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RE: My 1960s Naples Mystery Novel

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Mrs. Waples From Naples

The Ill-Fated Mrs. Waples from Naples in his or her prime.

A friend from Naples Before It Was Hip let me know about this earlier today (thanks, Deborah!). It’s a recap of the “Mrs. Waples from Naples” murder. My brother, Jeff, had been on the ambulance crew that worked this incident, and told me– on the QT– that the crew was shocked that Mrs. Waples, a longtime Naples resident and eccentric character, was really a man.

That stuck in my mind, and when I wrote my mid-1960s Naples-based cozy mystery, I used that story as the main element in the plot. Here’s my book, available on Amazon.com, if you care to read it:

http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Sugar-Sand-Beach-Naples-ebook/dp/B007CADRI8

So here’s a recap of the true story of Mrs. Waples from Naples:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151625354205199.1073741831.236706715198&type=3

The Skipper

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As long as I’m talking about Nashville buddies who have wonderful blogs, allow me to introduce you to Skip Adams!

Skip Adams and I go waaaaay back. When I first moved to Naples, Florida, back in mid-1960s, I ran into Skip– literally, with my Corvair into the back of his car– and he was kind enough to forgive me. With his brother, Danny, we played some gigs with me trying to alter my nasty old Silvertone electric guitar to play like an electric bass. Nobody in Naples could play guitar like Skip, and that caused a lot of resentment.

One time, I traded Danny something or other for a little motorbike, which I tried to keep a secret from my mom. When Mom found out, she went roaring over to the Adams’ house, spitting fire and planning to tell Skip and Danny’s mom a thing or two about the hooligan kids she had raised and how they were a bad influence on her little angel. Millie Adams became my mom’s best friend and they became even closer when my father passed away in Skip’s and my senior year in high school. They were a pair, those two, and set Naples on its ear! Skip and I played around in various band formats when he had to time to class up whatever I was trying to promote; high-school hops, country-club gigs, whatever.

After high school, Skip stayed with his music and in a big way. In addition to his film and television credits as an editor, sound supervisor and music supervisor, Skip is also a songwriter, musician, record producer and music publisher with several top-ten records worldwide to his credit. Dave Mason, Survivor and Sam Harris are among those who have recorded his songs. He currently makes his home in the Nashville, Tennessee area; he was based in LA before that, where he owned and operated a successful studio. He’s worked on over 40 TV shows or movies, including The Wonder Years, Dawson Creek, and LA Law, and was nominated for at least one Emmy.

A few years ago we all gathered in Naples for our high-school reunion, and had the happy idea of playing acoustic music together one night at a Class of 1970 barbecue and then playing a few electric sets at the reunion dinner. With Jeff Gargiulo as band director, alternating lead guitar with Skip, we rocked the joint to the point that folks not associated with the reunion stopped me on breaks to ask if we were for hire for other occasions down there! I played rhythm guitar on my old Mosrite electric and just tried to keep up. Another NHS rocker, Skip Reznor, played the keys, Mike Threlkeld was on violin, and Nick Koch came in on drums toward the end of the evening, giving the Miami session player Jeff had arranged for us a rest. We may have grayed up a bit, but we had ’em all on the floor dancing and laughing and that’s what it’s all about.

I’d expected Skip to have grown musicially in the 40 years since I had heard him, but I was unprepared for what he came up with. It was so soulful, tuneful and advanced from what other guitar players I knew were doing that I was shocked. But Skip has always shocked people; he can’t help it. He zigs when the rest of us are trying to figure out how to zag. In his hands, which had always been more than capable, his guitar sang out clear, focused and elegant melodies that no one else could have come up with.

Jim, Skip and Jeff; still rocking after all those years . . .

Please check out his blog, which traces the creative and songwriting process:

http://blogadams.com/

Great Spirit Comic Books!

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I first encountered Will (or Bill, as the old comics guys called him) Eisner’s Spirit comics when I got a copy of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. This stunning book, which I got for Christmas in 1966, was a chance for a 1960s kid to see for the first time what comic books had been like in the 1940s. Living in the Florida Keys, where we had moved earlier in the year, I had few chances to find old comic books for sale.

Oddly enough, while snorkeling one day, I discovered a stash of old comics that someone had evidently thrown overboard long ago in and around the marina outside our home in Marathon Shores. These comics were coverless and half-buried in the sand and silt about 15 feet deep on the salt-water side of the island where we then lived, but I’d dive for them and leave them to dry on the dock outside our house. Once dried, they were perfectly readable, if rather crinkly, and I was able over the summer to get 20 or 30 old DC comics in this fashion.

So I was primed to learn more, and Feiffer’s superb book was right up my alley. I then sent a letter to the Miami Herald asking where old comic books could be found, and they printed my letter and listed some shops in Miami that sold them. Armed with that info, I bugged my dad until he finally agreed to fly me the 107 miles to Miami!

One odd thing my dad did was keep $50 cars at a few airports he flew in and out of a lot. He’d never pay more than $50 for the cars, so they weren’t too spiffy, but they saved him the trouble of renting cars. We drove in whatever clunker Dad had stowed in Miami to several of the stores that the Herald had listed, and I was finally able to get a copy of a 1940s Spirit comic book. The Spirit feature had originally been part of a 16-page Sunday newspaper comic supplement from about 1940 to 1952, and Quality Comics had printed a magazine in the mid- to late-1940s showcasing the character. Eisner, being nobody’s fool, was smart enough to keep the copyrights and that was unheard of in comics at that time.

Will Eisner was a solid pro not only at writing and drawing comics, but in print production. He, by the time we’re discussing here, had moved on from newsstand comics to producing preventive maintenance monthlies for the U.S. Army. One of my uncles had given me some of those, as they had a ton of great Eisner artwork in them, and they were unsurpassed in explaining technical issues in a simple and understandable way. I still have a stack of these P.M. magazines somewhere in the basement, much to Patty’s dismay.

Eisner’s Spirit stories, and there are about 250 of them, I guess, were way above the norm for a comic book. They weren’t aimed at nine-year-olds, for one thing, and Eisner had a tight group of amazingly talented assistants who helped write and draw the stuff. Jules Feiffer had been one of these ghosts for Eisner.

Nowadays, Eisner’s Spirits are easily found in both comic-book form and in hardback, and much of the work is also available in digital form, if you know where to look. In the late 1960s, it was very different and Spirit comic books were few and hard to find.

There had been a couple of 64-page color reprints by Harvey Comics in 1966 and ’67 and those were comic books to be treasured; beautifully printed and colored. My next Spirit encounter was in what were called Spirit Bags in the early 1970s. These were 6″ x 9″ black-and-white reprints of the 8-page Spirit stories and had a typed commentary by Eisner on the last page. Still have all those, too.

Over the years I snagged a ton of other Spirit reprints, both in hard copies and in digital form. I recently learned that Fiction House, a second-tier comic-book publisher, had issued five Spirit comics in the early 1950s. I had never heard of them before, but Fiction House really did a nice job on these reprints of the newspaper Spirits. The coloring is amazing, especially when you consider that they only had 64 colors and tints to work with in those old days.

I now have these in digital form and they are a treat. If you have an interest in Eisner’s work, I encourage you to download them; here’s a site:
http://digitalcomicmuseum.com/index.php?cid=932

These are in the public domain. You’ll need a PC, Mac or iOS reader for the files; they’re easy to find. I particularly enjoy the Comic Zeal iPad app; it makes organizing the hundreds of comics on my iPad a snap.

Thank me later!!! Enjoy!!!

Side Note:

A couple of years later, when we started a student newspaper at Naples High, I made damned sure that the newspaper was called The Spirit, and I worked for days on a masthead for it; my crude homage to Will Eisner. Of course, Eisner, who was so gifted that he came up with a different and stunning masthead for each and every Spirit story, was in a much different league than I was and I cringe to look at my crude Spirit newspaper masthead now!

So it goes!

God Bless Ryland P. Cooder!

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I first heard of Ry Cooder when I was in high school; he was a session player on a couple of the better Stones albums (Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers) and on their jam session LP, Jamming With Edward. Then a friend gave me a tape of an album Ry did with Taj Mahal; they called themselves The Rising Sons.

As a geek who studied the liner notes on albums like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, I kept seeing this name come up. When Rolling Stone magazine started coming out, I’d see his name all the time. I’d search out his work on the albums at the Record Bar in Naples; his stuff was there, if you knew where to look.

His first album, Ry Cooder on the old Reprise label, came out in 1970 and was astonishing. It wasn’t just the tasty playing on guitar and mandolin, it was the TYPE of songs he chose to do. Cooder was all over the place, with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of any kind of music, past and present. He could play it all and play it better than anyone else. He’s done so many great albums. Once, when my old VW van was broken into, they stole all my eight-track tapes except for Ry Cooder’s; I guess the villains weren’t familiar with him. I was glad that they left the best music I had behind!

Mr. Cooder is also responsible for what may well be the best soundtrack album ever; it’s of the music he did for the movie, The Long Riders. Here’s a taste:

Here’s a spectacular clip from a Record Plant show in 1974. When they start showing him playing, about 43 seconds in, watch his hands on Blind Blake’s Police Dog Blues:

As you continue watching, and I surely hope that you will, please pay particular attention to the little fills or transistions he throws in between the sung verses. Uncanny. He’s playing what appears to be an old O-sized Martin acoustic at first and then switches to a hardtail Strat with a bound ebony fingerboard.

I have a magazine-editor friend (hey, Charlie!) who used to jam with Ry occasionally. He told me that the strings on Cooder’s many guitars are set so high off the neck that no one else could play them. If that’s the case, then Ry Cooder must have the strongest pair of hands on the planet.

It seems odd to me that a person playing a high-action guitar can have such a delicate touch. If I had to choose one word to describe Mr. Cooder’s playing, it would be majestic. Listen to his version on that video (it begins at the 6:23 mark) of the 1929 tune by Blind Alfred Reed, How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live, and see if you don’t agree. That song’s on Cooder’s first album, too.

If you just have heard of Ry Cooder as the guy who put together the Buena Vista Social Club movie, you are in for a treat.

Naples When It Was

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Many of us who grew up in Naples, Florida back in the mid- to late-1960s are still in daily contact and we have a lot of laughs. There was something unique about that out-of-the-way spot way down the left side of Florida. It was a strange mix: locals who lived there for the fishing or hunting or because they’d inherited a place jumbled together with the fabulously wealthy. Add in a few drug runners and such for spice.

Through the years, Naples has grown and the average income has risen. In our day, we teens had to make up ways to have fun and we had a blast!

I visited Naples for a high-school reunion a couple of years ago and it was a great week. We resurrected a variant of the high-school bands we had been in and played a few sets at the reunion dinner. During the days, we’d drive around and marvel at how much the town had changed, but also at how much was still recognizable if you knew where to look.

Earlier this year, I finished writing a fun mystery novel set in the Naples of those days, entitled Blood on a Sugar-Sand Beach. It’s on Amazon Kindle if you feel like taking a look.

One day, some astute filmmaker will create a film about that town in that era; it should be something like American Graffiti meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, with a bit of M.A.S.H. thrown in to snaz up the dialog. There are a million zany stories and many of them are almost 100% true!

Where are George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when you really need them?!?!?!

John Buscema: Giant Artist, Giant Heart

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As a high-school kid, I’d fly up from Naples to New York City in the summers to do what I could at the comic-book publishers there. DC and Marvel were the biggies. DC was at 575 Lexington Avenue, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day; they were corporate. Marvel, over at 635 Madison Avenue, was more welcoming.

The wonderful man who took me under his wing, for some reason, was John Buscema. He was big, bearded and a bit scary at first to a green kid. And, man was I green. Within a few minutes, though, I realized that Mr. Buscema, in spite of his being a “real” comics artist– and one of the very best– was also a sweetheart and remembered what being green felt like. I worshiped him. I don’t know if he usually worked at the Marvel office, or was just there hanging out, but I was glad he was around!

He didn’t give me a lot to do and what I did do I probably did to excess. I bought an electric eraser and some various eraser sticks for it and reported in every day. I remember cringing whenever I saw a Jack Kirby page ready for erasing after being inked. Mr. Kirby drew with the softest pencil imaginable on a plate-finish board and it was all a smudgy grey-graphite mess for me to clean up!

The prime memory I have of that time was the day artist Gil Kane came to the “Marvel Bullpen,” which wasn’t a bullpen at all. I worked in a crowded closet using a cardboard box for a drawing table. Mr. Kane sat at one of the real drafting tables in the bigger room and started roughing out something in pencil. I sneaked over to watch, and was stunned. Kane could draw faster than I could think. It shattered me. I slunk back to my little closet and burst into tears. Here’s one of Kane’s rough sketches found on the Web:

Mr. Buscema found me and sat me down for a lecture: “Jimmy, we get paid by the page, not by the hour; no salary in this business. Gil’s fast and good because he’s smart and talented, but also because he’s been doing this for 25 years. Don’t over-react; you’ll get there.”

But I knew in my heart that no; I would never get there. I didn’t want it bad enough. As I went back to Newark that evening I knew my comic-book career was over before it really started. But I also knew that I had gained a friend who was a rare person; a giant with a giant heart.

John Buscema was called the Michelangelo of comics and take a look at some of his work to see why. His anatomy’s as good as Kubert’s and his ability to frame a scene is almost scary. He also had some of Jack Kirby’s ability to convey power and force:

A wonderful man; best known today, I guess, for his work on the early Silver Surfer and Conan the Barbarian.

The wonderful coloring on this Buscema Conan drawing is by a fellow in Morocco who goes by the name of bekkouri, and he did a stunning job:

And I still have my old electric eraser:

Boy Howdy!

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That’s an expression I’ve always used; seems to me I first heard it said as a kid in Texas.

Much later, in Naples, Florida, some of my friends and I culminated our series of bands with a lineup of John Klingler and Don Spicer on guitars, Mike Collins on drums, and yours truly on bass. We all contributed vocals and other folks came and went as time went on. We called the band Boy Howdy and we played rock, blues, Dylan, Cream, Allman Brothers and Mountain covers and whatever else we could handle.

We played the Naples Teen Center and some parties, but our regular gig was at Al Bolton’s Aquarium Bar on the Trail in East Naples, so named because he had a couple of large built-in freshwater aquariums with a giant Oscar fish in each.

The clientele was an uneasy combination of migrant workers, kids and bikers. Sometimes fights broke out and the bouncer, a gentle giant named Pabst, would settle things by falling on the miscreants like a felled oak tree. The bar was in an old Quonset hut but the acoustics were good. We played a couple of nights a week.

The Boy Howdy Band, or part of it, is shown in this photo recently sent to me by my still-best friend, John Klingler. He’s the one on the left in this photo, the drummer is Mike Collins, and I’m on the right on bass, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth! John’s sister, Jean, found the photo somewhere.

 Taken on the evening of June 9, 1973 as we celebrated John’s 21st birthday; notice the Boy Howdy drumhead and period posters!!!

That’s why the Robert Crumb-created Boy Howdy figure is at the top of this blog. We saw that drawing as the mascot for Creem magazine and decided we’d use it, too.

John remembers some Aquarium bar madness:

Patrons of Al’s might recall an air hockey table very near the stage with a black light over it. The puck would glow, which was quite disconcerting in its own right. I shudder to think of the number of times that puck would fly off the table and hit me while we were playing. And I was on the opposite side of the stage. BTW, not present in the photo was the other guitar player in the group, Don Spicer.”

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