I’m only now finally getting around to blogging about my trip to Las Vegas (for Viva Las Vegas, the annual rockabilly weekender at The Orleans Hotel and Casino) and San Francisco while it’s all still vaguely fresh-ish in my mind. I returned to rain-lashed London on Saturday 14 April, went straight back to work and DJ’ing, been wiped out with jetlag (and then a cold) pretty much ever since. So these are just rough, random musings. (Because you know, otherwise I’m usually so eloquent and articulate. Right? Right?).
Anyway, Viva Las Vegas 2012 was an absolute blast, mainly because I got to hook up with loads of American friends (some of whom I haven’t seen since 2006!) and make lots of new ones.
"The gang" in 2006: me, Asher, David and Mitch. Everyone in this photo but Asher made it this year
The same group in 2006, this time including Rusty
Pretty much the same group of people, six years later! Thursday 5 April 2012. Left to right: Patrick, Mitch, David, Rusty, Jim and I at Ellis Island Restaurant. Compare the 2006 photo to chart our ageing processes!
Black T-Shirt Convention: Sharon, Natelle, Gary and I
Sweetpea from Seattle in Mexican Wrestler's Mask
Me, fabulous babe (and go-go dancer/burlesque artiste) Miss Kitty Baby (the Queen of Las Vegas!) and Rusty
Gary and Sweetpea
This VLV, therefore, was more about reunions with people and just hanging out – I saw shamefully few bands this year. One particularly noteworthy exception, though, was the mighty Royal Rhythmaires from Texas. They boasted a young female singer whose powerful blues shouter voice evoked great mid-century R&B female divas like Ruth Brown and LaVerne Baker.
Speaking of great female singers, I’ve somehow never managed to catch a full set by Vicky Tafoya, but she intrigues the hell out of me. In 2011, Tafoya and her band performed in Brendan's Irish pub (one of the more intimate venues at The Orleans) but it was filled to capacity and the security guard wouldn’t let any more people in by the time I got there. This year, she joined the pool party band one day as a guest vocalist for just one song: a sultry rendition of “Misirlou.” She has a belting voice, but it's her whole persona I find fascinating: raven mane of hair teased into a high pompadour, heavy white almost Kabuki face powder, and false eyelashes so thick they’re like black tarantulas on her eyelids. I can’t begin to do her justice –Vicky Tafoya is like an escapee from a John Waters or early Pedro Almodovar film.
Vicky Tafoya: Didn't manage to get a single decent shot of her because of the positioning of the mic stand. Still, you get the idea
Found this clip on Youtube! Vicky Tafoya singing "Misirlou" at the pool party
In terms of sojourns away from The Orleans (the casino/hotel where Viva Las Vegas is held), I was saddened to learn one of my all-time favourite “Old Vegas” dive bars (the sublimely sleazy Atomic Liquor) has permanently shut its doors in the meantime. It had apparently been a fixture there since at least the 1950s. I miss being buzzed through their glass front doors (extra security to keep out the local crackheads) to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon in the gloom, eavesdropping on conversations from the tough-as-nails barfly regulars straight out of a Charles Bukowski novel.
Atomic Liquor and Cocktails looking derelict by daylight in 2006
Portrait of me drinking at Atomic Liquor in 2006
Photo of the neon Atomic Liquor sign looking far more beautiful at night, taken by me in 2007 (the last time I visited Atomic Liquor)
I feel a rant coming on: Every time I go back to Vegas, one more mid-century historical landmark has been torn down to make way for another monstrous, soulless modern “mega-casino” (other recent-ish casualties: the Elvis-o-Rama museum,the Liberace museum, The Stardust where I saw Ann-Margret perform in 2005). Vegas is ruthlessly unsentimental in a misguided/short-sighted way, indifferent to its own glittering history. For the most part, the decadent Sin City “Old Vegas” playground of the Rat Pack, Marlene Dietrich, Liberace, Elvis and the Mob simply doesn’t exist anymore. The first time I went to Vegas (in 2003) I stopped by The Algiers (at the time one of the oldest surviving casinos on The Strip, directly opposite Circus Circus) for a drink. My memory of it now has a shimmering dream-like quality. The ultra 1950s pink stucco Algiers could only be described as David Lynch-ian: everyone in the place seemed to be a shuffling geriatric, giving it a senior citizens home vibe. The bar and pool area were eerily quiet, the pace was dreamily slow and haunting, seemingly soaked in seedy history, and the drinks were strong. The following year, I yearned to go back, but in 2004 it was demolished!
OK, diatribe over. I still happily sampled plenty of old school / atomic-era Las Vegas: meeting the guys for breakfast in the cafe of the Ellis Island casino (there's a great online review of the place: someone's cab driver warning them not to go there, it's the hang-out of choice for prostitutes and drug dealers! To me, that's a recommendation); cocktails and steaks at The Golden Steer; I got a tantalisingly brief glimpse at the intoxicating Frankie’s Tiki cocktail lounge. We were running late for dinner reservation at the nearby Golden Steer so we couldn’t stay long. I need to return to Vegas in 2013 just so I can properly experience Frankie’s! (Apparently if you wear a Hawaiian shirt to Frankie’s, you instantly get a 50% discount on cocktails, so you can guess what I’ll be packing. I can taste those Mai Tais, Stingers and Blue Hawaiians already!).
Frankies Tiki Room: I'll be back ...
My Lemon Drop cocktail at The Golden Steer
With my two suave dining companions Mitch and David. Re Mitch: Yes, Rohypnol really does work!
Sleazy does it! This elegant portrait really captures the Viva Las Vegas 2012 vibe: Chris, Tami and Patrick
The gorgeous Marisol from Los Angeles. At this year's VLV each of the bars at The Orleans were selling limited-edition souvenir glasses shaped like bowling pins or cowboy boots, etc. Needless to say, we went straight for the skulls!
My official Viva Las Vegas 2012 portrait! My skull contained triple Jack Daniels and Coke, by the way
Living in London, we’re starved for sunshine so the sun-kissed pool parties are always the highlight. In fact, even if Viva Las was just four days of pool parties, it would still be worth crossing the Atlantic for! Drinking potent spicy Bloody Marys in the balmy sunshine (switching to icy cans of Pabst Blue Ribbons when I couldn’t afford Bloody Marys anymore), surrounded by friends, to a soundtrack of live rockabilly, was sublime.
Saturday 7 April 2012: in this photo, you can see Mitch and David (shielding their eyes from the sun), Sweetpea (in purple dress, sucking on a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon), me (desperately reaching into my pocket for something -- or, more likely, reaching for my camera) and Anne Marie in the foreground (brunette with yellow flower). I vividly remember the kid in front of me and his zoot suit
Lisa and Patrick: they entered the couples's vintage swimsuit competition -- and won!
Heather and I at the pool party (her rum cocktail was good)
Pool party refreshments
Sean Law (from Canada) and Anne Marie (from The Netherlands)
Patrick (in one of his dazzling cabana suit combos) and I
Wifebeaters unite! Scott and Jorge. (When I say "wifebeaters", I mean the Stanley Kowalski / young Brando white vests they're wearing -- I'm not implying they beat their wives!).
Other high points I didn't necessarily document with photos: the car show, the jiving contest and the Charles Phoenix Slideshow. Once again this year, I somehow managed to miss seeing Big Elvis (see the photo of Big Elvis and I together at the top of this blog, from 2010) and going to the punk bar Double Down Saloon -- yet more incentive for returning next year.
I’m so glad I organised a few days in chilled-out, bohemian San Francisco after Viva Las Vegas instead of heading straight home. It’s one of my all-time favourite cities in the world, and I hadn’t been there since 2007. It was sadly obvious the city has been ravaged by the recession since my last visit five years earlier: even more crazies, winos and crackheads wandering the streets pushing grocery cars and muttering to themselves (and there were already a lot) and some of my favourite burrito places are gone (RIP, Mariachi's Taqueria on Valencia Street. I never got to tell you how much I loved you).
San Francisco in 2012!
Mercifully (and most importantly), most of my favorite bars were still intact: the punk dive Lucky 13 (just up the block the ultra-basic but affordable Twin Peaks hotel where I always stay, situated just between The Mission and The Castro); Esta Noches in The Mission; Trax in Haight-Ashbury, and the scary but reliably excellent The Hole in the Wall in Folsom. In fact, it was in atmospheric nasty biker bar / sleaze pit Hole in the Wall I hung out with (and got quickly plastered over beers and shots of Jägermeister with!) the wonderfully affable rockabilly musician Kacy French (You might know him better by his professional name Damon Dogg. Do yourself a favor: Please do not Google “Damon Dogg” on your work computer!).
Kacy and I at Hole in the Wall
Portrait of Kacy at Hole in the Wall
Other highlights: happy hour post-work drinks with Little E, dropping a bomb of money buying CDs and DVDs at Amobea Records in Haight (where I almost got to catch an intimate acoustic set by my punk idols John Doe and Exene of the punk band X -- but didn't!), eating cheap and authentic Mexican food every day, a nice reunion with my old pal AJ. I didn’t make it to North Beach at all this year (so no book shopping at City Lights) – I’ll rectify that in 2013.
Window display of vintage boutique in The Mission
Tiki-inspired window display of vintage boutique in Haight-Ashbury
See more of my photos of Vegas/San Francisco (there's loads more!) on my flickr page
Feeling nostalgic? You can re-read my reflections on Viva Las Vegas here and 2011 here
She wore a teeny weeny itsy bitsy zebra print bikini: Jayne Mansfield. Why don't people wear zebra print more often?
This was my first Dr Sketchy since getting back from two weeks in US (I got back on Saturday 14 April after going to the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender, followed by a few days in San Francisco), and have to admit it felt like a bit tepid this time. Which was certainly not the fault of the stellar line-up of performers: homme du monde Dusty Limits on emcee duties, platinum blonde Monroe-a-like showgirl Slinky Sparkles and kooky newcomer, Australian starlet Georgina Ruby. Lately we’ve been on fire, but this Dr Sketchy didn’t sell out (although it didn’t exactly look sparsely attended from the DJ booth and to their credit the crowd seemed open and enthusiastic).
I’d spent a bomb on CDs at Amobea Records in San Francisco (my favourite record store in the world. And when I say “spent a bomb”, my credit card statement is giving me anxiety attacks), which I was keen to play. One of the CDs was a mondo exotica Tiki compilation (that’s why you might see more Les Baxter and Martin Denny than usual, as well as Yma Sumac’s sublime “Wimoweh”), but don’t think I managed to integrate it very well into things. In fact musically I think I was incoherent as hell. It was one of those nights where musically it just didn't gel for me. Let’s blame the murderous post-US jetlag I’m still suffering from (it takes me at least a week or two for my body clock to re-adjust to UK time! I was feeling zombified with exhaustion all week) and drinking pints of lager on an empty stomach (I went to the venue straight from work and The Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s kitchen has temporarily stopped serving food. I was depending on a bowl of their chips to line my stomach with!).
One of the evening’s most disconcerting touches was the sleeping guy. He looked like what we in the know would call a “bear.” He came in alone, ordered a pint of beer, picked one of the best seats in the venue – and then snoozed through pretty much the entire show. At one point Clare Marie (Dr Sketchy’s glamazon promoter) was standing next to me in the DJ booth and I pointed him out to her. Unruffled, she just shrugged and said he paid his entry fee so he could sleep if he wanted to. (Midway through, he woke up, looked confused by his surroundings and wandered out). Strange!
For Georgina’s poses I cranked up the kitsch factor and sleazy instrumentals. With Dr Sketchy veteran Slinky I always go heavy on cooing Hollywood sex kittens. Obviously playing a Marilyn Monroe track is obligatory, but I could skip one by Jayne Mansfield this time because Slinky already used a song by Jayne as part of her burlesque number (“Too Hot to Handle” in case you’re interested). I also explored a sultry and melancholy blue mood with a trio of ballads by three quintessential chanteuses: Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt and Juliette Greco.
Georgina Ruby: Doesn't she look a bit like New Wave crackpot Lene Lovich here?
Pin-up come to life: Slinky Sparkles evoking Betty Grable (All photos by the talented Andrew Hickinbottom)
Fragment of La Mansfield bumping, twitching and pouting her way through "Too Hot to Handle"
Glimpse of the breathtakingly beautiful young Juliette Greco (in trademark stark Morticia Addams black) singing "Bonjour Tristesse" in 1958. Trust me: the original French lyrics are much better than the trite English ones!
Misirlou - Martin Denny Monkey Bird - The Revels Champagne Taste - Eartha Kitt Witchcraft - Joe Grave and The Diggers Los Cigarillos - Serge Gainsbourg Hot Toddy - Julie London Fever - Richard Marino and His Orchestra Mess of Blues - Elvis Presley All You Had to Do Was Tell Me - Ann-Margret Oui je veux - Johnny Hallyday Sea of Love - The Earls of Suave Night Scene - The Rumblers Cheesecake - Nite Sounds Town without Pity - James Chance The Mexican - The Fentones Tequila - Stan Kenton and His Orchestra Wimoweh - Yma Sumac Not Me - Robert Mitchum Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo Made You - Adam Faith (Beat Girl soundtrack) Intoxica - The Centurions (Pink Flamingos soundtrack) Sweetiepie - Eddie Cochran The Swag - Link Wray (Pink Flamingos soundtrack) Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies Baby Blues Rock - Carl Simpson Tonight You Belong to Me - Patience and Prudence Beaver Shot - The Periscopes Bewildered - Shirley and Lee Strolling After Dark - The Shades Caterpillar Crawl - The Strangers Boots - Nero and The Gladiators It's Legal - Shirley Anne Field (Beat Girl soundtrack) Cherry Pink - Bill Black Combo Caravan - 80 Drums Around the World Come By Sunday - Diana Dors Tall Cool One - The Wailers Drummin' Up a Storm - Sandy Nelson Lookie There, Ain't She Pretty - Bill Haley and His Comets Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plait - Brigitte Bardot Scorpion - The Carnations One Mint Julep - Sarah Vaughan Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury Jungle Drums - Earl Bostic Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown Boss - The Rumblers Whiplash - The Shells Anytime - Bill Black Combo Willow Weep for Me - Nina Simone Solitude - Eartha Kitt Bonjour Tristesse - Juliette Greco Petit Fleur - Chet Baker Do It Again - Marilyn Monroe Blues in My Heart - John Buzon Trio Harlem Nocturne - Martin Denny You're My Thrill - Dolores Gray You Beautiful Doll - Nancy Sinatra Drums A G-Go - The Hollywood Persuaders Thirteen Men - Ann-Margret The Beast - Milt Buckner Deep Dark Secret - Lizabeth Scott Hand Clapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin Don't Blame it On Me - Ike and Tina Turner I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent - Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers
Next time: an update on Lobotomy Room, and a full scene report on Viva Las Vegas and San Francisco!
(The following is from an events page I created on Facebook):
Set your facial expressions to “stunned!” I’ve actually been entrusted with doing my own club night!
The pub Howl at The Moon on Hoxton Street (an old-school East End boozer) is under new management and its hip landlady Emma has given me every third Saturday night of the month to do my own night. It’s called Lobotomy Room and it will be a sensual and depraved night of rockabilly, frantic Rhythm and Blues, tittyshakers, sleazy instrumentals, punk, kitsch and exotica – weird shit, basically! Think drunken hillbillies shouting at you while go-go dancers gyrate in a cage, and you’re on the right track. (OK, there won't actually be any go-go dancers and the drunken hillbilly shouting at you will probably be me. Any of you who’ve seen me DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy or Cockabilly will know roughly what to expect).
Admission is FREE, the booze is cheap, and the venue is walking distance from Old Street tube.
Lobotomy Room debuts on Saturday 21 April 2012. The timing is tricky ‘cause I split for Viva Las Vegas weekender (and then San Francisco) between 4 – 14 April. So it’ll be the weekend after I get back. Yikes! Anyway, I need as many of you muthas as possible to turn up on the launch night and dance your asses off (and binge drink) to ensure my night is buzzing (and lucrative for the pub!). If you're working that night -- call in sick. If you're in jail -- BREAK OUT. And then I expect you to turn up every subsequent month.
So ... won’t you come and give me a warm hand on my big opening? (Me again):
Sounds too good to be true, huh? Although in theory after all these years of DJ’ing, I guess it’s a natural progression to finally be doing my own night. I’ll just be eternally grateful to Emma (aka DJ Elma Wolf) for taking a chance on me. We first met when we both guest DJ’d at Cockabilly at The George & Dragon in November 2011. (Note: sadly, Cockabilly is currently on hiatus. The December 2011 one was the last Cockabilly to date. Fingers crossed this is just temporary). Emma organises regular nights at The Dalston Superstore and said she’d like me to do some guest DJ’ing there sometime. Then we bumped into each other at John Waters's Christmas Show at The Southbank in December.
In March I contacted Emma on Facebook to ask when her next Dalston Superstore night would be, as I’d try to come. Instead she told me she was now managing a pub in Hoxton – would I be interested in doing my own rockabilly night there? Needless to say I said, Hell yeah! We had a meeting at the pub to thrash out the details. The pub (on the gritty end of Hoxton Street as opposed to the art-y/bohemian hipster end) is called Howl at The Moon, which for an old beatnik like me brings positive associations with “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. I always knew if I was to do my own night, it would have to be called Lobotomy Room, and that the flyer image would be a bug-eyed Joan Crawford wielding an axe from the 1964 William Castle-directed horror movie Straitjacket. (I bought a 8x10” print of this photo in San Francisco in 2007, knowing it would eventually come in handy!).
I just got back yesterday from American misadventures in Las Vegas (for the annual rockabilly weekender Viva Las Vegas) followed by a few days in San Francisco (the trip is a whole other blog!) and now am both jetlagged and vibrating with nerves about the debut of Lobotomy Room in less than a week! My stomach is full of vomiting butterflies, to quote the great Homer Simpson. If everything goes according to plan, one of my next blogs will be a Lobotomy Room set list and photos.