Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation

Last April, I was in Chicago for a few days and I had a chance to swing by one of the holy places of music: Chess Records.

To be more accurate, I visited Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history of blues music. The Blues Heaven foundation lives in the former site of Chess Records.

Chess Records was founded in 1950, and was located initially at several different locations. The main offices moved to 2120 S. Michigan Ave around 1957, staying there until 1965. Chess Records is where Chuck Berry recorded Johnny B. Goode. Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and some other lesser-known acts like the Rolling Stones recorded there.

There is still a functioning studio in the building- Chess Studios continued beyond Chess Records, and the Rolling Stones and other bands also recorded here. Marie Dixon, Willie’s widow, purchased the building in 1993 and reopened it a few years later as the Blues Heaven Foundation. The Blues Heaven Foundation does four tours a day from Tuesday to Saturday. The tours are inexpensive and well worth a look. While you wait for the tour to start, there’s a gallery filled with artifacts that will fascinate anyone who loves the blues.

The red dress in the gallery above was work by Koko Taylor, often referred to as the Queen of the Blues. Willie Dixon brought her to Chess Records in 1964, where she recorded Wang Dang Doodle. Here’s a slightly more recent recording of Koko just killing it live.

I happened to be there on an auspicious day- the Blues Foundation was opening a new exhibit about the blues festivals that Willie Dixon organized in Germany throughout the 1960s The gentleman in the hat in this photo is the son of Willie Dixon, on hand for the opening of the new exhibit. If I remember correctly, the other fellow was a representative from the German embassy.

Finally, it was time for the tour!

The absolute highlight of the tour was spending time in this room- the main studio. Countless legendary recordings were made here, like this one:

9/52

Three Meals In Los Angeles

Here’s the last of the Los Angeles pictures!  This time, it’s all about the food.

On our first day, Wendy showed us a fantastic place in downtown Los Angeles called Grand Central Market.  The Grand Central Market occupies the entire ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building, at 317 South Broadway.

It’s a market-hall format, which means there’s a big open space in the building filled with all kinds of great little places to eat inside.  I’ve been to stuff like this in other countries, but this was one of the larger and more interesting ones I’ve been to.  The next three pictures give you an idea of what it looks like inside.

Next up in our tiny culinary tour of Los Angeles is the Original Pantry Cafe.   We stumbled across this wonderful little diner while looking for a place to dine before Bob’s Burger’s Live.

The sign on the top says that the restaurant was opened in 1924, moved to the current location in 1960,  and has been opened continually since it first opened.  If true, that’s amazing.

There is a guestbook under glass, obviously reserved for famous guests.  The page it was open to includes a number of names that I’m not familiar with, and Conan O’Brien.

While we were eating, Richard Masur came in with a small group.  I was facing away from him, but Amelie spotted him right away.

This isn’t a great picture of the cashier cage, but I didn’t think to grab the picture until we were standing in front of it to pay.   The Country Pantry has been cash only since it opened in 1924.

I didn’t know it was cash only until we were already seated, but the signage was clearly marked.  They also didn’t give us menus- all the menu information was on wall signs, so we took it in stride.  I think I slightly annoyed the waitress by not being aware of this before we sat down.

There were lots of old photographs on the walls, and Amelie pointed out that one of the waiters in the restaurant was clearly the same as the younger version of him in the black and white photographs on the right.

I dined on french toast and eggs, which is one of my favorite dishes.    The french toast was amazing.  I would definitely go back here, if I ever wound up in downtown Los Angeles again.

The third and final stop in our saunter through the comestibles of California is Pink’s, a hot dog restaurant that has been there for nearly eighty years.

This original location of Pink’s has been there since 1939.  Until this visit, I thought it was the only one.  Little did I realize that there are locations in  Ohio, Hawaii, New York, and Las Vegas.  Some are in amusement parks.  A few are temporary locations in various California state fairs.  One is in a hotel in Manila.  There’s even a Pink’s location in the Miami Seaquarium!

Still, we wanted to go to the original one.  In the middle of the afternoon, the line was manageable.  From what I’ve heard, the line can get somewhat entertaining on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Many of the offerings are named after celebrities or movies.  There’s a dog with onion rings called the Lord of the Rings that looked delicious.

I tried the  New York Dog, which had sweet and saucy onions.  Amelie tried the Chicago Polish Dog, which included mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce.  I don’t have a picture of mine, but it was way messier than hers.

Before we left, we couldn’t resist the Pink’s photo-op!

What’s your favorite Los Angeles dining experience?

Madame Tussaud’s Hollywood

Are you still with me?  We only have two posts left from the Los Angeles trip, and these last two are pretty fun.  Whenever I wind up in a Tussaud’s wax museum, hilarity ensues.    With little commentary, I present many pictures of us goofing around with wax dummies:

Wendy and Joan Rivers.

Charlie Chaplin and me.

Wendy again and Marlene Dietrich.

Amelie and the amazing curtain dress of Vivien Leigh.

Amelie and Jimmy Stewart in Bedford Falls.

Me, trying not to die on Hitchcock’s “Psycho” set.

Amelie with Audrey Hepburn, having a breakfast of some sort.

Tom Hanks is like a box of chocolates.

Engage!  Let’s go straight into that giant shimmery glowing part of space!  What could go wrong?

My best MJ impression.  Now I just need the one glove…

Amelie with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy.  Katniss in the background gets no love.

The eye of the Terminator was a camera, and this was the output.

The life-sized Master Chief was far less entertaining than Amelie’s facial expression here.

Wendy and Amelie both hangin’ with Barry.

This is an honest to goodness Donald Trump handprint.

Tony Stark does not abide bunny ears.  But he’s wax, so there’s not much he can do about it.

Have you ever been to a Tussaud’s Wax Museum?

Long Beach, Rarasaur, The Queen Mary, Milk, and Metro

On the third day of our Los Angeles visit, we took the Los Angeles Metro all the way out to Long Beach.  The whole ride took a little bit less than an hour, and once we got off the train, we went to a nearby Starbucks to have a little coffee and chatter with Rarasaur, a long-time bloggyfriend who we had never met in person before.  (Those of you who follow either Ra or me on social media have already seen some form of this photo.)

After a while at the Starbucks, Ra led us to Harvey Milk Promenade Park, just a few blocks away in downtown Long Beach.

I wanted to show both sides of the park in one shot, but I didn’t actually manage to take the right photo before  we left, so here’s a second view that includes the wall art.

The park includes a concrete “soap box,” on which you can stand and espouse your views. Or, in Amelie’s case, to express your displeasure about something.

There is a picture of me on the soap box, but I was Shatnering again, and nobody needs to see that twice.

After we went our separate ways from Ra, Amelie and I grabbed a Lyft across the bridge to the RMS Queen Mary.

The Queen Mary is permanently docked in Long Beach since 1967, and has been converted into a museum and tourist attraction.  There are a number of restaurants on board, as well as a hotel.  Nestled next to the Queen Mary is Scorpion, a Soviet submarine which has been a separate tourist attraction there since 1998.

The Queen Mary is a big, big ship.  We were on the deck, trying to find our way to a place to get some food.

There was a Princess Diana exhibit going on while we were there, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so here’s a life ring instead.

Inside the Queen Mary, we stumbled across a 25 foot eleven inch Lego model of the ship containing roughly 250,000 Legos.  There’s a sign off to one side that says, “Can you find the cat?”

I could not.

Before we left the ship, I snapped a photo of the Long Beach skyline as seen from the deck of the RMS Queen Mary.  It was a pretty nice day.

When we got back to Los Angeles, we walked through yet another Metro station with pretty nifty art.  This particular one contained all kinds of movie reference art, in themed sections.

It was not always clear to me how the sections were organized, but I liked this tile with Luke on a Tauntaun.

This section was all about classic sci-fi and horror, I think, but I’m not sure.

I don’t recognize all of the movies referenced in these tiles, only some of them.

I thought maybe this area was movie vampires, but the Joker isn’t a vampire, so again-  I have no idea what the theme was.

This area was clearly about robots, droids, tin men, and other automaton.

It kinda looks like Robby is dancing with a Dalek.  And why is R2-D2 always so far away form C3PO?  It’s almost like they don’t like one -another.

This section is clearly about space travelers, and now I really want to see a Spock/Ming The Merciless version of The Odd Couple.

Have you ever been to Long Beach?  Do you recognize any of the movie references in these Metro tiles?

Hollywood and Vine

This is the fourth of seven Los Angeles posts, so we’re halfway done!  This is also the most touristy of all the posts, because everything in Hollywood is geared toward tourism.

Even the Metro station at Hollywood and Vine is kind of glitzy, with movie reels lining the ceiling, and old projectors and cameras on display.

Here’s a close-up of the movie reel ceiling.

During our walk around Hollywood, we ducked into a place for lunch and a cool drink.  I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the restaurant, but this amazing photograph was just hanging out casually near the bathroom.

Before this trip, I always thought that the Walk of Fame with all the stars was in one concentrated section of Hollywood.  Now that I’ve been there, I realize that it’s much bigger than that.   The Walk of Fame stars are spread out over fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and a few blocks of Vine.  There are more than 2,600 stars, and I took more than a hundred photos of individual stars.  I’m only going to post two, though, because a few dozen of these would get old real fast.

Mickey was the first animated character to get a star, in 1978.

This was just a few days after the passing of Adam West, and people were stopping by his star to leave playing cards and flowers.  ::sniff::  His star is a relatively recent addition, only being placed there in 2012.  I was pleased to see that it was right next to Bob Kane‘s star, though.

We also saw this on our walk.  The place is enormous.  And terrifying.

The only thing better than this guy’s leggings are Wendy’s reaction to him.

This is when we started to get close to the major touristy stuff.  You can see the peak of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre here.  More on that further down this post.

I quite liked the Metro in LA.  It went to most of the places we wanted to be.  (Not La Brea, though.  Alas.)

More tourism to scope out.

I was underneath the archway of the Dolby Theatre before I even knew it. The Dolby (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre) is where they host the Academy Awards, among other things.  In the daytime in the middle of June, though, it’s just another big sign.

When you get a little closer to the Chinese Theatre, you can see the construction is actually very beautiful.

This is where the concrete hand and footprints are so famously imprinted.  One of the first tiles we saw was this one, with the entire original Star Trek cast present.

I didn’t take pictures of too many of these, but I liked seeing Jimmy Stewart.

Mel Brooks, Christopher Nolan, Christopher Plummer, and Tim Burton, who I mistakenly read at first as “Tim Butt.”

The three leads of the Harry Potter film franchise, hanging out right near Clooney.   And there was a giant panel off to the side with the cast of Twilight.

The staff of the Chinese Theatre sells a map to where each celebrity has made their mark, but if you ask nicely they will help you find a single tile.  I was specifically looking for the Droids, and they kindly pointed me toward the front, where they made their mark along with a certain Sith-lord.

The last picture in this post was not from the same day as the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre.  This picture was taken on the same day as our visit to La Brea.  On our way back, we had the Lyft driver pull over so that I could get a picture of the gates to the Jim Henson Company Lot.

This was originally built in 1917 by Charlie Chaplin.  It was Charlie Chaplin Studios first, which is why the twelve-foot Kermit statue on the gate is dressed as The Tramp.  The property was sold by Charlie in 1953, and it went through some other identities, including the filming location for The Adventures of Superman in the late 1950s and the headquarters of A&M Records in the 1990s.  It was acquired by Jim Henson’s children in 2000 to be their new headquarters, and was even seen as the abandoned Muppet Studios in the 2011 Muppets movie.

You can’t really just visit the Jim Henson Company as a tourist, but I couldn’t resist taking a minute to stop and look at the front gate.

Who’s your favorite Muppet?