Local Scene News

We have new feeds added From Charleston Underground and The Defintley Loud Podcast!!

These two cover much of the local art and music scene and if you are from out of town this will give you a great heads up on what goes on in Charleston and the Rest of WV.
You can Read it here on the Empty Glass site or click on the Links and read if on the on the original Site.

Hasil Adkins Invades RFC on New Appalachian Radio 

NAR log 013RFCv3 #28

This week on Radio Free Charleston on New Appalachian Radio our second hour theme features the Boone County legend, Hasil Adkins, The Haze. You’ll get one full hour of psychotronic rockabilly-country one-man-band craziness, peppered with my personal anecdote of meeting the man and some background on the man.

shirt designEach Week you can listen to Radio Free Charleston’s streaming radio incarnation at 10 AM and 10 PM on Tuesdays (and again at midnight Thursday) at New Appalachian Radio, part of Voices of Appalachia. If you miss it, check our the archives for previously-aired shows. You can also listen to Radio Free Charleston Saturday at Midnight. Saturday, RFC airs for six hours, starting at midnight.

We kick off the show with an hour of really cool music from our usual excellent mix of local and regional artists. Of note this week, where applicable, you should be able to click on the name of the artist to find information on how you can purchase their latest releases.

Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands “Earth Above My Roots”
Byzantine “You Sleep, We Wake”
The Lunatic Society “Dead Inside”
No Pretty Pictures “Go Mart Crack Lighter”

Alan Griffith “Blowin’ In The Wind”
Alan Griffith “Samson and Delilah”
Go Van Gogh “I Don’t Want To Be Your Hero”
Go Van Gogh “I Can’t Sleep At Night”

J Marinelli “Month of Mondays”
The Company Stores “Silence”
Radio Cult “Ace of Spades”
Wolfgang Parker “Mata Hari”

The Renfields “Killer Klowns”
Under Surveillance “I Don’t Think It’s Me”
Pepper Fandango “Wishbone Blues”
Billy Matheny “If You See Him Tonight”

Our second hour celebrates the music of Hasil Adkins. Born in 1937 and gone for just over ten years now, Hasil Adkins was a West Virginia original. Acording to Wikipedia, the Boone County natives songs “explored an affinity for chicken, sexual intercourse and decapitation, and were isolated in obscurity until being unearthed in the 1980s.”

You can listen for yourself as we bring you an hour of “The Haze.”

hasil_explaining_webHasil Adkins

“The Hunch”
“Chicken Walk”
“Ugly Woman”
“If You Want to Be My Baby, Baby”
“Get Out of My Car”
“Rock The Blues”

“Jenny Lou”
“Donnie Boogie”
“I Don’t Love You”
“No More Hot Dogs”
“Truly Ruly”
“Rock N Roll Tonight”

“She Said”
“Shake That Thing”
“Let’s Stop Tonight”
“Tell Me Baby”
“Big Fat Mama”
“Walk and Talk With Me”

“I Need Your Head”
“I Want Some Lovin'”
“Shake With Me”
“I Don’t Want Nobody The Way I Want You”

Scrap Iron Pickers on The RFC MINI SHOW 

Image1The Scrap Iron Pickers were an all-star progressive metal trio, based in the Charleston area, who released one killer CD and had many memorable live shows. Jason “Roadblock” Robinson anchored the band on bass. John Sizemore provided pyrotechnics with his guitar. Keeping the beat on drums was none other than Matt Wolfe, the drummer for the legendary West Virginia metal band, Byzantine.

The band is not currently performing, but Empty Glass Records is mulling over a reissue project that may include previously unreleased material. Byzantine will be performing Saturday night, May 30, at The Monkey Barrel, to promote their epic new album, “To Release Is To Resolve.”

These two songs were captured on the first night of Mission Coalition, a two-day metal show with tons of great bands that was organized by Roadblock in September, 2011. We just rediscovered the footage and will be bringing you more lost classics from that weekend in future episodes of The RFC MINI SHOW.

Monday Morning Art: Queen of the Roller Derby 

MMA 001

It’s Lavender Menace, from last night’s session of Dr. Sketchy’s, striking a great pose for my digital watercolors. You will be seeing more from last night’s Sketchy’s in the coming weeks. It was the first session at WVSU EDC (AKA DigiSo) and it was a blast in the new environment.

Check PopCult later Monday Morning for The RFC MINI SHOW starring The Scrap Iron Pickers.

Sunday Evening Video: The Pretenders Live in 1979 

pretenders2The original line-up of The Pretenders was an amazing band. And they were a full band, not just back up musicians for the incredibly talented singer-songwriter-guitarist, Chrissie Hynde. Martin Chambers and Pete Farndon were innovative and perfectly suited to the music. James Honeyman-Scott’s lead guitar work was as distincitve as Chrissie Hynde’s voice, and it’s clear that he was a major influence on Johnny Marr.

Drugs splintered this line-up of the group. After two albums–one great, one rushed–and some grueling tours, Farndon and Honeyman-Scott were dead. Chrissie Hynde assembled new musicians, including her drummer, Chambers, and continues making music, excellent music, to this day. But there was still a certain magic and energy with the original line that made The Pretenders something legendary. In this video you get to see the group before the turmoil, performing four songs from their first album.

RFC Flashback: Episode 25 

RFC 25 from RFC Archives on Myspace.

This week we take you back to the summer of 2007 with episode 25, which brings you music from The Amazing Delores and Joe Slack, plus we have scenes from Frank Panucci’s “Repurkussionz,” “Brokeback Coalmine,” a re-working/butchering of a short film by Danny Boyd and Steve Gilliland and part of Melanie Larch’s coverage of FestivALL 2007. From August of that year. Production notes are HERE.

A Rebuttal, and More… 

Audience-Exodus-002The PopCulteer
May 22, 2015

Sometimes you have to be the person to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

It’s been almost two weeks since the infamous Courtney Forbes “Don’t Settle, Charleston” editorial. I’ve been trying to decide the best way, or if I even wanted, to craft a response to Courtney’s piece. On my Facebook newsfeed, reaction to Courtney’s piece ranged from about a quarter of the people who felt that it was dead-on, while the remainder thought it was outrageous hogwash. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure initially that her piece needed a rebuttal. The need to answer Courtney built up in me over a few days.

My gut reaction was to respond with a goofy Lewis Black-style rant. Then I thought a cool, calm, reasoned approach might be best. After having considered the issue and listened to Courtney’s appearance on The Front Porch podcast from WV Public Broadcasting, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best response will be to alternate between the two approaches. After all, her original editorial seemed like two unrelated essays spliced together, so a similar approach might work for me.

The reason I feel the need to respond is that Courtney has managed to parlay her editorial into some measure of local minor celebrity with appearances on local podcasts and her name on the lips of people who talk about such things. People are heaping praise on her for her editorial. I don’t want to burst her bubble here, but I think most of that praise is undeserved. Her “conversation starter” didn’t really start the conversation that she thinks it did.

charlestonwv-See, the problem is that I know Courtney. I don’t know her well. I met her a few months ago when she started the WV Writer’s Group that meets at DigiSo. I’ve had a few conversations with her and they all have one running thread. The running thread is not “How can we make Charleston a better place to live?” Every single time I’ve spoken to Courtney, she has steered the topic of conversation to “How can I meet somebody?” I am not alone in noticing this about Courtney.

I have to admit that I was gobsmacked when Courtney started the first WV Writer’s meeting by explaining that she only started the group so she could meet people her own age. First of all, that doesn’t strike me as the purest of motives to start a group of any kind. Second, I don’t think anybody showed up who was even close to Courtney’s age. Still, I continued to attend meetings when I could, even when Courtney couldn’t be bothered to show up.

In her piece, Courtney lays out a few areas where West Virginia and Charleston need to make improvements. Her concerns about the environment and educational system are perfectly valid. I hope she realizes that she’s hardly the first person to notice these things and that many of us have been saying them and working hard to correct these problems for years. Progress is slow. This is not an instant gratification game. Courtney, that conversation started before you were born and it will continue long after you’re gone.

Courtney seems to want to depict this as some kind of generation gap issue, and it’s not. Our state’s problems are political, not generational. Creating further divisions between like-minded, progressive individuals is not going to do anything to improve the living conditions here. I realize that some of what I’m writing might look like the very kind of dismissive attitude that Courtney decries in her piece. It is not intended as a dismissal of the ideas of all young people. I would be equally critical of someone of any age who made the same off-the-wall comments that Courtney does in her editorial.

Courtney attempts to deflect criticism of her piece by saying that we defend our choice to stay here as loyalty. It’s not that simple. Loyalty is not a negative trait. True loyalty is staying and working to change a broken system. Courtney is not the first person to realize that West Virginia has an entrenched and corrupt political process that is almost entirely controlled by big businesses who want the freedom to pollute and exploit workers without regulation. This is not some great revelation that we needed handed down to us from a savior- prophet. The valid points in Courtney’s piece are old news.

It would be different if she offered anything resembling a possible solution, but just saying, in effect, “I’m leaving, You guys have problems.” is not even remotely productive. She complains that we are not welcoming to strangers and that we don’t take the ideas of young people seriously.

She does this without offering up any ideas for us to take seriously.

In Courtney’s piece, I sensed an awful lot of projection. Projection and desperation. She blames Charleston for not attracting a big enough dating pool to suit her. She was not happy here. She complained that she stayed at home one weekend because she couldn’t find anything to do.

First of all, I have to call BS on that. This town has TOO MUCH stuff to do sometimes. I recently wrote about how we have more cool stuff going on than we have an audience for said cool stuff.

On The Front Porch podcast, Courtney acknowledged that there actually were some cool things going on in town but she never knew about them because we don’t have a website or any other way for people to find out about cool stuff.

Let me pause here for a moment and take a deep breath.

For almost ten freaking years, I have gone above and beyond and smashed my head against the wall to tell my readers about cool, interesting, fringe events happening all over this area–music, art exhibits, poetry readings, professional wrestling, gaming, improv comedy, pop culture conventions, life drawing classes, burlesque shows, stand up comedy, public art, alternative sports, gourmet cooking, bookfairs, blogger meet-ups, political rallies, independent film festivals–I cover that stuff in PopCult and I post fresh content every day!

I’m not being arrogant when I get angry that Courtney said there’s not a website where people can find out about cool things happening in town. I don’t expect people to automatically know what I do here in PopCult. I’m angry because when I first met Courtney, I introduced myself, told her what I did, shook her hand, and gave her a business card with the URL for this very blog which you are now reading. There is no excuse for her to pretend that the PopCult blog or the Calendar section of The Gazz or the Calendar section of the Daily Mail or the event calendar at Voices of Appalachia do not exist.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think.

I write this blog. I can’t print it out and chase down strangers to make them read it. Please don’t blame the entire city because you’re too lazy or ignorant to click over to a website or pick up a newspaper to find out what’s going on in town. You have to make an effort to fit in, no matter where you are.

I’m reminded of a story about a man who prayed every day of his life. Every day he would pray, “Dear God, please let me win the lottery.” When he got married, he would pray, “Dear God, please let me win the lottery so I can buy a house for my wife.” As he raised his family, he prayed, “Dear God, please let me win the lottery so I may send my children to college.” After his children had grown he prayed, “Dear God, please let me win the lottery so I can provide for my children and grandchildren.”

The man died and went to heaven where he met God and he said, “Dear God, why didn’t you let me win the lottery so I could have a legacy to leave my children and grandchildren?”

And God replied, “You have to meet me halfway. You never bought a ticket.”

The point of that story is that Courtney never seemed to open up to the idea of meeting us halfway–really reaching out and being part of Charleston. She treated us like a charity case. She compares herself to VISTA volunteers. That is so condescending and insulting. She grew up in this area. There is no excuse for her to act like an outsider.

Then we get to what was most galling about Courtney’s piece. She says that we’re not welcoming to strangers. I’ve been on this planet more than twice as long as Courtney has. I’ve seen people leave Charleston. I’ve seen people return to Charleston with their tail between their legs. I’ve seen strangers and visitors come to town and way more often than not, outsiders and returning natives have been made to feel exceptionally welcome here.

Unless they willfully don’t want to be.

Courtney tells a “what if” story about spending a weekend doing nothing, coming in to work, telling her co-workers about it, and being told, “we were sitting at home with the door unlocked. Why didn’t you come in?”

How did Courtney respond to this extremely welcoming and gracious, obviously implicit, invitation? She mocked it–publicly and in print.

How mortifying that must have been for the hypothetical people who invited this young woman into their home to be ridiculed in print for not being welcoming enough.

I mean, seriously, what the hell?

Why would you invent an anecdote about your co-workers, who barely know you, warmly inviting you into their own home and use that as an example of how we don’t welcome strangers?

Courtney then quotes a VISTA volunteer, “I’m having trouble making friends. Am I doing something wrong?” The answer is “Yes. Yes you must be doing something wrong.” Charleston is a ridiculously friendly town. It’s one of our strongest selling points–one of the few things we do well. If you can’t make friends here it’s because you don’t want to.

Courtney started the writer’s group at DigiSo and I think she may well have benefited from bringing her piece in for a little work-shopping before submitting it for publication.

I saw a few people on Facebook posting links to Courtney’s piece, referring to it as “eloquent,” “well thought-out,” and “a beacon of constructive criticism.” It is none of those things. Allow me to critique…

Courtney opens her piece by explaining that she’s not leaving because she thinks she’s better than us. Given that the headline was “Don’t Settle, Charleston,” this comes off much the same as when somebody prefaces a statement with “I’m not racist, but…”

Courtney mixes what reads like a high school student’s brief essay on “problems in West Virginia” with personal anecdotes that, to be frank, are whiny, self-centered and filled with cloying self-pity and a near total lack of personal responsibility. It’s Charleston’s fault that she can’t meet people her own age, not hers.

Let’s be clear. Saying that people who stay here have “settled” is arrogant and insulting and hurtful to the many, many people who are here by choice. Also, proclaiming your piece to be “tough love” is condescension beyond the pale. If you couldn’t cut it here and you’re leaving town, you don’t get to lecture us on the way out. There was nothing about serious issues in her editorial that hasn’t been said tens of thousands of times before by people with the resolve to stay here and try to fix the problems.

What Courtney has crafted is not thought-provoking. It’s trolling. It is not constructive criticism. It’s a petulant, angry farewell. Essentially, it’s a passive-aggressive “Dear John” letter filled with a laundry list of reasons why “John” (in this case, Charleston) is no damn good and everything is his fault.

11148805_445843138874060_2473963362592225095_nCourtney’s piece did have one positive effect: It had entertainment value. When I got to the end of this long screed about why she felt she had to leave Charleston because of our unfriendliness and many defects, right at the bottom it said, “Courtney Forbes, of Charleston, is moving to Philadelphia.”

I seriously laughed long and loud for about five minutes when I read that. That, my friends, was an Onion-quality punchline.

The thing is, I like Courtney. She seemed like a nice kid. “Kid” being the operative word here. She complains about being mistaken for an intern. She says that young people are not taken seriously in this town. I have to explain something to Courtney: It’s all in the way you carry yourself. If you turn every conversation into a discussion of why you can’t meet people, nobody is going to take you seriously. In order to be treated as an adult with serious ideas worth considering, you have to act like one. That’s true everywhere, not just in Charleston.

I know people younger than Courtney who are already excelling in their business endeavors. They act like they’re supposed to be where they are to do serious business. They are not content to simply be a “mascot.”

I really don’t want to come across as too mean here, but Courtney addresses a few things from a perspective that I simply can’t respect. Ageism runs both ways and it is far more difficult for someone over fifty to land a job doing anything creative in this town than it is for someone under thirty. You can’t constantly complain that you aren’t able to meet anyone your own age, and then wonder why people who aren’t your age don’t respect your contributions. You’re the one limiting yourself to interacting with a narrow age group.

Also, one more technical critique based on your podcast appearance: “Impact” is not a verb. Using it as one will make professional people cringe and think less of you. Try using “affect,” instead.

I can sympathize with the plight of being single, even though the last time I was single was before Courtney was born. I remember what it’s like to be alone and to feel alienated and left out. It’s not a problem that only affects young people. I hope she doesn’t think she’s the only person in the world who has trouble meeting that certain someone. I also hope she doesn’t think that Charleston is unique in not having a well-stocked supply of eager young Prince Charmings waiting to sweep her off her feet.

In the last year, I’ve been to Chicago, Atlanta, and New York. I had no problem fitting in in any of those cities. People want to be friendly. You simply have to have a certain amount of personal confidence and you have to be willing to be friendly yourself. If you have that, then you can fit in almost anywhere.

However, in Philadelphia, “Brotherly Love” is an ironic slogan. Courtney, they may eat you alive there. I hope they don’t. I hope you get into town and very quickly find a soul mate so that you can attain the inner peace that seems to so elude you while you’re single. If that doesn’t happen, I’m afraid you’ll be writing an angry farewell to Philly sooner than you expect.

Charleston can use all of the bright, talented, young people that we can get. However, it’s not going to do the city any good if we retain people who are, to be frank, miserable here. It makes the job of progressive-minded people harder when young people choose to leave the state rather than stay and fight the good fight, but it’s your life choice and if you’re not happy here, then by all means, follow your heart and leave.

Just don’t try to say that it’s all because the people here “settled” and not because you really didn’t want to be here in the first place.

Courtney says she wanted her piece to be a conversation starter. Sadly, that conversation seems not to be, “Gosh, here’s how we can make Charleston a better place.” The conversation is, “What is that girl’s problem?” I’ve been asked that question at least once every day since her editorial was published.

It’s one thing to leave. It’s another thing to offer constructive criticism. But it’s yet a different all together thing to scream at the top of your lungs, “HEY EVERYBODY, LOOK AT ME, I’M LEAVING AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” Courtney, you did indeed get our attention. However, I don’t think it’s quite the kind of attention that you wanted.

Congratulations on composing an infuriating, self-important and wrong-headed essay about why you’re leaving. Good luck in your future edeavors.

Note: This piece has been edited to clarify that Courtney’s story about her co-workers was fictional.

ArtWalk Mini Photo Essay

Your PopCulteer only made it to three stops last night on a rainy ArtWalk, but they were great stops. I’m not doing captions because I think I’ve loaded this post with enough words already. Check out this brief photo essay…

Stray Dog Antiques






Apartment Earth






Alt/Art at ArtWalk






Stuff To Do Memorial Day Weekend Edition

We’re mixing it all up for the holiday weekend. Check the dates on the graphics.












That is it for this week’s PopCulteer. Thank you for reading this far. Check back for all our regular features every day of the week, and have a wonderful holiday weekend.



A Tepid “Celebration” of Captain Marvel 

The PopCult Bookshelf

51dwIIXW19LShazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years
Various writers and artists
DC Comics
ISBN-13: 978-1401255381

The original Captain Marvel is my favorite superhero. He has been since I stumbled into an obscure newsstand on Chestnut Street in South Charleston in 1973 and found a giant comic book that reprinted some of his best stories. I became an avid fan. I eagerly watched the Saturday morning show when it debuted on CBS the next year, and I bought up every comic book and reprint collection and even books that just had essays about The Big Red Cheese (as his enemies called him). It’s a little sad to realize that this book only exists because DC Comics felt that it was the least they could do to observe the character’s 75th anniversary. It seems that they were intent on doing so as “least” as possible.

The story behind Captain Marvel’s publishing history is unique. Created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck for Fawcett in the superhero boom that followed the creation of Supermanm Captain Marvel went on to become the best-selling superhero of all time, at one point selling several million copies every three weeks. The fact that his book was outselling Superman’s led to a lawsuit from Superman’s publisher, National Periodical Publications.

As the case slogged through the courts for years and the litigation proved to be more costly than Fawcett wanted, they settled the case and ceased publishing Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family books in late 1953. In just under fourteen years, Fawcett had published hundreds of the greatest superhero comics of all time. Now they agreed never to publish the good Captain again without the permission of National Periodical Pubications.

In the ensuing two decades, the trademark on the name “Captain Marvel” had lapsed and it was eventually snapped up by Marvel Comics, who created their own character with that name so they could protect their trademark on the word “Marvel.”

The cut this story short, in 1973, National Periodical Publications, desperately trying anything to deal with a huge slump in comic book sales,  negotiated a deal to start publishing new Captain Marvel comic books. Originally they leased the rights from Fawcett, then later they bought the character outright.

Since that happened, there have been a few hardcover collections of Captain Marvel stories. Many of the newly-created stories over the last forty-plus years have been pale imitations of the original Fawcett comic books. Except for the TV show the character never caught on in the modern world. Two decades out of the limelight, coupled with the inability to use the character’s name in the title of a comic book, kept him from catching on.

The comic book was revived as “Shazam,” and the name stuck to the point where, in the latest reboot from DC Comics, the hero is simply called “Shazam,” instead of “Captain Marvel.” This is a bit sad to see.

Anyway, with good collections few and far between, it’s really disappointing to see the assortment of stories in this collection. It’s far superior to The Greatest Shazam Stories Ever Told, but it also shares many of the flaws of that collection from 2008. It also has seven full stories in common with that book.

First of all, with 400 pages to fill, this book only devotes 120 pages to the golden age Captain Marvel stories. Of those 120 pages, 99 have been reprinted in previous collections. The next section of the book presents 110 pages from 1973 to 1991. This is really disappointing because many of the really good solo Captain Marvel stories from that time are ignored in favor or stories that either appeared in the 2008 collection, or the Superman vs Shazam collection from two years ago. With there being so few reprint editions of Captain Marvel stories, it’s a shame to see so much repetition among them. More than half the stories in this book have been included in other Shazam collections over the past ten years.

Making matters worse is the inclusion of “Make Way For Captain Thunder,” a Superman story from 1974. It’s a beautiful homage to Captain Marvel, but it is a Superman story, and shows a little disrespect for the character to include this in a book that’s supposed to be dedicated to Captain Marvel. Of course, this story is also in the 2008  Greatest Shazam Stories book.

There’s also a Superman story from the 1990s when his book was drawn in a bizarre bigfoot/anime style that’s fascinating to see, but not in a good way. The book wraps up with a story from the recent reboot that sports beautiful artwork, but is sort of soul-crushing for fans of Captain Marvel.

It’s a shame because there are dozens of terrific Golden Age Captain Marvel and Marvel Family stories that have either not been reprinted ever, or haven’t seen print in over forty years. Plus there are some great stories from the 1970s run that have never been reprinted in color before. “The Strange and Terrible Disappearance of Maxwell Zodiac” is one of my favorite comic book stories of all time. It’d be nice to see it included in a hardcover collection someday. It’s certainly more deserving of space in a Shazam collection than the second reprint of his battle with Lobo.

Sadly, they didn’t even put much effort into the text pieces. Two of them are reprinted from other books. DC Comics has never treated Captain Marvel with the respect he deserves, and even with a movie coming out in a few years, I don’t see that trend changing.

Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years is a decent collection if you don’t have any of the other Shazam collections. If you do, you might want to wait until you can pick it up cheap.

Come Back, Johnny (West) 

The PopCult Toybox

Johnny shoots up the State Capitol. Photo by Mark Wolfe

Johnny shoots up the State Capitol. Photo by Mark Wolfe

It’s time to mark a Golden Anniversary.

In 1965 The Louis Marx Toy Company introduced Johnny West to the world. Johnny was a 12-inch tall posable action figure who was a Cowboy. He was the first fully-articulated large-scale action figure that Marx made, predated a few months by Stony Smith, a soldier, and Daniel Boone. Neither of those first two figures were articulated below the shoulders, though.

Johnny was an instant star and inspired Marx to create a full line of Western-themed action figures as well as other large figures of spies, knights and vikings. Johnny West lasted ten years in the toy marketplace and may have lasted longer had the Marx Toy Company not changed hands and suffered a series of inept management regimes.

Johnny West gets a 50th Anniversary figure

Johnny West gets a 50th Anniversary figure

The creation of Johnny West was a response to the smash success that Hasbro achieved in 1964 with GI Joe. Rather than copy GI Joe outright, Marx decided to test the waters with what were essentially larger, more detailed versions of their classic green Army men style playset figures. After the first two releases, more-articulation was added and Marx hit upon a successful format.

Borrowing the name from an earlier small-scale playset, Johnny West was introduced as a Cowboy Everyman. He shared his headsculpt with Stony Smith, the soldier (though this is still debated in some quarters) and he had a Native American pal, Chief Cherokee. The figures sold so well that within a couple of years Johnny had a wife, Jane, and four kids, Jay, Jamie, Josie and Janice. There were also tons of horses, a couple of dogs, The Fort Apache Fighters, General Custer and a couple of not-so-friendly natives added by the end of 1968.

It’s worth noting that after a short time, Marx pulled out of the military action figure game. Stony Smith was given better articulation so he could ride in a Jeep, but even after evolving into the more GI Joe-like “Buddy Charlie,” sales didn’t justify production. Hasbro and GI Joe handled the military end of things, Johnny West and friends covered the wild West. Nobody knows if it just worked out that way, or if there was some kind of secret golf course handshake deal between Louis Marx and Merrill Hassenfeld.

“Y’ll better read, or I’ll shoot ya!” Photo by Mark Wolfe

It’s also worth noting that the Johnny West line was not simply a boy’s toy. Girls loved the inclusion of Jane West and the girls, all of whom were equipped with firearms in additon to skirts and make up. Plus girls loved the horses. Johnny West was a toy line that boys and girls played with together.

In the early 1970s Louis Marx sold his company to Quaker Oats, and they managed to take the most successful toymaker in the world and turn it–in less than five years–into an also-ran company that was struggling to make a profit. The company ceased to exist in 1981 when the last manufacturing plant in the US, in Glen Dale, WV, no less, was closed.

However, with millions of toys sold, billions of memories of those toys had been made. Collectors kept the name alive. Then talented customizers like the late Noah Coop and his wife, Terri breathed new life into the hobby with custom heads and newly-produced bodies from their CXR brand. Terri also secured many of the key trademarks to Johnny West and related names. On top of that, the molds for many of these figures still existed. Mexico, in particular has a wealth of still-working molds for the classic figures, and they still make some for sale.

“Oh My Lord. I’m My Own Grandpa!” New Johnny meets Vintage Johnny.

And that brings us to the figure I’ll be reviewing in this post. Over on Facebook a very active Marx Action Figure Collectors group has been busily keeping the hobby alive. Earlier this year the Western stars aligned, and a 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Johnny West was born.

James Wozniak has been importing reproduction Marx Toys from Mexico for a while with his company, Classic Recasts. Jean Zabre and his family run the plant in Mexico that owns the molds formerly used by PlastiMarx, Marx’s Mexican subsidiary. Terri Coop owns the legal rights to the name “Johnny West.” Scott Stewart runs the Stewart’s Attic website and was helping bring all the parties together behind the scenes. I was cheerleading publicly, along with most of the rest of the Facebook group.

“Check out mah cool box.”

The plan was hatched for an official 50th Anniversary Johnny West figure, produced in new colors so that it wouldn’t be mistaken for a vintage Johnny. His body would be dark gray, rather than the classic caramel brown (which crumbles over time due to some instability in the dye). His soft vinyl accessories would be a dark teal. The hard plastic accessories cast in a pewter/silver color.

His package art was designed by Scott Stewart, based on the original Johnny West box, but showing off the new color scheme. A certificate of authenticity, signed by Terri Coop and James Wozniak, and designed by Mark and Lori Keach, is included. Each certificate and box is numbered 1 to 200. Over a hundred figures were pre-sold, and James, being a one-man show, had to assemble each set himself.

Johnny West is a big Spurgie Hankins Band fan. Photo by Mark Wolfe

Johnny West is a big Spurgie Hankins Band fan. Photo by Mark Wolfe

That’s one reason I waited more than a week to write this review. I know that James has more sets for sale, but I also know he was snowed-under putting the pre-sold sets together, and I wanted to give him a chance to catch his breath. I believe that he’s asking $75 for these figures, plus shipping, but you’ll want to contact him through his website for complete details. Links are at the bottom of the post. You’ll find some other goodies there that you might want, so he may cut you a deal on shipping.

You should have already figured out that this is going to be a positive review. This is a fantastic recreation of the Marx action figure experience. I only have one minor criticism of this set, so I’ll get it out of the way first.

It's actually flattening out since I wrote this.

It’s actually flattening out since I wrote this.

His hat didn’t seem to come out of the mold in perfect shape. I think I can reshape mine with a little heat, but some folks are reporting that their hats are trimmed a little off-center. Considering that we’re talking about toys made with fifty-year-old molds, that this is the only imperfection is astounding.

Everything else about this set is a Johnny West collector’s dream come true. The body looks terrific in dark gray. It’s different enough to make it “new,” but it still has the heft, the feel and even the smell of the original action figures when first opened. The joints are tight and there are no flaws in the virgin vinyl used to make these figures and accessories.

Three faces of Johnny. Left to right: 1999 reissue Johnny, 50th Anniversary Johnny, crusty vintage Johnny I got cheap off eBay. He hasn't been cleaned up yet.

Three faces of Johnny. Left to right: 1999 reissue Johnny, 50th Anniversary Johnny, crusty vintage Johnny I got cheap off eBay. He hasn’t been cleaned up yet.

Johnny’s head sports a dark brown hair color, rather than the reddish-brown of the original. The whites of his eyes are painted, which was not done on the US figures back in the day. The darker hair and greater detail make this Johnny West look younger, and slimmer in the face than his vintage counterpart. It’s nice to still look young when you hit 50.

“It’s a Sprue!’ “No! It’s A Runner!”

Both the hard and soft accessories are shipped still connected to the sprues (or “trees” or “runners,” if you want to be technical). A few larger pieces may come loose in transit, but it’s still cool to see them sent out this way.

Fine vest detail

Fine vest detail

Except for the shape of the hat, the soft accessories are perfect. It’s remarkable how well the molds, which are half a century old, have retained the fine detail like the texture of Johnny West’s vest, or the bullets on the back of his gunbelt. You can even make out the pattern on his bandana.

As a bonus, two extra soft vinyl accessories are included. Molded in yellow, General Custers’ neckerchief and gloves make a nice color contrast, if you are so inclined.

Check out the pattern on the bandana

Check out the pattern on the bandana

There is a difference in the feel of the soft vinyl accessories, and I like it. These accessories–the vest, bandana, gunbelt, spur straps, canteen, chaps and gold bags–do not have the slick, oily, gloss that the originals and some earlier reissues have had. It makes them seem more pliable, and shows off the detailed textures better. It also looks more natural and may mean that the plastic is more stable and might not melt if left in contact with other plastics. I have seen some comments about the chaps being more fragile, but I’ve always had problems with those and take great care putting them together.

The texture on the Derringer grip is amazing. The whole gun is about half an inch long.

The texture on the Derringer grip is amazing. The whole gun is about half an inch long.

The hard accessories include a revolver, a rifle, Derringer, spurs, two different branding irons, coffeepot, skillet, strongbox, knife, and two sheriff stars. Again, the amount of detail and texture is amazing. The pistol grip on the tiny Derringer is still there, as are the rivets on the strongbox. The rifle sports ornate carving. The plastic is hard enough to remain rigid (a problem with some previous reissues) and the color is distinct enough to keep these from being mistaken for vintage pieces.

This set is a home-run, make no mistake about it. After last year’s fiasco of Hasbro failing to properly pay tribute to their original GI Joe, it’s wonderful to see a real grassroots effort among fans come to fruition with such a cool new toy. This is the action figure analog to the Charlton Neo comic book movement–a project undertaken for the pure affection for an artifact of a bygone era.

The thing is, like Charlton Neo, this little burst of nostalgic glee may well morph into an ongoing full-blown revival. James, Jean, Scott, Terri and Mark have all ganged up again for a very special re-issue of Johnny’s nemesis, Sam Cobra, molded in an all-new body color, with all of his hard-to-find accessories. I’ll tell you more about that project once it’s close to completion.

There is yet another cool 50th Anniversary celebration of Johnny West. Ten years ago Las Vegas artist Suzanne Hackett-Morgan curated a special “Travelin’ Johnny” exhibit, which is still on display at the Marx Toy Museum. That display tracks the movements of a vintage Johnny West on his travels all around the world. He’d visit collectors in different cities via Pony Express (or it’s modern equivilent) and they’d take photos of Johnny with local landmarks.

The Travelling Johnny Exhibit at The Marx Toy Museum

The Travelling Johnny Exhibit at The Marx Toy Museum

This year Suzanne is collecting photos for a slide-show presentation that revisits the concept, only instead of sending one vintage Johnny West figure around, people are taking photos of their 50th Anniversary Johnny’s and sending the photos to Suzanne.

“I give up. What’s it ‘spose to be?”
Photo by Mark Wolfe

Last week I enlisted the aid of my buddy, Mark Wolfe, to show Johnny West around Charleston. All the cool location photos accompanying this post were taken by Mark as we ran around town, jumping out of the car for photos, then jumping back in. It was a load of fun.

And fun is the key word here. Johnny West was fun when we were kids, and he’s still fun. There’s something cool about two guys our age running around town with an action figure, and having it wind up as a museum exhibit.


You can see Suzanne’s 50th Anniversary slide show next month at the annual Marx Toy Convention at Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. The show runs June 19 and 20 in Wheeling. You can find full details HERE.

There will also be related events that weekend at the Marx Toy Museum, just down the road in Moundsville. Find out more about it HERE. For my photo essay of Johnny West at the Marx Toy Museum, visit HERE.

“I’m gonna sit a spell, if’n you don’t mnd.”

If you would like to order this new 50th Anniversary Johnny West Limited Edition signed and numbered set, contact James Wozniak at the email address you’ll find HERE. If you’re a die-hard Marx collector, check out his eBay store and poke around his website.

Scott Stewart will also have some of these Johnny’s for sale at his website alongside vintage Marx and other cool 12″ action figure gear, and he also has an invaluable online guide to collecting Marx action figures.

If you want to inquire about any of the fine CXR Johnny West accessories or figures, contact Terri Coop through her website HERE.

For a detailed video review of the 50th Anniversary Johnny West figure, check out this video by Jase Marshall of Marshall Made Collectibles. And if you want to join the Marx Action Figure Collectors Facebook Group, go HERE.

Check out Mark Wolfe Design for all your photography, graphic design, web design and action figure photo shoot needs.

You can expect to read much more about the Marx Toy Convention and upcoming 50 Anniversary Johnny West figures here in PopCult in the coming weeks.

“Y’all don’t need to mention anything about this to Jane.” Photo by Mark Wolfe

Pere Ubu And Local Greats on RFC’s Streaming Show at New Appalachian Radio 

Pere UbuRFCv3 #27

This week’s streaming Radio Free Charleston on New Appalachian Radio is a celebration of the mind-hurting weirdness that is the trademark of our video program. As we get a little weirder, the show will also become just a little more like the original RFC radio show. Time opened up in our schedule and we were finally able to create new stuff for the show.

Each Week you can listen to Radio Free Charleston’s streaming radio incarnation at 10 AM and 10 PM on Tuesdays (and again at midnight Thursday) at New Appalachian Radio, part of Voices of Appalachia. If you miss it, check our the archives for previously-aired shows. You can also listen to Radio Free Charleston Saturday at Midnight. Saturday, RFC airs for six hours, starting at midnight.

NAR log 015Starting this week the liners and stingers for the show will be just a little more bizarre, and to mark this, the theme of our second hour is an hour of music from one of the Akron area’s finest musical oddities.

It’s not DEVO. We’re saving them for later. This week Radio Free Charleston brings you an hour of Pere Ubu, featuring David Thomas, who is not to be confused with any of the other Dave Thomases floating around out there.

Before we get there, though. We have a killer hour of great local and regional music for you, starting with two songs from J Marinelli’s killer new album, Stop Paying Attention.

J Marinelli “Stop Paying Attention”
J Marinelli “Saturn of Clarksburg”
Dina Hornbaker “At Bay”
Brian Young “Swingin’ Man”

Whistlepunk “Reflection (Spy Song)”
Close The Hatch “Skull and Bird”
Trielement “Noodle Soup”
Timothy Price “Kashmir”

Charlie West All Stars-Veteran’s Benefit CD Band

“Walk This Way”
“Champagne and Reefer”
“Runnin’ Down A Dream”

John Lancaster “Jeruselum Syndrome”

Our second hour is all music by Pere Ubu. The band took their name from a character in Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. Members of this band have worked with They Might Be Giants, Richard Thompson, Henry Cow, Frank Black and others. Yet they remain obscure.

Anchored by David Thomas, who grew up around Akron and Cleveland, many of the original members came from the Northernmost Appalachian region. Thomas has an unusual voice that will either instantly hook or repel you.

We are going to jump around all over the 40-year Pere Ubu catalog, in no particular order, but we’re going to kick off our theme hour with the closest thing they’ve ever had to a hit, “Waiting For Mary”

517693Pere Ubu

“Waiting For Mary”
“49 Guitars and One Girl”
“Ubu Dance Party”

“Breath (Don’t Let’s Talk About Tomorrow”
“Rhapsody In Pink”
“Sentimental Journey”
“The Waltz”

“My Theory of Spontaneous Simultude”
“Love, Love, Love”

Whistlepunk on The RFC MINI SHOW 

Image2Nine years ago this week four guys gathered together in a very cool fifth-floor makeshift television studio to make obscure local music history. I was one of them. The other three were Brian Young, Dan Jordan and Spencer Elliott, the band known as Whistlepunk.

It all started with a phone call. Out of the blue, Brian called me in February, 2006. We hadn’t talked in years. There was no falling out. We simply had life happen and lost touch. Brian had a daughter. I’d spent over eight years taking care of my bedridden mother. A few months earlier I’d begun writing the PopCult blog, which put my name back in circulation.

Brian had taken a rehearsal space in the Quarrier Building and turned it into a recording studio that was prime for the addition of video cameras. I was able to get away and meet with Brian and check out the space, and we cooked up the idea of reviving my old radio show, Radio Free Charleston,  as a video show that would be part of The Gazz. Doug Imbrogno was happy at the prospect of having some regular video content for GazzTV, so we started making plans.

Those plans were interrupted in April, when my mother passed away almost nine years after suffering a major stroke. We pushed back our plans so I could deal with the major life changes, but in May I was ready, and we headed into the studio to record Whistlepunk. It was easy to get them in the studio since Brian was their drummer, and I’d known Spencer and Dan since 1989 and the old RFC radio show when they were in the band Some Forgotten color together.

To mark the ninth anniversary of the first recording session for Radio Free Charleston, this week the RFC MINI SHOW brings you the results of that session. Two songs performed by Whistlepunk– “Reflection (Spy Song)” and “Vampire Love Song.”

These songs originally appeared on episodes one and seven of Radio Free Charleston, and are newly-remastered. The original videos sport audio mixes by Brian Young and editing by Frank Panucci. I’ve cropped the videos into widescreen and bumped them up to HD.

It’s remarkable in the way that this all seems like yesterday to me, but there have been many changes since. Radio Free Charleston is now independent of the Gazette (though we still call PopCult one of our home bases). GazzTV is history. Whistlepunk expanded to five members, then split up as Brian and Spencer re-joined Mother Nang. Spencer has become a major player on the fingerstyle guitar circuit as a solo artist. LiveMix Studio was shut down when Monsignor Landgrab got his mitts on the Quarrier Building. And of course, RFC has grown into three programs–the original full-length Radio Free Charleston, The RFC MINI SHOW and the weekly streaming audio version of RFC at New Appalachian Radio.

I feel that one of the reasons we’ve come so far is because we had such a strong beginning. it’s good to pause once in a while to remember that.