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  • Bye Bye, Mercury

    Posted on June 3rd, 2010 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 4 comments
    1939 Mercury

    1939 Mercury

    It’s a sad day for retro-lovin’ swingers. One of our all time best-beloved, the MERCURY, is being shut down.

    Sure, Mercs of the past 20 years are kind of junk-like, with maybe the exception of the Marquis if you like that “I’m floating down the highway on my living room sofa” feel. But the old-school Mercs are second to none, baby.

    The Mercury was introduced in 1938 (for the ’39 model year) as line-up that could slip in between cheap, dependable Fords and luxed-up Lincolns. A beautiful car, the 1939 Mercury was the perfect blend of styling, power, and price to fit the mid-money market.

    James Dean '49 Mercury from Rebel Without A Cause

    James Dean '49 Mercury from Rebel Without A Cause

    Mercury stayed ahead of tech and styling through the ’40s, ’50s & ’60s. 1949 & ’50 Mercs became favorites of hot-rodders and customizers because of their low, sleek look. Late ’50s models stood out from the crowd with unique styling which still managed to incorporate trends of the day like tail fins and wrap-around windshield. The 1960s saw the rise of the muscle car, and Mercury kept up speed with the Marauder and Cougar. And of course no one can forget the “Baby Lincoln”, the Marquis of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

    1957 Mercury Montclair

    1957 Mercury Montclair

    Then everything went to hell in a handbag. The ’70s brought on tighter government restrictions on safety and emissions, gas prices went through the roof, and the American car suffered. Mercs like many other brands became boated and under-powered. The introduction of cheap, ugly little sub-compacts with irritatingly slow four-cylinders just made things worse. Prices went up, quality went down, and soon Mercurys were no longer in the mid-price niche, but were being overlapped by tricked-out Fords and low-end Lincolns.

    1973 Mercury Grand Marquis. My grandfather had one of these in burgundy. It was his pride and joy.

    1973 Mercury Grand Marquis. My grandfather had one of these in burgundy. It was his pride and joy.

    When you think about it, it’s amazing Mercury wasn’t phased out years ago like the Corvair or Rambler. If Ford had stuck to the plan…Good, strong, economic and dependable yet fun-to-drive cars for the Ford line; more interesting, more powerful and unique cars for the Mercury line; and high-luxury, top performance cars for the Lincoln line, there would be no reason to let the Mercury brand go daisies up.

    Henry Ford is spinning in his grave. RIP, Mercury.

    -Tiki Chris reporting from the garage behind the Tiki Bar.

    PS: I’ve been around a few Mercs over the years. My grandfather had a 1965 Turnpike Cruiser with the roll-down back window, and a ’73 Grand Marquis that rode like a sofa. My old man had a couple over the years, including a ’92 Grand Marquis. I had the honor of owning a 1968 Mercury Park Lane Convertible with a kickin’ 390 that could shut down almost anything on the road. McGarret drove a ’68 Park Lane in Hawaii Five-O, and of course James Dean drove a ’49 Merc in Rebel Without a Cause. Mercs have a long, great history. And I’m pretty sure Alan Jackson will never start singing “Crazy ’bout a Subaru” or something like that.

  • May 22 Marks 20 Years Since I Bought StarDust, The Smokin’ 53 Chevy Hot Rod

    Posted on May 22nd, 2010 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 1 comment
    StarDust, the Smokin' 53 Chevy Belair Wild Custom

    StarDust, the Smokin' 53 Chevy Belair Wild Custom

    20 YEARS!

    That’s right kats and kittens, May 22nd means I’ve had this beauty for 20 years on the button. That’s half my life, by the way. Longer than I’ve known my wife and most of my friends, longer than I’ve been able to legally drink.

    You’d think by now it would be done!

    But when you have an antique car that you work on yourself, you’re never really finished. The short story is, I bought her at a yard sale in a little community that went by the name of Birdland in South Jersey, and drove it home.

    My 1953 Chevy Belair StarDust in 1992

    My 1953 Chevy Belair StarDust in 1992

    Within a few months I’d added a set of tires, rebuilt the carb, got the brakes working, put new seat covers, installed a new fuel pump and did some bodywork, enough to get her primed. By summer she was on the road. I drove her around primed gray for over a year while I got the lettuce together to get her painted, and by September 1991 she was seafoam green with a white top and chocolate interior.

    I drove it around like that for ten years, to fun places like Wildwood and Cape May, Ocean City and Smithville, NJ. Then in June 2000, we moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. StarDust came with us on a flatbed behind the 22′ moving truck.

    FINS! 1953 Chevy Belair Custom Hot Rod

    FINS! 1953 Chevy Belair Custom Hot Rod

    Once down here (with a two-car garage) I decided to totally re-think her, make her a wild custom ride. I started with engine – adding a 4-banger carb and headers with duals to the original six, then cut the top like a cabriolet, then…the FINS. Yes kids, in true 1950’s custom fashion, I hand-built 33″ fins on the back of this baby, working them into the contours of the car.

    Then I installed the leather seats from my Father’s Cadillac in, added a purple rug and custom center console with a pop-up DVD player, and chrome spokes. Recently I rebuilt the braking system from the ground up, and added a new high-torque starter to make her start up easily and more reliably. She’s running great now, and looks decent although she’s still in black primer (I plan to paint her metalflake candy purple before I kick the bucket).

    53 Chevy in Primer

    53 Chevy in Primer

    I’d really like to put a Mustang II front suspension and a dual master cylinder on her in the near future, but that front end’s more work than I can handle myself. I’ll have to take it to a shop for that, and frankly I ain’t met no kats in SoFla that I’d trust her with!

    The Trunk

    The Trunk

    Twenty years is a long time to have a car. I have a feeling this car will outlast me. I have a lot of neat pix and info on how I built it at the StarDust Chevy website, http://53ChevyHotRod.com. Check it out if you have some time. It’s a gass, baby!

    -Krazy Chris reporting from under the car, next to a palm tree in Sunny South Florida

  • Jazz Appreciation Month – This Kat’s Two Cents…

    Posted on April 30th, 2010 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 3 comments

    jazz-legs-saxAs Jazz Appreciation Month (suitably monikered “J.A.M”) comes down to the last few bars, I thought I throw in a few riffs of my own.

    My take on Jazz Appreciation: Most people who don’t like jazz have two main complaints: There are no words, and a lot of it sounds all the same. Well kids, jazz does have words, as vocalists the likes of Ella Fitzgerald to Mel Torme to Billie Holiday to Dean Martin can attest to.

    That's me, playing Tenor Sax

    That's me, playing Tenor Sax

    As for the sounds…Here’s the deal, in my humble opinion… you can’t really appreciate jazz until you see and  hear it live, see the musicians play,watch them pour their soul into a solo, see the sweat drip off them as they strain to push that perfect blue note out of a horn. There’s a dynamic in watching jazz live that you just don’t get from an album. Remember, this music was invented when recording was a novelty. These guys played live, and that was their life. Once you see jazz kats jam in person, then you can get hip to the recordings, because instead of hearing a bunch of notes getting thrown around, you catch the real drift the players are laying down. That’s Jazz Appreciation. Can you dig it? yeahhhh.

    Now, a little bit about jazz and me, for any of you kats and kittens who might be in the mood for a little story. I added this recording of me playing Take the A-Train on the Tenor Sax just for fun. I’m a little rusty but hey, after 2 drinks I sound great!

    The first jazz song I ever remember hearing was a sort of modified version of All Blues (Miles Davis). It was on Sesame Street, a goofy cartoon skit with a jazzy triangle and a square. (see it here on YouTube). Even at that early age, something clicked.

    Doing a funny clarinet skit in a high school talent show

    Doing a funny clarinet skit in a high school talent show

    My old man was into Progressive Jazz (Modern Jazz, Traditional Jazz) and turned me onto some kool players like Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt. At around the same time, my Grandfather introduced me to the music of the Big Bands – Miller, Dorsey, Goodman, Shaw. He gave me my first Big Band record, Star Dust by Artie Shaw. That tune has followed me all my life.

    When I was around 11, I decided I wanted to play an instrument. I didn’t know much about jazz other than what I was hearing on the Muppet Show, when kats like Dizzy Gillespie would star. First I wanted to play the trombone. Then I heard a Harry James record (I’ve Heard That Song Before) and decided the trumpet was for me. I sold my small coin collection and bought a King Cleavland (still have it).  I didn’t want to take lessons – wanted to figure it out myself. I couldn’t get much sound out of it, but tried like hell anyway. Then one day my old man came home with a clarinet. It was missing some keys in the low register, and the reed was held on with electrical tape.

    Playing Sax in "Who Shot The Piano Player?!", a StarDust Productions murder mystery dinner show

    Playing Sax in "Who Shot The Piano Player?!", a StarDust Productions murder mystery dinner show

    Turned out to be a very old horn, a turn-of-the-century job. Bought a ligature and a new reed, and started getting some sound out of it. Not long after I picked up a cheap student clarinet in good shape, and started playing along with records, matching the sounds. Still couldn’t play a melody, but I was at least getting sound out of all the holes. Then, on a warm summer day in 1982, while walking around a flea market with my grandmother I came across a vintage licorice stick in great condition for 15 bucks. I convinced grandmom to lay out the dough for it, and that was the start of something big. I swear, that horn is magic. Magic in the real sense – for after fiddling around with it for just a few days, I sat down on my bed and made an attempt to play a song…first few notes…sounded wrong…changed the fingering…and just like that, I was playing Moonglow, in a way that would have made Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman proud.

    Playing a party in Atlantic City with Tony Deluca, 1990

    Playing a party in Atlantic City with Tony Deluca, 1990

    Soon after I got an alto sax, then a tenor, and taught myself how to play them just like the old-time kats did back in the 20s. I never learned to read music too well, just enough to get by in the college big band but not enough to hurt me none. I play from the heart, I play what I feel. I can play solo or with a group of kats and the better they are, the better I am. I played professionally during the 90s, and after swinging down to the Sunshine State in 2000 decided to play only for myself. I still dig the standards, bossas, latin jazz and bop. Never really got into fusion, but can appreciate what the kats were doing at the time. In the early 90’s someone turned me on to Dexter Gordon, and that got me into post-bop Modern Jazz more than ever.

    Today I continue to listen, learn and play. I’m still discovering players and songs from the 70+ years of great jazz, from Louis Armstrong to Louis Prima, from Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker. I’ve been blessed to have seen a few of the greats in person; I’ve been lucky to have watched some of the legacy bands like Miller’s and Count Basie’s carry on the tradition. I saw Duke Ellington’s son, then his grandson lead the Ellington band. I sat in Atlantic City lounges and got to experience Sam Butera and the Wildest  from five feet away. And once, for just a few minutes, I got to meet and talk with Wyinton Marsalis. Man, I am one lucky son of a gun.

    Sax on the bar, too much (or not enough) Bourbon

    Sax on the bar, too much (or not enough) Bourbon

    -Zoot Jackson keeping it kool at the Tiki Bar.
    Tiki Lounge Talk, the Retro Blog for Swingin’ Hipsters who dig the Tiki Culture Beat.

    Check out the Jazz Appreciation Month Website here.

  • Cal-Neva Resort Closes Casino

    Posted on April 3rd, 2010 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 1 comment
    Cal-Neva Lodge

    Cal-Neva Lodge

    Another landmark has fallen victim to our crap-assed economy: The Historic Cal-Neva Lodge, once owned by Frank Sinatra and frequented by Jack Kennedy and Marylin Monroe, shut down casino operations this week due to loss in profits. Although a drop in tourism to Tahoe and increased competition from Vegas were probably a part of the problem, I blame the greedy, ignorant bankers and politicians for the closing.

    But don’t start crying over it just yet. The Cal-Neva has had its ups and downs over the years; even Frank had his license yanked and the joint still made it through. The restaurant, lounge and showroom are remaining open. In fact, their website is still up, and they’re apparently still taking bookings for rooms. There are plans to get the casino back up by the end of the year.

    The way I see it, there are plenty of millionaires out there who dig Sinatra and know what preserving this place means to the world. If you’re reading this, think about putting in a bid on the place. It must be saved.

    See my post on the Cal-Neva Lodge (and a groovy story to go with it) by clicking here.

    See the story on the San Francisco Chronicle here.

  • Happy St. Patty’s Day from the Tiki Bar

    Posted on March 17th, 2010 "Tiki Chris" Pinto 3 comments

    st-patsHope everyone had a great St. Patty’s Day, and that the hangover isn’t too bad.

    Top o the mornin’ and Erin go Braless and all that jazz to you on this fine St. Patty’s day. Let us take a moment to remember the true history of St. Patrick’s Day. You see, St. Patrick wasn’t really Irish. And he wasn’t Roman, either, as most historians would tell you. He was in fact Tahitian. His real name was Pa-ti O’Tiki.

    Long, long ago Pa-ti O’Tiki was restless among his beautiful lands of bright green palm trees and crystal blue ocean. He yearned to travel, and made it his life’s adventure to find another island as green and beautiful as Tahiti, but with better booze. He built a boat of reeds and bamboo, filled it with coconuts for his trip, and began to sail around the world.

    St. Patrick

    St. Patrick

    He came across many groovy lands, but none as wonderful as his home. Then one mystical day, he landed on the Emerald Isle, with its breathtaking beauty and lush green fields. He felt he finally found his second paradise. Then he got bit by a snake, which really miffed him, and whacking it with a coconut he said, “I gotta get rid of these snakes.” So using an old Tahitian trick (which used a combination of coconut milk and rum), he lured the snakes to the edge of a cliff, got them drunk, and flipped them over the side. The Irish people were so thankful for this act that they made Pa-ti O’Tiki a saint, and named him St. Patrick, which sounded a lot more Irish than his Tahitian name, and so kept him from getting beat up in the local pubs.

    “What a swingin’ Island,’ Pa-ti said to his new friends, “If only you kats had some groovin’ juice, maybe some malt liquor, or even better, something with a kick, ya dig?”

    They did in fact dig, (and they dug more than just potatoes), and that evening they introduced Pa-ti to their two most prominent citizens, Mr. Guinness and Mr. Jameson. Then they all sat down to a traditional feast of corned beef, cabbage and coconuts. (The coconuts eventually died off from the original feast). A few hours later, flying high and feelin’ kookie from the fantabulous booze, Pa-ti started kicking a coconut around…and soccer was born.

    Today we celebrate this wonderful holiday by drinking the traditional Irish Whiskey out of a coconut, eating corned beef, and wearing green just like Pa-ti O’Tiki’s original grass skirt. And if you believe any of this, I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for a dollar.

    Happy St. Patty’s Day!

    -Tiki Chris reporting from the Tiki Bar