Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Time for a blues break. A dirty, gritty, old school blues break from ZZ Top: "Fool For Your Stockings."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Whitehorse.

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Whitehorse has a new album coming out, The Northern South, vol. 2, and that's cause for celebration. I just adore their work. Here's an advance single from the new album, "Who's Been Talkin'" and it hits pretty much all the boxes on why I love their sound so much.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Weird Al Yankovic.

Now Playing: Martin Denny Primitiva
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy Birthday Miss Edna!

On this date in 1928, Edna Arretha Milton was born in Caddo County, Oklahoma, the 8th of 11 children. She would've been 91 today. Miss Edna passed away in February of 2012, the last surviving madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, and inspiration for Miss Mona Stangley and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Throughout the six-plus years it took to research, write and publish Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse, there was no bigger supporter of mine than Miss Edna. As I've said elsewhere, my biggest regret is that she did not live to see the finished product. I can't say for certain what she'd have thought of it, but others who were close to the Chicken Ranch have given me the thumbs up, so I like to think Miss Edna would've approved (while giving me an earful about what I got wrong).

Let me share something about her that didn't make it into the book. When I first met Miss Edna, she asked where I was from. I answered that I was originally from Columbus. Miss Edna paused a moment, then said, "Twenty-two miles." Then she asked my wife where she was from. Bastrop, Lisa answered. Miss Edna paused again, then said, "Thirty-six miles." Almost four decades removed from her life in La Grange, Miss Edna still remembered those details that would've mattered to her prospective out-of-town customers. I'll wager we could've sat there for hours, tossing out town names like Brenham, Hallettsville, Bryan, etc. and she'd have come up with the distance between them and La Grange like there was nothing to it. I have long felt that a fascinating glimpse into her character.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Gene Rains Far Away Lands
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I know most Weird Al Yankovic fans go nuts over "The Night Santa Went Crazy," but for my money nothing will ever touch his insanely cheerful holiday ode to nuclear annihilation, "Christmas at Ground Zero."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jill Sobule.

Now Playing: Martin Denny Exotica Vol. 2
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Peter Masterson (1934-2018)

Actor, writer and director Peter Masterson has died. A versatile and talented man, Masterson had roles in The Stepford Wives, The Exorcist and directed The Trip to Bountiful. He was married to Tony Award-winning actress Carlin Glynn and was father to actress Mary Stuart Masterson. Despite that grand track record, he's probably best known for co-writing and co-directing a little musical play by the name of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Masterson was very generous with his time as far as I was concerned. I reached out to him via mutual acquaintances when I first started researching Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch and had several conversations with him via phone from his home in Kinderhook, NY, in 2010. He was friendly and forthcoming, and supportive of my project. He gave me a lot of good material, including some entertaining stories about Miss Edna's brief stint as a Broadway performer. One quote from him stood out for me, and I used it to close chapter 14, encapsulating how a strange, regional story blew up and became an international sensation:

"One of the things when we made the show, a number of people--including Universal Pictures--wanted us to change the title because they wouldn't take out ads at first, the newspapers and television. On buses in New York. They wouldn't put out ads in the tube stations in London," Masterson said. "I said, 'That's a deal-breaker. I'm going to make whorehouse a household word.'

"And we kinda have."
Peter Masterson was one of the Good Guys. He will be missed.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast Recording The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, December 17, 2018

Jayme vs. Lei Low

For the most part, my tiki excursions have taken place far afield. Texas has never been what one would consider a hotbed of tiki action, so the biggest and most interesting places are those we've had to travel to. But in recent years, there've been a few new tiki spots open up. Alas, not all of them survive. Howie's Tiki, in Spring, was open only a few years before closing its doors last month. Despite the fact I used to regularly visit Spring in the past, I never had a chance to visit the place. Another location with good word-of-mouth is Lei Low in Houston. When I found myself in Houston for a lecture a couple of months back, I made sure to block some time into my schedule for a visit.

People who've been to Lei Low will tell you it is easy to miss, that it's in a strip mall and doesn't look like much from the outside. They understate things, if anything. The "strip mall" hardly qualifies, it's that tiny. The North Houston area, just inside the 410 loop, doesn't look like one that supports any type of socially-oriented business. I was looking for Lei Low and missed it completely on first pass. The sign at the edge of the parking lot (right) doesn't grab your attention. The parking lot's small. Even after parking and seeing the neon "Rum" sign above the door, and "Aloha" mural painted on the wall, my natural inclination was to wonder if I'd found the right place.

It was! It was the right place! I stepped through the door and immediately entered that sensory-immersion all good tiki bars exude. The lighting was appropriately dim. The thatched A-frame behind the bar was a nice touch. The walls were covered by bamboo and matting and cluttered--if neat--decor. Float lamps and netting hung from the ceiling. A rattan peacock chair surrounded by carved tikis and plant life awaited just inside the door. There were several groups of people inside engaging in friendly conversation and cocktails. It immediately felt like a tiki bar.

Okay, so the decor passed the smell test, what of the cocktails? I took a seat in the middle of the bar, and Caitlin immediately told me that since I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, I automatically got Happy Hour prices (which I knew in advance, but it's nice that she went out of her way to point this out). I looked over the menu, and immediately went to their original cocktails. I'm not the biggest mai tai fan, so judging tiki bars on their mai tai is The Wife's responsibility. I wanted something that I couldn't get anywhere else, and their Pride of Barbados caught my eye. Described as a mix of passion fruit, poppy and amber rum that's force carbonated, it sounded like a bright, refreshing drink (I'd been on the road for hours, and pretty wiped out by this point). I'm a lover of all things passion fruit, and have to say this one hit the spot. Crisp, slightly tart, with a carbonation that wasn't overpowering. I liked it quite a bit.

After following my first cocktail with a glass of water, Caitlin figured out pretty quickly I was one of those tiki people, so she didn't have to explain things to me. We talked about the mai tai test, and how the Lei Low has a Hawaiian mai tai on the menu instead of the 1944 Trader Vic original. Caitlin said when I came back with The Wife we should order her off-menu mai tai, which is based on the 1944 original and "way better" than the pineapple-centric Hawaiian version. After discussing how my tastes tend toward complex and spicy cocktails, I ordered the Creole Swizzle. Caitlin said she's been about to suggest it for me. The cocktail, described as mix of rhum agricole, mint, lime and pamplemousse liqueur, was indeed a good choice. Not in Three Dots and a Dash spicy category, it was more in line with a ti punch, although there was a good bit more going on, flavor-wise. Another winner.

Because it was late and I was tired after a long drive, I'd intended to only try two cocktails. But the conversation was so entertaining and the atmosphere engaging that I broke down and decided to have a third. It was hard to make up my mind with 13 original recipes to choose from, but Voodoo Shark caught my eye. Caitlin warned me that it had a slight touch of Absinthe in it (my dislike of licorice/anise having come up during conversation) but after a moment of consideration, I decided to brave my aversion and try the drink anyway. Served in a shark mug, this was one of those where a single-serve bottle of rum is inserted in the drink, kind of like a reverse float. Described as rum, Louisiana satsuma rum, mango, spice and lime, I have to say the cocktail wasn't bad to start with. It was fruity and spicy in good ways, with the Absinthe buried under all the other flavors so as not to bother me. What I should've done is take the bottle of Louisiana satsuma rum and mix it all together with the rest of the cocktail. I didn't. I'd consumed more than half of the drink before realizing the mini bottle was still mostly full. So I mixed it at that point, but the result was harsh and unbalanced. It felt like my final few sips were pure rum, and this was not what I'd describe as a sipping rum. Live and learn. I suppose I could chalk it up to user error, but Voodoo Shark was my least favorite cocktail of the night and not one I'm inclined to order again.

The back corner, with a booth, stone wall and dark bamboo was the most classically-retro tiki spot in the place. The black velvet paintings were perfect mood-setters. This is where I felt most transported back to tiki's 1950s heyday.

Music wasn't as much of a high point. They had a DJ when I visited, and while I heard a handful of Martin Denny/Arthur Lyman tracks early on, the vast majority of music was of 80s pop/rock variety. I grew up with that sound, so I didn't dislike it, but as I've commented elsewhere, it's not a good sound for setting an escapist, tropical mood. It was not as bad as the Alibi playing 70s guitar rock, but that's setting the bar pretty low.

Sadly, they did not have any souvenir tiki mugs for me to buy. Because of space limitations--no storage to speak of--they only produce limited edition mugs for their anniversary parties. I can understand that, but as someone who likes to collect mugs from the tiki bars I've visited, it's still disappointing. Caitlin must've sympathized with that disappointment, because she gave me a bunch of custom swizzles instead. "I know people trade these, so you should be able to get some cool ones," she explained. All in all, Lei Low was a positive experience. The atmosphere was good, even if the music was not idea. The drinks were mostly excellent and the bar staff--mainly Caitlin--made me feel like a regular. The worst thing I can say about it was that the walls and decor were just a bit too neat and tidy, but the aura of a decades-old tiki bar doesn't happen overnight. They've still got time to accomplish this. I'll definitely be returning the next time I'm in Houston to work my way further through their menu of originals.

Now Playing: Robert Drasnin Voodoo II
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I love Jill Sobule. She's a talented performer who's never gotten the acclaim she deserves. Robert Earl Keen is a Texas treasure and a songwriting genius, so how can we go wrong when Jill covers Robert's classic tune, "Merry Christmas From the Family" I ask you? The answer: We can't. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Harry Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean
Chicken Ranch Central