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Former owner of Club Cafe dies October 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, People, Restaurants.
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Ron Chavez, 78, a former owner of the long-closed Club Cafe in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, who later became noted as a writer and poet, died Oct. 15 in Albuquerque, reported the Taos News.

His daughter, Sonia Valdez, told the newspaper he died of complications from diabetes and a stroke. The family declined to give details about his services or burial.

The newspaper provided some background on Chavez’s early days:

Chávez was born June 18, 1936 in the valley of Puerto de Luna on the banks of the Pecos River near Santa Rosa in southern New Mexico.

“When I was 6 years old I traveled Route 66 to California straight out of my village of Puerto de Luna in 1942 when my father went to work in the shipyards building warships. There, I befriended the owner of the corner grocery store who charmed me with his stories of how he had fought with (Emiliano) Zapata in Mexico. I am captivated with Zapata to this day,” Chávez said in an article published in Tempo (September 2013).

In Santa Rosa he was the owner of the famous Route 66 Club Café. During that time, Chávez and his café enjoyed fame in major media, which included books, television, magazines and newspapers, according to an online bio. He was known as the “Route 66 Storyteller.”

Chavez owned the Club Cafe for nearly 20 years after he saved it from closing during the 1970s, according to an archived article in the Chicago Tribune. Club Cafe was known since 1935 for its sourdough biscuits, New Mexican cuisine and its trademark “smiling Fat Man” logo on signs and billboards.

The restaurant closed in 1992, with Chavez mostly blaming it on the opening of a McDonald’s up the road. After fitful and unsuccessful attempts to reopen the eatery, the remnants of Club Cafe and its signs were slated to be demolished this year.

Chavez eventually found himself reciting and writing poetry in Taos in both English and Spanish. Many of his stories and poems were collected in two books — “Winds of Wildfire” and “Time of Triumph” (my review of the latter here) — and were published in numerous magazines.

Here’s a video from 2011 of his poem-recital style:

Chavez said he often was inspired by delving into New Mexico’s centuries-old cultures of its Native American and Hispanic residents.

(Image of Ron Chavez in 2007 by santiagosintaos via Flickr)

A visit to Cuba Fest October 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, People.
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Frank Kocevar, the former co-owner of Historic Seligman Sundries, took his video camera to Cuba Fest this month in Cuba, Missouri, and chatted to a few folks there.

There might be a few folks you recognize.

In case you missed it, Kocevar and his wife Lynn recently sold Historic Seligman Sundries in Seligman, Arizona, to a couple from nearby Flagstaff, Arizona. Frank had said at the time he wanted to do a little more traveling on the Mother Road, and it appears he’s doing so.

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 Jim Simpson and Shannon Simpson Hall of Century 21 in Litchfield.

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.”

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