Louis Zamperini is the subject of the bestselling non-fiction book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit). The fine film version (a film project that had been bouncing around since 1957!) of Unbroken was directed by Angelina Jolie and was released, appropriately, on Christmas Day.
I met Louie decades ago. He’s the father-in-law and father of two of my family’s closest friends, Mick and Cynthia Garris. Louis was selected as the Grand Marshal for the Tournament of Roses Parade (locally known as The Rose Parade) here in Pasadena tomorrow morning. Because he passed away a few months ago, Cynthia and her brother Luke will be representing their amazing dad in the parade whose theme this year is “Inspiring Stories”. And when it comes to inspiring stories, few, if any, can beat Louie’s.
Louie was an amazing guy who never lost his mischievous spirit or enthusiasm for life. He gave up skateboarding at age 80! I’ll always treasure the time I spent with him. You’ve probably already read the book (it was at the top of the NY Times‘ bestseller list for about four years running), but if you’re one of the very few who hasn’t, pick it up. You’re in for an inspiring, astonishing, emotionally shattering thrill ride. I won’t get into the details of Louie’s extraordinary life (I don’t want to spoil either the book or the movie for you), but I’d like to tell a little Louie-related personal tale.
When my oldest son Andy was in elementary school he got the assignment to interview an adult (it couldn’t be his parents) and then write and give an oral report on the interview. I suggested that Andy call Louie. He did, and Louie generously spent hours on the phone with Andy, telling him his incredible life story.
Andy wrote up his report and then delivered it to his class. After he finished telling the Louis Zamperini story his teacher confronted him.
“Andy,” she said, “the assignment was to interview an adult —- not to make up stories.”
“Yeah, Andy,” the kids in class chimed in, “that never could have happened. You made it all up.”
Try as he could, Andy couldn’t convince his teacher or the class that Louie’s extraordinary tale was true. I had to contact the teacher and verify that Andy had indeed interviewed an adult and that, although seemingly unbelievable, Louis Zamperini’s amazing saga was absolutely true!
Some people have complained that the film version of Unbroken should have also told the emotionally searing tale of his fall and redemption — but that could easily have added another two hours to the film. In actuality, the full Louis Zamperini story would take a nine hour mini-series — at least. Let’s all be thankful that Ms. Jolie poured her heart and soul into this project and came up with a film as fine and stirring as it is.
Farewell, 2014…Happy New Year!
And God bless, you, Louie. You not only changed your life but saved, changed and inspired thousands of others.
Shopping for the holidays? Yes? Then may I suggest a couple of gift ideas?
Feel free to peruse my online catalog (the William Stout Bazaar; you can find it above under Store) for a variety of items. There are two books of which I am especially proud.
The first is pictured above. William Stout – Prehistoric Life Murals is the first in a series of autobiographical art books. This tome explores the process of creating my first seventeen murals, paintings commissioned by Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the San Diego Natural History Museum. It’s loaded with color pictures of the murals and their studies; it includes spectacular foldouts; and it’s peppered throughout with close-up details. It’s a bargain at its original $40 — but we’ve actually dropped the price to just $30!
Legends of the Blues was a total labor of love on my part. The book contains 100 full color portraits of my favorite blues musicians born in 1930 or earlier. I also wrote the biographies that face each portrait, as well as producing the blues CD that comes with the book. You can either look at it as paying $20 for a CD that comes with a free book, or $20 for a book that comes with a free CD.
This is the perfect gift for any Baby Boomer you might know (your dad, perhaps?).
WAIT —- THERE’S MORE!!!
During the month of December I’ll be shipping every order I get by Priority Mail within 24 hours of payment clearance, to make you get your books in time for the holidays. I’ll be happy to personalize them, too. Did I mention the mural book comes with a sketch? No? I should have.
The new Yusuf (formerly Cat Stevens) CD is out and available. The cover is pictured above.
Wanna see the original cover I drew for this CD? Here it is:
Sony/Legacy preferred to use a photo of Yusuf instead of art. Yusuf convinced them, however, to use my cover for a limited 12″ vinyl edition of the album.
I originally planned for the cover to be a wraparound and designed it that way. Here’s that full cover:
This image is the centerspread to the CD booklet (although it’s printed in black & white in the booklet, not color as it is here). The image shown here is the un-cropped version, by the way.
I share full design credit with Yusuf and his talented son Yoriyos (who connected me with his dad). They were very hands-on, making the creation of this cover a very collaborative experience. They were great — very kind and respectful, as well as being very clear in communicating their vision. Thank you guys, for being so much fun to work with!
I also drew an illustration for each song. I may show those on this site at a later date.
My Beast Wishes go out to all of my friends, fans and followers on this special day! Actually, let’s celebrate Halloween AND the Days of the Dead (All Saints Day and All Souls Day) this three-day weekend.
If you need some ideas for horror movies to watch tonight, here’s a blog Blast From the Past:
Presented as a service to horror fans everywhere, here are a dozen (actually, a baker’s dozen) little horror gems you might have missed:
1) The Uninvited(1944)
This spooky Ray Milland movie was one of the inspirations for Poltergeist (1982). The scent of mimosa is detected just before each ghostly appearance (which is referenced in Poltergeist). The ravishing melody of Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight” is the incredibly enchanting theme played throughout the film. This is one great, creepy ghost story.
2) Dead of Night (1945)
The finest horror anthology ever made, the English film Dead of Night hosts a wonderful déjà vu framework in its elliptical structure. It contains the most chilling ventriloquist dummy story ever filmed, with Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist. My blood still runs cold during the film’s final appearance of his dummy.
3) Grave of the Vampire (1972)
This low budget grindhouse mini-classic has one of the best openings of any horror film. William Smith (I helped land him the role as Conan‘s father in Conan the Barbarian) is terrific as the unholy spawn of his mother’s rape, hunting down the vampire who committed this violation. The script is by David Chase, much better known as the creator of The Sopranos.
4) Raw Meat (aka Death Line) (1973)
Talking ‘bout grindhouses, I saw this disturbing horror romance (really!) at my favorite local Hollywood grindhouse, The World Theater (no longer in existence) — three movies for 99¢. The ushers all had concealed and fully loaded shoulder pistols. I first saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre there. Sitting behind me were Zsa Zsa Gabor and six gentlemen in tuxedos! Surreal!
OK; back to Raw Meat: This English tale is set in the last remnants of a forgotten tube (subway) tunnel colony living underground for over fifty years. It stars the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasence. Surprisingly touching. Mind the door!
5) They Came From Within (aka Shivers) (1975) David Cronenberg’s first film is a low budget classic. The concept is pure Cronenberg: a confined colony of apartment residents rapidly fall victim to a parasite that is a combination venereal disease and aphrodisiac!
6) Dead & Buried(1981)
Another film with an absolutely brilliant opening, Dead & Buried plays like one of the best Twilight Zone episodes you have never seen. It was written by my old pals Dan (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Blue Thunder, Dark Star) O’Bannon and Ronald (Alien, Total Recall) Shusett.
7) The Company of Wolves (1984)
The second film directed by the great Neil (The Crying Game) Jordan, this horror anthology mixes classic fairy tales with werewolf lore. The amazing production design is by Anton Furst, who later went on to design Tim Burton’s Batman and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket before leaping to his death off the top of a building at age 47, permanently ending a budding brilliant career. The movie stars Angela Lansbury, David Warner and Stephen Rea. Visually stunning!
8) The Gate (1987) The Gate is told from the point of view of three children who accidentally release a gaggle of demons from a hole in their backyard. There’s stop motion animation, too! For years, my young sons used The Gate as the measuring stick for scariness in other horror films (“Is it as scary as… The Gate?”).
9) Body Melt (1993)
This wild roller coaster of an Australian horror film never lets up. The movie’s ad tagline was “The first phase is hallucinogenic… the second phase is glandular… and the third phase is… BODY MELT”. Woo hoo! You had me at “hallucinogenic”!
10) Dagon (2001)
My pal Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon directed this moody horror piece that combines H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Insmouth”. It boasts what must be the longest (about half the film!) chase in cinema history. I detect good ol’ Bernie (Swamp Thing) Wrightson’s (uncredited) influence in the design of the fish people.
11) Frailty (2001)
Before anyone else suspected how good Matthew McConaughey could be, Bill Paxton did when he cast McConaughey in Paxton’s first feature length directorial effort, Frailty. I predicted exactly where this chilling film was going — and I was completely wrong. Powers (Deadwood) Booth and Jeremy (Peter Pan) Sumter also star.
12) The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Of all the films on this list, this is the one you most likely saw. Co-written by Joss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Whedon, it came out at the same time as Joss’ blockbuster The Avengers, so it may have gotten lost in the cinematic shuffle. I think it’s better than The Avengers; it’s certainly more original. It fools you into thinking you’re watching another garden variety teens-in-a-cabin slasher film (albeit with better dialogue) and then WHAM! — something unexpected happens and the movie is off and running. Big time thrills and fun, it stars Chris (Thor) Hemsworth, actor’s actor Richard Jenkins and Bradley (West Wing) Whitford.
Since you may have seen The Cabin in the Woods, I’ll add one more to the list for a Baker’s Dozen:
13) Viy (1967)
This epic Russian horror fantasy has one of the greatest horror sequences ever filmed. It comes near the end of the film when the film’s young priest “hero” must spend three nights alone with the corpse of a witch. Wait until you see the demons oozing from the church’s walls! Co-written by the great Aleksandr Ptushko, who directed the spectacular fantasy epic (a cast of 106,000 plus 11,000 horses!) Ilya Muromets, the first widescreen Soviet film.
That’s my Baker’s Dozen. Agree? Disagree? Got obscure horror flicks you’d love to share? Today’s the day! I’m always up for discovering something good I may have missed.
Note: When this was originally posted, I received other suggestions. Two of the best were the great Japanese ghost anthology Kwaidan and Frequency (starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel).
I think you’ll be amused by this conversation I have with the great Eric Boardman. Two geezers talkin’ about old rock concerts we were at, plus a few album cover and bootleg memories. The conversation takes place in my Monrovia studio. Vocal intro by the legendary Gary Owens. It’s fun — you’ll love it!
On Monday, November 24, Legacy Recordings will release a special vinyl LP version of Tell ‘Em I’m Gone, the highly anticipated new album from iconic singer-songwriter and 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Yusuf / Cat Stevens. The 180-gram LP will be packaged in a beautiful, gatefold jacket and will include an MP3 download card of the full album. Additionally, the first pressings of the LP will include unique, hand-drawn artwork from renowned illustrator, William Stout.
Tell ‘Em I’m Gone, Yusuf’s first new studio album in five years, will be released on October 27. Recorded across the globe, including Los Angeles, Dubai, Brussels, and London, the album features 10 brand-new studio recordings, including five original tracks and five carefully-chosen cover songs. Tell ‘Em I’m Gone features musical contributions from Richard Thompson, blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, singer-songwriter Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Tuareg group Tinariwen, and guitarist Matt Sweeney. The album was produced by Yusuf and Rick Rubin and was mixed by Yusuf and Paul Samwell-Smith.
The full album stream of Tell ‘Em I’m Gone is available now through October 26 at NPR.org: http://smarturl.it/yusuf_npr and Amazon.com: http://smarturl.it/yusuf_stream
“The album harks back to the great days of R&B and black wax records,” says Yusuf. “The message continues to be relevant in as much as it is a call for Freedom from the bondage we all tend to get caught up in.”
Yusuf/ Cat Stevens also announced that he will embark on his first North American tour in over 35 years, giving fans in select cities the opportunity to hear his beloved classics and superb new songs live, many for the first time. The Peace Train…Late Again tour will kick off December 1 at Massey Hall in Toronto and conclude on December 14 at Nokia Theatre LA LIVE in Los Angeles, CA. For complete ticket on sale information visit www.YusufCatStevens.com.
The Tell ‘Em I’m Gone vinyl LP may be pre-ordered now at Amazon: http://smarturl.it/YCS_TEIG_amznLP
(End of Press Release)
(Bill speaking): I am very excited about this release. It is a terrific LP that captures Cat/Yusuf in his prime. His voice is still fantastic. The music is like classic Cat Stevens — but with bluesy overtones. Much to Yusuf’s (and my) disappointment, however, Sony decided not to use my cover for the standard CD release. I can’t fault their logic: Yusuf had just been very publicly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (watch the incredible videos on youtube!), so the world became aware of Yusuf’s current look and image. Why not, then, use a photo of Yusuf to exploit that? Yusuf told me he’d try to get Sony to use my cover (“our” cover, actually; it was truly a collaborative effort on our part) on either the 12″ release or as part of the CD booklet. I did not have high hopes but it appears he was successful in convincing the Sony Powers-That-Be to use it on the 12″ version. Yay!
One of the first shows I sought out on the October Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise was Taj Mahal. Well, Taj brought an entire revue with him.
Their show began with a set by Taj’s daughter’s (Deva Fredericks) group, Fredericks Brown. Soaring, soulful vocals filled the theater.
Following Fredericks Brown was the talented ngoni playing musician from Mali, Africa, Bassekou Kouyaté. His first set, honestly, did nothing for me. It seemed like endless noodling. I give every musician a second chance, however. I’m glad I did with Bassekou Kouyaté, because days later he delivered a blistering set that was a wonder to behold.
The venerable Taj Mahal headlined this revue’s set. I first bumped into Taj (literally) on the dance floor of Hollywood’s Whisky A-Go-Go back in 1967. I kept dancing without apology until a very cute blonde hippy chick said, “Don’t you know who this is? It’s Taj Mahal!”
I saw Taj in concert several times after that. Once he opened for Spirit right after returning from Africa. Taj was embracing what is now called World Music long before most of us. He delighted in bringing back to his audiences what he had learned on his musical and physical journeys.
My other Taj connection is my pal, paleontologist (and senior vice president and provost of science at the American Museum of Natural History) Michael Novacek. I met Mike on my first trip to Patagonia and Antarctica. He was one of the lecture scientists on board our AMNH trip. Little known fact: prior to Mike’s paleontological career, he was Taj’s lead guitarist!
I love musical discoveries and surprises. One of the biggest on our cruise was the amazing Carolyn Wonderland.
I had heard a good buzz about her on the ship, so I caught a set of hers on the Observation Deck stage, one of the smaller stages on the ship. The room was jam-packed. All I could see of Carolyn was the top of her head. She played the entire set looking down at the floor. I figured that she felt her incredible vocals and terrific guitar work were enough — that she didn’t fill compelled to deliver a personal or visual show.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Carolyn was deathly seasick. She’d play a siong, then vomit in the bucket at her feet, Play, vomit; play, vomit. I don’t know how she did it.
I decided to see Carolyn Wonderland again when she played the Stardust Lounge, the largest theater venue on board ship.
What a difference!
No longer seasick, Carolyn put on an amazing show. I think she won the hearts of each and every member of the audience. She was warm, she was funny — she was completely charming. And that voice and guitar! WOW! This Houston/Austin native really delivered on all fronts. And, on top of that, she reached down and then played a searing trumpet solo in the middle of one of her songs!
Catch Carolyn Wonderland if you can — you won’t be disappointed.
Not much time right now; I’ve been engulfed by some huge projects along with the fun of battling movie studio attorneys.
Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t relate the abundant pleasures of my recent Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. So much happened and there was so much great music, this will have to come to you in pieces.
Along with seeing some of my favorite musicians (Taj Mahal, Eric Burdon, Los Lobos, Elvin Bishop, etc.), I always look forward to being turned on to talents of whom I had not previously been aware.
One of these was grandmaster blues singer-songwriter Doug MacCleod (pronounced “Mak-CLOUD”). I don’t know how I’ve missed this guy. Doug primarily performs with an acoustic National Steel guitar. He is a superb songwriter; there is depth in each subject that he chooses to sing about. His song introductions are as enjoyable as the songs themselves. His sets are loaded with humor and pathos, laughter and tears.
I met Doug when we were both assigned to work the ship’s CD shop (where my book Legends of the Blues was being sold). Part of the deal was that if we worked two 2-hour shifts in the shop, we got a higher percentage of the sales monies.
Doug, his beautifully elegant and kind wife Patti and I hit it off pretty quickly. I promised to catch his act.
Boy, am I glad I did. My wife said it was the highlight of the cruise for her. Here’s a little sample of Doug introducing and performing my favorite song of his:
“The Entitled Few” comes from the above CD. The whole CD is well worth picking up, especially if you could use a little extra laughter and wisdom in your life. If you ever get a chance to see Doug live, don’t miss it!
Here’s his official website (which has Appearances listings):
For all of you who contributed to Kid Ramos‘ health & medical fund when I made a plea on this site to help out Kid — Thank you! I’m happy to report that his cancer is in remission. How do I know? He was on board ship, playing his blistering lead guitar with The 44s, Los Lobos and The Mannish Boys. I finally got to personally meet Kid and gave him a well-deserved copy of Legends of The Blues. He was extremely grateful. We briefly swapped cancer stories and I finally got to tell him face-to-face how much his music means to me.
I had met Elvin Bishop at my first Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Music Festival. He’s a very funny guy, both on stage and off. When I had him sign a CD of his I mentioned that I saw him open for Led Zeppelin.
“A guy’s gotta make a living,” was his response.
Here’s one of the photos I shot at that event:
…and one from the following year:
On the Blues Cruise I finally had a chance to talk privately with Elvin. I gave him a copy of Legends of the Blues (he’ll be in Volume Three: Modern Legends of the Blues). He loved it and told me he began reading the bios of all the musicians he personally knew.
“You found out stuff about them I didn’t even know!”
Elvin has a new CD out with some great new songs:
I highly recommend the title track, plus “Old School” and “Everybody’s in the Same Boat”.
Elvin and Mike Bloomfield were the original lead guitarists for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Elvin was on their first four LPs. He went solo after that and scored a gigantic hit with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”, sung by Mickey Thomas.
In addition to being a legendary blues guitarist, Elvin famously grows his own vegetables in northern California. And he likes fishin’.
I never saw Elvin jam more than on this trip. He played with nearly EVERYbody! What a kind, generous, sweet and funny guy.
I’m back from my latest Legendary Blues Cruise. It was phenomenal (as usual)! I’ll tell you about it in the upcoming posts.
Meanwhile, I wanted to alert you music fans to a pretty spectacular star-studded BBC music video for “God Only Knows”. You can find it at: