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Ariston Cafe put up for sale October 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Restaurants.
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The landmark Ariston Cafe, located on old Route 66 in Litchfield, Illinois, and owned by the same family for 90 years, has been put up for sale for $1.2 million.

The restaurant was listed on an online real-estate site here by Gary Niemeier of Landmark Realty in nearby Edwardsville, Illinois.

Ariston co-owner Nick Adam, reached by phone Sunday, confirmed the decision to put the restaurant up for sale came about six weeks ago, but not without “a lot of tears. It was an emotional decision.”

“It’s time to sit back,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 48 years. But it’s definitely bittersweet. It was a difficult decision to make. I’m hoping some Route 66 aficionado can take it over. We’ve met so many wonderful people over the years.”

Adam, 76, insisted his decision to put the restaurant on the block is not health-related. But he noted running a restaurant is “a very demanding business. It’s hard to raise a family with that.”

On a related note, Nick Adam said Paul Adam, a third-generation manager of the Ariston, is not interested in taking over because of the time demands. “He’s a stay-at-home dad when he’s not here,” he said. “He wants to try something different.”

The listing includes the restaurant’s old-school counter seats and wooden booths that have been lovingly maintained over the years. The restaurant seats 200 and, according to the listing, generates $1.3 million in annual sales.

The restaurant also is almost directly across the street from the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center.

The Ariston started before Route 66 existed, in Carlinville, Illinois, which wound up being on the original alignment of the Mother Road in that region. The Ariston moved to Litchfield in 1935, a few years after Route 66 was realigned there.

The Ariston was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 and was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 1992.

(Hat tip to Peter Stork; images of the Ariston Cafe by Larry Myhre and John Hartnup via Flickr)

Co-founder of Manhattan Transfer dies October 17, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
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Tim Hauser, a co-founder of the Manhattan Transfer jazz vocal quartet in 1969 and the only original member still with the group, died at age 72 this week, reported JazzTimes and other media outlets.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but a post through the group’s Facebook page confirmed his passing.

We spent more than 40 years together singing and making music, traveling the world, and sharing so many special moments throughout our lives… It’s incomprehensible to think of this world without him.
We join his loving wife, Barb, his beautiful children, his family, and the rest of the world in mourning the loss of our dear friend and partner in song.
Love,
Janis, Cheryl and Alan

For those of you with tickets to our upcoming shows, we will continue to tour as scheduled and continue to share Tim’s incredible legacy…

The group — influenced by doo-wop, swing, New Orleans R&B and 1960s girl-group harmonies — was signed to Atlantic Records in 1975. Their biggest hit was “Boy from New York City,” which reached the Top 10 of the pop charts in 1981.

The Manhattan Transfer won 10 Grammy Awards, including one for  Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group in 1982 for its version of Bobby Troup’s “Route 66.” The song remained a mainstay in their performances for decades. Here’s a performance of it from 2008:

The Manhattan Transfer was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.

JazzTimes included this background on Hauser:

Born in Troy, N.Y., Dec. 12, 1941, Hauser grew up in towns on the New Jersey shore, and began his singing career in Asbury Park at age 15 with a doo-wop group called the Criterions that once performed for the legendary disc jockey Alan Freed. In college Hauser sang with other vocal outfits, including one folk aggregation that included future hitmaker Jim Croce. Hauser served in the Air Force beginning in 1964 and took jobs in advertising upon his discharge, before starting the Manhattan Transfer in 1969.

The Asbury Park Press passed along the tale of the moment that changed Hauser’s life — a Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers show in Asbury Park in 1956. Lymon had asked for him directions to the dressing room; Hauser was able to oblige because he went to Boy Scout Jamborees at the venue. That led to this moment:

Hauser accompanied Lymon and the Teenagers to the dressing room where they rehearsed.

“They sang ‘I Promise to Remember’ a cappella and I was maybe 18 inches from them if not less sitting there — I could literally reach out and touch them,” Hauser said. “I swear that was my turning point. That was God’s way of saying, ‘Here’s your gig, son and if you don’t get it, it’s not my fault.’ “

(Image of Tim Hauser in 2012 by Federico Ugolini via Flickr)

Former trooper tells about experiences in Mojave Desert October 15, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People.
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A former officer with the California Highway Patrol has published a book about his experiences during the 1940s in the Mojave Desert — much of it on Route 66 — in a memoir.

L.A. “Buzz” Banks has published “Policing the Mojave Desert,” mining his stories from the time the highway patrol assigned him to Victorville, California, as a traffic-control officer in 1941.

According to a news release Monday from the publisher, Lulu:

Banks joined the CHP at a time when officers were expected to be on their own – resources were limited, technical support was virtually nonexistent, and officers relied on their common sense and their own judgment.

This collection of 30 vignettes recounts memorable, true incidents from Banks’ early experiences as a CHP officer. He honed his writing skills writing accident reports, his diary and published magazine articles. Recognizing the value of his unique experiences, he set out to share them in this unique new book.

Encounters that emerge in “Policing the Old Mojave Desert,” introduce readers to a famous WWII general, an iconic test pilot, a deranged doctor, a bizarre German spy, a sharpshooting sheriff and a kind baker, to name a few.

The book is available as an e-book for Nook e-readers or apps for $2.99. The book also comes in a Kindle version. A paperback version ranges from $10 to $12.

A visit to the Ariston Cafe October 11, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People, Restaurants.
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Continuing with his Genuine Route 66 Life video series, KC Keefer sat down with Paul Adam, a third-generation manager for the historic Ariston Cafe on Route 66 in Litchfield, Illinois.

This video comes out during the restaurant’s 90th anniversary. It started a couple of years before Route 66 existed in Carlinville, Illinois, which wound up on the original alignment of the Mother Road in that region. The Ariston moved to Litchfield in 1935, a few years after Route 66 was moved there.

If you do go to the Ariston, try to snag one of the old-school wooden booths. If those are full, the old-school counter seats will do.

It’s a genuine landmark in central Illinois that’s found favor with locals and tourists.

(Image of the Ariston Cafe by Alan Berning via Flickr)

Lou Whitney, R.I.P. October 8, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
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Lou Whitney, 72, a music producer based in Springfield, Missouri, whose mentoring and influence on other musicians far exceeded his fame as a bassist with The Morells and The Skeletons, died of cancer Tuesday, reported the Springfield News-Leader.

Before delving into an amazing career, here’s Whitney with his band, The Morells, immortalizing long-gone Route 66 landmark Red’s Giant Hamburg in a song and video, circa 1982:

KCUR in Kansas City provided some details on Whitney’s impressive producing resume at his Springfield studio:

Whitney also engineered records by national artists such as Dave Alvin, Jonathan Richman, Exene Cervenka, the Bel Airs, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

“Lou made you feel right at home in the studio,” Cervenka tells KCUR. “He brought so much positive energy to recording. He was extremely witty, very wise, and a great musician to boot. I will always appreciate how much he cared and how encouraging he was. Lou was one of a kind.”

But while Whitney’s technical skills were clearly in demand, it was his behind-the-soundboard philosophizing that drew generations of area musicians to his Springfield studio.

“Anybody who was playing roots-based music, it was a rite of passage to go spend some time in Springfield with Lou,” Wickham says. “He really cares about the recording and works very hard, but the whole experience of being in Springfield with him is what drew people to keep going back there.” [...]

Ladesich’s favorite Whitney story: During the monotonous down time when Pendergast was recording its first album, Ladesich was hanging out in the front room reading rock magazines. He picked up an issue of Q Magazine dedicated to the 100 greatest rock photos of all time. The number-one greatest photo, according to Q, was the iconic cover of The Clash’s London Calling.

“Lou says, ‘Funny story about that: (The Morells guitarist) Donny Thompson got pushed out of the way so the photographer could get that shot.’ The Morells were in New York and had been at that Clash show. There was always something like that with Lou. He had his fingerprints on a lot of things you didn’t know he had his fingerprints on.”

Other bands he worked with were The Bottle Rockets, Wilco, Robbie Fulks, The Del-Lords, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Jay Farrar, Syd Straw, Blue Mountain, Rex Hobart, Dallas Wayne, Domino Kings and many others.

Longtime Route 66 fan Dave Hoekstra met Whitney and posted some memories after the announcement of his death:

Lou was rugged Americana before Americana got gussied up. Next fall’s Americana awards in Nashville needs to find a way to honor Lou. Like thousands of others who encountered Lou, I never grew tired of hearing his stories. Even the same story several times. Lou was the only guy I know who liked to borrow from Lil’ Abner when he talked about his adopted home town: “Springfield is more like it was the last time you were here than it is now.” [...]

Lou did not want a funeral. “And NO band jam memorial,” his long time friend and drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks wrote in an Oct. 2 e-mail. Lou did request that his body be donated to science. Transportation costs for a Springfield funeral home to take Lou’s remains to Washington University in St. Louis were $1,200. A “Send Lou to Camp” GoFundMe campaign raised $2,525 in one day. The extra money goes to Lou’s wife and family.

For about 10 years, I had a regular part-time gig writing music for a newspaper in northern Illinois. I learned pretty quickly that a CD produced by Lou Whitney was probably going to be a good one.

I also learned he admired all types of music if it was good. He once recorded an album of old-fashioned hymns sung by a congregation at a rural Missouri church. He didn’t see those old hymns or the singing of them as quaint — he really loved that music, and was afraid it was disappearing from churches.

The Chicago Sun-Times passed along a good story about Whitney and his later band and why he stayed in southwest Missouri:

In 2004, the Skeletons were hired to back up rock pioneer Bo Diddley at FitzGerald’s, an evening packed with celebrities like John Cusack, with blues queen Koko Taylor sitting on the side of the stage. Diddley arrived only a few hours before the show and ran through a few songs with the band in a quick rehearsal. Proving their musical dexterity, the band ended up receiving as much raves as the legend himself. “I thought it would be perfect and it was,” says FitzGerald. “They just killed it.” [...]

In an interview with Tape Op magazine last year, Whitney explained why he never left Springfield and committed his life to local talent.

“Local bands are great. I’ve had a couple chances to move, as well as an offer to go up to New York and re-settle in the Brooklyn area with some people who did pretty well. But I passed and I stayed here. Most of the people who come in here realize that it’s very likely that this is the most important musical event they’ve ever done in their life. They’re going to record. If you take that cavalierly, you’re not doing anybody any justice. You can be confident in your skills, but my goal is to send everybody down the road, taking their first recording experience as the benchmark for the rest of the work they do,” he said.

“They’ll remember this bald-headed guy in Springfield.”

Annabelle Russell, R.I.P. October 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Music, People.
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Annabelle Russell, 68, who with her husband Harley Russell made up the irreverent Mediocre Music Makers at their Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma, died Tuesday afternoon after a 3 1/2-year bout with cancer.

The Facebook page for Harley and Annabelle posted sad but typical message Tuesday:

Dear friends, my Precious Annabelle just passed away 1:10p.m. this afternoon Sept.30, 2014. Thank all of you for everything you have done.

You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annabelle was moved into hospice care in Oklahoma City in early September. She began aggressive treatment for the cancer after a four-hour surgery in March 2011. Although the cancer was incurable, she recovered her strength enough to play a number of Mediocre Music Makers shows with Harley.

The Mediocre Music Makers act began more than a decade ago in the Russells’ old City Meat Market building a block south of Route 66 in downtown Erick. They previously tried to make it go as a health-food store. The Mediocre Music Makers act happened spontaneously: The Russells once were going through guitar practices in the store when a tour group stopped by. Afterward, the group threw money down on the tables for tips, and its guide said he’d bring more tours by in the future. And a long and well-known entertainment career on Route 66 was born.

The act was mostly music with a heaping helping of wacky comedy inside a shop brimming with antiques. Annabelle served as rhythm guitarist, singer and “straight man” in the act (where you could “see rednecks work and play in their own environment”). But close observers noted she often was the instigator to Harley’s madcap antics, and Harley told me she had written 300 songs — a few which made into their set list.

Harley, in a Facebook message on Sept. 25, said:

My Precious Annabelle was the key factor behind our success at our “Sandhills Curiosity Shop” in Erick, Oklahoma, where we performed our “Insanity at it`s Finest” program (off-color comedy and mediocre music). In this space I cannot begin to tell you of the many tasks she performed! As a matter of fact I don`t even know myself! And you, all our friends played a big part in it as well!

(Incidentally, Harley ultimately called their act “mediocre” because he was a professional musician for many years.)

But the duo continued to entertain thousands of Route 66 travelers from dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of countries. A significant number said the Harley & Annabelle Experience was the highlight of their Route 66 trip.

As a testament to their popularity, well-wishes came by the dozens from all over the globe on Harley and Annabelle’s Facebook page during her diagnosis and later treatments.

As for the future of the Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Harley posted this a few days ago:

I have asked my Precious Annabelle what she wanted me to do after this is all over….She says, try to keep doing what we were doing at our shop “The Sandhills Curiosity Shop” so that’s what I will try to do. But it will never be the same! You Get the Best of Our Love!!! YEE HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This brings up something else. Facebook is cussed and discussed — often for good reasons — for years. But it served as a viable link to Harley and Annabelle and all of their fans and friends from across the globe during the long ordeal. Harley told me himself Annabelle’s health problems were “hell,” but I suspect all the well-wishes from hundreds of people made the last few years a bit more tolerable. The words of sympathy and support that flooded his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon and evening reiterated that.

(Image of Harley and Annabelle Russell performing in February 2014 by Dusty Track via Flickr)

Teen with rare aging disease is touring Route 66 September 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Road trips, Television.
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Sammy Basso, an 18-year-old Italian boy afflicted with progeria, a rare genetic disease that ages him prematurely, is traveling Route 66, and a subsidiary with the National Geographic Channel is documenting the journey, according to the Bloomington Pantagraph.

The folks in Pontiac, Illinois, in typical fashion, rolled out the red carpet for him:

Basso, his family, best friend and film crew arrived in Pontiac Monday evening and had dinner with Mayor Bob Russell, said Pontiac Tourism Director Ellie Alexander. The mayor allowed Basso, who understands and speaks English, to gavel that night’s City Council meeting to order.

After the meeting, Basso, his crew and city officials went to Chautauqua Park where Russell presented Basso with a key to the city and proclaimed Monday as Sammy Basso Day. After Basso received other gifts, the Vermilion Players presented their Route 66 musical review.

“Sammy said ‘Pontiac is such a beautiful country,'” Alexander said.

According to the African-American Holy Angels Catholic Church in Chicago that hosted Basso a few days ago, the Standbyme.tv documentary will air on Christmas Day in Italy, then later in English in the United States. Basso also is scheduled to meet Amish people in Illinois, an authentic Native American chief and members of various other American cultures during his journey.

Progeria typically causes death through heart attack or stroke from hardening of the arteries. It’s uncertain how much time Basso has left, but progeria patients often die by their early 20s.

UPDATE 9/18/2014: Basso was in St. Louis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Cardinals baseball game. According to KTVI-TV’s report, his Route 66 journey will end at Santa Monica on Sept. 30, when he will receive “a special surprise.”

(Image of Sammy Basso and his mother Laura by Tatiana Zaghet via Flickr)

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