The Rise and Fall of Rocshire Records and the loss of Stacy Davis

I received a contact a few days ago on an old blog I once operated before I joined up with the Times-Union.  And it brought back memories.  Both good memories and painful ones.

Once again, we have to climb into the WABAC machine.  It’s the spring of 1983, and the college radio station I worked at, WHCL at Hamilton College, had at the time a record library that was smaller than the collection I had in my dorm room.  That happened because WHCL’s graduating seniors always seemed fit to take a few “graduation presents” out of the record library, and the amount of records being sent to our little measly 2.5 watt station was barely a trickle. In fact, you couldn’t pick up WHCL on the other side of campus, that’s how puny the broadcast signal was.

But in 1983, myself and a class of “Young Turks” did whatever we could to get that station fully up to speed, and reverse the years of neglect the station endured.  We petitioned the college to allow us to increase the broadcast signal, thus increasing the station’s visibility on campus.  But we couldn’t play the same old records over and over again, so it was my job to get record companies to start sending us product once again.

With no contact information other than the addresses on the backs of the record albums, I was able in one day to snag promotional mailing contracts with RCA, Warner Bros., Columbia, Elektra/Asylum, Motown, and a tiny Anaheim-based label called Rocshire. Of the six labels, the most enthusiastic response came from Rocshire Records, who had just sprung into business barely a year earlier and wanted to crack into the college “progressive new music” markets.

Rocshire was breaking news all over the music industry.  They had signed several artists and groups, and were spending money like crazy to promote these artists.  Full-page ads were taken out in Billboard magazine to promote artists like Tony Carey and Suzy Andrews, to promote Cee Farrow and Caro and a whole phalanx of performers.  Rocshire’s albums were pressed on high-quality Teldec audiophile vinyl; the cassettes were recorded on chromium tape.  Rocshire Records was created by Rocky Davis and his wife Shirley, hence the “Roc” and “Shire” in the label’s name.

So while I had a decent verbal relationship with the various record companies regarding getting product for our station (Is your station playing our records? Great, here’s more product and maybe some tickets when they come to your region for concerts), for some odd reason I was able to strike up a fast friendship with the promotions person at Rocshire, Stacy Davis (no relation to Rocky or Shirley).

Stacy told me her father, Gary Davis (also not a relation to Rocky or Shirley), was once president of three different record labels, and was in on the ground floor with the audiophile record company Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab.  Before long, our conversations slowly drifted from record promotion to more esoteric matters that college-age people might discuss. She was cute, she was funny, and maybe I was fooling myself into thinking that this was actually more than it was – but we kept in touch during the summer, and had hoped to meet up in the fall when Rocshire would have a booth at the College Media Journal music promotion weekend in New York City in late October.  In fact, at that time WHCL was playing like crazy this one group on the Rocshire label, a ska-punk band called Din, and several of Rocshire’s other artists, like Tony Carey and Cee Farrow, were also getting plenty of spins.

Meanwhile, Rocshire was signing artists left and right – some for one-off novelty singles, some for full-fledged albums. Music videos were commissioned, including the one on YouTube for Tony Carey’s hit song “West Coast Summer Nights.” By the way, Stacy Davis is in the video as one of the volleyball players.

I arrived in New York for the CMJ music convention, but there was no word of Stacy or her record label arriving.  Originally I thought that she was either in another part of the convention hotel or, as my inferiority complex started to kick in, that maybe I was being played for a fool.  At the time, one of the CMJ promotions involved a private show at one of New York City’s clubs.  I arrived at the club, chatted up with some of the record company promotions people, and asked if any of them had seen Stacy Davis.

The general response was no.  Nobody had seen Stacy or any representative from Rocshire arrive.  And it wasn’t hard to find record company executives and promotions people in a nightclub – most of them were wearing satin jackets with the record company logo silkscreened or embroidered across the jacket back.

Eventually I ran into the record company promotions / president of QL Records, who was at the CMJ to promote his signing of the Milwaukee punk-rock band Einstein’s Riceboys.  I asked him if he had seen or heard anything regarding Stacy Davis.

“Chuck… I hate to tell you this… Stacy was killed on her way to the convention.”

That didn’t register with me.  “If you’re kidding around,” I said to him, “I’m not laughing.”

Then he told me the whole story, or at least what he had heard.  Years later, I was able to piece everything together from news reports from the Los Angeles Times archives.

Stacy was driving her 1976 Honda Civic CVCC on Laguna Canyon Road, and was about one mile north of the intersection with El Toro Road when, on October 18, 1983, a car driven by 16-year-old Samantha Shannon was coming from the other direction.  Samantha Shannon’s car, a 1974 Audi, was speeding, and Shannon’s driver’s license was barely two months old.  Whether through driver inexperience, or neglect, or a hundred other factors, Shannon’s car crossed over the center line of Laurel Canyon Road, and collided head-on with Stacy’s Honda.

Stacy Davis was just 18 years old.  She died instantly.  She never had a chance.  A passenger in Shannon’s car, 16-year-old Leesa Snyder, died a day later.  Shannon survived the crash, but was in the hospital for months after the accident.

Needless to say, I was devastated. I could not think clearly throughout the entire radio convention, and for months afterward I couldn’t come to grips with what had happened to her – why did a wonderful young girl have to die like that? I came back from the CMJ convention, and those who knew me at the radio station asked if I met up with Stacy at the convention.  I quickly changed the subject.  I kept talking about anything – ANYTHING – other than Stacy.

And it wasn’t until a month later, when Rocshire Records printed a two-page full-color “In Memory” advertisement in Billboard, that people knew what had happened and how I felt.

As time went on, I was able to balance out my emotions, and was able to remember Stacy for all the fun conversations we had. I eventually acquired some Rocshire 45’s for my own personal record collection, but acquiring that vintage vinyl wasn’t easy. Barely a year after Stacy died, Rocshire Records was involved in a major controversy of its own.

See, Shirley Davis’ primary job was in the insurance department at Hughes Aircraft.  While there, she wrote thousands of checks from Hughes Aircraft’s accounts to Dr. C. L. Davis, Jr.  The checks were going to Clyde L. “Rocky” Davis.

The feds swooped in to Rocshire’s offices, confiscating everything that wasn’t nailed down.  The artists on that label lost everything – their master tapes, their recording equipment, the momentum of their careers – when Rocshire’s doors were locked forever.  Rocky and Shirley went to jail.  They stayed there, taking their secrets with them.  Both have since passed on.

Even years after Stacy’s passing and Rocshire’s collapse, people were still scared to talk about what happened to the record company.  At one time, someone had put some vintage Rocshire materials on eBay – mostly some demo tapes and a couple of 45’s.  I found out that the person worked at Rocshire, and hoped that he could shed some light on what happened with the company, and maybe if he remembered Stacy or anything else from that time.

Unfortunately, he saw that my eBay bidding handle was “chuckthewriter,” and immediately froze up.  He was afraid that I might write something that would get traced back to him, and even with Rocky and Shirley behind bars, he couldn’t take a chance.  I never heard from him again.

Some of the artists were able to escape the madness at Rocshire and have success on their own. Tony Carey moved to MCA records and had a top 40 hit with “A Fine, Fine Day.” The metal group Alcatrazz didn’t survive the Rocshire implosion, but its guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen, moved on to a successful solo career.  Butch Patrick, one of the actors involved in the 1960’s TV series The Munsters, had a one-off novelty single on Rocshire with “Whatever Happened To Eddie?”, while the 1960’s pop duo Chad & Jeremy recorded a reunion album with Rocshire that disappeared in the record company’s FBI seizure.

In fact, at one time Rocshire almost had one of the greatest metal bands of all time on their roster. Until the group wised up. As the story goes, the unsigned band met up with Kenny Kane, whose High Velocity label was a subsidiary of Rocshire. Kane wanted the band to record an LP, so the group recorded several songs at an 8-track studio, and Rocshire would fund the recording session. But after hearing the tapes, Kane discovered this band was a metal band – not a punk band, as he had hoped – and the band was not signed. Undaunted, the band – Metallica – signed with another label, and the recording sessions were later released as their “No Life Till Leather” EP.

It’s been 26 years. I can buy some of Tony Carey’s songs on iTunes.  I’ve converted the song “Reptiles” by the band Din into an mp3 and added it to my iPod.  But even after all that… 26 years later … it still takes the cold chill of an autumn wind to instantly remind me that she’s gone.

Far too soon.

Photo Essay: Manchester Millrats free agent camp

Last Saturday I got up at about 3am, loaded my laptop and my Nikon D700 into my Pontiac 6000, and drove all night (and early morning) to southern New Hampshire.  As much as I would have loved to take a moment and photograph the fall foliage, I was thwarted by pouring rain throughout the road trip.

But my goal wasn’t foliage anyway.  I had been asked by Ian McCarthy, the general manager of the Premier Basketball League’s Manchester Millrats, to photograph his free agent camp.

Ian’s a good guy and he works hard to keep the Millrats competitive.  How could I say no?

A little background on the Millrats.  The Manchester Millrats began life years and years ago as the Boston Frenzy in the third iteration of the American Basketball Association, or as I’m going to refer to it any time I post on my blog, ABA 3.0.  The first ABA operated from 1967 to 1976.  You’ve heard of that one.  The second ABA (also known as ABA2000) ran only for a couple of seasons, from 1999 to 2001 or 2002.  Then it took a year off.  The current version, ABA 3.0, is the one that has spawned over 200 different franchises, of which maybe 100 actually played a game, to which maybe 50 actually finished a season, to which most of them – after discovering that the ABA is organized along the level of competitive 52-pickup, left the ABA for more stable leagues.

As did the Millrats.  They first joined the ABA 3.0 as the Boston Frenzy, then played a season or two in Cape Cod.  Oh yes.  Basketball in Cape Cod.  That’ll draw the tourists.  For the 2006-07 season, the Frenzy left the Cape and relocated to Manchester, New Hampshire, and became the Manchester Millrats (the name is derived from the mills and textile factories that populated northern New England).  The Millrats stayed one more season in the ABA, then they – along with the Quebec Kebs, Halifax Rainmen and Vermont Frost Heaves – left for the Premier Basketball League.

In their first season in the PBL, the Millrats were strong and competitive.  The lineup included former CBA All-Stars in Desmond Ferguson (remember the guy who used to hit 3-pointers every time he played against the Albany Patroons?) and Kenyon Gamble (big dominant center who was tough to score on).  The Millrats also had one of two Siena grads in the league on their team, as Tommy Mitchell was on the point (the other Siena alum, Markus Price, played for the Buffalo Stampede).  The Millrats finished with a 17-3 regular season record and took home the Atlantic Division regular season title.  Although they lost in the semifinals to the Rochester Razorsharks, the Millrats actually took a victory in the playoffs on Rochester’s home court, which very few teams were able to do that year.

But in the minor leagues, it’s hard to keep your talent from year to year.  Almost every player is a free agent at the end of the season, so free agent camps like this are important for teams to see what new prospects can be loaded into their team lineups.  And it wasn’t just the Millrats that were looking for players – I saw representatives from other PBL teams taking notes and looking over the fresh talent.

In addition to photographing the Millrats’ training camp, I wanted to test out whether some of my old digital photography tricks – the ones I used to do with my old Nikon D70 – would still work with the D700.  I attached my Kiev MIR-21H fisheye lens (which can only open up to F/3.5) and tried to take a photo-burst of several shots.   I set my ISO for 1600, which if I tried to do that with my D70, would result in more grain than in a bowl of Grape-Nuts.

In the span of a second, a player dunks during the Manchester Millrats free agent camp.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
In the span of a second, a player dunks during the Manchester Millrats free agent camp. Photo by Chuck Miller.

But with the D700, I got the burst of photos with no grain whatsoever.  Then, when I got home, I loaded all four photos into my photo-editing software, and cloned the image of a player going up for a one-handed dunk into a single photo.

Which is here on the right.

Yeah… I’m looking forward to the 2009-10 PBL season as well.  I can’t wait to see what kind of photographs I can get this year with this new camera.

And I can’t wait to share them with you.

And if you ant to see other photos from the camp… they’re here in the slideshow below.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

My photographs… bigger than life and stuck to a bedroom wall??

Friday afternoon.  I get a call from Mike Gilligan, a member of an organization called MPG Sports.  He is working with the Premier Basketball League to produce a series of wall-sized photographs, similar to the ones manufactured by Fathead – and have them on display at the 2009 PBL Entry Draft this Thursday in Chicago.

Sweet.

A little background.  Last year, I photographed 20 different PBL games in eight different PBL venues in seven different PBL cities (the Vermont Frost Heaves play in two buildings).  In my first season with the PBL, I took photographs in JPG format.  Even though my Nikon D70 at the time had a RAW photographic format (a proprietary electronic format called Nikon .NEF), I never felt comfortable using the .NEF setting.

Michael Anderson of the Quebec Kebs slams home for two points.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Michael Anderson of the Quebec Kebs slams home for two points. Photo by Chuck Miller.

For the 2008-09 season, I chose to use .NEF for all the photographs, if for no other reason than to allow me more control over the final images.   I got the inspiration to do this from another photographer, Mark Morand, who was a co-photographer with me during the 2007-08 Albany Patroons season.

So from the first game I shot in the 08-09 PBL season – a Halifax-Montreal game at Centre Pierre-Charbonneau that went into overitme – to the final PBL game of the season, the championship matchup between Rochester and Battle Creek that turned into a slam-dunk backboard explosion – I chose to shoot in NEF format.

Sammy Monroe of the Rochester Razorsharks gets some air as he goes up for a reverse dunk.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Sammy Monroe of the Rochester Razorsharks gets some air as he goes up for a reverse dunk. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And that actually helped me on Friday.  Because the great thing about .NEF (or .RAW format) is that you can use it like a photographic negative.  You can adjust highlights and shadows.  You can add layers and remove backgrounds with almost a surgical precision.  .NEF format is not just the image itself; it’s all the photographic background information inherent thereto.

This is beneficial, in case you’re trying to increase a photograph’s size.  Ever have that situation where you’ve gotten something off the web and tried to print it out and one of two things happens – the photograph is either smaller than a dime on your printout, or you’ve blown it up and all you see is a cloudy mosaic where a sharp photo should be.

Benson Callier of the Vermont Frost Heaves puts two points in the hoop.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Benson Callier of the Vermont Frost Heaves puts two points in the hoop. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I was able to send Mr. Gilligan nine different .NEF images, including some of the photos you see in this blog post.  Sending them the .NEF files rather than the exported .JPG files will allow his company to increase the photo size to the requirement needed for display, without losing any resolution.

And the cool thing is – I will get to see my photos, larger than life, at the PBL Draft this Thursday in Chicago.  And with my new Nikon D700 and its higher-quality .NEF output, along with an arsenal of new lenses – I should be able to take some swank photos this coming season.

Hess Toy Trucks: The Holiday Season Begins

These were the perfect mixture of child entertainment and corporate branding.  Every year, the snows of November would signal a special treat at your local Hess gas stations, including the many Hess stations that still populate the Capital District.  From 1964, and continuing uninterrupted to today, the holiday season for us kids didn’t really begin until someone  brought home a brand new Hess toy truck, still in its box and still with a set of fully-charged batteries.

Let me tell you – it was a fantastic toy.  It still is.  Collectors will pay a good four figures for early Hess toy trucks – especially the 1964 Mack B tanker truck, the 1966 Amerada tanker boat, and the 1980 on-site training van.  And the ones that are not 100% mint – well, those beat-to-pieces trucks contain valuable hard-to-replace parts that can be harvested as replacement parts for nearly-mint Hess Trucks.

Hess Toy Truck advertisement from 1964.
Hess Toy Truck advertisement from 1964.

In fact, here’s an original advertisement, as found in a December edition of the Knickerbocker News, touting the new Hess toy tanker truck. The cost in 1964 for this little treasure, including batteries?  Only $1.39.  If you saved this truck – along with the original box and the cardboard inserts – a collector of Hess Toy Trucks would pay up to $1,500 for a near-mint edition.

And this advertisement lists all the Hess gasoline stations throughout the Capital District, and if I had enough time to double-check, I would imagine many of those stations are still in their original locations today.  Doubtful that they have any of these 1964 units in their back storage area, but you never know…

I’ve written several articles on the history of Hess Toy Trucks, including pieces for RoadKing, Toy Collector Magazine and the Journal of Antiques & Collectibles.  I bought a few Hess toy trucks over the years, and eventually sold them when I decided that there was no way I could collect them.  But every year, around this time, the call of the batteries-included rolling stock beckons me once again.

The trucks themselves have spawned various other petroliana souvenir collectibles, including toy trucks sold by such companies as Mobil, Sunoco, and the like.  Texaco used to sell a series of die-cast biplanes under the banner “Wings of Texaco,” and they are very collectible.

A true story now.  While working on an article for RoadKing on the history of Hess toy trucks, I needed to get photographs of these rare toys.  So I searched on the Internet and looked for Hess collectors that were within driving distance.

I found one such collector – not only does he collect Hess toy trucks, he also repairs and restores them.  For me, it meant a trip to South Central Pennsylvania, near the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area.

What he didn’t tell me was that he lived on a road that was probably last paved in 1943.  I turned onto the road – which by the way was barely one lane wide – and watched as my Pontiac 6000 went into one ditch and out, then into another ditch and out, with my mind gingerly calculating the alignment bill in my future.

1964 Mack B Hess Toy Truck, with funnel and inserts.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
1964 Mack B Hess Toy Truck, with funnel and inserts. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Still, it was worth it to see what an original 1964 Mack B Hess toy truck looked like, just as it came out of the box 45 years ago.  This is what you got for $1.39 back in the day.  This unit had a rubber hose so that you could fill the tanker with water (by using the red funnel, at lower left of the picture) and pretend to “pump” your toy cars full of gasoline.

Over the next 45 years, Hess built dozens of different vehicles – some based on real vehicles at the company’s New Jersey-based refinery, others based on fantasy pieces (a Hess hauler with an attached Space Shuttle, for example).

On October 30, 2009, Hess will introduce its 45th anniversary vehicle.

I can’t wait to see it.  And I kinda wish I was still a kid, so I could buy one and play with it again.

But instead, I have to act like an adult.  So I’ll buy one… and then donate it to Toys for Tots or Secret Santa or one of those organizations.

Week 7 of the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

It was a full assemblage of teams at Elbo Room Thursday night, as 14 different squads tried to garner more points to make it into the top eight for the finals.

Although Street Academy had a nice lead at the quarter and at the half, by nailing questions like “Who was the lead guitarist on Michael Jackson’s song Black or White?” (Slash), “How many verses are in the Star Spangled Banner?” (four), “In what decade did Amtrak offer passenger service?” (1970’s) and “What musical instrument takes its name from the Italian word for soft?” (a piano, of course), there were some questions that were kinda hairy.

The one question that tripped up everyone – it was a six-pointer – was “What medium-heeled shoe, worn by men and women, takes its name from a foreign country?”

Got me… I skipped it.  So did many others, although some people hedged bets of Dutch clogs and other such matters.

Apparently the answer was “Cuba,” as in Cuban heels.  That elicited a lot of groans from the assembled Elbo Room teams.

Still, at the end, I was in fourth place and things looked good.

The final question was on space exploration.  I figured what the heck, it’s probably got something to do with one of the moon missions or the shuttle missions, or maybe the question will be a reference to Star Trek or Doctor Who or something along those lines.

“The precursor to NASA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was signed into existence by what U.S. President?”

Yike.

Well, it had to be before Kennedy, because Kennedy talked about going to the moon in one of his early speeches, and you needed a NASA to go to the moon.  I thought and thought… and came up with Eisenhower.

So did most of the other teams, although there were some scattered votes for Truman – one team went with Woodrow Wilson, and another threw in a guess o Taft.

And the answer – Woodrow Wilson, in 1915.

Most teams bet all their chips on the final and wiped out.  The top three included the Big Red Machine (the only one to get the answer right), Stern Fans (who wagered only two points, their typical “safety bet”) and a new squad, The Wrong Guy, who got their first playoff point in the tournament.

Because Stern Fans and the Big Red Machine actually tied for the final, they were given four points apiece (the outright winner would have picked up five points and second place would have garnered three points), and since they were already ahead of Street Academy, no damage was done in terms of your man losing ground in the overall scoring totals.

After seven weeks, here are the standings, and remember – only the top eight squads get into the final round.

Elbo Room Trivia Standings – Week 7
Trivia Team Points Totals
1 Stern Fans 4 12
2 Big Red Machine 4 10.3
3 Mayhem 9.3
T-4 Brown Van Experience 5
T-4 Street Academy 5
T-4 Clay Aiken’s Skid Marks 5
7 Touched by an Uncle 4
T-8 The Third Wheel 3
T-8 Woo Hoo a Go Go 3
THE CUT LINE
9 Monkey Knife Fights 2.3
10 Dr. Occam’s Razor 2
T-11 The Wrong Guy 1 1
T-11 Overqualified and Unemployed 1

Next week is going to be kind of tricky for Street Academy – I will actually be out of town next Thursday night, so I won’t be able to pick up any bonus points this time around.

The Best and the Worst: My Four Seasons with Hockey Ink!

Last Monday, my Street Academy trivia team took home the big prize at Revolution Hall – which included tickets to the Albany River Rats game on Halloween weekend.

For me, it will be the first time in over 12 years that I’ve seen a Rats game.

Why so long?  For that answer, I have to warm up the WABAC machine. Set the dial to 1993.  My writing career was in its infancy, with big articles in small publications – mostly in sports yearbooks for the local minor league teams.

At the time, the American Hockey League was producing a glossy color magazine called Rinkside, and I had hoped to join up with that publication.  I sent some of my writing samples, met with the publisher, and it looked as if I would be the writer covering some of the AHL’s New York-based teams for the 1993-94 season.

Unfortunately, Rinkside’s main publisher went out of business, and the last thing the editor of Rinkside told me – after he delivered the news that the publication was shutting down – was that I should consider another minor league hockey publication, a monthly tabloid paper called Hockey Ink!.

Thus began a four-year journey that was part apprenticeship, part discovery, and mostly tragicomic.

Hockey Ink! was produced in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was owned by Fort Wayne businessman Max Orn and his son Dave, along with family friend Gerald Mommer.  Their goal was to cover hockey’s minor leagues – mostly the International Hockey League, where the Fort Wayne Komets were based, but also the AHL, the East Coast Hockey League and the like.  With that in mind, they tried to hire as many writers as possible to cover each team.  They liked my writing samples, and within a week I had acquired an AHL press pass and would be covering the Albany River Rats for the publication.

I was on top of the world.  My first consistent writing client for a newsstand publication.  I started out covering the Rats, and every so often sent them stories about players on the Providence Bruins, the Rochester Americans, and the Adirondack Red Wings.  My editor for the American Hockey League section was Dan Sernoffsky, who was the beat writer for the paper that covered the Hershey Bears.  Everything was great.

Then I discovered that Hockey Ink! had some problems.  Really bad problems.  This was a monthly newspaper, so any idea of putting in box scores or game recaps wouldn’t work, as the news would be three to four weeks old by the time the paper hit newsstands.  And that was, of course, with the hope that Hockey Ink! would actually get their issues printed on time – sometimes the issues would run six weeks apart, sometimes two months apart, depending on whether the publication had the advertising support.

There was also an issue with the number of writers hired.  Hockey Ink! wasn’t loaded with cash, but what it lacked in finances it made up for in enthusiastic writers.  Hockey Ink!’s coverage ranged from beat writers to freelancers like me, from team and league public relations scribes, to hockey fans who loved to write about their favorite players.

Hockey Ink!’s cadre of decent writers and photographers kept on charging forward.  In my tenure with Hockey Ink!, I was able to find the missing Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy, which is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  I also found information on the 1942 AHL All-Star Game, a game the AHL completely forgot it ever played.  In an effort to bring more readers to the publication, I created a continuing column called “Booster Shots,” which covered the doings and activities of the various hockey booster clubs.  Near the end of my run with the company, I was able to put one of the all-time leading scorers in AHL history, Rochester’s Jody Gage, on the front cover of the magazine.  I even got to meet Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr, during my time with Hockey Ink!.  Sweet.

I traveled to various games throughout the Northeast; I saw contests not only in Albany, but in Rochester, in Worcester, in Fredericton New Brunswick (where I saw the River Rats win the Calder Cup) and in Hershey for the 1996 AHL All-Star Classic).  I learned how to do post-game interviews by watching the Albany beat writers like Pete Dougherty, Phil Janack, Mike Dyer and Bob Dittmeyer.  I learned what to do and what not to do.

What I did learn was that Hockey Ink!’s overall editor, Gerald Mommer, couldn’t properly combine a subject and a predicate with a tube of Krazy Glue.  Several times in an issue one would find the byline of an article credited to “Jean-Paul LeFrancaise” or “Jacob Barley,” alternate identities created by Mommer to fill up bylines.  He also had a notorious habit of misspelling names.  Just before deadline, Rochester goaltender Robb Stauber scored that rarity of hockey events – a goaltender’s goal.  I scribbled out the story and sent it to Hockey Ink! as fast as I could.

When the issue finally came out, the headline read “STEUBBER SCORES!”

Steubber?  Steubber?!?!?

Another instance of typos gone wild with Hockey Ink! occurred in the 1993-94 season.  At that time, the NHL was in a lockout, and the AHL was still playing.  In order to save money on a contract, the New Jersey Devils called up Albany’s Brian Rolston – to a locked-out team.  Rolston couldn’t play, and they wouldn’t send him back to Albany to suit up.  I interviewed Rolston, and got the story into the paper – and once Hockey Ink! came out, I was stoked.  I had actually gotten my story in print before the news appeared in The Hockey News, the true hockey publication.

Yeah, I was excited.  Until I saw that the story was written by Chick Miller.  Gerald Mommer misspelled my name and it ended up in print.  My scoop turned into a dredge.

Hockey Ink! also had another problem.  While the majority of writers and photographers for the paper were hardworking individuals who cared about the game and wanted to cover it properly, Hockey Ink! on occasion hired writers with ulterior motives.  They didn’t want to cover the game.  They wanted to cover the player.  As in – to be the cover on top of a player.  The application process for a Hockey Ink! writer essentially was, “Can you cover this team and can you work cheap?”  This eventually led to embarrassing situations where “puck bunnies” were getting Hockey Ink! media credentials and trying to leave their phone numbers with players, and the residual effect was that the people who were really trying to cover the team were getting frozen out – essentially we were part of the bushel with the bad apples.

That also being said, Hockey Ink’s publication frequency was decreasing at an alarming rate.  Subscribers came up to me at games and demanded to know why they were paying for twelve monthly issues and only getting maybe six or seven.  The news that did get printed was old and stale.  And worst of all, Hockey Ink! started paying its writers in promises rather than in paychecks.  I still have an unsigned check for $50 from Hockey Ink! – it’s in a scrapbook, because I know there was never any money to back that note.

By the 1996-97 season, Hockey Ink! printed a grand total of ONE issue that year.  One measly issue.  Then it was gone.

At one time I had all 38 issues that Hockey Ink! printed.  I bound them up into hardcover books and stored them on my shelf for a few years.  About 6 years ago, I sold the entire lot on eBay for $75 to a hockey collector from Atlanta.  All I have left of my time from Hockey Ink! is a couple of framed covers, a customized jersey (the Hockey Ink! logo silkscreened on a knockoff Tampa Bay Lightning sweater), and a Hockey Ink! water bottle that was given away at a booster club convention.  That, and an archive of various articles that are stored on an old flash drive.  That’s it, baby.

I also felt that Hockey Ink!’s demise was a stain on my credibility.  Whatever went wrong with that publication – erratic print schedule, screwed-up typos, questionable stringers – was lumped on me.  I was also in a very weird dichotomy – was I a reporter, was I a fan, was I both, was I neither.  So after Hockey Ink! shut down, I stopped going to the games.  I couldn’t bring myself to actually attend and have to deal with all the baggage.

But as much as Hockey Ink! hurt me, I think in the long run it eventually helped me.  I learned from my mistakes in dealing with the publication, I learned what to do and what not to do when it came to sports coverage.  Today, when I cover basketball games for the Premier Basketball League, I make absolutely sure that I operate above and beyond the level of professionalism one would expect.  My camera batteries are always charged, and there are emergency battery packs and camera chips within grasp should I need them.  Everything needs to be spelled properly, to the point where one should be able to rattle off “Manchester Millrats forward Ifesinachi Anosike” without a single flinch.

Plus, for the first time in 12 years, I will actually be able to attend a minor league hockey game and just enjoy the competition on the ice.  That’ll be a good thing.

Power Steering Maintenance on the Pontiac 6000

The words put a chill in my body.

“I think there’s a small leak in your power steering.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was.  Remember, I’m driving a 1991 Pontiac 6000 and am trying to keep it alive until it reaches 240,000 miles.  You know what 240,000 miles is?  That’s the distance from Albany to the moon.

Now, my knowledge of car maintenance and repair is limited.  I can do a few things to my 6 – replacing the windshield wiper fluid, adding some gas cleaner to the tank – but other things require my taking the 6 to a repair shop.

Or, in this case, to my local Valvoline on the corner of Central and Colvin Avenues.  I use this Valvoline for my oil changes (since my car has traveled over 75,000 miles, I use Valvoline MaxLife synthetic motor oil), and the last time I was at Valvoline, the attendant noticed that my power steering fluid seemed low – the sign of a possible problem down the road.

So before I returned to Valvoline, I stopped at the Advance Auto Parts store at Westgate Shopping Center and picked up a bottle of Lucas Oil Leak Stopping Fluid.  If I was going to get my power steering fluid changed by Valvoline, at least let’s pour in a bottle of this leak stopping fluid and see if it solves the problem.

Anyways, the service techs at Valvoline explained that buying the leak stopping fluid is a good thing.  If there are any leaks, this stuff will plug them up.  And if there aren’t any leaks, the stuff will actually help lubricate the power steering pipes and reservoirs, which is also a good thing.   After using a drain-like device to suck out all my old power steering fluids in the 6, the service tech then took the bottle of Lucas Oil leak stopper fluid and poured it into the empty reservoir.  And when I say “pour,” that stuff had the consistency of molasses.  It was like watching cooled glass drip out of a glassmaker’s furnace.

Then a fill-up of red power steering fluid (apparently General Motors cars use red DEXRON power steering fluid, news to me), pay the bill (minus a $5 coupon, gotta save where you can), and I’m on my way.

Now here’s the thing.  If I had let this situation go on my car, and the power steering fluid reservoir got too low, I could have burned out the power steering module in my car in about – oh, approximately ten seconds.  That would not have made me very happy.

But keeping the 6 on the road does make me very happy.