Thursday, July 25, 2013

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--1987 Great American Bash Program

With it being July, Mid-Atlantic Fanfest on the very near horizon, and the recent War Games DVD/Blu-Ray release from WWE, this edition of "From The Musty Yellowed Pages" was a no-brainer.  Always one of the more popular Jim Crockett Promotions publications, The 1987 Great American Bash program has a lot going for it.  The colorful and fittingly patriotic cover is the most obvious, but a lot of people have never had the chance to dive inside.  It isn't easy to obtain and often sells for fifty dollars or more when it does pop up on the secondary market.

I have no one to thank more for my particular copy than an anonymous group of elderly women.  Around twenty years ago I was at a library book sale in a neighboring town.  In the back of the crammed basement, I spied this wrestling artifact tossed among the children's books.  Needless to say, once I figured out exactly what I had discovered, there was no putting it down.  It was but a few years earlier that I had gotten into learning about wrestling's glorious past, and the 1987 War Games video was something that I was already very familiar with.  Upon arrival at the checkout table, the gracious ladies who were in charge must've found my love for the publication charming.  Although my family made other purchases, the ladies told me that I could have the red, white, and blue relic absolutely free.  My JCP program collection was off to an amazing, and quite affordable, start.

It was about ten years following my lucky find that I began to use the program as an autograph project.  Manny Fernandez, Skandor Akbar, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Dusty Rhodes, J.J. Dillon, Paul Jones, Ricky Morton, Jimmy Garvin, Ric Flair, Nikita Koloff, Jim Cornette, Tully Blanchard, Steve Williams, Magnum T.A., Ivan Koloff, Robert Gibson, The Barbarian, Bob Caudle, and Road Warrior Animal.  Amazingly, I even managed to have each signature signed in blue.  It was more of a coincidence at first, but it certainly adds to the flag motif.  Beginning with Dusty Rhodes, twenty signatures fill the cover.  My rule was that as long as the talent is shown and/or mentioned inside, they're welcome to sign the cover.  The twenty illustrious names are

Interestingly, the program does not kick off with War Games coverage.  The tag team and UWF championship sagas are instead featured at the front.  Following a Business Reply Mail card advertising NWA tapes from Turner Home Video, a great photo of eight of the ten men from the original War Games match is shown.  "The American Dream" appears more cocky than any of the Four Horsemen in this photo, but that's simply "Dusty being Dusty."  Curiously this photo does not include Paul Ellering or JJ Dillon.  Regardless, it's a great shot that would induce a boatload of memories from any NWA fan.

A page made up solely of graphics breaks down that first War Games match.  It's obvious from the effort shown here that the company truly felt that a lot was riding on this one match.  They had every right to believe that they had something special in their hands, as this was a concept that lives on with so many fans to this day.  One can only wonder why no effort was made to put this on pay-per-view.  While they obviously hoped to make this a concept to pop the individual live gates, it is interesting to ponder if anything could've played out differently had they opened the match up to thousands of other curious fans via pay-per-view.

The following ten pages are photo capsules of each of the ten men involved in that first "Match Beyond."  Ellering and Dillon are not omitted here and are highlighted in photos showing both their wrestler and managerial sides.  It should be noted that the photography in this program is glorious and vibrant as it is in many of the JCP publications.  It's a shame that more items like these weren't made by the company, but that all goes back to the much-discussed marketing problems of the company that extended far beyond the Ted Turner purchase of the company in 1988.

Following the War Games profiles, many other wrestlers, matches, and angles which were important on the '87 Bash tour are featured.  The company was obviously hurting with the loss of Magnum T.A. just a few months earlier.  Fortunately, Magnum was well enough to make appearances by this time and gets a full page to himself.  Text and photos discussing his appearance in Dusty's corner against Tully Blanchard on television appear, but a notation of Magnum now being in the corner of Dr. Death in a battle against Dick Murdoch is mentioned.

Initially, so many of the autographs on my copy were obtained at the 2004 Fanfest over Thanksgiving weekend.  One of the wrestlers to sign it was "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin.  After signing the cover, Garvin asked me if this was the program with "the great bloody picture of me against Flair."  I assured him that it was and we flipped to it where he took the time to sign it again.  Not only is the shot another example of the great photography, but a rare example where a wrestler recalls something about a piece of memorabilia.  Remember, in that era talent rarely had to the time to see these items let alone collect them.  This is sadly why many wrestlers have no clue as to what is out there, but it also makes it all the more special when a recollection is made when obtaining an autograph.

This has always been one of my favorite wrestling items between what it represents, how it ended up in my collection, and now that I've had so many of the original participants sign it.  These are the items that keep the memories of these events and concepts alive.  WWE may own the footage, but you're only going to see what they want you to see.  It's these vintage pieces that show you just how epic, raw, and real it was to many fans...and continues to be today.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Badstreet USA & The Magic Of Freebird Fantasia

I'm absolutely sick of the "Shield-Freebirds" comparison.  I hate to break it to the world, but aside from being a trio of wrestlers, the two groups having nothing in common.  Dean Ambrose does not perform their theme song, they don't wear the stars-and-bars, and so far they haven't been revolutionary.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy The Shield and feel that the sky is the limit for them, especially Ambrose.  When it comes down to it, however, they nor anybody else can recreate the magic of the Fabulous Freebirds. 

Michael Hayes.  Terry Gordy.  Buddy Roberts.  Three wrestlers that came together at the right time to, most memorably, become the arch enemies of the white-bread, squeaky-clean, Von Erich boys.  They were a hard drinking gang of southern boys that dished out some beatings, took many in return, and proved to be exactly what World Class Championship Wrestling needed.  Each member had individual tools that brought something different to the table and therefore the group simply gelled.  From a marketing standpoint, it was the charisma and personality of Hayes that made the team one of the most merchandised of the era.

Everyone has a different opinion on who exactly was the first wrestler to use theme music, but Michael "P.S." Hayes may have been the first to sing his own.  Hayes certainly looked like a rock star, and through his wrestling career was able to become one.  After years of using Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird," Hayes and Jimmy Papa composed a brand new entrance for the team in 1983.  Thirty years later, "Badstreet USA" is still one of the most popular and memorable wrestling themes of all-time.  A music video was even produced for the song starring the Freebirds as well as their frequent ally (and later Freebird himself) "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin.

It wasn't until 1987 that a full album starring Michael Hayes came to fruition.  "Off The Streets" was offered through magazine order forms and produced by Jimmy Papa's Grand Theft Records.  The album featured "Badstreet USA" as well as nine other tracks performed by Hayes and the Badstreet Band.  The album includes a separate "centerfold" style photo insert that puts even those classic "Fabulous Ones" music videos to shame as far as classic wrestling camp.  For those who pre-ordered, an authentically autographed Hayes-Grand Theft Records promotional photo was included due to delays in the album's release.   It has often been reported that Hayes had trouble securing a record deal, thus explaining the long gap between the release of the "Badstreet USA" single and the album itself.

With the anti-hero style popularity of Hayes and the gang, it's hard to believe that any record company wouldn't have wanted to capitalize.  WCCW wasn't exactly regional at this point, and with the Von Erich-Freebird wars seen by millions in syndication surely the album would've done well.  Nevertheless, the craze of the time was captured one day at a mall in Irving, Texas, also the home of Grand Theft Records.  Recognizing the hysteria of young Texans revolving around World Class, the wise manager of Irving's Camelot Music store had an idea.

It was the mid-1980's and the "Badstreet USA" single was available at the famous Sportatorium (in downtown Dallas, Texas) as well as through mail order.  The manager of the Camelot location decided to contact Grand Theft Records and order copies of the hot item to sell in the store.  Not only were copies secured, but an appearance by Hayes was set up to promote and autograph the singles.  The 45 was so popular that half of the copies sold before the appearance even took place!

With a turnout of around seven hundred screaming fans, the signing was ultimately a success.  The pictures of this appearance shown here have never before been viewed by the public.  Hayes is shown signing away, but seeing as that this was the golden era of WCCW wrestling, the Freebird probably also kept up an image suitable for a heel at the time.  It looks as if posters advertising the single were signed in addition to the aforementioned 45's.  Are these hundreds of autographed items stashed away in attics across The Lone Star State?  Fortunately, the store manager decided to recently part with her own keepsake of the event (a framed display of the photos shown here and signed 45) which is why I'm able to share these here for all to enjoy.

If there was ever any doubt, I think that these images prove that the Freebirds were just as responsible for the "fandemonium" of the WCCW glory days as the Von Erich's were.  Not all fans were interested in the handsome local athletes.  Many were rooting for the rough-and-tumble rock star and his band of thieves.  It didn't hurt that they had a killer anthem as well.  Freebird Fantasia Forever!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Buff Is "The Stuff" At A Thrift Store

Sometimes you just have to have a bit of fun with your toys.  That's what they're made for, right?  Rarity, value, and collectibility be damned, these are toys originally made for children, and some adults, to play with.  Though there are some vintage wrestling figures that I would advise against opening, some are simply made for play.  Even if the "F" was still in WWE the last time that you were the age that society would deem it "o.k." for you to play with an action figure, the temptation can often be irresistible.  Finding a vintage figure, still in the package, out and about at a retail store can make it even more tempting.

Like most collectors, I love thrift stores.  Hunting in them can often take a lot of patience, but it usually pays off in the end.  I've found many great wrestling items at various thrift stores over the years, but finding an unopened figure in one such shop is a bit of a rarity.  Such was my surprise when a ToyBiz WCW Buff Bagwell appeared at my local thrift store for the small sum of $3.99.

The ToyBiz WCW figure line was very hit or miss.  The line never seemed to find an identity or figure out exactly what it was going for.  The very first series included a mix of figures that seemed to be geared towards either action moves (Hollywood Hogan, The Giant) or action poses (Scott Hall, DDP).  Subsequent figures were largely geared towards the action features, but scale, design, and general organization seemed to be a total loss.  Perhaps ToyBiz was merely reflecting the oft-talked about management of WCW.

This particular thrift store find is from ToyBiz's WCW PowerSlam release of 2000.  The series also included Hogan, Sting, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Sid Vicious and the lone WCW figure releases of Roddy Piper and Hak (aka The Sandman).  Though the Piper and Hak figures were always two of my better liked products of the ToyBiz line, I never owned this particular Bagwell.  At such a great price, a great looking likeness, and some fun looking accessories, I decided to add Buff to my loose collection.

For you non-figure collectors, "loose" is toy collector terminology for a piece that's been removed from the package.  It was nostalgic to open a WCW toy from its package over a decade after the company closed.  I immediately noticed that Buff's "tan" paint application is splotchy at best.  I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it certainly adds to Buff's crazy character.  Stick him in the nWo?  Possibly.  Drag out the Jakks WWF figure of The Patriot and recreate Stars & Stripes?  Maybe.  Pretend to have a "Judy Bagwell On A Pole" match?  No, but we will play with some of these fun accessories that Buff has been encased with for thirteen years!

Almost all of the ToyBiz WCW figures include some wacky accessories, many with action features all their own.  Some of the coolest accessories of the time, barbed wire and the first wrestling Singapore cane accessory, were packaged with Hak.  Buff's aren't quite as hardcore but may be equally as fun.  Buff's signature stovepipe hat is here, and it actually has a feature!  A plastic piece at the top of the hat is attached to a coil that enables it to be "launched" from the hat.  It's too bad that Johnny B. Badd was no longer in WCW at this point, as this mechanism would've made an amazing "Badd Blaster" accessory.  The hat doesn't actually "fit," but it does "sit."  Buff also includes a training dummy that looks a bit like Ric Flair or referee Charles Robinson.

If Rick Rude showing up on a live Monday Nitro opposite a taped Monday Night Raw appearance was a "cannon ball" in the Monday night wars, this training dummy is sort of like a squirt gun shot.  The dummy, in all his flimsy glory, is clad in a shirt that simply reads, "The Federation."  Yep, this training dummy represents the entire WWF.  Not only can Buff take down other WCW action figure foes such as Disco Inferno and Raven, but he can take down the entire World Wrestling Federation in one single punch.

That punch isn't just any punch, however!  Buff is equipped with an action feature of his own!  Simply twist Bagwell at the waist and his powerful fists unleash a spinning punch that would cause Jim Ross to shout, "...shades of Kerry Von Erich!"  Actually, the spin mechanism isn't nearly as powerful as even the Hasbro WWF Texas Tornado figure's feature, but at least it's there and adds charm to the figure.  Another bonus is that unlike many of the ToyBiz WCW figures, this action feature isn't activated by a lever protruding from the figure's back.  Simply twist and spin!  Set it and forget it!

As I mentioned above, scale was often an issue with these figures.  Buff, along with many of the other figures in the line, are actually a very similar height to the current Mattel WWE figures.  Looking for a WCW invasion to take over your WWE Universe?  The answer lies with the "Handsome Stranger" himself!  Want to recreate the infamous WCW "debut" match on Raw featuring Buff vs Booker T?  Done!  Does A.J. Lee need some "world championship wrestling" in her life?  Groupie away!  Just want Mark Henry to make another induction into his House of Pain?  Buff and many other ToyBiz WCW stars are here for all of those needs and more.

In all seriousness, many of these ToyBiz WCW figures are inexpensive (there are exceptions) and readily available.  Although the line can be hit or miss, there are many figures such as this one, Bam Bam Bigelow, Vampiro, and even Mean Gene Okerlund that have great likenesses, details, and accessories.  What are you waiting for?  Make a trip to your local thift store.  You may just find...The Stuff!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

This August, It's Nothin' But Mid-Atlantic Memories!

Occasionally, even a person such as myself who positively thrives off of nostalgia will admit that yesterday wasn't necessarily better.  I've been called everything from "born too late" to "an old soul," but it doesn't bother me.  I take pride in remembering, honoring, and re-living the past as much as possible.  The truth is, however, that one of the highlights of my calendar year wouldn't have had a chance of happening just two decades ago.  That event is Greg Price's Wrestling Legends Fanfest, formerly known as NWA Fanfest, and this year formally titled "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend."

Back in the eras that many fans would deem the "glory years" of pro wrestling, an idea like Fanfest would have been unheard of.  Wrestlers may have occasionally given an autograph, posed for a photo, and gotten to know some of the more diehard fans, but an actual event designed for fans to meet the wrestlers?  It would've broken the secrecy of the wrestling business that those in it held so dear.  In this case, changes in the industry have become our gain.

If you've never previously heard of Fanfest, I encourage you to click the "label" below this entry and brush up.  The event is a four day extravaganza celebrating wrestling's past.  Fans can meet dozens of wrestling's greats, get autographs and photos, attend the Hall of Heroes dinner and ceremony, and even see some live wrestling action.  Magnum T.A., Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, Mr. Wrestling II, Ivan Koloff, The Rock & Roll Express, The Midnight Express, Baron Von Raschke, Ken Patera, and Manny Fernandez are just some of the names already announced to appear.

My personal highlight of the weekend is the aforementioned Hall of Heroes dinner.  Following a spectacular meal, everyone is treated to a Hall of Fame-style ceremony that often surpasses other similar events.  Inductees already announced for this year are both The Rock & Roll Express and Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, as well as wrestler, trainer, promoter, publisher, and announcer Les Thatcher and former Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion Danny Miller.  Cornette, who has been on a self-imposed exile from wrestling as of late, says that this will be his only 2013 appearance related to the business.  In addition to being a featured guest and Hall of Heroes inductee, Cornette will host one of his legendary late-night question and answer sessions.  Definitely not one for all ages, but nothing less than you would expect from "The Louisville Lip."

Two new features are front and center at Fanfest this year as well.  One is a four-day wrestling training camp to be run by Dr. Tom Prichard.  The good doctor and his co-trainers including Leilani Kai, Tully Blanchard, Les Thatcher, and Jerry Brisco will instruct two dozen young wrestlers over the weekend and ultimately decide upon one "Best-of-Camp" prospect.  That chosen talent will be the recipient of the $2,500 Reid Fliehr Memorial Scholarship. 

The other new addition to Fanfest's lineup of events is the filming of a new documentary appropriately titled "Mid-Atlantic Memories."  The movie will capture the memories, thoughts, and feelings of the wrestlers, promoters, and fans who lived Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.  If you've been to a previous Fanfest in Charlotte, you have met many of those individuals who were there for the glory days of MACW and know that they absolutely loved it.  Even those of us who weren't fortunate enough to have lived it have been drawn in by the magic.

As is the case every year, Fanfest is a place for fans of all wrestling promotions to gather.  After all, so much of the top talent of the '70s, '80s, and even '90s once called Jim Crockett Promotions their home.  In addition to talent, JCP spawned so many events and concepts that have never left the minds of fans.  Starrcade, the Great American Bash, and the match that inspired so many copycats, War Games, were all born under the Crockett umbrella.

This year, perhaps more than ever, may be the Fanfest in which we remember those who have passed just as often as those who are sitting next to us at the Hall of Heroes banquet or signing an autograph.  With all of the remembrances for the film project we'll think of names like Wahoo McDaniel and Gene Anderson, both of whom didn't live to attend a Fanfest.  We'll also fondly recall virtual staples of the weekend, such as Sir Oliver Humperdink and Jack Brisco, who have sadly since passed.  In the end, those recollections will help us appreciate the present all the more.  It will also remind us to thank those who will be present in Charlotte for the memories, while we're still able to do so.

Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend will take place August 1-4 in Charlotte, NC.  For more information you can check out and plan to make new memories!