Walter Mencken 11:47 a.m., May 30
(Paint)Brushes with Fame, & the ‘70s OB Ranger
He paints rock stars, and the OB Ranger rides again!
He paints rock stars, and the OB Ranger rides again!
Illustrator Ken Meyer Jr. illustrates trading cards for role-playing games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire, the Masquerade. "I don't even play those games," he says. "I don't know if I lack the brainpower or just don't have the time it takes to get into it."
Meyer's work often utilizes collage overlays, paste-on photos, and digital enhancement, resulting in a pop art style that Midnight Marquee magazine described as "LSD Realism."
“I've been reading comics since I was a kid, and that is where I first started to learn how to draw, by first tracing from them in my grandmother's kitchen. I still read many comics, but they have drifted in subject matter from the superheroes of my youth to more alternative fare such as Cerebus, Strangers in Paradise, Kabuki, Preacher and others.”
Somewhat surprisingly, in light of his accomplished technique, Meyer wasn't classically trained in art. “I went to a college that happened to be close to home, and my major was art, but I was a crappy student. I didn't pay attention."
After college, he ended up in Las Vegas, working for a government contractor doing training materials like slides, diagrams, and cartoons. "It was out in the middle of nowhere, supposedly right across from Area 51. You had to have a secret clearance for the job." After a year in the desert, his job brought him to San Diego where he freelanced after hours, drawing for independent comic books like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and mass-market Marvel comics such as Ghost Rider and the sci-fi anthology Open Space.
Around 1992 Meyer started creating illustrations for local-based Axcess magazine, "even though they didn't pay anything...I just did it for the exposure and to paint neat subjects like Tori Amos and guys like Burt Ward from the old Batman show."
He next did a long run of fully painted comic book covers for Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics, most notably for the flagship title Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics (which I wrote and edited at the time).
This job led to his not-for-profit portraits of musicians. "When I started bringing the paintings to get backstage [it was because] I don't want to be just another faceless guy who meets someone and says, 'Gee, I really like your music.' I want to be remembered for giving them something unique, and maybe they sign something in return for me. It's also a way to make professional connections, in case anything will come out of it that gets me work.”
"Don Mclean was coming to town, and I did [drawings of] him. I was the club early and just by chance he walked out the door and almost ran into me. I said, 'I have these paintings I want to give to you,' and he looked at them and liked them a lot. I had some song lyrics as part of one painting, Masters of War, which is actually a Dylan song, but I didn't know it then. He didn't act offended, though."
His portrait of Sting, however, did not get him anywhere near the star's dressing room. "He was too big at the time, but a roadie took a print of the painting back to him and brought it back to me, autographed."
Meyer also failed to connect with U2 or Springsteen but did meet Tori Amos.
"Tori Amos was touring for her second album...She played I think at Sound FX, where the Bacchanal used to be. I hung around, talked to the tour manager, and he let me go backstage after the show to give her the painting. I remember she was very nice to me. She said she liked the piece an awful lot, and I had a print copy of the painting that she signed for me. There were other people waiting to see her, so we only talked for a few minutes."
Amos welcomed Meyer backstage again about two years later. "I ended up meeting the art director who was doing her tour programs, and that resulted in me getting my art into her next tour book. I did a piece [which was] part digital and part what I call analog. It started as a big painting that I scanned into the computer and added a bunch of effects to - Polaroids stuck over it, answering machine tape and stuff, kind of collaged on there." Meyer was paid for this piece.
"I used paintings to get backstage for Elvis Costello twice. He was really gracious. The first time, back in about 1983, it was after the show and he was pretty quiet, he wasn't talking that much. He said he liked [the painting] but acted a little standoffish.”
“The second time we met…I got a picture with him, something I never used to do because it seemed like such a fawning, geeky, fan kind of thing to do. Now I look back and [I] wish I'd been taking them all along."
Other successful backstage forays have allowed Meyer to meet performers like Bruce Cockburn…
…Loudon Wainwright III, and Todd Rundgren. "Rundgren was a little cold. He was touring for the A Cappella album with about 15 singers behind him, with no instruments. After the show, they were all heading for a bowling alley, they were all into it big-time, and I could tell he was a lot more anxious to bowl than talk to me.”
"The painting I gave to Loudon Wainwright [III] was kind of personal because I [based it] on a photo of him, from one of his albums, with his sister when were just kids. He really seemed appreciative and said he wanted to give it to her as a present. I've since met with the ol' Loudo again after a show, and he said she loved it. That's what I mean creating and giving away something special, especially when it ends up moving someone like that whose music has moved me so much."
Getting paid for his art became more of a priority once Meyer married. "I took a chance and quit my job to do freelance artwork at home for an eight-month period after our first baby was born. We didn't want to put her in day care right away...It went okay, she wasn't too mobile that first year, so I could handle her. It was an effort to line up work though. I did a lot of art for game companies like White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast.
After 2000, Meyer's workload included many front covers and interior drawings for locally-published Computer Edge magazine. In addition, several recording artists have commissioned paying work for him. But he says, "I'm not getting so much work on the side that I'm ready to quit my day job," he says.
His work for various goth-style role-playing games and online games like Everquest have earned him a following among the darkly dressed. "The ones into vampire stuff are surprised when they see me. They expect me to be dark and gothic'] because of the artwork, But I'm such a regular-looking guy. And they usually say I'm a lot older than they expected."
Meyer's next day job involved designing "texture maps, which are, in this case, sets of clothing for characters - leather outfits, chain mail outfits, and plate armor outfits for each character," for Internet role-playing games for a division of Sony called Verant, based in the Miramar area and best known for their popular Everquest game.
"I've never been into games, but they do amazing work, whole detailed worlds and characters that are thought our right down to the ecology and the science. It's very precise - you have no idea how hard it is, just getting a suit of chain mail to fully wrap around a 3-D moving figure.”
He recently relocated with his family to Georgia, on the east coast. “At the moment, I'm working on my MFA in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design, having already gotten my BFA in Illustration…Summa Cum Laude, for those that are counting. I hope to teach at the college level when I am done, unless an incredible job drops in my lap.”
“However, my lap is ready, so don't hesitate, big time CEO's out there!”
(Photos & art courtesy www.kenmeyerjr.com)
THE O.B. RANGER RIDES AGAIN!
“We were going after the progressive rock or the album rock crowd,” says radio DJ and programming vet Gary Allyn about his early seventies on-air gig in San Diego. “We wanted an independent attitude of not giving a damn about anything because we could get away with a lot of that in Mexico. So our IDs and buffers had things you couldn’t say on American radio. We did quasi drug references. Like ‘It’s time for the scores’ - and the scores would be ‘four keys, two lids.’ With stuff like the O.B. Ranger routines, there was always that underground go-against-society undercurrent. Of course O.B. was the center of the hippie movement in that period, flower power and the drug culture and all that.”
Already in his thirties at the time, Allyn was an unlikely counter culture spokesman. At Ohio University, he’d majored in Speech, Radio-TV and Drama before earning a certificate in Radio-TV Arts from the Cincinnati College Of Music. He spent two years as a Radio Specialist in the 4th Army Information Section.
Allyn already had fifteen years of radio experience when he hit San Diego, having begun with an on-air gig at WING in Dayton Ohio in 1955. He also held positions as a production director, program director and operations manager at stations in Cincinnati, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Denver, Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Additionally, he deposited the occasional extra check for jokes he’d written for comedians like Lenny Bruce, “Herky” Stiles and Woody Woodbury. “That was in the late fifties but comedy writers didn’t make a lot of money and still don’t make much more now than they did then.”
He first came to San Diego to work for KCBQ in 1965. “I was on the air right when KCBQ was kind of faltering and BOSS Radio had come into being. So KCBQ brought in some new jocks and tried to make a new start. Then I went to San Antonio for a couple of years and came back to KCBQ in ‘68, first as an on-air personality and then as Program Director. This was during the real ratings battle days with KGB. At that time progressive rock was just hitting the radio. Stations like KPRI were just starting to do it, playing longer album cuts.”
Allyn talks about some of the talent he worked with at KCBQ. “I had ‘Magic’ Christian before Buzz Bennett took over the ‘Q. Happy Hare made a late sixties comeback there too. Joe Light is another.”
“We had a great news staff with Richard Mock, Jim Buckalew and Joe Demott, plus I hired Jim Hill - yes, L.A.’s CBS2 TV sports guy - after he left The Chargers. That was some radio station.”
“As for KSEA, that was something else. I had a $31,000.00 annual budget including salaries, contests, everything. But I still managed to hire some good guys, including Neil Ross, Lenny Mitchell, Jeff Prescott of KGB and now KOGO morning fame, and Tom Straw. Our ‘Buzzard’ logo eating KCBQ was the first of its kind.”
He and Neil Ross had worked together on projects like the three hour Beatles documentary “The Long And Winding Road,” as well as at various radio stations. “We even roomed together for awhile. I hired [Ross] as a production man because he could do so many voices. Today he’s one of the top voice-over artists in L.A., he does cartoons and narration for A&E now. He’s a natural mimic, and very funny.”
“Neil and I came into XHIS and XHERS back in ‘71, ‘72. It’s FM90 today. The owner ran these stations in Tijuana and they had this new prototype machine. They were automated or semi-automated cassettes and you could literally put a station in a closet, one rack with ten cassette decks in it. The technicians in Tijuana were running it all and we had to program and lay out everything there for them. We put the music on the tapes first.”
What music was the station playing? “Now it’d be classic rock but in ‘71 there was only a few years of material to draw from. We’d play a dozen hit albums, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Beautiful Day, a lot of underground music. The signal was so strong...people used to pick us up in Vancouver British Columbia, in Idaho, Ontario. We got a lot of calls, from all over the place. It started to spread that we were a pirate station operating off the coast on a boat.”
The duo recorded their material downtown on the wharf in a studio across from the Star Of India. “It was maybe 10’X10’ and we put all the music together and what sound FX we didn’t have we made up ourselves. We did some phony commercials like the Thud School Of Skydiving, spoofs of local late night TV commercials, old time radio style but more hip like what The Firesign Theater was doing. Then we decided, since there weren’t going to be any personalities on the air between songs, we came up with this idea of the O.B. Ranger.”
(to the tune of the William Tell Overture)
“From out of the cave at the foot of Sunset Cliffs, the thundering hoofbeats pound...”
(intro, “O.B. Ranger”)
“We made the Ranger a bumbling Inspector Clouseau type narc who didn’t know any of the hip phrases of the day, and he was always trying to get to his arch enemy Panama Red, which as you may or may not know was a potent type of marijuana. So the Ranger is trying to get in with that crowd but his idea of hip is ‘far out,’ ‘groovy’ and ‘outta sight’ which even in those days was already passe, kind of camp. We made his Tonto a Yale graduate and he was the one who always corrected The Ranger. The Indian was the one who was hip, knowledgeable and with it.”
“The Ranger’s horse was a stud horse named Sylvia and the Indian rode his swift pinto Ford. They were raiding the dwellings of Ocean Beach in search of illegal and nefarious goings on. We wrote the scripts together. I did the voice of the Ranger, Neil did Panama Red, the Ranger Chief, Kilo Kane, practically all of the other voices. We did a takeoff of The Godfather, the Oddfather, and Neil did an outstanding Marlon Brando. You’d swear it was him.”
Also helping out was friend Lee Mirabal and guest characters came with nametags like Emil Nitrate, Miss Melons, Grassie The Dog, Madame Sativa, Count Downer, Chief of the Rangers Gus Stoppo and the mystical Swami Rama Lama Ding Dong.
Allyn and Ross wrote and recorded over ninety episodes of the O.B. Ranger, most of them episodic segments that unfolded in short chapters between music blocks. They didn’t shy away from controversial topics. “There was a marijuana initiative on the ballot one year and we did a couple of episodes around that. Nixon at the time was going through his ping pong diplomacy and we did a takeoff on that. One of the [fake] commercials was for the Johnny Combat Doll which would actually kill and maim just like the real thing.”
I ask if there was ever negative feedback or repercussions from dealing with sensitive or controversial issues. “To the contrary, the more we did it, the more people loved it. The comedy bits were getting to be more requested than the songs!”
Allyn says that the Ranger and his Indian partner were becoming local cult icons. “We used to have people call us from bars and you could hear them in the background, drunk out of their minds, having an O.B. Ranger party. They wanted The Ranger to drop by and have a drink with them!”
“One night, Neil and I got one of those calls from a Mexican place in Coronado. We decided ‘let’s go see what the Hell’s going on.’ We went across the bridge and looked in and these people are so drunk, they’re all toasting each other and yelling ‘far out,’ ‘groovy’ and ‘out of sight.’ We said ‘No, I don’t think we want to go in’ and we turned around and left.”
The station was soon programming full weekend blocks of O.B. Ranger segments. “We decided to put out a best of, a double LP. The radio station paid for it at the time and we had it pressed in LA. We edited the broken up episodes together into longer segments.” Over 3,500 copies of “The Adventures Of The O.B. Ranger Volume 1” albums were sold, especially once east coast radio stations started playing it and distributors were calling and asking for it. “Next thing you know we’ve got a ‘break out’ in Billboard from Buffalo. You have to wonder how O.B. hippie humor goes over in Buffalo.”
In 1972, the Ranger rode off the airwaves. “We had the usual flare-up with the owner of the station. I had the opportunity to go somewhere else and Neil stayed on another month or so. The funny thing was, after we stopped doing them, we started getting calls from parents saying that their little kids were all upset that the O.B. Ranger wasn’t on Saturday mornings any more. We never knew we had kids listening!”
He says he doesn’t think that the drug humor was picked up by his underage listeners. “I’m sure it went over their head. And we never condoned drug use, we just made fun of it. The Ranger was out to nab the bad guy after all.”
Ross and Allyn had copyrighted the material and gotten a release from the radio station to use it, enabling them to market and sell a syndication package of around sixty episodes to several stations. Locally, KPRI re-ran many of episodes in the late seventies. Allyn went on to work in Miami while Ross went to LA but the pair kept in touch and did occasional work together. Allyn bought into a small recording studio, Top Spots, where he wrote and produced hundreds of commercials and voice-over commissions.
In the late eighties, Allyn became involved with a successful line of specialty tapes called Sports Fantasies - five minute audio cassettes where the subject is made the star of a championship game being announced. “I’ve done those for Bill Cosby, he’s ordered a dozen or so. Most of the major league owners, Ted Turner, Mario Cuomo. It started as a little weekend sideline and turned out to practically be a full time career.” He bought out his partner in 1990 and still regularly produces new tapes.
Over the last few years, Allyn said that he was hearing that the O.B. Ranger album was a sought after collector’s item. “It was like the holy grail to people who remembered or heard about the shows. Neil was not that interested in doing any more, he was trying to get his career going in LA and he thought that all these years have gone by, just let it go. But I always thought it still had possibilities. Especially with the seventies retro thing going on. Neil told me to go ahead and do what I wanted with the material and he even offered to co-promote it, but he’s not directly involved. He’s got such a voiceover career going.”
Compiling and remastering all of the master reels he could assemble, Allyn now has several volumes of O.B. Ranger material ready to release. He has already pressed a 19-cut Volume 1 and is marketing it with a partner on the internet. He also places them in shops on consignment and he’s been emailing and sending samples to people like Doctor Demento, who he says is interested in playing it.
“It’s very difficult," he says, "because if it’s considered ‘local,’ or if it’s not currently on the radio, currently being played. It’s not like it was years ago when you had more of a shot…a friend of mine works at KYXY but I don’t think it’s their bag to play it.”
He says it’s also hard because he no longer has the daily broadcast exposure or contacts in the local radio game. “I still do consulting for radio stations out of this market. I’ve been up in Escondido for years and I’m not in touch with people like I was. And what with the ownership changes and the format changes that have happened in radio, it’s just a volatile time. You don’t know who’s in charge and who’s going to own you next week.”
(photos & art courtesy www.garyallyn.com)
JAS’ TOP 5 CLUES THAT YOUR LOCAL BAR IS FULL OF JUNKIES
5) People keep trying to sell you car stereos.
4) Customers complaining about no locks on the bathrooms.
3) Nobody ever touches the munchies.
2) Restroom vending machine dispenses clean needles.
1) There are junkies everywhere.
TOP 5 POTENTIAL HOUSE OF BLUES KILLERS
5) Land south of Broadway is declared an Indian reservation, with a concert venue booked by Viejas Entertainment.
4) Odors of urine and CK1 mix to become killer toxic clouds.
3) Spreckels is bought by CBGBs.
2) Booking actual blues bands.
1) They have to let Dan Ackroyd and Jim Belushi eat anything they want for free.
TOP 5 WAYS TJ CLUBS DIFFER FROM SAN DIEGO VENUES
5) In San Diego, only cops and gym teachers blow whistles in your ear.
4) In TJ, old men can legally get 18 year-old girls drunk before being insulted and blown off by them.
3) San Diego cover bands play Pink Floyd OR Willie Nelson, not both.
2) Two words – Bacardi Bong.
1) San Diego restrooms don’t make you pay for toilet paper by the square (yet).
TOP FIVE REASONS BEHIND GASLAMP’S RESURGENT NIGHTLIFE
5) Bragging rights RE how far you had to walk from your parking space.
4) Valet attendants, cabbies, waiters, barkeeps, street musicians and homeless window washers provide opportunities to impress date with heavy tipping.
3) Downtown condo owners walk everywhere (they don’t have enough money left to drive after paying for monthly parking).
2) Free window box manure courtesy horse-drawn carriages.
1) Everyone you meet will agree with you about how much the Hard Rock Hotel sucks, without anyone ever actually going there.
More like this:
- RIP Reader cover artist and underground comix legend Spain Rodriguez — Nov. 28, 2012
- What's YOUR Favorite Twilight Zone? — March 2, 2010
- Painting Rock Stars, plus Behind the Scenes: Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors — May 8, 2008
- 25 Local Musicians Reveal “My Favorite Twilight Zone,” plus Local-Produced Zone Comic Books — April 3, 2008
- Secrets of Overheard in San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors, Mojo & Zappa Comix, [Paint]Brushes With Fame — April 2, 2008