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ROCKEY'S STYLE: The Palmer Rockey album

Cat. Number JBH050

 

The history of the Palmer Rockey record and the stories behind it are quite extraordinary. I first came across the actual LP about a decade ago when a copy I was curious about on ebay USA sold for about $200. I had no idea what it was, except it was music from a film I’d never heard of, by a man who looked from the front cover like some sort of weird rockabilly cult hero. Information about Palmer Rockey and the film was thin on the ground, but I discovered it had been mentioned by Jello Biafra in the RE Search Incredibly Strange Music Volume II book in 1994. I remained intrigued, simply because the rumours were that he was a remarkable con-artist and “disco lounge-lizard from hell”. After waiting waiting waiting for ten years I finally bagged one of the originals. When I finally got to hear it, I was thrilled, excited and instantly obsessed. I’ve no idea why. I started playing it all the time. Like all the time. Even my children started singing along. The more I listened the stranger it became; I also felt that Palmer Rockey had put a surprising amount of deeply buried emotion into making the album. I found his voice strangely moving, his ideas fascinating, and the whole thing belonged smack bang in the middle of David Lynch land.

With a little detective work I got in touch with Cookie Ann Rockey (AKA Mary Ann) who was Palmer Rockey’s wife in the 1970s. She was the first person to give me a true picture of Palmer Rockey’s past. His name originates from his father’s Italian last name – Rocchi, and his mother’s first name, Palmera. His mother died two hours after he was born. His father never remarried, but was incarcerated in a mental hospital when Palmer was 8 years old and died there when Palmer turned 18 years old. Palmer earned a Ph.d in Philosophy at St. Louis University, decided he wanted to be a film writer and headed to the UK. At Shepperton Studios he handed in a script for Boris Karloff that possibly went nowhere, and soon returned to the USA with plans to not just write a new film, but to do everything else involved too. He believed he could make an Oscar winning movie. To do so (rumour has it) he borrowed and conned money from wealthy Texan housewives. He never worked at the time, being instead supported by his hard working wife Cookie Ann with her job at the Post Office. She even worked overtime for three years so he could get his film off the ground. When he had money, he shot film. When he shot film he fell out with crew and cast. He’d then run out of money. Then find some more, then shoot more film with new crew and cast. And so it went on, for years. The “finished” film, It Happened One Weekend was only shown once (ironically just once, one weekend), at the premier in Canyon Creek, October 11th, 1974. In fact the photo on the front of this LP was shot by Cookie Ann on her brownie camera the night of the premier, a night when Palmer had managed to get about 300 people along. The film was written, produced, edited, directed and starred Palmer Rockey (as twin brothers of course), with music by Palmer Rockey. The plot was apparently demonic and “beyond the room of terrifying evil”. Also included was a ‘Sunday Surprise Ending”. I believe the surprise that Sunday was that people laughed all the way through, and even walked out. It was a total disaster on every level, nothing in the movie made sense. Undeterred by such poor initial responses Palmer Rockey took it to LA to try and get it qualified for the Academy Awards. He continued to tinker with the film, and released it again and again in several different versions over the next few years, firstly with the title It Happened On Sunday, which played briefly in Denver, El Paso and also at drive-in theatres. The film then disappeared, was recut with new scenes and appeared again in 1980, as Rockey’s Style, Scarlet Love and also Scarlet Warning 666. All the while he was battling debtors, having already been sued in the 1960s by his uncle for non-payment of loans. There’s not a great deal of information about his career and life in the 1980s, but we do know he passed away in 1996, leaving behind very little apart from debt and this unusual self-pressed album. There is no sign or trace of any version of the film anywhere.

I get the impression Palmer Rockey was a loner and black sheep, but he played the part of movie mogul well, dressing in outlandish clothes and suits. He could be spotted around college campuses and malls in the late 1970s promoting his latest movie incarnation to the passing public, giving out his business card (Palmer Rockey, Movie Producer) and discounted or free passes weeks before a planned showing. Few would ever turn up.

Palmer Rockey wrote all the music for the film(s), and there are two issues of the soundtrack from the same period - 1980. There’s Scarlet Love, which I believe might be the first pressing. This was followed (or it’s possibly the other way around) days or weeks later as he’d decided to change the name of the film again, to Rockey’s Style. Both have the same original catalogue number and subtitle of “Movie Album”, and both have track titles that do not match the albums. You will observe that I have kept the original and incorrect tracklisting on the LP sleeve, but kept the correct ones on the LP labels. Incidentally, there are possibly three different pressing of the vinyl to go along with the two different sleeves.

So, now you know a little more about this most extraordinary of soundtracks by this most extraordinary star. I shall now leave the music and Jon Brooks who remastered this edition to explain the rest.

Jonny Trunk 2013

Always expect the unexpected when working with Jonny Trunk. This time, I was passed a batch of recordings and with a devilish cackle, Jonny said ‘this one’s a little odd, Jon’. In time-honoured fashion, I raised an eyebrow and had a listen...

I won’t go into the story of Palmer Rockey here; if you’re reading this, you’ll undoubtedly know by now. If you don’t, a little research will go a very long way. As I listened, Jonny told me the story of Palmer’s insatiable drive to make a film, which became increasingly intriguing as it went along, veering into the realms of “one of the most bizarre stories ever told”. By the time the album had finished, I was hooked.

So it’s a soundtrack to a bizarre film that hardly anyone has seen, with an even more bizarre story behind the making of it.

Musically, the instrumentation and playing on this album is superb. The rhythm session players are incredibly tight, but I have to wonder what was going through their minds as they recorded. I love Palmer Rockey’s use of reprise and the way he interpolates and re-interprets standards such as “Are You Lonesome Tonight” and “Blue Christmas” (here as ‘Blue Sunday’), changing the lyrics to fit his own purpose.

I was almost expecting a full-on rock freakout when “Scarlet Warning 666” came on, but it’s somehow all the more potent for basing itself around a gentle finger-picking guitar and a soft croon, more reminiscent of late 1960s pop-psych artist Gordon Alexander than Sabbath.

Running throughout is an undeniable sense of fragility; an ever-present but fleeting vulnerability that never quite lays itself bare. A wonderful record, full of intrigue and definitely more than meets the ear on first listen.

Jon Brooks (Café Kaput / Ghost Box).

 

TRACKLIST:
SIDE 1
1. Longing For You
2. Smile Pretty Baby
3. Rock It Nice N’ Easy
4. Feelings Of Love
5. Scarlet Moves

Side 2
1. Scarlet Love
2. That’s Real Cool
3. Lonesome Tonight
4. Scarlet Warning 666
5. Sunday Love
6. Rockey’s Rock

For further reading we strongly suggest you buy the book The Rock – The Life And Crimes Of Palmer Rockey by Cookie Ann Rockey. You will find it for sale on-line.  

Palmer Rockey will be with us in September 2013.

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