Exclusive Interview: Detroit artist BILL MORRISON on his life & career with The Simpsons, Futurama, Mad Magazine, his new Beatles book, and more!

Exclusive Interview: Detroit artist BILL MORRISON on his life & career with The Simpsons, Futurama, Mad Magazine, his new Beatles book, and more!

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Bill Morrison is a tremendously talented artist and writer.

A child prodigy in art and drawing, he could draw better at age three than I can at age thirty-six. His competency across a broad range of specialties and his career trajectory are jaw-droppingly impressive as he continues upping the ante by challenging himself with new and different projects.

He lives in a lovely stately historic home in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, which backs up to the vast and beautiful Lake St. Clair.

Bill lives with his wife Kayre (pronounced ‘Care’), two dogs Gidget and Ripley, two cats Ziggy and Freddie, and a world-class collection of comics, collectibles, and artwork. His home studio is a delightful wonderland of creativity, pop culture inspirations, and gobs upon gobs of wickedly good Bill Morrison original art.

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m here chatting with Bill. He was both brave enough to let me into his home and kind enough to answer my 10,000 rambling questions.

As a lifelong fan of The Simpsons and Bill’s work, I’ve owned several of his comics, watched several of his shows, and for years had the amazing full cast of The Simpsons poster on my wall that Mr. Morrison did.

Meeting him was an honor and I can tell you that he is a thoroughly cool dude.

The Simpsons kitchen sink poster art by Bill Morrison

He is also admirably, perpetually busy, as evidenced by his new book, The Beatles Nerd Search: All You Nerd is Love: A Yellow Submarine Puzzle Book, which came out November 02, 2021.

Published by Hero Collector, it’s a treasure trove of trivia masked as intentional continuity errors that are artfully designed to test your mental abilities of recognition and recall.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bill Morrison!

 

Bill on The Beatles

Nerd Search: All You Nerd is Love: A Yellow Submarine Puzzle Book by Bill Morrison

I’m a huge Beatles fan. My involvement with creating The Beatles books goes back to 1998 when Dark Horse Comics asked me to do a graphic novel for the 30th anniversary of Yellow Submarine. The deal unfortunately fell through midway. However, in 2018, I ended up doing a 112-page graphic novel adaptation of The Beatles Yellow Submarine for Titan Comics.”

Titan Comics is based in London. They published our Simpsons stuff for Bongo in the UK. Initially, the licensing agent for The Beatles merchandise was interested in having me link up with Titan for the graphic novel. Then they came to me with a second project because they needed a pre-approved artist and put me in touch with Hero Collector, which is owned by Eaglemoss.”

“Hero said they have a series of books called Nerd Search where each scene has purposely incorrect information & items that the reader has to find, clues to solve, and at the end you get all the answers and rate yourself. I had a great time doing the book and I’m looking forward to seeing what the fan reaction is.”

“I’ve been a lifelong Beatles fan. Favorite song is Hey Bulldog. Favorite album is Rubber Soul. And I listen to The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM all the time.”

“I saw ‘A Hard Days Night’ (1964) at the drive-in when I was five, sitting in the back of the station wagon. Back then everyone was playing Beatles records.”

“The first album I had was Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, then I got into the Saturday morning cartoon (1965-67), and saw Yellow Submarine (68) the first time it aired on TV in 1970.”

Beatles Yellow Submarine graphic novel by Bill Morrison

“I remember in high school there was a Broadway show called Beatlemania (1977-79) which was really popular and created a resurgence of interest in The Beatles. By that time, I was doing artwork and t-shirts.”

“At high school, my friend Steve Colwell and I started a small t-shirt business selling shirts of rock stars. We passed an order sheet around to everyone at school and they would place orders for our shirts.”

“My sister actually got to see The Beatles live in 1966 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. My dad drove them and sat in the parking lot. The Beatles only played for a half hour, but they had several other opening bands, which was common at the time. Dad was smoking a cigarette outside the car when the big garage door on the side of the stadium rolled up. A big black limo pulls out as he hears the kids leaving. Suddenly the crowd spots the limo, and this horde of Beatles-crazed fans starts running towards him. My dad is between The Beatles and the kids. He says he had to jump onto a lamp post to avoid being trampled!

 

The Early Years (or who is Bill Morrison and why am I in his house?)

Bill Morrison as Batman (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“I’m an artist, writer, collector. I like working at my home studio where I use mostly traditional tools of the trade, some digital. I sketch with a blue pencil, use graphite and ink for comics, acrylic for painting, brush painting or airbrush, depending on the texture I’m trying to achieve. As for writing, I frequently jot down random notes in a book, otherwise I type in Microsoft Word.”

My passion, thankfully, is my career and I don’t really have any other hobbies or interests beyond it. I love collecting toys, comics, art, but that all pretty much relates to my job. My wife and I like Art Deco, NY World’s Fair memorabilia, books (especially books on comics, comic collecting, illustrating, graphic novels).”

“My most marketable ability as a commercial artist is I can pick up other artist’s styles very quickly, which is very helpful in animation. I need a few practice sketches to find the rhythm, then I have it.”

Bill Morrison with Casper doll (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“I was born January 15, 1959, and grew up in Lincoln Park, Michigan, about ten minutes south of Detroit. My dad is from the Hocking Hills, Ohio area and my mom is from Wyandotte, Michigan. Her father was Judge Arthur Decker, who as a young man, was a prize fighter nicknamed Kid Decker. My parents have always been very supportive of my artistic ambitions.”

“I have four living siblings: Alice, Donna, Sue, and Janice. My brother Don just passed away recently. Two of my sisters live here in Michigan, and two live elsewhere. My wife Kayre is also from Lincoln Park. Yes, we started dating in high school, and we recently moved back to Michigan to be closer to our families. This fulfills the mission of my youngest sister Alice, who lives in Novi, and has been trying to re-gather all of us for years.”

“Growing up, my older sister Sue was artistic, and she taught me how to draw at age three. She sat me down at the kitchen table and taught me how to draw a stickman. She drew a figure and told me to copy it. Then she left, came back in ten minutes, and says I had “vastly improved” on the drawing. She got real excited, thought I was a natural talent. She was always keyed into what I was into. Early on I would emulate her character drawings of Snoopy, the Wolfman, etc, whatever my mania was at the time”

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“In 1977, I graduated Lincoln Park High School and immediately enrolled in Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. I started off wanting to be a comic book artist but learned I’d have to go to NYC to establish myself. I love New York now, but back then the idea of living there sort of terrified me. I had a teacher Gary Ciccarelli for airbrush class. He was really into the whole West Coast airbrush scene, which was highly glamorized, stylized, lot of palm trees and neon. And he turned us onto stuff I hadn’t been exposed to.”

“I graduated CCS in 1981 and got a job at Artech, Inc. in Livonia doing technical drawings for the automotive industry. I would be in a big room with 15 artists. The guys in the other room would look at a blueprint and sketch it out in 3D, then they would send it to us and we would refine and perfect it. We did mostly engine stuff, mechanics manuals & parts catalogs, cut-away paintings of diesel fuel pumps, etc.”

“In 1982, I married Karen “Kayre” DeLosier, the love of my life, and we lived in Plymouth, Michigan for a bit near Plymouth Road and Haggerty, before moving to the West Coast. Moved to Beverly Hills briefly, then Sepulveda (which became North Hills), then Simi Valley.”

 

L.A. in the ‘80s: a town awash in neon and perms and mohawks, oh my!

Bill Morrison with Roger Rabbit (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bill was employed as a professional illustrator at B.D. Fox and Friends Advertising from 1982-86, which is where he first met legendary cartoonist, Matt Groening, who was just an unknown scribbler at the time. After that, Bill was at Willardson & Associates. During this time, he also worked on iconic movie posters like the famous Little Mermaid (1989), The Land Before Time (1988), Oliver and Company (1988), all sorts of Disney movies, of which he said his favorite poster is The Prince and The Pauper (1990).

My first job in Hollywood was doing movie posters at B.D. Fox and Matt (Groening) was a freelance writer there. B.D. Fox was a boutique ad agency for the entertainment industry. A co-worker, Mili Smythe was an art director there and she was friends with Matt, they’re both from Portland, and she introduced us. Mili told me about Matt’s comic strip, Life in Hell.”

“Occasionally she would ask us for input on things like childhood songs to give to Matt, who would then put the song references in the comic strip. At work, Matt would pitch tag lines for posters, but we didn’t really become good friends until The Simpsons.”

The Prince and the Pauper (1990) poster art by Bill Morrison

“I designed the posters for horror movies House (85), Blood Diner (87), and I was the in-house illustrator doing rough sketches and comps for films like The Return of the Living Dead (1985). Art directors would come to see me with ideas they needed me to draw up. For the Return of the Living Dead poster, I don’t know who did the final painting but I remember being surprised that Bill Stout didn’t do it. He was a well-known poster artist, and he designed the zombies for the film”

“In 1986, I was invited to work at an illustration studio owned by David Willardson, the California airbrush artist, called Willardson & Associates. We did all sorts of advertising for all different products, mostly photo realistic work but glorified, Nestles Quick, Maxell Tape, etc, and one of the jobs was for Disney. It was a re-release of Cinderella, they wanted a one-sheet poster. I did a teaser they liked, then another one, and another one, then anytime Disney released an animated film into theaters. I did Little Mermaid, Oliver and Co, Rescuers Down Under, Roller Coaster Rabbit, Prince and the Pauper (a Mickey Mouse featurette), Peter Pan, Jungle Book, Bambi, Lady and Tramp, Fox and Hound, etc.”

“I did The Land Before Time movie poster for Amblin Entertainment. I only did the characters, not the background. This was in the pre-photoshop days and I’m at the studio and I get this big painting delivered. They said we need you to re-draw the dinosaur characters and paste them over the existing ones. I did it on one-ply Strathmore paper, which was tricky to paint on because it’s so thin. Then cut out the outline perfectly with an x-acto knife then painted the edges with a brush. It’s very hard to match outline colors perfectly. Then I took spray mount and permanently sprayed them onto this guy’s painting, which seemed kind of unethical but I had to do it.”

 

The Simpsons & Matt Groening

First signing with Matt: from L to R are Matt Groening, Steve Vance, Bill Morrison (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bill joined The Simpsons crew in 1990 and played a seminal role in the global expansion of the franchise. He was doing illustrations for 20th Century Fox and creating all sorts of art for merchandise, sketches, t-shirts, posters, etc, while simultaneously art-directing other merchandise artists at Klasky Csupo Animation Studio.

In 1987, The Simpsons made their global debut on the Tracey Ullman Show. It was one of the animated bumpers they did. Then it morphed into the December 1989 Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire holiday special episode, then the show officially premiered February 1990. It was an immediate blockbuster hit.”

Simpsons Yellow Album art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“I knew Matt (Groening) from our time working together at the ad agency a few years prior. He brought me into The Simpsons creative family, and I started doing character drawings for merchandise. I created the merch style guide, which is for companies who license the brand. If a licensee takes out a license, they get a style guide of images they can use. Some licensees pay extra for custom artwork. I also did almost all of the video game packaging in the early days, along with calendars, books, and more.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with the characters beyond what they looked like until we did the comic books. Sometimes the stories in Simpsons Comics necessitated creating new characters. For Radioactive Man we got to create a broader cast of characters because they didn’t exist on the show. Radioactive Man’s origins are similar to the Hulk. Fallout Boy’s origins are similar to Spider Man. It’s mostly parody and satire. At one time there was talk of doing a Radioactive Man cartoon show but the idea was shelved when Futurama came out. I would love to see the idea get revived and think it could be a big hit.”

Simpsons Comics & Stories # 1 art by Bill Morrison

“In April 1991, Simpsons Illustrated launched and the series ran for ten issues. It had a comic section, and at the end of the second year, Groening and Editor Steve Vance wanted a gimmicky annual issue, so we decided let’s do a comic book. We named it Simpsons Comics and Stories and it came out in February 1993.”

“It was such a big hit that it gave Matt the confidence to start Bongo Comics, so we did. Starting a comic was a dream come true. We started it in November 1993. I served as Art Director, Steve Vance was the editor and his wife Cindy was colorist and letterer. After the first year the Vances left, and I became the Creative Director (Editor and Art Director.) I was directly involved in some way with every issue (writing, penciling, inking, supervising, art direction, etc). My favorite character to draw is probably Radioactive Man.”

Matt and I are still good friends to this day.

The Simpsons episode: A Serious Flanders (November 2021) poster art by Bill Morrison

“In terms of The Simpsons tv show, my favorite episodes are Radioactive Man, Black Widower (great art direction), and many of the episodes from the Conan O’Brien era (1991-93). Also, I love the recent two-part episode “A Serious Flanders” for which I created an advertising poster.”

Bill also did the cover artwork for The Simpsons DVD’s.

And Bill won several Eisner Awards for Simpsons Comics (2000), The Amazing Colossal Homer (1994), and Radioactive Man.

 

Roswell Little Green Man, Futurama, and more!

Roswell Little Green Man art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“In 1996, I produced my own comic series for Bongo called Roswell, Little Green Man. Although Roswell loosely takes place in the late 1940’s, it was my love of 50’s sci-fi films that inspired it. The first story deals with giant ants, harkening back to Them! (1954 sci-fi movie). The series was nominated in four different categories for the highly coveted Eisner Award. We ended it because we started a little show called Futurama and I didn’t have time to work on the show, along with my Bongo duties, and also my own comic.”

I was the Art Director on Futurama from 1998-2003. I assisted in the creation of the cast of characters with Matt Groening. Matt was the creator of the show and Futurama was done by The Curiosity Company, Matt’s own production company.”

“We did four seasons, 140 episodes. It was on Tuesday nights when it first premiered, and Matt didn’t like that. He told Fox execs to put it on Sunday nights 8:30 p.m. right after The Simpsons. They wouldn’t do it. Finally, they put it on Sunday’s but at 7:00 p.m., which was too early. Futurama is a workplace adult comedy, it’s about adults, romances, and it was inappropriate to put on then. Plus, at that time slot, if sports games ran longer than anticipated, which they frequently do, they had to cut portions of the episodes or not even air the episodes.”

Futurama art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“I loved Futurama, especially Leela, and I helped design many of the weirder characters before Matt pitched the show. Matt would always do a final cut and tweak it. We’d be at his studio, he would give me a paragraph on a character, I would do drawings, then show him, it sparked him visually, then he would do a drawing, I would refine it, etc, it was a collaboration. I always felt my biggest contribution to the show was sometimes showing Matt what he didn’t want because it would help him decide which way to go with a character. It’s very difficult to create unique and original characters. Having some input from friends is valuable, the visceral reaction is valuable.”

“In 2000, I did a six-issue mini-series for Bongo called Heroes Anonymous. My editorial assistant at the time was Scott Gimple and I invited him to work on it with me. It’s about a support group for superheroes. We had it in development at the SyFy Channel for a while. Scott had moved on to Disney where he was working on a show called Fillmore, which was a safety patrol played as a 70’s cop show. He had an agent at this point who wanted him to go out and pitch ideas for shows that he owned. Since we co-created Heroes Anonymous he called me and we started pitching it to networks and the SyFy channel took an option. Scott and I worked together on the story for the pilot and Scott wrote the script. I was going to be on board as a producer. The network would give us notes on the script, and at first they were good notes. But eventually the notes got silly and were making the script worse. Finally, it got to the point that their suggested improvement notes were too embarrassing to seriously consider. We chose not to renew the option when it came up. Scott did okay though, he’s now the showrunner on The Walking Dead.”

“After that, I was lucky enough to be able to do my first book, which was a career retrospective on Dan DeCarlo, one of my favorite comic book artists. Dan is best known for drawing Archie comics and creating Josie and the Pussycats and co-creating Sabrina the Teen-age Witch. The book is called Innocence and Seduction: The Art of Dan DeCarlo. I knew Dan personally. We were friends until he passed away in 2001. I was also a fan and there were no good books on Dan’s art. I wanted to create something that didn’t exist yet.”

The Art of Dan DeCarlo book by Bill Morrison

“A few years later, I collaborated with Jane Wiedlin, co-founder of The Go-Go’s. In 2010, we did a comic book called Lady Robotika which was published by Image. The concept is based on Jane as a cyborg space hero.”

“In 2015, I wrote and illustrated Dead Vengeance for Dark Horse Comics. It’s a tribute to the gritty 1940’s pulp era and takes place in Detroit.”

Dead Vengeance by Bill Morrison

“Near my end at Bongo, Matt was working on a new show (what later became the show Disenchantment) and I was talking to the businesspeople telling them I’m looking for something creatively challenging. They said Matt wants to do a new company, comic, show, etc, but he’s not quite there yet. But we do want to develop a comic reader app for mobile phones and iPads, so I did that.”

“I designed comic reader apps. Here I am, devoted to printed comics, and I had to develop and promote comics on electronic devices. Had to learn the guided view mechanics of reading a comic online, panel to panel scrolling, etc. To do this I had to download digital comics and study them. I started taking them on trips with me and realized that you can still have your physical collection at home but also embrace digital comics as a convenience. I started promoting the app, called The Simpsons Store, then the Futuramaland comic reader.”

 

The National Cartoonists Society

Bill Morrison (National Cartoonists Society)

Founded in 1946, the prestigious National Cartoonists Society is the world’s main professional organization for people working in cartoons and comics. To be admitted membership, published cartoonists must send in samples of their work. Once vetted, they can become Artist members. Bill joined NCS in the mid-90’s and served as President from 2015-2019.

“I was a casual member for years. Then served on the board for Jeff Keane (Family Circus), then continued as VP on the board of Tom Richmond (Mad Magazine cartoonist). Then I became president.”

National Cartoonists Society 27 Club

“It was a lot of work but very rewarding. It’s mind boggling to think I’m part of that lineage, a fraternity of my heroes. It’s very difficult to get people to join clubs nowadays as regular dues-paying members. I’m glad that I was able to help come up with some good ideas to move NCS forward.”

Sergio Aragonés, Steve McGarry, and I were discussing effective strategies for reaching out to cartoonists and making it easy for them to join NCS. We came up with The 27 Club, where they don’t pay the $180 annual fee, and any cartoonist under 27 years old can join for only $27/yr. Jason Chatfield, who served as my VP and is now the president, continues taking it on. I love the NCS. We have the Reuben Awards every year for the Outstanding Cartoonist of the year. And last year we had our first annual online convention, which was great and well-received.”

 

MAD Magazine

MAD Magazine has been around since the Atomic Fifties, 1952 to be exact. This legacy institution had the foresight to hire Bill Morrison as Executive Editor in 2017.

“When DC Comics moved from New York City to Burbank, California, the MAD guys didn’t want to go. Finally, the publisher at DC worked out something with Warner Bros where the MAD Magazine offices could stay in NYC, but it was agreed that once they found someone to take over MAD, it would move to Burbank.”

Then they hired me, and I had to hire a full staff, except for one guy who did decide to move from NY. I had done some freelance jobs for MAD in the past and now here I was overseeing all creative aspects of the magazine. We had good people, especially the art director, Suzy Hutchinson. I’d look at everything, make notes, some minor changes, etc. I loved working there.”

Bill Morrison with Alfred E. Neuman (art by Tom Richmond)

“We were given a really tough assignment, which was to take a magazine read by mostly white males (ages 11-16 and 45-60), most of whom subscribed and they wanted us to expand the readership to women, other ethnicities, and other age-ranges, while not losing our current subscribers. We succeeded in getting subscription numbers up, had expansion ideas that were ambitious but doable, talked about the possibility of live comedy shows at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43, simulcasting, taking it on tour, new merchandise, etc.”

“We were getting great positive feedback. I’m connected with hardcore (and therefore critical) MAD fans who told us we had struck a great balance. But corporate decisions beyond my control caused MAD to go to a reprint format.”

 

Bill’s Influences & Collections

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I’m real big on Batman art and toys, non-superhero stuff like horror (especially Universal Monsters) and sci-fi, teen humor (any era but mostly 50’s 60’s). I typically go for eras and artists over genres. My favorite eras are 50’s-60’s.”

“Some favorite artists are Dick Sprang, Bob Oksner, Sergio Aragones, Dan DeCarlo. Growing up, some favorites were Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Steranko.”

It Rhymes with Lust (1950) cover art by Matt Baker

“Another favorite artist is Matt Baker, but his art is so expensive. He did the great cover for It Rhymes with Lust (1950) which many people consider to be the first-ever graphic novel.”

“Fine art, I like Salvador Dali, John Singer Sargent, M.C. Escher, Alphonse Mucha…though some might consider him more of an illustrator. Comedically, I’ve been influenced by Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, and more recently by Melissa McCarthy and Tina Fey.”

“To this day, I’m constantly discovering new influences. I also like the painter Norm Saunders, illustrator Wally Wood, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, etc, too many to list!”

Mars Attacks art (card 32) by Norman Saunders (1962)

 

Upcoming Projects

Bill Morrison holding a giant eyeball bowling ball (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“Right now, I’m working on a new one-shot comic for Ahoy Comics. I just did a cover for an Image comic called Stray Dogs.”

“I’ve been doing stuff for the fine art print market. And I’m doing some animation development projects and helping producers visualize their concepts.”

 

Final Thoughts

Bill at the drawing board, Bongo Comics (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

“At Comic Con (SDCC) one year, maybe ‘94-95, right after a speculator boom, when the industry took a turn downturn and was downsizing and consolidating, some publishers were shutting down, things at the time were looking down not up. The great Will Eisner walked by the Bongo Comics booth and I asked him his thoughts about the doom and gloom end-of-the-industry rumors. He said ‘I’ve seen this happen five or six times since the 1930’s. Comics is a language and a medium that people love. It might change shape, but graphic storytelling is an artform and is always going to exist’ and I thought that was tremendously uplifting and insightful and I try to always keep that in mind.”

My advice to aspiring creatives is to always be open to opportunities you didn’t necessarily anticipate. For example, I never thought I’d be a writer, art director, editor. But I said yes, I was open to it and ended up discovering that I love those roles. Talented young people tend to focus on one single thing only and might invariably miss out on other areas of rich potential. Sometimes you just gotta say yes and then figure it out. If you don’t like it, you can always stop doing it and do something else until you find the things you’re great at and love doing.”

 

Atomic Battery Studios (Bill’s official Facebook page)

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063233047912

 

Comic Art Fans

https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerydetail.asp?gcat=9451

 

Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/atomicbattery/?hl=en

 

Twitter

https://twitter.com/billmorrisonman?lang=en

 

LinkedIn

https://www.linkedin.com/in/bill-morrison-679341b

 

More images from the Bill Morrison archives

Bill Morrison tiki mug (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Jetson’s Robot Basher art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Alice Cooper Make Parties Sparkle art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bartman # 1 art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bill Morrison with Dave Willardson, Calvin Patton and Dave Stevens (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Angry Donald Duck art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Dr. Phibes Rises Again VHS art by Bill Morrison

Little Mermaid movie poster art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bill Morrison, Cindy Vance, Will Eisner, Steve Vance circa 1995 (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bongo Comics art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

movie House (1985) poster art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Aretha art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Disney Bambi movie poster art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bongo Comics art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

CAPS (Comic Art Professionals Society) bon voyage to Bill Morrison

Hot Coffey in the D album cover art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Futurama art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Peter Pan-American Airways art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

The Jungle Book movie poster art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Rollercoaster Rabbit poster art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bongo Comics art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Bongo Comics art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

Homer Simpson with Rocky & Bullwinkle art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)

 

 

Photos from the Bookfest Interview

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author ROCHELLE RILEY discusses her life, her new book, and a path forward

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author ROCHELLE RILEY discusses her life, her new book, and a path forward

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Dedicated and driven, Rochelle Riley is a talented author and advocate for creatives. She works on behalf of the arts and culture community in Detroit.

Author, journalist, Director of the City of Detroit’s ACE Office (Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship), Ms. Riley functions in several different roles simultaneously.

She also did an amazing job creating the Covid Memorial on Belle Isle, Detroit’s urban island park, to honor those lost during the pandemic. Fifteen funeral processions circled the island past more than 900 large portrait billboards of Detroiters.

Ms. Riley has a B.A. in Journalism from the UNC School of Media & Journalism, and she was a Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan.

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Locally here in Detroit, she is known for being a columnist at the Detroit Free Press from 2000-2019. Her first day in Detroit was 9-11-2000.

Prior to that she worked for a variety of newspapers, including The Washington Post, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, The Dallas Morning News and the Greensboro Daily News. Due to her achievements, she has been inducted into the Michigan and North Carolina journalism Halls of Fame.

Her new book “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World,” is an inspiring and uplifting collection of twenty-one African Americans who changed the course of history.

Published by Wayne State University Press in February 2021, this book is the result of Ms. Riley criss-crossing the country in a multi-year journey to put the project together.

Genesis of the Idea for ‘That They Lived’

That They Lived by Rochelle Riley (WSU Press)

Ms. Riley wrote the biographical essays based on photos that Cristi Smith-Jones, a mom and amateur photographer in Kent, Washington, posted on social in 2017. Mrs. Smith-Jones wanted to teach her daughter, Lola, about African-American history, so she posted the photos of then 5-year-old Lola dressed as iconic African-American women. Ms. Riley saw the photos and asked to write the stories of the women as well as others featuring Ms. Riley’s grandson, Caleb, dressed as iconic African American men. Mrs. Smith Jones said yes.

“In February 2017, I was working on my previous book, ‘The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery,” and scrolling through Twitter, when I saw an amazing series of photos during Black History Month,” Ms. Riley said. “Then the same thing happened again in February 2018. I’m scrolling through and these lovely photos pop up featuring a little African-American girl named Lola dressed in meticulously researched attire. She was highlighting the accomplishments of historical African American women, and I thought I need to find the person doing this. And it led me to Lola’s mom, Cristi.”

“Cristi said she was teaching Lola about Black History. So, I explained to Cristi that I was a writer and that pictures are worth a thousand words and I had a thousand words for each of their photos. She was very shy and stunned. I flew to Seattle to meet with her personally, and she agreed to do the project. I wanted to represent the men too, so I flew to Dallas, got my 8-year-old grandson Caleb, and we flew back to Seattle.”

“Yes, some bribery was involved. We would do a 30 -minutes photo shoot, then fifteen minutes of Fortnite and cupcakes. Afterwards , when the project was done, would take him to the movies. He wanted to stay dressed as Frederick Douglass. I convinced him to go as Thurgood Marshall.”

The Burden by Rochelle Riley (WSU Press)

Although geared towards young readers, ‘That They Lived’ is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone of every age.

The project was funded, in part, by a grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and the WSU Press endowment from the Arthur L. Johnson Fund for African American Studies.

“This is a book for young readers, for all readers,” Ms. Riley said. “I want them to understand that every great person was once a child. The book highlights 21 African Americans, but there are hundreds of African Americans who have invented and achieved, so it was definitely hard to choose. I tried selecting those who helped changed the views of other people about all African Americans, people who paved the way for others.”

“Previously, I had joined forces with WSU Press on The Burden. So I did it again.

Rochelle Riley on Her Love of Books & Writing

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

I became a writer when I was 8 years old. I had no math skills, and I had learned a love of words from my mother, an English teacher. I was hooked.”

“When I was a columnist, I wrote constantly. Currently, I’m working on a novel and a sequel to The Burden. When I’m writing a book, I’m finally happy with it by about the 11th or 20th draft.”

I write everywhere! Sitting on the couch, lying in bed, or sitting at my sturdy copper dining room table. I also work at my writing table, a glass desk where I’ve been writing for 20 years. But I can write anywhere. One time I was in the emergency room and had a column due. I snuck out to the waiting room and finished the column in my hospital gown.”

“Some of my favorite personal favorites books are: ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ (1943) Betty Smith and ‘The Color Purple’ (1982) Alice Walker. I like thrillers and mysteries. And I celebrate the brilliance of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison every year.”

Biography

Rochelle Riley grew up in Tarboro, North Carolina.

“My parents lived with their three kids in New York. My mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 27 years old, and my parents split up. We went to live with my mother’s parents in Tarboro, and I’ve forever grateful to them for making us into a new family.”

Even as her MS progressed and she was confined to a wheelchair, my mother was an incredible inspiration to me. She taught English to my friends and me in the living room.”

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

“The town, like most towns back then, was segregated based on race. The Mason-Dixon line that split the nation also existed in our town. And I crossed that line every day to go work at the public library.”

“In Tarboro, the norm was what is was. Beyond the expected segregated norm I didn’t experience much racism there. When I got to high school, everybody got along. But I was always aware of it.”

“My great, great, great grandfather Bailum Pitt was enslaved in North Carolina. I was able to find and confirm this in the tax records and will of a white attorney whose papers I found at the North Carolina State Archives.”

Personal interests

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

“As for hobbies, I live to write. But I do occasionally make time for movies, television, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, reading and traveling. They aren’t hobbies like some people would consider hobbies. My only constant task is reading. It is a duty and a joy.”

“I don’t have any specific favorite local eateries, but I love pasta and Asian food. And I love Belle Isle on a sunny day and Comerica Park in a close ninth inning.”

Detroit’s ACE Office

City of Detroit’s ACE Office (Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship)

In May 2019, Mayor Mike Duggan appointed Ms. Riley to head the City of Detroit’s newly created Office of Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship.

“I had decided to leave the newspaper (Detroit Free Press) to help keep others from being laid off, and the mayor needed an arts and culture director, so I was hired for the new role.”

“One thing we are going to be doing is a city-wide creative workforce census (which was launched in June). This project will measure the depth and breadth of Detroit’s creative workforce.”

Some parting thoughts for now

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of WDIV)

Slavery didn’t end. It just moved from plantations to the board rooms, court rooms, newsrooms and classrooms of America. This country has spent centuries trying to hide a crime committed in plain sight. That is no longer possible.”

“The greatest honor any African American can achieve is the acknowledgement that he or she has been blocked from achieving great life, liberty and happiness, that America is sorry and that the achievements, inventions and genius of African Americans will be added to all textbooks forthwith.”

Keep your eye on Rochelle Riley and stay tuned for her upcoming books, articles, and ACE projects!

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Homepage

https://rochelleriley.com/

 

Email contact

Rochelle.riley@detroitmi.gov on city business and rochelleriley1619@gmail.com for everything else.

 

Twitter

https://twitter.com/rochelleriley

 

WSU Press

https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/burden

https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/they-lived

 

Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B003DOI9YY

 

Detroit ACE

https://detroitmi.gov/departments/planning-and-development-department/arts-culture-entrepreneurship

 

Letters to Black Girls project

https://www.tamarawinfreyharris.com/letters-to-black-girls/

 

Endowment

https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/support/endowments

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

 

 

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author RJ King discusses his new book ‘8 Track: The First Mobile App’ which details the pivotal role of Ford Motor Company in bringing the 8-Track Tape Player to market

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author RJ King discusses his new book ‘8 Track: The First Mobile App’ which details the pivotal role of Ford Motor Company in bringing the 8-Track Tape Player to market

RJ King 8 Track book

I’ve always loved Boston-Edison. This is a large residential Historic District in the geographic center of Detroit full of stately homes, wide boulevards, and old-fashioned streetlamps. Detroit author and DBusiness magazine editor RJ King moved to a beautiful three-story Colonial Revival here in 1994.

Sitting in RJ’s living room, we can hear the steam gently whooshing through the radiators. Soothing, it reminds of my Marpac Dohm sound machine, whose sonic white noise helps me sleep.

RJ is very welcoming, hospitable, and insightful. In terms of stories and hidden history, he has an eagle eye for tantalizing, overlooked, and underreported gems. A writing talent, RJ has penned over 6,000 articles at DBusiness and over 16 years for The Detroit News. Prolific at home, RJ has written four books. Never one to lollygag or dawdle, he’s also a licensed real estate agent!

We’re here discussing his fabulous new book, “8 Track: The First Mobile App,” published by Folktellers and Written in Detroit.

RJ King, Detroit author of 8 Track the First Mobile App (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

When publicly released in October 1965 by Ford Motor Co., the 8 Track tape player completely revolutionized in-car audio and how music in general was experienced by consumers.

It offered, for the first time, a mobile music experience in an industry dominated by AM Radio and record players.

Since then, the 8 Track, which essentially offered “album” cartridges, served to bootstrap the introduction of cassettes, followed by compact discs, and now downloads. Today, the medium has been largely forgotten as a fun and useful device in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The last major release on 8 Track was in 1988 with Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits.”

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Sure, from 2009-2014 there was an 8 Track museum run by Bucks Burnett in Deep Ellum, Texas.

And Barry Fone runs Barry’s 8 Track Repair Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz.

And don’t forget “Tracker Bob” Hiemenz. Bob owns the world’s largest 8 Track collection. Over 90,000 tapes and 700+ players are stored at his house in Quincy, Illinois. But for many people, especially those who postdate 8 Track mania, the true story is a quick trip back in life filled with nostalgia.

RJ’s new book is an incredibly detailed and well-researched story of Detroit and Ford Motor Co.’s pivotal role in the development and rollout of the 8 Track tape player.

Part hidden history, part business lesson, this is a story largely untold until now.

 

RJ King on His Book

8 Track book RJ King (photo by: Ryan M. Place

“My older brother Patrick emailed me a speech that my dad, John P. King, had written in 1975 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 8 Track tape player. Until reading that email, I had no idea my dad was intimately involved in the development of 8 Track back when he was a product engineer at Ford.”

“Fascinated, I searched for a period history of 8 Track, and there was nothing. So I started researching my dad’s involvement, assembling a chronology, reading Billboard magazines every week from 1964 to 1980, and doing interviews with my dad and other key people whom he introduced me to.”

“I worked on the book on weekends, typing it up on my iMac, and about a year and a half later had a final product.”

“This book details the leap from stationary music to mobile music. The 8 Track really was the first mobile music app. Prior to its creation, you could only listen to music live, on a record player, or on AM radio. What Ford and Motorola did, using Bill Lear’s design which they modified, is they built a combined AM Radio and 8 Track tape player and it completely revolutionized music and car audio.”

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

“All four of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math) were used to invent, launch, and sustain 8 Track. It was a big leap from the mono world to the stereo world. The 8 Track was a physical music playback system that allowed you to listen to songs without being present with the band. It was the introduction of ‘music to go.’”

My dad was hired by Ford in January 1965, and the 8 Track was ready to go by October 1965. It was a rush program, to be sure. After Ford came out with 8 Track, Chrysler, and then GM, Volkswagen, and American Motors offered 8 Track. It was successful because it was a group effort.”

Motorola designed the players, Lear made the cartridges, RCA contributed the music, and Ford installed the players into 1966 model year vehicles.”

“Initially, none of the record companies would license their music to 8 Track. But Bill Lear knew David Sarnoff, chairman at RCA Records, and they licensed 175 albums.”

Motown 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

“Then later, Motown Records in Detroit, licensed some of their catalog for it. And all the other record companies came on board, and by 1970 it was a $1 billion industry. Motown even let Lear’s team transfer the initial master record tracks from RCA to magnetic tape. Berry Gordy would sometimes come up and hang out on the third floor of Motown Records (which is a converted house on West Grand Blvd.), and the machine was only available after midnight.”

“What I want the reader to take-away is that forming a talented team and working together is key to the success of any project. You’ll also learn how vital it is to control your intellectual property, and how to launch a major industry from scratch, and take advantage of the good sales years and properly prepare for winding down the business, as 8 Track gave way to cassettes, and so on.”

 

RJ’s dad John P. King fills in the gaps

RJ calls his father on the phone. His dad, John P. King, is 85 years old. He grew up on Chicago’s west side on Jackson Boulevard near Garfield Park, until moving to Michigan in January 1965. He earned a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and he had magnetic tape background based on his early employment.

John started out as project engineer for the introduction of the 8 Track Tape Player, and wrote all the standards (and made sure everyone adhered to them).

He retired as Regional Manager of Asia Pacific and New Markets for Ford Customer Service Division in 1997, and today is active with FREE (Ford Retired Executive Engineers).

John says:

“The development of 8 Track was fast-tracked so we could make the 1966 model year. We all worked many extra hours to bring it to market in only nine months, which was unheard of.”

“Back then, I had what we called a ‘Sound-Off’ with Earl ‘Mad Man’ Muntz out at the Ford Assembly Plant (28801 South Wixom rd, Wixom, MI). Muntz acquired that nickname in Los Angeles when he had a used car business. He was the guy who invented the 4 Track tape player, and he had a flair for showmanship and self-promotion. He was trying to get all the automakers to go for his 4 Track.”

“The Sound-Off was held at the Ford Wixom Plant, where at that time they were building the Thunderbird and the Lincoln Continental. Well we had an audio test among a small group of Ford people and Muntz, and we pitted his 4 Track against our 8 Track tape player by doing a live demonstration.”

“I showed up with my 1963 Ford Fairlane wagon, but I had swapped out the factory speakers with six-by-nine-inch speakers front and rear, and I had installed a very new production 8 Track tape player. From there, it was obvious that the 8 Track sounded far better. What wasn’t obvious was that I had installed stereo speakers in my car.”

Ford Quadrasonic 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

“One other funny story. Donald Frey, the guy who designed the Ford Mustang, lived near Pete Estes, who was vice president for General Motors. Don was the overall lead on 8 Track at Ford, and he asked if speakers could be mounted in the front grill of his car, and he wanted specially loud Motorola bullhorn speakers. The speakers were wired to Don’s 8 Track tape player in his car. At the time, Ford’s ad slogan was ‘Ford has a better idea.’ So every morning when he drove by Pete’s house, Don would blast that slogan with the music at full volume.”

“Later, in 1967, Don Frey had us do a sound comparison between the 8 Track Tape Player with the latest cassette tape. At that time, the fidelity of the 8 Track was superior. Another factor was you had to manually flip the cassette, where 8 Track was hands free. But eventually cassette won out as Lear, who owned the patents on 8 Track, sold them to Gates Rubber Co., and they failed to renew the patents in 1975. From there, the standards could not be maintained, and the industry started to introduce cheaper products.”

“A plus for cassette tapes was that it was much easier to record your own material. And the cassette was half the size of 8 Track. So we helped usher in cassettes, and then compact discs. When I retired from Ford in 1997, downloads were available, and you could see one day they would be readily available.”

Back to RJ.

 

RJ King Biography

RJ King (courtesy of DBusiness)

“I have 6 sisters, 2 brothers, and I’m in the middle! (laughs) I have 3 sisters and 1 brother older, and also 3 sisters and 1 brother younger.”

“I’m editor of DBusiness magazine. Prior to that I was working at The Detroit News starting in 1990. I was on the business staff until I ran into Gail Fisher (now Gotthelf) while volunteering at a charity event during Super Bowl week in February 2006.”

“Gail worked for Hour Media and said the two owners, John Balardo and Stefan Wanczyk, were looking to start a business magazine. I came onboard and that’s how DBusiness was born.”

DBusiness Magazine

Hour Media is based in Troy, Michigan. As a parent company, they own around 160 magazines, including Hour Detroit, DBusiness, Grand Rapids magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and we have other magazines in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati, Atlanta, all throughout Florida, the Gulf Coast of Alabama, and more.”

“In general, I write one story per day for DBusiness Daily News and write about 7-10 stories per each issue of DBusiness magazine.”

“In terms of local restaurants, some favorites are Roman Village in Dearborn and also London Chop House and the Vertical Wine Bar, both in Detroit.”

 

Upcoming Developments

Detroit Engine of America-RJ King

“We just introduced an audiobook version of my other book, ‘Detroit: Engine of America,’ available on Audible.”

“And I have a fifth book coming out in March 2021 called “Grounds for Freedom.” It’s an unbelievable true story about Andrew Niemczyk, a local inventor who has developed amazing machines and new technologies. Check out his website at Exlterra. ”

 

Buy RJ King’s 8 Track book here

https://www.amazon.com/Track-First-Mobile-Stem-Revolution/dp/B08FP4QJF1

 

Email RJ King

Rjking0090@yahoo.com

 

8 Track (and related audio) Timeline

*Most of this timeline was pieced together from information found in RJ’s book

Rarest 8-Track: SinatraJobim (courtesy of Google Archives)

  • 1928-Motorola founded in Chicago. Bill Lear helped name the company.
  • 1930-the Motorola car radio is invented
  • 1935-RJ’s father John P. King born in Chicago
  • 1948-Columbia Records introduces the LP
  • 1949-RCA invents 45 RPM
  • 1949-sales of the 1949 Ford help save the company’s fortunes
  • 1952-endless loop tape cartridge invented
  • 1954-George Eash invents the Fidelipac tape cartridge
  • September 12, 1955-Chrysler agrees to install Peter Goldmark’s in-car record player (Columbia Records) after the automaker’s team in Highland Park, MI tests the prototype by driving on the nearby Davison Freeway.
  • 1956-58-the Highway Hi-Fi in-car record player is featured in some Chrysler vehicles. It uses special 7-inch records called ‘ultra-microgroove.’ It was a big flop.
  • 1959-closed loop tape players are used at nearly every AM radio station
  • 1960-used car dealer Earl “Madman” Muntz invents the 4 track tape player
  • 1961-Michiganian Larry Spitters founds Memorex in Silicon Valley
  • 1962-the audio cassette is developed by Philips in Hasselt, Belgium
  • 1963-Bill Lear, owner of 110 patents, invents the Lear Jet to be introduced in 1966
  • October 1964-the 8-Track Stereophonic Tape Player is developed by Bill Lear and Richard Kraus at Lear Jet corporate HQ (Wichita, KS). Afterwards, they are built regularly at the Lear Jet Stereo-8 division (13131 Lyndon Ave, Detroit)
  • January 1965-John P. King moves to Dearborn to work for Ford
  • July 1965-Motorola begins production shipments of 8 Track tape players to Ford
  • October 3rd, 1965-8 Track tape players are released to the general public thanks to Lear’s friendship with Henry Ford II (grandson of big Henry). They are released in the form of an AM radio with integrated 8 track tape player installed inside Ford vehicles.
  • 1965-80 = 8 track is popular
  • 1966 = Ford sells over 125,000 8 track players as an option (available on six models)
  • Fall 1966-all Detroit automakers now offer 8-Track factory installation options
  • April 1967-Gates Rubber Co. acquires a controlling interest in Lear Jet
  • May 1967-Earl Muntz has his son Jim Muntz fly to Detroit and open Muntz CARtridge City (15278 Gratiot Ave, Detroit) to sell 4 track players and tapes
  • 1969-Sinatrajobim 8 track tape (3,500 made but quickly recalled; only a handful not recalled). This is currently the rarest 8-Track, selling for upwards of $6,000
  • September 1969-production of 8 Track tapes ceases at Lear’s Detroit plant. They move production down to twin plants in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Mexico.
  • December 1969-Lear’s company’s name is changed to the Gates Learjet Corp.
  • 1970-RCA releases 40 Quad-8 tapes (Quadrasonic sound)
  • 1971-GM and Chrysler start offering cassette tape player options in cars
  • 1979-Sony and Philips join forces to create Red Book standards for Compact Disc Digital Audio
  • 1979-Sony Walkman invented
  • 1979-Ford introduces all-electronic AM/FM stereo radio with Quadrasonic 8 Track player. Knobs and buttons are replaced by a brand new digital display.
  • October 1982-CD player Sony CDP-101 publicly released in Japan by Sony Philips
  • April 1983-CDs become popular in USA as car manufactures install them
  • October 1984-Terra Haute, IN = first US CD plant opens
  • May 1985-CDs become insanely popular worldwide
  • 1985-Sony Discman invented
  • 1986-the Lincoln Town car has a CD player. This is the first factory-installed application in the domestic auto industry.
  • 1988-CD sales eclipse vinyl
  • November 1988-the last 8 track tape is made = Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits
  • 1991-CD sales eclipse cassettes
  • 1999-Napster file sharing MP3s
  • 2000-CD sales global peak (2.45 billion sold worldwide)
  • 2001-Apple iPod

Ford Quadrasonic 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

Motorola Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

8 Track vintage (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Motorola 8 Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Panasonic 8 Track detonator (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ford 1966 advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ford 1967 advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Tracker Bob Hiemenz (courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Exclusive Interview: Psychedelic Pioneer, Author, Acid Tests Graduate & Original Merry Prankster KEN BABBS discusses his life, work, recollections of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, Timothy Leary, and more

Exclusive Interview: Psychedelic Pioneer, Author, Acid Tests Graduate & Original Merry Prankster KEN BABBS discusses his life, work, recollections of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, Timothy Leary, and more

Ken Babbs Reddit AMA

 

Ken Babbs Reddit AMA

Fri, December 4th, 2020

10:30am PT/ 1:30pm EST

https://www.reddit.com/r/gratefuldead/comments/jmloej/announcement_ask_me_anything_with_very_special/

 

 

The only true currency is that of the spirit.”-Ken Kesey

Furthur.

Ken Babbs. What a guy! This soon to be 85-year-old Merry Prankster lives on a 10-acre farm in the small, rural town of Dexter, Oregon along Lost Creek, a tributary of the Willamette River.

Babbs is still a Prankster and still boldly subjecting his endurance to unique irritations like recently answering 100 questions from a plucky sprat wordsmith who’s pieced together a rickety quasi-mythic collage of the psychedelic 1960’s while basking in the dual luxuries of 20-20 hindsight and internet access.

Writer, humorist, humanitarian, musician, athlete, Midwest native, former chopper pilot in Vietnam, Babbs is a wonderfully multi-dimensional character who is best known for co-creating the now legendary phenomenon of The Merry Pranksters.

 

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Led by literary college buddies Ken Kesey and his best friend and co-pilot, Ken Babbs, the Merry Pranksters were a core group of 14 people who helped give birth to the psychedelic counterculture in the mid-1960’s.

There was the Beat Generation, then the Pranksters, then the Hippies. Neal Cassady was the living link between the Beats and the Pranksters.

These cosmic jesters had japes aplenty. There was the core group and an extended family of peripheral associates. Just reading a list of Prankster nicknames will make you chuckle: Intrepid Traveler (Babbs), Swashbuckler (Kesey), Zonker, Hassler, Sometimes Missing, Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen, Captain Trips, Space Daisy, Mountain Girl, Barely There, Lord Byron Styrofoam, Doris Delay, Cadaverous Cowboy, Mary Microgram, Sensuous X, June the Goon, Marge the Barge, Dis-Mount, Mal Function, etc.

One of the most well-known adventures of the Sixties, the Merry Pranksters two month long, cross-country bus trip from June-August 1964 symbolized the searching, mind-expanding spirit of the Sixties and is the adventure that kicked off the Psychedelic Sixties.

They crammed into a psychedelically painted bus named ‘Furthur’ and filmed their zig-zagging journey from La Honda, California to “Madhattan” New York and back. Along the way, amid hallucinogenic hijinks, the Pranksters (and the bus) all blended into one rollicking amorphous organism spreading cheer, humor, kindness, and good-natured mayhem to the unsuspecting citizens of America.

Merry Pranksters (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Fueled by orange juice laced with LSD (which was still legal until October 1966), the Pranksters would stop in various cities, dress up their alter ego’s in weird clothing, play music and join people in their fluffy cozy web of institutionally-induced conformity coma. Synchronizing into a communal group consciousness, the Pranksters unsnarled uptightness and gave joy to of all forms of exploration: neurocognitive, geographic, interpersonal, multi-media, etc.

After the bus trip, the Pranksters began throwing Acid Test parties in the Bay Area of California. At an Acid Test, you would drink LSD-laced kool aid, dance to the Grateful Dead playing music live, watch Prankster home movies and engage in assorted shenanigans amongst dayglo painted everything, strobe lights, and smiles galore. There would also be the liquid light show going on, using a technique pioneered by Prankster Roy Sebern (he was also the guy who named the bus Furthur), using an overhead projector with changing cellophanes and liquid oil.

The Grateful Dead started off as a Palo Alto jug band with Bob Weir on washtub bass and Jerome “Jerry” Garcia on the banjo. They were called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, then they changed their name to The Warlocks and became the official Acid Test houseband before finally morphing into The Grateful Dead as electric rock & roll instruments transformed the musical landscape.

Everything the Pranksters stood for and promoted was geared towards generating fully joyful experiences. Blasting open those hidden vaults of your own mind, unlocking positive thinking, traversing new unexplored dimensions of your being, and accessing higher levels of reality beyond the usual mundane ordinary everydayness.

It had the flavor of a traveling circus of the mind and a sort of raw, universal quality to it. They personified the multi-colored living in the moment NOW spirit of the Sixties. Bold and inventive, the Merry Pranksters, were the ones who really, truly, unintentionally, popularized psychedelic culture on a large, global scale.

Prankster Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Babbs and company were the focus of ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ (published August 1968), a superb in-depth tale of the Pranksters written by journalist Tom Wolfe, who never rode on the bus himself.

Although the Pranksters were early LSD proponents, the role of drugs in general has been over-magnified. Yes, the late Sixties youth culture was drenched in LSD from a veritable free flowing melting neon tap of acid but what was really at the forefront was the powerfully deep yearning amongst young people to increase their mindfulness, kindness and creativity. A line from The Bardo Thodol says “Everything can be transformed to limitlessly positive configurations” and that ethos was one of the main driving forces of the counterculture.

The impossibility of distilling the Prankster experience into words creates a hilarious paradox. The more ultra uber transformatively fantastic something is, the harder it is to accurately describe.

But Ken Babbs, whom due to his historical figure status over the decades becoming an almost fictional comic book type character himself, is gonna give it a whirl.

KEN BABBS BIO

Gretchen Fetchin and Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“My family has been in Ohio for a long time. Our ancestry is English, Scottish, Irish, German. I have nine kids. Was married three times. Had four, four, and one.”

“I grew up 30 miles east of Cleveland in Mentor, Ohio on Lake Erie. Used to call it ‘minor Cedar Point on the lake’. They had a roller rink, bowling alley, dancehall where one side was underage and the other side was for drinking age. Going there only cost a dime!”

“Fortunately, my parents accepted me being a Merry Prankster. We were never on the outs. Although, I’m sure they often found themselves wondering what happened to this All-American Boy?”

“In the past 55 years, what questions haven’t I been asked? Have I had venereal disease?” (laughs)

Ken Babbs & Neal Cassady on the Pranksters bus c. 1964 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“Oh man, the way things have been going, things are so crazy, gonna get crazier probably. Question of what’s next? In terms of global scale, this is the absolute craziest I’ve ever seen things in my lifetime. This whole Covid pandemic lockdown isolation experience forces you to dip into your creativity.”

“There’s been such a huge change from the 1960’s to now. There’s more people and everything has expanded exponentially. I love watching the faces of the world. We may totally fuck up and destroy the Earth, who knows? Need to look to space to get a good perspective on life. Best thing we’ve done lately is we got a puppy 4-5 months ago. Taking care of this creature living with us has been tremendous.”

“San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 60’s were halcyon. Hard to describe, you had to be there for the experience. As things change in life, one day’s fad is another day’s antique. Shit happens but the 60’s live on.”

“The Pranksters, the Sixties, we’re talking about myth, which is made up of everybody’s contribution to the myth. You don’t want to refute anything, just add your own version. The Sixties will be a mountain of myth. 2,000 years from now some Homer-esque historian scribe will put it all together.”

Babbs comes to Detroit

Grateful Dead at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom (December 01, 1968)

“I’ve been to Detroit once.”

“I was in Ohio at my uncle’s and Jerry Garcia called me saying the Grateful Dead would be playing Detroit (December 1st, 1968 @ the Grande Ballroom). So I got in my car and drove up there. Great show, then we all partied at a hotel downtown afterwards with Jerry, Pigpen and the gang.”

 

On The Art of Writing

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“I used to write daily. Mostly journaling, thoughts, poetry. Still write frequently. My Vietnam novel Who Shot the Water Buffalo was published a few years ago. Also, recently wrote a big book called ‘Cronies’ which is about Kesey, Cassady, and Prankster adventures but can’t find a publisher for it. Might just self-publish.”

“I co-authored The Last Go Round with Kesey in 1994.”

“A recent chapbook, ‘We Were Arrested’ is about the April 23, 1965 bust at Kesey’s La Honda home. You can buy the chapbook on my Facebook page.”

Ken Babbs-We Were Arrested

“I have piles of manuscripts. No shortage of material. I will soon be publishing a book called ‘7 Poems of Ken Babbs’.”

“In terms of what I like to read, I’m mostly into fiction, works of imagination. At the time I graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1957, Kerouac published ‘On the Road’ and the free form jazz-like flow of his writing had a tremendous influence on me.”

“Plus, my mother was a librarian. My dad was a newspaper editor. I grew up in a literary household reading Faulkner, Hemingway. There’s a great book called ‘The Way West’ by AB Guthrie Jr. I also love fiction adventure stories, detective stuff. Michael Connelly does some great stuff. There’s so many great writers today.”

Ken Babbs-Cronies

Order Ken Babbs books directly from Ken here

www.skypilotclub.com

 

 

Comic Books

Kesey and I both loved comic books. Our favorite character was The Spirit.”

“Comics are great. What we loved about Sixties Marvel comics was the heroes were always fighting against bad guys for noble ideals like rights and justice. Kesey and I had both been into comics since we were kids.”

“My dad thought comic books were trash, just a mind rotting waste of time. But not me, I loved them. Kesey even wanted to be a comic strip artist at one point.”

 

Experiences in Vietnam

Ken Babbs Vietnam (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Babbs served in the US Marine Corps from May 1959-1963. He trained in Quantico, Virginia, then attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida where he learned to fly choppers. He moved to San Juan Capistrano, CA and was stationed at nearby Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine before shipping off to Vietnam. While in Nam, he flew a Sikorsky H-34D “Dawg” in the Delta and Da Nang and wrote a novel called ‘Who Shot the Water Buffalo’ which was finally published in 2011. You can buy it on his Facebook page.

“The entire experience I had in Vietnam was completely insane. It was still early in the war, I was flying the chopper, we were supplying troops. It was a beautiful country. Within a few weeks in country it was obvious that us being there was a ridiculous waste of time and resources.”

The government always has to have an enemy that they can rouse the people against. Generals want to play with their toys, the big bombs and the fun guns.”

Vietnam domino theory (courtesy of Google Archives)

“In Nam they had the Domino Theory. First Vietnam will fall, then the Philippines, then Hawaii, then suddenly the dirty Reds will be in San Francisco having babies. The Red Horde will be at your door before you know it!”

Still have my leather flight jacket.”

“The Pranksters and my Nam buddies never got together but I’ve had great experiences with both groups. Beautiful thing as you get older, all your experiences are the sum of who you are right now. Just incorporate those experiences into your being. We’re all material beings, we’re not angels. As such, we’re fucking up all the time. Over time, your fuck-ups become your best stories.”

Sikorsky H-34D in Vietnam

 

Babbs at Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969, the Pranksters attend Woodstock music festival along with an estimated 400,000 people at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Mistakenly anticipating violence and chaos, the police were shocked at how courteous and well-behaved the attendees ended up being. There were so many people that there was a perpetual 9-mile long traffic jam. Of the 5,000 reported medical incidents, 800 were drug related. Hog Farmer Wavy Gravy was the official head of security of “the please force.”

“Woodstock was pivotal. It was a wonderful, momentous scene and experience in American History. During times of turmoil, awful times, the magic and people living the good life, helping each other, keeps the American spirit alive. Woodstock was a celebration of collaboration among the peace-loving people.”

“I was hired by Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm to help out. We took 4 buses and about 40 people from Ken Kesey’s farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and headed some 2,900 miles over to Woodstock in Bethel, New York.”

“Some of us Pranksters had our musical instruments. Across the hill from the main stage, we had the free stage. At one point I was on the main stage with the Grateful Dead. But mostly I was either helping out at the Freak Out tent or playing music on the free stage. I kept a very detailed journal of that amazing experience and should probably release it as a book.”

 

Memories of Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey on the Merry Pranksters bus (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs were best friends. Kesey was a groomsman at Babbs wedding in 1959. Kesey then volunteered to take mind-altering drugs at the local Menlo Park VA hospital later that year. He didn’t know it at the time but this was part of the CIA’s clandestine MK-Ultra project. He fictionalized his experiences in the instant bestseller ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962). Couple years later he moved to a large house (7940 La Honda rd, La Honda, CA) on 3 acres in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest. This became the HQ of the Merry Pranksters where spontaneous happenings would be attended by Hunter S. Thompson and the Hells Angels. In early 1966, Kesey was busted for marijuana, faked his death and became a fugitive in Mexico. He did time at a prison work farm called the Honor Camp (7546 Alpine rd, La Honda, CA) which was hilariously located only 1 mile SE of his house, practically in his backyard. After that he moved up to a farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and the rest is history.

Oh, God, so many great times and fun memories of Kesey!

“We met at Stanford University in the Graduate Writing program. We hit it off right away in grad school. He lived nearby on Perry Lane (9 Perry Lane, Palo Alto, CA), which was a collection of cottages. Block parties were frequent. Kesey was a social force. He’d written an entire novel called ‘Zoo’ before we even got to Stanford.”

Ken Kesey at a Pranksters Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“He had also been a wrestler at the University of Oregon.”

“One time he hurt his shoulder. He had shown me some wrestling moves and we both signed up to compete. They wouldn’t let him participate but I did and he became my coach and mentor for that experience. My first opponent was this big red headed guy. Kesey said ‘I’m gonna teach you a trick. This is called the Telephone Takedown. When the match starts, make a big noise and commotion, make it look like you’re answering an invisible ringing telephone. Then when the guy is confused, dive, flip and pin him’. So, I took Kesey’s advice. The match starts, I do what he said to do. The red headed guy looks at me, steps back, throws me over and pins me in two seconds flat. And the sonofabitch broke my tooth, I spit it out!”

“Kesey started off as a magician. He had a ventriloquist dummy named Blinky. In his hometown of Eugene, Oregon, he would do shows on Saturday’s at the movies. In between movies, he would come out and do his magic and ventriloquism and he was great, very captivating. He was also fond of sleight of hand coin tricks. He’d be expertly pulling coins out of people’s ears and noses.”

Ken Kesey (photo by Jerry De Wile)

“I remember in the 90’s when Kesey and I were traveling around the country performing our play ‘Twister’, Kesey would bring his ventriloquist doll Blinky out.”

“Kesey had a pet parrot named Rumiako. Man, that thing could crack macadamia nuts.”

The story about Kesey’s involvement with the LSD test monkey’s is a bunch of bullshit. That was some guy down on the coast. Kesey was not involved with releasing them into the wilds of La Honda.”

 

Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

During the Pranksters bus trip, they stopped at Millbrook in upstate New York, home of psychedelic Harvard exile Dr. Tim Leary.

Leary had the flu, so we didn’t see him until leaving. He said he was sorry. We were on the same wavelength and we became really good pals shortly after that.”

Timothy Leary & Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady at the jukebox (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady was a constantly on the go historical literary character who was intimately involved in both the Beat Generation in mid-1940’s New York when he linked up with Jack Kerouac and also the Merry Pranksters when he drove the Furthur bus in the mid-1960’s. From the mid-50’s onward, Cassady lived periodically in Los Gatos, CA until his mysterious death in Mexico in 1968, some 2,000 miles south of home.

“I first met Neal Cassady on the Prankster bus in 1964. Took a while for us to get acquainted. He called me a “tourist” (haha).”

Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“Super guy. He was the living link between the Beat Generation and the Merry Pranksters. He was a very rambunctious, energetic, knowledgeable person. Very intelligent. He was like our elder Uncle.”

“Cassady was also the very first sales clerk at the Hip Pocket bookstore. That was Ron Bevirt and Peter Demma’s store in Santa Cruz. Bevirt’s Prankster name was Hassler

 

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson circa 1967 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Hunter Thompson was the famous Gonzo journalist from Louisville. In the 60’s he lived at 318 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco. Over the years, his work has become tremendously influential, especially the seminal ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas‘ (1971).

“Oh man, Hunter was a great guy. Lucky to get to know him. We need his acerbic wit today, right now.”

“One time in the early 70’s he wrote a story about the Marathon in Honolulu, for some running magazine. He couldn’t finish the article so the editors flew him to Eugene, Oregon and put him up in a motel. He had locked himself in a bathroom. Paul Perry got him out of there by calling me because Hunter had asked for me to get him some weed. Thompson comes out of there and lights a string of firecrackers right in the room. So I get him the pot, and he finished the article. He’s getting ready to leave. Kesey and I are outside in Kesey’s car, waiting. Then Hunter comes out. He’s standing by the car door in his white shorts, white shoes, white shirt. As we pull away, Kesey lights a long string of firecrackers and throws it at Hunter’s feet! He’s dancing around as we pull off laughing.”

 

Ken Babbs on The Merry Pranksters

Merry Pranksters bus Furthur (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“The Merry Pranksters came together through divine planning. And the labels just happen. Deadheads are followers of The Grateful Dead. The Beats were named by John Clellon Holmes. The media came up with the label Hippies. I came up with the name Merry Pranksters spontaneously, naturally. This was not an intentional calculation whatsoever.”

Early 1964, after hanging out at San Gregorio Beach, we were all back at La Honda around the campfire when I was goofing around and said: ‘Tis I, the Intrepid Traveler, who has come to meet his Merry band of Pranksters across the country in the reverse order of the pioneers. We won’t blow up their buildings, we’ll blow their minds!’.

“I’ve told that story about 6 million times. Good stories do not get old.”

Initially, we were going to take my station wagon, a 1958 Ford, but instead we bought the bus right as our group grew, and we took the bus instead.”

Merry Pranksters on the bus. Ken Babbs (lower right, striped shirt). Ken Kesey (up top in the porkpie hat playing the flute) (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

“Kesey and I were tired of writing on the manual typewriter. We were tape recording. We’d lie on the floor at night and rap stories onto tapes. Problem with that method is afterwards you have to spend too much time listening to it.”

“Then (George) Walker bought a 16mm movie camera, so we started filming everything.”

(Mike) Hagen saw the ad for the bus. It was located in Atherton. He and Kesey went to pick it up. Kesey sunk his money into the bus and the trip to Madhattan and back and the cost of filming the movie. Other than that, everyone chipped in what money they could and we did plenty of shows and performances which we got paid for.”

“On the trip, our very first prank was in Arizona. Barry Goldwater was a senator in Arizona and we drove through his hometown. Painted a sign ‘A Vote for Barry is a Vote for Fun!’ He was pro Vietnam. His actual philosophy was summed up in his phrase, ‘Nuke the Gook’.

Merry Prankster Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Prankster nicknames were created in the moment spontaneously as the bus trip unfolded. Ron Bevirt became ‘The Equipment Hassler‘, which was just shortened to Hassler. This was because every morning he would be rooting around in a drawer for things.”

“The Prankster movie was about interacting. We’d stop at a gas station somewhere and people would flock to the bus. We’d get out with our musical instruments and movie camera and help turn it into a fun thing. This happened everywhere we went. NYC was the climax of the trip. It was like we were a moving theater and the random people we encountered were the audience, they didn’t have a choice.”

We would balance intentionality and spontaneity. The intentionality is shooting the movie. Being spontaneous is having no script whatsoever. We were making it up as we went along.”

“The whole Prankster thing was about being open, friendly, creative, artistic, kind. Instead of participating in violence of any kind, take another path to keep the tranquility alive.”

Merry Pranksters bus with observation bubble (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

The Grateful Dead

UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1965: Photo of Grateful Dead when they started playing as the Warlocks (Photo by Paul Ryan)

“We became friends with them before they were even called The Warlocks.”

“They played our 1965 Halloween party at my house in Soquel. Wonderful group.”

 

LSD: The Merry Prankster’s Acid Test Parties

Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Merry Pranksters threw legendary LSD events from Fall 1965 to Spring 1966. This sort of gathering they dubbed an Acid Test, a reference to how a psychedelic chemical would test the strength and pureness of your being. An informal precursor to the official Acid Tests took place on Halloween night 1965 at Ken Babbs house ‘The Spread’ (Soquel Dr and Dover Dr, Soquel, CA). Then on November 27, 1965, the first official Acid Test also took place there. Since it was only advertised by limited word of mouth and a flyer at the local Hip Pocket Bookstore in Santa Cruz, the turnout was small compared to the thousands of attendees who would swarm future Acid Tests. The Pranksters went on to throw dozens of Acid Tests at various locations until the final Acid Test graduation at San Fran’s Winterland Ballroom on Halloween night 1966.

Pranksters LSD was put into orange juice, kool aid, and let me see, oh yeah, elephant piss! (laughs).”

LSD helped blow out the old imprints. You should keep the great ones but don’t get too hung up on old ideas. Make sure you let in some new stuff continually.”

We took LSD in whatever form the doctor prescribed. We ate mushrooms. Nitrous might have even been popular but it wasn’t always pretty.”

Ken Babbs at the Merry Pranksters Trips Festival (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD was cheap enough back then, you could trade it for a pound of hash oil. Last time I took acid? 1866 or was it the Greco Roman war?

All psychedelics and drugs should be legalized.”

The original Acid Test movie reels, the raw 45 hours of 16mm film are now in a vault in L.A.

Paul Foster, a fellow Prankster, created the acid test poster, it was printed at a local shop.”

Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)

Tom Wolfe the journalist was never on the bus. Great guy and great writer though.”

“His book Electric Kool Aid Acid Test was going to be made into a movie by Gus Van Sant but the project got shelved because a satisfactory screenplay never materialized.”

“We need Pranksters now. We need humor and off the wall happenings. The real battle is in minds between malevolent and benevolent thoughts, doing good or bad things. Don’t fight them. Just make a concentrated effort to grow your benevolent thoughts.”

Merry Pranksters Acid Test (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Ken Babbs Final Thoughts

Ken Babbs with Kesey’s parrot Rumiako (photo by Jerry De Wilde)

What’s a good way to prank a Prankster?

Ask him 95 ridiculous questions.”

 

General advice for young people?

“Follow your bliss. You need a daytime job to pay for your nighttime creative fun. As you go through life, make this your goal. Follow the donut, not the hole. Be kind.”

 

Caution: Weird Load.

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Facebook

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Skypilot Club Homepage (order Ken’s books from him directly here)

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Email Ken Babbs

kapn@skypilot.com

Poem by Ken Babbs

Everything in a Aristotelian world

is in chronological order

but in a quantum physical

Einsteinian universe

everything is happening

all at once and we had

that experience when doing acid.

He was dyslexic, insomniac, agnostic,

woke up crying, Is there no dog?

No dog. What? No dog?

Does the universe end with a whine

and not a bark?

The wolf howled

and a heavy fog

held the cold

like a frozen blanket

juices were flowing

and the sap was rising

as spring awakened

from winter’s sleep.

We was swamped,

deluged, flooded

got muddy feet, the swamp lily,

now that was immaculate.

“Don’t eat when you’re angry,”

Cassady said, “No one

was ever happy, angry.”

—- Ken Babbs

 

Merry Pranksters & Assorted Psychedelic Timeline

NOTE: this is a raw, unpolished timeline compiled from my research notes. I approach interviews like doing detective work and always try to assemble a timeline for story coherence. Thought I’d include it since it might be a helpful resource to others. Cheers! Ryan

January 14th, 1936-Ken Babbs is born in Ohio

1938-LSD synthesized by Dr. Albert Hoffman @ Sandoz Lab (Basel, Switzerland)

1939-Al Hinkle and Neal Cassady, both 12, meet in Denver at a YMCA gym circus class

April 19, 1943-Dr. Albert Hoffman unintentionally takes the world’s first acid trip

1946-47-Neal Cassady moves to NYC, meets Jack Kerouac

1949-Dr. Max Rinkel brings LSD from Sandoz Labs in Switzerland to the USA, Boston

1951-Dr. Nicholas Bercel, a neurophysiologist at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) supposedly becomes the first American to experience LSD

1951-Dr. Humphry Osmond moves from London, England to Saskatchewan, Canada. He begins testing the therapeutic effects of LSD on schizophrenics and alcoholics at Weyburn Mental Hospital.

1951-Neal’s son John Cassady is born @ 29 Russell st, San Fran; Kerouac also lived here for a bit; Carolyn Cassady took the famous photo of them across the street

1953-CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb buys the entire known world supply of LSD so the CIA can conduct mind-control experiments with it, thus kicking off the MK-Ultra Project

1953-City Lights books opens in SanFran, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A plucky young sci-fi novelist, Philip K. Dick, is a frequent customer.

Dr. Albert Hofmann (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

1954-Dr. Gottlieb starts Operation Midnight Climax where the CIA gives unsuspecting customers of prostitutes LSD inside a house (225 Chestnut Street, SanFran) so they can study their behavior

1954-68-the Hungry I nightclub in San Fran

1954-Neal Cassady buys house in Los Gatos (18231 Bancroft ave, Monte Sereno, CA). Lives here periodically until his death in 68. His wife Carolyn sells the house in 87 and it gets bulldozed.

1955-Babbs attending Case Tech school in Cleveland, then Miami University (Oxford, OH)

1955-Ginsburg reads Howl poem in San Francisco

1955-Baltimore, MD-Spring Grove State Psychiatric Hospital, founded in 1797, becomes early LSD experimental ground in Cottage 13, a small cottage on the property. Over 700 people are given LSD by Dr. Albert Kurland from 1963-76 when the program was “officially” running and was funded by NIMH. In 1968, Dr. Stan Grof arrived.

1957-Kerouac’s book On the Road comes out

1957-Dr. Humphry Osmond coins the term ‘psychedelic’

1958-Ferlinghetti’s book Coney Island of the Mind is published

1958-Ken Kesey and his wife Faye Haxby move to California

Fall 1958-Babbs gets a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and enrolls at Stanford grad school writing program where he meets fellow outsider Ken Kesey at a cocktail party at professor Wallace Stegner’s house

1959-Pasadena, CA-Ken Babbs wedding. Ken Kesey is groomsman

Jack Kerouac (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

May 1959-Babbs enters the military; trains with USMC in Quantico, then Pensacola, FL flight school and learns to fly choppers

1959-Naked Lunch WSB

1959-Jerry Kamstra runs the Cloven Hoof Bookstore (Grant ave, SanFran)

1959-After being encouraged by Dr. Vic Lovell to sign up, Kesey volunteers at Menlo Park VA hospital (795 Willow rd, Menlo Park, CA) to take mind-altering drugs as part of MK-Ultra (financed by the CIA; they paid Stanford University; also supposedly tested LSD on monkeys). Kesey takes drugs under the supervision of Dr. Leo Hollister.

1960-Kesey lands job as psychiatric aid at the VA

1960-Cambridge, MA-Tim Leary and Richard Alpert conduct LSD experiments on themselves and others

1960-HST first encounters LSD in Big Sur but does not take any

1960-while working at Dow Chemical in Berkeley, a young Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin has his first psychedelic experience in the form of a mescaline trip at Dow

1961-Springfield, OR-Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs, John Babbs all take IT-290 (aka: alpha-methyltryptamine)

1961-Ken Babbs moves to Ganado Road, San Juan Capistrano, CA. He’s stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine before shipping off to Vietnam.

1961-while living briefly in Paris, France, psychedelic researcher Dr. James Fadiman is introduced to psychedelics by friend Ram Dass when Dass, Tim Leary, and Aldous Huxley pass through town. Soon after this, Jim and Dorothy Fadiman become Perry Lane neighbors of Ken Kesey.

Ken Kesey one flew over the cuckoos nest 1st edition hardcover

Fall 1961-Kerouac writes novel Big Sur @ Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Bixby Canyon, Big Sur. Later, Kamstra writes The Frisco Kid here

September 1961-Cambridge, MA; Leary takes LSD for the first time via Michael Hollingshead

1962-Tim Leary’s Good Friday psilocybin experiment in Boston

1962-Kesey’s One flew over the cuckoo’s nest published; breakout success, instant bestseller

1962-under the supervision of Dr. James Fadiman, Stewart Brand (soon to join the Merry Pranksters) has his first LSD experience at Myron Stolaroff’s International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, CA

1962-63-Babbs is USMC helicopter squadron in Vietnam (wrote novel Who Shot the Water Buffalo, unpublished until 2011); stationed down south in Delta, then north in Da Nang; he was flying a Sikorsky H-34D “Dawg”

Late 1962-Neal Cassady hangs out with Kesey in Palo Alto

1963-Babbs returns from Nam, hangs out at Kesey’s house (9 Perry Lane, Palo Alto) bongos and wine and pineapple chili. Pot wasn’t even on the scene yet

July 21, 1963-Perry Lane ends, bulldozed

1963-Leary fired from Harvard, moves to Millbrook

1963-Owsley synthesizes his own LSD in Berkeley. He then starts manufacturing homemade LSD via ‘Bear Research Group’

Merry Pranksters bus (c. 1964) Ken Babbs, Gretchen Fetchin the Slime Queen, Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

November 22, 1963-JFK assassinated in Dallas

1964-Kesey publishes Sometimes a Great Notion

March 1964-sci-fi author Philip K. Dick takes LSD and says the experience transports him to Latin-speaking ancient Rome. He then writes the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch during extended amphetamines binges at his house (3919 Lyon ave, Oakland, CA)

Early 1964-Kesey moves to La Honda (7940 La Honda rd, La Honda, CA) a large house on 3 acres in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest

1964-the Merry Pranksters are named by Babbs at San Gregorio Beach, CA. The Merry Pranksters form (core group of 14 people) = zapping the “squares” out of their conformity to the Establishment by using LSD, a day glo bus, music and laughter

Spring 1964-Prankster Hagen sees classified ad for 1939 International Harvester bus for sale by Andre Hobson in Atherton, CA. Kesey buys it for $1,200 with his ‘One flew over cuckoo nest’ money

June 17, 1964-the famous Furthur bus trip starts from Kesey’s house (La Honda, CA) to “Madhattan”; “Kesey wanted to see what would happen when hallucinogenic-inspired spontaneity confronted what he saw as the banality and conformity of American society”

June 29, 1964-Pranksters arrive in NYC. While in NYC, Neal Cassady introduces the Pranksters to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at Chloe Scott’s apartment (Madison Ave and 90th St)

August 1964-the Furthur bus returns to La Honda

1964-San Francisco area-Pranksters help give birth to the counterculture

Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady on the Merry Pranksters bus

1964-HST first reports on the Hell’s Angels

August 2nd, 1964-Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam

October 1964-the Hip Pocket Bookstore opens (1500 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz) Run by Ron Bevirt (aka: Prankster Hagen) and Peter Demma. Neal Cassady is the stores first sales clerk.

February 21, 1965-Owsley’s home/LSD lab (1647 Virginia st, Berkley, CA) raided by police

March 30, 1965-Owsley creates first big batch of LSD

April 12, 1965-Tim Scully first takes LSD. Shortly afterwards, Owsley hires him as a roadie for The Warlocks (whom in a few months become The Grateful Dead). After that, he becomes Owsley’s lab assistant in Point Richmond.

1965-Roy Sebern, Prankster affiliate and artist, invents the liquid light show

April 23, 1965-Kesey’s La Honda estate raided by Agent Wong (Willie Wong, SF Chinese narc) but the Pranksters had a few days heads-up and ended up pranking the cops. Kesey and 13 other Pranksters arrested

May 1965-HST first article on Hell’s Angels appears in The Nation magazine

1965-Wes Wilson creates the world’s first psychedelic concert poster (San Francisco)

Hip Pocket Bookstore (1500 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, CA) opened 1964

1965-Lafayette Hills, CA-While working for Dow Chemical in Berkeley, legendary chemist Alexander ‘Sasha’ Shulgin synthesizes MDMA at his recently built home laboratory.

1965-Vietnam big surge US troops 500,00 (Marines to north, Army to south)

July 1965-Dow Chemical Company (Midland, MI), the makers of saran wrap, score a $5 million dollar Department of Defense contract to become the US military’s only supplier of Napalm. Until 1969, they manufacture Napalm-B, a jellied mix of gasoline, benzene, polystyrene.

Aug 7, 1965-La Honda party w/ HST and some 40 Hells Angels; “amusingly incongruous cast of characters, a microcosm of an unsustainable social movement”; also present were Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsburg; 100 people total, all on LSD, HST’s first LSD experience; Lord Byron Styrofoam (aka Sandy Lehmann-Haupt) the KLSD radio station DJ, “800 micrograms in your head”

August 13th, 1965-Jefferson Airplane debut at The Matrix (3138 Fillmore st, SanFran)

August 24th, 1965-The Beatles first take LSD together @ Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house (2850 Benedict Canyon rd, Beverly Hills, CA) with Peter Fonda, David Crosby, and others

September 02, 1965-The Beatles concert @ SanFran Cow Palace (bad vibes, Pranksters leave early, return to La Honda to see 400 people there and Owsley, the world’s greatest acid chemist)

September 5th, 1965-the word “hippie” first appears in print in the San Francisco Examiner

October 15, 1965-Kesey and the Pranksters @ the Vietnam Day Committee protest @ University of Berkeley, Sproul Hall Plaza, some 15,000 people. Paul Krassner’s first encounter with the Pranksters

October 31, 1965-Babbs says that an informal Acid Test party, a precursor to the official Acid Tests, takes place during a Halloween costume party at his house “The Spread” (Soquel dr and Dover, Soquel, CA) on 400 acres

Merry Pranksters Acid Test LP

November 21, 1965-Lysergic A Go Go @ AIAA Aviation Academy Auditorium (7660 Beverly blvd, LA) event put on by Hugh Romney (aka: Wavy Gravy) and Del Close for 500 people

November 27, 1965-Soquel, CA-Babbs house ‘The Spread’ first Acid Test; advertised at the Hip Pocket Bookstore; Pranksters home movies, Cassady, Ginsberg

2nd test = December 4, 1965-San Jose Acid Test @ Big Nig’s house= The Warlocks first performance as the Grateful Dead; took place right after the Rolling Stones played San Jose Civic Auditorium

December 10th, 1965-Bill Graham takes over The Fillmore (1805 Geary blvd)

3rd test = December 11, 1965 = Muir Beach, CA feat. Grateful Dead, strobe lights; 300 people; Hell’s Angels, Owsley has LSD freakout, claims he goes into “parallel time dimension” with Count Cagliostro

December 18, 1965-acid test @ the Big Beat (998 San Antonio rd, Palo Alto)

January 1966-October 1967-Ron and Jay Thelin run the Psychedelic Shop (1535 Haight, SF)

January 8th, 1966-Fillmore acid test. Paul Krassner attends.

January 15th, 1966-Portland, OR acid test

January 19, 1966-Kesey arrested again for weed. Busted on Stewart Brand’s rooftop (Vallejo Street @ Grant St, North Beach, SanFran). Kesey along with Mountain Girl busted for only 3.54 grams of marijuana.

Merry Prankster Stewart Brand

January 21-23, 1966-Pranskters put on the Trips Festival, a 3-day long Acid Test @ Longshoreman’s Hall SanFran (considered the first true hippie festival/official gathering?) Babbs does the sound system and builds scaffold control tower; 10,000 attendees drinking LSD punch; Stewart Brand, Bill Graham

January 23, 1966-Kesey moves into Babbs house, The Spread, in Santa Cruz where he plans to, rather than do 5 years in prison, fake his death and become an outlaw in Mexico. Mountain Girl, Lee Quarnstrom, Ron Bevirt, Space Daisy, also move in.

January 31, 1966-Kesey’s abandoned vehicle is found in Orick, California. Inside is an 18-page long suicide note reading “O Ocean, ocean, ocean, I’ll beat you in the end”

February 04, 1966-Kesey becomes an outlaw in Mexico

February 1966-Ken Babbs becomes unofficial leader of the Pranksters. The Pranksters acquire the Sans Souci (saan soo see) old mansion in Stinson Beach. They have acid test at nearby Sawyer’s Church in Northridge.

Feb 12, 1966-Watts Acid Test (either 13331 S. Alameda or 9027 S. Figueroa, Compton, CA) 200 people; 30 gallon plastic trash can full of “Electric Kool Aid” (coined by Wavy Gravy), Grateful Dead

March 1966-Pranksters take the bus to Mazatlán, Mexico to visit Kesey. They do several small Acid Tests in Mexico. Kesey sneaks back into USA via Brownsville, TX.

1966-Mountain Girl has child with Kesey & also marries and separates from fellow Prankster George Walker. She later marries Jerry Garcia.

1966-Grateful Dead and Mountain Girl move to 710 Ashbury, SanFran

Summer 1966-1969-Lithuanian Leon Tabory takes over ownership of ‘The Barn’ in Scotts Valley from Big Daddy Nord. The Barn was a well-known beatnik, Prankster, hippie community gathering place located off Highway 17, just north of Santa Cruz. The Barn address (Granite Creek road and Santa Village Dr, Scotts Valley, CA).

July 24, 1966-Pranksters Lee Quarnstrom and Space Daisy (aka: Judith Ann Washburne) are married at The Fillmore. The best man is Julius Karpen.

September 1966-The Oracle newspaper begins

Merry Pranksters Trips Festival 1966 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

October 1966-Prankster affiliate Julius Karpen becomes the manager of rock band Big Brother & the Holding Company for one year.

October 6, 1966-LSD becomes illegal in the state of California (note the overtones of 666)

October 20, 1966-Kesey arrested on freeway in San Francisco

October 31, 1966-final Acid Test graduation @ Winterland Ballroom (SanFran) strange end to the Pranksters acid tests. The group gradually go their separate ways afterwards, periodically hanging out.

January 14, 1967-The Human Be-In @ Polo Fields (Golden Gate Park, SanFran) 30,000 people

Jan-Feb 1967-Tom Wolfe’s first articles on Pranksters run in New York Magazine

1967-Ken Babbs moves to Oregon

1967-Owsley living and making LSD at 2321 Valley st, Berkeley, CA

1967-Hugh Romney (aka: Wavy Gravy) starts the Hog Farm (West Conover St, Sunland-Tujunga, CA). This is a 33 acre commune in the hills above Los Angeles. To find it on a map, use the address 9401 Tujunga Valley st, Shadow Hills, CA. In 1969, the Hog Farm moves to Llano, New Mexico.

Feb 1967-HST book Hell’s Angels published

March 1967-Prankster Denise Kaufman (aka: Mary Microgram) joins all-female rock band The Ace of Cups. She does vocals, guitar, harmonica.

Merry Pranksters Acid Test Graduation (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

March 16, 1967-Houston acid test @ Rice University. Teacher and novelist Larry McMurty was a Stanford Univ pal of Kesey’s.

May 26, 1967-The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper album

June 16-18, 1967-Monterey Pop Fest in Monterey, CA (feat. Hendrix, the Who, Shankar, Joplin, etc)

June 23, 1967-Kesey goes to work farm for 5 months for marijuana charge. This is the San Mateo County sheriff’s Honor Camp (7546 Alpine rd, La Honda, CA). 11 acres. Former Boy Scout camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Pescadero Creek. It is hilariously located only 1 mile SE of Kesey’s house.

Summer 1967-San Fran-Summer of Love-“flower children followed by the sharks; Bay Area wasn’t kind of place we wanted to be around anymore”

1967-Lenny Bruce protégé & quasi-Prankster affiliate Paul Krassner founds the Yippies (Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman)

1967-Tim Leary moves to Laguna Beach to live with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (250 Woodland Dr)

1967-Quasi-Prankster affiliate Norman Hartweg car accident in Las Vegas, leaves him a wheelchair-bound paraplegic. He spends 1yr in hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then stays in Ann Arbor until moving back to LA in 1977. Norman’s father, Dr Norman E. Hartweg, was curator of reptiles at the University of Michigan, he was an international expert on reptiles.

October 21, 1967-Washington, DC-a group led by Abbie Hoffman attempt an exorcism of The Pentagon. They sing and chant, trying to get it to levitate so they can perform an aural exorcism

November 1967-Rolling Stone magazine begins

Merry Prankster The Hermit (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

November 1967-Kesey gets out of work farm after 5mnths and moves to Kesey Farm (64acres) in Pleasant Hill, Oregon

November 27, 1967-The Beatles release Magical Mystery Tour album

December 1967-William Leonard Pickard moves from Cambridge, MA to Berkeley, CA and gets a job at UC Berkeley inside Latimer Hall at the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology

December 1967-Owsley’s LSD lab raided in Orinda, CA; Owsley arrested; the Brotherhood of Eternal Love takes up the mantle of LSD production

Feb 1968-Neal Cassady dies mysteriously some 2,000 miles south of La Honda, CA in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

1968-Sausalito, CA-William Mellon (aka: Billy) Hitchcock introduces the Brotherhood of Eternal Love to chemists Nick Sand and Tim Scully

August 1968-Tom Wolfe publishes book ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ detailing the fascinating exploits of The Merry Pranksters

September 1st, 1968-Stewart Brand (Prankster) publishes the first Whole Earth Catalog

Late 1968-the hippie scene starts getting ugly as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood turns seedy and violent after an influx of street predators move into the neighborhood

October 24, 1968-Congress passed Staggers-Dodd Bill, effectively criminalizing the recreational use of LSD-25. LSD is made illegal in USA

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (1968) Tom Wolfe first edition softcover

November 05, 1968-Nixon elected President

December 9th, 1968-the Mother of All Demos introduces email, hypertext, and the computer mouse via Prankster Stewart Brand and computer scientist Douglas Englebart at San Fran’s Brooks Hall, Civic Center Plaza. Stewart was at SRI HQ in Menlo Park working one of the computers

March 1969-LSD chemists Tim Scully and Nick Sand make the famous Orange Sunshine acid at their farmhouse (Mitchell Lane west of Baldocchi Way, Windsor, CA). They make 3 pounds (4.5 million hits) of Orange Sunshine LSD

July 20, 1969-NASA on the Moon

August 9-10, 1969-Charles Manson’s cult the Family kills 5 people

August 15-18, 1969-Pranksters attend Woodstock, along w/ an estimated 400,000 people

September 1969-The Beatles breakup

October 21, 1969-Kerouac dies

December 6, 1969-Altamont Free Concert (Grateful Dead hire Hell’s Angels as security, one of whom stabs a man to death)

1970-LSD declared Schedule One controlled substance in USA

Charles Manson and Sharon Tate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

1971-Prankster Mountain Girl (Carolyn Garcia) and Jerry Garcia move into the Sans Souci mansion (18 Avenida Farralone, Stinson Beach, CA)

1971-Mark McCloud’s house (3466 20th st, SanFran) becomes an LSD museum called the Blotter Barn. He has over 30,000 blotter works of art here.

Nov 1971-HST publishes Fear & Loathing

1972-Watergate

1973-Pigpen dies

1973-Nixon creates the DEA

November 1973-Billy Hitchcock rats out the Brotherhood of Eternal Love

1974-81-Babbs involved with Spit in the Ocean publication

1975-Vietnam War ends

1975-One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest movie released starring Jack Nicholson

Jerry Garcia (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

1978-Mountain Girl finally officially divorces George Walker

1982-Owsley moves to Australia

1983-Babbs editor of The Bugle (Eugene, OR zine)

1984-Kesey’s son Jed dies in car accident

1985-Prankster Stewart Brand & Dr. Larry Brilliant co-found The Well. Larry, a native Detroiter, is the guy who delivered a Native American baby on Alcatraz Island in 1969 during the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz. And then in 1975 he led the UN effort that successfully eradicated smallpox in India (eradicated globally by 1980).

1994-Norman Hartweg dies

1994-Kesey and Babbs co-author The Last Go Round

1995-Jerry Garcia dies

1997-Kesey sells his La Honda house

1999-Babbs plays Frankenstein in Twisted, a play he co-wrote w/ Kesey

2001-Kesey passes away

Merry Pranksters Roy Sebern liquid light show

2001-Jim Irsay (owner of Indy Colts fb team) buys original Kerouac scroll for $2.45mil

2001-Sandy Lehmann-Haupt dies

2003-work camp where Kesey served time is permanently closed

2003-Paul Foster dies

2005-HST suicide

2005-Ken’s son Zane Kesey pulls the original Furthur bus out of the swamp at Kesey’s Oregon farm

2008-Dr. Albert Hoffman dies at the ripe ole age of 102

2010-George Walker published a chapbook

2011-Babbs book ‘Who shot the water buffalo’ published (thanks to Sterling Lord)

2011-Owsley dies

2012-Ken Babbs brother and noted fly fisherman John Babbs (his Prankster name is ‘Sometimes Missing’) passes away

Dec 2018-Al Hinkle (92; San Jose) dies; he was with Kerouac and Cassady in the On the Road story in the 1949 Hudson Commodore; Al was a brakeman and conductor with Southern Pacific Railroad for 40yrs

Dec 2018-Babbs publishes chapbook ‘We Were Arrested’ (talks about 14 Pranksters busted for pot at Kesey’s house; and the first acid tests)

July 2019-Paul Krassner dies

October 2019-Chloe Scott passes away. She was a Perry Lane neighbor of Ken Kesey’s. The Merry Pranksters stayed a night at her cousin’s apartment in New York in 1964 where they met Jack Kerouac.

February 2021-Lawrence Ferlinghetti passes away at 101 years old

Ken Babbs business card (courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Merry Prankster George Walker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Neal Cassady circa 1964 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Haight Ashbury poster (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Warlocks (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Pigpen of the Grateful Dead (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Acid Test handbill (courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Ken Kesey, Lee Quarnstrom, Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Watts Acid test (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of Ken Babbs)

Turn on tune in drop out Leary (Courtesy of Google Archives)

Mountain Girl’s Merry Prankster Acid Test diploma (courtesy of Google Archives)

October 1966, Ken Kesey outside the Warehouse, Harriet Street, South of Market, San Francisco, California (photo by Ted Streshinsky)

Ken Kesey and Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

The Grateful Dead in San Francisco (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters first official Acid Test November 27, 1965 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ace of Cups business card (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Beatles (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady mugshot (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Timothy Leary poster by Brotherhood of Eternal Love (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Keseydelics (courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD chemist Owsley & Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia

Grateful Dead concert poster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Barry Goldwater (“A vote for Barry is a vote for fun!” (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Gretchen Fetchin at La Honda circa 1965 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey’s La Honda estate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Haight Ashbury circa 1967 (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Hunter S. Thompson (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey mugshot (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey graffiti mural (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

downtown San Francisco circa 1960’s (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Mountain Girl (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Paul Foster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Neal Cassady sorta kinda resembling Dennis Hopper (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters at Millbrook. Ken Babbs is the shirtless weirdo (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

The Realist (courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster George Walker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Merry Pranksters poster (courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Prankster Zonker (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Merry Pranksters Trips Festival

Ken Kesey (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Hunter S. Thompson the edge (courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD chemist Tim Scully (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript of ‘On the Road’ (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Owsley Stanley (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Doors psychedelic poster (courtesy of Google Archives)

Timothy Leary (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

LSD cologne (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Thelin Psychedelic Shop (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Albert Hofmann blotter acid LSD

Roy Sebern, Merry Prankster (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Trips Festival advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ken Kesey circa 1957 (photo from The Eugene Guard newspaper in Eugene, OR)

Timothy Leary trippy gif (courtesy of Google Archives)

The Diggers funeral notice for the death of the hippie (October 1967, San Francisco) image courtesy of Google Archives

Hells Angels annual party (c. 1971)

Grateful Dead-trip or freak (c. 1967)

The Barn (Scotts Valley, CA) c. 1966-69

Spit in the Ocean literary journal by Ken Babbs (photo courtesy of PBA Gallery)

Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

The Grateful Dead Book (1973) Hank Harrison (image courtesy of Abebooks)

Timothy Leary (photo courtesy of Google Archives)

Owsley Stanley (photo by Explorewithstorm)

Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego:  Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego: Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love Detroit. This city is loaded with great stories, many of which are oft hidden, unacknowledged, or underreported. If not inscribed for the future, when these stories are gone, they’re gone forever, like magnificent old buildings. To me, these stories are priceless.

The building at 3000 East Grand Boulevard is sign-less and unassuming. It sits near the Jam Handy warehouse on Detroit’s Eastside, within view of the stately 30-story tall Fisher Building.

This humble 3-story brick building was built in 1910 and is 8,790-square feet. It houses a significant contribution to Detroit’s cultural history, something vital and irreplaceable, a collective of Detroit techno culture.

Exhibit 3000, the world’s first (and only) techno museum is housed here on the main floor.

In the basement is the legendary Submerge’s Somewhere In Detroit (SID) record store and then upstairs is the HQ of Underground Resistance (UR). There are also recording studios, rehearsal spaces and offices.

Downstairs, DJ John Collins and Tyler Dancer are prepping the museum for a school tour today. Collins has been a well-known DJ since 1985. He’s a producer, manager, and talent agent. Tyler is a young DJ and producer from Kalamazoo who now lives in Detroit. Techno great Mad Mike Banks is also here getting things squared away. The ethic is: everyone helps out regardless of status.

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m sitting upstairs in a conference room with Detroit’s own Cornelius Harris, who was (and still is?) the only black manager in techno music in the world. “That’s what I’ve been told.  I’m not aware of any other black managers in techno, in the world,” he says.

Cornelius Harris is the label manager of Detroit-based independent techno label Underground Resistance, an assistant at Submerge Distribution (and SID), and founder of Alter Ego Management.

Cornelius is a deep thinker with a multitude of insights and very focused on all aspects of the intersection of culture and music. We are discussing books, vinyl records, the roots of techno and all-things Detroit.

Cornelius explains:

“History, especially local history, is important to know so you understand the context of where you’re at in the world and in your own time. The impact of certain points in history have a lingering echo long after the fact.”

“I’m originally from Ann Arbor. Moved to Detroit in the 90’s. I’m not here by accident. I love the people, the culture, the history, the music.”

“I consider myself a cultural advocate and activist, promoting agents of culture beyond mere entertainment and using it as a tool for education and inspiration. I studied Media and Pop Culture at University of Michigan. My family are all educators and very passionate.”

“Economically, how do you bring this thing that came out of Detroit and generates millions of dollars globally, back to the source? I’m always interested in the next stage of evolution. Detroit is a powerful music center. How do you drive culture in the city?”

 

Detroit: The Birth of Techno

“Belleville Three” Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May. These are from Belleville High School yearbooks (circa 1980 & 1981). Kevin Saunderson also played varsity football and basketball for the Belleville Tigers. Atkins (class of ’80), May & Saunderson (class of ’82). Thanks to Psyche Jetton at the BHS Media Center for allowing me to do research there (Ryan M. Place)

“Techno music was started in the early 1980s by four African Americans: Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Eddie Fowlkes. The first three went to Belleville High School and Eddie went to a different school.”

“At the time, it wasn’t called ‘techno’, it was just a new, emergent form of different music. The British press came up with the title ‘Belleville Three’ even though they DJed mostly in the city of Detroit.  Belleville isn’t known for its cutting-edge club scene.”

Just like any inception-story, there’s different mythologies about this. One is the facts. The others are the added interpretations, which become the agreed upon history. So, let’s just agree to a middle understanding of all this.”

“They were playing a precursor to techno before their music was given a label by outsiders. What they had created was inner city dance music with a futuristic vibe.”

In the mid to late 80’s, techno blew up here locally in Detroit. It was already a phenomenon here for several years before it became popular globally.”

Kevin Saunderson (senior photo 1982 Belleville High School yearbook)

“All of the techno labels were based in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood.”

The first one was in 1985 when Juan Atkins opened Metroplex (1492 Riopelle St), then in 1986 Derrick May opened Transmat (1492 Gratiot), then in 1987 Kevin Saunderson opened KMS next door to Transmat.”

“Derrick started referring to Gratiot Avenue as ‘Techno Boulevard’.”

“These were the days of things like Channel 62 ‘The Scene’ and the Electrifying Mojo on Detroit’s WGPR, which was the first black radio station in America.”

“We also had Duane ‘In the Mix’ Bradley on WJLB Radio.”

“We had Jeff Mills, DJ Stacy “Hotwaxx” Hale, and there was Ken Collier who played house music at Club Heaven (19106 Woodward @ 7 mile).”

“There was The Music Institute (1315 Broadway an after-hours techno club opened from 1988-89).”

“Across the river in Windsor, there was Richie Hawtin (Plastikman) who was inspired by Detroit techno. By the early 90’s, everybody was getting turned on to Detroit music all over the world.”

Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit (c. 1988 vinyl record)

“Music popularity goes in waves. Techno got big globally around 1991, then experienced another resurgence in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, and a few years ago we had another wave.”

“Also, we had the techno festival, which started in Detroit in 2000 and was called DEMF before it became Movement in 2006.”

“Detroit is the smallest big town ever. Among creatives here of all stripes, mostly everyone knows everyone. Some of Juan Atkins old tapes even feature Kid Rock back when he had spiky hair and was trying to rap.”

“I credit Creem Magazine with symbolizing the Detroit ethos. Not being on the East or West Coasts, we weren’t bound by those scenes. There’s no restrictions here, we’re free to do our own thing, which Creem reflected in its coverage of music. “

 

Underground Resistance (UR) Detroit

Underground Resistance

Underground Resistance, aka: UR, is a collective, that’s the best word to describe it because there’s so much back and forth flow between the various groups and producers.”

“UR was started in 1989 by Jeff Mills and Mad Mike Banks in Mike’s mom’s basement on Detroit’s Westside near 7 Mile and Livernois. Mike and Jeff worked together before in a group called Members of the House. Mike had at one time been in a band on tour alongside Parliament Funkadelic.”

“The UR album UR001 had Yolanda Reynolds on it. She was the original third member of UR. A lot of people think of Robert Hood as the third member of UR, but he came later, though a lot of people forget that.”

“In 1991, the city of Berlin, Germany was hit by UR’s music from Detroit not long after the Berlin Wall came down. Detroit’s techno music helped unite the young people of East and West Berlin and reenergize the city. It was the soundtrack of what was happening in Berlin. And there were tons of Detroit techno records at the Hard Wax store owned by Mark Ernestus.”

Terrence Parker (photo courtesty of UR)

I joined UR in the mid 1990s. The Detroit Regional Music Conference, started by DJ John Collins, was going on and I was a producer at the time. I submitted to perform at the conference. The music showcase manager said I should give my tape to Mike Banks, which is how we met. I also had put together a zine called SCENE. Mike and Lawrence Burden asked me to work with them doing promotion. Mike later asked about me doing label management. I did it until 2001 when I became extremely burned-out.”

“I quit everything for a bit and became anti-music for a few years. Did some management at Kinney Shoe Corp (Foot Locker), then Kinko’s, also did some teaching at a middle school. Eventually, I created Alter Ego Management and started again fresh. Alter Ego used to rep Juan Atkins, Model 500 and others. Right now we handle UR and some others.”

“At the time just before starting Alter Ego I, got a call from Mike. He said they’re working on a project in Japan. He invited me to come work on it, and initially I said, “no,” but he said ‘they got those thinking gardens in Japan, you could just come here and think’ (laughs). I was in the middle of acting in a show with Plowshares Theater. Mike was insistent. So I went to Japan. I was there for six hours and decided to return as label manager in 2005.”

“My first time as a tour manager, through the Burden Brothers (Lenny & Lawrence), was a tour in Germany. I was tour manager for Aux 88 who was on their label Direct Beat.”

“I remember being in Berlin outside this club talking to a local dude, told him he should come check out the scene in Detroit. He said, ‘I’ll never go to Detroit.  I don’t make enough money to travel, but when I go to this club and it’s dark, and a Detroit DJ is playing, I can imagine that I’m in a Detroit club. That’s how I’m able to travel’. His explanation really stuck with me.”

“I realized that we’re giving people, people who are willingly giving their hard-earned money to us, these one-of-a-kind experiences. We owe everything to these people who make that choice to support the music. It really had a profound effect on me, gave me a sense of purpose.”

“For some people, music is their main outlet. It’s a type of therapy, a release for them, something they can’t get any other way. We all owe a deep appreciation for the fans who live on this stuff.”

“The clubs are social spaces where amazing things can happen. The 1980’s were rough in Detroit. The U.S. was in a bad recession, there was crack, AIDS, Detroit was dubbed ‘Murder Capital of the World’, the auto industry went to hell, etc. The one good thing at the time coming out of Detroit globally was this music, techno.

“These aren’t just DJ’s, they’re cultural ambassadors. They are some of the best representations this country has ever had, often better than professional diplomats. They tour extensively and as a result, acquire a broad perspective and deep understanding of other cultures and people around the world.”

Jeff Mills currently lives in Miami, France and Japan. In 2017, Jeff got the Order of Arts and Letters in France, which is that country’s second highest title, for his cultural contributions. Other nations seem to recognize the importance of creativity. The city of Detroit, our state, our nation, should consider providing more recognition to their own people. Why do we gotta go to France to get awards and be recognized? Why can’t it happen right here where it all started and continues to thrive? It would uplift the community in a positive way.”

Detroit’s global contributions are numerous. Back here at home, true community development is not just giving money to something and hoping for the best. Things need to be nurtured, cared for, and given the proper attention in order to develop.”

Submerge Distribution

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Submerge Distribution was founded in 1992 by Mike Banks and Christa Robinson.”

“It was originally located Downtown at 2030 East Grand River Ave. However, in 2000, we moved to 3000 East Grand Blvd.”

“Submerge exports Detroit techno labels to Europe and the world and transmits Detroit’s techno music around the world. All the techno and house labels went through Submerge.”

“There is no ‘Submerge Records’, it’s a distributor and vinyl record store. We carry all kinds of records but primarily specialize in techno, house and hip hop. Heavily Detroit oriented. There’s also Basic Channel out of Berlin.”

“Submerge even put out J. Dilla’s first vinyl record in 1994.”

“Everybody who visits the Submerge basement signs the wall.”

The Impact of Books on Cornelius

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love to read. Books are powerfully influential across all cultures, professions, whatever. Books are windows into the unfamiliar. Having a broad interest in a lot of different things gave me the perspective I have today.”

“Prior to music, I worked in the reference department at the downtown Ann Arbor Library from 9th grade through my time at the University of Michigan. First shelving books, then at the desk as an assistant. I grew up surrounded by books. A lot of my interpretation of the world was formed by books and music.”

“Here’s a few of the key books that have inspired me over the years.”

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes. Chronicles black entertainment from slavery to the modern late 60’s. Amazing as a kid growing up with that book. It traces the painful lineage of exploitation as well as incredible achievements.”

Sex and Race (1940-44) J.A. Rodgers (3 vols.) I first read it at the public library when I was 10 or 11. Originally was excited by the name (laughs). Turned out to be a fascinating study of racial classifications, how people mix and blend and the fact that definitions of race are subjective.”

Dustland (1980) Virginia Hamilton. It’s part of The Justice Trilogy about an African American girl named Justice. First time I ever read sci-fi where the central characters were African American. It blew my mind.”

No-No Boy (1956) John Okada. The first Japanese American novel. It takes place just after WW2, it’s about Japanese no-no boys and post-war trauma in the USA.”

Los Arboles Mueren de Pie (1949) Alejandro Casona. Amazing book, written in Spanish. I recommend learning Spanish just to read this book. It’s about how you define family. Magical realism. Many intriguing twists and turns.”

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) Ishmael Reed. Magical realism about historical events and a contagious epidemic of the Jes Grew virus.”

New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (1988) Wolfman and Perez (DC Comics, Titan). They took this medium and crafted a story so thoughtful, warped, exciting. It’s about betrayal and abuse.”

 

Some Favorite Records & Why Vinyl Still Matters

Cornelius Harris @ Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Musically, I listen to a range of different things. Grew up on jazz and gospel. My grandma from the had grown up in the South and turned me onto Hank Williams.”

“Some influential albums for me are:”

Prince-Dirty Mind (1980)

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

Grace Jones-Nightclubbing (1981)

Ryuichi Sakamoto-Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Vinyl records still matter, still sell, still elevate the listener. There’s something special and different with something being tangible, rather than bits of information on a computer. To feel the grooves with your fingers. It’s an experience, you feel more connected. With vinyl you have to put the needle on it, make sure the needle is clean, flip it over when it’s done, you interact with it differently than you do a playlist on your smartphone.”

“Also, the order of the tracks meant something, not just random shuffling. Tracks are not just thrown onto an album indiscriminately. There’s a meaning in the order.”

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

The Need to Preserve Creative Spaces in Detroit

Detroit aerial (photo courtesy of Formulaone)

Detroit needs more creative spaces. The value of the creative community to a city cannot be overstated. Creative people imbue spaces with value. And they almost always need help from the city to mitigate things like gentrification and help maintain safe and fun spaces & outlets, for other people to go and experience the gift of their creativity. There should be a low barrier to entry.”

People have had their life changed forever by music or art. Creativity keeps people in neighborhoods and stabilizes communities. Make it easy for people to access these things.”

“Right now, Detroit is a place where the creative community can go in any direction. As a city, we need to recognize talent and creativity and help engage creative types. Yet some of our greatest spaces are being ignored and disregarded. Detroit is loaded with iconic spots that should be preserved and used instead of being wasted unnecessarily. How do you set things up for success?”

“Listen, I’ve traveled all over the world for the past almost thirty years and I can honestly tell you that Detroit is a global nexus of untapped, undiscovered potential. It’s here but it’s disguised because it’s not often officially recognized by big-time funding.”

“We have the spaces, we’re just not doing anything with them, not making them accessible, and it’s a tragedy that’s rarely discussed. These places will get torn down and most folks, especially young folks, won’t ever even know they were there in the first place. We need to preserve them and do everything we can to drive more creative people to the city.”

The world is saturated with creativity in all forms from Detroit. I remember when I was in Japan, a promoter told me at the time he couldn’t book one of my DJs because Japan had too many people from Detroit there! (laughs) That’s how big and powerful our footprint as a creative class of people is globally.”

We’re givers not takers.  We give the world our creativity, but I don’t think we take enough a lot of times and it shows because it seems there’s always a financial struggle here for everyone. Culture comes from the incredible wonderful, people here. The people are the value. They should be embraced.”

Thoughts on The Future

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I don’t worry about the future of techno.  It will evolve.  Musical, creative diversity has to be encouraged. Stuff that doesn’t exist currently will be born and become transformational. Music is a reflection of that generation, that time, what’s happening globally and locally.”

“There is an undeniable need for space and a need to encourage openness. Hopefully Detroit will continue being at the forefront like it always has been. Don’t be afraid of the future. Yes, things will be strange and different than what you’re used to right now, and that’s a good thing.”

“Just remember, Motown was started by high school kids singing in their garages. They were broke but they were passionate and creative. However, what really changed everything was love from the local community. The community was supportive and encouraging. Local support helped them thrive globally. Never forget the enduring and positive lesson of Motown.”

Bonus: Cornelius’ favorite eateries in the Metro Detroit area

Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno (3149 Livernois, Detroit)

Yum Village (6500 Woodward, Detroit)

Royal Kabob (3236 Caniff, Hamtramck)

KG’s Grill (465 Inkster rd, Garden City)

Al Ameer’s (27346 Ford Rd, Dearborn Heights)

Cornelius Harris @ Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

UR, Submerge & Exhibit 3000 Museum

3000 East Grand Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48202

 

Exhibit 3000 Museum

For free tours or if you want to donate early techno artifacts

Contact:

John Collins

jcpremier@gmail.com

Cornelius Harris

cornelius@alteregomgt.com

 

UR

http://www.undergroundresistance.com/

 

UR FB

https://www.facebook.com/URundergroundresistance/

 

Somewhere in Detroit (Submerge)

https://www.facebook.com/Somewhere-in-Detroit-242400282479827/

 

Alter Ego Management

http://www.alteregomgt.com/

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Exclusive Interview: Zubal Books in Cleveland has over 3 million books: Touring the family business with co-owner MICHAEL ZUBAL!

Exclusive Interview: Zubal Books in Cleveland has over 3 million books: Touring the family business with co-owner MICHAEL ZUBAL!

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

One of the world’s great bookstores sits in the Tremont West neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.

Zubal Books has over 3,000,000+ books. It’s a solid operation packed to the brim.

If a standard book is around 300 pages long, that’s 900 million pages on average, thus, almost one billion pages are represented here. That is a fantastically staggering stockpile of the printed word. On a clear day you can read forever.

Zubal’s maze-like hallways are lined with books, containing a supply of brainfood even Methuselah or Henry Bemis would find seemingly inexhaustible.

At the center of this book-tsunami are the Zubals, a bookselling family of Ukrainian heritage.

The patriarch, John Zubal, started selling books in 1961 out of the family’s house in Parma, Ohio. In 1973, they moved to their present location, which is a complex of large buildings.

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

His wife Marilyn and sons Michael and Tom work here, along with his grandchildren. They’re an entrepreneurial family with decades of experience and rare expertise.

This skilled family has been passing down the book trade for generations, helping to enrich the world by supplying books to millions of customers. Yes, they’ve found their niche.

Eldest son, Michael Zubal, is one of the current heads of operations and he’s been kind enough to give me the grand and delightfully disorienting tour where your head is spinning with books by the end, there’s so many.

Aside from being a book hunter with an eagle eye for quality books, one of Michael’s secret weapons is his excellent memory and quick recall for obscure facts and figures and remembering which books are shelved where without having to consult the database.

Zubal’s is a well-oiled machine where everything is shelved by unit number and Michael & family are always on the go, filling up the outbound table with domestic and international orders and zipping around the store.

In 1998, Zubal Books closed to the public. For the past twenty years, they have sold primarily online and by appointment-only.

Touring the Zubal’s Spread with Michael Zubal

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We were just on the West Coast for a week and bought 3,000 books. Then I went to Geneva, Switzerland to hang out with my son. I was surprised to find that Geneva is far more Parisian than Germanic. Also, our perch tastes sweeter here. Anyway, I think the jet lag and time changes have scrambled the circuits in my brain, I’m still re-adjusting.”

The total square footage of our operation here at Zubal Books is about 360,000-square feet.”

“Our 60,000-square foot four-story main building was built in 1925. It was a Cleveland Public Schools textbook repository, then a Lutheran publishing company for a brief period. There’s a massive freight elevator here and thousands of old wooden pear crates we use as shelving.”

“On top of the main building is a perfectly preserved circa 1954 apartment we call The Penthouse.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“The Penthouse has great views of the downtown Cleveland skyline and everything in here is from the 1950’s and in spookily immaculate condition (ie: furniture, appliances, grasscloth wallpaper, 3-sided fireplace, snail patterned tiles, etc.). It’s like stepping back in time. Anthony Bourdain visited us in 2007 and this was his favorite room. It would also make a great movie location. Every Friday after Thanksgiving, we play poker up here.”

“In addition to our main building, we have some attached annex buildings. One is from the 1890’s, it was previously attached to an old greenhouse. One of our recent (1978) additions has steel grating floors so you can see three stories below you. Another building features an old speakeasy with an in-wall pocket picnic table that folds out.”

“Then, a few hundred feet down the street, we have the 300,000-square foot old Hostess Twinkie factory, which has cavernous rooms filled with shrink-wrapped pallets of books that need to be processed (ie: priced, catalogued and databased). Hostess closed the factory in 1989 and we acquired it in 1994. It took us five years to hunt down the property owner. Real estate attorneys did title searches. Turned out it was a corporation in St. Louis that owned it. They accepted our first offer without hesitation.”

Prior to 1973, we had 5,000 books at our home in Parma, Ohio and about 5,000 journals and periodicals in our basement, garage and breezeway. We also had five small storage areas around town in sheds, converted garages, storefronts, etc. We even built a pully lift to transport books to and from the second floor in one warehouse. Finally, in 1973 we consolidated everything into this property and our operations have been here ever since.”

The Focus of Zubal’s

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

On average, we sell around 250,000 books per year. We specialize in academic, scholarly, obscure, out-of-print, first editions, sci-fi and technology.”

“We also deal a lot in physics, mathematics, history, art, philosophy, signed books, chemistry, engineering, occult, collectible bindings (Easton Press, Franklin Press, etc.), anthropology, and theology.”

“Our biggest customer segments are academia, scholars, post doc students, PhD researchers, think tanks, universities, and finnicky collectors.”

Acquisitions librarians working on collection development at universities also contact us.”

“In terms of buying books, we frequently get calls from academics approaching retirement and estates will call us before holding public sales.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“What I personally really enjoy handling and researching are Modern Literature books from 1920’s-1960’s. Prohibition Era to the Hippies.”

“The concentrations I specialize in are math and physics. I’m constantly boning up on bibliographies, histories and genealogies of modern physics. We deal with a lot of physicists and mathematicians.”

“My father is a trained historian. He almost became a PhD, but he didn’t want to be in academia, he wanted to sell books full-time. He instilled pride in us on efficiency and discretion doing deals.”

We also have a store of around 2,500 books inside the main building that people can visit. It’s a random assortment of clean, mostly modern books spanning a range of different topics.”

“For various reasons, I haven’t had a Book Scout for over six years. We had a regular Book Scout for twenty years prior to that. One day we sat down and analyzed the results. We were ultimately disappointed at his pricing scheme. It was not justifying our continued relationship with him. Smart guy though, great eye, he does the rounds.”

Michael on the Book Business

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

The book business, like every business, has peaks and valleys. The labor involved is tough. Books are usually on the second floor of houses. The hauling and processing can be very time-consuming. I’ll see a load of books someone inherited, and they just want the books to find a good home. Sometimes there’s so much stuff that no money is exchanged because the values are moderate to low and they just want someone to haul the books away.”

“Right now, we have about 300,000 books listed online. Our main platforms are Amazon, AbeBooks, the Zubal website, then all the other websites we list on. We do hourly updates on all the site so that sold books are removed as quickly as possible.”

“Back in 1998, Dick Weatherford’s company Interloc (which later became Alibris) approached us. We started listing on Interloc, selling 1-2 books per day. Then AbeBooks followed, then shortly thereafter, Amazon.”

“When we became an Amazon lister, I would talk almost daily with Tiffany Linnes at Amazon. She worked directly for Jeff Bezos, that’s how small they were at the time. Since then, Amazon has acquired AbeBooks and owns it.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Prior to 1998, catalogs were our primary source of sales. Once the internet hit, we immediately realized it was a viable medium. We closed our physical store to the public after reviewing our inventory control methods. We found listing by subject matter was irrelevant. We buy and sell internationally, daily, and routing books to their proper location is incredibly time-consuming.”

“How do we choose what to list online? There’s no real method. On occasion, I’ll get a collection on consignment, which jumps to the front. Currently, I’ve been working on Engineering books. We spend a lot of time working with physics, math, engineering books.”

In terms of collectors, we don’t see completists anymore. Most people these days want specific titles versus wanting everything by a particular author.”

“Occasionally, we sell items via Heritage Auctions in Dallas. We sell maybe a dozen high-end items per year through there. We sold a Batman # 1 (1940) comic book through Heritage. It had no rear cover and still went for $8,500.”

Quick Bio of Michael Zubal

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“My father’s grandparents were from a farming village near Lvov, Ukraine, which is now in Poland, thanks to Stalin. They were hard workers who came here to work in the steel mills.”

I’ve been working with my dad in the book business for as long as I can remember. At six years old, I was working as a kid on Saturday’s. My older sister and I would haul and stock and shelve books for him. We traveled all over to Chicago, Philly, Washington, New York, etc. My dad would do the deals and I’d come along to help move stuff. Being fully immersed in the book world my whole life is kind of an oddity. Because of this, at a very early age, I found I had a more advanced worldview than my contemporaries.”

I did my first big deal when I was 18 at MOMA in NYC. I was buying books. Then I turned around and sold what I bought to a college. From that moment it was game-on.”

“I was also a state-licensed auctioneer for a little while. The auctions were quite popular, especially in the pre-internet days. We’d have 40-50 bidders in house and the auctions were fun.”

“When I’m not working on books, I’m playing bass in my jazz band, Slap Quartet. My brother Tom is also in the band, he plays guitar. We have another guitarist and a drummer. The name of our band came from dad. He said rock was a short-lived anthropological phenomenon (SLAP). We modified it to Simply Love All People. Been playing since I was 14 years old. We do mainly 50’s-60’s bop. My big influences are Miles, Monk, Coltrane and Mingus. I play a 5-string electric and an acoustic upright bass.”

Most books Zubal’s has ever acquired at once

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“The most books we’ve ever acquired at once were 85,000 books from the Museum of the American Indian Library in the Bronx, which was created by Archer Huntington.”

“It was a collection of Anthropology, Americana, Western, and American Ethnography. They sold it to Cornell University, which only kept 1,000 of the rarest volumes. Then Cornell called us. We ordered three semi-trucks and eight of us went down there. The eight of us loaded the trucks in two days.”

“Two months ago, I went to a house in upstate New York and pulled out 2,000 books myself from the second floor. Couple whiskies later that night, I was fine.”

Selling and Renting Bulk Books

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

1,000 books or more is considered bulk. We sell and rent bulk books mostly to movie studios, hotels, interior designers. Sometimes they just want certain color bindings to match the color scheme of a room or they’ll say things like ‘we need twelve-feet of books from the 18th century.’”

“Our books are appearing in the TV show Succession in the upcoming episode where the characters go to Hungary.”

We even help outfit booksellers who are just starting out in their careers with bulk amounts of books.”

“Also, we pulp poor quality books all the time. Fortunately, there’s a pulping facility three blocks from us.”

The Zubal Vault

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

We have an off-site vault of especially rare and favorite books.”

An example of some items from the vault:

– 1st edition Wizard of Oz (1900) $450,000; pristine like-new condition.
Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Salvador Dali (1969) massive folio where each plate is signed by Dali.
Boccaccio’s Decameron on vellum. It’s only one of three copies in existence. The binding and even the pages are vellum. The book was created around 1899 and is a modern work of art.
Common Sense (1776) Thomas Paine. At around $250,000, it’s the most expensive book Zubal’s has listed online.

Final Thoughts for Now

Michael Zubal @ Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“One thing I absolutely love about the book business is the thrill of the hunt. Never fully knowing what sort of treasures you’re going to discover.”

As booksellers, we must have a keen eye, know the material and be discerning. You have to know what you’re handling and the quality.”

“My dad is 80. My parents are gonna keep on going at it here. Will I be here when I’m 80? Hard to say.”

“As for customers and visitors, we do encourage people to email us their Want Lists. We will keep these on file and let you know if your book comes in. Also, I’m happy to give tours. They typically run 1 hour and 30 minutes. You need to email us in advance so we can set a day and time.

“I love the city of Cleveland. We’re currently seeing an explosion of new upscale housing in the city, which for the past 40 years was unheard of. The food scene is surprisingly complex and interesting. The art scene, especially the Cleveland Museum of Art, is fantastic. The people of Cleveland are generally friendly, helpful, laidback and polite.”

My brother and I have been in the book business for 40 years. After doing something for so long, you should get good at it. We were happily born into the trade. It’s a bonus in life to have a job where you handle the printed word daily.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Zubal Books
2969 West 25th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113

Contact
info@zubal.com

 

Homepage
https://www.zubalbooks.com/index.jsp

Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/sp?seller=A3OI5MNY5V1ONO

AbeBooks
https://www.abebooks.com/zubal-books-cleveland-oh-u.s.a/581/sf

Alibris
https://www.alibris.com/stores/zubalbks

Biblio
https://www.biblio.com/bookstore/zubal-books-cleveland

 

Ryan’s Top 3 Things to Experience in Cleveland after visiting Zubal’s

Slyman’s Deli (3106 St. Clair NE) open Monday-Friday 6am-2pm; 216-621-3760; get the corned beef sandwich on rye with swiss, toasted, with 1000 island, mustard, mayo.

Slyman’s Deli in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Slyman’s Deli in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

West Side Market (1979 W. 25th Street) open daily 7am-4pm; 30,000-square foot market of food vendors built in 1912 with a 130-foot tall clock tower. If you see them, try the cotton candy grapes.

West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Garfield Memorial @ Lakeview Cemetery (12316 Euclid Avenue) 285-acre rural garden-style cemetery founded in 1869; John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness are buried here along with U.S. President James A. Garfield. Check out the Garfield Memorial. Open April-November from 9am-4pm, it’s a 180-foot tall 3-story monument. The coffins of Garfield (who was assassinated in 1881) and his wife are in the lower level.

Garfield Memorial @ Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Garfield Memorial @ Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Honorable Mentions:

Edgewater Beach (7600 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway) free, public beach; there’s also a greenspace, fishing pier and concession’s building; 11am-9pm concessions, 3pm-8pm bar; this area is located next to the Edgewater Yacht Club

Cleveland Arcade (401 Euclid Avenue) Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm; this Rockefeller-built indoor shopping mall from 1890 is a classy 5-story arcade

The Loop (2180 W. 11th Street) 7am-9pm daily; two floors of vinyl records and a café on the ground floor

Hingetown Pizza Mural (2817 Detroit Avenue) Mike Sobeck graffiti art located behind the Schaefer Printing Building

Hoopples Bar (1930 Columbus Road) open 2pm-2:30am; two-story bar with an outdoor patio in The Flats; great burgers and live music

Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Hingetown Pizza Mural in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)