December 12, 2017

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

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.

The heavy sounds of Stone Wall

Greg Whitfield, (from left) Ken Mairs and Allen Blasco of Stone Wall at the Fun Fair, Municipal Auditorium, June 1969.

Greg Whitfield, (from left) Ken Mairs and Allen Blasco of Stone Wall at the Fun Fair, Municipal Auditorium, June 1969.

If the Classmen (clean-cut brothers, managed by their father) were Kansas City’s equivalent to the Beach Boys and the Chesmann its Beatles, Stone Wall could be likened to Kansas City’s Cream or Led Zeppelin.

A power trio with roots in the blues, Stone Wall was led by singer-guitarist Allen Blasco in combination with three different rhythm sections (1968-76).

Allen Blasco of The Clergymen at the Hullaballoo Scene club, March 1968.

Allen Blasco of The Clergymen at the Hullaballoo Scene club, March 1968.

As a young teen (1965-68), Blasco led The Clergymen, whose ever-changing array of musicians included Ray Goldsich, later to become known as radio personality Ray Dunaway. They were good enough to headline the Hullaballoo Scene club, a spinoff from the 1965-66 NBC television show that opened in 1967 on 85th Street just east of Prospect Avenue.

Stone Wall played many times at the summer Sunday Volker Park love-ins of the 1970s.

Stone Wall played many times at the summer Sunday Volker Park love-ins of the 1970s.

But with the coming of Hendrix, Cream and Blue Cheer, 17-year-old Blasco wanted to emulate that heavier sound, and he had the chops and the equipment to do it. He and his band mates (Ken Mairs, drums, Greg Whitfield, bass, v.1; Lee Cline, d, Rick Bacus, b, v. 2; Pete Jacobs, d, Alan Cohen, b, v.3) played venues ranging from Volker Park love-ins (there’s a great YouTube video here) to Municipal Auditorium, as part of then-future Cowtown Ballroom impresario Stan Plesser’s June 1969 Fun Fair.

Short-lived Aquarius attracted top-name local bands.

Short-lived Aquarius attracted top-name local bands.

While Stone Wall gigged all around town and at such outlying venues as St. Joe’s Frog Hop Ballroom and The Jolly Troll in Holton, Kan., they struggled to create original songs and thus interest from major record labels.

Blasco went on to form and/or play with such bands as Neon Blue and the reformed Riverrock.