A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Original Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander [1940 - 1993]

Born on 10th May, 1940, in Florence, Alabama, Arthur Alexander Jnr was nicknamed "June" [for Junior]. As a child he was banned from playing with father's old guitar. "I never made a nickel from playing the blues and I don't want that life for you." Arthur Snr said.

Arthur Jnr spent his teen years singing R&B in church and with local groups, until late 1950's when he was invited into a studio located above the Drug store to record his first single, "Sally Sue Brown".
Three years later, in 1962, while working as bell-hop and selling bootleg liquor on the side, Arthur recorded "You Better Move On". The single started to climb local charts and he was invited onto Americas Bandstand TV Show to perform. The song then reached Number 24 on the U.S. charts. This lead to other appearances and the recording of "Anna, Go Tell Him" and "Everyday I Have To Cry Some".

Arthur Alexander was one of the most copied artists in history. "You Better Move On" was most famously covered by the Rolling Stones on their "December's Children" LP, then the Hollies and many others. "Anna" was covered by the Beatles and "Everyday I Have To Cry Some" was covered by Dusty Springfield, Ike and Tina Turner and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Arthur's voice was commanding, vulnerable and engaging with it's Southern twang, laconic delivery and tremulous waiver. Conveying the joy and pain in the search for love. He invented the swagger, the anguish and the sound of "teenage angst".

After listening to Arthur Alexander's delivery you will realise what an impact his voice had on the rock icons that followed him. The similarity to Mick Jagger is more than uncanny and verges into imitation or even plagiarism. Listen to the two versions of "You Better Move On".

The Original Rock & Roll Train-Wreck

As with many artists Arthur Alexander had the rug pulled out from underneath him by those people looking after his business interests. As he said in July '93 to Pulse magazine, "I had big records but I never got paid for them." And in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, "The publishing rights got away from me. I guess I spent too much time drink'n and carousing."

In fact Arthur Alexander spent the next 20 years drink'n and carousing. He was hospitalised several times in Alabama and Tennessee suffering from excessive drugs and the drink.

In 1990 he was inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame and after hitting rock bottom, Arthur came to the crossroads in his life and found God. From then on he carried a bible with him wherever he went.

But it was too late. Reduced to driving a bus for the Cleveland local authorities and playing his old tapes at family barbecues, Arthur Alexander suffered a fatal heart attack in June 1993, aged 53 years old.

Biographer Richard Younger said, "Arthur's music resonated with honesty, emotion and originality, ensuring his legacy as one of the greatest."

Abu Simbel Saved

Rameses 11 Temple at Abu Simbel

Located more than 240 klms south of Aswan, in the Nubian desert, this gigantic facade on the banks of the Nile would have been an awe-inspiring sight for an ancient mariner as he rounded the bend in the river and entered Egyptian waters for the first time. Rameses 11 built this temple as a symbolic show of strength, warning all-comers to be humbled by the mighty Pharaoh and power of Egypt.

16 statues of Rameses 11 line Abu Simbel's Hypostyle Hall

The original temple was orientated in such a way that twice a year, on the Summer and Winter equinoxes, the rising sun would send a shaft of light through the front door and down the 55 metre Hypostyle Hall, between the 16 giant pillar statues of the King, to illuminate the back altar.

Rameses 11 charging the enemy at the Battle of Kadesh

In the 1960's when the High Dam was being built it was soon realised that the newly created waters of Lake Nasser would submerge the temple causing one of the greatest ecological disasters of all time.
An international outcry to save Abu Simbel resulted in UNESCO raising $90 million in donations from concerned organisations and museums all over the world.

Rameses 11 smiting the Hittite enemy at Kadesh

Over the next two years, in a race against the rising waters, the original cliff-face statues and the temple behind them were cut into blocks and moved to higher ground, whilst a safer site was prepared and then the facade and temple re-constructed block by block. 

Doorway to the inner Sanctuary at Abu Simbel

The new location was carefully chosen to re-create and mirror the exact alignment to the horizon so each year on the equinoxes of 22nd February and the 22nd October the dawn sunlight would illuminate the King's eternal face. Once the new temple was finished, on the 22nd October 1968, there were a lot of anxious dignitaries assembled at dawn, to satisfy themselves that the dawn light would again strike its trajectory as it had for over 3,000 years.

The back altar at Abu Simbel is once again illuminated by the dawn equinox 

Some years ago I travelled to Abu Simbel and camped out until dawn to see this phenomenon. It was remarkable if not somewhat overshadowed by the number of eccentric and bizarre characters in attendance. This bi-annual freak-show seemed to attract every kind would be mystic, star gazer and weirdo. They were all there, the Daughters of Osiris, the Disciples of Annubis and the Cult of Aten. Maybe all their brains were fried by the Sun God Amun-Ra.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Master of the Telecaster

Albert Collins "The Iceman"
Master Blaster of the Fender Telecaster

There have been a lot of truly great guitar players since acoustic went electric in the 50's and innovators like John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry started developing the blues chords that went on to shape rock and roll.

Actually it was in 1931, when jazz musicians first stated to experiment with amplifying their acoustic guitars. But is was not till the early 1940's that Les Paul working in the Epiphone factory first introduced a solid body fully electric guitar. He took this design to the Gibson factory and in the late 1940's started to market the first Les Paul Gibson electric. In 1950 Leo Fender went to the next level with a commercially successful solid body electric called the Broadcaster, which developed into the Telecaster and then the Stratocaster.

At the same time in Austin, Texas, Blind Melon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker were inventing their own version of the blues, a sound that influenced an emerging guitarist, Albert Collins.

Albert Collins was born in Leona Texas in 1932. After spending his early years playing the clubs and backing some of the best players of the era, he became one of the earliest exponents of Texas Blues. A subgenre that introduces swing and jazz improvisations to the traditional blues sound and relies on more solos or "licks" as bridges in the composition of songs. Albert Collins introduced "blister" to these licks and it was this element that attracted the great rock guitarists that followed him.

In the Sixties he followed the Hippies into San Francisco and played sessions in the Avalon Ballroom, Fillmore and the Winterland. Later he lined up with Canned Heat and the Allman Brothers.

Collins influenced talents like Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan and collaborated with all the great contemporaries including BB King, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards to name a few.

He was always there but really hit his straps with the big blues revival in the 1980's. Albert Collins' favourite guitar was a Maple Cap 1966 Custom Fender Telecaster.

He first really got my attention when I saw him play Live Aid at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, with George Thorogood's Destroyers and Bo Diddley in 1985. He played "The Sky is Crying" and "Madison Blues" bringing the house down. I went straight into the local Virgin Megastore and brought every Albert Collins CD they had!

Albert Collins died in 1993 at the age of 61 from lung cancer and  is buried at Davis Memorial Park in Las Vegas.

If you are interested in hearing more I can recommend one of his later albums, Albert Collins "The Deluxe Edition" a compile of Albert at his best.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Love Nest For The Afterlife

Decorated ceiling of Senemut and the Queen's Underground Boudoir

18th Dynasty Egyptian Queen Hapshepsut built her Mortuary temple in Deir el-Bahari, a valley adjacent to the Valley of the Kings, in Luxor, Egypt. This glorious Temple was designed by Senemut, an architect who was also Hapshepsut's secret lover. 

Deir el Bahari is separated from the King's Valley by a mountain range and precipitous cliffs 1,000 feet high. When the Queen died in 1485 B.C. she was buried in a King's Valley tomb close to the dividing mountain range. Remarkably in the 19th century a small tunnel was found which burrows deep under the mountain and connects her King's Valley tomb with her mortuary temple in adjacent Deir el-Bahari.

Hapshepsut's Deir el-Bahari Temple

The tunnel descends sharply from her tomb and deep under the mountain opens into a small room. On the opposite side of the room the tunnel ascends steeply till it reaches the surface and a trapdoor hidden in the sand, in the next valley, on the right hand side of the Deir el-Bahari Temple.

Hapshepsut's tunnel only had to be big enough to allow her Ka [Spirit] to escape down to the room and join her companion Senemut for secret spiritual reunions.

Egypt's only female Middle Kingdom pharaoh Queen Hapshepsut

25 years ago I was able to convince the local guardian to unlock the covered Deir el-Bahari trapdoor. With a torch I slithered on my stomach over bat dung and other refuse for over 500 metres to reach the underground room and take this precious photograph of the wall and ceiling decoration - a rare early depiction of a middle kingdom astrological Star Clock and some beautifully executed representations of Sobek the Crocodile God and Taweret the Hippopotamus Goddess joined together.

The Star clock map or wheel is a calendar which divides the night into 30 decans or groups of stars which were visualised as star gods who rose and moved across the night sky over the course of 10 days.

Senemut's Star Map

Taweret, is the hippopotamus goddess of childbirth and love. Here she is represented as one of the constellations of the Northern sky, an ancient pole star with the other stars revolving around her.

When Taweret is shown with Sobek the crocodile she takes on the form of Ipet, a nourishing deity and the Mother of Osiris. Interestingly when the crocodile and hippo are seen together as a composite mythical creature, she is called Ammut - the "female devourer" or the "eater of hearts" the destroyer of those who led wicked lives. Just what was Senemut thinking?

Last year I was surprised to find the tunnel entrance has been exposed and the tunnel is in the process of being cleared and mapped, the surrounds landscaped and sign posted - making me all the more fortunate for having seen it in it's original condition.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Mighty Monark ISDT

Monark 125cc ISDT 1972 Replica

I the early Seventies I was lucky enough to purchase one of six Monark 125cc motorcycles imported into Australia. Monark was a brand of purpose-built dirt bikes from Sweden. As you can see the blue and yellow colours of the bike match the Swedish flag and this particular model was made specially for Sweden's International Six Day Trials Team. The ISDT is a big deal in Europe and competing countries go all out to win it. Large teams of their best riders compete for National pride and individual status. They ride six days of special sections over difficult terrain similar to the car rallies we are familiar with.

My bike was a replica of the ISDT bikes and I raced it in Australian motocross, dirt track and enduro meetings and then rode it for fun over a 12 year period, before retiring it to the shed where it sat rusting for another 10 years.

One day in a fit of enthusiasm I dragged the bike into the house, pulled it down and commenced a long restoration process to get it to the stage you see in the pics. Almost as new.

Shortly after taking delivery of the bike I was exploring the tool kit when I came across six glass straw-like sticks in amongst the spanners etc. Puzzled, I started to read the owners manual and was amazed to discover the glass sticks contained amyl nitrate! The idea being when you were out on the trails and you crashed head first into a tree, dazed you could reach into the kit, break a stick under your nose, take a giant whiff of amyl and jump straight up onto the bike, ignoring any injury and get back on the pace.
It was then I realised this bike was a serious, competitive bit of machinery.

Fortunately I never had to resort using the amyl sticks but I do recall a rather wild New Years Eve .....

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Masters of their Universe

"A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers, but when I go up to the river I see camps of soldiers on its banks. These soldiers cut down my timber, they kill my buffalo and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting."

If ever you have had the opportunity to travel across the United States of America by car or Amtrack, then this blog will strike a chord.

Despite the damage inflicted on the landscape since William Bradford and the Mayflower pilgrim "Founding Fathers" arrived on Plymouth Rock in 1620, it is still possible to imagine what America was like pre-colonization. Spool back to the time of ancient redwood forests in Northern California and Oregon, the endless plains of Montana and Dakota and the lush States of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Virginia, all teeming with wild life, nourished by sparkling rivers and blanketed by clear skies. Surely this was the closest country to paradise on earth.

Native Americans at the Grand Canyon

At least the original Native American Indians thought so. The dignity and beauty of their civilization and their respect for the environment was the perfect formula for a harmonious co-existence with nature - that is until the Europeans arrived. The devastation of Native American culture and the systematic destruction of their lands and livelihoods is a blight on the history of man. It was not the first time a culture has been decimated or a land ravaged, but this was a loss of the most tragic kind.

"Grandfather Sky speaks and Grandmother Earth listens."

Little Big Horn Flats

"This is a good day to die .... follow me."
Low Dog - Ogala Chief at the Battle of Big Horn.

To truly understand I urge everyone to read a book titled "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" by Dee Williams and get a factual account of this genocide from the victims perspective. Too often our opinions are forged by modern propaganda designed to mask the guilt of the perpetrators. My copy of this book has a tear on every page and I am sure it will have the same effect on you.

"One does not sell the land people walk on."
Tashanka Witko [Crazy Horse] Sept 23, 1875

Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull - The Peacemaker

"Only after the last tree has been cut down. 
Only after the last river has been poisoned. 
Only after the last fish has been caught. 
Only then will you find money cannot be eaten."  
                                                                                                      Cree prophecy

"May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong."

"The Living Spirit" Chief Dan George [1899 -1981]

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Gates Take You Back 1,000 Years

One of the world's greatest restoration projects has recently been completed in Cairo. Now you can go on a walking tour through medieval Cairo and see the city as it was before the Crusades. An open air museum of Islamic monuments and buildings that transports you back 1,000 years. This is an amazing experience and best appreciated at sunset or early evening when its illuminated. 

Old Cairo was a walled city punctuated by many gates that were locked at night. I started my tour by entering at the Northern Bab al-Futuh [Gate of Conquest] and onto El Mui'z Street. Ten centuries ago El Mui'z li Din Allah was the principal street in Cairo. It was named after the Fatimid ruler who conquered Medieval Cairo in 969 AD.

You can easily spend hours visiting the ancient mosques, metalwork shops and restaurants as you weave your way to the Southern Gate of Bab Zuwayla, built in 1092 during the rule of the Fatamids to hold out the marauding Turkish armies.

After the fortified gate went up 900 years ago travellers soon began wedging human teeth and other objects in the cracks for good luck. Some left handwritten notes, scrawled in illegible, mystical script, for a saint long dead. When the gate was being restored these keepsakes were recovered and are now on display in a case near the gate.

The restoration of the architecture and the Islamic decoration on the buildings is exquisite and a long way from the generally poor condition of surrounding modern Cairo.

Near the Bab Zuwayla Gate is the Khan el Khalili market, one of the world's oldest bazaars and the perfect place to end your tour. In the bazaar I always visit el-Fashawy, the coffee shop which has been in operation for over 400 years and the perfect spot for Turkish coffee and shisha.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Dictator's Diorama Doomed

If you've been to Cairo in recent years, chances are you visited the Citadel, a huge medieval fortress that sits high above the city and houses the Mohammed Ali Pasha Mosque. This magnificent Ottoman style structure was completed in 1850 and is considered to be one of the biggest in the Islamic world.

The Citadel fortress also houses Egypt's Military Museum, a not so interesting hall of exhibits, excepting for a fine statue of Saladin and a war chariot from Pharaoh Tutankhamen's tomb. There are also three dioramas featuring periods of Egyptian history, including one dedicated to the now deposed despot dictator and former President Hosni Mubarak.

After a tyrannical 30 year rule, Mubarak the fourth president of Egypt, was forced from office during the recent revolution and now the new government is revealing the real truth behind the corruption and abuse of power that has restricted Egypt from realising its true potential for three decades.

Apart from trying to locate billions of Egypt's missing dollars, new government officials are busy expunging Hosni Mubarak and his wife Suzanne Mubarak's name from hundreds of dedicated buildings, universities, schools, roads, playgrounds, orphanages etc. Most are being replaced with "Revolution" or "25th January", the date of the overthrown dictator being forced from office.

One can now wonder the fate of the ridiculously huge oil painting that dominates Mubarak's diorama and shows him as the benefactor of all Egyptian peoples, marching to freedom surrounded by his military generals and ministers, most of whom are now in jail accused of gross breaches of trust and self-enrichment. It makes you sick to see the adoring peasants and citizens of upper Egypt, shown in traditional dress surrounding their leader, whilst peace doves settle at his feet. A far cry from the truth when he was actually stealing the bread from the mouths of their starving children.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Labour of Love

After 12 years of hard labour my 1954 Velocette MSS500 was finally ready to go on display in the Lounge room of the house. This bike was rescued from a paddock in Tamworth, NSW. Australia. Some local kids had butchered the front end and put a Honda Four wheel in it, so one can imagine what the rest of the bike looked like! I soon found out replacing the cycle parts was near impossible. Thanks to a kind colleague in the U.K. who spent many years scouring swap meets all over England, I finally was able to secure the parts needed to put the bike back to its former glory.


The Velocette marque was first founded in the U.K. in 1905 and began manufacturing a basic 276cc 4-stroke engine in 1909. In 1926 production moved to Birmingham and by 1936 Velocette's 350cc racer started a long competitive history by winning the Junior Tourist Trophy at the Isle of Man. A history which saw Velocette win the 350cc World Championship in 1950.

The Velocette brand was renowned for producing expensive bikes, engineered to aircraft quality standards and marketed to "gentleman" riders. Owning a Velocette meant you were a cut above the average and certainly superior to your average BSA, Triumph or Norton owner.

The Velocette MSS 500cc single cylinder engine in all its glory.

Velocettes were easily recognised by their trademark "fishtail" exhaust.