DAMN RIGHT I’VE GOT THE BLUES | LEGENDARY BADASS BLUESMEN

Townes Van Zandt was famous for saying– “There’s only two kinds of music, Blues and Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” Boy, was he ever right. I say, gimme the Blues. The  most perfect sorrow-drownin’, tear-jerkin’, soul-howlin’, baby-makin’ music there is. Mystic sounds born from blood, sweat & tears — still giving birth to the best Rock & Roll bands to this day.

*

R.L. (Robert Lee) Burnside — Born in Mississippi hill country back in 1926.  Worked as a sharecropper, picked up the guitar as a young man, heavily influenced by bluesmen — Fred MacDowell, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters (who was married to his first cousin). Burnside shook the Mississippi dust off his heels some time in the ’50s and headed for Chicago.  Within a year, his Father, brother, and uncle were all murdered.  He went back home to Mississipi where he ran into trouble himself — killing a man.  “I didn’t mean to kill nobody… I just meant to shoot the son of a bitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord.”  R.L. Burnside gained a huge following and critical acclaim finally in the ’90s when he teamed up with Jon Spencer, releasing the masterpiece — “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey.”  Burnside died at the age of 78 in 2005.  –Image by Jim Herrington

*

John Lee Hooker — Born in Mississippi, the youngest of 11 children, back in 1917 to a sharecropper family.  His Daddy was also a preacher, and when he was just 4 yrs old, his parents split-up.  His Mama married a bluesman, William Moore — a young Hooker took-up guitar, and credits his stepfather with being a major influence on him musically. With his own unique style of talking blues, infused with boogie-woogie, Hooker racked-up a string of hits — including“Boogie Chillen” (from 1948) and “Boom Boom” (from 1962), and my favorite John Lee Hooker tune is — “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.”  John Lee Hooker passed away in 2001.

Continue reading

EARL COOPER | AUTO RACING LEGENDS AT THE DAWN OF THE GOLDEN AGE

*

Earl Cooper, auto racer, taken at the auto races at Salem, New Hampshire. Cooper’s last major victory was here at the Rockingham board track speedway. He won that 200-miler with a front-drive Miller in 1926.  – Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS— Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

*

Nebraska-born in 1886, Earl Cooper became a star just as the Golden Age of auto racing was dawning. Cooper’s illustrious racing career, in which he racked-up three National Championships (1913, 1915 & 1917) and 11 top 10 points finishes, all started in 1904– in an ironic and bittersweet twist.

It was 1904, and Cooper was on the West Coast working as a mechanic at a Maxwell auto dealership. Cooper was bitten by the racing bug, but when he appealed to the Maxwell dealership for sponsorship in a San Francisco race, he was refused.  Turns-out his own boss was competing in the same race and did not welcome the friendly competition.  So Cooper scoffed at the dealership’s snub, and somehow was able to convince a kind old woman to let him enter  her brand new Maxwell in the race.  Cooper soundly beat his boss– and just as quick, found himself unemployed.  With nothing left to lose, he went on a racing tear, up and down the West Coast, where he was at times unstoppable.

Cooper joined the Stutz racing team in 1912, and just one year later went on to win the National Championship– racking up 2,610 points.  Cooper dominated the scene that year, winning five of the eight major road races, along with one 2nd place finish.

*

Earl Cooper and his riding mechanic in the Stutz car. Picture taken at Indianapolis 500 qualifying in 1919. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo. Noel Allard collection)

*

In 1913, Cooper’s Hell-bent rival, Barney Oldfield, was driving for the Mercer team.  The two battled fast and furiously, matching their skill and will on the racetrack–

Cooper and Oldfield would run head-to-head at the Santa Monica Road Race, held on an eight-mile macadam course near the ocean. Oldfield blasted away from the starter’s flag and held a sizeable lead, but Cooper passed Tetzlaff for second and began running Oldfield down. With a 4-minute lead over Oldfield, one of Cooper’s tires blew out and he had to coast into the pits. As his riding mechanic struggled to get the wheel off, Oldfield roared past. Cooper jumped out of the driver’s seat and wrenched the wheel off, the tire was changed and the car back on the track to begin running down Oldfield once more. In his exuberance to stay ahead, this time Oldfield blew a tire and bumped into the pits as Cooper whisked past and on to the checkered flag as the winner.

On September 9, 1913, Cooper and Oldfield again met head-to-head on a 3-mile paved track that circled the town of Corona, California. Cooper, after experiencing the tire problem at Santa Monica, had cannily practiced on the course to find what maximum speed he could drive in order to not make any tire stops at all. He determined that if he drove 75 mph. for the entire race, he could do just that. Oldfield, hell-bent-for-leather, predicted that the race average would go to 90 mph. Oldfield set the pace from the start, over Cooper, Tetzlaff, DePalma and Spencer Wishart. He clocked an awesome 98 mph on one lap, but the track had started to break up from the pounding it was taking from the heavy cars. Oldfield burst a tire and Cooper inherited the lead. Oldfield was back on the track and again at speed when again, a young spectator ran onto the track in front of him. Oldfield swerved to avoid the lad and crashed heavily, injuring several people and himself. Cooper won again and would go on to take his first AAA National Championship.

–Noel Allard

*

*

Earl Cooper in action at the start of a race in 1925, Laurel, Maryland.

*

Continue reading

THE TRENCH COAT MAFIA | ICONIC OUTERWEAR THAT’S ALWAYS IN STYLE

*

“The trench coat is the only thing that has kept its head above water.”

–Jack Lipman

*

Having spent years ridin’ the rails on the commuter train in-and-out of Manhattan, there are clearly two leading outerwear icons that are inescapable– the Barbour Beaufort, and the timeless Burberry Trench. Both are must-haves for the Northeastern climate in terms of their functionality, versatility and style.  It’s not uncommon at all the see a Barbour over a sportcoat or suit, although I oft feel the length and proportions are somewhat off– not to mention I like to keep the Barbour waxed within an inch of it’s life, and therefore it’s not exactly the best companion for co-mingling with tailored clothing.  For me, there’s nothing better than seeing a seasoned, well put-together professional sporting the old school classic essentials– Ghurka bag, Burberry trench, J. Press suit, and cordovans.  The trench is tearin’ up the runway right now, but don’t buy it for the reviews– wear it for its epic merits.

Now, if only proper headwear would make a comeback– and I’m not talking about knit caps.

_________________________________________________________________


*

1985– Artist David Hockney Smoking Cigar Outside Barn. –Image by © Michael Childers/Corbis

*

Continue reading

MORGAN MOTOR COMPANY | MAKERS OF THE WORLD’S FIRST TRUE SPORTS CAR

*

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones behind the wheel of his yellow Morgan Plus 8 roadster in St. Tropez, France, 9 May 1971.  Photo by  Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

*

Morgan owners are a unique bunch, and definitely my kind of people.  Typically, they aren’t your prissy, pretentious bunch of fetishists with pristine, untouchable autos.  They actually enjoy driving their beloved Morgans– and they drive them a lot, smiling all the while.

Much like British MG’s and Triumphs back in the day, Morgans gained popularity as relatively inexpensive and cool  sports cars (nowadays, a Morgan, still handmade, can set you back as much as $300,00 depending on your specifications, and be prepared to wait several years to take delivery) for young auto enthusiasts who would presumably get their kicks out of their ride for a few years, and then grow up and move on.  In fact, A young Ralph Lauren drove an off-white Morgan drop-top back in his early menswear days.  Ralph ended up letting the Morgan go because he could no longer afford to park it in the city– at least that’s how the story goes– but don’t feel sorry for Ralph, he now has one of the most enviably car collections in the world.

Over the years, the Morgan Motor Company”s quality, design, and nostalgic appeal proved to be timeless, right down to it’s Ash (yes, wooden) subframe– and spawned a strong legion of devoted followers.  And, if you know anything about Morgans, then you’re probably up-to-speed that it’s not the most user-friendly ride out there.  If you’re looking for luxury, comfort, and state of the art performance– move along.  This isn’t the car for you.  So why a Morgan?  Well, if you have to ask–

*

Classic Morgan Sports Car on Blue Ridge Parkway — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis

*

”The real appeal of the Morgan is a sort of anti-appeal,” says Burt Fendelman, a three-time Morgan owner. ”They’re not comfortable. They’re not practical. They’re not even weatherproof. But they’re rugged and a wonderful driving car, very tight in their handling, with no power steering or brakes or anything else. They offer a closeness to the road, a feel that can’t be matched.”

How about the feeling of pulling up next to a Porsche or Ferrari and taking it off the line?  Yep, equipped with a more than capable V-8, a well-tuned Morgan Plus 8 can do that.  I probably wouldn’t dare to test the Morgan’s handling abilities at top speed (125-130 mph), but this is a classic open road cruiser best enjoyed at speeds where you can take in the scenery.

*

Nov 27th, 1931, London, England — Two men lift the cover to show the Morgan Three-Wheeler automobile during preparations for the motor cycle show at Olympia in 1931. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

*

Continue reading

INDIAN | THE GOLDEN AGE OF ICONS THE SCOUT, CHIEF, AND THE BIG CHIEF

Great old shot of a 1921 Indian Scout (via)

*

The 1920s marked a decade of growth and model expansion for Indian.  The Powerplus-era street bikes, known for their durability and performance, gave birth to the new Scoutin 1920 designed by Charles B. Franklin– featuring a 37 cubic inch (600 cc) V-twin engine.  The low-slung Scout model, with its long wheelbase, innovative semi-monocoque construction, three-speed transmission and helical-gear drive, was an immediate hit with performance riders on the street, dirt tracks, and endurance circuits alike.  The Scout wasn’t the most powerful bike on the market, but it gained a following for its responsiveness and agile handling.  In 1928, Franklin masterfully tweaked the Scout, and in the process created the 101 Scout– with an even stronger frame, superior suspension and steering, longer wheelbase, increased fork rake, lower seat, addition of a front brake. and beefed-up engine putting out 45 cubic inches (750 cc) of displacement.  The result was what many consider to be the best bike Indian ever built.

*

The New Indian Scout– Power, Swiftness, Stamina, Economy!

*

You can’t wear out an Indian Scout, or its brother the Indian Chief.  They are built like rocks to take hard knocks– it’s the Harleys that cause grief.

Sport riders and racers were drawn to the 101’s performance– and the new Scouts enjoyed a strong run dominating the competitive scene.  Unfortunately, the 101 model lasted a scant four years in the Indian model lineup.  The country’s Great Depression forced Indian to cut production costs– and the 101 Scout was an unfortunate victim of downsizing. In 1932, to cut down production costs, Indian began pairing the Scout engine with the larger Chief frame. The matchup resulted in a motorcycle that was bulkier, heavier, and according to many– not as capable on the performance front.

*

The legendary 1929 Indian 101 Scout motorcycle– many would say it’s the finest bike Indian ever made.

*

1922 saw the introduction of the Scout’s big brother– the 61 cubic inch (1000 cc) Indian Chief.  Soon to follow was the Big Chief, introduced in 1924 with a 74 cubic inch (1200 cc) that could easily cruise at hit 85 mph fully stock– and in the hands of a masterful motor-head could be tuned to scream at well over 100 mph.  In 1940, all models were fitted with Indian’s signature sweeping skirted fenders, and the Chief was fitted a new soft-tail frame– vastly superior in terms of rider fatigue when compared to rival Harley’s rigid hard-tail. The Indian Chief soon cemented a reputation as being the very best touring motorcycles money could buy for quality, comfort and performance.

*

Continue reading

THE WHITE TRIPLEX | THREE ENGINES, 1500 HP, AND ONE TRAGIC RESULT

March 9th, 1929, Daytona, FL — Original caption: J.W. White, famous American speed king, standing beside his Triplex machine which he will drive in an attempt to break the world’s automobile speed record. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

.

Jim White was a wealthy Philadelphian who desperately wanted to snatch the land speed record from the hands of British racers Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell. Thus, the White Triplex was born. White decided that no single engine would do to challenge the British Napier Lion, so a straight-forward and solid chassis was built, onto which three war-surplus 27-liter Liberty airplane engines were mounted– giving it a total of 36 cylinders, 81 liter displacement, and a staggering 1,500 bhp in all.

The Triplex’s design was a brutish barebones approach– it had no clutch or gearbox, and only a single fixed ratio. Once started by a push start, it had to keep rolling. Driver comforts were minimal to say the least– the forward engine was sheathed in a modest attempt at streamlining, and the two mounted side-by-side in back were totally exposed. The courageous (or crazy) driver was then perched precariously in the middle.

.

Circa 1928-29– White Triplex land speed record car, showing the three engines. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection.  Link

.

Ray Keech, an experienced Indianapolis racer, and imposing man with flaming red hair, was paid a handsome sum to drive the White Triplex in the first speed record attempt at Daytona Beach, FL. The first trial runs proved to be dangerous indeed– no one had ever been faced with so much massive power, and in such crude form. Keech suffered burns behind the wheel of both runs– first from a burst radiator hose, then by exhaust flames from the front engine.

The overly simplistic design of the White Triplex posed a particular problem for the officials governing the speed record attempt. The regulations required vehicles to have a “means for reversing”, which the White Triplex definitely didn’t.  White’s Mechanics first jury-rigged an electric motor and roller drive onto a tire, but it was unable to rotate against the force of the three large engines, which could not be un-clutched. An even more elaborate “solution” was tried. An entire separate rear axle was fitted, held above ground until dropped by a release lever and then driven by a separate driveshaft. The device was ridiculous, and isn’t believed to have been utilized during the actual speed record attempt itself– but it was enough to successfully satisfy the official’s needs.

On April 22nd, 1928, Keech set a new speed record in the White Triplex of 207.55 mph at Daytona Beach.

*

Circa 1928 — Ray Keech is shown here on the day that he broke the speed record at Daytona Beach, FL. In this image you can clearly see the extra rear axle that was added for record qualification purposes. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

.

Continue reading

BEST IN CLASS FOR BUILT TO LAST | CHIPPEWA BOOTS

*

Circa 1939, Ola, Idaho — Farmers turned Loggers with a load ready to go to their self-help cooperative sawmill, started with a Farm Security Administration loan.

*

From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

The thing about great American design is that, for the most part, function is the driving element.   It’s this functionality that’s ultimately the true spirit of what MADE IN AMERICA stands for.  It ain’t about being pretty; it’s about being tough and working the way it’s supposed to.  A lot of it harkens back to a time when Americans toiled long and hard outside, with their hands, and demanded gear that could hold up to their hard-scrabble lives, and unforgiving the elements.  The gear was simple, honest, and true.  You got your money’s worth.

Our forebears would probably be more than slightly amused by the fact that many of today’s American workwear brand purists are not loggers, miners, and metal workers– however, the quality, core values, and classic designs behind these brands still resonate deeply within us.  I believe down inside, most of us value the dignity of hard work, quality goods, and simpler times.  There’s something honest and pure that’s sadly missing in the daily gadget grind of our increasingly disposable lives.  It’s like some of us have a primal itch that we just can’t scratch– so we gird our loins with garb from days gone by, to pay tribute to a life and times we’ll never know, but long for so badly.

*

Circa 1908– Lumberjacks in Northern Minnesota –Image by © Minnesota Historical Society

*

Recently I had the honor of sitting down with Clark Perkins, brand manager for legendary Chippewa Boots.  Full disclosure– I am not exactly Charlie Rose, I am a cultural observer and men’s wear guy who gets excited about a lot of different things, especially product I use and love.  I traffic in hyperbole, but in this case everything I pen about Chippewa boots is 100% true!  Ok, maybe a little opinion is thrown in there, but when I interview brand managers, merchants, and design folks I admire, I melt into the form of  a 13 year old girl watching Twilight than an objective observer, but what the hell.  When you’re talking about ‘best in class’ products, respect is due.

*

Circa 1930s– Loggers (or Lumberjacks) working every muscle in their body, and living off the land.

*

Tell me a little about the Chippewa Story?

Continue reading

SHE RIPPED AND SHE ROARED | EPIC WOMEN OF DESTINY & DETERMINATION

lillian-lafrance

Circa 1920s– Lillian La France in her early Motordrome riding days. This must be 1924, or so. She looks a little green, and that signature smile and exuberant confidence is not quite present.

.

LILLIAN LA FRANCE WALL OF DEATH RIDER

“It was the thrill of risking my life that made me to take to drome riding. I was the girl who flirts with death. From childhood I was inspired by wanderlust. I was always alone, dreaming of adventures– how to ride a pony out West, to follow my calling to fame. This was my secret. I shared it with no one.”

–Lillian LaFrance

Continue reading

THE WALL OF DEATH DAREDEVILS | LIONS & RIDERS & FAIRS — OH MY!

*

Circa 1929, Wall of Death, Revere Beach, MA

*

With the quickly improving build quality, speed, and more oil-tight engines, motorcycle racing was able to move from dirt tracks onto the motordromes of the 1910s– large wooden board tracks used for streamlined competition with banked turns of 70-80 degrees.  Riders soon learned a neat trick– that with a little speed, centripetal force made it possible for them to stick their bike sideways in turns on a completely vertical wall.

*

Motordrome racer on an Excelsior motorcycle, circa 1914

*

Motorcycle companies here and abroad (Indian and BSA, to name a couple) found that the public loved the thrill of peering down just a few feet away from the gunning biker beneath them, and thus it quickly became a highly promoted spectacle as manufacturers used it as a vehicle to advertise their brands, and daredevil riders upped the ante at breakneck speed to make a name for themselves and  solidify their reputations on the infamous Wall of Death.

With roots that can be traced back to New York’s own Coney Island, the Wall of Death attraction morphed into a motordrome on crack.  Motorcycles, carts and yep, even lions– simultaneously racing and criss-crossing in a raucous blur of fumes, fury, and fur inside the equivalent of an over-sized wooden barrel. The sport had a strong run from the 1930s- 1960s (with Indian Scouts being the over-riding bike of choice), but there are still hardcore enthusiasts to be found all over keeping it alive today.

*

Dick Monte with two handsome-as-hell Wall of Death riders, circa 1945. The rider on the left is Elias Harris, and  on the right is Tornado Smith.  Photo from the late Carrie Tindale collection.

*

Continue reading