February 24, 2018

Between two worlds

The Downliner (i.e., Plaza East bar), 4719 Troost Ave., in 1980, courtesy Banastre Tarleton.

The Downliner (i.e., Plaza East bar), 4719 Troost Ave., in 1980, courtesy Banastre Tarleton.

It is 1979
Troost Street, downtown KC,

Upstairs is the Tavern….
A down on the luck dive.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s blaring from the jukebox,
accompanied by the crunch of peanut shells
cracking under the pointy, scuffed boots
of Coors Light-drinking, red-necked cowboys in plaid collared shirts
alongside disheveled, skid-row drunks, their shoulders hanging over their cocktails,
all lining the bar like hopeless vultures,
Pool balls clacking under a blinking and buzzing fluorescent light and
an occasional drunken fist fight breaks out.

Just below in the basement is The Downliner, a bunker-like, concrete-walled punk club
stuffed and bursting with charged up, spiky, shaved, and Mohawk-headed boys, wearing band buttons on their leather jackets, or starched shirts and skinny ties, with safety pins through their ears, lips, and noses, posturing alongside bleachy blonde or jet black haired, tough girls, in torn tights, ripped tee shirts, tight jeans and stiletto heels. Off of someone’s mix cassette, Poly Styrene is screaming Oh Bondage Up Yours through the PA speakers.

And between these two worlds, just off the landing, is the green room.
Well, more like a closet jammed with a collection broken, old bar stools and peeling paint revealing a flowery wallpaper that fits neither the upstairs or downstairs online casino real money universes…
Between shots of Wild Turkey and cans of Budweiser,
We are busily crossing and uncrossing songs off our set lists which are scribbled onto crisp white sheets of blue-lined composition paper.
A sharp, striking knock rattles the worn wooden door. Someone pops his badly, shaven head
and bike-chained neck through the space between the door and frame and shouts
“Five minutes” and slams it back shut
We can hear chants, shouts, and stomps commanding us to play, an intoxicating, plodding, New York Dolls bass line, and crashing guitars, is exploding distortedly out of the speakers charging up from the basement, intertwining with something Johnny Cash drifting down, down, down, from the Tavern above …

The Debs were Kris Garnier (G), (from left) Peggy Smith (D), Terry Cone (B) and Katie Coffman (G).

The Debs were Kris Garnier (G), (from left) Peggy Smith (D), Terry Cone (B) and Katie Coffman (G). Photo credit: Annette Weatherman

In her teens, Kris Garnier was a singer and guitarist of The Debs, a maverick all-girl band that toured the mid-west in the late 1970s. Over the years, she has morphed into a storytelling, songwriting, create-or-wilt, botanizing, photoholic. She studies Botany at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and co-produces StorySlams, a new-fangled variety show, out of her now hometown of Woodstock, NY. Check out her work soon at her currently under-construction www.krisgarnier.com

50th anniversary of KC Beatles concert coming up

Finley was reviled by KC baseball fans but loved by its Beatle fans.

Finley was reviled by KC baseball fans but loved by its Beatle fans.

Sir Paul McCartney returns to Kansas City for a concert this Wednesday, July 16, at the Sprint Center as part of his “Out There” tour. It will be the first time I have seen him perform, but it’s the rock icon’s fifth visit to our town.
The first, of course, was when the Beatles played a concert on Sept. 17, 1964, at old Municipal Stadium as part of their first American tour.
Paul’s next KC appearance came on May 29, 1976, at Kemper Arena on the “Wings Over America” tour. Four tracks – “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” “The Long and Winding Road” and “Letting Go” – recorded at Kemper appear on the triple live album bearing the title of the tour.
McCartney performed at Arrowhead Stadium on May 31, 1993, on his “New World” tour, followed by a July 24, 2010, show at Sprint Center on his “Up and Coming” Tour.
We’re blessed to have both surviving Beatles visit KC this year. Ringo Starr brings his All-Starr Band to Starlight Theater Oct. 4. He was last here June 28, 1992, playing at Sandstone.
John and George never returned after 1964.
I have been gathering information about the Beatles’ 1964 KC concert in preparation for a presentation on the 50th anniversary of the event. It’s set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14 at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., as part of the KCMO Public Library’s free Missouri Valley Speaker Series.
I’m honored to have been asked to give this talk. And while I have some materials, I am desperately seeking more, both for the talk and for the book I hope to publish on KC Rock History. So if anyone out there has photos taken at the show, no matter how grainy, or other memorabilia, please write me at rick@kcrockhistory.com. You can scan and send it to me (high-res, please!) or loan it to me for scanning and be assured I will take good care of it. And please post your memories of the show below.

The man who sang “Kansas City” first

Britain's Ace Records has reissued the seminal "K.C. Loving" in this set.

Britain’s Ace Records has reissued the seminal “K.C. Loving” in this set.

While the song “Kansas City” is officially credited to rock ’n’ roll demigods Lieber and Stoller, the first man to record it, then-20-year-old Little Willie Littlefield, often claimed in the ensuing years to have written it himself.

It’s not hard to believe Littlefield had at least a hand in writing the song. After all, it was he who was hanging out on the corner of 12th Street and Vine in 1952, not Lieber and Stoller. They apparently never visited until 1986, to receive a key to the city.

From The Call June 20, 1952.

From The Call June 20, 1952.

According to articles and items in the “Running the Scales” column by Bee Flatt in The Call, Little Willie played the Orchid Room, located at the intersection made famous in the song lyric, in June and July 1952,
From The Call column "Running the Scales" by Bee Flatt, July 28, 1952.

From The Call column “Running the Scales” by Bee Flatt, July 28, 1952.

immediately before heading out to L.A. for an August recording session helmed by Ralph Bass. Those songs included “K.C. Loving,” released later that year on the Federal label.

In retrospect, “K.C. Loving” swings. It’s a happy meeting of boogie-woogie, jazzy saxophone and proto-rock ’n’ roll. But according to several sources, it hardly made an impact outside of the West Coast. It didn’t chart.

Apparently, though, Wilbert Harrison heard it, and his rollicking 1959 resurrection of the tune as “Kansas City” for the Fury label shot to Number 1 on the Billboard pop and R&B charts. That occasioned the re-release of Little Willie’s original, along with versions by Hank Ballard, Rocky Olson and Little Richard, with Richard adding different lyrics and welding it to his earlier “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” Richard’s medley was the one covered just a few years later by those four lads from Liverpool, taking the song to new heights of popularity.

Meanwhile, Little Willie was fading into obscurity that was only to be relieved when he began touring Europe in the late 1970s. He moved to the Netherlands around 1980 and continued to perform in Europe — and occasionally the United States — until very recently. He played the Blue Room at 18th and Vine in 2008. According to his manager, Rolf Schubert, in this Washington Post obit, Little Willie Littlefield succumbed to cancer June 23.