Cable-carrier Time-Warner has announced it will cease supplying Public Access channels to the public on January 1st, in violation of its predecessors' contract with the city. “That's why we pay lawyers” said Time-Warner president Slime McButt. "To hell with the public. We just raise prices. Fewer services means more money for us.”

The Poker Party, and the history of rock-talk tv prior to Elvis Costello’s show.

(Full guest list at the end. For highlights of the show go to sofeinvideo on youtube.)

Art Fein’s Poker Party gestated from real poker games in my apartment in Hollywood. The players were rock-writers and -fanciers, few of whom could play poker but all of whom provided laughs. On January 21, 1984, I took the concept of guys playing poker and talking to Public Access and launched our first show with Todd Everett and Richard Meltzer. Chuck E. Weiss was the musical guest. It worked well enough to do 1,080 more.

dr. demento

Poker Party Memories: Eddie “The Old Philosopher” Lawrence, Dr. Demento, Todd Everett, Art Fein /Oct 10, 1991

The original name, Li’l Art’s Poker Party, was a record-collector reference: Li’l Wally’s Polka Party records were in every thrift-store bin. In 1995, nobody getting the Li’l Wally reference, I switched to Art Fein’s Poker Party, a name equally senseless because we had dropped the poker motif because they stopped letting us smoke cigars. Over 25 years (one month short: last show December 9, 2008) we drew new and not-so bands and music figures to our den, which shifted among studios in Santa Monica, Atwater, Hollywood, Van Nuys and Downey (and a few times in San Francisco and Austin).

The regular crew has included Paul Body, Phast Phreddie, Hudson Marquez, Gene Sculatti, Bob Merlis, Davin Seay, Mark Leviton, Elvis Mitchell, Sid Griffin, Neal McCabe, Domenic Priore, Jim Dawson, Dr. Demento, Skip Heller, Allen Larman, Art Laboe, Dave Stuckey, Johnny Legend, Rip Masters, Steve Roeser, Harvey Sid Fisher, Swamp Dogg and Dick Blackburn. Music/art journalist Kristine McKenna was also a charter member, but grew weary of what she considered being picked on. There was more than a grain of truth to this, but that’s what she got for being published in the paper so often. Besides, we picked on each other relentlessly; she was, literally and figuratively, thin-skinned. Also, Al Kooper, Dave Alvin, Ian Whitcomb and Billy Swan were frequent guests.

steve allen

Poker Party Memories: Steve Allen, Art Fein, Mark Leviton Aug 13, 1992

On the earliest shows we talked about current music! But the fast-paced conversation did tend to be past-faced. We had people at the beginning of their career = Dwight Yoakam = and people at the very end = Bull Moose Jackson.

From the outset it got attention simply by being a talk show about music. The L.A. Weekly welcomed it. An item in Rolling Stone featured a pic with Charlie Sexton, James Intveld, Rosie Flores and me. Elvis Mitchell wrote us up in Interview magazine

In 1990 I went to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame ceremonies in NY with a music figure. While there I called VH1, then still the ’adult’ version of MTV, and asked if I could show them my show highlights. A person said he’d see me at 6:00. This was incredible, an in-person audience - and then having him view the demo in my presence! “It’s terrific” he said. “Can you interview Bob Dylan? Rod Stewart?” Sure, I said. “I’ll call you in two weeks. This is the kind of thing we’re looking for.”

I didn't let this go to my head. Back in L.A., after 3 weeks, I called VH1. “Oh, he left the company last week.” I was hopeful; this was the first faint step to recognition and success. I was very satisfied with what we were doing, and figured it would naturally step up into a larger arena either with PBS or as a Public Radio show taking calls, like the car guys. Nothing like that happened. Likewise I thought, with our mix of music and current event talk, it would fit on a local tv station, maybe on Sunday mornings. But local programming is nonexistent. We were heading into the 21st century with a high-speed fireside chat.


Poker Party Memories: Spirit, Art Fein /Feb 16, 1993

The idea caught on elsewhere. In 1985, some guys in Chicago debuted a sports talk show revolving around playing poker. Then in the early 1990s VH1 debuted Four On The Floor, a music talk show featuring a roundtable of rock critics. They could have benefited from my ‘secret’ knowledge that rock crits are crashing bores, but the producers acknowledged me only by telling applicants “It’s just like Art Fein’s show.” The show died under its own weight. In 1996 a VH1 wanted a music talk show that included newspaper stuff. I sent them a demo tape but heard back nothing. Soon their veejays began asking “What was your first record?” and “What was your first concert” in their interviews, taken from my demo. This horrified me. A blonde asked Michael Richards what his first record was and he said “Wild One by Bobby Darin.” I designed this question as a jumping-off point to expand and talk, but the blonde just bobbed her head like it was empty. I would have said “You mean Bobby Rydell, Kramer!”

The greatest guest, for me, was Stan Freberg, my lifelong idol. Oh yes, and the guys from Gold Star recording studio. Oh, I forgot to mention Swamp Dogg singing the soulful “We Need A Revolution.” And did I mention nineteen shows with Doug Fieger? Our Joe Strummer interview made it, in part, into a recent documentary. Four shows with Larry Geller told me plenty about Elvis. We had drummers Preston Epps and Hal Blaine. Marshall Crenshaw was my co-host interviewing Earl Palmer. Andrew Oldham. Billy Boy Arnold. Brian Wilson. Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The only people I wanted but never got were John Fogerty and Little Richard.

And the bands. I was awestruck by Alison Krauss and Union Station but did not get on my knees and say, Wayne-like, “I’m not worthy,” though I felt it. The folk duo of Gibson & Camp was an honor above most. Arthur Lee’s appearance, with a band, was pretty good but tense. Local Kentucky transplant Dwight Yoakam was on at Dave Alvin’s insistence in 1985 and, as Dwight tells it, it was the tipping point for his being signed to Warner Bros Records after the president saw him on the show. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, whom ‘we guys’ flew into L.A. for a New Years party, got movie roles afer being seen on the show in 1987 and 1988. Mel Brooks had it right when he said “It’s good to be king.”

The show has run also in Woodstock, Chicago, Nashville, Austin, and other places. I still send shows to Seattle, Monterey, and New York City.

steve douglas

Poker Party Memories: Todd Everett, “Teenage” Steve Douglas, Art Fein /Sep 2, 1992

People who know only our youtube clips miss out on the talk. Out of the thousand-plus shows, at least 600 are talk-only. It was record-bent gab about news and history and music with prompts taken from newspapers and notes. The occasional silences or talkovers (I began shushing talkers - on tv when more than one person speaks it’s unintelligible) or people walking in front of the camera added to its casualness and realness.

Another constant facet was positivity. Though I made cutting remarks to my friends they were always on the right side of rude (mmmm...) because I respected them and expected the same back; it was sparring. My attitude on the show was the same as in the column, anti-negativity. We would ridicule writers who positioned themselves above musicians, an inversion which appears too much in newspapers. Since the musicians can’t respond we did it for them. Reverence for music was our way.

We sought few actors. My campaign was to honor and promote music in a town known for movies. But John Davis Chandler was one I wanted. He was a raving street-gang leader in The Young Savages and also did serious roles, though I liked him best playing madmen, as in the Ann Margret/ Alain Delon movie ‘Once A Thief’ and the Mickey Spillane episode of Columbo. I met him on the street and asked him to lunch with the guys. He came and told us some great stories. Then the day of the show I got a call from The Legendary Stardust Cowboy saying he was in town so I scheduled him for the show immediately. I called Chandler and said I had to postpone, but after that he declined to ever come on again. Every 5 years I still run into him and he re-declines. Last time, outside Trader Joe’s in Toluca Lake, he said he was no longer in acting. I took that to mean he wasn’t getting studio calls and urged him to do the show - What actor doesn’t want to talk about himself?

Poker Party Non-Memories: “Refusenik” John Davis Chandler, Dick Blackburn, Art Fein, Canter's Deli, L.A./1988

Another actor I wanted was John Dahl, of “Rope” and “Gun Crazy,” but I was slow in contacting him; he died. I got Darwin Joston, the prisoner in ‘Assault On Precinct 13.’ And the actor I wanted most, Timothy Carey, guested eleven times. They died too.

It is important to acknowledge that the show could not have endured without the financial help of Dan and Fred Bourgouise of Bug Music and Richard Foos of Rhino Records. Their stipends carried me through the tough times.

I’m glad some of the highlights are going into cyberspace on youtube, and hope that someday, when I’m gone, the whole shebang is archived and studied - after all, we reflected not only music but also the political and social stuff that was going on.

The city of Los Angeles is supposed to take over the reins of Public Access, but that’s the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. I’m sent out to pasture. Hope it’s as good as they say.

Art Fein, December 2008

willie dixon

Poker Party Memories: Willie Dixon, Art Fein/ July 20, 1990

HISTORY. An alphabetical list of some of the guests on Art Fein’s Poker Party, 1984 - 2008

A-Bones, Lee Allen, Steve Allen, Allan Arkush, Dave Alvin, Phil Alvin, Jimmy Angel, Billy Boy Arnold, Brooks Arthur, Buddy Bailey (Clovers), Hank Ballard, Arthur Barrow, Paul Bartel, Harold Battiste, Lew Bedell (Era, Dore), Ed Begley Jr., Gil Bernal, Richard Berry, Big 6, Blowfly, Sam Bobrick, Donnie Brooks, Hal Blaine, Blasters, Pat Boone, Gypsy Boots, Delaney Bramlett, Billy Bremner, Arthur Brown, Eddie Brown (Joe & Eddie),Ruth Brown, Peter Buck, Eric Burdon, Randy California, Hamilton Camp, Ray Campi, Cannibal/ Headhunters, Freddy Cannon, Jerry Capehart, Tim Carey, Richard Carpenter, Peter Case, Del Casher, Buzz Cason, Willie Chambers, Len Chandler, Guy Chookoorian, Dave Clark, Buzz Clifford, Mike Clifford, Jerry Cole,The Collins Kids, Ray Condo, Chas Conner, Tim Considine, King Cotton, Cowboy Nation, Marshall Crenshaw, Chris D, Burton Cummings, Cherie Currie, Fred Darian, Chris Darrow, Spencer Davis, Ronnie Dawson, Willy De Ville, Pamela Des Barres, Dr. Demento,Jackie DeShannon, Levi Dexter, Billy Diamond, Jim Dickinson, Dion, disappear fear, Willie Dixon, “Teenage” Steve Douglas, Henry Diltz, Cleve Duncan, Kenny Edwards, Marshall Efron, Willie Egans, Robert Englund, Preston Epps, Tav Falco, Doug Fieger, Doris Fisher, Harvey Sid Fisher, Flash Cadillac, Flo & Eddie, Rosie Flores, Forbidden Pigs, Kim Fowley, Pete Frame, Stan Freberg, Freebo, Lowell Fulson, Jay Geils/Magic Dick, Geza X, Larry Geller, Gibson & Camp, Tony Gilkyson, Glen Glenn, Gerry Goffin, Barry Goldberg, Bobcat Goldthwait,John Gorka, Ronny Graham, Sid Griffin, Carlos Guitarlos, John Gummoe, Guitar Shorty, Peter Guralnik, Dirk Hamilton,Paul Hampton, Jimmie Haskell, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Ted Hawkins, Rev. Horton Heat, Heaters, Skip Heller, Bobby Hendricks, Carolyn Hester, Chuck Higgins, Dan Hicks, Chris Hillman Peter Holsapple, Jac Holzman, Smokey Hormel, Joe Houston, Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg, Garth Hudson, Danny Hutton, I See Hawks In L.A., Chris Isaak, Bull Moose Jackson, Wanda Jackson, Catherine James, Kris Jensen, Darwin Joston (”Assault On Precinct 13”), Paul Johnson (Bel Airs), Bruce Johnston, Don Julian, Steve Kalinich, Peter Kaukonen, Mathew King Kaufman, Carol Kaye, Scott Kempner, Nora Keyes, Terry Kirkman, Sneeky Pete Kleinow, Freddy Koella, Cub Koda, Al Kooper, Paul Krassner, Alison Krauss, Robby Krieger, Art Laboe, Eddie “The Old Philosopher” Lawrence, Arthur Lee, Johnny Legend, Lance LeGault, Bob Lind, Marcy Levy, Long Ryders, Joe Lutcher, Bob Lefsetz, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Little Willie G, Los Straitjackets, Nick Lowe, Ronnie Mack, Jimmie Maddin, Jimmy Maslon, Rip Masters, Sammy Masters,Spanky McFarlane, Gerry McGee, Rod McKuen, Ian McLagan, Big Jay McNeely, Jack McVea, Huey Meaux, Barry Melton, Richard Meltzer, John Merrill, Dr. Millar/Nick Kelly, Katy Moffatt, Chris Montez, Mojo Monkeys, Miss Mercy, Mr. Morrison, Geoff Muldaur, Eddie Munoz, Mojo Nixon, Gene Norman, Andrew Loog Oldham, Carla Olson, Jimmy O’Neill, Shuggie Otis, Andy Paley, Earl Palmer, Panther Burns, Van Dyke Parks, Hank Penny, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Slim Jim Phantom, Johnny Powers, Don Randi, Brian Ray, Johnnie Ray, Russ Regan, Willie Restum, Lee Rocker, Roy Rogers (SF singer), Stan Ross/Dave Gold/Larry Levine (Goldstar Rec Studios), Junior Ryder, Kate St. John, Doug Sahm, Evie Sands, Tommy Sands, Joe Saraceno, Charles Schneider, Little Jimmy Scott, Brian Setzer, Charlie Sexton, Screamin’ Scott Simon, Skeletons, P.F. Sloan, Maj. Bill Smith, David Somerville (Diamonds), Southern Culture on The Skids, Chris Spedding, Sprague Bros., Terry Stafford, Mike Stinson, Cliffie Stone, Simon Stokes, Syd Straw, Joe Strummer, Swamp Dogg, Billy Swan, Shel Talmy, Howard Tate, Chip Taylor, Teddy & The Talltops, Nino Tempo, Rufus Thomas, 3 Balls of Fire, Nick Tosches, Treat Her Right, James Trussart, Ike Turner, Dwight Twilley, 2 Hoots & A Holler, Gary Usher, Sal Valentino, Randy Van Horn, Kenny Vance, Ben Vaughn, Nik Venet, Billy Vera, John Walker, Gordon Waller, Nigel Waymouth, Mary Woronov,Don Walser, Wavy Gravy, George Wendt, Ben Weisman, Chuck E. Weiss, Ian Whitcomb, Fred Willard, Paul Williams (Crawdaddy), Brian Wilson, Dwight Yoakam, Young Jessie, Candy Zappa, Billy Zoom

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