Friday, July 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Vikki Carr!

I think I must have discovered the music of Vikki Carr back when I was about 13 years old. She was my first favourite female vocalist, and still ranks up high on my list of top singers to this day. The first time I saw her was when she was a guest on The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was off that night, and I remember that the show was being guest-hosted by McLean Stevenson, who was Colonel Blake on M*A*S*H at the time. When Vikki was introduced and came on stage to perform her song, I was smitten. A petite woman with a big powerful voice, Vikki also has one of the warmest smiles I've ever seen. I was an immediate fan and soon set about to collect her LP records.

Any time I noticed in the TV Guide that Vikki was appearing as a guest on a variety or talk show, I made sure I had my trusty VCR set up to record her performance. I still have all those taped appearances, now transferred to DVD for posterity (I hope!) I was also a member of her fan club for many years, and looked forward to the quarterly newsletter. One time in 1979 or so, while reading the newsletter, I was thrilled to learn that Vikki would be appearing in Hamilton as a guest on the show, The Palace, a revival of sorts of The Hollywood Palace from the 60s, that was being produced in Canada and hosted by singer Jack Jones. I talked my parents into a trip from Ottawa to Hamilton for the taping of the show and sent away for tickets.

Before heading out, I had painted a caricature of Vikki and had it framed up in the hopes of finally meeting her. My folks and I went to the box office to make enquiries as to maybe meeting her after the show that evening so that I could present her with my artwork. I remember the woman at the desk being very nice and summoned Vikki's manager to find out if that would be possible. He smiled when he saw the caricature and said they were currently in rehearsal inside the theatre, but thought she might be able to take a break to meet me right then.

Sure enough, he came back with Vikki Carr herself and I was in heaven. She seemed thrilled with the art and gave me a big hug and kiss in accepting it. She was as sweet as could be as she took the time to chat with me and my folks for several minutes before she had to be back on the set. Yep, I was a pretty happy guy at getting to meet this warm, wonderful lady!

As the times were changing, and traditional vocalists were finding it harder and harder to compete with pop/rock types for radio airplay by the mid-80s, Vikki Carr, along with so many others, found her career in mainstream music being severely challenged. Being of Mexican descent and always having proudly maintained a warm relationship with her latin audience, Vikki managed to find new success in concentrating all of her energies on the latin market, releasing many albums of Spanish songs over the years hence. I always felt it was a shame that, through no fault of her own, Vikki came along just as the final wave of the truly great vocalists of our time was being phased out, and quite frankly, the pop music industry has not appealed to my tastes since. I'll continue to listen to my alltime favourite vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee.... and lovely Vikki Carr! Happy Birthday to you, Vikki!

(PS: One of the trickiest things in drawing this caricature of Vikki was her hair. I think she's had more different hairstyles over the years than any other woman I know of! This caricature was drawn from a guest appearance she made on The Dean Martin Variety Show in 1971, and as such, the hairstyle may not be her typical look.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

In Search of Mermaids!

Me with MeduSirena Marina and her pod of Aquaticats
Two weeks ago today I was down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, having succumbed to the siren song of MeduSirena Marina, a real live mermaid whom I had only known up until now through a several year long friendship on Facebook, due to my interest in all things tiki. Marina and her pod of Aquaticats swim every Friday evening at The Wreck Bar in The Sheraton Beach Hotel, right along the sunny shores of Ft. Lauderdale, and I'd long been wanting to meet her in person so I decided to make that my summer vacation destination this year. 
 Prior to driving down, I had done a caricature of Marina and had some prints made up to give to her as a gift, as she's admired my celebrity caricatures for some time and I thought she'd like to see my interpretation of her exotically beautiful visage. I'm pleased to say that she was quite thrilled with it, and in return she not only made sure I got a good seat to watch her mermaid extravaganza, but also offered to play hostess to show me the Mai-Kai, a wonderful A-frame tiki restaurant that has been a part of Ft. Lauderdale's colourful pop culture since 1956.

Here's Marina soon after we arrived at the Mai-Kai holding up the caricature print I did of her in her mermaid guise. Also, I'd asked her to autograph my copy of the recent issue of Bachelor Pad Magazine, in which she was featured on both the cover and in the main pictorial inside. I suspect the magazine increased its subscription sales as a result of Marina's appearance, as she has fast been becoming a cult figure in the retro lounge/tiki scene, appealing to those of us who are nostalgically passionate about mid-20th Century kitsch!
The Mai-Kai features a live Polynesian dinner show with a bevy of beautiful island dancers, and the food and tropical drinks were wonderful too. As a special treat, Marina had invited the members of her Aquaticat pod to join us for the evening out and so we had mermaids, Hina, Kika, and Kami along to add to the fun. This was apparently the first visit to the Mai-Kai for Kika too, so she was quite excited to be finally seeing the show she'd long heard about. But for a middle-aged guy like me, you can imagine how wonderful it was to be the only male at a table of very attractive young ladies, so this evening was most definitely the highlight of my vacation!

From left to right in foreground: lovely Hina, Kika, and Kami
Here I am with two of the performers from the Polynesian show
After dinner and the show, we all headed out to the Mai-Kai's tiki gardens for much taking of photos. The management know Marina well, so they were happy to indulge us lingering there for awhile after all the other guests had headed out. Here's just a few of the pics I took that night:
Marina served on the half shell!
Me with my new flames, Kami and Kika
Kika lets her drink go to her head!
Marina gives some competition to the ship's maidenhead in the Mai-Kai's Molokai Bar
Ah, this is the life I was meant to lead!!
Again, much thanks to MeduSirena Marina for being such a terrific hostess for my visit and making my first trip down to Ft. Lauderdale a memory I will always cherish. I'll definitely be planning a return trip in the next year or two!