Jack Starr and Ron Haydock
Living Once: hearing the call to get real gone
By Mike Wood
"Is A Dream a lie if it doesn't come true, or is it something worse?" —Bruce Springsteen
One of my favorite Rock & Roll stories is most ikely apochryphal, but it still works on a visceral level. It goes this like- in the '50's, a young and already distrubed Hasil Atkins heard the early stirrings of the new music on the radio, though in his part of Appalacaia. That geography meant that the stations did not come in too clearly; there was static, garbled lyrics. Atkins took the promise, the menace and freedom inherent in the new music deadly seriously. Oblivious to ideas like sales, promotions, etc, he took Elvis, Jerry Lee, Gene and Eddie at their word, and their word went right through the mainline. What he heard was a clarion call to let it rip--convention had died a shameful public death. So he plugged in, and wrote his own liberated songs about sex, death, bizarre plans for beef and decapitated heads. What he heard was in some ways even better than that of his wild heroes. How many more kids were like Hasil, turning it way up and heading way out into newly discovered green light to create? From the slew of obscure rockabilly and rock from the late '50's and '60's, especially as unearthed by those underground punk archeologists at Norton Records, we know that there were a shitload. Here is a small love note to two of them.
The bathroom in his mom's house was for Jack Starr recording studio and shrink's couch. Plugging in just a little too close to the bathwater, Starr's jagged guitar and confident, defiant vocals were responsible for a fair number of sides, rocking and country moaning tunes of love, loss, survival, and monsters. The latter is no surprise, as Starr also wr0te and acted in his own no-budget horror films, becoming a fairly decent makeup artist in the process. His only release, the Norton compilation Born Petrrified, features those 20 second to 2 minute tunes, plus radio ads for his various personas on the local magic show circuit. It seemed like he wanted to do everything, take a shot at producing what he loved, no matter the genre, no matter his talent for pulling it off.
Ron Haydock (17 April 1940– 14 August 1977, buried the day Elvis died) was even more of a Renaissance man than Starr. He was a singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor, screenwriter, horror magazine editor and writer. He was also a pseudonymous (as Vin Saxon, Ron Bardo) porn novelist, cranking out such jaundiced classics as Pagan Lesbians, Erotic Executives and Ape Rape. Haydock had more of a taste of cult heroism than Starr, appearing in several Ray Dennis Steckler films, and briefly writing a coulmn for Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland. Under the guise of Alfred Hayes, he even wrote comics for Warren Publishing. It seemed that, though unnoticed or relegated to the B-team, Haydock was, for most of his life, exploding with ideas and the desire to create, and defiantly did so.
His music was in the swaggering Gene Vincent mode, with "99 Chicks" being the representative track. The causal boasting of prowess, and the freedom derived from expressing that with voice and guitar, is palpable in any of the many takes of this tune. As preserved on Norton's 99 Chicks compilation, Haydock was nothing if not exuberant, even when square engineers were audibly laughing at his music. Fuck it: Guts is more important than talent, anyway.
Whether it was the lack of recognition, financial trouble or seeing of lesser lights grab his gravy (for someone so all over the place with his talent, he had to have felt special and destined, if only to keep going), his bouts of depression began in 1966. Though he managed in the early '70's some horror writing (including some stories for the legendary Creepy) and editing, plus the sex novels, his heroic production tapered off. He was done recording by 1967. Was he done trying? His final breakdown in 1977 led to his being run over by a car, ending the debate.
Jack Starr apparently took his obscurity better. Though his homemade recorded output only filled one record (he did release a couple of singles, "UFO" and "Havin a Party in the County Jail") and though his magic act and no-fi films (among them Monster Rock & Roll, Charlie Hong Kong Meets the Spider, and I Am Dead) were never seen, Starr hung around until 1987. There are a few YouTube videos of him from the '80's, still wailing spooky rockabilly on that barely mastered guitar.
Any renaissance men today? Of course, you just can't see them because they are all hiding in plain sight. The scene today is more atomized, but similar: now instead of no one hearing brilliant bedroom tunes or seeing inspired cell-phone films, anyone can see them. But most are ignored because we are too busy watching our own obscure favorites. Now you can literally be interested in hundreds of acts I may never know, because I am into my hundered that you will never know. But someone knows about all of them.
But not many are dipping their charged up amateur toes in as many genres as speed will allow them to taste. Rock & Roll has lost much of its power to shock, and it is not possible to feel the liberation that generation must have felt when first hearing those Sun sides, or a classic Chuck Berry riff. Jack Starr and Ron Haydock, speak for everyone who has puts something, anything down fearlessly to posterity, hoping that someone will find it and bring them some immortality, someday. They also speak for those who had no time for that kind of shit, and instead focused on getting out as much juice while it lasted.
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