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Nacho nails it

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Anyone who’s read my eclectic blog knows my love and reverence for Leo Fender and his creations. Here’s the story of a gentleman who shares that and uses it to make the world a better place.

Tragic but true:
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, there were few who had much interest in older instruments. You could buy ‘em cheap, because they were just old guitars.

Here’s a photo of our old Boy Howdy Band, taken in Naples, Florida, in June, 1972. From left to right are my still-best friend, John Klingler, drummer Mike Collins, and me on bass. My bass back then was a used Gibson EB-3. The guitar John’s holding is a 1952 Fender Telecaster.

John, Mike, Jim Boy Howdy Band, 1972

Old Teles and their predecessors — made by Leo Fender’s small company from 1950 to 1954 — are now reverently called “Blackguards,” because of the single-ply black pickguards Leo fitted them with. These early Fender guitars — the Esquire, Broadcaster, one with no model name now called a “NoCaster,” and the Telecaster — all looked much alike, sharing the neck headstock, body shape, pickguards, and control layout.

Today, John’s Telecaster, if in nice condition, would be worth $50,000 or more. John bought it in Tampa for $250 in 1972 and proceeded to sand it to bare wood, stain it, route a hole for an old humbucking pickup in the neck position, and fit it with a pickguard he made.

I watched him do it and neither of us gave it much thought. John was handy and was just customizing an old guitar.

After playing the modified Tele for a few months, John sold it to someone for $250 and bought a beautiful Gibson Firebird. But this little anecdote just proves that old Telecasters were not, at that time,  recognized as being particularly valuable . . . except by a few unusually perceptive people.

52_Telecaster

Meet Nacho Baños:
Let’s meet someone who was not only perceptive, but went on to “write the book” on old Teles and related Fender guitars. He’s regarded as the world’s foremost expert on Leo Fender’s guitars, and, happily, is generous enough to share that info with anyone.

Nacho Baños

Nacho Baños, a native of Spain, was in the U.S. working on his MBA in the early 1990s. He fell in love with the Telecaster, especially the original Teles. He scrimped and saved to buy them when he could, and over the years began to amass an incredible amount of info. He took photos of Teles and their component parts, and talked with others who shared his enthusiasm. Nacho is an absolute gentleman with a engaging personality, and soon gained a worldwide reputation for his knowledge and the kindness with which he shared it. The attached ToneQuest Report magazine has his bio and an interview, and I urge you to read it. They call Nacho The King of the Telecasters, and he is, of course, that and more:

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The book:
Eventually, Nacho decided to write a book, and THE BLACKGUARD — Telecaster Style Guitars from 1950- 1954, was published in 2004 or so and is considered the bible of Telecaster lore. At over 400 pages, the 12” x 12” book, with its slipcover, weighs over 10 pounds and has over 2,000 highly detailed color photos of 50 early Esquires, Broadcasters, NoCasters and Telecasters. The amount of info in this volume is stunning.

Blackguard Book And Sleeve

Nacho self-published 5,500 of these books, and, knowing print production like I do, I suspect that he sold them at about half of what they cost him to print. Proceeds from the book went — I told you Nacho was an absolute gentleman — to establish a foundation building homes and a school for the poor in India and providing clean water in Africa.

I treasure my copy (#3196), not only for the images and information in it, but for the gracious inscription Nacho penned in my copy. The book is out-of-print  — if you see one for sale, buy it — but this website has many photos and gives you an idea of Nachos’ love and knowledge:
The Blackguard Book

Blackguard 2

Blackguard 1

Blackguard 3

Nacho nails the Blackguard:
With the help of some famed guitar-slingers and old-world craftsmen, Nacho has somehow arranged to make a few reproductions of some early Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. They are jawdroppingly accurate, and — best of all — they are sold at about a tenth of what a vintage guitar costs. As lovers of fine old paintings revere every crack in the varnish on an old masterpiece, so do those of us who love the old Fenders.

Nacho and Billy Gibbons

Two gents who know their Teles! Nacho and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

Using the best components money can buy, and guided by years of examining — and owning and playing — hundreds of the old Fenders, Nacho has nailed the look, feel, and tone of these old classics. Uncanny. He also recreates Statocasters from the days of Buddy Holly.

Here’s the website to learn more and see some photos of these guitars:

Nacho’s Guitars

Nachocaster 2

Nachocaster 1

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Labors of love from a man whose love for Leo Fender’s creations have shaped his life and brought joy to so many other guitar lovers. And, along the way, homes for families, and a school for their kids, and clean water for whose who wouldn’t otherwise have it.

Leo would be proud.

Oh, you Kids!

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BTK Photo

William H. Bonney (born William Henry McCarty, Jr. c.1859-1861 – July 14, 1881), also known as William Antrim and Kid Antrim, was a 19th-century gunman who participated in the Lincoln County War in New Mexico and became a frontier outlaw in the American West. According to legend, he killed twenty-one men, but it is generally believed he only killed eight. He killed his first man on August 17, 1877, at around 17 years of age.

At the time Bonney was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Pete Maxwell’s place at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the nickname of “Billy, The Kid” (note the comma and capitalization used back then) had just started being applied to him. He was usually just called The Kid. The usage of calling a young person a “kid” was known for hundreds of years prior to Bonney, but it seems to have only become common around the 1840s.

In the world of comic books, there have been a great many Kids. In a quick search, I found a few for you:
Colorado Kid
Cheyenne Kid
Arizona Kid
Durango Kid
Cisco Kid
Apache Kid
Sundance Kid
Reno Kid
Two-Gun Kid
Kid Slade
Kid from Dodge City
Frisco Kid
Kid Cowboy
Presto Kid
Texas Kid
Ringo Kid
Oklahoma Kid
Cotton Kid
Hollywood Kid
Star Kid
Outlaw Kid
Kid Montana
Western Kid
Rawhide Kid
Fargo Kid
Kid Colt
Billy the Kid
Stardust Kid
Lemonade Kid
Dynamite Kid

Many of these were published by Timely/Atlas/Marvel, and they also put out a comic book called Tough Kid Squad during WWII:

Tough Kid Squad

In Italy, a comic book publisher printed a version of the Superman character, using old American comic book art (at least in the couple of examples I have) and called him the Nembo Kid:

Nembo Kid

Nembo Kid translates, I believe, to “Cloud Man,” and that’s a little odd sounding to me. Maybe it plays better in Italian. Because Superman’s “S” shield wouldn’t work for a guy who’s name started with an N, the Italian publisher just blanked it out and colored the empty pentagon shape yellow or sometimes red. I really liked how that Italian comic publisher colored Batman. Since they were playing with Batman’s colors, they could easily have fixed what I considered Robin’s biggest defect: his naked legs. Just color his legs green, yellow, or red, for God’s sake. But, nooooo:

Batman Nembo Kid

There was also a Quality Comics character named Kid Eternity. He had a particularly lame costume and his power was that a fat angel could help him summon real and fictional folks from the past to help in his adventures. I don’t much care for Kid Eternity, though his stories usually had some great art, which was true of all the Quality Comics line. After an impressive Golden Age run with great characters like the Blackhawks, Plastic Man, the Spirit, and tons of others, their publisher, Busy Arnold, packed it up in the early 1950s. He sold his characters to DC Comics and retired to Naples, Florida. Had I known, of course, that he was living in Naples I would have looked him up!!!

Kid Eternity

Other “Kid” characters, like Kid Flash, came and went, but the Western comic books with their army of Kids are what we’re here for today. Enjoy these great covers!

Great posture was as important as skill with a six-gun for this kid:

Rawhide Kid

Of all the Atlas/Marvel Western kids, none had a better costume than the Ringo Kid:

Ringo Kid

Painted comic book covers weren’t common in old comics, and I never liked them. They just seemed jarring to me when used for a throwaway art form:

Kid Cowboy

Cisco Kid

Billy the Kid made it into comic books a couple of times. In Fawcett Comic’s version, he was a goat:

Fawcett Billy the Kid

Later, as published by the abysmally written, printed, and, said some, Mafia-connected Charlton Comics, he was a human, though out of register on the interior pages. I despised Charlton Comics; even if the art was good, the crap stories and bottom-of-the-barrel printing offended me:

Charlton Bill the Kid

Here are some other kids from the West.

Kid Colt

Two Gun Kid

Kid Montana

Texas Kid

Kid From Dodge City

Arizona KidEXCITING UPDATE!

Can’t believe it’s been a year since I posted to my blog. I blame myself. Anyway, if you keep up with the news, you’ll have heard that a third, previously unknown photo of Billy the Kid has come to light. It shows him, of all things, playing croquet in 1878 with his pals at their hideout in New Mexico. It’s estimated to bring $5 million at auction, but you can see it here for free!

Billy Croquet 1

Billy is shown on the right in this closeup of the 4″x5″ tintype. Since it’s a tintype, the left-to-right is flopped, as in the original of the photo at the top of this blog entry. I corrected the left-to-right then, but am too lazy this evening.

Billy-Croquet-2

But wait; there’s more! Here’s a Billy the Kid comic book cover from a series published by Toby Comics in the early 1950s:

Toby Billy the Kid

And, finally, a Durango Kid cover from the long-running series published by Magazine Enterprises:

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A great instrument instructs the player . . .

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One of my more unusual guitars is a Hallmark Barris Kustom from Bob Shade. This guitar is shaped and painted to replicate custom-hotrod-builder George Barris’ personal crest. Barris, a buddy of Shade, is the fellow who designed what I consider to be the koolest kar ever made: The TV show Batmobile:

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Barris is called the King of the Kustomizers; he also designed and built the Munster Koach, the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck, the Kitt car, the Dukes of Hazzard General Lee, and the MonkeeMobile, among a host of others:

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Back to this guitar. Bob, whom I’ve known for 20 years, has given me some good deals and trades on guitars and in return I’ve given him my trifling skills as a photographer, writer, and/or sketch artist/designer. We have fun together because we love guitars and kool kars and we both have a wacky sense of humor. Since the Barris Kustom guitar Bob made as a six-stringed version of Barris’ crest is either a prototype or a mistake, it doesn’t have exactly the same control circuitry his production models have. It has a single knob for volume and a single Shade-recreation of the early 1950s Carvin AP6 pickup. No tone control.

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That being said, it is one of the best-sounding and playing guitars I have. It has a maple/rosewood neck of the Tele/Strat scale, though bound. It’s a solid body and fairly lightweight. It comes with Bob’s version of the old Mosrite tremolo. The Carvin-clone pickup gives it a spanky yet very articulate sound, especially since I use LaBella light-gauge flatwound strings on all of my electric guitars. It sure doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill guitar, does it?

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Played through one of my old Fender tube amps at jams and such, this guitar is amazing. Like an acoustic guitar, the lack of tone controls or a second pickup forces the player to make any sound changes with his fingers: Where the pick or fingers strike the strings, how hard, how frequently. With that AP6-type pickup, all those dynamics come through and it just sounds great in any mix and on any song, whether it’s Blind Albert Reed, Buddy Holly, or John Denver.

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Kool guitar!!! Thanks, Bob and George!!!

DC Comics History: Get This Book!

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A precursor of The Office’s Jim Halpert looks at comics on sale. Oddly enough, not one DC comic on this rack. Based on the cover of Don Winslow of the Navy #26 and Red Band Comics #4 or 5 (both used the same art!), this was taken in March of 1945.

As a kid, I would read any comic book I could get my hands on, but my favorites were DC Comics. The writing, characters and production values were, to me, the best of anything out there. I liked other brands, like Harvey, Archies and Dell, but DC was tops.

Marvel Comics, at that time, was not making superhero comics; their offerings were mainly books about monsters or takeoffs on comics produced by other companies. If Harvey Comics put out Casper, the Friendly Ghost, Marvel would put out Homer, the Happy Ghost, and Charlton Comics, the bottom of the barrel in production values, put out Timmy, the Timid Ghost. One day, I’ll do a blog entry on the laughable print quality of Charlton Comics; they were usually printed so far out of register that they looked like the old red-blue 3-D comics.

So it was mainly DC for me!

My primary fascination was the drawing, but I was also intrigued by the production aspects of the things:

• How did they get from typewriter and pencil to the finished book?

• How did they print the 64 colors used?

• How come some comics used line screens for colors and some used dot screens?

• How did they get the logos and such so perfect on each issue?

• Who owned the company (DC at that time was called National Periodical Publications, Inc)?

• How did all the drugstores and newsstands get these books on the racks every other Tuesday morning?

• How much did the ads in the books cost and did they bring in dimes from the readers?

• How many copies of each comic did they print?

• How come some comics were monthlies and some were bi-monthlies?

• Why was the cost a dime?

What kind of company makes comic books?!?!??

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When I was a kid, drugs stores were the best place to buy comics, as they seemed to carry all the issues published. Based on the cover of Action Comics #243 in this photo, it was taken in May of 1958. Yes; I am a geek! Had this photo been taken in Pascagoula, Mississippi, that could have been me in the pale jacket reading Strange Tales #65.

That was the stuff I wondered about.

I needed the following book: 75 Years Of DC Comics: The Art Of Modern Mythmaking, written by Paul Levitz, former president and publisher of DC Comics.

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Nice touch: The title lettering mimics the lettering used on DC’s Action and Adventure comic book titles.

720 pages in a large, 15-1/2″ x 11-1/2″ format, weighing in at about 15 pounds, this is a stunner of a book. Absolutely engrossing, written in an amusing yet authoritative style, it’s simply the best history of comic books out there, and I’ve read ’em all. It’s expensive at over $150, but if that’s what it costs, so be it. It’s well worth more than that.

The book, heavily illustrated with comic covers and interior pages as you might expect, is augmented by rare photos of DC folks, from founders Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz to production folks like Sol Harrison, Jack Adler, and, of course, many of the art and writing talents from DC’s history. Associated media, like cartoons, TV shows and films are well covered, too.

For me, whose interest in primarily in the marketing and print-production aspects of the comic books, a fascinating discovery was the cover/sales chart sheets kept by Irwin Donenfeld, Irwin was the son of DC co-founder Harry Donenfeld, and was co-owner, editorial director and vice-president of DC from about 1948 to 1968. These hand-drawn charts showed the covers of each DC comic by month, with notations of the size of the print run and percentage of copies sold written under each cover.

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Notice the Batman logo change on this series of covers from the mid-1960s; one of Irwin Donenfeld’s sales charts.

Brilliant.

75 Years of DC Comics: Buy it, borrow it or check it out from a library; it is an amazing piece of work! You will learn something new on every page and the visual appeal is breathtaking. Here’s the Barnes & Noble info:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/listing/2684868360209?r=1&cm_mmca2=pla&cm_mmc=GooglePLA-_-Book_45Up-_-Q000000633-_-2684868360209

Today’s Mission: Save This Planet!

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Don’t worry; today’s entry has nothing to do with Al Gore. It’s all about something much more compelling, realistic and important: Comic-book covers!

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Mystery in Space, a DC-published comic that ran for 110 issues from 1951 to 1966, was one of my favorites. Edited by the amazing Julius Schwartz, it featured art by some of my favorite artists: Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson.

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When I tippytoed into the world of professional comic-book production for a couple of summers while in high school, the first thing I learned was that the covers sold the books. It was no accident that the covers of comic books were printed on glossy coated stock using high-resolution screens while the interiors were tossed off on newsprint with coarse screens and muted color reproduction. The art on the covers was almost always much better than what was found in the interiors of the book. So what? It was a stricture of the art form, and covers were what sold the books.

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One of the leitmotivs of DC-comics covers, along with purple gorillas, Jimmy Olsen turning into something weird and Lois Lane in trouble, was perils to Earth. In the Mystery in Space books, editor Schwartz took this to a high level in the early days of the series. For pre- and early-teen American boys, this had resonance: we were just beginning the American space program, and who knew whether this might set off some trip-wire arranged long ago by aliens? It was worth staying up at night to worry about!!! Also, and even more unsettling, these covers indicated that it was the Northern hemisphere that these evil aliens were focusing on. They could care less about Europe, Asia, Africa; their eyes were on the U.S.A!!!

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Were aliens watching our every move? Probably! Were they thinking “Hmm; the primitive Earthlings have now reached the stage where they have both atomic weapons and the ability to rocket into space. We’d better smush them like bugs before they prove troublesome to us!!!”? What a burner for our species, huh?

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So we kids would look for, buy, read and re-read these comics. So what if this clarion cry came from a funny book? The guys who wrote and drew them were obviously smart; look at all the scientific facts crammed into these stories!

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Here are, for your enjoyment and amusement and so you can prepare for our destruction, some of the great Mystery in Space covers showing Earth in peril.

BE WARNED! THE ALIENS ARE OUT THERE AND THEY’RE WATCHING US!!!

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Yours Truly, Old-Time Radio!

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Family Radio

For those who have grown up listening to radio as it is today, what we fans call “old-time radio” (OTR) is a revelation. Radio before 1962 had many great series shows, and they included comedy, drama, horror, soap opera, detective and other offerings. Many, like Dragnet and Gunsmoke, later became television programs as TV became available in the early 1950s. I know of one series (Have Gun, Will Travel) that was a television show first and then became a radio show.

If you have a long commute to work, there is no better way to pass the time than listening to OTR and it needn’t cost you a dime.

While in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a couple of times recently, I was lucky enough to visit the radio studio in the Scranton Times Tribune newspaper building, which still looks like it did when it was used in the 1930s. Here’s a great photo showing a radio studio in the 1940s:

Radio Studio 1930s

If you have XM or Sirius satellite radio, discovering OTR is easy. Just tune to channel 82 and listen to the offerings hosted by OTR wizard Greg Bell (his website is gregbellmedia.com). Greg provides interesting commentary and the shows on his Radio Classics channel have superb-quality audio. His content provider, RadioSpirits.com, also sells classic radio shows on disc. Many folks I know say Greg’s channel is the main reason they subscribe to satellite radio, and my wife and I agree!

If you want to download OTR, there are many sites, both free and subscription; just Google Old TIme Radio and download the files. Please know that the audio quality on many of these, uploaded by OTR fans and collectors, aren’t what you’ll hear on Radio Classics.

Now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s look at one of the best of the OTR series: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. This detective show lasted a long time; there were over 800 episodes from 1949 to 1962. Johnny Dollar was “the man with the action-packed expense account,” and the premise of the show was that Johnny Dollar was describing the incident while compiling his expense account to whatever insurance company had hired him that week. Johnny’s file on each case was usually referenced as a “matter,” as in “The Silver Blue Matter” or “The Forbes Matter.”

Johnny Dollar was the last of the episodic OTR shows, and over the years there were several actors who played the hard-boiled insurance investigator. My favorite was Bob Bailey, who had a world-weary and somewhat sarcastic delivery perfect for the part:

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Yours truly, Bob Bailey

Here are a couple of Johnny Dollar episodes for your enjoyment. The first stars Mandel Kramer as Johnny Dollar, and is a half-hour complete episode from the last couple of years of the show:

The Medium Rare Matter

Now, for comparison, here’s my favorite: Bob Bailey in an earlier version of the same show. This episode is part four of the five-part version of the show that ran for a while:

Part Four: The Medium Well-Done Matter

Those of you who remember the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger, Third Eye spoof of old-time radio will recognize a lot of Johnny Dollar in Nick!

A huge part of the attraction of these shows were the sounds effects, created by talented and inventive folks called foley artists, and here’s a YouTube video showing how these effects were created. It’s a hoot!

I’ll be discussing other great OTR shows in the days and weeks to come; be sure to TUNE IN!

My First Published Work!

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Sherman, please set the WABAC machine to 1962 and let’s look in on ten-year-old Jimbo Page, who’s family is spending that summer in Apalachicola, Florida.

His dad, who is a stern and unfriendly person, loves airplanes and little Jimbo decides that since his dad’s favorite magazine, Trade-A-Plane, publishes a little one-panel cartoon in the upper-right corner of every cover, he’ll draw something and submit it for their consideration and– maybe– they’ll publish it. They did!

As a fourth-grader, I was amazed to see something I drew in print in a national– if decidedly niche– publication!!! Trade-A-Plane is still being published, though I’m not certain if they still are a tabloid pub printed on canary-yellow newsprint, and I’m not certain they’re still published in Crossville, Tennessee.

My dad seemed astonished when the magazine came in the mail and my cartoon was on the cover. He soon got over that, I suppose.

A very gracious person at Trade-A-Plane was nice enough to find and scan my cartoon and send it to me this afternoon (thanks, Linda!!!). She’s even sending me a collection they published a few years ago of their best cartoons, and mine was one of the ones in the collection.

As I look at this effort now, I see stuff I didn’t see when I drew it. Being a kid, I didn’t realize that printers needed an inked, not pencilled, piece for printing (notice the signature of the person who kindly inked it at the publication for me in the bottom right of the cartoon). Also, I misspelled “Apalachicola.” The two people are drawn (from a World Book photo of Wright and a comic-book drawing as references) in two different styles. The microphone and reporter’s hand are awful. Most absurd is that I accidentally drew Wilbur instead of Orville Wright, which messes up the gag; Orville sported a mustache.

I guess I was just too excited and eager to mail it in to care about niceties, and I was just a ten-year-old kid.

As Conan Doyle once said, when someone pointed out a few mistakes in one of his best-loved Sherlock Holmes stories, “Sometimes one has to be masterful regarding details.”

Anyway, here’s the cartoon:

JamesPageCartoon

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