ARLEN NESS’ SECRET WEAPON DURING THE ’70s CHOPPER BOOM | JEFF McCANN

Jeff McCann, who discreetly signs his works with his hidden signature “Motorcycles Forever” got his first bike back in ’65, at the age of 20.  An accomplished artist, McCann began customizing motorcycles a few years later, and soon found himself with a steady side-gig of painting and customizing friend’s bikes.

By the 1970s, with his incredible skills and the Easy Rider chopper boom in full force, McCann was in hot demand.   He opened his own custom bike shop in the San Francisco Bay area – as did Arlen Ness. Arlen, a master builder, was also a good painter– but nothing like McCann. McCann also brought serious design, photography, and printing skills to the table–  contibuting heavily to the first Ness catalog and logo.  It was a partnership that benefitted both sides, and that lasted for years.  McCann’s saved personal images and memories of that time are truly priceless–

Catalog Cover Shoot. Jeff McCann ~ This is a full view of the setup in my garage for the cover shoot for the second edition of our parts catalog. That’s me waiting to see if the photographer needs the bike moved, which is also why I am in my stocking feet so as not to mar the paper drape. I purchased two white paper background drapes and taped them together to get a wide enough “infinite” background for the bikes and models.  After advertising in the local newspaper want ads we hired two women who were inexperienced models but eager to work with the local “chopper guys”.  Scanned from a 37 year old 35mm negative shot by John Reddick in September 1972.  You can see the calendar this session produced here.

Theme Girl Julie. Jeff McCann ~ In the fall of 1969 my friend Chris and I decided to open a retail store selling “Chopper parts”. We had built and sold 4 custom bikes that year and all our friends were asking how to buy the parts mail order. Ed Roth published “Choppers” magazine which contained ads including one for AEE Choppers of southern California. We had purchased parts from them for my first panhead chopper that same year. Deciding on the name ” CJ custom cycle parts” we made a business plan and went to the bank for a start up loan. To say the bankers laughed at us would be exaggeration but they declined our request. I complained of their shortsightedness to my co-workers at the newspaper and Fran Walling, a fellow artist in the display advertising department, offered to loan me the money from part of her husbands life insurance settlement. We agreed to pay her 1% more than bank rate on a two year repayment plan.

And so with $5,000 in the bank we rented a small store front and made plans for a January 1970 opening.  The plan was for Chris to man the retail store on the weekdays while I worked full time at the newspaper, then on Saturdays I would be behind the counter. We really had no clue how the profit margin of a retail parts business should have worked, both of us had only high school educations and in 1969 I was 23, married with an infant daughter and Chris was 19 and two years out of school. To say we were more lucky than smart is an understatement.  This photograph of Julie, our theme girl, wearing our logo t-shirt was taken on January 10,1974 by John Reddick.  Exactly four years to the day after we had opened our first store and at the height of our business success. Scanned from a 35 year old 35mm negative.

Wheel Truing Shop. Jeff McCann ~ Work area in our first Stockton store, note the vise holding a threat rolling machine attached to a reversible drill. We cut the blank spoke to length with a small bolt cutter, ground the end round on the small grinder next to the vise, and then inserted the blank into the roller. The sign says we charged $28.88 for a set of spokes custom made and chromed to fit your application. Hundreds of wheels were laced and trued each year by either Chris or Kurt Bacon, a highschool kid who hung around my garage paintshop at home. He worked after school at the store and got school credits for “work experience” on his report card. After graduation he came to work for us full time and was a valuable employee and friend. Scanned from a 1971 b/w print.

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NOTES FROM THE SF UNDERGROUND | MAN UP, AND THE NEW MAIN STREET

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

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In the last few years we have been inundated by Washington and the media with news about the decline of “Main Street”.  I have to admit I have never been to this mythical place.  By the time I entered my consuming years, Main Street had long been shut down and all commerce was conducted at the rather impersonal confines of the local mall.  I imagine this mythical Main Street was a place with unique shops and businesses, where you not only went to buy a few things but catch up on local events, meet friends, and could even say hello to a proprietor by name (bit different then trying to get Hunter or Missy to help you at Abercrombie).  The customer mattered on Main Street; things were a little slower and had a lot more soul.  It was the opposite of the poor service, disposable products, and hassle that defines today’s buying experience.  I mean, I’m not for reckless consumerism, far from it– but shouldn’t buying something special for yourself be fun and painless?

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Worst Main Street, May 1951 –photo by Francis Miller

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The best way I can describe the Man Up pop up market that happened this past weekend is this– it’s part 1950’s trade association, part block party, part Hippie co-op (it is San Francisco after all), part European open-air market, and all punk rock garage band.  Having been in the menswear industry for the last twenty years, I’ll admit– I’ve become a bit jaded.  I thought what I would find were a bunch of hipsters, and I hate hipsters.  What I found were serious business owners– whose passion for their product was infectious, and who are strongly dedicated to producing well-made products that last, and make ’em right here in the USA.   I found a new business model that cuts-out the middle man and creates a deep loyalty between the consumer, brand, and owner/operator.  I found business people who were generous, passionate, knowledgeable, and friendly.    I think I found Main Street in the age of social media.

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Saturday Gig | Vulcan Motor Club

Vulcan Motor Club

I had mentioned awhile back that I have a new Saturday gig, and it’s not a bad one at that.  Friends of mine started-up the Vulcan Motor Club in Chester, NJ (where I hang) and have also recently branched out to Long Island, NY.  The club makes a lot more sense than sinking tons of your own dough into buying an exotic–  when you join immediately there’s an arsenal of the latest high performance and luxury vehicles at your fingertips, with none of the ownership worries in terms of maintenance, upkeep, depreciation, etc.  All you need to worry about is– which car will it be today?  

Maybe I’m too “old school” for my own good, but my favorite ride in the fleet is a ’65 Shelby Cobra (replica) fitted with a snarling 565 hp 427 aluminum block V-8.  For pure power, torque and thrill it’s the real deal, and a real driver’s car too.  Paddle shifters are cool, but I’d rather feel big-block, 4-on-the-floor rumble any day of the week.  There are several membership options and new Spring specials, with delivery and pick-up available within 60 miles.  

So if this sounds like the rush you’ve been looking for–  I can hook that up.

Vulcan Motor Club

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Got Rips?

gq-denim-lores1

It’s become pretty obvious through the search queue, that there are many among us looking for a way to repair our favorite jeans.  I know that I definitely have a couple pairs of vintage Levi 501s in need of some serious mending.   I have a few others that I can’t even wear for fear that with my next squat I may unleash a bountiful Sunday turkey dinner with all the fixins’.

Now, it goes without saying that not all of us are as skilled a craftsmen as Carl Chiara here, and it’s also possible that we want our rips repaired in a more discreet manner.  That being said– we need the assistance of a reputable and professional denim repair service. 

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