Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On the Road with Daddy-O Grande of Los Straitjackets

We're pleased to kick off a new series here on the Vintage Roadside blog featuring interesting people and their road trip stories.

You may recognize our first guest, Daddy-O Grande, as one of the masked members of Los Straitjackets. Let's turn up our copy of Jet Set, get comfortable, and enjoy a few of Daddy-O's stories of the road.

Vintage Roadside: What's your earliest road trip memory?

Daddy-O: The first road trip I remember was in 1963 when my family moved from Memphis to Minneapolis. My dad was driving his '62 Ford Galaxie 500. I don't remember the driving part too well, but the colorful motels we stayed at along the way always stuck in my mind. I ended up totally hooked on road travel, unfortunately something my family didn't seem to enjoy doing. Once I became an adult I pretty much never stopped.

Vintage Roadside: Being a full-time musician all these years how many states have you been to so far?

Daddy-O: Every state except Hawaii, that's on my bucket list. I've played gigs in every state except Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming.

Vintage Roadside: You probably feel the same way us in that it's impossible to pick a "favorite" state to road trip through. But, if someone asks you what state they should plan a road trip to what's the first one that pops into your head?

Daddy-O: I like driving through Wisconsin! Wisconsin has an abundance of giant fiberglass animal statues on the side of the road, not to mention the numerous cheese shops and bizarre tourist attractions. The Wisconsin Dells are a real treat.

Vintage Roadside: You've done a lot of travelling over the years but if you had two weeks, unlimited gas and no schedule where would you head off to?

Daddy-O: I've always dreamed of driving the entire length of the Pan-American highway, from Fairbanks, Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. Unfortunately there's a gap at the Panama-Colombia border that's impossible to cross. That trip would take more than 2 weeks though.

More practically, sometime soon I'm thinking of taking a trip through Monument Valley and up to Yellowstone, two places I've yet to visit.

Vintage Roadside: One of the joys of a road trip is experiencing mom and pop businesses. From roadside attractions to tiny restaurants in the middle of nowhere it's these places that we always seem to remember years after the trip. Sometimes the ones you really remember though are the odd ones. We've stayed in the Clown Motel, visited a telephone museum, and eaten in places where it's best not to ask when the last time a health inspector stopped by. What are some of the places or things that stand out from your travels?

Daddy-O: There's been more than one barbecue restaurant near the Texas-Arkansas border that reminded me of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there's no way I could remember names. 

I'll never forget the wonderful "Snowflake Motel" I stayed at with Beat Rodeo outside of Detroit somewhere, a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright. 

I'll always remember my car breaking down in Pennsylvania and discovering the nearest town was an Amish community called Intercourse.

Intercourse, PA. 1986

Also, I can't drive through northern Wisconsin without having a meal at my favorite Norwegian restaurant, The Norske Nook in Osseo.

Vintage Roadside: Ha! We've eaten at a few places like that too. Are you a fan of roadside attractions?

Daddy-O: Mostly unusual museums.

There was a time in the 80s when it seemed like every city in the south had an Elvis museum, I stopped at many. I saw Elvis' Chest X-Rays at one in Gatlinburg, TN.

Elvis X-Rays on display

When I stopped at the Credit Union Museum in Madison, WI the lady at the front desk was surprised I actually wanted to go inside. They had to actually unlock the doors of the theatre for me so I could watch the multimedia presentation on the history of debt.

The Tupperware Museum in Kissimmee, FL was my favorite though. Featuring the ideal Tupperware kitchen and a cross section of an RV to demonstrate the use of Tupperware while camping, as well as the history of Tupperware parties and food storage through the ages. An attempt to increase attendance by changing the name to The Tupperware Awareness Center failed, and sadly the museum no longer exists.

Vintage Roadside: Are you a souvenir guy? Ever bring home something really unique?

Daddy-O: Mostly from other countries, mostly homemade. I have a Zapatista rebel doll from Chiapas, Mexico.

Daddy-O's Zapatista Rebel doll

Vintage Roadside: Many people out there, including ourselves have clocked miles listening  to Los Straitjackets. We've got to ask - what's next for the band and where will people have a chance to see you and the band again?

Daddy-O: Health issues prevent me from touring full time with the band, and they like to tour more than I'm able, so I do an occasional easy show and let them do all the hard ones. I'll be performing three stadium concerts in Mexico with Los Straitjackets in November 2013. That's all I'm planning on right now. Look for the Halloween themed "Mondo Zombie Boogaloo" that's just been released, and a collaboration with Deke Dickerson to be released next year. Also next year, I plan to release two new solo projects I've recorded in Mexico.

Daddy-O in the studio in Mexico

Vintage Roadside: Before we let you go do you have another memorable story you could share with us?

Daddy-O: In October 1995 Los Straitjackets were touring the gulf coast and we played a show in Pensacola, FL and stayed at a hotel on the beach that night. The next morning a hurricane warning evacuated the town and we searched for and finally found a bar with a TV so we could watch the OJ Simpson verdict. From there we drove to Biloxi, MS to play a big outdoor festival opening for Blood Sweat & Tears. Because of the impending hurricane, BS&T cancelled and few people attended. Instead we played on a huge stage for about 15 people who came to see Blood Sweat & Tears. It was our first year of touring, we were completely unknown, and the audience was very surprised. Later that night, the hotel we'd stayed in at Pensacola Beach was completely destroyed.

Vintage Roadside: Thanks so much for spending some time with us Daddy-O, it was a pleasure to hear a few of your memories and stories from the road! Now, to get into the Halloween spirit we're gonna head over here to pick up the new "Mondo Zombie Boogaloo."

To keep up with Daddy-O please visit his website here. And, for all things Los Straitjackets you'll find the band's website here.

All photos courtesy of Daddy-O Grande and/or Los Straitjackets.

Until next time,

Jeff & Kelly

Friday, May 17, 2013

Vintage Roadside hosts the first-ever Aquarama reunion!

Fifty years ago, construction began on one of the many roadside attractions that once lined the highways of America. However this wasn't another Mystery House, or even a dinosaur park, it was the Aquarama - an underwater mermaid show located in Osage Beach, Missouri. The show opened to the public in May of 1964 and quietly closed in 1973. In the years that followed, the memories of the show slowly faded away from the general public and the former performers tucked away their experiences and moved on with their lives.

Seven years ago, we were at an antique show and ran across a stack of vintage brochures. The one that jumped out at us was a simple black and silver brochure with the word Aquarama on it along with the silhouette of a mermaid. We thought it would be a fun addition to our line of t-shirts so we bought the brochure and started our normal historical research for our website and the history tag that comes with each of our shirts.

Initially, we didn't find much history and thought we might have to be satisfied with the few things we had uncovered. We were disappointed we couldn't find more, but sometimes, without a trip to the local library or historical society of the town the attraction was located in, the trail simply disappears.

About a month after listing the Aquarama shirt on our website we got an order from a customer in Osage Beach, MO. We hoped that they knew of the Aquarama and that the shirt might bring back a few fond memories for them. A week or so later we got an email from the customer, Janie, letting us know how much she liked the shirt, wondering if we'd have any interest in learning a little more about the Aquarama. Needless to say we were like kids on Christmas morning! Thanks to Janie, the door to the Aquarama had just cracked open for us.

This was the first of what would become many discoveries as we worked to gather as much history as we could. Janie helped us identify several of the former performers and was the first Aquamaid we interviewed for our blog. That interview led to a comment from Pam, the granddaughter of the couple that built the Aquarama, letting us know we should get in touch with her uncle Marc as he could tell us just about everything we could ever want to know. Marc proved to not only remember just about every detail from the show, but also still had many of the original costumes, cast photos, and even the narration soundtrack from the show. (We bet that at this point we've spent more than 100 hours on the phone with him asking every question you could ever imagine relating to the creation and execution of his family's underwater show.)

The first task we set for ourselves was to try and learn the names of all the former performers that had worked the show. The next logical step for us was to see how many of them we could locate. This would turn into a seven year quest as we worked our way through every resource available and finally, in April of 2013, we had a great phone conversation with our last-to-be-found Aquamaid. We can vividly recall our first contact with each person - we'll admit it's a lot of fun to call someone out of the blue and say, "Were you by any chance a mermaid at the Aquarama in 1966?" The reactions are something we'll never forget, including those of the people who had no idea what we were talking about.

Those years have given us great memories of phone calls, emails, shared souvenirs, and meeting the original Aqualad, Marc, and the original Aquamaid, Barbara, as they each passed through Portland, Oregon.

Meanwhile, while we were looking for everyone, or mermaid wrangling as we liked to think of it, we thought, "Wouldn't it be great if someday there could be a reunion similar to the one held every few years at Weeki Wachee?" After talking about it for a couple of years we decided the time had come. We knew the location needed to be in Osage Beach and began the process of planning it from here in Oregon. Aquamaid Marlen was an invaluable help as was our friend Todd from over at Neato Coolville.

The plan for the reunion was to get as many people together as we could for a Friday night dinner and an all-day picnic on Saturday. Everything came together smoothly and we counted down the days until the event. We kept an eye on the temperature in Osage Beach and things were rolling along in the 70's and 80's until three days before the picnic when we were faced with the one thing we couldn't control - the weather. The day we were flying out to Missouri was spent lining up an indoor venue for the picnic when thankfully Dean at the Tan-Tar-A Lodge came through with a wonderful gathering place. Friday and Saturday ended up being somewhere around 40 degrees so being outside would have been less than ideal for everyone!

We arrived in Kansas City Thursday morning and headed for the Lake of the Ozarks. The plan was to have dinner with Marc and the original head Aquamaid Barbara that evening to kick off the weekend. While we had been lucky enough to have met both of them previously, Marc and Barbara had not seen each other since the end of the 1964 Aquarama season. It was incredible to see the Matador and the Bull from the 1964 postcard together again after 49 years. Dinner was fantastic, and we have to admit, the margaritas weren't too shabby either.

Friday's dinner was held at the Blue Room inside the City Grill and the time had arrived to finally meet all of the people we had spoken to on the phone and traded emails with over the years. The room was the perfect setting for everyone to catch up with each other and share memories of the show. We spent most of the evening thinking to ourselves how amazing it was to be sitting at dinner with the people we had only known from photos (that were now over four decades old). One of the highlights of the evening was the wonderful memorial display honoring Marc's parents, Wally and Nola, created by Marc's wife, Ann. The years quickly melted away and three hours seemed to pass in a matter of minutes. The evening ended with countless smiles and hugs and plans to see each other again the next day.

Saturday found us at the Tan-Tar-A Lodge, which had become the host to our (thankfully now heated and dry) picnic. We brought a selection of the original costumes, played the slideshow from our Aquarama history presentation, and in the background, the music and narration from the 1965 and 1966 Aquarama shows. We had also brought scrapbooks we created containing original cast photos, newspaper clippings and advertisements from the show which we gave to everyone who came. Much of the day was spent signing each other's books, sharing more stories, and posing for photos. Again the hours seemed to rush by. We ended the day trading more stories (and a great beer) with Aquamaid Judy who had made the trip from Texas to attend the reunion.

Then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, the weekend was over. While we know we'll never have the experience of the 'first-ever" reunion again, we're content in the knowledge that this was just another chapter in the story of the Aquarama...a story, and a group of people, that will always be a part of all of our lives.

This event would not have been possible without the tremendous help of many people. We'd like to thank Marc and Ann for sharing their family's story with us, Janie for finding us and setting this entire experience in motion, Pam for pointing us toward her uncle Marc, Marlen for advice on local gathering spots, Todd for logistical support, Joe and his staff at the City Grill, Dean at the Tan-Tar-A Lodge, Lois at the Scottish Inn, Amy at Subway of Osage Beach, Spree from The Lake Sun News, Barbara from Rural Missouri Magazine and KRCG Channel 13.

In closing, we'd like say thank you to all of the Aquamaids and Aqualads that came to the event and warmly welcomed us to the family: Marc, Barbara, Janie, Quinetta, Judy, Sharon, Art, Daniel, Jim, Liz, Marlen, Marion, Kae, Sandra, Ginger, Wanda and Pam. And to those Aquamaids who couldn't be there - you were all missed tremendously and spoken of fondly.

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside