Monday, March 31, 2014


Frank Vincent Zappa
(December 21, 1940 - December 4, 1993)
An American composer, electric guitarist, record producer and film director. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa wrote rock, jazz, electronic, orchestral, and musique concrete works. He also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. Zappa produced almost all of the more than 60 albums he released with the band Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist.


Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 21, 1940, the first of four children to Rose Marie (Colimore) and Francis Vincent Zappa, a Sicilian immigrant. The family moved frequently due to Francis Vincent Zappa's expertise as a chemist and mathematician, contracted with various aspects of the defense industry.Frank Zappa was largely a self-taught musician, whose 30-year career embraced a wide variety of musical genres, encompassing rock, jazz, synth and symphonies. Avant-garde composers, as well as math and chemistry from his father's work, all fell into Zappa's mix of influences and comprised his unique approach to his art, coupled with a flouting of convention. Zappa also directed films, showing early interest in innovation but this soon turned to music. Avant-guard composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varèse attracted him alongside interest in doo-wop/R&B and modern jazz. The family eventually settled outside of Los Angeles in Zappa's late teens, and he soon took up drum and guitar. His proficiency grew so quickly that by his last year in high school, he was writing, composing and conducting avant-garde arrangements for the school orchestra.

Musical Career

Frank Zappa launched his career as professional musician shortly after high school but income was sporadic; recordings brought in more money than local gigs—his racially diverse band, The Blackouts, bumped up against 1950s racism. There was some scoring of independent films, one commissioned by his high-school English teacher. A job at a recording studio led to acquiring it as a business but an entrapment arrest by local authorities over a "pornographic" audiotape, shut it down. Going back to the band route, Zappa joined The Soul Giants, soon converting them from a bar cover band to performing his original material—they morphed into The Mothers on Mother's Day, 1965.
But the band was starving, until impresario Herb Cohen (who's career credits include Pete Seeger, Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce and Linda Ronstadt) took them on and began booking them at hotspots such as Whiskey A-Go-Go.
Their debut album, Freak Out!, launched them as The Mothers of Invention. It wasonly the second double rock album ever released—a groundbreaking mélange of musical genres both innovative and irreverent. That tone continued with their second album, Absolutely Free, and regular New York shows that were part concert, part free-for-all circus with stuffed animals and vegetables.
Their reputation established, they gained a European following as well with a memorable appearance with the London Philharmonic.
But in 1971, serious setbacks occurred: during a concert in Switzerland, the venue went up in flames—the event was memorialized in Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." Just one week later, Zappa suffered an on-stage fall that resulted in serious injuries including a crushed larynx and multiple fractures—he was left with a limp, a lowered voice, and back pain for the rest of his life.
Never fully fitting into the rock genre anyway, partly due to his refusal to embrace its drug culture,
he moved toward the formation of new bands with more of a jazz base. The decade of the '70s cultivated his reputation as one of the music industry’s most accomplished and demanding bandleaders. His prolific orchestral output was bisected by an unexpected Top 40 hit, "Valley Girl," performed with his daughter, Moon Unit, which funded more of his less commercially viable musical projects.

Other Projects

Outside of playing music, Zappa directed music videos, short films and features, and he became obsessed with the infinite possibilities synthetic music offered because it could accommodate almost most anything he dreamed up. Stints as a guest speaker on social activism emerged after his Senate testimony about censorship in music.
In 1990, Czechoslovakian President Václav Havel appointed Zappa as his cultural liaison officer, but Pesident George H.W. Bush soon quashed the appointment. Thereafter, Zappa briefly considered running for U.S. president.
While the general public's perception was often one of a kook, Zappa was deeply respected as a consummate musician and composer, an innovative filmmaker, and a prolific cross-genre artist.

Death and Legacy

Frank Zappa died from prostate cancer on December 4, 1993, at the age of 52, in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife of 26 years, Gail Sloatman, who had managed much of Zappa's business concerns in his later career, and their four children: Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. After Zappa's death, his family released the statement: "Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6 p.m. Saturday."
In 1995, Frank Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; in 1997, he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.


(Complete album)  



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Big Lou Walston’s Funhouse Magic Shop


Lou's Funhouse Magic Shop once stood on Eastern Avenue just over the city line.  
Lou Walston was a tall man who bore a striking resemblance to Bud Abbott of Abbott & Costello. His long amiable face was the perfect canvas for clown's makeup and a big bulbous nose! Some peers considered Lou a genius and an expert in sleight of hand who always seemed to have something you hadn't seen before. He was loved and respected by all in the community.

The Funhouse Magic Shop
   The Funhouse Magic Shop was Big Lou's contribution to the world of entertaining. In its heyday, the Funhouse was a gathering place for entertainers. Clowns, magicians, balloon artists, face painters, jugglers all would gather throughout the week dropping in to talk to Lou or just pass the time. Maryland Wizards Club held it's monthly meetings at Lou's location both on Belnord Road and Eastern Ave. for over 25 years.
The walls of the back of the shop are covered with framed photographs of many of the magicians and clowns Mr. Lou called customers and colleagues at one time, including Earl Canapp, the Senile Sorcerer, and Freddie Smelz, who taught Mr. Lou the craft of magic. 

"My mother, Bertha, played piano for Freddie when he went around doing his magic show," Mr. Lou said. "That's how I learned."
"Fake canine vomit, cans of peanut brittle that house spring-loaded cloth snakes, decks of trick playing cards, plastic vampire teeth, a calculator that zaps anyone who uses it with a mild electric shock - did I mention the self-inflating whoopee cushions - you can find all your joke, prank, gag, magic and clown needs at Mr. Lou's," -Dan Rodricks

 In 1968, Mr. Walston established Funhouse Magic Shop on Belnord Avenue, and later moved the business to Belair Road. He moved the shop to Eastern Avenue in 1993, where the business remained until he sold it and retired in 2003. As with many businesses built by 'larger than life' people, after Lou retired, the spark just wasn't there although subsequent owners did a fantastic job of trying to keep the dream alive.

Mr. Big Lou (Raymond "Lou" a.k.a. "Lou Bo" Walston)  who was born in Baltimore and raised on North Potomac Street, was a graduate of Patterson Park High School. He served with the 80th Infantry in Europe during World War II, where he attained the rank of sergeant and was decorated with a Purple Heart.
After being discharged from the Army in 1946, he returned to Baltimore and went to work as a produce manager for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. from which he retired in 1976. A lifelong interest in circuses, carnivals, clowns and magic came to define Mr. Walston's life as a clown and magician. When performing, he was known as "Loubo the Clown."  Mr. Lou even always wore a pair of leather clown shoes, tennis-racket-size things with laces made by the late, great clown-shoe cobbler Ray Griffin in New York City.

"Every time Ringling Brothers came to town, he'd run away with the circus, and then his parents would have to go and bring him home," said his daughter-in-law, Alice Walston.

Lou began teaching himself magic when he was 9 years old - Houdini was a role model - and he got to know Harry Blackstone, the great magician and illusionist.

Mr. Walston was married for 50 years to Catherine “Debelius” Walston, who died in 1996.

Raymond Louis Walston, who lost his heart to the Big Top as a child growing up in East Baltimore and spent the rest of his life as a magician and clown bringing smiles and laughs to children of all ages, died of lung cancer June 4 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 81 and had lived in Essex and earlier in Fort Howard.


He was a founder of Clowns of America Inc. in the late 1960s.
Clowns of America got it's start in the early 1960's The organization which later grew to become COAI had its beginnings around Lou's kitchen table almost 50 years ago. 
Lou was member COAI #7.
The chapter later became Freestate # 30 clown alley, which met at Lou's until he closed and was reformed several years later. 
Freestate #30 still continues with meetings held around the Baltimore area.

Lou also hosted an annual convention known as the... Big Three Convention

 (named after the three individuals producing it)  
John Tabling (Lou's early business partner) Mike Schirmer (Master magician)
and Lou Walston 
It was a three day convention in the Baltimore area, for all entertainers with workshops, vendors, nightclub acts every night, a wild hospitality suite that closed in the wee hours of the morning... and the infamous 'Saturday Night Banquet' which featured acts from many of the areas outstanding entertainers.

The 20th was also Lou’s final annual performance as producer of the Funhouse Big 3 Convention  
Imagine it... 300 magicians, clowns, ventriloquists, jugglers and grand illusionists gatherined for a now-you-see-him, now-you-don't farewell to the man called Big Lou.

It featured Beverly Wood, the balloon sculptor; Martini the Psychic; and Steve Meyers the Vent throwing his voice through Uncle Nick, the wise-guy dummy.

Mr. Walston's act as 'Lou-Bo the Clown'  ended the convention this weekend, giving out final signature helpings of bourbon-marinated cherries to his old friends. His heavy-equipment illusion- making days had ended some years back after a heart attack, but had obviously maintained dexterity in the restless hand magic.


"Misdirection is very important; make the trick look simple,"- Walston

“And you never tell the secrets involved. You keep the secrets, protect the art.” – Walston

"You can't go wrong if you make a person laugh."
- Walston

"I was out in Vegas with a lady friend of mine a while back and some young guy all done up in a tuxedo started in with magic, showing off as if he were a real finger-flinger. I had to show him a thing or two." - Walston

"I got hooked on magic when I was seven and saw a guy named Freddie Smeltz vanish some lady's silk handkerchief at my Aunt Wanda's. Then he breaks the light bulb burning overhead and, hey, there's the handkerchief." - Walston

"The tall blonde in the act, very proper and beautiful, no tights, only a gown for her."  - Walston on his wife Catherine.

"They think you just put on some lipstick. But you have to be a mimic, an actor, a makeup artist and costume designer, too. Clowning is an art, like playing a violin. It takes years of practice," Mr. Walston said in a 1973 Sun Magazine profile.

“I watched my brother die from the Alzheimer's. No way I go like my brother, staring at a TV and losing the dexterity, You keep your dexterity, you don't get old,"  -Walston

"He was the best teacher of clown makeup, and a clown taught makeup by Lou Walston was one of perfection. Show business is full of characters, and he was one of them," said Denny Haney, owner of Denny & Lee Magic Studio in Essex.

"Without Big Lou, this would never be nothing," -Billy Camp (retired clown)

"He knew all the old-timers and could talk it up and tell stories of the people he had met and known through the years. He also had plenty of wisecracks and colorful expressions we call `Louisms,"  - Denny Haney 


Baltimore’s own librarian-lawyer-journalist-mason-magic historian extraordinaire!!!
  Considered one of the 20th Century’s preeminent magic historians (before that kind of thing was popular) offering students of magic esoteric observations and psychological insights into magic history. His ability to write and record benefits the magic profession to this day!
  Henry Ridgely Evans was born November 7th 1861 in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Georgetown. When living in downtown Washington DC he was first bitten by the “magic bug” at seventeen, while attending Robert Heller’s Wonders Show at the Old National Theatre.

Then, in March at Ford's Theatre in DC , he sat in the audience for Harry Kellars first appearance in the Nation's Capital.

 Henry had intending on becoming a lawyer, then changed professions to journalism. In1892 he married Florence Stevens and moved into a small but respectable row home at 1430 V St. NW. The turn of the century found the couple moving to Baltimore and then to Virginia. It was during this period that he became a prolific writer of both books on magic and magazine articles; his most famous work probably 'The Old and the New Magic' published in 1906. (see book list below)
An article by Evans from the Ladies Home Journal
  That same year Evans who wrote an article for STANYON’S MAGIC predicting KELLARS’s successor would be THURSTON! This hit the magic community by storm for Paul Valadon was touring with Kellar and considered the shoe-in; while Thurston wasn’t a contender! Can you believe it? We all know what happened there...
In 1908 at Ford's Theater in Baltimore
Kellar retired, turning his cape over to Thurston !!!

How do you like those apples?
  Houdini had a strange and inexplicable connection to Evans having first slammed Evans in ‘The Conjurers Monthly’ magazine for his book 'The Old and the New Magic' where Evans printed an expose on how the handcuff escape was accomplished. Houdini was openly in the pisser about it, which makes it very odd that in early 1917 he gave to Evans what had been compiled for his upcoming book to be called ‘History Makers in the World of Magic’!!!  Houdini knew that Evans was writing a similar book and this certainly denoted the respect Houdini had for Evans.

Evans was also a member of the Pyramid Magic Club in Baltimore.

1930, he and Florence were again living in DC at a stately apartment building on Eye St. NW. Evans worked for a number of Baltimore Newspapers during thee years and also wrote books such as 'Old Georgetown On The Potomac' in 1933. The couple never had children.

A view of the Aqueduct Bridge on the Potomac
which Henry crossed every day near his home.

Like Houdini, Evans was interested in the paranormal, and embarked on a long crusade to expose fraud in the pursuits by alleged spirit mediums and a critic of theosophy. He wrote and spoke so much about this subject it was quoted that “Henry touched elbows and hobnobbed with spooks almost since infancy.”
   Evans staged many interesting spirit photographs.

 The explosion in popularity of magic also gave rise to spiritualists, mediums, and others that claimed to possess true magical abilities, such as contacting the dead and predicting the future. Many magicians took issue with these practices and set out to expose those that they felt were charlatans preying upon audiences. They felt that it should be widely understood that the illusions performed were exactly that— illusions created by sleight-of-hand and tricks of perception, not special powers. Harry Houdini dedicated as much of his career to this as to performing magic. Baltimore-born Henry Ridgely Evans, a former journalist and amateur magician, gained acclaim writing books spilling the secrets of spiritualists. In his books, Hours with Ghosts, Or, Nineteenth Century Witchcraft and The Spirit World Unmasked, Evans revealed how many standard practices of spiritualists were performed, such as table tilting, spirit photography, and telepathy. He walked his readers through the processes step-by-step and unmasked some of the most famous offenders.

Henry Ridgely Evans died at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore on March 29th, 1949 and is buried in Washington DC at the Oakhill Cemetery.

Of course these days, you can buy Evans complete works...

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Paul H. Trattner
A retired Baltimore public schools art educator and webmaster who was also a noted prestidigitator and popular Santa Claus.
"Paul was a kind, gentle person who was a great asset to the magic fraternity," said George Goebel, a veteran Baltimore illusionist who owns A.T. Jones & Sons, the Howard Street costumer.
"He was a wonderful performer and had charisma. He was also a magnificent Santa Claus. If there was ever a symbol of Santa Claus in anyone's mind, it was Paul," said Mr. Goebel.

The son of a draftsman and a homemaker, Paul Henry Trattner was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown. After graduating from Patterson High School in 1961, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1965 from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a master's degree in art education the next year, also from MICA. Mr. Trattner's teaching career began in 1965 when he taught art at Armistead Gardens and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools. He later became a graphic arts designer and webmaster at city schools headquarters, from which he retired in 2002.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Trattner had a parallel career as a magician, psychic reader, palmist, Egyptologist and astrologer who performed both locally and internationally.  
"His interest in magic began when he was 12, when an uncle showed him some magic tricks. Inspired, he began teaching himself the arts of illusion using books checked out from the Enoch Pratt Free Library," said his wife of 46 years, the former Bernadette Lizurick, who met her future husband when both were high school students.
"It was like a hobby for him at first," said Mrs. Trattner, who was also an art teacher and later became her husband's assistant. "Sometimes he used it to interest and motivate his students."

By the early 1980s, Mr. Trattner was performing magic professionally and as a "psychic entertainer," said his wife. He performed at the Maryland Historical Society, Center Club, Maryland Jockey Club, Laurel Park racetrack as well as at conventions, senior citizen centers, weddings and private parties.The couple also performed on cruise ships, including the former liner SS France, and at the Magic Circle in London.
"Paul liked performing what is called historic magic from the 19th century, and everything he did, he did exceptionally well," said Mr. Goebel. "He was an extraordinary gentle person who was very soft-spoken and very kind."
"He explained the history of magic through magic," said Mrs. Trattner, who said the license plate for their car was "U R MAGIC."
His interest in mysticism, magic and esoterica led him to collect an extensive library of books and paraphernalia devoted to this subject.
"He traveled to Egypt three times to research traditions of belief systems and was proud to have been able to climb to the top of the Great Pyramid," his wife said.
"Paul called himself a 'purveyor of wonderment,' and he really was," she said. "He loved to delight audiences, especially children. His lesson to them was to believe in themselves. He used to say to them, 'You are the magic,' and he made them aware that we all have talent and creativity."
Mr. Trattner maintained a deep interest in the 19th century, including its Christmas traditions. He also became an expert on the international myths and legends of Christmas that are still celebrated today.
In later years, with his full white beard, rotund build and naturally effervescent personality, he became the "personification of a 19th-century Santa Claus while performing historic conjuring tricks using authentic props from the era," his wife said.

For the last six years, Mr. Trattner was the "official Santa Claus" at Greetings and Readings at Hunt Valley Towne Centre, where he listened to children's Christmas wishes.
He also took on the role of St. Nicholas for the last five years in Fells Point's annual holiday celebration, at which he arrived by tugboat.
"He was also a walk-around Santa at the annual lighting of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place and was also the 'Official Santa'" at the Charlestown Retirement Community, where he greeted residents in the dining room, said Mrs. Trattner.
"Paul had a special Santa Claus suit custom-made and real authentic boots as well," said Mr. Goebel. "It was the same as his magic. Everything had to be authentic."
Mr. Trattner was an accomplished musician who enjoyed playing jazz on the alto saxophone and bass clarinet.
Mr. Trattner was a member of the Rosicrucian Order of North America, International Psychic Entertainers Association and the Brotherhood of Magicians.
He had been an active member of the Coldspring Newtown community, where he served on the neighborhood association's board and had been president.
"He was instrumental in designing and installing a labyrinth in Coldspring Newtown based on an ancient design," his wife said.
Mr. Trattner had also been a board member of the Waldorf School.

"He was originally from Highlandtown. Grew up on Noble St., between Highland Ave. & Conklin St. He got me my 1st Restaurant weekly gig, in the mid 1980's. A restaurant called "Gringo's" which was on Haven St. & Pratt St. The "Mentalist" of the Yogi Magic Club." - Kevin Kirtley