Bucky Miserlou 45 (Decca, 1968)
If you have a pulse and are even slightly aware of what goes on in popular culture, you know of the recent movie, Brokeback Mountain. It is the tale of two cowboys who fall in love. The Christer Right is in a big tizzy about it because it humanizes gay people. Our American Taliban dislikes nothing more than the notion that gay people are indeed people and are very much "normal," i.e. middleclass & respectful.
Christers aren't the only ones upset about Brokeback Mountain. Some queers are pissed off about the movie because it is pretty much a heterosexual interpretation of "Gay love," tailored for a straight audience, much like Philadelphia was a decade or so ago. Members of the "Gay community" tell their queer friends to hush. Any positive portrayal of "Gay love" in mainstream culture is welcome and debates over whether the Brokebackers should go bareback need to be silenced.
You can count me among those pissed off about Brokeback Mountain. My anger comes not from a thunderbolt thrown at me by a Sky God. Nor am I enraged because "chaps" on Brokeback Mountain are for riding horses not Hoss's. My mittens are muffled because as much as everyone says Brokeback Mountain is a Gay cowboy movie it fucking isn't. A cowboy movie involves gun play, horse whippin, gold, whores, booze, and greed. It is not a couple of blokes in cowboy hats, living out West, with the hots for one another. When I hear the words "Gay cowboy movie" I expect Sam Fuller meets Derek Jarman or John Ford goes Cocteau or The Wild Bunch starring Divine, not Merchant Ivory paints Wyoming lavender. Really, if I wanna see men in cowboy hats kissing all I have to do is walk a couple blocks to Sacramento's Gay bar district and I'm in the not-so-Wild West. When you say Gay cowboy movie, I expect man on man AND man kill man, cow and donkey punching (as well as some cactus and rattlesnakes). And I might have found it.
Made in 1968, The Ruthless Four (AKA Ognuno Per Se) is a Spaghetti Western staring Van Heflin, George Hilton, Gilbert Roland, and the always entertaining Klaus Kinski. The story goes something like this: Sam Cooper (Helflin) finds a bunch of gold out in the desert. He beats down his partner and tries to get to town to exchange his gold for green. On the way, he is jumped, assaulted, and hunt down. He survives but loses the gold. In town, he decides he needs some help so he grabs Manolo (Hilton), who is both Cooper's adopted son and ex-lover. There is a problem, since Cooper's been away Manolo has a new rhinestone cowboy and his name is Blondie (Kinski, of course!). Manolo won't go unless Blondie gets to come along. Of course, Blondie is a psychopath, a meshigener that cannot be trusted; so Cooper brings along another ex-lover, Mason (Roland). Unknown to Cooper, Mason thinks Cooper finked him out, sending Mason to prison where he gets a nasty case of malaria. This merry bunch of misfits heads out to the desert to find gold. And instead of nervous hand holding and fretful snuggling, these Gay cowboys slit each other's throats! Jealousy, greed, gold and gun fights, just what Giorgio Capitani intended! Brokeback Mountain be damned!
So what does this real Gay cowboy movie have to do with the record ypu see above? Well, the version of Misirlou done here was used as the theme for The Ruthless Four. The name under the title on the label is "John and Mary;" however John and Mary did not write the song, make the music or produce this track. I believe the label used the name "John and Mary" because the song on the A side is entitled "John and Mary." The song Misirlou was written by Nicolas Roubanis (not Dick Dale as many think) and published back in the 1930s. This version was produced by Ivan Mogull, a song plugger who was to become a very wealthy publisher and producer, working with folks like Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey.
At the bottom of the label it reads "Music by Bucky." After some research, I am going to take a big guess and give Bucky a full name. That name is John "Bucky" Wilkins. Bucky is also known as Ronny Dayton of Ronny & the Daytonas, hot rod music legends. Besides the Daytonas, Bucky has done tons of session work, much of it in Nashville.
On this version of Misirlou, Bucky plays it as stark as the deserts of Italy. While the guitar anchors the song, the drums are the lead instrument. There is no straight beat here, but rather something that sounds like intuition mixed with a dose of tribalism. The drummer's rawness keeps this thing primitive, so much so that when the percussion swells in the middle of the song, I expect to hear someone scream "Kill the Fascists" ala Savage Republic. Like many of you, I've heard the Dick Dale version of Misirlou a zillion times. I've also heard many, many more renditions. This one has to be my favorite of them all.