Saturday, September 2, 2017

Top 5 at the Banjo Museum


The American Banjo Museum in the Bricktown area of Oklahoma City is serious about banjos.  And they don't want to mislead you about what's inside.  This place is chock full of wall-to-wall banjos.  Everywhere you look, guess what?  Banjos!  So when it came time to give it the ol' Top 5 treatment, we got into full "banjo mode!"

It's worth mentioning that I don't know anything about banjos or banjo music so if/when I get some detail wrong please go easy on me.  And with that plea for mercy, here's the Top 5 Banjos at the American Banjo Museum:

5.  Hummingbird by Renee Karnes

If you don't think about banjos that much then you probably never think about how banjos are made.  But it's a unique art form and someone who is particularly good at it as Renee Karnes.  She was inducted into the Banjo Hall of Fame in the "Design & Manufacture" category in 2005.  This is one of her creations.

4.  Gibson Bass Banjo

I don't know if I've ever seen or heard of one of these but it seems like it would fill the same role as a standard upright bass in a musical group.  I don't think I've ever seen footage of it being played and I'm genuinely curious as to what it sounds like.

3.  Roy Clark's Banjo

You might remember (depending on your age) the legendary Roy Clark as one of the hosts of Hee Haw but he's also a very prolific musician, member of the Grand Ole Opry, and an inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame.  He also lived in Tulsa and sang at (fellow Oklahoman) Mickey Mantle's funeral.  This is one of his many banjos.

2.  Gilbrech Automatic Banjo Entertainer  

You're probably thinking to yourself, "That doesn't look like a banjo!?!"  And you're right it doesn't.  The museum describes it as "a one-of-a-kind banjo curiosity!"  It's essentially the equivalent of a player piano.  It was made to play on its own, no banjo player necessary.  That's the kind of banjo I could play.

1.  Smokey Montgomery's Banjo

 Whenever I try to fake my way through a banjo conversation (it happens more than you'd think), I play the "Smokey Montgomery card."  The reason is because he's one of the few banjo players I've actually heard of.  He was a member of the "Light Crust Doughboys" and I worked on a documentary project involving his work a few years back so I was pleased to see one of his banjos here.

So the next time you're in the mood for some pickin' and grinnin' you know just where to go to create you're own favorites list.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rock Star

 One of the most iconic stops along the Oklahoma stretch of Route 66 is the Rock Cafe in Stroud.  They serve up the top notch diner road food along with a side of Route 66 nostalgia.  In fact, as you can see from their marker, that walls themselves are courtesy of the Mother Road:


On your way in, you'll notice some of the characters from the Disney/Pixar movie "Cars" welcoming you to the cafe.  And once inside, you'll see that the Pixar motif continues:

The Pixar crew knew they wanted to heavily feature Route 66 in the film so as part of their pre-production they took a long trip up and down the legendary road.   And one of their favorite stops was Rock City.   

Not only were they charmed by the by the legendary locale but they were inspired by its owner.  Dawn Welch has owned the cafe since 1993 and has seen it through fires, tornadoes and countless road weary travelers.  In 2009 she was awarded "Oklahoma's Woman of the Year."

With her impressive business acumen and homespun hospitality, Welch inspired the film's writers and producers to create the character Sally and base her on the Oklahoman entrepreneur.  In the film she's a blue Porsche:

So the next time you're away from the Sooner State and start to feel a little home sick, you can always pop in "Cars" and enjoy a little Oklahoma inspiration in your entertainment. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Top 5 at the Harryhausen Exhibit


The smART Space section of Science Museum Oklahoma is committed to showcasing the convergence of art and science.  New exhibits rotate throughout the year and bring unique works of imagination and innovation to Oklahoma city crowds.

The most recent exhibit to inhabit the space is "Ray Harryhausen – Mythical Menagerie" which celebrates the work and innovation of legendary special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.  If you don't know the name, I can guarantee you that his talent has influenced the work of some of your favorite filmmakers.

So without further ado, here are my picks for the Top 5 pieces on display in this menagerie of monsters:

5.  Skeleton Soldier (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963)

One of the most famous visuals of Harryhausen's work may the the sight of the sword wielding skeleton army in "Jason and the Argonauts."  A few of these guys survived and are on display as well as some partial pieces.  They were a part of an incredibly ambitious action sequence:

4.  Storyboards (Various)

Storyboards are one of the more underappreciated pieces of the artistic processes in film making.  A lot of time, effort and talent go into creating them and then they aren't seen by the movie audience.  This one is from "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" but there are several more on display.

3.  Medusa (Clash of the Titans, 1981)

The incredible details of the Medusa model doesn't fully come across in the movie.  So this is a great opportunity to really get a close look at the work that goes into a piece like this.  Just don't look at her'll turn to stone.

2.  Bubo (Clash of the Titans, 1981)

Our friend Bupo here stands out from the pack since he's not your typical Harryhausen "monster," but instead, he is kind of/sort of a robot.  Or at least he's a mechanical creature created by one of the gods to be comic relief.  This model was used for close ups (something different was used for the flying effects seen below).

1.  This Crazy Walrus (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, 1977)

This is another example of of an uncommon type of "monster" in Harryhausen's body of work but I knew as soon as I saw it that it would be my #1.  Look at this thing.  We typically think of walruses as essentially big sea sloths but when you lay eyes on this guy you know you wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley.

The exhibit runs until Dec 3rd so there's plenty of time to go see Hollywood history live and in person.  Take the kids and show them what movie monsters used to look like before computers took over.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ashes to Ashes

The Marlboro Man is one of the most iconic and successful marketing campaigns ever but there's always been one huge flaw.  Rugged, grizzled types pose for magazine ads and drip testosterone as they take a pull from a Marlboro cigarette and they cause sales to skyrocket but they are frequently replaced.  Not necessarily to freshen up the campaign but because smoking tends to kill people.

So when it comes to tracking down gravestones of famous people, it shouldn't be too surprising to find several belonging to former Marlboro Men.  But in the "Bull Rider's Reprieve" section of the Mt. Olive Cemetery in Hugo, Oklahoma you can find a grave of a Marlboro Man who is still alive:

Oklahoma cowboy Max "Turk" Robinson got the job as the Marlboro Man just by having the right look.  He was a longtime staple of the rodeo circuit when a photo of him on a horse was published and got the tobacco company's attention.  He had the exact look of an authentic cowboy because he was one.  But he has one unique characteristic that other Marlboro Men don't...which may be why his grave is empty...

He doesn't smoke.  I guess that would be kind of like if Colonel Sanders was a vegetarian but you can't argue with results.  I guess clean living and the cowboy lifestyle has a lot going for it. 

Turk is still somewhat active in the rodeo community and still does appearances at Oklahoma casinos and in parades so maybe you can get to meet him someday and take a picture with him not smoking.  So here's to your health!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Homegrown Hero

Tulsa might not exactly be Gotham City but that doesn't mean it can't have its own superhero.  And for awhile, it did...a homegrown hero for Oklahomans, by Oklahomans.  Say hello to the Twilight Avenger:

He was a tribute to old school pulp heroes and was a creation of Okie writer John Wooley and Okie artist Terry Tidwell and if you haven't heard of him it might be because his biggest enemy wasn't some mad scientist in a secret lab, it was the fickle nature of the comic book small press industry.

Our avenging hero began his crime busting career as a title published by "Elite Comics" in Midland, TX.  After two issues of dashing heroics, the publisher went out of business and our hero eventually ended up at Eternity Comics.  I was able to get my grubby mitts on (a not so mint copy of) the first issue of its short 1988 run.  And while I can't tell you too much about the character, I can confirm that the setting was 1930's Oklahoma:

It's not everyday you see the Oklahoma dust bowl as the backdrop for high adventure and super heroics but its a unique time and place that sets the Twilight Avenger apart from so many other mystery men.

The story follows our hero, college student Reece Chambers (the Twilight Avenger's secret identity), his comatose girlfriend's father and a plucky reporter as they track down some Oklahoma zombies...and these are the good old fashioned "voodoo zombies"...not so much the Walking Dead type zombies.

The creators were known for taking advantage of their hometown setting and throwing in Okie easter eggs whenever possible so I thought I'd see if I could find any in this issue.  For example, in this panel Professor Herth is reading a newspaper with a headline about a car crash on Highway 51:

Another one can be seen in the background of the lab of the evil, zombie-creating mad scientist.  If you can look past the chain smoking zombie pilot and the femme fatale wondering where her clothes went, you can see a Bank of Tulsa calendar on the wall.

This should not be interpreted as an endorsement of zombie-creating mad scientists by any particular bank in the greater Tulsa area.

And finally, we get another geography shout-out when Reece and Dr. Herth try to figure out the location of the zombie-making fiend and their plucky (and now disrobed) young friend:

While trying to triangulate their abducted friend's location, Dr. Herth speculates that she's on or near Peoria Avenue which we all know runs north and south in the great city of Tulsa:

You can also see in the Professor's map (and the map above) the Arkansas River which flows through Tulsa.  If his pencil compass is marking a search perimeter around Peoria Street then the placement of the river is off.  But, of course, we can forgive a little artistic license in a story where a masked vigilante is fighting zombies. 

The Twilight Avenger had to change publishers more than once but he did finally get a couple of trade paperback collections of old issues.  So now it's easy to get a hold of the adventures of an Oklahoma hero...and maybe spot some familiar locations.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Top 5 at the Oklahoma History Center


The Oklahoma History Center has multiple floors filled with artifacts and exhibits chronicling Oklahoma's distant and not so distant past.  Beautiful Native American artwork sits side by side with a Jim Thorpe Wheaties box.  Well, maybe not side by side but the collection is very eclectic and very far reaching.

But since this blog is "Oklahoma Pop Culture," I decided to make this Top 5 List a list of the best Pop Culture items on display...or rather the five pop culture items I liked when I saw them on my last visit.  So without further ado...

5.  Pokey Hand Puppet

We may all be a little too young to remember the HoHo the Clown show (or various KOCO-TV shows) but several decades ago HoHo and his sidekick Pokie (along with a huge rotating cast of characters) would be welcomed into the homes of Oklahoman baby boomers via black and white TV.  While HoHo may have gone to that big circus in the sky, Pokie, in all his homemade sock puppet glory, remains on display.

4. One of Roy Clark's Outfits

Singer, actor, musician and favorite son of Oklahoma, Roy Clark, was many things.  But first and foremost, he was a showmen.  So flamboyant outfits like this one were in the regular rotation during his time co-hosting "Hee Haw" (hey kids, go ask your parents what Hee Haw won't regret it) or at one of his many live musical performances.

3.  Decades Old Sonic Bag

It's always nice to see something that was meant to be thrown in the trash actually be preserved.  It's the mundane pieces of memorabilia that really help to paint a picture of day to day life in the past.  I think this is from the 60's but I'm positive that its previous owner had the foresight to realize that in the future people would want to look at a sandwich bag in a museum.  Good job, old school Sonic customer!

2.  89ers TV Cards

These days when you watch a game on TV there are any number of technological advancements that allow you to immerse yourself in the competition.  But back when the Dodgers where known as the 89ers, the TV station had to literally hold up cards like these in front of the camera to advertise ticket sales.  We've come a long the NFL has their own robot.

1.  3-D Danny Costume

Well, we started with a local kid's TV show and we'll end with one.  3D Danny (Dan D. Dynamo) was the alter ego of Oklahoma broadcaster Danny Williams who portrayed the standard 50's scifi hero that had adventures and was friends with a robot.  His cool super suit remains as inspiration for today's youth who would also like to befriend a robot some day.

This is just a surface scratching assembly of the huge collection of Okie memorabilia on display at the center.  When you get a chance go stop by and make your own Top 5 List.  Tell 'em 3D Danny sent you.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Top 5 Things For Sale at the Sam Noble Museum Gift Shop


There's a lot going on at the Sam Noble Natural History Museum.  Fossils, native peoples, history, rotating exhibits and plenty more to fill your brain with.  But once your thirst for knowledge is quenched, it's time to take a little piece of the excitement with you.  So today we exit through the gift shop and pick the Top 5 items that caught our eye on our last trip there.

5.  Hawaiian Ukulele

 As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with science or Oklahoma but it just screams "gift shop" to me.  I envision many a regretful parent on many a family road trip being serenaded with the "soothing" sounds of Hawaii as they drove to the second largest Ball of Twine.  I couldn't tell you why it's there but I'm glad it is.

4.  Oklahoma Pencil Sharpener

Cheap.  Functional.  Oklahoma-themed.  Much can be said about the humble pencil sharpener.   Many would dismiss this little beauty as Dollar Store flotsam but I say give it a chance.  Nothing gets the little ones quiet like giving them a task.  And let's face it, all those pencils aren't going to sharpen themselves.  (Bonus points for the little cartoon buffalo!)

3.  Barite Rose Rocks

There's nothing better than being able to buy something at a museum that might actually be displayed in a museum.  The rare rose rock is the state rock of Oklahoma and and can pretty much only be found here (and technically in a couple of other places but they're much rarer there).  Pick up one of these beauties and put it on your desk at work and you've got an instant conversation piece.  It sure beats working.

2.  Oklahoma Tornado Snow Globes

Sure, tornadoes are no fun but they are a part of life in the Sooner State.  Here they get incorporated with a snow storm (or maybe a dust storm?) into one of the classic gift shop items of all time.  The best kind of twister is the one you can control.

1.  Little Oklahoma Pillow

You remember those collector plates from the 70's that had little cartoony depictions of an area's interesting features and attractions?  (Like THIS one.)  These little pillows remind me of them.  And the fact that they are apparently hand made puts them in the #1 slot on the list. 

So if you can't find a souvenir keepsake from this bunch then I don't know what to tell you.  You must hate fun...and gift shops.