Sammy Terry*

October 25, 2012

The other night, the cable offerings were rather uninspiring, but, as it was after dark, I stopped on the remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

The flick wasted little time getting to the carnage, opening with a group of scientists clad in protective gear being torn apart by some savage creature. It was gruesome but hardly shocking.

What has stuck in my head is a scene that came later, after the vacationing family had broken down taking a shortcut through the same remote stretch of desert.

It wasn’t the family dog getting gutted or the patriarch being beaten to a pulp then set aflame. No, it was a scene in which one daughter in the family gave the finger to her sister.

The defiant digit was blurred out.

Pondering the interesting choices in censorship aside, the movie made me miss the horror flicks on which I had grown up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

I’m not referring to the movies of that time but rather the late-night television fare in a world without cable on our local independent station (usually the only one still on air after midnight).

These were mostly B-movies from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s and often in black and white. Sometimes they were surprisingly eerie, rising above their budgetary limitations, but, often, they were laughably shoddy or dated – bobble-headed alien invaders, puppet creatures and hippie vampires.

It was the latter which held the most entertainment value for me and and my buddy Will who lived a few houses down. Not yet old enough for cars, girls, or guns, we’d hang out in his living room on Saturday nights for appointment television.

Saturday night was the night for Nightmare Theater, hosted by the ghoul/zombie Sammy Terry (pictured above), who would add his commentary during commercial breaks or banter with a fake spider named George who “spoke” in squeaks.

We’d howl with amusement at every bad pun Sammy would deliver and yell, “George!” in unison the first time that rubber spider would descend into the scene.

As we reached high school, life was suddenly about cars and girls. There weren’t as many viewings of Sammy, but it was always fun to catch the show on occasion.

Years later, crashing out and watching Nightmare Theater was an incentive to make the trek home from college.

(I hadn’t seen the show for twenty years until discovering a trove of clips here)

Here are four songs for Halloween that Sammy might have enjoyed…

The Ramones – Pet Sematary
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology (1999)

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse which she had received from the seminal punk rockers.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

All You Zombies, with its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. Though Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, the Philadelphia band’s debut had several hits over the next year or so.

Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks), but main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian have certainly received some nice royalty checks over the years for penning Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party
from Dead Man’s Party (1985)

Though apparently having quite a following in Hollywood, Oingo Boingo was nothing more than a band with a cool name to me in the early ’80s. The one time I ever heard a song by the band was hearing Dr. Demento play their song Insects on his radio show.

Then Oingo Boingo notched a near hit in 1985 with their title song for Weird Science. I don’t recall hearing Weird Science on the radio, the flick was a cable staple for me and my buddies, so I was well acquainted with the song.

Back To School, with Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison, was a staple for us a year later during our last summer before we headed off for college.

And there was Oingo Boingo performing the übercool Dead Man’s Party at a Halloween party in the movie.

The Shaggs – It’s Halloween
from Philosophy of the World (1969)

The tale of The Shaggs is quite a ripping good yarn, beginning in the hinterlands of New Hampshire in the late ’60s and seeing the Wiggins sisters become cult heroes, lauded by Frank Zappa and Kurt Cobain decades later.

Hearing The Shaggs for the first time is a memorable musical experience. At one large record store where I worked, it was tradition to play The Shaggs at some point during the closing shift on Halloween.

(thus exposing hundreds of people to the charms of It’s Halloween and The Shaggs)

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Go For Soda

May 16, 2012

I missed a lot of class during my junior and senior years of high school.

My friends and I, much like the prison escapees Gail and Evelle in Raising Arizona, felt that the institution no longer had anything to offer us.

(especially now that we were mobile)

We had our escapes down to a science. We worked through some office connections to erase any evidence that we had been absent or I would provide faked doctor’s notes using the nom de plume Dr. A.E. Lifeson, DDS, an homage to the Rush guitarist.

(I have no idea if his middle actually begins with an E, I simply liked the feel)

However, the nearest civilization was forty-five minutes away in Cincinnati. We yearned for the thrill of the escape, but time, financial or transportation constraints sometimes made such a trip logistically impossible.

And, these escapes had become too easy.

The rock station perferred by most of us at the time would play a song called Go For Soda by Kim Mitchell and its conclusion – “might as well go for a soda” – provided inspiration.

We challenged ourselves with a game we quickly dubbed Go For Soda.

We had ten minutes between classes and the goal was to sneak off the grounds and get to the nearest grocery store – about three minutes away – to get soda. We then had to return to school and make it to our next class on time.

(the best chance for success was if one of our twin friends – known as Smart and Dumb to us – was behind the wheel)

We soon became adept enough to return with grocery bags of donuts, Cheetohs, and Pop-Tarts.

We’d sit in the back of English class, munching on our provisions and plotting our next move.

Here are four songs that were possibly running through my head as I ignored Mr. Haynes droning on about Greek mythology as the school year wound down in early May, 1985…

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Don’t Come Around Here No More
from Southern Accents (1985)

It was recording the Southern Accents album when Petty broke his hand against a studio wall. I thought that I read in Rolling Stone at the time that he did so in a fit of excitement as he mixed the album.

Whatever the case, we all loved Petty and I eagerly awaited Southern Accent‘s release as it unexpectedly paired him with Eurythmic Dave Stewart as producer. The album was a bit of a mixed bag, though the title track might be the loveliest song the band has ever done.

Don’t Come Around Here No More was as wonderfully demented as I’d expected. The sitar-laden song was trippy and the video equally so.

(and it’s still one of the coolest clips ever)

Eurythmics – Would I Lie To You
from Be Yourself Tonight (1985)

Dave Stewart also had a new album that spring with partner Annie Lennox. The first song to hit radio was the surprisingly soulful stomp Would I Lie To You.

The two truly were a fortuitous musical pairing and made some of the most evocative music of the ’80s. And though Annie is undeniably cool, I’ve always thought Dave Stewart was underappreciated.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

Outside of the Philadelphia area where the band was a popular regional act, All You Zombies served as the The Hooters’ introduction to the rest of the US. With its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, the song hooked me the first time I heard it on Q95.

Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, but it had several hits over the next year or so and the band caused a stir for a brief time.

The second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent songs).

A songwriter friend hosted a couple members of the band years later to do some songwriting and apparently they were delightful guests.

‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry
from Voices Carry (1985)

And, in early ’85, Aimee Mann’s platinum blonde rat tail was the Annie Lennox orange buzz cut of two summers earlier. When ‘Til Tuesday first came up in conversations with friends, the striking Mann and her feathery ‘do and its braided appendage was duly noted.

The moody Voices Carry was a smash and, like Don’t Come Around Here No More, featured a memorable video. It would prove to be ‘Til Tuesday’s greatest commercial success. Though subsequent albums would be stronger, fewer listeners heard them and the band shed members until Mann eventually went solo.


In The Darkest Corner Of A Cemetary On The Edge Of Town…*

October 30, 2011

Growing up, there was no house in my hometown that the kids passed warily, whispering amongst themselves as they eyed the dilapidated structure and weed-riddled, overgrown yard reined in by nothing more than a decaying wrought iron fence.

However, I know from the television and movies I’ve consumed over my life, that everyone else had such a landmark in their life.

In fact, I can think of nothing in my small hometown that had a paranormal bent to it – no legends, no lore, no creatures lurking in the woods. There was simply no sinister goings on and never had been.

(perhaps the townsfolk lacked imagination)

The closest thing to the macabre I recall was one grave.

On the southwest edge of town, one street led to a small, non-descript bridge. There were fewer homes as you approached the bridge, even though it was no more than a twenty-minute walk from the center of town; travellers crossed into a vast stretch of sparsely populated farmland.

It was dark out that way at night.

A classmate lived in a massive, three-story Victorian which was one of the last houses before reaching the bridge. Running past their home, off the main street, was a tree-lined lane which led to a cemetary a half-mile or so down the gravel road.

The trees grew more dense as you walked deeper into the grounds, culminating in thick woods, separated from the cemetary by a small ravine.

There was little reason to go back there. There were a number of places for the high school kids to escape from supervision, so that cemetary wasn’t even a gathering place where minors might smoke or drink.

But, there, under a canopy of thick trees, was a rectangular, stone slab, with weather-worn scripture quotes and no name.

At one end of the slab was a small stone lamb with no head.

The story our classmate had told us was that, a hundred years earlier, the property had been owned by a well-known racist. Hunting in those woods one day, he spotted a young Native American girl on the far side of the ravine.

Then, like Roland did to Van Owen in Warren Zevon’s Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, the racist land owner raised his gun and blew off the Native American girl’s head.

“Her head popped off and rolled into the ravine.”

It was the Native American girl supposedly buried beneath that slab.

I suppose that it would make the tale eerie if townsfolk claimed to have seen a headless spirit or heard mournful wails from those woods.

If there are such stories, I’ve not heard them.

Here are four songs for the Halloween season…

Outlaws – (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
from Ghost Riders (1980)

The radio station in our small town had flipped from Top 40 to country around the time that Southern rockers Outlaws released their cover of (Ghost) Riders in the Sky. The radio in the kitchen was usually tuned into the station and I think I heard it every morning for months on end during breakfast before school.

I was just beginning to be interested in music at the time and the spectral song always caught my attention as I listened for the school closings, hoping that the previous night’s snowfall was enough to merit a reprieve from trudging into the elements.

Annie Lennox – Love Song For A Vampire
from No More I Love You’s single (1995)

If it’s between vampires and werewolves, the lifestyle of the latter holds more appeal to me. Chicks might dig vampires, but immortality sounds exhausting, you have to dress like a dandy, and you can’t go in the sun.

As a werewolf, you’re like a big dog, you don’t have to wear pants and you can pee wherever you please.

As for the ex-Eurythmics vocalist, I prefer my Annie to be more edgy like her classic stuff with partner Dave Stewart, but even on something more slight – like her track from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula – her voice is still mesmerizing.

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon
from Bark At The Moon (1983)

I could never take Ozzy Osbourne seriously, certainly not after seeing the goofy covers for albums like Blizzard Of Oz, Diary Of A Madman, and Speak Of The Devil. However, the ex-Sabbath singer was a favorite of most of my junior high/high school classmates.

Then, Ozzy issued Bark At The Moon and the hallways were filled with hushed whispers usually reserved for a cheerleader pregnancy over the inclusion of So Tired, a ballad, on the album.

But I do dig some of Ozzy’s catalog and the lupine-laced Bark At The Moon is good fun.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

All You Zombies, with its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. Though Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, the Philadelphia band’s debut had several hits over the next year or so.

Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks), but main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian have certainly received some nice royalty checks over the years for penning Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.