Saturday, June 4, 2016
Muhammad Ali ... Dead At 74
As you grow up there are certain people who inspire you ... people who will influence you for the rest of your life. Often times these are bigger than life icons who you know you'll never meet ... never be able to tell them just how much they meant to you ... how they affected your inner being. I had a few ... Elvis, of course ... Paul McCartney ... and Muhammad Ali.
I saw every one of Muhammad Ali's fights. It was one of the few things my dad and I did together. Whether it was rebroadcasts on ABC's Wide World Of Sports on the weekends, the rare live bout that made tv, or closed circuit viewing at the old Hillside Theater, we caught them all.
Ali was brash ... he was cocky ... he annoyed the hell out of millions of people ... but I just loved the guy. He was also charismatic, charming, and (in his own words) beautiful. He was dealt a bum deal when he was banned from boxing at the absolute peak of his career due to his religious beliefs and refusal to report to the draft. Eventually he was able to comeback, reclaim his heavyweight boxing title and then, a few years later, win it again for an unprecedented third time.
He was one of a kind ... The Greatest. He talked the talk but also walked the walk. For over thirty years he's fought the biggest battle of his career against Parkinson's Disease. Several times in the last decade news reports have placed him on his death bed yet he still came back to beat the challenge. He lost his final battle yesterday and he will be missed.
You will hear a lot about Muhammad Ali in the next few days, both good and bad. (There are still quite a few haters out there ... but the truth his Muhammad Ali at one point was the most recognizable face on the planet Earth.) He could go ANYWHERE ... any country on the globe ... and command the attention of each nation he visited ... a true ambassador for peace.
But I will always remember his complete control over the media whenever he spoke ... the "I Am The Greatest" rants ... joking with Howard Cosell (and trying to pull his toupee off during interviews) ... the poetry (including what he once described as the "shortest poem ever written" ... and then recited simply "Me ... Wee!!!") ... the predictions as to which round he'd knock out his opponents ... the Little Richard / Gorgeous George "I'm so pretty" comments ... say what you want about the man, but he never failed to entertain ... both inside the ring and out. We will never see another one quite like him. (kk)
BACK IN THE 70S WHEN I WAS WORKING DOWNTOWN I USED TO POP INTO KROCHS AND BRENTANO'S ALMOST EVERY DAY TO SEE WHAT NEW SPORTS OR MUSIC BOOKS HAD COME IN AND BROWSE.
EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE THEY WOULD HAVE A CELEBRITY SIGNING AND TO THIS DAY I STILL REMEMBER THE CROWD OF PEOPLE IN LINE THAT STRETCHED ONTO WABASH AVENUE JUST TO GET ALI'S AUTOGRAPH AND TO SHAKE HIS HAND.
I WATCHED HIM THAT DAY AND HE WAS IN HIS PLACE, TALKING, JOKING AND JUST HAVING A BLAST WITH HIS FAME.
THE ONLY OTHER PERSON WHO ATTRACTED SUCH A CROWD DURING THAT ERA WAS HOWARD COSELL, AND ISN'T THAT A TIE IN. IN COMPARISON, AS I WATCHED HIM, HE WAS SO PLASTIC, BUT STILL AN INTERESTING CHARACTER.
TALK ABOUT MEMORIES.
MARK / GOHAWKS
ALI was the man that put modern boxing on the lips-of-everyone. He had a great run and was a great showman. It's a shame ... we all get old ... and in his case, developing a debilitating disease. The stand-out little story that comes to mind though is a business opportunity he got in on. Someone convinced him to get into the shoe polish business (maybe he only put in seed money to a friend). The product had his image on it ... but the bottle design and instruction sheet were directly stolen from another major manufacturer. They just inserted his picture into the original logo and replaced the 'character' already there. I never heard what settlement was made in the lawsuit, but i think the product was 'pulled' very quickly.
Although I grew up there during this era, I don't recall a lot about "Cassius" from the Louisville days other than the main events - his winning the Olympics Gold was a biggie - I recall a big celebration upon his return, and there was always a lot of interest in his title fights - so yes, he was big news in town - I believe Louisville was not ready for his change to Muhammad - it was a southern town and rather conservative - (I remember when they finally integrated the local amusement park) - the city did name one of the main downtown streets after him - Muhammad Ali Blvd. His album, I Am The Greatest, did get lots of local airpplay. On the down side in Louisville - he did leave the town and his "draft dodging" (not that he could have passed the mental exam) did not sit well with the locals, besides Louisville is not known for it interests in local poets - but I always remember liking his raps. To sum it up though I think he is regarded as a local hero still.
Not much to say about the loud mouth, arrogant, boisterous, me me me, Mr. Clay.
Or was he really a Marketing Genius?????
I'm not sure that I can shed any different angle than whatever you might come up with concerning Ali. I can tell you that he's been on the cover of Rolling Stone three times, and that no other athlete has appeared there more than once. He also appeared on the cover of Crawdaddy as well. I can't recall any athlete that's had more than one cover in all the different music mags.
I remember that my Mom had that Cassius Clay LP, I Am The Greatest, which was very much over-played in our house.
I haven't got a lot to say about Ali, as I never really idolized him much, although I do respect his legacy. I'll submit a few random thoughts on the man ...
I listened to his 1964 fight with Sonny Liston on the radio with my Dad and Uncle ... February, '64, the month The Beatles hit America. I was nine years old and mesmerized.
I didn't follow his career too closely, but knew Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali was known as 'The Greatest'. However, in my book (and I'd expect some good arguments here), 'The Greatest' would mean a Heavyweight undefeated, and as far as I know Rocky Marciano was the only undefeated Heavyweight champ.
I didn't know what to make of his draft resistance and being stripped of his title, but he followed his beliefs and made a stand for racial equality. I saw the Ali movie, but found it kind of boring, with all that Muslim shit.
I was touched when he lit the Olympic Flame in 1996 -- that was quite a moment in time. I always liked his humorous braggadocio style.
I personally disliked his 'Rope-A-Dope' technique, as I would've preferred to see him come out swinging aggressively. I think that technique possibly contributed to his later onset of Parkinson's Disease.
In closing, I have a favorite picture of Muhammad Ali ...
Here in Rochester, NY, there is a club that started in 1951 called the Rochester Press Radio Club. The purpose of the club is to raise money for our local children's charities. Back in the year 2000 our headliner for this dinner was David Wells. Other head table guests were Gayle Sayers and a photographer named Howard Bingham, who has been Muhammad Ali's photographer since the early 60's. He was in town receiving an award from Eastman Kodak, based in Rochester, so he was loaned to us to add to our head table. Other head table guests were local sports figures. Three days before our sold out event we received a call from David Well's agent saying that he could not come as he had to be with his pregnant girlfriend. Quite a predicament as it takes us many months to lock up a headliner for this event. Not many people want to come to Rochester, NY in the winter!
Unknown to us, Howard Bingham called Muhammad Ali at his home and explained the situation to him, letting him know that all net proceeds go to children's charities. Howard came to us and told us that Ali was going to try to reschedule his itinerary and attempt to come to Rochester to fill in as our featured guest. We weren't sure that this would happen until the morning of the event, but Muhammad Ali came to Rochester that late afternoon of the event in his own private jet. We had suffered a loss of about 130 tickets (Yankee fans) that had to be refunded to this point, but there were still over 1000 people who did not request refunds as the money goes to charity.
Those that stayed were treated to the surprise of their lives.
As Howard Bingham was reaching the end of his presentation, which was filled with many never-before-seen photos of Ali, he asked if the audience had ever seen Ali in person. A few people raised their hands and when they did, Ali came out from behind the curtain, and the crowd went wild. He entertained for the next half hour and helped us auction a pair of Olympic boxing gloves that he personally autographed for the winner ($11,000) and had a photo taken with the winner as well. He asked all kids in the audience to come backstage with him, and stayed with them for another half hour, shaking each hand. He also autographed four more pair of gloves which we have used in subsequent auctions for the last four years. All this -- and he wouldn't take a cent!
We had to sue David Wells to get our deposit back, and it took almost a year before we got it back. Ironically, photos of David Wells in a Hard Rock Cafe the same night in Toronto showed up in the paper the next day. The story of one true hero and one bum!
PS I have a lot of songs about Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali. Here are some of the things that I have:
1. Bette McLaurin -"You're The Greatest". This is the song that Billy Scott had a minor hit with in 1958. This is Bette's "letter" to Cassius Clay, and she recites it over music in the beginning, and then talking over music a little more at the end. Bette McLaurin was a mellow singer who had been around since the early 50's, recording with the Striders, Four Fellows and as a soloist. This type of song was very different for her. I also have the picture sleeve that came with it, which is kind of unique. It is from 1964.
Wow, I dunno, Danny ... BETTE McLAURIN looks a little bit like FLIP WILSON's GERALDINE!!! LOL ... I think they might have shared the same wig! (kk)
2. Sir Mack Rice -"Muhammad Ali". This was produced by Al Green in 1976.
3. The Alcoves -"The Ballad Of Cassius Clay". Another from 1964 and very different from the Bette McLaurin song. Uptempo and driving, this one uses Clay's description of Sonny Liston as "a big, ugly bear" in it's lyrics.
4. The Best Ever -"The Peoples Choice". Muhammad Ali starts this one off by proclaiming as only he can that "I Am A Baaaaaaaaad Brother". From 1975.
5. Don Covay -"Rumble In The Jungle". I don't think this was ever a single. It is on Don's 1975 album on Mercury entitled "Hot Blood".
6. Eddie Curtis -"The Louisville Lip". I think this is the Texas blues singer -- not sure of the release date. Obviously from around 1964, it is on Raftis records.
7. Liberated Brother- "Muhammad Ali". This 1975 release on RCA was written by Weldon Irvine Jr., known for his somewhat radical Afro-American political stance.
8. Page Scherer- "He Is He". This one is a little weird. It is recited to the music of "This Land Is Your Land", and speaks about Ali's being loyal to his viewpoints. It is from 1974.
9. Vern Harrell - "Muhammad Ali". Vern mentions Ali's victories over Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena, so it's from around 1970.
10. J.W. Grasshopper (and the Butterfly) - The Ali Shuffle". From 1974 on Brown Dog records.
I have the Cassius Clay recordings on Columbia records as well, but I expect that you already have these. I also have the picture sleeve from "Stand By Me".
Somewhere in this house I have some things by Joe Frazier as well.
We've featured the Cassius Clay version of "Stand By Me" a few times over the years in Forgotten Hits. This one actually charted in 1964, peaking at #86 on the national charts. It's actually not a bad version.
In 1975, Johnny Wakelin and the Kinshasa Band had a Top 20 Hit with "Black Superman - Muhammad Ali". It hasn't been played much (if at all!) since ... but you might remember this one!