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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!!!

How many “Z’s” are in the word “inept?”

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For the third time, the Pizza Hut in Hyattsville, Maryland, has tripped over their own feet when it comes to delivering what their parent company spends millions of dollars, presumably, to promote: Pizza Hut: Make it great!

More like Pizza Hut: Make it WRONG!!!

For the third time, we have ordered online, as part of our family-dinner order, a large Super Supreme, hand-tossed, with extra cheese. The automatons at their Queens Chapel Road facility, for the third time, have delivered a large plain pizza instead of what we ordered and paid for.

Once, I called, and spoke for half an hour with a belligerent and defensive manager at that Pizza Hut facility, and he offered to send out another, properly prepared, pizza if I would hand the driver the earlier incorrect one. I finally agreed. After a two-hour wait, their delivery person delivered ANOTHER LARGE PLAIN PIZZA!

Astonishingly inept.

I think what trips these folks up is when you order an additional ingredient to their standard offerings. They see “extra cheese” and forget the primary choice, Super Supreme. Or they are so overworked they simply don’t give a damn.

I will never give another nickel to Pizza Hut. They aren’t ready for prime time. They are inept. Three strikes and you are OUT!

Never let your customer be your quality-control department. There are other vendors out there who can get it right.

 

There’s big money in television, or, how Jimmy got his new bicycle

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The above ad ran in small-publisher comic books in the early 1950s, when TV was the new amazing thing. After decades of getting their mass-market entertainment from movies and radio, TV was just astonishing to most Americans. The shows broadcast in those days were primitive by our standards, but hey; the novelty of the medium trumped finesse in execution.

We’ll save that discussion for later, as today we’re examining coin banks with a television motif. The idea was that your friends and relatives would be so smitten by the TV bank that they couldn’t resist dropping their money into it, thus fronting you the money for your new bike or pony or, if you were a smart kid, shares of IBM or Polaroid stock.

I love the copy in this ad. The art is so-so, from the Bazooka Joe school of kid gangs with funny hats and funnier hair. The text, though, is something wonderful.

LIGHTS UP! LIKE BIGGEST, COSTLIEST TELEVISION SETS! Well, true, if lighting up is what you look to a television set for. The heart of a TV is a large and educated light bulb. Most people, though, feel there’s more to the equation.

A couple of the bullet points are strangely worded:
HITS EVERY TELEVISION HIGH . . . FIGHTS AND ALL! Boxing was a major draw in the early days of TV. It moved, you see.

THRILLS YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS POP-EYED! I can’t imagine how the copywriter came up with this one. I don’t think I’d want to be thrilled pop-eyed; it sounds like it might hurt.

IT’S A HONEY IN EVERY DETAIL! I have to agree, I suppose.

Here are the six little pictures that light up on this bank when you drop in your (or your mom’s) coin, in the words of the ad:
• a fight
• a hilarious cartoon
• a tense rodeo scene
• a swell skater
• a dramatic dance team, and
• a circus clown with his trick dog!

The six exciting pictures pretty much cover what TV was all about in those days!

Thanks to the miracle of eBay, we can see this and other great TV banks from the mid 20th century. Here’s the bank touted in the ad, and this example was going for about $160:

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A nice-looking unit. I guess it would hold a lot of coins.

A closeup of the all-important picture, showing the tense rodeo scene. I hope your eyes are still in your head after seeing that:
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Here’s another type of TV bank. The low-resolution picture shows a little girl or a puppet or a doll with a curious parachute-like skirt. It’s a nice-looking bank, though:

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This example is from a Danish eBay auction. The bank has just one scene: a speeding cowboy (see the velocity lines coming off the legs of his horse?) chasing and attempting to rope another horse. Note that there are three slots on this one for the various sized coins that might find their way into your TV bank. Not sure that is a compelling feature; one big slot would work for all the coins and they’re going to get jumbled and commingled once they go through the slot anyway.
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Some of the TV banks celebrate particular TV shows of the era. Here’s a Romper Room TV bank, with perhaps the world’s most insincere clown:
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This TV bank shows an oddly blasé Howdy Doody, who was a hugely popular marionette from those times. This appears to be one of those ceramic banks that you had to smash to get your coins. I didn’t like that concept:
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Our last TV bank looks to me as though it’s a repurposed radio bank, with a black-and-white paper photo pasted over the radio dial to make it look like a TV:
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So find yourself a TV bank and start saving up those coins; you know you want to impress the gang with your new bike!!!

In the thicket of it . . .

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149 years ago tonight, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by actor John WIlkes Booth at Ford’s Theater, in Washington, D.C. After his mad and useless act, Booth escaped into Southern Maryland and then Northern Virginia before being discovered by Union cavalry. He was shot and killed on a small farm near Port Royal, Virginia, on April 26, 1865.

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It is said that Booth, with accomplice David Herold, hid in a pine thicket for almost five days after shooting Lincoln. This pine thicket still exists on the west side of Zekiah Swamp, near Newtown, in Charles County, Maryland. As you might expect, this is not a place in which one would like to linger, much less spend several days and nights.

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Dave Taylor, a person whom I’ve not yet met, but greatly admire, is going to reenact that almost five-day stay in the pine thicket in the coming few days, with not much more than Booth and Herold had with them when they were there. If you’d like to learn more about this astonishing endeavor, you can read up on it at the young man’s blog. Not only is Dave a brave and intrepid fellow, but he’s a darn good writer and a first-rate and original researcher of all things relating to the Lincoln assassination. I learned of Dave through the Surratt Society, which we both belong to and support, and we’ve emailed back and forth a few times.

Here’s Dave’s first-rate blog concerning Lincoln:

http://boothiebarn.com/2014/04/10/a-preface-to-a-reenactment/

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Good luck, Dave!!!

Top Ten facts you didn’t know about Peeps!*

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10. Peeps were created by then-governor of Virginia Thomas Jefferson, a confirmed vegetarian, in 1781. Having had great success with his introduction of the French Fry to the colonies, Mr. Jefferson took some homemade marshmallow, formed it into sticks, dipped the sticks into a bath of sweetened lemon juice, and then into granulated sugar, thus forming something oddly similar to today’s Peeps. Forming the candy into a chick shape came much later, during the Truman presidency.

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9. It takes 18,489 Peeps to fill the inside of a new-model Volkswagen Beetle. The old models of the Beetle, discontinued in 1977, held only 14,570 Peeps. The Super Beetle model held 138 more Peeps than the original VW Beetle.

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8. Actress and comedian Sofia Vergara has never eaten a single Peep.**

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7. The Peep is the only candy represented by a marble statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Created by students of the Wilfred Brimloon Junior High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1967, this one-inch-high Peep is made of Vermont marble and can be seen behind the much larger statue of Kentucky’s Henry Clay.

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6. Noted pop singer Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich was peanut butter and bacon topped with Peeps between two slices of toasted Wonder Bread.

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5. A baseball bat made of compressed chocolate Peeps was used by Baltimore Orioles outfielder Ronald Basset in a 1987 game against the Boston Red Sox. In his at-bat in the crucial ninth inning of a 4-4 game, with two Birds on base, Basset connected with a slow-speed pitch thrown by Sox hurler Clint Alsop. The ball embedded into the head of the bat, and while Red Sox catcher Walt Brulander and umpire Dennis Wall frantically looked for it, Basset rounded the bases and scored. Look it up!

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4. Peeps hold the honor of having been the only candy ever eaten on the moon by both American and Chinese astronauts. The legend that Neil Armstrong accidentally dropped a Peep onto the lunar surface from the Eagle landing vehicle prior to returning to Earth cannot be proved, though it is entirely possible.

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3. In a 1992 experiment at MIT, engineering students held a contest to find out how thin a Peep could be flattened. Unbelievably, they were able to flatten a single Peep to a thickness of 14 microns, and the Peep, thus flattened, was large enough to cover their football field with a tiny bit left over.

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2. Little discussed by Peeps maker Just Born, Inc., is their ill-fated venture marketing a Peeps version of a Pez Dispenser. The Peeps Hatcher, as it was called when introduced in 1971, sold for $3.99 and came with eight Peeps. Its ungainly size and propensity to gum up combined to make it unsuccessful in the marketplace, though examples on eBay have been known to fetch hundreds of dollars.

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1. Actor Marlon Brando had a Peep in each of his cheeks for his iconic film role as the aging Don in the Godfather. It was said the multiple retakes of his scenes, combined with his love of the marshmallow-based candy, resulted in panicky runs to several Ralph’s supermarkets for supplemental Peeps and substantial production delays in filming. Brando tried to replicate this unusual technique in his Superman movie turn by using Twizzler candy sticks, but the results were unremarkable.

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*Mainly because these facts are not true; I just made them up. Peeps are a registered trademark of Just Born, Inc., Bethlehem, PA, USA. No offense to Just Born or their fine products is intended.

**She eats them in multiples.

Dreaming of Fenders

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On this 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, it’s appropriate to discuss one aspect their impact on American kids: The desire to play rock-and-roll music themselves!

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The world was never the same for me after watching this!

I had heard many rock-and-roll records, but it wasn’t until the Beatles that I wanted to play that music myself. I played sax in our elementary school band but after watching the Ed Sullivan show that February Sunday night in 1964, I knew I’d never feel the same way about it.

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Later that year, my mom and dad gave in to my begging and ordered me a Silvertone guitar for Christmas from the Sears catalog. It was a solidbody in sunburst (a Japanese Teisco-made 1435 model) and cost about $65. It looked great but the thing was miserable to play, especially when fitted with Black Diamond strings, which was the only kind you could buy at the drug store. I had no amp, and I almost killed myself when, using some parts I found in my dad’s tool chest, I made a cable that had a 1/4” microphone jack on one end and a two-prong electrical plug on the other. I didn’t realize that an electric guitar needed an amplifier, so I was ready to just plug it into a wall outlet. Luckily my dad walked by just before I plugged the thing in and explained some things to me!

I was able to use an old shortwave radio that had a mike input jack as my amp after that.

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One day in 1966, when my family was living in Marathon, Florida, one of the kids in my ninth-grade class brought in a full-color Fender Electric Instruments catalog he had ordered by mail. I vividly remember four or five of us boys spending every lunch hour for the next week reading that catalog and studying the photos. Our discussions were funny as I look back on them:

“Hey! Are these the coolest guitars in the world or WHAT?!?! I wish I could buy one!”

“Yeah, but these are described here as professional instruments. I don’t think they sell them to kids.”

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“They have student guitars in the back of the catalog. Kids could buy those ones.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think they sell them anywhere but in California.”

“I bet you’re right about that. I’ve never seen one in the stores.”

“Don’t forget you’ll need an amplifier, too. So we’d better study those.”

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“They’re expensive. That Stratocaster model like Buddy Holly played is over $250!!!”

“My folks would never buy me something that expensive!!!”

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“If these Fenders are so great, why don’t the Beatles play them?”

“It’s probably because they live in England. That’s a long way from California. Maybe they haven’t heard of Fender guitars.”

“They play Rickenbackers, and those are made in California.”

“Maybe Fender guitars are just for surf music.”

“No; you can play any kind of music on these. It says so right in the catalog!”

“Well, they sure are amazing looking.”

“If you could have any one of these you want for free, which one would you take?”

John's Strat

By the time the Beatles recorded their Revolver album, John and George had matching Fender Strats!

We took turns borrowing that catalog overnight and reading it over and over.

I remember I wanted a Fender Jazz bass and a Bassman amp, because a bass, played with single notes, was more like a saxaphone than a guitar was.

Over the years, I had several Fenders. I still do and still get a thrill out of those wonderful instruments and amps. But I’ll never forget the excitement of reading that catalog over and over and dreaming of having whatever Fender guitar, or bass, or amp I wanted for free.

He Had A Hammer . . .

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Very sorry to hear of the passing of Pete Seegar at the age of 94. Hearing Mr. Seeger back in the 1950s, I learned that music can have the power to persuade, to provoke, to humiliate, to change. Sometimes Pete Seeger would see and confront evil and, sometimes, he was able to conquer it. Thank you, Pete Seeger. The world will miss you.

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