24 November 2018

The Archies, Part One

The Archies Live

THE ARCHIES circa 1970:
RON DANTE as Archie with DONNA MARIE as Veronica

Big Noise From Riverdale!
The Untold History of The Archies
told on the 50th Anniversary of the smash hit single
"Sugar, Sugar"
by Hampton Jacobs
originally published on February 10, 2006

Image is the most important consideration for some people when it comes to Rock'n'Roll. According to this school of thought, if an artist doesn't put out the right kind of visuals and attitude, he probably isn't worth listening to. Members of a band have to look sufficiently surly! They must sneer convincingly. Their torn T-shirts, tattoos and black leather need to convey the proper air of defiance. Cynical attitudes, acquired from years of performing in cheap dives, are essential.

Don't let them be too cute! Nobody who's too appealing to fourteen-year-old girls is acceptable. A real rocker wouldn't be caught dead with his picture in magazines like Tiger Beat, and it goes without saying that a band can't be anything like The Archies. A cartoon studio group with its own Saturday-morning TV show is just about as uncool an image as you could ever want. So it comes as no surprise that Rock critics have been trashing Archies records for 50 years now. Wouldn't they be surprised, though, if they ever took the time to really listen to Archies records?

They'd discover that this "Bubblegum" band cut more than a few great songs.  Rockers like "Love Light", "Truck Driver", "Don't Touch My Guitar", "You Make Me Wanna Dance", "Sunshine", "I'm In Love" and "Get On The Line" compare favorably to the output of legendary acts like Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and yes, even The Rolling Stones!  No hype here: The evidence is right there in the grooves. Between September of 1968 and September of 1971, The Archies gave Saturday-morning TV its best Rock'n'Roll since the animated Beatles crashed the kiddie airwaves three years earlier. Adults never realized how good it was . . . or so it seemed, until a song called "Sugar, Sugar" was released, and rocketed into the stratosphere.

DON KIRSHNER

DON KIRSHNER
Executive Producer for THE ARCHIES

In order to understand why "Sugar, Sugar" was so good, you have to know its pedigree. It traces its lineage back to the exceptional talents of three men, all highly respected inside the music industry. During the late '50s and early '60s, song publisher and pop music impresario Don Kirshner nurtured the talents of legendary songwriters such as Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann, Jack Keller and Carole King. His Aldon Music company gave the world unforgettable tunes like "On Broadway," "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," "Up On The Roof," and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." Credit Kirshner (who died in January 2011) with the vision and dealmaking prowess that brought the Archie comic strip characters to video and vinyl.

Jeff Barry B & W

JEFF BARRY
Writer/Producer for THE ARCHIES, 1968-70

Jeff Barry, the man Don Kirshner put in charge of The Archies' music, crafted their million dollar sound. Barry was also a major mover and shaker in '60s Rock'n'Roll. He'd burst onto the scene the very first year of that decade, penning Ray Peterson's classic tearjerker, "Tell Laura I Love Her." Three years later, he and his then-wife Ellie Greenwich almost single-handedly defined the Girl Group genre. Together, they wrote and/or produced "Chapel Of Love," "Leader Of The Pack," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Be My Baby," "Iko Iko," and many other enduring hits for the likes of The Crystals, Ronettes, Chiffons, Dixie Cups and Shangri-Las, often in collaboration with eccentric masterminds like Phil Spector and George "Shadow" Morton. Barry and Greenwich even scored a Pop hit of their own ("The Kind Of Boy You Cant Forget") as The Raindrops.

The Raindrops

THE RAINDROPS 
featuring JEFF BARRY and ELLIE GREENWICH

Their success extended into the British Invasion/garage band era, with #1 smashes for Manfred Mann ("Doo Wah Diddy Diddy") and Tommy James and The Shondells ("Hanky Panky"). In 1965, the couple discovered Neil Diamond and produced his first nine hit singles. When you download "Cherry, Cherry," "Kentucky Woman" or "Thank The Lord For The Night Time", you're hearing the rudiments of what would later become the Archies Sound.  Early Archies records were even recorded in the same studio Neil Diamond used at the time (A & R Recording).

The paths of Jeff Barry and Don Kirshner intersected when Barry placed some of Diamond's tunes with Kirshner's new publishing house, Screen Gems Music. At the time, Kirshner was executive producer for The Monkees' wildly popular TV show. He subsequently hired Barry to supervise the group's recording of Neil Diamond's "I'm A Believer," and as a single, it became one the biggest-selling Rock platters of all-time. By 1967, creative differences had ended both Kirshner's association with The Monkees and Barry's partnership with Ellie Greenwich. Both men promptly launched their own record labels.

Kirshner founded Calendar Records in July of '67, and in September, he arranged distribution through RCA Victor. Then on May 18, 1968, Billboard Magazine reported the following: "Don Kirshner is readying another TV-berthed group for the record market. Kirshner . . . is now involved with Filmation (Studios) and (comic book) publisher John Goldwater in the formation of a new Rock'n'Roll music group . . . which has been created for Filmation's animated 'Archie' TV series. The series is set to bow on CBS-TV in the fall. Filmation's Norm Prescott, Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland have signed Kirshner as music director of 'Archie,' and to build a singing group to vocalize over an animated quintet called 'The Archies'."

Not entirely true! The Archies, originally conceived as a send-up of The Monkees, predate the cartoon show.  They debuted as a trio (Archie, Jughead and Reggie) in the April 1967 issue of Life With Archie.  Also, the title Don Kirshner chose for himself was "Music Supervisor." For the actual hands-on music direction, he engaged Jeff Barry's services. Kirshner and Barry shared the belief that Rock'n'Roll created for children could be commercial enough to get on the radio. Together, they set out to prove themselves right. During the summer of 1968, they auditioned dozens of singers at RCA Victor's Webster Hall recording studios in Manhattan. Barry also found himself writing a slew of new songs for the TV series, even while he ran his Steed label and nurtured the recording career of his star artist, Andy Kim.

Andy Kim

ANDY KIM
Songwriter for THE ARCHIES

The Ohio Express's Joey Levine, songwriter Ritchie Adams, and demo singer Kenny Karen were among those Kirshner and Barry considered for the singing voice of Archie. However, there's reason to believe that Jeff Barry was always partial to Ron Dante, the third member of our magic triumvirate. He'd previously used Dante as a backing vocalist on Neil Diamond's recording dates, and had cast him in a Broadway-bound musical he was producing called The Freaking-Out of Stephanie Blake. The blue-eyed, chestnut-haired Staten Island native had also crossed paths with Don Kirshner in the early '60s: Kirshner hired him as a staff songwriter, actually his first job in the music business. Later, Dante joined a novelty trio known as The Detergents, whose solitary Top Forty hit "Leader Of The Laundromat" just happened to be a spoof of Jeff Barry's song "Leader Of The Pack." (A lawsuit ensued, but it was settled so quickly, there wasn't even enough time for hard feelings to develop.)

Ron_Dante

RON DANTE
Lead singer of THE ARCHIES

After leaving the Detergents, Dante became one of New York's most in-demand jingle and demo singers; his vocals graced TV and radio commercials for Lifesavers, Dr. Pepper, Kentucky Fried Chicken(KFC), Coppertone suntan lotion, and many other products, as well as original demo versions of classic rockers like "Five O'Clock World," "It Hurts To Be In Love" and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." When the Archies gig rolled around, keyboard player Ron Frangipane urged him to audition for Don Kirshner and Jeff Barry. Dante, who aspired to a career as a Pop singer, reasoned that The Archies could be a vehicle to move him in that direction. "So I called, and the office set up an appointment, and I walked into RCA," Dante later told journalist Carl Cafarelli. "They auditioned me. They said, 'Well, can you do different types of voices?' So I did, like, two or three different types of voices for Jeff and Donnie, and they finally locked into one sound. They said, 'Oh, you'll be good . . .'"

The Bobby Bloom Album

BOBBY BLOOM
Background singer for THE ARCHIES

As skilled at harmony vocals as he was at singing lead, Ron Dante performed both duties at most of the studio dates, and eventually started writing songs for The Archies, too. Before long, Jeff Barry had also roped Andy Kim into writing for the group. Bobby Bloom, another of Barry's up-and-coming stars, took part in the sessions as a songwriter, musician and background singer. His solo career wouldn't take off until after The Archies had cooled down, but he'd already co-written the Garage Rock classic "Mony Mony" with Tommy James, and his 1970 hit "Montego Bay" would become a Pop standard. Although her voice would not be prominently featured until 1969, Toni Wine (another of Don Kirshner's ex-staff writers) was recruited to provide a distinctive female background voice. While singing with The Archies, Wine would pen the hits "Black Pearl" for Sonny Charles and "Candida" for Tony Orlando and Dawn.  "People would come in and out in the background," Dante recalled in 1997. "Some girls came in, a few background singers. Toni Wine, of course, sang on 'Sugar, Sugar.' We did maybe an album's worth of material together (where) the background group was Toni Wine, Jeff Barry and Ron Dante."

Toni Wine

TONI WINE
Duet singer for THE ARCHIES, 1969

Reportedly, Ellie Greenwich, Ritchie Adams, Joey DiBenedetto and Steve Tudanger (from the vocal group Playhouse), Maeretha Stewart, Jamie Carr, Leslie Miller, Merle Miller (the two are not related), Tony Passalacqua and Susan Morse (from the Broadway cast of Hair) were among those various and sundry background voices (some of whom Dante doesn't remember having taken part). However, since The Archies were promoted via their TV show, and no (legitimate) touring band was ever formed, Ron Dante sang all the voice parts on many dates, with Barry employing the same overdub techniques he'd used in 1963/64 on Raindrops recordings.  One 1970 track, "Over And Over" features Dante playing all the instruments as well as singing, save for a drum overdub or two by the producer.

DEAN CHRISTOPHER AKA DINO CALAGNO

DEAN CHRISTOPHER
Arranger for THE ARCHIES, 1968

The first season of "Archie" featured musical arrangements by Dean Christopher, who was Jeff Barry's brother-in-law at the time.  Recently, Dean recalled how the first Archies songs were written and recorded.  "I recall one weekend when I went up to Jeff and (my sister) Nancy's place (next door to the Dakota, the building John Lennon was living in).  I brought my music paper and Jeff sat at the piano and wrote (I do not exaggerate!) twenty-two (songs) . . . I scratched out melody and chord (charts), and the following Monday and Tuesday we went into the studio and recorded them all."  The recording engineer was Colombian-born Fred "Paco" Weinberg, a veteran of Jazz, Latin and early Rock 'n Roll sessions.  "(Paco) has been here since he was a kid, so his English is perfect," Christopher says, "(but) I'm fluent in Spanish."  He and Weinberg communicated bilingually at these instrumental dates, all held at A & R Recording.  Vocals (in English!) were dubbed in later at RCA Studios.

While he doesn't remember exactly which musicians played on the 1968-9 cartoon soundtrack, Dean Christopher has an encyclopedic memory of the musicians he and Jeff Barry worked with during that time: "Guitars: Al Gorgoni, Charlie Macey, Sal di Troia and Hugh McCracken.  Bass: Joe Macho (also known as Joe Mack).  Piano: Ron Frangipane.  Percussion: Bill Storandt.  Drums: Buddy Saltzman (and) Bill LaVorgna."  Christopher also names guitarist Everett Barksdale, drummers Herbie Lovelle, Al Rogers and Bobby Gregg, and pianists Paul Griffin, Bernie Leighton and Frank Owens.  He notes that sax player Artie Kaplan was "our overall contractor for the sessions."  Kaplan was also Don Kirshner's musical contractor.  Over the years, Jeff Barry, Ron Dante and Toni Wine have confirmed that guitarists Dave Appell (co-producer of Tony Orlando and Dawn), Trade Martin and Andy Kim, bass player Chuck Rainey, drummer Gary Chester, percussion player Bobby Bloom and novelty singing star Ray "Gitarzan" Stevens also helped create the Archies' exceptional musical backing.

ARTIE KAPLAN

ARTIE KAPLAN
Musical contractor for THE ARCHIES

Right around the time Japanese dive bombers were blitzing Pearl Harbor, comic book editor John Goldwater, writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana introduced the characters of Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. While their impact was not quite as explosive, the repercussions of their début would be felt for decades. By the time the 1940s had given way to the '50s, and new characters like Big Moose, Dilton Doiley, Reggie Mantle and Archie's rich girlfriend Veronica Lodge were introduced, the strip had come to epitomize middle-class American teen life as much as had its archetype, M-G-M's Andy Hardy movie series starring Mickey Rooney.

Mickey, frequent co-star Judy Garland and their friends got musically inclined early on, but it would take The Archies much longer to break into song. After their early appearances as a trio in Archie comic books, they débuted as quintet on the CBS television network. It was the morning of 14 September 1968. Programming chief Fred Silverman felt they were just what he needed to counter charges that children's TV had become too violent. There was just no pleasing some critics, though! "'The Archie Show' was not what one would call inspired," writes Hal Erickson in his book Television Cartoon Shows. "Its sledgehammer humor (was) made obvious by the overuse of a canned laugh track, and the potentially endearing traits and catch-phrases of the characters (notably Principal Weatherbee's oft-repeated I DIDN'T SEE THAT! I DIDN'T SEE THAT!) were likewise pummeled into weariness." Be that as it may, "The Archie Show" garnered phenomenal ratings. With 75% of the viewing audience hooked on the madcap adventures of these zany high-schoolers, they were, in fact, the highest ratings in the history of Saturday morning TV at that time.

True, the animation and storylines weren't particularly outstanding, but that wasn't what kids were tuning in for, anyway. The ticket was catching the boss new tunes every week, and checking out the outrageous dance lessons.  The 1960s, after all, was the era of dance craze mania, so viewers were instructed on how to do "The Hamburger Hop," "The Surfer," "The Veronica Walk," and a dozen or so other imaginative steps dreamed up by Jeff Barry, Ritchie Adams and Mark Barkan. Barry's Rock'n'Roll songs bristled with Rockabilly, Country, Doo-Wop, Blues and Gospel influences. When "Truck Driver" aired on that first telecast, it was probably the first time a bonafide twelve-bar Blues had been featured in a cartoon.



THE ARCHIES' FIRST TV SOUNDTRACK ALBUM

The TV show may well have been aimed at preteen audiences, but the music was sophisticated enough to appeal to a wider range of people. "The Archies have everything going for them," agreed Billboard in its 21 September 1968 review of the soundtrack album. "They have a smooth vocal blend (and) the material is first-rate." The Archies' full-tilt rocker of a début single on Don Kirshner's Calendar label, "Bang-Shang-A-Lang," climbed to #22 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. With "Truck Driver" on the flipside, it was truly a double treat. Predictably, though, Rock purists wanted nothing to do with the record, or the group. Archie? Jughead? Hot Dog? For cryin' out loud . . . weren't The Monkees bad enough? Jeff Barry has spoken about how strong radio resistance to The Archies was; "Bang-Shang-A-Lang" was dismissed as nothing more than a fluke, a one-hit-wonder throwaway.  When the follow-up single, another pair of blistering rockers in the form of "Feelin' So Good" (SKOOBY-DOO)" and "Love Light" failed to crack the national Top Forty, critics were sure they'd heard the last of Don Kirshner's prefabricated funny paper band.

However, in January of 1969, Kirshner and company assembled in RCA's Studio B to prove otherwise. Ron Dante and Toni Wine lay their vocals on top of a meaty rhythm track that rocked steady on a pulsating bass groove and a Caribbean-flavored keyboard riff. Jeff Barry and Andy Kim had penned "Sugar, Sugar" as a change-of-pace for The Archies (it was never offered to The Monkees, as has often been reported; Don Kirshner played them another song with the same title, possibly a Neil Sedaka composition). Listening to the playback, Don Kirshner had no doubt as to the record's hit potential. Songwriters Ritchie Adams and Mark Barkan, present to observe the waxing of two of their own tunes, were not as impressed. "I remember Ritchie looking at me and saying, 'Sugar, Sugar' will never even make the Top Sixty," Barkan recalled in 1990.



THE ARCHIES' SECOND TV SOUNDTRACK ALBUM

Initially, that prediction appeared to come true. The single failed to generate much interest upon its release that June; but later that summer, it broke out on San Francisco's Station KYA, becoming a regional #1 smash. When the hippie counterculture adopted it as their anthem (rumor has it they interpreted the famous pour your sugar on me lyric as a drug reference), its future was assured. By fall, "Sugar, Sugar" had sold a staggering five million copies globally, topping charts in England, Japan, Germany, México, and a half-dozen other countries in addition to the United States. It wound up selling nearly twice that number, and being chosen 1969's Record of The Year by the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA). "Sugar, Sugar" also went Top Forty on Billboard's Adult-Contemporary chart, and Wilson Pickett covered it in May of 1970, making the song a hit all over again and lending it credibility in Soul music circles.  Bob Marley and The Wailers cut an unreleased version around the same time, and five years later Mike Lundsford would score a regional Country hit with his recording on the Starday label.  The crowning achievement came when the animated Archies plugged their smash on TV's top entertainment showcase, "The Ed Sullivan Show", probably the first and only time such a thing ever happened.

Jeff Barry cranked up the volume on the next single, "Jingle Jangle." Taking his cues from Broadway's hot new Rock musical Hair, he overdubbed Ron Dante and Toni Wine until they sounded like a massive church choir. Handclappings, a growling bass (courtesy of Joey Macho), and an abundance of guitar reverb put the finishing touches on this powerful record. The result was a second million-seller in the closing months of 1969. Rock critics were livid at The Archies' success, but like it or not, five goofy teenagers from a cartoonist's ink bottle had become one of the hottest acts on the Pop music scene!



THE ARCHIES' THIRD TV SOUNDTRACK ALBUM

"The Archie Show" grew more popular than ever. It expanded into "The Archie Comedy Hour"(where Sabrina, The Teenage Witch made her debut as a TV cartoon character), and then was reincarnated as "Archies Funhouse," which mixed animation with live audience sequences. A flood of Archie toys and merchandise hit the retail market (remember those Post cereal box records which played songs from the TV show?). Don Kirshner posed for publicity shots with cardboard Archie stand-up dolls, gleefully raked in publishing royalties, and changed the name of his label from Calendar to Kirshner Records, as if to make sure everyone knew who'd engineered this comic book coup. Yet as 1969 turned into 1970, his miracle band began to self-destruct before his eyes.

Ron Dante was caught off-guard by The Archies' rise to fame. He was pleased enough to have sung lead on an international chart-topper, but he knew the record industry well enough to realize that he could be typecast as a "Bubblegum" singer: "I was thrilled to be asked to be the lead voice of The Archies, (but) I just thought that kind of identification might limit me. Financially, it was great, (but) when those records first hit the charts, I just hid! I kept such a low profile that no one could find me. Don Kirshner couldn't even get me on the phone!"

Singing on Archies records hadn't precluded Dante from taking on other projects. He was simultaneously singing with other studio acts (most notably The Cuff Links, whose biggest hit "Tracy" had been in the Top Ten simultaneously with "Sugar, Sugar"), and producing a group called The Eighth Day for Kapp Records. When Don Kirshner offered him the chance to go on the road with a live Archies revue, he turned it down. Instead, he prevailed upon Kirshner to market him as a solo artist, after which Jeff Barry began working on tracks for what would become Ron Dante Brings You Up, his mostly self-composed début album. "I'm gradually phasing myself out of the Archies scene," Dante declared to Hit Parader in 1970. Things didn't work out that way, though. Despite strong promotion and equally strong songs, the LP and its singles were stone-cold dead in the market within a month of release. Subsequently, Kirshner was able to coax his frustrated solo artist back into the studio to cut more Archies tracks.



RON DANTE'S FIRST SOLO ALBUM

Not so Toni Wine. Unhappy with her royalty rate, she quit the group right after "Jingle Jangle" was released. Jeff Barry used a girl group composed of Susan Morse, Merle Miller and Lesley Miller to replace her until one evening in January 1970, when a former Columbia Records artist came to observe an Archies recording session. When the girls had trouble with the song he was cutting, Donna Marie boldly stepped forward and asked that he give her a try. "I put the headphones on," she remembered twenty years later, "and I sang my heart out! Everyone was happy with my performance, and I was walking on air for days afterward. I guess that old saying is very true about being in the right place at the right time!" The resulting single, a Country/Rock stomper called "Who's Your Baby?" scored a fourth Top Forty hit. Donna's sex kitten voice promised to add a new dimension to future releases.

Donna Marie

DONNA MARIE
Duet singer for THE ARCHIES, 1970

However, the next single, a Santana-inspired Latin rocker called "Sunshine" featured Bobby Bloom on harmony vocals instead. Almost nine months passed before the public heard Donna Marie sing again, on the Calypso-tinged "Together We Two," and that was sufficient time for them to lose interest in The Archies. The records were still selling reasonably well, but airplay had dropped to almost nothing. The cartoon gimmick that had served the group so well at first was now like a lead balloon, dragging it down. The Partridge Family had grabbed the media spotlight, and radio programmers evidently decided that one prefabricated TV band at a time was enough.



THE ARCHIES' FINAL TV SOUNDTRACK ALBUM

Don Kirshner suffered additional headaches when bogus Archies bands started popping up in the Southern United States. He was forced to take several thousand dollars' worth of legal action against their promoters. The proliferation of these groups was an indication of how much demand there was to hear Archies hits performed live. Unfortunately, that demand was never truly satisfied, and this also contributed to the group's demise. The studio Archies, in the persons of Ron Dante and Donna Marie, finally did make a live appearance at a charity benefit in Kenilworth, New Jersey, but this last-minute nod to promotional considerations was too little, too late. The TV series stopped airing original Rock tunes after the 1970/71 season, and its ratings began a slow but steady decline. The group's last big hit appeared not in America, but in South Africa; an atypical anti-war ballad called "A Summer Prayer For Peace" featuring duet vocals by Ron Dante and Jeff Barry, topped the charts there in the summer of 1971.

Neil Brian Goldberg

GANDHARVA
aka NEIL BRIAN GOLDBERG
Writer/Producer for THE ARCHIES, 1970

Long before then, Barry's workload had grown so huge, he was delegating most of his Archies studio chores to Neil Brian Goldberg, one of his Steed staff writers.  Goldberg, who later changed his name to "Gandharva", wrote and produced over 30 Bubblegum rockers for "Archie's Funhouse".  Most of them were excellent, but only four were ever released commercially; Don Kirshner seemed wary of this new material, opting to release new Jeff Barry songs instead. However, exhausted from his marathon work with The Archies, The Monkees, Bobby Bloom, Paul Davis, Kirshner's latest signees The Harlem Globetrotters(!!!), his own Steed acts, and various others, Barry was all but tapped out.  He decided to accept an office job with Paramount Pictures' music division in Hollywood.  Jeff Barry subsequently closed down his Steed label, and gave Don Kirshner notice. Ron Dante and Ritchie Adams succeeded him at the production helm, and introduced an adult-contemporary feel to the music. They cut a highly-regarded Archies album (This Is Love), and kept singles coming until the summer of 1972; but radio never warmed to their sweetened version of the group's Caribbean-flavored Rock sound.



THE ARCHIES' FIRST TRUE STUDIO ALBUM

As one door closed, others opened. The job at Paramount's Famous Music didn't work out, but Jeff Barry nevertheless found great success in Hollywood. He wrote theme songs for TV shows("Movin' On Up," the Gospel-powered "Jeffersons" theme is his work), and wrote and/or produced hit records for The Persuasions, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John (her platinum-selling signature song, "I Honestly Love You"), and numerous Country artists. He got the chance to cut some soundtrack music, too, the best-received being his score for the 1980 cult film The Idolmaker.  In the year 2010, Barry and several other former employees of Don Kirshner were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.  Unable to attend, the award was accepted on his behalf by actor and Bruce Springsteen sideman "Miami" Steve Van Zandt.

Ron Dante and Don Kirshner also pursued successful ventures. Dante discovered Barry Manilow in 1973 and produced eighteen Top Forty hits for him, including five American Gold Records and two #1 pop smashes: "Mandy" and "I Write The Songs." Dante's productions sold over 60 million records worldwide. In 1975, he and Manilow collaborated on a Disco version of "Sugar, Sugar." Later, Dante fulfilled a long-held dream of mounting shows on Broadway by bankrolling a pair of Tony Award-winning plays, Ain't Misbehavin' and Children Of A Lesser God. Don Kirshner acquired publishing rights to some of The Beatles' songs, signed the arena rock band Kansas to his label, and hosted his own TV late-night TV show, "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert".

Toni Wine relocated from New York to Memphis, Tennessee, where she sang background and contributed songs to critically-acclaimed albums by Brenda Lee, Petula Clark, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Royal and others. In 1988, she belatedly scored her first #1 Pop song when Phil Collins revived "Groovy Kind Of Love," a tune she'd written for The Mindbenders over two decades earlier. Donna Marie got married and settled into life as a New Jersey housewife and mother. Merle Miller became a founding member of The Harlettes, Bette Midler's backing vocal group.  Andy Kim penned another classic, "Rock Me Tender," which he himself took to the top of the charts in 1974. Sadly, Bobby Bloom was tragically shot and killed under mysterious circumstances that same year.  Don Kirshner, Ritchie Adams and Archies sessionmen Hugh McCracken, Sal di Troia and Gary Chester have also since passed away.

Hugh McCracken

HUGH McCRACKEN
Lead guitarist for THE ARCHIES

Fortunately, cartoon characters never die. The Archies are still going strong after 70 years of entertaining fans in print, broadcast and electronic media(that's right, they have their own web site now). Sabrina, the Teenage Witch may be the most popular Archie Comics character these days, thanks to a successful primetime TV series, but don't put Archie Andrews down for the count yet! "Riverdale", a radical re-imagining of the Archie Comics universe, is now a ratings hit after debuting on the CWA network in 2017.  There've been rumors of Archie movies and Broadway plays for several years now, and at the time of his death in 2008, Archie Comics CEO Michael Silberkleit spoke eagerly about reviving The Archies as a Pop act.  Somebody somewhere is always thinking about how to create a new sensation around the gang from Riverdale High.

Best of luck to them, because the original group is a hard act to follow. Archies music may have faded from the contemporary scene in the 1970s, but thanks to oldies radio, years of syndicated cartoon repeats and recent DVD reissues of the TV show, it has never disappeared from the memories of millions of baby boom-generation fans. What's more, Archies fandom has never been limited to any particular age group. "Sugar, Sugar" continues to exhibit the same generation-spanning appeal that it had in 1969.

Filmation Archies

THE ARCHIES CIRCA 1969

Hopefully, the crazy-making atmosphere of political correctness that permeated the late '60s has cleared enough for Archies music to be appreciated for what it is: Unpretentious, good-time Rock'n'Roll. Yet, as late as the 1990s, writers were still carping about "cynical boardroom creations (like) The Archies" and badmouthing "Sugar, Sugar" as "one of the most reviled records of all-time." For mean-spirited comments like that, Jeff Barry has a matter-of-fact response. "There's a record by The Staple Singers that I wrote called 'Heavy Makes You Happy,'" he said in 1995. "If it don't make you happy, it ain't heavy! The heaviest thing in the world for me is to make people happy, something that's not done enough of! So for people to say 'Sugar, Sugar' isn't cool, my answer is, well, I feel sorry for you."

It also bears noting that Barry, a Jew, co-wrote the song with Andy Kim, a man of Lebanese descent.  Their respective peoples have battled for decades, but this unique Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, and the tremendous response it generated all over the world says something profound.  Nothing defines the 1960s like the Peace Movement, and if "Sugar, Sugar" doesn't qualify as a musical peace symbol, then something sure is rotten in Riverdale!  

And who really gives a damn if a band doesn't look like The Clash, as long as the singer wails, the guitars groove, the bass rumbles, and the beat kicks ass? The bottom line is, good Rock'n'Roll doesn't have to look right to be good. It just has to sound right. Thanks to Don Kirshner, Jeff Barry and Ron Dante, Archies records had the right sound and still do. Think fast!  Which band can you play Six Degrees of Separation with and find direct connections to Phil Spector, Leiber and Stoller, Neil Diamond, Bobby Darin, Dusty Springfield, The Harlem Globetrotters and the cast of "The Jeffersons"?  Only The Archies!  And that's not the half of it . . . so why doesn't such a band rate even a footnote in most Rock reference books?  Beats me!



THE ARCHIES' FIRST HITS COMPILATION

Special thanks to Mark Barkan, Jeff Barry, Jeff Branch, 
Dean Christopher, Ron Dante, Neil Brian Goldberg, 
Craig Harmon, Donna Marie, Tom Mourgos, 
Joe Renzetti and Ciro Oliva.
Dedicated to the memory of Keith Davideit

14 October 2018

Remembering Josie + The Pussy Cats (Part Three)


VARIATIONS ON A THEME CALLED PUSSY RIOT: 1972 AND BEYOND

VARIATIONS ON A THEME CALLED
P U S S Y   R I O T !
THE SECRET HISTORY OF 
JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS

THIRD VARIATION:
1972 AND BEYOND

PUSSY RIOT 1972

¡BIENVENIDOS, AMIGOS! DON SEÑORITO CARTOON WELCOMES YOU BACK TO THE POP CULTURE CANTINA FOR THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF MY ASTOUNDING INTERVIEW WITH CHEYENNE PEPPER. CHEYENNE IS FORMER LEAD SINGER OF THE BAND JOZETTA AND ONE OF POP MUSIC'S MOST FAMOUS TRANSGENDER ICONS. HE WAS A LONG TIME FRIEND AND COLLABORATOR OF THE LATE JOSIE JAMES.

HIS HISTORY WITH JOSIE GOES ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE FOUNDING OF JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS IN 1970. HERE, FOR THE FIRST TIME, HE HAS REVEALED ONE SHOCKING SECRET AFTER ANOTHER ABOUT THE BAND'S EARLY YEARS! WE TAKE UP THEIR STORY IN EARLY 1972, AFTER A SCANDAL TRIGGERED CANCELLATION OF THE PUSSY CATS' POPULAR CARTOON SERIES. IN ADDITION, A COCAINE OVERDOSE HAD LEFT VALERIE SMITH HOSPITALIZED, AND JOSIE HAD BEEN RAPED.  WORSE, SHE WAS PREGNANT WITH HER RAPIST'S BABY! 

AS IF ALL THAT WEREN'T BAD ENOUGH, A CLOSE FRIEND OF THE GROUP WAS BRUTALLY MURDERED BY MEMBERS OF A RELIGIOUS CULT. CHEYENNE DETAILS HOW JOSIE JAMES, MELODY MUNRO-JONES AND VALERIE SMITH CABOT ROSE ABOVE THESE MAJOR CHALLENGES TO BECOME FEMINIST ICONS AND POP LEGENDS.

GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE

GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE

AFTER VALERIE, THE PERSON MOST IMPACTED BY COLLINS GREGORY'S DEATH WAS ALAN M. HE TOOK TO HIS BED AND JUST LAY THERE SOBBING DAY AFTER DAY! LAURA PINTO AND I KNEW WHAT WAS WRONG; TOGETHER, WE MANAGED TO PULL HIM OUT OF A DEEP DEPRESSION.

ALAN DIDN'T REALIZE HOW MUCH HE LOVED COLLINS G UNTIL AFTER HE DIED. I THINK HE TRIED TO ESCAPE THOSE FEELINGS BY TAKING REFUGE IN A HETEROSEXUAL MARRIAGE. I ATTENDED HIS WEDDING TO ALEXANDRA, BUT I KNEW THEY WOULD NEVER STAY TOGETHER; DUDE WAS HOLDING A TORCH XANDIE COULD NEVER EXTINGUISH!

EVEN SO, THEIR MARRIAGE LASTED MUCH LONGER THAN I EXPECTED. AS YOU KNOW, THEY HAD A DAUGHTER: YVONNE REMY, WHO FOLLOWED IN HER DAD'S FOOTSTEPS AND GREW UP TO BE A TOP DEEJAY AND RECORDING ENGINEER. ALAN TOOK TO FATHERHOOD LIKE A FISH TO WATER, BUT THE JOYS OF PARENTING COULDN'T CHANGE HIS TRUE SEXUAL ORIENTATION OR HIS FEELINGS FOR COLLINS! DUDE KEPT FRESH FLOWERS ON THE GRAVE OF THE MAN HE CALLED HIS "EGYPTIAN PRINCE" UNTIL HE LEFT CALIFORNIA FOR THE EAST COAST.

ARLO PHANTOM DETAINS ALEXANDRA

ARLO PHANTOM DETAINS ALEXANDRA!

SOMETHING ELSE THAT DOOMED THE CABOT-MAYBERRY MARRIAGE WAS ALAN M'S EXPECTATION OF HAVING A STAY-AT-HOME WIFE! ALEXANDRA WAS LIKE, "FORGET ABOUT IT!" HE REALLY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. RIGHT AFTER THEIR HONEYMOON, XANDIE DOUBLED DOWN ON HER GOAL OF LAUNCHING A SOLO CAREER!

HER BROTHER LEX HAD PROMISED TO BAG HER A RECORD DEAL, BUT SHE THOUGHT HE WAS DRAGGING HIS FEET. XANDIE SHOOK SOME ACTION ON HER OWN AND GOT PRODUCER ARLO PHANTOM INTERESTED IN SIGNING HER TO HIS LABEL. ARLO HAD BEEN ONE OF THE BIGGEST BRITISH INVASION HITMAKERS, WORKING WITH FEMALE VOCAL STARS LIKE HELEN SHAPIRO, LULU, CILLA BLACK AND DUSTY SPRINGFIELD. BABE THOUGHT SHE WAS JUST THE ARTIST ARLO NEEDED TO START THE HITS FLOWING AGAIN; BUT THIS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY NEARLY COST XANDIE HER LIFE!

ALAN M TOLD ME HOW IT WENT DOWN: ARLO INVITED HER TO HIS BIG RANCH HOUSE IN LAUREL CANYON. THEY TALKED FOR OVER TWO HOURS, BUT XANDIE COULD NEVER GET HIM TO DISCUSS MUSIC; AND THE HUNGRY WAY HE WAS GLARING AT HER REALLY CREEPED HER OUT.  SUDDENLY ARLO EXPOSED HIMSELF AND INVITED HER TO SIT ON HIS LAP! ENRAGED, SHE FLIPPED HIM THE FINGER AND GOT UP TO LEAVE; BUT HE YELLED OUT SOMETHING, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN, SHE WAS SURROUNDED BY A PACK OF ST. BERNARD DOGS. THEY JUMPED ALL OVER HER AND SEEMED VERY PLAYFUL; BUT WHEN SHE WENT FOR THE DOOR, THEY TURNED VICIOUS!

ARLO HAD THESE ST. BERNARDS TRAINED TO DO ANYTHING HE WANTED! SNARLING AND SNAPPING, THEY HERDED XANDIE INTO A BEDROOM AND HE LOCKED HER INSIDE. LAUGHING LIKE A MANIAC, HE REVEALED HIS INTENTIONS: "I'M ADDING YOU TO MY COLLECTION OF BRIDES!" DUDE TOLD HER HOW HE'D LURED OTHER WOMEN TO HIS HOUSE, BUILDING UP THEIR TRUST OVER SEVERAL DAYS. "BUT WITH YOU, I COULDN'T WAIT!" HE CACKLED. "YOU TEMPTED ME TOO MUCH! AND HOW I'M GOING TO PUNISH YOU FOR THAT!"

ALEXANDRA REALIZED THAT ARLO PHANTOM WAS THE ELUSIVE CANYON KIDNAPPER! DO YOU REMEMBER THAT CASE? DURING THE EARLY MONTHS OF 1972, SEVERAL YOUNG WOMEN DISAPPEARED WITHOUT A TRACE. TRUCK DRIVERS PASSING THROUGH LAUREL CANYON PICKED UP STRANGE CB RADIO MESSAGES FROM SOMEBODY CALLING HIMSELF "THE KIDNAPPER". IN A VOICE DISGUISED TO SOUND LIKE SNAGGLEPUSS THE CARTOON CHARACTER, DUDE TOOK CREDIT FOR ABDUCTING THE WOMEN. THEN HE DEMANDED A NONSENSICAL RANSOM: THE END OF THE WOMEN'S LIBERATION MOVEMENT, WHICH HE CONDEMNED IN LONG, PROFANITY-LACED RANTS! AUTHORITIES HAD BEEN UNABLE TO TRACE HIS BROADCASTS, AND HE WAS STILL ON THE LOOSE. NOW XANDIE WAS THE LATEST TO FALL INTO HIS CLUTCHES!

ALEXANDRA'S REVENGE

ALEXANDRA'S REVENGE

BUT SHE WAS FREED THAT SAME DAY. WE STILL DON'T KNOW WHO CALLED THE POLICE, BUT THEY FOUND ALEXANDRA STILL LOCKED IN THAT BEDROOM. SEBASTIAN WAS WITH HER. XANDIE TOLD NEWS REPORTERS THAT SHE HADN'T BROUGHT HIM ALONG; SHE BELIEVED THE CAT HAD FOLLOWED HER AFTER SENSING THAT SHE WAS IN DANGER. THE NEWSPAPERS RAN A PHOTO OF HER HUGGING SEBASTIAN, AND THERE WAS A QUOTE THAT DIDN'T RING TRUE: "I WAS SO FRIGHTENED, I THOUGHT I WOULD LOSE MY MIND!"  ALEXANDRA CABOT, FRIGHTENED?  I'VE NEVER KNOWN HER TO BE AFRAID OF ANYTHING OR ANYBODY! FEAR JUST ISN'T PART OF HER NATURE.

IT WAS PART OF ARLO PHANTOM'S NATURE, THOUGH, AND HE'S THE ONE WHO ENDED UP LOSING HIS MIND! POLICE FOUND HIM ELSEWHERE IN THE HOUSE, COWERING IN A CORNER AND BABBLING ABOUT A GIANT "WITCH CAT" THAT TRIED TO EAT HIM! DUDE WAS STARK-RAVING MAD! EVIDENTLY, HE HAD A DEBILITATING FEAR OF FELINES, AND THE SIGHT OF SEBASTIAN PUSHED HIM OVER THE EDGE. BUT STRANGELY, HIS PACK OF ST. BERNARDS WAS JUST AS SCARED AS HE WAS: THEY WERE COWERING THERE WITH HIM, WHIMPERING AND CRYING! ANIMAL CONTROL HAD TO BE CALLED IN. SOMETHING HAD SEVERELY TRAUMATIZED THOSE DOGS, BUT THERE WAS NEVER ANY EXPLANATION; THE WHOLE THING WAS BIZARRE.

ONE THING THE POLICE LEARNED FOR SURE: ARLO PHANTOM WAS DEFINITELY THE CANYON KIDNAPPER! IN HIS ATTIC THEY FOUND AN ELABORATE CB RADIO SETUP, WHICH HE'D USED TO PASS HIMSELF OFF AS A TRUCKER; AND DOWN IN HIS BASEMENT, THEY FOUND ALL SIX OF THE DISAPPEARED WOMEN. THEY WERE IN PITIFUL SHAPE: NAKED, DOG-BITTEN, CHAINED TO THE WALL AND NEARLY STARVED TO DEATH! EACH ONE HAD BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, TOO; BUT THEY ALL SURVIVED AND WERE SOON REUNITED WITH THEIR LOVED ONES.

I WONDERED IF ALEXANDRA'S KNOWLEDGE OF VOODOO FIGURED IN HOW QUICKLY SHE WAS RESCUED. I ASKED HER ABOUT THAT A COUPLE OF TIMES, BUT SHE JUST SMILED AT ME AND DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING! I DECIDED IT WAS BEST NOT TO PRESS THE ISSUE.

INTRODUCING GREG JAMES

INTRODUCING GREG JAMES

AFTER EVERYTHING THAT WENT DOWN IN THE LATTER HALF OF '71, JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS NEEDED TIME OFF TO RECHARGE. THEY ALSO HAD PERSONAL ISSUES TO DEAL WITH. A RELATIVE FROM SHREVEPORT CONTACTED MEL WITH NEWS THAT HER FATHER HAD DIED! SHE DECIDED TO RETURN HOME FOR THE FUNERAL AND TRY RECONCILING WITH HER HOMOPHOBIC MOTHER. UNFORTUNATELY, THAT ENDED UP BEING A LOST CAUSE; BUT SHE WAS ABLE TO RENEW BONDS WITH SOME OF HER EXTENDED FAMILY.

SWAMI SUNSHINE GOT VALERIE SO FUCKED UP, SHE HAD TO COMPLETE A DRUG DETOX PROGRAM! LEX CABOT GOT HER PLACED IN THE BEST ONE MONEY COULD BUY. WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS PUT HER THROUGH A LIVING HELL, BUT VAL CONQUERED HER ADDICTION AND STAYED CLEAN FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. NO MORE ALCOHOL OR TOBACCO, EITHER: SHE WAS EVEN WARY OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS!

JOSIE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED AN ABORTION, BUT SHE ULTIMATELY DECIDED TO HAVE DON IGNACIO'S BABY. I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT SHE TOLD ME, WITH TEARS STREAMING DOWN HER FACE: “MAYBE I CAN TAKE THIS UGLINESS AND MAKE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL OUT OF IT? I’M GOING TO TRY.” SHE DID GIVE BIRTH TO A BEAUTIFUL LITTLE BOY IN MAY OF '72. JOSIE NAMED THE BABY AFTER COLLINS GREGORY AND POSTHUMOUSLY NAMED COLLINS HIS GODFATHER. EVERYBODY CALLED THE BOY "GREG", AND THAT NICKNAME STUCK.

WHEN THE PUSSY CATS REGROUPED IN EARLY FALL OF '72, SHE TOOK HER BABY OUT ON TOUR WITH HER. SHE'D BRING GREG ON STAGE, AND THE AUDIENCE WOULD GO CRAZY! MOST PEOPLE ASSUMED THAT COLLINS G WAS HIS BIOLOGICAL FATHER, AND SHE CHOSE NOT TO DISCOURAGE THAT ASSUMPTION; ONLY THOSE OF US CLOSE TO JOSIE KNEW THE TRUTH. AFTER GREG HAD HIS BAR MITZVAH, SHE TOLD HIM WHO HIS FATHER REALLY WAS. HE DIDN'T TAKE IT WELL, AND GOT INVOLVED WITH DRUGS SOON AFTERWARD! JOSIE BLAMED HERSELF, BUT SHE WASN'T AT FAULT; HE'D JUST FALLEN IN WITH THE WRONG CROWD. HE HAD HIS MOTHER'S STRENGTH OF CHARACTER, AND IT WASN'T LONG BEFORE HE GOT CLEAN AGAIN.

DUDE LATER BECAME BECAME A CPA, AND HE WAS THE PUSSY CATS' BUSINESS MANAGER FOR FOUR YEARS. UNFORTUNATELY, GREG JAMES WAS A LATE CASUALTY OF THE AIDS EPIDEMIC. HIS MEDICATIONS ALL FAILED, AND HE JUST WASTED AWAY; IT WAS SO SAD!  ALL THREE PUSSY CATS WERE AT HIS BEDSIDE WHEN HE PASSED AWAY IN 1998. JOSIE JAMES WAS THE MOST RESILIENT PERSON I EVER KNEW, BUT THE LOSS OF HER SON WAS THE ONE TRAGEDY I DON'T THINK SHE EVER RECOVERED FROM.

WHAT LOVE IS ALL ABOUT

WHAT LOVE IS ALL ABOUT

SHE CONFIDED IN ME THAT, AFTER HER HELLISH EXPERIENCE WITH DON IGNACIO, SHE DIDN'T THINK SHE COULD EVER HAVE SEX WITH A MAN AGAIN. FORTUNATELY, THAT WASN'T THE CASE: JOSIE DID HAVE MALE LOVERS, BUT IT WAS A WOMAN WHO WON HER HEART FIRST. IRENE BANG HAD ALWAYS BEEN TAKEN WITH JOSIE; IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT SHE WAS IN LOVE IF YOU KNEW WHAT SIGNS TO LOOK FOR! HOWEVER, WHEN THEY MET JOSIE IDENTIFIED AS A HETEROSEXUAL WOMAN. BESIDES THAT, SHE ONLY HAD EYES FOR ALAN M! BUT DURING HER PREGNANCY, BABE ACCEPTED IRENE'S INVITATION TO COME LIVE WITH HER.

THEY BECAME VERY CLOSE, AND IRENE SPARED NO EXPENSE TO MAKE SURE MOTHER AND CHILD HAD EVERYTHING THEY NEEDED. HER FINANCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT HELPED JOSIE BOUNCE BACK FROM ALL THAT PAIN SHE'D SUFFERED. THEIR BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP EVOLVED INTO A FRIENDSHIP, AND THEN IT BECAME SOMETHING MUCH MORE. JOSIE AND IRENE WERE A COUPLE FOR SEVERAL YEARS, AND WHEN THEIR ROMANCE ENDED, THEY REMAINED LIFELONG FRIENDS.

NO, JOSIE DIDN'T IDENTIFY AS A LESBIAN, BUT SHE WAS THE SECOND MEMBER OF THE PUSSY CATS TO EMBRACE PAN-SEXUALITY! BY THE END OF HER LIFE, SHE WAS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY DATING WOMEN. NO, NO, THAT NEVER HAPPENED!  THERE'S NOTHING TO THOSE RUMORS THAT I WAS JOSIE'S LOVER BEFORE MY TRANSITION.  WE WERE ALWAYS LIKE BROTHER AND SISTER; AND OF COURSE, SHE WAS MY MAIN SONGWRITING PARTNER, TOO.

JOSIE'S SOLO ALBUM

JOSIE'S SOLO ALBUM

I FOUND A NEW JOB IN THE SPRING OF 1972. DON IGNACIO'S PUBLISHING COMPANY WAS BOUGHT UP BY SATURDAY MUSIC, A FIRM CONTROLLED BY PRODUCER BOB CREWE. I WENT TO WORK FOR BOB FROM 1972-75. AS YOU KNOW, HE PRODUCED HITS FOR FREDDY CANNON, FRANKIE VALLI + THE FOUR SEASONS AND MITCH RYDER'S DETROIT WHEELS. DUDE WAS A BLAST TO WORK WITH, AND I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT SONGWRITING FROM HIM. DUDE LOVED THE SONGS I WROTE FOR THE PUSSY CATS, AND I DISCOVERED THAT HE WAS EAGER TO RECORD JOSIE; HE FELT SHE HAD THE BEST SINGING VOICE IN THE GROUP. "NOT THAT VALERIE AND MELODY CAN'T SING," HE ASSURED ME, "BUT TO OVERLOOK A FINE VOICE LIKE JOSIE'S? WHAT A WASTE!" WHENEVER I SAW HER, I WOULD TELL HER ABOUT HIS INTEREST.

THE LAST SINGLE FROM THE PUSSY CATS' TV SOUNDTRACK, "CLOCK ON THE WALL" CAME OUT IN EARLY SUMMER OF '72; THAT WAS ONE OF COLLINS GREGORY'S SONGS. IT SCORED A MODEST HIT, BUT CAPITOL RECORDS STILL DECLINED TO SIGN THE GROUP AS ARTISTS. LEX CABOT ASSURED THEM THAT EVERYTHING WOULD BE ALL RIGHT, BUT FOR A WHILE IT WAS ROUGH GOING FOR THE GIRLS! THEY WERE YESTERDAY'S NEWS: THEY WEREN'T GETTING GOOD BOOKINGS ANYMORE AND THEY’D BECOME ALMOST TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON THEIR FIREHOUSE GIGS FOR INCOME. NO, THERE WEREN'T ANY ROYALTIES: WOULD YOU BELIEVE RAINBO ARTS STUDIOS CONSIDERED THE PUSSY CATS INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS? THE CONTRACT WAS BROKEN, SO NATURALLY THERE WAS LITIGATION; BUT THE PUSSY CATS NEVER DID GET COMPENSATED FAIRLY.  YEARS LATER, THEY ENDED UP WITH A FRACTION OF WHAT THEY SHOULD'VE EARNED!

SO THE GROUP WAS ON HIATUS, AND JOSIE WAS SERIOUSLY THINKING ABOUT RETIRING FROM MUSIC AND GOING BACK ON THE ROLLER DERBY CIRCUIT.  MY PRODDING IS WHAT GOT HER TO RECONSIDER: I INTRODUCED HER TO BOB CREWE, AND THEY STARTED WORKING TOGETHER RIGHT AWAY. SHE REALLY DUG HIM, BUT WOMEN ALWAYS LIKED BOB! UNLIKE DON IGNACIO, HE WAS A PERFECT GENTLEMAN AND A GORGEOUS-LOOKING GUY, TOO.

JOSIE WAS A BIG FAN OF SOUL SINGER TIMI YURO, SO BOB SUGGESTED THAT SHE CUT A TRIBUTE RECORD. BLUESY MATERIAL LIKE "HURT" AND "INSULT TO INJURY" WERE TAILOR-MADE FOR HER VOICE!  LAURA PINTO WAS BETWEEN JOBS, SO BOB HIRED HER TO ENGINEER THE ALBUM. I SANG BACKGROUND AND WROTE SOME VOCAL ARRANGEMENTS.  CREWE RECORDS WAS NO LONGER ACTIVE BY THEN, SO THE MASTER WAS SOLD TO VERVE, THE JAZZ LABEL. I REMEMBER ALL THE GREAT REVIEWS; MUSIC CRITICS LOVED THAT RECORD TO DEATH!   IT SOLD ZILCH, BUT BOB FELT STRONGLY THAT JOSIE WAS, IN HIS WORDS, “GOING PLACES”! 

HE ARRANGED A DINNER PARTY AT HIS WEST HOLLYWOOD APARTMENT SO HE COULD INTRODUCE HER TO SOME IMPORTANT PEOPLE. TWO OF THEM WERE DAGMAR DIAMOND AND LUCKY JONES; BOB HAD KNOWN BOTH OF THEM FOR YEARS.  BUT HE HAD AN ULTERIOR MOTIVE FOR THROWING THAT PARTY: HE’D WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY THAT HE WANTED TO DISCUSS WITH THEM! BOB CREWE WAS ALWAYS CHALLENGING HIMSELF, ALWAYS NEEDING TO BRANCH OUT.  I ATTENDED THAT GATHERING, AND I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT LUCKY DIDN’T THINK MUCH OF BOB’S SCRIPT! BUT HE WAS VERY IMPRESSED BY JOSIE. 

STRANGE, ISN’T IT, THAT HE’D NEVER MET HER BEFORE? SHE WAS ONE OF HIS WIFE’S BIGGEST CLIENTS, AND HIS LOVER PLAYED DRUMS IN HER BAND!  WITH HER GREEN EYES, NATURALLY RED HAIR AND LARGE BUSTLINE, BABE DEFINITELY HAD HIS KIND OF STAR POTENTIAL; BUT LOOKS ALONE WEREN'T ENOUGH TO SELL LUCKY JONES ON AN ACTRESS.  ONCE HE GOT TO KNOW JOSIE PERSONALLY, DUDE SAW THAT SHE HAD REAL STAR QUALITY!


KING OF THE LESBIAN MELODRAMA

KING OF THE LESBIAN MELODRAMA

THE 1960S AND 70S WERE THE GOLDEN AGE OF CHEAP EXPLOITATION FILMS. RUSS MEYER, BOB CORMAN, DORIS WISHMAN AND OTHER CULT DIRECTORS BUILT THEIR REPUTATIONS ON TRASHY MELODRAMAS WITH SEXY GIRLS! LUCKY JONES WAS IN THAT GROUP: HE SPECIALIZED IN FILMS WITH A LESBIAN THEME. BEFORE "PUSSY RIOT", HE WAS KNOWN FOR SCREEN ADAPTATIONS OF GAY WOMEN'S NOVELS. DAGMAR WAS HIS PARTNER IN A FILM PRODUCTION COMPANY CALLED LUCKY DIAMONDS AS WELL AS HIS CINEMATOGRAPHER.  LUCKY USED LOTS OF WOMEN ON HIS FILM CREWS; DUDE WAS POLITICALLY PROGRESSIVE AND A PIONEER ACTIVIST ON SEX AND GENDER ISSUES. FOR HIM, SENSATIONALISM WAS A VEHICLE FOR MAKING SOCIAL STATEMENTS.

MELODY INTRODUCED LUCKY TO LEX CABOT.  ALWAYS ON THE HUNT FOR PROMOTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES, LEX SUGGESTED THAT HE STAR JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS IN A MOVIE. NOW THAT THEIR CARTOON SERIES WAS HISTORY, THE GIRLS NEEDED TO RE-INVENT THEMSELVES IN ORDER TO REMAIN IN THE SPOTLIGHT. DUDE WAS ALWAYS CHASING THAT ADULT MALE DEMOGRAPHIC, AND HE THOUGHT A SLEAZY GRINDHOUSE FLICK MIGHT BE JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED!

BUT LUCKY WAS 'WAY AHEAD OF LEX. HE’D ALREADY ASKED BOB CREWE TO REVAMP HIS SCREENPLAY AS A STARRING VEHICLE FOR JOSIE. IF IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH, HE PROMISED TO DIRECT IT.  SOMEBODY, MAYBE BOB, DAGMAR OR JOSIE HERSELF, SUGGESTED THAT ROLES BE CREATED FOR MEL AND VAL, TOO. ONCE THEIR NAMES WERE ATTACHED TO THE PROJECT, THE CONCEPT FOR "PUSSY RIOT" BEGAN TAKING SHAPE.

BARING IT ALL, HEATING IT UP!

BARING IT ALL, HEATING IT UP!

LUCKY JONES NEVER USED TRAINED ACTORS IN HIS FILMS, SO IT WASN'T UNUSUAL THAT JOSIE, MEL AND VAL HAD NEVER ACTED BEFORE. HE HAD A GIFT FOR DRAWING COMPELLING PERFORMANCES OUT OF ORDINARY PEOPLE, AND FOR CONVINCING THEM TO DO THINGS THEY'D NEVER DREAM OF DOING OTHERWISE!

THAT'S HOW THE PUSSY CATS ENDED UP PORTRAYING 1950s BURLESQUE QUEENS AND TAKING IT ALL OFF IN FRONT OF MOVIE CAMERAS.  BUT THE PROSPECT OF SHOOTING THOSE SCENES TOTALLY FREAKED JOSIE AND VALERIE OUT!  LUCKY HAD TO DO A LOT OF COAXING BEFORE HE GOT WHAT HE NEEDED: BUT IN THE END, BOTH JOSIE AND VAL CAME ACROSS LIKE PROS. HE TAUGHT THEM HOW TO CHANNEL FRAYED NERVES INTO WHATEVER EMOTION WAS MOTIVATING THEIR CHARACTERS. 

JOSIE WAS THE STAR, BUT CRITICS HAVE TAGGED MEL'S PERFORMANCE AS THE BEST AND I AGREE. OF THE THREE GIRLS, SHE WAS THE MOST NATURAL ACTRESS. MEL TOLD ME SHE DREW ON HER ANGER AT BEING DISOWNED BY HER PARENTS, AS WELL AS HER EXPERIENCES AS A HOMELESS GAY TEENAGER.

HE'S JUST TOO MUCH!

HE'S JUST TOO MUCH!

LUCKY MADE A LOT OF SCRIPT CHANGES, BUT BOB CREWE WAS DEFINITELY THE SCREENWRITER. HE RESEARCHED THE SUBJECT OF SEXUAL ASSAULT ON THE JOB AND DREW ON THAT RESEARCH TO WRITE HIS SCRIPT. YEAH, I HEARD THAT, TOO: HOW HE'S SUPPOSED TO HAVE INTERVIEWED DOZENS OF FEMALE ENTERTAINERS ABOUT THEIR BAD EXPERIENCES! AS FAR AS I KNOW, HE DIDN'T DO THAT; BUT BOB DID SPEAK EXTENSIVELY WITH JOSIE ABOUT BEING A RAPE VICTIM. SHE CONFIDED IN HIM, AND IT WAS A VERY COURAGEOUS THING FOR HER TO DO. THE INTENSITY OF HER FEELINGS IS REFLECTED IN HIS SCREENPLAY. IT'S THE CUTTING EDGE THAT MAKES "PUSSY RIOT" MORE THAN JUST A GRINDHOUSE FLICK. NOBODY HAD EVER SEEN WOMEN'S RAGE DEPICTED ON SCREEN LIKE THAT . . . IT BROKE NEW GROUND!

"PUSSY RIOT" BARELY ESCAPED BEING SLAPPED WITH AN X-RATING. THE MAIN REASON THE RATINGS BOARD OBJECTED WAS THOSE REALISTIC SCENES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: FIRST, THE BURLESQUE QUEENS GET ROUGHED UP BY SOME OF THEIR CUSTOMERS, AND THEN THEY TAKE TIT-FOR-TAT REVENGE! DISGUISED AS MASKED MOTORCYCLE MARAUDERS, THEY TURN THE TABLES ON THEIR ASSAILANTS. EVEN IN THE ANYTHING-GOES ATMOSPHERE OF THE '70s, THOSE FRANK DEPICTIONS OF MALE RAPE WERE TOO MUCH FOR A LOT OF EXHIBITORS TO TAKE!

MOST RELEASE PRINTS OF THE MOVIE WERE HEAVILY CENSORED, BUT A LOT OF THAT TRIMMED FOOTAGE CAN NOW BE SEEN IN A "DIRECTOR'S CUT". SOME SO-CALLED EDGY MOVIES FROM THAT ERA LOOK TAME WHEN SEEN TODAY, BUT NOBODY WILL EVER DESCRIBE "PUSSY RIOT" AS TAME: THAT FILM SOCKS IT TO YOU JUST AS HARD AS IT DID IN 1973! AND THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT ISSUES IT ADDRESSES ARE AS RELEVANT AS EVER.

THE PUSSY RIOT MOVIE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM

THE PUSSY RIOT MOVIE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM

I THINK YOU'RE RIGHT: THE "PUSSY RIOT" MOVIE SOUNDTRACK PROBABLY IS BETTER KNOWN THAN THE PUSSY CATS' TV SOUNDTRACK! THAT LP NEVER SHOWED UP ON ANY BESTSELLER CHARTS, BUT IT SOLD STEADILY AND STAYED IN PRINT FOR OVER A DECADE. IT WAS REISSUED RECENTLY AND LAST I HEARD, IT HAD SOLD SIX MILLION COPIES WORLDWIDE! JOSIE AND I CO-WROTE THE TWO INSTRUMENTAL TRACKS, AND MY DAUGHTER IS ATTENDING COLLEGE ON SOME OF THOSE ROYALTIES!

BOB CREWE WAS SUPPOSED TO SUPERVISE THE MUSIC, BUT HE HAD TOO MUCH ON HIS PLATE. IN ADDITION TO WRITING THE SCREENPLAY HE CO-PRODUCED THE MOVIE, AND DUDE WAS ON THE SET EVERY DAY.  BOB ASSIGNED ONE OF HIS PROTÉGÉS, PETER SHAYNE, TO HELM THE SESSIONS. IN TURN, PETER HIRED THE VERY TALENTED LeROY GLOVER AS MUSIC DIRECTOR.

BACK IN THE '60S, LeROY HAD ARRANGED AND CONDUCTED HIT SINGLES FOR THE ANGELS. HE WORKED CLOSELY WITH BOB AND LUCKY JONES TO CHOOSE SONGS THAT WOULD WORK BEST IN CERTAIN SCENES. THE SOUND LEROY CREATED FOR THE FILM WAS CLASSIC '60s GIRL GROUP MUSIC, UPDATED WITH A LATIN ROCK EDGE AND MIXED TO SOUND LIKE A PHIL SPECTOR PRODUCTION. WE HAD A WHO’S WHO OF LATINO ROCK STARS AT THE RECORDING SESSIONS: OUR SIDEMEN INCLUDED PAT AND LOLLY VEGAS, MAX UBALLEZ, MARK GUERRERO AND SHEILA E!  NO BULLSHIT, SHE WAS THERE.  BABE WAS JUST A TEENAGER THEN, BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN HER WORK THOSE TIMBALES!

JOSIE'S BIG NUMBER WAS "YOU'RE NEVER GONNA FIND (A LOVE LIKE MINE)", WHICH PLAYED DURING HER LOVE SCENE WITH THE CHICANO POLICE DETECTIVE.  PETER SHAYNE WROTE THAT ONE, AND IT GOT RELEASED AS A SINGLE.  THERE WAS NO QUESTION ABOUT HER SINGING LEAD ON THE SONGS: SHE WAS THE STAR, AFTER ALL!  BUT MEL AND VAL ALSO SANG SOME LEADS, AND THEY KICKED MAJOR ASS ON THEIR NUMBERS. ESPECIALLY THEIR BIG DUET "JUST KEEP ON LOVIN' ME".  IT'S HEARD OVER THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WHERE THEIR CHARACTERS COMMIT SUICIDE RATHER THAN BE SHOT DOWN.  OH, ABSOLUTELY!  THAT MOVIE "THELMA AND LOUISE" TOOK A LOT OF INSPIRATION FROM "PUSSY RIOT".
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THIS PUSSY IS ON FIRE!

THIS PUSSY IS ON FIRE!

THE "MENSTRUAL CYCLES"?  FUCK YEAH!  I DUG THEM, TOO. THOSE MOTORBIKES WERE CONCEIVED BY LUCKY JONES, BUT IT WAS ACTUALLY VALERIE AND MELODY WHO DESIGNED THEM. VAL'S STREAMLINED ELECTRIC MOTOR AND MEL'S FUTURISTIC CHOPPER CHASSIS WERE 'WAY AHEAD OF THEIR TIME!  AND AS I TOLD YOU BEFORE, THOSE SEXY TIGRESS COSTUMES THAT THE MARAUDERS WORE WERE ALSO MEL'S WORK. SHE CREATED FACSIMILES OF THOSE OUTFITS FOR THE PUSSY CATS TO WEAR ON STAGE, AND WHENEVER THEY DID, HOLY SHIT!!! CONCERT VENUES WOULD JUST ERUPT!

LUCKY ABSOLUTELY REFUSED TO CHANGE THE MOVIE’S TITLE, AND HE WOULD AGREE TO TRIM JUST SO MUCH VIOLENCE AND SEX. DUDE REACHED AN IMPASSE WITH THE MPAA, AND THAT'S WHEN HE DECIDED TO RELEASE "PUSSY RIOT" DIRECTLY TO DRIVE-IN THEATERS. IT BECAME ONE OF THE LAST BIG DRIVE-IN MOVIE HITS AND AN INSTANT CULT CLASSIC!  GAY MEN WERE THE FIRST DEMOGRAPHIC TO EMBRACE IT, AND COLLEGE KIDS SOON FOLLOWED SUIT; BUT OVER THE YEARS “PUSSY RIOT” GRADUALLY FOUND ITS ADULT FEMALE AUDIENCE. 

LUCKY VIEWED THAT FILM AS A MOUTHPIECE FOR THE WOMEN'S LIBERATION MOVEMENT, BUT FEMINISTS REALLY DIDN'T DIG IT.  I REMEMBER Ms. MAGAZINE'S REVIEWER CALLING IT "A TWISTED MALE CHAUVINIST FANTASY", AND THAT BOTHERED HIM A LOT.  HE WAS FAR MORE CONCERNED ABOUT APPEALING TO WOMEN THAN LEX WAS.  AS FAR AS LEX CABOT WAS CONCERNED, THE MOVIE DID EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED IT TO DO: COMPLETELY DESTROY THE PUSSY CATS' SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON IMAGE!  WHAT HE DIDN'T ANTICIPATE WAS THAT IT ALSO SET THE STAGE FOR THEIR TRANSITION TO PUNK ROCK IN THE NEXT DECADE.

IN THE UNITED STATES "PUSSY RIOT" WAS A CULT PHENOMENON, BUT OVERSEAS IT WAS A MAINSTREAM SMASH! THE PUSSY CATS BECAME HUGE STARS IN EUROPE AND SPENT THE REST OF THE '70s OVER THERE, TOURING AND RECORDING AND APPEARING ON TV. THEY WERE ALSO IN A FEW EUROPEAN FILMS, BUT NEVER AS STARS. JOSIE TOLD ME THEY WERE OFFERED SOME STARRING ROLES, BUT THE FILM PRODUCERS ALWAYS WANTED THEM DOING NUDE SCENES!  THEIR RESPONSE WAS: "WE TOOK OUR CLOTHES OFF FOR ‘PUSSY RIOT, BUT WE DON'T WANT TO MAKE A HABIT OUT OF IT!” 

THERE WERE STILL MEN IN THE TOURING BAND AT THAT TIME: DION CLAVE AND CLARENCE McDONALD WERE GONE, BUT TY YOUNGBLOOD WAS STILL PLAYING REEDS AND PERCUSSION, AND LeROY GLOVER HAD COME ON BOARD TO REPLACE CLARENCE. OFTEN THERE'D BE A THIRD GUY ON KEYBOARDS OR RHYTHM GUITAR AND OCCASIONALLY, A SMALL BRASS SECTION.  IT WAS DURING THIS PERIOD, THOUGH, THAT THE PUSSY CATS BEGAN TAKING ON MORE FEMALE STAFF. JINX PONDEROSA, WHO LATER BECAME A BIG-TIME CONCERT BOOKING AGENT, GOT HER START WITH THEM AS TOUR MANAGER. MELODY USED TO CALL HER "L'IL JINX"!

A LITTLE PUSSY WON'T HURT MUCH

A LITTLE PUSSY WON'T HURT MUCH!

IT WASN'T JUST A BIG JOYRIDE.  IT NEVER IS FOR WOMEN PERFORMERS OUT ON THE ROAD! EVEN THOUGH MEN WERE TOURING WITH THEM, THE GIRLS HAD A FEW ENCOUNTERS THAT WERE LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF "PUSSY RIOT"!  THERE ARE PERVS AND HORNY BASTARDS EVERYWHERE, YOU KNOW . . . AND BEING A SINGLE MOM MADE IT HARDER FOR JOSIE.  BUT THEY WERE ALL LIVING THE GOOD LIFE OVER THERE.  JOSIE INVITED ME FOR A VISIT, AND I STAYED AT THE FRENCH RIVIERA BEACH HOUSE SHE AND GREG SOMETIMES SHARED WITH IRENE BANG. MEL SENT ME GIFTS FROM THE CLOTHING STORE SHE AND LUCKY JONES OPENED IN LONDON; AND VAL SENT PICTURES OF HER WEDDING TO LEX CABOT IN BARCELONA. LATER ON, LEX BOUGHT THEM A GORGEOUS HOME IN THE CANARY ISLANDS.

THEY ALL BUT GAVE UP THEIR AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP DURING THOSE YEARS. IN ENGLAND, THEY PRACTICALLY CONSIDERED THE PUSSY CATS BRITISH NATIVES! MEL LAUNCHED HER DESIGN BUSINESS IN LONDON, AND SHE WAS BORN THERE, AFTER ALL; BUT VAL GOT HOMESICK FOR HER FAMILY IN CALIFORNIA, AND LEX WASN'T ABOUT TO WRITE OFF THE US MARKET! AROUND 1977, HE SET HIS SIGHTS ON A STATESIDE COMEBACK FOR THE BAND.

WHEN PUNK ROCK STARTED HAPPENING IN THE UK, LEX URGED JOSIE TO PARE THE GROUP DOWN TO A TRIO AND GO FOR A HARDER SOUND. BABE RESISTED UNTIL, AT MY URGING, SHE STARTED PAYING ATTENTION TO THE PUNK SCENE. THE PUSSY CATS' NORTHERN SOUL SOUND WAS GETTING STALE, AND SHE KNEW AS MUCH!

MEL AND VAL WERE UPSET WHEN JOSIE DECIDED TO LET TY AND LeROY GO, BUT THE GUYS WERE READY TO MOVE ON. TY WANTED TO PURSUE AN ACTING CAREER, AND LeROY HAD GOTTEN SOME OFFERS TO WRITE MOVIE SCORES. JOSIE TOLD ME THEY TOTALLY SUPPORTED THE PUSSY CATS' SUBSEQUENT CHANGE IN MUSICAL DIRECTION. THEY ALSO HAD INPUT INTO THE COMEBACK GIG SET LIST. FOR SURE, THOSE CLASSIC SONGS BY THE SHANGRI-LAS, THE IKETTES, THE FLIRTATIONS AND LaBELLE REFLECTED LeROY GLOVER'S DEEP LOVE FOR GIRL GROUP MUSIC!

A NEW SOUND CALLED FOR A NEW LOOK: THE PUSSY CATS DITCHED THEIR CATSUITS FOR ANIMAL-PRINT COORDINATES (DESIGNED BY MEL, OF COURSE). IN ADDITION, VAL DESIGNED A FABULOUS NEW AUDIO SYSTEM THAT WAS WIDELY COPIED. THE BAND CAME OFF THE ROAD IN 1979 AND SPENT AN ENTIRE YEAR PERFECTING THEIR NEW IMAGE, LEARNING NEW MATERIAL AND REVAMPING OLDER SONG ARRANGEMENTS. DURING THAT TIME, MEL HAD A BREAST CANCER SCARE BUT THANKFULLY, IT WAS A FALSE ALARM.

ROADRUNNER VIDEO

ROADRUNNER MUSIC VIDEO

THEY HIRED SANAA HAMRI (WHO LATER WORKED WITH PRINCE AND MARIAH CAREY) TO SHOOT A MUSIC VIDEO FOR THEIR STRIPPED-DOWN REMAKE OF "WATCH OUT FOR THE ROADRUNNER". THIS WAS PRE-MTV, BUT THAT CLIP GOT THEM BACK ON THE AMERICAN MUSIC INDUSTRY'S RADAR. THEN LEX LANDED THE PUSSY CATS A GUEST PERFORMER SLOT AT THE 1980 GRAMMY AWARDS, WHERE THEY STOLE THE SHOW!  EVEN SO, LEX HAD TO PULL LOTS OF STRINGS TO GET THEM BOOKED INTO MAX'S KANSAS CITY!  I WAS THERE OPENING NIGHT, AT JOSIE’S INVITATION.

THE LIGHTS WENT DOWN, AND THIS LOUD ROAR WENT UP FROM THE BACK OF THE CLUB. WE TURNED AROUND TO LOOK AND SAW JOSIE, MEL AND VAL SITTING ASTRIDE TWO MENSTRUAL CYCLES FROM “PUSSY RIOT”! THEY CUT THE MOTORS AND JOSIE YELLED: “DOES ANYBODY HERE WANT SOME PUSSY? WELL, YOU MOTHERS HAD BETTER GET READY BECAUSE BABY, THIS PUSSY IS ON FIRE!”  BELIEVE ME, THAT CLUB WENT OFF LIKE A ROMAN CANDLE! THE GIRLS RODE THEIR MOTORCYCLES UP TO THE STAGE, GOT OFF, PICKED UP THEIR INSTRUMENTS AND PROCEEDED TO KNOCK EVERYBODY ON THEIR ASSES!  FROM THE VERY FIRST NOTE, JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS HAD THAT CROWD EATING OUT OF THE PALMS OF THEIR HANDS.

LAURA PINTO CAME BACK TO PRODUCE THE ALBUM THEY CUT AT MAX’S. IT WAS A RUNAWAY HIT, AND ROCK CRITICS WERE BESIDE THEMSELVES WITH PRAISE: “ONE OF THE BEST LIVE ALBUMS EVER RECORDED” THEY SAID! BUT DO THEY EVER MENTION THE PUSSY CATS WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT GREAT PUNK BANDS? NEVER, AND THAT REALLY PISSES ME OFF! JOSIE, MEL AND VAL TOOK PUNK INTO VENUES WHERE IT HAD NEVER BEEN HEARD BEFORE: SOLDIER FIELD, THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. SHIFTING THEIR STYLE FROM SOUL GROOVES TO PUNK ROCK SCREAMERS WAS TRICKY, BUT THEY PULLED IT OFF. I THINK IT'S BECAUSE THEY SOUNDED SO GREAT AS A POWER POP TRIO!

PUSSY CATS LIVE @ MAX'S KANSAS CITY!

PUSSY CATS LIVE @ MAX'S KANSAS CITY

AFTER THAT SUCCESSFUL COMEBACK GIG, I BEGAN WRITING WITH JOSIE AGAIN. IN 1983 AND ‘84, WE COLLABORATED ON "PRETEND TO BE NICE", “THREE SMALL WORDS”, "REAL WILD CHILD" AND "SPIN AROUND". ALL OF THOSE SONGS BECAME BIG HITS.  IT WAS EXCELLENT TIMING, TOO, BECAUSE "PUSSY RIOT" HAD JUST BEEN REDISCOVERED BY A NEW GENERATION OF FANS. FEMINISTS TOOK A SECOND LOOK, AND THIS TIME THEY LIKED WHAT THEY SAW!  REISSUED ON HOME VIDEO, "PUSSY RIOT" WAS FINALLY RECOGNIZED FOR BEING THE WOMEN'S RIGHTS STATEMENT IT ALWAYS WAS.

PUNK ROCK WAS A PERFECT FIT FOR THE "TOUGH SLUTS" IMAGE THAT FILM GAVE THE GIRLS, SO THE PUSSY CATS' NEW MUSIC PROMOTED THE MOVIE, AND VICE-VERSA; BUT PUNK AND NEW WAVE GAVE WAY TO GANGSTA RAP IN THE 1990s. WHEN THE GIRLS TRIED RECORDING IN THAT STYLE, THEY LOST THEIR WAY MUSICALLY! BY THE YEAR 2000, THEY'D PRETTY MUCH FALLEN OFF THE POP SCENE'S RADAR. THAT'S WHEN ARCHIE ANDREWS GOT INVOLVED. DUDE FOUNDED HIS OWN RECORD LABEL THAT YEAR AND WAS KEEN TO RECORD THE PUSSY CATS. HE FINALLY GOT THEM SIGNED IN 2008 AND RIGHT AWAY, HE SET ABOUT RETURNING THE BAND TO ITS POP/SOUL ROOTS. JOSIE KNEW THEY HAD TO REINVENT THEMSELVES YET AGAIN; BUT WHEN SHE LEARNED THAT REINVENTION INVOLVED WORKING WITH ALEXANDRA AGAIN, BABE HIT THE ROOF!

THEY WERE NEVER CLOSE, AND EVEN THOUGH HER MANAGER WAS XANDIE'S TWIN BROTHER, JOSIE HADN'T SPOKEN TO HER IN OVER THIRTY YEARS! ALEXANDRA CABOT-MAYBERRY HAD BECOME A NOTED RHYTHM + BLUES PRODUCER, CUTTING HITS WITH A GROUP OF FUNKY EX-MARIACHIS SHE'D RENAMED THE KOOLTYME KATTS. ARCHIE DIDN'T THINK ANYBODY ELSE COULD PROPERLY PRODUCE THE VINTAGE SOUL TUNES HE HAD IN MIND. LEX CABOT FINESSED JOSIE'S RELUCTANT REUNION WITH HIS SISTER, AND THEY DID AGREE TO WORK TOGETHER AGAIN; BUT THEN ARCHIE ADDED TO THE TENSION BY ASKING ALAN MAYBERRY TO ENGINEER THE RECORDING SESSIONS!

ALAN M WAS WORKING EXTENSIVELY WITH THE ARCHIES BY THAT TIME. XANDIE HAD BURIED THE HATCHET WITH HER EX-HUSBAND YEARS AGO, BUT JOSIE HAD NEVER FORGIVEN HIM FOR LEADING HER ON! THEY HAD UNRESOLVED ISSUES, AND THE TWO OF THEM CLASHED CONSTANTLY IN THE STUDIO. JOSIE AND ALEXANDRA WEREN'T EXACTLY SIMPATICO, EITHER!  BOTH OF THEM TOLD ME LATER HOW TURBULENT THOSE SESSIONS WERE: JOSIE CAME CLOSE TO SMACKING XANDIE SEVERAL TIMES!  BUT JUST LIKE IN THE OLD DAYS, ALEXANDRA BROUGHT HER CAT TO THE STUDIO WITH HER. SEBASTIAN III HAD THE SAME GIFT AS HIS GRANDFATHER FOR DIFFUSING TENSION AND RESTORING CALM WHEN IT WAS MOST NEEDED!

ARCHIE'S QUESTIONABLE CHOICES ENDED UP BEING RIGHT ON THE MONEY: JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS' "SOUL GALORE" ALBUM WAS BOTH A CRITICAL AND COMMERCIAL SMASH! IT WAS PACKED WITH HIT DOWNLOADS: "HEAVY MUSIC", "HEARTBEAT", "I'LL COME RUNNING OVER" AND MY FAVORITE, "STOLEN HOURS"! THE GIRLS ROARED BACK INTO THE SPOTLIGHT WITH A VENGEANCE: BETWEEN 2008 AND THEIR BREAK-UP IN 2016, THEY SCORED THREE MORE MILLION-SELLING PLATTERS, ALL CO-PRODUCED BY JOSIE, ALEXANDRA AND ALAN M. THE PUSSY CATS PERSONALLY AUTOGRAPHED A TEST PRESSING OF THEIR "BEST OF" ALBUM FOR ME. IT'S WORTH A SHITLOAD OF MONEY NOW, BUT I'D NEVER SELL IT!

THE BEST OF JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS

THE BEST OF JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS

NO, POLITICS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH WHY THEY BROKE UP! I’LL TELL YOU WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. DESPITE VALERIE'S AWFUL EXPERIENCES AT SUNSHINE TEMPLE, SHE REMAINED A DEEPLY RELIGIOUS WOMAN ALL HER LIFE. AFTER YEARS OF EXPLORING VARIOUS FAITH TRADITIONS, SHE BECAME A PENTECOSTAL BELIEVER. VAL WAS VERY INVOLVED IN HER CHURCH, MUCH TO THE IRRITATION OF HER AGNOSTIC HUSBAND LEX!

WHEN THE PUSSY CATS FLIRTED WITH GANGSTA RAP IN THE LATE 1990S, HER CHURCH ELDERS STRONGLY DISAPPROVED. FROM THEN ON, VAL JUST SEEMED TO SOUR ON ROCK 'N' ROLL! SHE'D TELL JOSIE THAT CERTAIN SONGS HAD "A NEGATIVE VIBE" AND REFUSE TO SING THEM. ONE DAY, BABE JUST UP AND QUIT THE GROUP! JOSIE WAS PLANNING TO REPLACE HER, BUT THEN MELODY GAVE NOTICE, TOO: HER CLOTHING STORE HAD EVOLVED INTO A MULTIMEDIA DESIGN FIRM BY THEN, AND SHE WANTED TO DEVOTE MORE TIME TO IT.  SO THAT'S WHAT SHE DID, AND VALERIE SPENT A FEW YEARS PURSUING A CAREER AS A GOSPEL SINGER.

SO JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS CALLED IT QUITS IN THE SPRING OF 2016, BUT Ms. JOSETTA JAMES WASN'T DONE MAKING MUSIC!  NO FUCKING WAY!  BABE PUT TOGETHER A NEW BAND AND RECRUITED YOURS TRULY TO BE THE LEAD SINGER. JOZETTA, RIGHTFUL HEIR TO GEORGE CLINTON'S PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC EMPIRE, TOURED FOR FIVE YEARS AND SCORED TWO PLATINUM ALBUMS ON JOSIE'S LEGENDARY PUSSY LABEL. SHE AND I CO-WROTE MOST OF THE MATERIAL. THEN WE GOT TIRED OF LIFE ON THE ROAD AND PACKED IT IN. BOTH OF US WERE IN OUR '70S, AND FIFTY YEARS IN THIS BUSINESS IS A GOOD LONG RUN.

THE CLASSIC LINE-UP

THE CLASSIC LINE-UP

JOZETTA LEFT ITS MARK ON ROCK 'N' ROLL, BUT WE COULDN'T HOPE TO COMPETE WITH THE PUSSY CATS' LEGACY! IN THE SUMMER OF 2025, TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES SPONSORED THAT GALA SCREENING OF "PUSSY RIOT" AT GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATRE. REMEMBER HOW IT SOLD OUT IN LESS THAN AN HOUR?  NEARLY A THOUSAND PEOPLE SHOWED UP, MOST OF THEM WEARING PUSSY HATS! THEY HAD TO SCHEDULE A SECOND, AND THEN A THIRD SCREENING. JOSIE AND MEL MADE A SURPRISE APPEARANCE AT THE LAST SHOW, AND THE RESPONSE WAS JUST INCREDIBLE! RUMORS BEGAN CIRCULATING ABOUT THE TRIO GETTING BACK TOGETHER.

THERE WAS NOTHING TO THOSE RUMORS, BUT LEX CABOT WAS EAGER TO MAKE A REUNION TOUR HAPPEN. IT WAS A TOUGH SELL, THOUGH: NEITHER VALERIE NOR MELODY WAS OPEN TO THE IDEA. VAL RESISTED UNTIL THE VERY LAST MINUTE! SHE AGREED ONLY ON CONDITION THAT SHE DIDN'T HAVE TO SING ANY LYRICS SHE FOUND IMMORAL. MEL HAD PUT ON A LOT OF WEIGHT AND WAS RELUCTANT TO TAKE THE STAGE AGAIN; SHE'D ALSO DEVELOPED SEVERE ARTHRITIS AND COULDN'T PLAY THE DRUMS LIKE SHE USED TO.

AS FOR JOSIE, SHE WAS PREPARING TO DROP HER FIRST SOLO ALBUM SINCE 1972! NOBODY WOULD'VE BLAMED HER FOR SAYING NO TO A REUNION, BUT SHE ENDED UP BEING ITS BIGGEST CHEERLEADER. BABE JUST WANTED TO ROCK OUT WITH HER GIRLFRIENDS ONE LAST TIME! LEX COULD NEVER HAVE CONVINCED VAL AND MEL TO GIVE IT ANOTHER GO WITHOUT HER SUPPORT. JOSIE GRACIOUSLY CANCELLED HER ALBUM RELEASE SO IT WOULDN'T DRAW ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE REUNION.

THERE WAS SO MUCH EXCITEMENT SURROUNDING THAT TOUR. IT WAS ALL ABOUT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT! THERE WAS AN ALL-WOMAN CREW: ROADIES, TOUR MANAGER, LIGHTING AND SOUND TECHNICIANS, SUPPORT MUSICIANS. ONLY THE PILOT OF THEIR TOUR JET WAS MALE . . . THE FAREWELL CONCERTS WERE SCHEDULED TO KICK OFF AT THE OLYMPIA THEATRE IN PARIS, AND THE LAUNCH OF THE TOUR DOMINATED ENTERTAINMENT NEWS. WHO KNEW THAT IT WAS LAST TIME ANYONE WOULD SEE JOSIE AND THE PUSSY CATS ALIVE?

THE FINAL PHOTO

THE FINAL PHOTO

I WAS EN ROUTE TO A HORMONE THERAPY APPOINTMENT WHEN I HEARD THE NEWS REPORT IN MY CAR: THEIR PLANE WAS DESTROYED IN A MASSIVE EXPLOSION OVER THE NORTH ATLANTIC OCEAN!  IMMEDIATELY, I KNEW IN MY HEART THAT NOBODY HAD SURVIVED; I DIDN'T HAVE TO WAIT FOR THEM TO CONFIRM IT. TERRORISM WAS SUSPECTED, BUT THAT'S NEVER BEEN CONFIRMED; NO TERRORIST ORGANIZATION EVER TOOK CREDIT FOR THE BLAST.

WHEN THAT GRUESOME COCKPIT CAMERA FOOTAGE GOT POSTED ON INSTAGRAM, I FORCED MYSELF TO WATCH IT. I CAN'T EXPLAIN WHY, BUT I NEEDED TO SEE MY FRIENDS DURING THEIR FINAL MOMENTS TOGETHER. IT ISN'T CLEAR HOW THEY LEARNED THAT THEIR NEW CUSTOMIZED JET WAS REALLY A FLYING BOMB, BUT IT WAS TIMED TO EXPLODE UPON LANDING AT PARIS-ORLY AIRPORT! THE FOOTAGE SHOWS JOSIE, MEL AND VAL STORMING THE COCKPIT. SOME OF THE ROADIES WERE WITH THEM, BUT IT WAS THE PUSSY CATS LEADING THE CHARGE! VAL WAS FIRST THROUGH THE COCKPIT DOOR; WITH HER TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE, SHE SURELY MUST HAVE BEEN FOCUSED ON DIFFUSING THAT BOMB. THE PILOT SHOT HER POINT-BLANK; SHE WAS KILLED INSTANTLY!

JOSIE, THE EX-ROLLER DERBY QUEEN, WAS ON HIM IN A SPLIT SECOND!  SHE DISARMED THAT BASTARD AND PUT HIM IN A HAMMERLOCK! MEL WENT DIRECTLY FOR THE CONTROLS; SHE WAS AN AMATEUR PILOT AND MAYBE COULD'VE GOTTEN THEM DOWN SAFELY, BUT IT WAS ALREADY TOO LATE: THE PILOT HAD MANAGED TO TRIP THE BOMB BEFORE JOSIE COULD STOP HIM!

THE TRAGEDY LEFT ME MORE ANGRY THAN SAD. NOT ONLY JOSIE, MEL AND VAL, BUT ALL THOSE STRONG AND VITAL YOUNG WOMEN ON THE PLANE WITH THEM: ALL SENSELESSLY MURDERED! NOBODY CAN TELL ME IT WASN'T A HATE CRIME. I'LL NEVER UNDERSTAND THAT KIND OF LETHAL MISOGYNY . . . THAT WHOLESALE DEVALUING OF WOMEN'S LIVES! 

EARLY ON, IT WAS REPORTED THAT LEX CABOT DIED IN THE BLAST, TOO, BUT HE WASN'T ON THE PLANE.  LEX WAS ALREADY IN PARIS, MAKING LAST MINUTE ARRANGEMENTS.  HE HAD TO BE HOSPITALIZED WHEN HE LEARNED THAT HIS BELOVED WIFE WAS DEAD!  DUDE NEVER RECOVERED FROM THE SHOCK, AND HE'S PRETTY MUCH AN INVALID NOW; BUT NONE OF US WHO KNEW AND LOVED THE PUSSY CATS WILL EVER RECOVER FROM THAT TERRIBLE DAY. I TRULY FEEL THAT A PART OF ME DIED WITH JOSIE.

LEGENDARY PUSSY

LEGENDARY PUSSY

JOSIE, MELODY AND VALERIE DID DIE AS HEROES.  AS YOU KNOW, THEY WERE AWARDED POSTHUMOUS MEDALS OF FREEDOM.  ALEXANDRA, LUCKY JONES, JOSIE'S DAUGHTER ARETHA AND VAL'S BROTHER TREVOR ACCEPTED ON THEIR BEHALF. I'LL NEVER FORGET XANDIE’S PASSIONATE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, WHICH SHE DELIVERED IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH. BELIEVE ME, THERE WASN'T A DRY EYE IN THAT ROOM . . . CAN YOU GIVE ME A MINUTE? SORRY, I JUST GET CHOKED UP THINKING ABOUT THAT DAY!

I SAT SHIVA FOR JOSIE AND ATTENDED HER MEMORIAL SERVICE.  I ALSO WENT TO VALERIE'S FUNERAL. IT WAS HARD TO GET IN, BECAUSE THERE WERE THRONGS OF PEOPLE . . . AND MELODY'S FUNERAL IN LONDON WAS SHEER PANDEMONIUM! THE BRITISH FANS JUST LOVED HER SO MUCH. 

NO, I WASN'T SURPRISED BY THE HUGE OUTPOURING OF SHOCK AND GRIEF. TRIBUTES CAME POURING IN FROM MUSIC SUPERSTARS OF ALL GENRES AND FROM COUNTRIES ALL OVER THE WORLD. MOST WERE FROM FEMALE PERFORMERS WHO'D BEEN INSPIRED BY THE PUSSY CATS. IT WAS FITTING, BECAUSE THEY DEFINITELY PAVED A PATH FOR MOST OF TODAY'S WOMEN ROCK STARS!  SOME OF THOSE TRIBUTES CAME BEFORE THEY DIED. JOSIE WAS SO HONORED WHEN THAT RUSSIAN GROUP NAMED THEMSELVES AFTER THE MOVIE "PUSSY RIOT"! YES, SHE DID SUPPORT THEIR ACTIVISM: HER GRANDMOTHER WAS FROM RUSSIA.

SINCE THEIR DEATHS, THE PUSSY CATS' RECORDINGS HAVEN'T LEFT DISNEY'S TOP TEN DOWNLOAD LISTINGS. SALES FOR THEIR CARTOON SERIES AND MOVIE DVDS HAVE GONE THROUGH THE ROOF, TOO! IT WAS OUTRAGEOUS WHEN THEIR NOMINATION TO THE ROCK 'N' ROLL HALL OF FAME FAILED LAST YEAR . . . WTF HAVE THOSE PEOPLE GOT AGAINST WOMEN ROCKERS?  BUT THEY'VE BEEN RE-NOMINATED AND I'M ACTUALLY VERY HOPEFUL. DID YOU KNOW THE PUSSY CATS ARE GOING TO GET A STAR ON THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME? IN TWO WEEKS! YOU'RE DAMN SKIPPY I'LL BE THERE!

AMIGOS, THAT WAS CHEYENNE PEPPER, FORMER LEAD SINGER FOR THE BAND JOZETTA, ONE OF JOSIE JAMES' CLOSEST FRIENDS AND A SONGWRITER FOR THE LATE, GREAT JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS. HIS RECOLLECTIONS MADE FOR AN UNBELIEVABLE PODCAST THAT I WILL NEVER FORGET, AND I'M SURE YOU WON'T, EITHER! BUT CHEYENNE SAVED HIS MOST THRILLING REVELATION FOR LAST: A NEW JOSIE JAMES SOLO ALBUM IS GOING TO DROP NEXT MONTH! 

THIS IS THE LP THAT WAS HELD BACK WHEN THE PUSSY CATS' REUNION TOUR WAS ANNOUNCED. CHEYENNE GIFTED THE POP CULTURE CANTINA WITH AN ADVANCE COPY, AND I'M GOING TO END THIS PODCAST BY PREVIEWING IT RIGHT HERE . . . RIGHT NOW! MUCHÍSIMAS GRACIAS FOR YOUR PATRONAGE, AMIGOS, AND ¡HASTA LA PRÓXIMA!


JOSIE + THE PUSSY CATS ENDPIECE

CONCEIVED BY LAURA PINTO
WRITTEN BY HAMPTON JACOBS
ILLUSTRATED BY STUFFED ANIMAL
IMAGES BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY DAN de CARLO
COLOR BY SHARPIE/EXPO
CARDSTOCK BY DICK BLICK

THIS CARTOON SERIAL IS THE WORK OF A CHRONICALLY HOMELESS ARTIST WHO WAS REJECTED FOR ADMISSION TO THE KUBERT SCHOOL OF CARTOON AND GRAPHIC ART. NEVER LET ANYBODY CRUSH YOUR DREAMS!!!

GENYA RAVAN PROPS

Events in this cartoon serial are (very) loosely based on the true story of the Josie + The Pussycats studio group and cartoon series. Much thanks to all the women associated with that 1970 project: Sherry Alberoni, Janet Waldo, Jackie Joseph, Barbara Pariot, Judy Waite, Cheryl Ladd, Kathleen Dougherty, Sue Sheridan, the real-life Josie de Carlo and the late Patrice Holloway. They helped turn a failing comic strip into an enduring legend! Most of the Capitol Records singles mentioned actually exist, and The "Josie" TV soundtrack album exists, too; it was released in December of 1970 (Capitol ST-665). The Pussy Cats' real-life songwriters were Hoyt Curtin, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, Danny Janssen, Austin Roberts, Jesse Kirkland, Bobby Hart and Sue Sheridan.  Other songs referenced here were written by Berry Gordy, Jr, Bob Seger, Bert Berns, Billy Page,Van McCoy, Adam Schlesinger, George Goehring, Elzie Bynem and other notable composers.

"Variations on a Theme" is dedicated to the courageous members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot: Nadya, Masha, Katya, Nika, and the two Olgas. These fearless women are a beacon of principled resistance for oppressed people everywhere!