Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Cars, oldies define St. Ignace

Little Eva performed "The Loco-Motion" for
fans attending the St. Ignace Car Show in 1995.


Vintage cars and rock 'n' roll seem to be the perfect combination if you're looking for a trip down memory lane.

That fact was quite evident when my wife Sue and I attended the nationally-known St. Ignace Car Show back in 1995.

We travelled to the eastern Upper Peninsula in our "Little Red Corvette," to borrow the title of Prince's first big hit.

Although the 1980 model had a 350 V-8 engine, it didn't have a compact disc player, so we listened classic radio as the miles sped by.

We arrived in St. Ignace with our friends Bob and Carol Nygaard ready to check out the automobiles we had admired as kids and attend an "oldies" concert in the evening.

Our day was filled with reminisces of cars we owned, or wished we owned, back in the day.

Like lots of other boys, I loved hot rods and bought magazines which featured the speedy machines on the cover.

So, I was quite surprised when we ran across a booth manned by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, an important figure in the hot rod world in the early 1960s

A well-known southern California custom car builder, Roth created the iconic "Rat Fink" character.

You know Rat Fink. He's an insane-looking mouse displaying the letters R F on his t-shirt. With his bloodshot eyes bulging out of his head, Rat Rink is nothing to look at, but he took hot rodders by storm.

Roth inscribed an image of Rat Fink for us, adding the drawing of a fly next to his signature, just like the insects known to buzz around the demented rodent's head.

Rat Fink proved to be wildly popular, inspiring a song by the same name written and performed by novelty singer Allan Sherman.

You may very well recognize the song, too. It's a snappy sing-along with lyrics comprised of just six different words.

The punk rock band Misfits even recorded their own take on a 1979 single which wasn't issued on compact disc until 1995.

Our little group of car enthusiasts may not have been aware of the new version of the "Rat Fink" song that afternoon in St. Ignace, but there were plenty of diversions.

Sue and I drooled over a number of fantastic Corvettes, comparing them to our own.

Seeing some showroom-quality Thunderbirds recalled the days when a I owned a 1962 version of Ford's classic sports car.

After scouting cars all afternoon, we were off to the high school to revisit some great rock 'n' roll.

The memorable bill included Little Eva, Ronnie Dove and the Contours.

We clapped along when Little Eva motivated the crowd with "The Loco-Motion," her chart-topper from the summer of 1962. Born Eva Boyd, the singer was just 16 years old when she recorded the hit while she was working as the babysitter for songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

The Contours also brought fans back to 1962 with their hit "Do You Love Me." The Detroit-based R&B group recorded for Gordy Records. "Do You Love Me" was a hit for a second time in 1988 when it was included in the movie "Dirty Dancing," starring Patrick Swayze.

Singer Ronnie Dove performed a number of his tunes, putting the mid-sixties into focus. Perhaps best known for "One Kiss for Old Time's Sake" and "Cry," Dove had nine Top 40 hits in 1965 and 1966.

Hours later we left St. Ignace with smiles on our faces thanks to a terrific car show and the memory-laden music of some rock 'n' roll idols.

The nostalgic feeling we got from the show lasted for years, but some of the details didn't.

So, to refresh my memory, I contacted Ed Reavie of St. Ignace who organized the first show in 1976 and every one since.

He reminded me that in addition to the acts we saw, his car show has hosted an impressive roster of rock 'n' roll legends.

For example, Reavie pointed to early 1960s stars such as Freddy Cannon, Jack Scott, Gary (U. S.) Bonds, Johnny Tillotson, Bobby Vee, Brian Hyland and Bobby Lewis.

Rockers from the mid 1960s appearing at the annual event have included Lou Christie, the Outsiders, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Herman's Hermits and the Reflections.

Acts like like the Crystals, Shirelles and Lesley Gore showed the ladies could command attention too.

Reavie said entertainment has ranged from early rockers Danny and the Juniors to Climax and Gallery, popular in the early 1970s.

In addition, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Michigan native Del Shannon, famous for "Runaway" and many other hits, attended one year, although he did not perform.

Tommy Durden, who co-wrote "Heartbreak Hotel" for Elvis Presley, composed a song especially for the St. Ignace car show entitled "Wheels, Wheels, Wheels," Reavie noted.

Combining his experience running the St. Ignace car show with a life-long love of automobiles and rock 'n' roll has given Reavie a unique perspective which flowers each year into "one of the largest collector-vehicle events in the country."

Just in time for this year's 35th anniversary show, slated for June 25 & 26, Reavie has written a book about his favorite subject, "St. Ignace Car Culture."

Selling for $21.99, the book is aimed primarily at "gearheads," Reavie says

"For teenagers growing up in the 1950s it was all new-cruisin', drive-ins, drag strips, the country's intense love affair with the automobile, and the birth of rock 'n' roll," says a summary of the book released by Arcadia Publishing.

The book is illustrated with hundreds of photographs from Reavie's own collection as well as images from others.

Just flipping through Reavie's tome reminded me of the hours I spent cruisin' Escanaba's downtown, or "bombing the drag" as it used to be called, in a circular route from the A&W Root Beer Stand to WDBC and back.

Turns out teens from all over the country, including small towns in the U. P., were doing the same thing.

Since that first show, St. Ignace has hosted dozens of rock 'n' roll greats, hundreds of well-known automobile personalities and countless thousands of car enthusiasts.

As Reavie is quick to tell you: "All of that and still no traffic light!"

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