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Three Songs in My Life with Nada Surf, Part Two: "Blizzard of 77" - by Colin Gawel

Three Songs in My Life with Nada Surf, Part Two: "Blizzard of 77" -  by Colin Gawel

Click here for part one.

January hadn’t been that cold, but February turned brutal. Ohio can land on either side of the jet stream and that particular month we might as well been on the shores of Hudson Bay. It didn’t get above 10 degrees for weeks at a time, and the mood at home was even colder. My car had broken down and I didn’t have the money to fix it.  Adding insult to injury, I had recently blown out a tire on my bike too (a ten-speed). Not that biking to work was a serious option at this point.

The coffee shop opened at 6am and if I left my house at 5:20am, I could make it there on foot by 5:59. Down the hill towards the river, cut behind the strip mall, through the woods past a small graveyard behind the Speedway gas station and to the Golden Bear Center where the newly named “Colin’s Coffee” was located.

Business wasn’t good. But I guess that was to be expected considering the previous owner couldn’t find a buyer and was prepared to close the shop even though he still owed 18 months on the lease. At the last minute, I stepped in and he basically handed the keys and said, “It’s your problem now. Good luck.”

Oh, and I didn’t know anything about running a coffee shop except how to serve coffee, be friendly and clean the bathrooms. The learning curve was steep. 

However, I was running low on options at that point and the coffee shop offered flexible hours allowing my wife and I to avoid using day care for Owen. That was like a salary in its own way and we got to be hands-on parents. I looked at that as a hidden blessing, though it didn’t much feel that way on a day to day basis.

The Fifth of July Tour had ended after eighteen months, and despite our best efforts, over a hundred shows, two singles, and endless promo....we were back home and ass-out. Pretty standard stuff for rock n roll, but this time my actions had a deeper effect.  About twelve months into our tour, my wife confessed that she couldn’t take anymore of this. She was working full time, taking care of our two year old son and I was mostly gone, without making any money.

I reminded her that I had promised to see this through to the end. We had talked and agreed that it would get tough, but we would see it through.

We had both agreed.

“I know we agreed, but I just can do this any more. I need you to stop touring."

“I’m sorry. I know this isn't fair. But I can't stop until the date I agreed to. I can't stop. I'll make it up to you."

And to make matters worse, I was having the time of my life.  Not like it was a non-stop party, it was a ton of work. But my days and dreams of being a semi-relevant touring artist were numbered. I truly had an appreciation for each gig and the chance to play the songs we wrote together one more time. 

I agreed with everything she said. She was right to be upset. It wasn’t fair. She asked me to call off the tour and come home.  I said no.  She said if I didn’t call off the rest of the tour it would do irreparable damage to our relationship and possibly threaten its very existence.

Six months after that phone call, the tour was finally over, Watershed had failed by any reasonable metric and I was home for good. For better or worse. It wasn't exactly a homecoming. My wife was still understandably upset and I wasn’t sure if I could change that.

But just like that Watershed tour, I dug in. I put my head down and made that long cold walk to the coffee shop every morning in the dark. I knew I had to figure out a way to pay some bills and for her not to spend every night sleeping with her back to me. I owed her for her patience and support.

I had no answers and no quick fixes. I retreated to my default setting of optimism. I would just do the best job I could every single day. I would control what I could control, i.e: my effort. I would apply it as a business owner, as a husband, and - most importantly - as a Dad.

Just like that cold dark morning walk, it was an exercise in faith. I could not see clearly where I was going, I just knew I had to keep walking and eventually, somehow, someway, I would get our family to a better place. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Things could fall apart. It happens to well- meaning people all the time. Certainly I was no exception.

Anyway, February was cold. I slept in my long underwear to save time dressing with my 5:10 am alarm. The stars were bright and my breathe was frozen. Every morning on that walk, the first song I played was Blizzard of 77.

And I played this song every morning too.

 

 

County Trippin' Part Six: Fayette County - by Nick Taggart

Previous County Trippin' from Nick Taggart: Meigs County - Medina County - Champaign County - Seneca County - Cuyahoga County -

“It’s Got Spirit” - 11 August 2017

It does a city body good to get out into the country every so often, if for no other reason than to remind oneself that wide open spaces still exist.  We got a sample of that as we cruised southwest on Ohio Route 3.  With fields of soybeans to the left of us and field corn to the right, it was enough to make one break out into song; perhaps the theme to “Green Acres.”

Eventually we rolled into an urban setting, albeit one with just over 14,000 inhabitants.  In this part of the state, though, that’s enough to make Washington Court House a seat of government. It handles all the official paperwork for Fayette County, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French officer who fought for the American Army in the Revolutionary War.

I was surprised to discover that Washington Court House, a long-familiar name, has only been the official name of the city since 2002 when it was adopted into a new city charter.  Before that, its name of record was City of Washington.  The “Court House” was an early add-on to distinguish it from other Washingtons in the state (specifically the village of Washington in Guernsey County, which now goes by Old Washington).   

Just past the Fayette County Memorial Hospital, Ohio Route 3 splits into two roads, Market Street and Court Street.  Just beyond the split, we pulled into the parking lot for Our Place Restaurant, an eatery that straddles the land between Market and Court.  A logo incorporating Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting appears under the restaurant’s name on a sign out front.  Inside, framed photographs of barns decorate the walls.

I ordered the daily breakfast special consisting of two scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast.  Michele requested “Grandpa’s Favorite,” which was the same as mine, but with home fries and regular toast in place of my French variety.  The food was good, but when we overheard our coughing waitress tell another table she wasn’t feeling well, we worried that the full cost of our meal might not all be registered on the bill.  (We’re happy to report a 72-hour incubation period passed without any sneezing, sniffling, or dripping symptoms, so all’s well that ends well …with bacon.)

Further along Court Street, we came upon the town square, dominated by the Fayette County Courthouse.  Opened in 1885, it is the quintessential 19th Century courthouse with its Second Empire style and twelve-foot tall statue of Justice.

We visited on a Friday, which meant the government building was open for business…once we found an unlocked door!  A flight of stairs leads up to a pair of doors on each side of the courthouse.  We began by pulling on the south facing doors, but found them locked. We continued around the building in a clockwise direction.  Wouldn’t you know, it was the last of the four entrances that allowed us access.  (Had there been a suggestion box, I would have put forth the idea that a simple sign directing visitors to the east side would have been helpful!)

The courthouse is a beautiful building with lots of gorgeous dark wood throughout, including doors and handrails and balustrades.  The third level is where one finds three large 19th Century murals by Ohio artist Archibald Willard.  Willard is best known for his painting, “The Spirit of ’76,” the patriotic work showing a drummer, piper, and flag bearer marching together after battle.  For the Fayette County Courthouse, he painted three diaphanous women, one in each mural, representing “Spirit of the U.S. Mail,” “Spirit of Electricity,” and “Spirit of the Telegraph.”  He was obviously a very talented artist, but perhaps overly predictable when it came to naming his works.

We wandered the floors of the courthouse, poking our noses into a courtroom here, finding the county’s Bicentennial Bell hanging in a corner there.  Perhaps the most unique feature of the courthouse is the spray of bullet holes in the south doors!  The historic marker on the south lawn tells the story:

On October 16, 1894, a crowd gathered outside the courthouse with intent to lynch alleged attacker William "Jasper" Dolby. Governor William McKinley ordered Ohio National Guard troops sent in to subdue the crowd. The mob was initially thwarted, but on October 17, while Dolby awaited transportation from the jail to the courthouse, the riots intensified. Despite Dolby's guilty plea to rape and a 20-year sentence, the crowd sought vengeance. They rushed the courthouse doors, and were warned to "disperse or be fired upon." They ignored the warning and continued to batter the doors. Colonel Alonzo B. Coit ordered his troops to fire through the courthouse doors; five men were killed. Colonel Coit was indicted for manslaughter and was acquitted at trial. After the trial, Governor McKinley stated, "The law was upheld as it should have been...but in this case at fearful cost... Lynching cannot be tolerated in Ohio." The bullet holes are still visible in the south doors of the courthouse.

 

The sun was shining the day of our visit so the light shone brightly through the holes.  I thought it was pretty cool to have a courthouse with century old bullet holes, but then felt guilty.  Afterall, those holes represent death.  I got to thinking more about it and questions arose.  Why are they still there?  Why didn’t someone plug them up decades ago?  Do they just represent a story in history or are they meant to convey a more sinister meaning: a reminder from Government (with a capital G) that they are the authority in these here parts and shouldn’t be messed with.  I can’t fault the sentiment, Lynching cannot be tolerated in Ohio, but I’ve got to wonder whether there might have been a slightly less lethal (and scattershot) solution to the problem.

Leaving the courthouse behind, we walked around the square and its near vicinity perusing some of the shops.  Delicious aromas drew us into BB Cakes & More while a lack of interest kept us from the pawn shops on Main Street that advertised that they “buy dvds” and “sell guns.”  We perused a craft shop on Court Street and stopped in at North Shore Primitives on Hinde Street.  I’m usually in a mood to rummage through a good antique store, but the establishments selling “primitives” can get very boring very quickly, and so many places sell primitives these days.  Those are the crafts that are newly made, but meant to look old, such as weathered-looking signs containing meaningless statements of affirmation (“Simply Dream” or “Believe in Miracles”) and all manner of stuffed animal put together with buttons and cloth and dressed in a bonnet.  

Around the corner, back on Court Street, we had a fun time in Back-En-Thyme Flower & Gift Shop.  It wasn’t so much for the knick-knack Michele found to purchase, but for the conversation we fell into with the friendly woman behind the counter.  Sure, the store had a nice selection of home décor items, but it was the staff’s knowledge of Ohio brewpubs that I found most interesting.  You can never know too much about where to quench your thirst around the state.

A block away, we came upon a large colorful painting in a small pocket park.  It depicts a historic town scene.  Apparently, Willard isn’t the town’s only muralist.  Harry Ahysen, a distinguished artist from Texas, retired to Washington Court House in 1986 and spent the final decade of his life painting more than a dozen murals that now brighten up various spots throughout the county.

On the directionally challenged South North Street, we popped into the public library housed in a Carnegie-funded building.  A couple of wings have been added since the original structure, designed by Columbus’s own Frank Packard, was built in 1904, but the facade still retains that early 20th Century classical look.  Inside, the original century-old circulation desk is still in use.

Nearby was a more recent addition to the downtown.  Pour Boys Brew House is a casual bar/restaurant specializing in craft beer.  They usually have about ten rotating beers on tap, as well as 70 varieties of bottled beer to choose from.  We opted, though, for a brew they produce on the premises.  Michele and I both ordered a 16-ounce “Hot Blonde,” a habanero-infused ale that left just the right amount of heat on my tongue and in the back of my throat.  It went well with the boneless wings and chips (homemade?) and salsa we snacked on. (Unfortunately - Pour Boys recently closed it's doors )

Thus fortified, we drove out of town along Robinson Road, pausing at the Fayette County Engineer’s Office so I could pick up the latest edition of their complimentary county road map.  I know it pegs me as a Luddite, but I prefer navigating the old fashioned way, running my fingers along the roadways on a paper chart.

And speaking of such, Michele and I switched positions in the car so she could drive and I could navigate.  Our next destination was the Shaw Wetland, a near 10-acre patch of former cropland that was converted in 1991 to developing wetlands.  It abuts the Tri-County Triangle Trail, a well-kept bike trail that connects Washington Court House and Chillicothe.  A short boardwalk about 1/3 mile long provides easy access into the shallow wetlands.  During our short stroll, we came upon three different varieties of frogs and toads without even looking for them.  The small preserve is a treasure trove of diverse flora and fauna.

Continuing south on State Route 753, we turned off just shy of the village of Good Hope so we could visit its cemetery.  A tall stand of trees on both sides of the road leads into the graveyard.  Among its many residents is David Jones, a Civil War veteran who fought with the 54th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  During Grant’s campaign in Vicksburg, Jones was one of 150 volunteers who stormed the city’s defenses.  Even at the time, the mission looked futile and was known as “Forlorn Hope.”  The attack did not succeed.  Jones, however, succeeded in reaching the defenses of Fort Pemberton, but could not overtake them.  He spent all day in the hot sun just four or five feet from an enemy cannon that continued firing all day.  He had to wait until dark to make his escape.  His pension application says "his head became badly and permanently injured from concussion of cannon fire.”  As a result, Jones was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces.

The Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War and was awarded to 1,522 individuals during that conflict.  Of those, 120 were presented to Ohio soldiers and sailors for valor during the campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi.

We returned north up Route 753 to Flakes Ford Road and then roamed our way west across the county to Mark Road.  A few light drops of rain began to fall as we approached the Mark Road Bridge, a 103-foot long Pratt through truss bridge that spans Sugar Creek. It was built in 1883 of wrought iron and is just the kind of old bridge that gives Michele the willies, but she was a trooper and got us safely to the other side.  We paused long enough for me to walk across it and snap a photo before we continued on our way.

On U.S. Route 62, we drove north back to Washington Court House and made an impromptu stop back at the library.  Not only are such institutions important storehouses of knowledge, but they also provide clean restroom facilities for out of town travelers.

We left the city on North Street, also known as Ohio Route 41.  At the Jefferson Township line we spotted a mother deer and young spotted fawn near the road, but Michele used her Dr. Doolittle-like mind control to keep them from running into our path.

A bit farther along, we saw two military helicopters flying by us in a northwesterly direction.  Our initial reaction was, “What did Trump do now?” but more likely, they were just returning to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in neighboring Greene County.

We eventually arrived at Jeffersonville, a hamlet of just under 1,200 residents.  In the center of town is the Jeffersonville Veterans Memorial.  The statue of a military cross (A helmet on top of a rifle stuck into a pair of combat boots.) stands across from a smooth black stone etched with the names of over 1,100 local veterans, from the Revolutionary War to the present day.

We followed Ohio Route 734 out of Jeffersonville, driving west to County Road 16.  A turn south at that intersection led us to the town of Octa and to Werner’s Smokehouse on Allen Road.  What began as a sandwich concession stand at a fair in 1991 is now a favorite local BBQ restaurant.  We slid into a booth where I ordered the Sampler, allowing me to fill up on a ¼ rack of baby back ribs, smoked sausage, a hog wing, mac & cheese, and apple sauce.  Michele asked for the Pulled Pork Hotshot, a generous portion of pulled pork served over mashed potatoes and gravy.  Green beans and corn accompanied the pork.  A coupon out of a tourist brochure entitled us to a free dessert, so we split a slice of peanut butter pie.  We were so taken with our meal that Michele added to our tab two pints of their spicy BBQ sauce to go.

After our satisfying meal, we proceeded to NOT check out what might be the county’s largest tourist draw.  One of the purposes of the county trips is to explore an area and experience its attractions, but Title IV, Section 2, subparagraph 3B of the County Trip Rules specifically forbids patronage of chain-owned establishments, so we passed without stopping at the Tanger Outlets, a mall featuring “a variety of brand-name and designer outlet stores.”  Just be aware that such a place exists if you’re in the market for it, but you will not find a review of it here.

We headed back east across the county to the village of Bloomingburg.  It’s been around for over two hundred years now, having been laid out in 1815, but is yet to get its population into four figures; 938 residents were tallied in the 2010 census.  A big blue bulbous water tower marks its spot in the county.  Tradition says the town was named for the many flowers kept in the yards of the townswomen.

On its eastern edge sits Midland Acres, one of the largest horse farms in the state.  It began as a small one-man veterinary business by Dr. Don “Doc” Mossbarger in the mid-1960s, but over time, he diversified his venture by breeding Standardbred horses.  The farm expanded to over 500 acres and by the mid-1990s, over 700 horses a year were being bred there.  My interest in the farm though, had to do with its main building, an 1853 Greek revival-style mansion that served as a stop for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.   

Our final stop was the Bloomingburg Cemetery, a flat field of grave markers on the southern edge of town next to Ohio Route 238.  It’s interesting to note that the small town cemetery marks the final resting place for six soldiers from the American Revolutionary War, nineteen from the War of 1812, and over 100 from the Civil War and Spanish-American War, including that of Henry Casey, another Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who was distinguished for his valor at Vicksburg.

We left Bloomingburg behind and pulled up to the stop sign at Ohio Route 3.  Late afternoon traffic had picked up and we had a bit of a wait before an opening allowed us to pull onto the northeastern bound lane.  Nine miles later, we were saying goodbye to another Ohio county.

 

Time spent in the county: 8 hours, 14 minutes

Miles driven in the county: 79 miles

 

Pencilstorm Remembers Mike Parks

Fans and friends of Mike Parks will be gathering to see Willie Phoenix at the A&R Bar Friday January 12th. It's a post CBJ show. Details here.

League Bowlers guitarist Mike Parks succumbed to cancer on Sunday, January 7th. I really don't know how old he was and I guess it doesn't matter anyway. Mike was a gentleman and an artist and it was truly an honor to stand next to him onstage and get to listen to all that amazing guitar playing up close. Not that you needed to be close once Mike cranked up those two VOX twins, but you get the point. I'm going to turn it over to Ricki C. and Jim Johnson from here as they knew Mike longer and better than I did. - Colin G.

Click here to read: Mike Parks - Guitar Slinger.....written by Ricki C. in 2014, updated 2017

Jim Johnson -  I guess it's time to post my thoughts. I lost one of my best friends yesterday. Mike Parks passed away peacefully yesterday, with his wife, Danya Linehan, and his cats by his side. Mike had a lot of cats. More than one household really needed, but Mike loved his cats. He had this thing, a sort of telepathy with cats. If you know anything about cats, you know cats don't trust anyone. Cats trusted Mike. They knew he was one of them, and they loved him as much as he loved his cats. It really was amazing to see.

I first met Mike, back in the "Sugar Shack" days. I think he was playing in Flasher, and I was playing in Lizzy Borden. I used to watch Mike play, and he would do this thing, with a violin bow and an echoplex. It was amazing. Every bit as good as Jimmy Page, but I didn't have to go to Madison Square Garden to see it. I could stand 5 feet away, at the Shack, and then walk home. Those were amazing days. I thought to myself, "I hope I get to play in a band with this guy someday." My wish came true. Mike and I played in three bands together. The Retreads, Willie Phoenix and the True Soul Rockers, and the League Bowlers. All cool bands, and it was a pleasure to share the stage with Mike. The Retreads used to play at Bernies, and we had a gig the day Mike's first child was born. We weren't sure if he would make it to the gig. After all, his kid was being born. Mike showed up 5 minutes before we were supposed to go on, dressed in full Operating Room scrubs, including surgeon's mask, and played the gig. I wish there were pictures. That's the Mike I remember. There are some tapes of the True Soul Rockers playing the High-Beck, floating around in cyberspace. The band was really at it's best in those days, and if you ever get to hear the tape, you'll hear Mike and Willie Phoenix, tearing it up. Those two together, man, it was magic. That's the Mike I remember.

After the TSR's broke up, Mike quit playing for a while. I used to call him, and he'd say, "Man, I'm retired. I'll do my sculpting. I got other stuff I can do." I said "we'll see." I went on to join the League Bowlers, and when we needed a guitar player, I suggested Mike. I said "Come down & jam, and if you hate it, you can go back to your sculpting." Long story short, Mike had a new rock & roll home. Colin Gawel had some cool songs, and we recorded them with Rick Kinsinger. Some Balls was born. Rick reminded me of a story about Mike not long ago. Mike was having a little trouble coming up with a lead for a song, so I told him, "Play it like Chuck Berry would, if he was in a surf band." Needless to say, Mike NAILED it. He had an amazing amount of Rock & Roll Knowledge. After all, he lived with the MC5 for a while. That's the Mike I remember. Some Balls Deluxe is finished, and Mike left some great guitar playing for us to remember him by. Colin said not long ago, "There are a lot of guitar players that are artists. Mike is an artist that plays guitar." There's a difference. The world lost a gifted human being yesterday. I'm lucky to have known him, to have him in my life, and I have some great memories. That's the Mike I remember.  - Jim Johnson

Jim mentioned Bowlers producer and sometime stand-in Rick Kinsinger above, I thought his comments were worth sharing as well:

There are losses that make me sad, not just for the ones who knew and loved the departed, but also for the people who never knew them, because now they never will. Mike Parks is one of those. Whether you knew him or not, your world just got a little less cool, less colorful, less weird, and less kind. Rest In Peace, Mike. - Rick Kinsinger

Along those lines, as Mike was fighting his illness while trying to finish Some Balls Deluxe, Rick would literally take a small recording rig to Mike's bedside so he could record his parts. With the circumstances being what they were, Rick recorded EVERYTHING Mike laid down. The final song on Some Balls is one of those moments of Mike just messing around and having some fun. We thought it was the perfect way to wrap up the record and I think we will wrap this post the same way. 

Click here to play 11th Frame by Mike Parks  .  

 

Catching Up with Mike McGraner - by Pete Vogel

 

Mike McGraner has been a very busy man the past ten years.  

When he’s not working on his album, musing about his own movies, or traveling between Columbus and LA, Mike is seen with his childhood hero, Frederick Peerenboom.

Who is Fred Peerenboom, you may ask?  Hardly anyone knows him by his real name; he’s better known in these parts as Fritz the Nite Owl.  [Ah yes…THAT guy!]

For those reared in Columbus in the 70s and 80s, Fritz the Nite Owl was an iconic part of our childhood.  He’s been a staple of Columbus since 1959, when he took a job as the broadcast booth announcer for WBNS radio.  His smooth baritone and breezy, conversational style was his signature sound and anyone with AM radio could instantly recognize that suave and debonair voice.

Fritz moved to television in 1974 where he hosted a late-night movie program called Nite Owl Theatre, which lasted until 1991—6205 episodes in total.  What was most memorable was his Friday night feature called Double Chiller Theatre: It was back-to-back horror movies with Fritz providing comic relief in between commercial breaks.  

I remember Chiller Theatre vividly, because every Friday night my brother Andy and I would make it our goal to stay up and watch BOTH movies—which wrapped up around 3am—but we never reached our summit.  Fritz was always entertaining: his dry, comic wit, those silly owl glasses, and the campy background effects added flair to the broadcast.  Fritz was an iconic part of Columbus late-night television.  While WCMH-4 enjoyed Johnny Carson, WBNS-10 had Fritz the Nite Owl.

In 1991 Fritz moved to radio, where he broadcasted a late-night jazz program called Nite Owl Jazz, which continued until 2010.  When the show ended, many thought Fritz would fade into obscurity the same way as Flippo the Clown or Lucy from Lucy’s Toyshop.

Enter Mike McGraner.

Mike watched Fritz for the first time as a 6-year-old and loved the quirky host.  “He’s one of my heroes,” he says.  Mike always wanted to make a documentary film about Fritz, and when he heard that Andyman (of 101.1 fame) knew Fritz, they arranged a meeting.

“We spoke for 5 hours the first time we met,” said McGraner.  “We talked about making a film about his life and career, but Fritz said no.”

After some coaxing from his wife—and other colleagues—Fritz decided to proceed with the film.  Little to anyone’s knowledge—except McGraner—there was an audience out there that liked what Fritz the Nite Owl brought to the table.

Filming began in 2010: even though they shot plenty of footage, the documentary was never released.  They abandoned it to begin production on a new concept: bringing Nite Owl Theatre into the 21st century.  

Their idea was simple: Mike, Fritz and a team of writers would produce shows in the spirit of Nite Owl Theatre and release it on the Internet.  Local theatres caught wind of their concept and decided they wanted in: they offered to host these events in their movie theaters.  So Nite Owl Theatre, Version 2.0 plays on the big screen: Fritz is the on-air personality and Mike is producer, director and editor.  They make live appearances as well: Mike and Fritz appear in theaters across Ohio—Columbus, London and Miamisburg, namely—and do their retro act to a new wave of Fritz fans.

In Columbus, both Grandview Theater and Studio 35 provide opportunities to catch the quirky act: each month they host a feature and audiences of every age can enjoy the campy celebrity of Columbus’ very own night owl.  The schedule can be found at www.fritzlives.com.

“We figured we’d do 3 or 4 episodes when this started out,” McGraner says.  “We are currently at 63 episodes.  Our goal is to hit 70 sometime in 2018.”

What nobody expected was this local host actually had a national following.  Michael Dougherty, esteemed director of many A-list movies (Superman Returns, X-Men 2, Trick’r Treat, Krampus) is a native of Columbus and a huge fan of Fritz.  He took that fandom to LA with him and has opened up avenues for Fritz to have celebrity outside of Columbus.  “When locals moved out of town, they opened up opportunities for Fritz to become a national celebrity,” McGraner says.  “Every town had a Fritz,” McGraner said.  “And the production quality for his show was pretty good.  People dug his stuff.  He’s been exposed to a national audience for years now.”

Seven years later, they’re still going strong.  What started out as a film idea that a local kid wanted to make about his hero, it has blossomed into a second life for Mr. Nite Owl and his legion of fans.

“We’re probably going to wrap things up after another 7 or 8 episodes,” McGraner says.  “Fritz will still do the live appearances, but he wants to be done shooting.  He’ll be 83 years old later this month.”  Who’s to blame him—he’s been Fritz the Nite Owl for 44 years!

Mike promotes another event alongside his work with Fritz: Terror From The 80s.  “It’s a monthly double-feature of two 80’s horror films presented back-to-back, Grindhouse style.  I have created a presentation that re-creates the feel of seeing a drive-in double feature.  Each month is themed but the movies remain a mystery.  You can see the series at Studio 35, Grandview Theater and State Theatre in London.”        

His plans don’t stop here.  “Next year I’m launching a series called The Director Series, an educational presentation of the complete chronological works of select directors (one per year).  The first director series will be David Lynch.”  

Mr. McGraner has plenty of irons in his fire.  He also has aspirations of finishing his album and producing/directing a movie based on a song by Quinn Fallon.  The movie is called Heartsick and Mike has every intention of finishing it someday. “If it’s the only movie I do, I’ll be okay with it,” he says.  

For now, it’s about continuing to devote a little more time to his hero, Frederick Peerenboom.  

www.facebook.com/niteowltheatre

www.facebook.com/terrorfromthe80s

www.facebook.com/thedirectorseries


  Pete Vogel is a professional musician, filmmaker and Pencilstorm contributor. Click here to read his excellent reviews of The Rolling Stones and The Who  

Remembering Pat DiNizio - by Colin Gawel

Remembering Pat DiNizio - by Colin Gawel

I remember the night I first met Pat DiNizio. In 1995 Watershed played the Cubby Bear in Chicago and our A&R man for Epic records, Frankie LaRocka, was flying into see the show. This was odd for two reasons, we never played the Cubby Bear before or after that night and there was really no reason for Frankie to fly from New York to see this gig. Our album Twister had been out for a couple of months and there really wasn't much going on. His job was more or less done. But Frankie was a rock and roller's rock and roller and so he looked after us long after other corporate executive types would have quit caring.

“Hey, Biggie, tell these guys not to suck tonight. I’m bringing somebody to see them. It might lead to something, it might not, so don’t make a big deal out of it. But don’t suck either”.

During the show, despite the cold temperatures outside on Addison St, I remember sweating profusely on stage. I was consciously thinking, “Is it just me or is it really hot up here?”

Turns out it wasn’t just me, early in the gig Biggie accidently spilled a beer into the Cubby Bear light board he was manning. The good news is that it didn’t short out. The less good news is that every light locked on into full brightness for the entire show. However, other than that, nothing about the show was noteworthy. I suppose we must have played OK because after the show Frankie invited us over to a booth in the back of the bar and said, “Fellas, I want you to meet my friend Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.”

Pat said hello and asked, “How would you feel about going out on tour to open for the Smithereens?” I can only assume our jaws dropped open as we nodded in the affirmative. “Great. Biggie, go get some more drinks for my new paisans.”

We sat and bullshitted into the late hours and I remember at one point our good pal Lou Brutus, who was working in radio in Chicago at the time, pulling me aside and saying “I cannot believe I am sitting in a booth drinking with fucking Pat Dinizio and Frankie Larocka.” I was surprised by how excited Lou was. Being a major DJ, he had met practically everybody in rock n roll. Hell, it’s wasn’t unusual for him to field a call from Gene Simmons while having breakfast on a Tuesday morning.

But for Lou, spending an entire night boozing with Pat and Frankie was just one rung below partying with Springsteen. Lou was born and raised in New Jersey. These two are rock royalty in his world.

Anyway, when we told everybody at Epic and our agents at Pinnacle the good news, they were decidedly lukewarm. “Why would you go out with those guys? They are washed up. You should hold out for something better.”

Hold out for something better? Ever since we had signed with a major booking agency, our dates had dwindled to nothing. It was the classic major label tale: “No reason to go out until something is going on. Be patient.”

We came at it from the opposite view. We had always been DIY from the beginning. So our attitude was, "We need to get out and make something happen.”

We fired our agent and took the Smithereens tour. It was the best decision we ever made.

This wasn’t like 5 shows. It was a bunch. Off the top of my head-- DC / Baltimore / Raleigh / Greenville / Wilmington / Charleston / Louisville / Detroit / Indy / Chicago / Memphis / Vinton / Little Rock/ Houston / Dallas/ Amarillo / San Antonio / El Paso / Phoenix / LA / San Diego / Vegas.

I’ve never had so much fun. Really. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Every show was a blast. I enjoyed the Smithereens every single night. It never got old. And the 'Reens guys and crew, Ira and Chopper, were all like big brothers to us. I don’t know how other tours work but we would hang out together, stay in the same hotels and they would even invite Watershed guys to ride on their bus between some shows. It was a nice break from the van to sit up front in the bus watching Chinatown with Pat and the fellas. I’m pretty sure most headliners don’t do that for the opening act. By the end of the tour we had a bit during "Blood and Roses" where Jim walked into the crowd, and I would grab the guitar and take over the lead part as a “random fan,” (ala Bill Black from the Scotty, Bill and Elvis years) The crowd loved it. Like I said, it was fun every night.

Needless to say we got to know them pretty well. If they were a group of family siblings Pat was the brilliant, entitled first born. He was the ringleader, which has its pros and cons for any family. Next was Jim. The Dave Davies-esque hellraising younger brother to Pat. Dennis was the studious one. You could always count on him. Steady as his tempo. And Mike was the firery and athletic baby bro. Sick of taking shit from his older “brothers,” there was an aura of danger around him. But he brought fire to the stage every night.  I liked all of them very much.

Sometime after the tour, Pat was doing a solo thing and asked if Watershed would back him up at a show at Ludlow’s in Columbus. Hells yeah we would. So Herb, Joe and myself along with our pal Andy Harrison boned up on the material and the show was a smash. What an honor to stand next to Pat onstage playing all those great tunes. It was also the night I met my lifelong friend Brian Phillips for the first time.

We would stay in sporadic contact with Pat through the years and it was always a pleasure when we would reconnect. And he never lost his ability to write a catchy song and sing it in his distinctive style. Go play any Smithereens record today and you will find that it would sound great in any decade. Nothing sounds dated. It sounds fresh and classic and the same time. How rare is that?

And don’t sleep on their last studio release, the amazing 2011. Produced by Don Dixon and recorded by Mitch Easter. (WOW!)  It sounds as cool as any in their amazing catalog.

We lost some big names in 2017, but nobody touched me like Pat Dinizio. I am forever in his debt for writing those amazing tunes but more importantly, inviting a little band like Watershed into the world of the Smithereens. It was an honor.  - Colin Gawel (click here for Colin page)

Below are a couple of Smithereens tunes for your pleasure. 

The first Smithereens song I heard or more likely saw on MTV. Always crushing.

From Smithereens 2011. 24 years after their debut.

A Date with The Smithereens is my favorite Reen's record. It didn't hurt that this is the tour we did but I still think it's their most consistent top to bottom. Dig this little gem.

This clip shows off the diversity of Pat's songwriting and the Smithereens. And it's always fun to see Belinda Carlisle of The Go Go's.

This full show from MTV catches the band in all their young garage band glory. Early hits with a dose of Surf , Kinks and The Who. Wow.

The awesome Blood and Roses. It was breathtaking every time they played it. This clip was filmed around the time we were touring with them. This is how I remember The Smithereens. RIP Pat DiNizio. 

 

Colin Gawel founded Pencilstorm, plays in the band Watershed and fronts The League Bowlers.