the problem. Wendy's acquired Tim Horton Donuts, a very popular Canadian donut franchise, a number of years ago, but I have yet to see one open in this part of the world.

Later today, I'll raise a cup of coffee and a French Cruller in Michael's honor.

Telemarketer call a lifesaver for man

Part of popular culture is to bash telemarketers. Sure they call in the middle of dinner and try to hawk aluminum siding or pre arranged funerals. But just like you, if you're employed, or if you own a business, they're doing a job. For a lot of these people, this is about the only job they're qualified to do. They put up with abuse from both sides-the people who answer the phone and their supervisors, who sit in a room and monitor their calls. If they don't dial enough numbers or they get up to go to the bathroom, they're scolded or even fired. All of this for $7 an hour. If the telemarketing companies could get rid of the humans, they would. They tried automatic dialers that could make thousands of calls in an 8 hour shift, but the problem was people would hang up on them a lot more often than they would hang up on a real person. So the $7 an hour is a necessary expense for these companies since the first rule in making a sale is to actually get somebody to listen to the pitch. I'm not suggesting that you welcome telemarketer's calls. If it's your practice to slam the phone down on them, or curse them out, then continue to do so. But remember that they're performing a job and making a living in order to pay their bills. Maybe one day when your job goes offshore, you might be happy to take a telemarketer's job for $7 and hour. Maybe by that time, the pay will be up to $7.50 an hour. Just don't go to the bathroom unless you're on a break.

Here's the story.

Telemarketer call a lifesaver for man, 85

Associated Press
First published: Thursday, December 29, 2005

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- A random call from a local telemarketer helped save a frozen 85-year-old man who had fallen near his home in rural Illinois last week.

Crystal Rozell, an employee with Consumer Direct Marketing in Saratoga Springs, called a number on Dec. 22 when the man who answered said he was hurt and asked for help.

The man, who lives in Ridott, Ill., had fallen near his home the previous night and spent the entire night outside, said Stevenson County Sheriff David Snyders, who was in charge of the case in Illinois.

The man managed to crawl back into the house in the morning, but his phone could not make outgoing calls, Snyders said.

Rozell's call was the first he received that day.

The telemarketer contacted the police and the man was taken to a local hospital.

Police had no information about the man's condition, but said he wanted to thank Rozell.

Christopher Silipigno, vice president of Consumer Direct Marketing, said the company makes thousands of calls to all parts of the country every day.

'Crystal usually speaks to 700 to 1,000 people every day,' he said. 'But she had the compassion to listen, and that is really something.'

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wally A. Schwartz Passes Away

Palm Beach Area Deaths, Obituaries, Funeral Homes and cemeteries for Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast
Anybody who grew up in the metropolitan New York area in the 1960s, or who listened to the radio at night up and down the East Coast and Southeast Canada, would be familiar with Wally's work even though they might not recognize his name. Wally Schwartz was the General Manager of WABC, Musicradio 77. Wally fired Bob Dayton, but he also hired Rick Sklar as Program Director. Rick Sklar understood what personality and fast moving radio was all about. Like so many of the people in entertainment in his era, he was an impresario. He knew what talent was all about and he staffed WABC with the best. It's a testimony to his skill that a generation after WABC switched to talk, that people still remember the names associated with that station; Dan Ingram, Bruce Morrow, Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, Charlie Greer. WABC appealed to all ages. Even though the older folks preferred stations like WNEW, they could still listen to WABC and understand it. Bob Dayton was dismissed for something that wouldn't be thought about twice on the radio today. I have to wonder if in 25 years from now, people will remember their favorite stations of today because they played a better variety of music so they could listen longer. Consultants and researchers have been trying to duplicate the elements that went into the creation of WABC and other stations of that era, but they either don't have the people able to accomplish it, or that they have too much at stake to go out on a limb. It could be because of the fact that Top 40 radio was young and they had no guidelines, no research and nothing to lose that this group of people crafted a radio station that would set the standards for successful radio for generations.

Here is the obituary from the Palm Beach Post.

WALTER A. SCHWARTZ Walter A. Schwartz (Wally), a former radio and television broadcasting executive, died on Wednesday, December 14 at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida. Wally was born in Detroit, Michigan, attended Michigan State University and graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit. He served as a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II and again with the Air Force during the Korean War. Wally began his career in radio with WWJ in Detroit and then moved to New York where he became General Manager of WABC. In 1967, Wally was named President of the ABC Radio Network. During his administration, ABC adopted its unique four network programming plan which transformed the organization into the nation's largest and most profitable network. In 1972 he was named President of ABC Television where he oversaw the ABC Television Network, ABC Sports and ABC Entertainment. In 1975, he joined the John Blair Company as president of it's television stations and then became President and CEO of Blair Television from which he retired in 1986. Wally is survived by his wife of sixty years, Virginia (Ginny), his daughter Leslie Frazer of Churchville, Maryland, his son, Kerry of Indianapolis, Indiana, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. There will be a memorial service held in Boynton Beach, Florida in January.
Boynton Memorial Chapel Family owned & operated (561) 734-5600
Published in The Palm Beach Post from 12/19/2005 - 12/20/2005.

CBC News: Judge turfs restraining order against Letterman

Letterman not guilty of sending secret messages: "The woman, who lives in the New Mexico city of Santa Fe, alleged that Letterman subjected her to 'mental cruelty' for 11 years and forced her to go bankrupt."

From the story:

A judge has lifted a restraining order against talk-show host David Letterman, which was granted to a woman who accused him of sending her coded messages through the airwaves.

Wait a minute...I think I'm getting coded messages, but they're not from David Letterman, they're from Washington..

  • Fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here
  • I don't mind giving up some freedoms so the President can keep me safe
  • Stay the course
  • Flip-flop
  • You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie
  • Criticizing the presnit's policies is irresponsible
  • Tax and spend Liberals
  • Cut and run
  • Copy and paste

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

CBC News: Anti-Semitic vandalism in Edmonton not a prank: police

According to the CBC: "Edmonton's police hate crimes unit is investigating an act of vandalism at a synagogue where swastikas and lettering were painted on its walls on Christmas Day."

From the article:

Vandals had painted a metre-wide black swastika, along with the acronym ZOG, with a circle and line through it on Beth Shalom synagogue.

ZOG stands for Zionist Occupation Government, a fictional body cited in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which claims Jews control global seats of power.

Const. Dave Huggins said the symbol was not commonplace, leading police to suspect the vandalism was a definite show of anti-Semitism and not a childish prank.

The symbols are commonly associated with neo-Nazi skinheads and white supremacists.

Rabbi David Kunin said the slogan suggested the vandal or vandals had a sophisticated knowledge of anti-Semitism.

On Monday, religious leaders spoke out in solidarity with the rabbi. Officials from Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Unitarian faiths denounced the graffiti.

"It is the kind of act I think that all of us understand is not a part of what Canada is," said former politician Larry Shaben, who was Alberta's first Muslim cabinet minister and is a member of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre.

The vandalism was on Christmas and at the start of the eight-day Hanukkah festival, making it even more disturbing to the leaders.

"We're standing together, saying that we need to move forward to create a season of light, not a season of darkness as these things represent," said Kunin.

Beth Shalom has been the target of vandalism and other forms of harassment in the past five years. It has received racist phone calls, letters and e-mails. In the fall of 2000, it was firebombed twice.

The damage was minor but the incidents startled the Jewish community, which has since increased security at synagogues.

JustBlogIt with a simple right-click.

If you're looking for a simple blog tool to help you post from any website, here it is.
JustBlogIt with a simple right-click.: "Updated to work with Firefox 1.5"
From the FAQ:

What is JustBlogIt?

JustBlogIt is a Mozilla / Firefox extension to allow easy right-click posting to a weblog. From any website your new blog post is only a right-click away.

How is JustBlogIt different from a other blogging bookmarklets or context-menu tools?

JustBlogIt supports posting to a variety of weblog system types and is not specific to just one. You can also use the Custom... setting to add any weblog type you want. More importantly, JustBlogIt supports seamless posting from within many web-based News Readers. JustBlogIt checks to see if you are trying to post from a News Reader and adapts the blogging data accordingly.

What weblog types are supported by JustBlogIt?

Blogger, Drupal, LiveJournal, Movable Type, Radio Userland, TextPattern, TypePad, WordPress, journalspace, b2evolution and BLOG:CMS. Plus you can add any weblog type you want through the Custom... setting.

Which News Readers does JustBlogIt recognize?

What are the requirements?

You must be using Mozilla or Firefox and have an existing blog to post to.

I use MSIE. Am I out of luck?

You may want to check out this site for some reasons to switch to a better browser. If you aren't convinced, you can check out an earlier, klunkier, MSIE-only version of this extension here. It is no longer supported.

Munich Terror Mastermind Has No Regrets

Munich Terror Mastermind Has No Regrets: "The Palestinian who masterminded the Munich Olympics massacre - which is the subject of a new Steven Spielberg film - said yesterday that he had no regrets about the kidnapping that ended in the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes. [The Times of London]"

The "War" on Christmas

The right wing talk show hosts believe that Christmas is under siege. They claim that in an effort to be "politically correct", Christians are being forced to say the dreaded "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings." In my opinion, there's nothing politically correct about all of this. It's not an attempt to be all inclusive, or some other such warm and fuzzy feeling. The impression that the talking heads want to give is that Christmas is under attack, by non Christians, of course. But all it is, is an attempt by businesses to make more money. They feel that if the large number of non Christian customers feel alienated, they won't spend their money, which is just as green as Christians' money. They correctly believe that the vast majority of Christians aren't threatened by the fact that Walmart or Target calls their Christmas merchandise, Holiday items. But then there's the scared minority who are whipped up by Bill O' Reilly and his ilk. The people who are home alone and scared that the heathen are going to take gawd or jay-sus out of Christmas. If it were up to me, I would have every Christmas tree in every circular, demonstrating that it represents jesus and the blood sacrifice. Even though the tree has pagan origins, it has come to represent Christian symbols. I would point out that the Holly represents jesus' blood and that the tree itself is a representation of the cross. It should be this way not because irrational people believe Christians are "being persecuted", but as a way of clearly establishing the fact that while Christmas is a nice holiday and people are friendly and full of good will, it's not a holiday for non-Christians. Young non Christian children have a hard time understanding why the presents under the sparkling "Holiday Tree" are not for them. Maybe they were bad this year. Maybe they're going to burn in hell. But they have no problem understanding that the tree that symbolizes the shed blood of jesus, is not for them.

Here is a typical "send this to everybody you know" email that I received. Obviously from people who feel, without justification, that their holiday is being threatened by some unseen troublemaker.

This is a Christmas tree.
It is not a Hanukkah bush,
it is not an Allah plant,

it is not a Kawanza shrub
it is not a Holiday hedge.
It is a Christmas tree.

Say it... CHRISTmas, CHRISTmas, CHRISTmas

Yes. CHRISTmas - celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ!!!

If this offends you...too bad.

Get over it ~

Take a stand and pass this on !!

So much for goodwill toward men. And yes, I'll be sure to send this to everybody in my address book! And one more thing, there's no such thing as chrismakawanzaa.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Canadian Election May Foreshadow U.S. Midterm Elections

"Your country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world." Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to a U.S. audience.

The upcoming election in Canada on January 25th might just be a predictor of what will happen in the U.S. The Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin, is locked in a close race with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Harper spent the summer on the rubber chicken and barbecue circuit, shaking hands and trying to soften his image as a hard line Conservative. Most Canadians eschew the hardline anti gay rights rhetoric and Harper has already promised not to use a technicality in the Canadian Charter of Rights to overturn legislation affirming the right for gays to marry. But there's been a little fly in the ointment in a speech Harper gave eight years ago to an American Think Tank in Montreal in which he praises American conservatives and slams Canada for being a "European welfare state." Oh much for the image makeover. His handlers are saying the the comments were tongue in cheek. Full text of the speech is here. It seems to me that Harper is trying the Bush Jr. route of "compassionate conservatism", but many Canadians have had a 5 year glimpse of what that's brought to the U.S. and they're not going for the bait.

Hey You!!! Get A Job!!!

Yes, I'm talking to you!! What's wrong with you? Get some work done!! How would you like to receive an e-mail like that? From yourself, no less. We'll now you don't need to have your mother call you to remind you to get married and settle down with a nice doctor. You can do it yourself by sending an e-mail message to yourself in the future. is based on the principle that memories are less accurate than emails. It was started by a couple of guys so you could write yourself a letter to be delivered at a later date. Just make sure you use an e-mail address that you're likely to have in the future, like Yahoo Mail. And now I must get busy writing myself a message in the future. Let's see. Let's send it for 5 years from now. "Did you make lots of money? Do you have enough to retire on? What do you mean you not only don't have enough to retire on but you have to keep working until they carry you out in a coffin? You need to keep working forever to be able to have health insurance?" Isn't that like making sure the lethal injection on death row is FDA approved?