Posts Tagged ‘The Fabulous Ones’

I want my MTV! Wrestling music videos of the 1980s

October 28th, 2010 1 comment

Sign of the times: Wrestling in the '80s often imitated MTV…with decidedly mixed results.

When Jerry Lawler recorded a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Bad News” in the mid- ’70s, it resulted in might have been the very first music-video feature on a TV wrestling program. Of course, Lawler had to change some of the lyrics to make it more accessible for the Mid-South viewing audience. “They tried to hang me in Oakland/They did down in ‘Frisco” became “They tried to hang me in Jackson/They did down in Tupelo.” The lyrics “Now I picked peaches in Georgia” wouldn’t apply to Lawler; however, the lyrics “Now I busted heads in Georgia” were fit for Memphis wrestling’s King, who previously worked the Peach State under the management of Gary Hart. Never one to be modest, Lawler recalls how he sparked the MTV craze with his first music video.

After returning from a broken leg in 1981, Lawler was awarded the original Southern title belt when it was retired and replaced with a new strap. In recognition of this achievement, the best Lawler video of the era was produced, fittingly set to Elvis Presley’s cover of “My Way.”

With the popularity of MTV spreading like “Wildfire” Tommy Rich in 1982, Memphis began producing music videos on almost a weekly basis for its stars, featuring heartthrobs like Stan Lane and Steve Keirn, the Fabulous Ones, in a successful effort to expand the audience to teens. Eventually, the videos began mirroring several recording artists’ MTV-style videos-with much lower production values, of course; for example, the Fabs’ special set to ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” had the same vibe as the Houston, Texas, trio’s videos of the day. (Though, thankfully, we never saw Dusty Hill in a Speedo.) Mid-South Wrestling’s Joel Watts liked the Fabs’ version so much he did a shot-for-shot remake of the video for the Fantastics, who clearly had no shame when it came to gimmick infringement.

Unfortunately, Memphis also had several miscues, producing some of the worst videos of the ’80s, most notably the homo-erotic introduction of the New Generation: Bart Batten and Johnny Wilhoit, best friends with benefits, who spent a memorable sunny afternoon parading around Jerry Jarrett’s massive estate. (I keep rooting for Kamala to come running out of the bushes to spear these two sissies.)

World Class Championship Wrestling producer Mickey Grant was producing the most exciting wrestling show in the country in the early ’80s, with never-before-seen camera work and production values, including innovative out-of-the-ring profiles of the Texas promotion’s stars and music videos that raised the bar for a wrestling promotion. Rock videos produced for the Von Erichs and the Freebirds helped capture the imagination of Texas teens, attracting a whole new audience who were captivated by the young lions of World Class.

Grant’s best effort may have been a video produced in 1984 highlighting all the stars and wild ‘n’ wooly action of World Class rasslin’, set to the Cars’ “You Might Think.” (Special thanks to my buddy Guerin Shea for uploading this.)

A year later, Memphis  produced quite possibly the worst wrestling video of all time, featuring Tommy Wright, a mini-Magnum TA wannabe, who clearly spent his days driving around shirtless in Jerry Lawler’s borrowed Corvette (after washing it first, most likely) and visiting area convenience stores and gas stations. He also had an affinity for wearing headbands, running in place and cutting gibberish promos in front of the camera. Needless to say, this clown didn’t exactly get over with the Memphis audience. (Even worse, Randy Hales talked producer Randy West into setting the video to his favorite song of the time.)

Anatomy of an Angle: The Fabulous Ones meet their dark-side destiny

March 18th, 2010 2 comments

It was the angle nearly nine years in the making-practically a lifetime in the wild and wooly world of Memphis Wrestling.

With business down in fall 1982, Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett mentioned to Dutch Mantell that he wished could clone Jackie Fargo, the area’s longtime babyface headliner who had retired the previous year and was reserved only for annual appearances as the legendary figure returning to kick some ass. Dutch replied, “Well…why don’t you?” And so began the thought process behind a gimmick that would help set the territory on fire for the next year.

Weeks later, Jimmy Hart announced to the Memphis Wrestling TV audience that he had paired together two guys going nowhere in the business, Troy Graham (the former Dream Machine) and Rick McDraw. He  bleached their hair, put them in tuxedos and high hats, and dubbed them his “New York Dolls”-a name the former Gentry came up with in tribute to the infamous band of the same name.  Shortly after their transformation, the Dolls won the WWA World tag titles from Spike Huber and Steve Regal. None of this pleased Fargo, who filed a grievance claiming  infringement on the dapper-duo gimmick made famous by he and brother Donnie as the Fabulous Fargos. (The Dolls’ cheap tuxedo jackets and sequins were enough of an insult, but apparently it was the high hats that really irked the Fabulous One.)

A week later, Fargo announced that he had found his Fabulous Ones, whom he revealed with this video, featuring incredible strobe-light technology far ahead of its time.

You might have noticed that as he closed his promo above, Fargo said that if Stan and Steve ever neglected to take his advice, he’d back away from them; however, he was confident he’d found the right guys for the job. That was by design, as Jarrett’s original plan was to have Keirn and Lane turn heel on Fargo after about six months, take rookie manager Jim Cornette as their new manager, and then feud with Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee, with Fargo in their corner. But the Fabs got over so huge that the plan was aborted—and Cornette was instead stuck with Jesse Barr and Apocalypse (journeyman Mike Boyette saddled with a lame gimmick). That footage of Fargo was, of course, dusted off and used to bury Stan and Steve when they eventually left Jarrett’s territory for Verne Gagne and the AWA, which led to the ill-fated introduction of the New Fabulous Ones, Tommy Rich and Eddie Gilbert.

Nine years after the initial plan was laid out, that same footage of Fargo disowning his proteges was again resurrected in 1991, when Cornette became finally became the manager of the Fabs after all those years and turned heel on Lawler in a desperate bid to spark dwindling attendance. The storyline was that Lawler had brought in the Fabs and Cornette to watch his back because of the $50,000 bounty on his head placed by Unified World champion Terry Funk. (Instead, Lawler was the victim of Cornette’s spot-on impression of Boris Becker.) Around this same time in ’91, I made my debut as a referee; I was only 19.

A Wrestling Observer subscriber since I was 15, I was aware of Jarrett’s orginal plan for the Fabs, so it was cool to see the Keirn/Lane vs. Lawler/Dundee feud finally come to fruition, with the legendary former babyfaces cutting heel promos alongside quite possibly the greatest manager of all time.

The first bump I took in the business was at the hands of the heel Fabs. Before the televised bout at the WMC-TV Studio, I listened attentively with Brian Lawler and Tony Williams, the New Kids (and you thought the New Fabs gimmick was lame) as Cornette went over the finish: I’d catch Keirn piledriving Tony and call for the DQ. Keirn would then lay me out and they’d attempt to give Tony another dose of the near-lethal hold before Lawler made the save. Tony later told me that after I left the room, Keirn joked, “I’m gonna knock that yuppie on his ass.” (The boys always ribbed me for wearing a starched Polo button-down, my fraternity pledge pin and Timberland shoes when I refereed—but it paid off later when I shifted to the evil rich frat-boy from Germantown gimmick.) In addition to taking my first shot in the biz-and from a Fabulous One no less-one of my proudest moments ever in the business was when Cornette insulted me the following week : “Who’s this referee … Beaver Cleaver?” I was so young and skinny back then I could have passed for 16. When Keirn hit me with a stiff forearm, I sold it huge—I could almost hear my Pike fraternity brothers at the nearby University of Memphis campus exploding with laughter. There was also a group of bikers in the front row who erupted when I was struck. Even after Tony had made it his feet after the piledriver, I remained on the canvas until Lawler picked me up—I’d already seen a few greenhorns been abused for not selling properly.

As much as I enjoyed the angle, the heel turn failed to spike the houses-the fans just didn’t want to boo the Fabulous Ones. (Much like they don’t want to boo Ric Flair nowadays, despite his passion for the role. ) I was backstage at the Mid-South Coliseum the night of the first Lawler/Dundee vs. Fabs bout when Stan Lane arrived shortly before the 8 p.m. belltime, walked up to the curtain next to me, and took a peek at the sparse crowd of less than 1,500 fans in the same building that he and Steve used to help nearly fill on a weekly basis in the ’80s. Disappointed, Stan shook his head and walked to the dressing room. Three weeks after the most shocking heel turn in Memphis in years, the program was aborted, with the promotion shooting an angle in which Steve Keirn refused to hurt Fargo, much to Cornette’s chagrin. Two months later, babyface Keirn was teaming with Lawler, who obviously learned to forgive and forget after years of being backstabbed in his own backyard in Memphis Wrestling.

File under the Fabulous Ones, Jerry Lawler and Memphis Wrestling.

Kayfabe Code-Breakers: The Fabulous Ones and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express

February 26th, 2010 4 comments

Beltmaker Neal Snow of All-Star Championship Belts (with an assist from Suicidal Philly Sports Fan), continues his mock-ups of Apter mags that threaten to break the Kayfabe code.

When an unknown wrestler with apparently no background, experience or past calling himself “Harley Race” (frankly, it sounds phony) made his professional debut in the WWF in 1986, he was considered a longshot to win the Former Fed’s inaugural King of the Ring tournament. After dispatching former WWWF champion Pedro Morales (the original “Latino Heat”) to win the event, Race had the audacity to wear a crown and cape a la the very man who lifted the gimmick from Bobby Shane in the first place: Jerry Lawler. When the WWF invaded the King’s backyard for a show in Memphis, Lawler got a court injunction preventing Race from not only being billed as the King but also from wearing the royal regalia. (Lawler had a point, as WWF had been billing Race simply as “The King” in newspaper ads.) I believe the litigation stopped there, with Race allowed to be announced as King in every state but Tennessee. Vince and Co. were truly a royal pain in the arse to the struggling territories in the late ’80s.

Wrestling history might have changed-or least been delayed-had Jim Crockett’s Starrcade ’87 been cleared for more PPV markets; however, the WWF juggernaut put a stop to that. Vince mandated that any cable outlet that carried Crockett’s event could not broadcast his Survivor Series; coming off the heels of the wildly successful WrestleMania III, the cable companies caved, with JCP only getting a fraction of the clearance they had hoped for. Crockett was crushed, as he had been counting on PPV revenue to pay off the balances on several “balloon contracts” he had secured his top stars with. That was a shrewd move by McMahon; however, by this point, JCP and Dusty were their worst enemies with bad booking (Ron Garvin defeats Ric Flair for the World title and the dreaded “Dusty finish” at Starrcade that killed the Chicago market) and ballooning egos (to match those worthless contracts).

The healing power of the Von Erich Christian Coalition was legendary in the Apter mags; tragically, they couldn’t save themselves.

With good looks, MTV-style music videos, flashy outfits and the creative juices of Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler behind them, the Fab and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express knocked the socks of female fans in the Memphis territory, attracting a whole audience demographic: pubescent girls who had no idea had to please them. (Never you mind, Southern girls learn pretty fast.) While both teams worked Monday nights at the Coliseum, the promotion cleaned up on weekend spot shows, sending the Fabs (the A team) to one area on Friday and Saturday nights, and Morton and Gibson to the other. Think Beatle-Mania on a smaller, Southern scale. Even Paul, Ring, John and George would have been envious of the action the Fabs were getting in their van.

File under Apter mags