Wednesday, November 21, 2012

COUNTING CARS - An Interview with Danny "The Count" Koker 11/21/12

"Counting Cars" is the new hit TV show on the History Channel  A spin-off from "Pawn Stars", Danny Koker's show has been renewed forat least two more car lovin' seasons.  Check out the interview I conducted the night before Thanksgiving:  11/21/12.

The interview was pretty much left as a transcription with only a few edits (mainly where I rambled on too long myself).  Danny was a joy to speak with and I hope to do a follow up some time down the road.


EA: Hello this is Mark
DK: Mark, Danny Koker calling from Las Vegas. How’re you doing brother?

EA: I’m doing great. How are you Danny?
DK: Good man. Did I catch you at the right time?

EA: You absolutely did, I really appreciate you doing the interview. I really appreciate it.
DK: Absolutely, that’s my pleasure, my pleasure.

EA: Awesome. First thing, I was looking on Facebook the other day and you got a show going on tonight, correct?
DK: Absolutely, man. My band is called Zito77 and we do all 70’s hard rock. We’re doing a little pre-Thanksgiving rock ‘n roll family party at the club tonight. It’s going to be good time. Definitely a good time.

EA: That’s cool. I actually have a music background, that’s probably the first thing I started with way back like in the early 80’s playing guitar and that kind of thing. So when you’re saying 70’s hard rock, you guys are doing like Sabbath and Zeppelin…

DK: Absolutely, that’s right on the money. We do Sabbath, Zep. Man, we do some old Stones. We do some Thin Lizzy. (nice) We do some Pat Travers, we do some Cream, we do some Hendrix. We do some Doors, we do…um let me think. We do some Grand Funk, we do some Rare Earth and the things we do are not your typical A-side stuff. We like the B-side stuff. We like to give people stuff they haven’t heard a thousand times.

EA: That’s cool, something a little more obscure.

DK: It’s a blast man. It’s a five-man band. I got two guitarists that are absolutely fantastic and of course my rhythm section, the drums and the bass are out of this world and I’m the front guy. I used to sing a hundred years ago and now I’m getting back into it and this band’s been together for about the last year and a half and it’s growing like crazy. We’re having a great time doing it.

EA: That’s awesome, man. (thanks, brother) Are you doing it for fun of it and … for a year and a half and are you kinda actually trying to see where it goes. Are you trying to do some originals or.

DK: We actually do a couple of originals and we’re writing some more. For us … The name of the band is Zito77. The reason for the Zito is one of my guitarists name is John Zito and I … he’s got the John Zito band and I gave him Wednesday nights to do the John Zito jam. So like he holds an open jam session on Wednesday nights and this was like I said a little over a year and half ago. I went down there on a Wednesday night and they got me to get up on stage and so I was kinda jamming with Zito and a couple of his guys. And then next thing you know different people we kinda started trading places and the five of us that are now Zito77 all kinda ended up on the same stage at the same time and we were doing a few songs together. I don’t know, it just felt really good and we were kinda looking around at each other like hmm and after we were done, we ended up out on the patio just kinda sitting around talking about music and we decided, you know what would be fun? And the five of us just kind of screw around with this and see where it goes. 

And so we started getting together rehearsing and it’s been amazing. We rehearse every week. Every week we add new songs to our set. …something that’s important to me and it’s a really good release for my tension and stuff. I live a pretty stressful world getting things done, but this band’s been awesome for me. So, it’s fun, but surprisingly enough it’s also doing very well. We’ve traveled around a little bit to different areas, Texas and Mississippi and different places where different bike rallys have hired us to come out and do their bike rally's. And we’re having a blast with it. So we’re going back in the studio. We’re going to write some more stuff. We’re going to start recording some stuff and see where it goes, man. It’s fun for all of us. We’re just going to see where it rides.

EA: Cool. With my own music background, I literally, just this past Thursday and this past Sunday started playing out again. I’m not to the point of playing in bars and rallys and stuff, but we’re playing coffee shops and brewery and that kind of thing. (Nice) I have a 9-5 job so for me to do my music and express myself that way gives me that balance.
DK: It’s good for the soul, isn’t it?

EA: Absolutely, absolutely it is.
DK: I agree.

EA: If I go all the way back, you started off as a singer, right? When you were a child?
DK:  Well, yeah. At a very young age, I used to be involved with gospel music out of Ohio. There was a gentleman by the name of Rex Humbard. I don’t know if that name rings a bell. He was a minister based out of Akron, Ohio. He was actually a pioneer in television evangelism. I know that genre got very corrupt as time went on. But he was the real deal. Rex was truly a minister for the people. He really cared about them and his ministry grew and grew and grew. And my father was his music director. My father’s background is all music. Gospel background, both Southern gospel and black gospel. Lot of quartet stuff. He worked with a lot of people way back in the day like Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Cash and his credits are pretty incredible. So he was Rex’s music director for 20 years and during that time he put together several groups throughout the years. As Rex’s family grew and as I got a little older, we all started getting involved in doing the gospel music for uncle Rex. I call him uncle Rex, was no blood but he was always my uncle. We ended up traveling the world. I lived on the road for between 2 ½ to 3 years at one time. They literally had tutors on the road. There were several of us that were still in school. I grew up doing that and then years later, ended up in Florida where I was involved in some singing down there. Since I’ve been in Vegas, I have not sang for real in 25+ years. I just got real busy taking care of business business and started jamming with these guys and it just became fun again. I’ve always loved singing, but I hadn’t done it in so long and these guys have really helped me dust off the vocal cords so to speak. In the course of the last year, year and a half, the vocals have all been coming back. And rehearsing every week is great exercise. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape vocally and we’re having a blast doing it. Yeah I do come from a musical background from a long time ago.

I’ll tell you something else that we do out here on a very regular basis. Both my band Zito77 and also my club Counts Vamped - we hold charitable events twice a year out here to raise money and collect instruments for schools and kids where the music programs have been cut due to budget cuts. At least twice a year, we’ll throw a big benefit at my club and we have several bands come down and everybody does it out of the goodness of their hearts and we rocked out all night and we collect all kinds of things and we got to pass the music on to the kids, pass it on to the next generation. I understand, it’s too bad, but I understand schools having to cut budgets way the economy’s all screwed up right now, so it’s just kind of tragic that the kids are the ones getting the short end of the stick as far as the music thing is concerned, you know. They don’t get to do that much in a lot of schools. So we really support that and we really try and help the kids out with that passing it on.

EA: That’s good that you do that. I really appreciate hearing that kind of thing. Makes you feel good that someone’s taking the time to recognize the fact that the schools are missing out and directly it’s affecting the kids that are missing out.
DK: Gotta do it. Absolutely. The kids, that’s our future. I don’t have any kids, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to invest in our future. Investing some time into the kids is a positive thing.

It’s a great thing man. We really believe in it. If there’s a way we can pass the music on, we try to do it. And the whole band really feels that way. I’m really fortunate with this group of guys. We’ve just become brothers. We’re together all the time. We share a lot of the same philosophies and …especially when it comes to music we just like to share. …our bass player,… when he’s not playing, he’s a teacher. He teaches bass. So he’s got a lot of young students and he’s passing that craft on to them. It’s really a cool thing.

EA: Has any of his students come out to see him play?
DK: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know. At my place, it’s not an all ages place. Every once in awhile we’ll do an all ages event, but for the most part, not really. Having a club, I’ve tried doing the all ages shows. The club takes a beating on an all ages show. So I tried to keep it pretty much 21 and over as much as I hate to. I’d love for the kids to be able to hear…Some of these all ages shows, the kids come in out of control. They trash the place, so I don’t do that much…

EA: It’s almost kinda ironic. If they didn’t know you from the tv show and they saw your club and you said you were going to have an all ages show and it got trashed. What’s with all these bikers, 21 and over…
DK: It is funny because at my club I’ve got motorcycle parking out front and hotrod parking. A lot of the biking community and hotrod community comes. I rarely have any issues. But I do a show with under 21 and the kids come in and just trash it. So I don’t do that anymore.

EA: Let me kinda switch a little bit. Singing back in the day. Were you born in Detroit or did I get it wrong?
DK: I was born in Akron, Ohio and all my family on my father’s side are from Detroit. School time was always in Ohio, but during the summers we would all go up to Detroit. So all my summers growing up were Detroit and all my school time growing up was Ohio. I’ve got deep ties with both areas. The Akron, Cleveland area as far as Ohio is concerned was always home and always will be. But so is Detroit. I know it’s funny. I feel like I’m from two places and I’ve got deep, deep love for those of those areas.

EA: So what were you like growing up. What was the young Count like?
DK: A motorcycle guy. My father got me my first motorcycle when I was eight years old. Even younger than that, it was bicycles all the time all over the place. Then at age 8 he got me my first motorcycle and then it really started getting crazy from there. Really enjoyed biking a lot. When I was up in Detroit, my father’s brother, uncle Peter, he was an exec at Ford, so he had go-carts and scooters and hot rods and everything at his house all the time. We would always go over there, all the cousins and the other kids we knew in the area, we’d always go over and hang out at uncle Peter’s and play around all the time. Growing up free as a kid the things that were most important to me were motorcycles and music and as I got a little bit older, it became cars, motorcycles and music. I feel really fortunate for where I’m at right now that I get to do the 3 things that I love the most.

EA: That’s awesome man. I know one of the last questions I’m gonna ask you at some point… What kind of advice would you have for someone that trying to turn their hobby/passion into their career because obviously you’ve done it.
DK: In all honesty, the way that it worked for me, I don’t have any kind of secret formula, but the way that it worked for me was I had my occupation. I used to work in the television business. I was an audio guy and from there I was camera rigger, then I became an editor, technical director and edit director and to this day I still keep a couple of clients who are important to me and I still call I’m a multi-camera director live to tape or live. Calling hot shots in a multi-camera situation. The world has gone non-linear and I’m a very linear guy. So when it comes to your cameras and the editing and all that stuff anymore, I’m a fossil. I don’t do any of that. But, something that never goes out of style is being able to direct. So I still do that once in awhile for a couple of clients. I had my craft, my skill, whatever you want to call it, as far as working in the television venues, but behind the scenes never left me. 

Behind the scenes with the cars and the motorcycles. I treated it as a hobby, but I was very passionate about my hobby. I made sure that the time that I spent doing motorcycles and doing cars, I wasn’t just hacking stuff around it. I took a lot of pride in it. I made sure I could do it the best that I could and it got to the point where people were noticing my motorcycles and people were noticing my cars all over the place. Who did that, where’d you get that. I did that. I started collecting more vehicles throughout my life and I ended up getting my own warehouse building and adding cars down there and tools down there, certain equipment and things like that. I got another guy involved in it with me and it was kind of our hobby place. It was growing and more and more people wanted us to do more and more stuff and so we got to the point it started to look like, you know what, I think we could actually drum up some business here. It just really kind of evolved. 

For me, the short answer to the question is just - if you’re truly passionate about something, stick with it and do the best you can, hopefully someone’s going to take notice and if not, if nobody ever takes notice, at least it’s something that you absolutely love and you’re passionate about it should make you happy from the inside out. Don’t go into something with the intentions of making it your life’s business. For me, that would have been the wrong approach for me. For me, it was just staying passionate about the cars and the bikes. It just kinda turned out to be something that people loved and evolved in … business. I don’t know, that’s the way it worked for me.

EA: Knowing your background now, since you know the behind the scenes part of how they produce shows and that kind of thing, that it’s probably a little bit of both. That you have a natural presence and natural charisma is what I think.
DK: It really worked. I’ve told people that sometimes I feel like my whole life has been setting me up for what I’m doing right now. I’ve been behind the camera, working in television. I’ve been in front of people , whether it be on a stage or an event or whatever it may be. And then my entire life revolving around cars and bikes. All of a sudden it happens, this tv show. It really does work well. I’m blessed with an amazing director, cat named Jonathan White. He is unbelievable. And the crew. It’s an amazing crew. The team that works on the show. We put in some serious long hours. Several days in a row. Right now, today was my first day of not shooting in the last four weeks. It’s been every day. We start up again a week from tomorrow. We start up again. We’re right in the middle of season two and the things are going absolutely fantastic. I think season two is going to be outrageously cool. History just sent us the word down the other day, that as soon as we’re done with season two, they just want us to roll into season three. Right now, we’re filming til April. That’s my schedule, from now until April, I’m filming. No complaints, man, best thing in the world.

EA: I was going to say, congratulations. The fact they want second and third season back to back says a lot.
DK: It’s a lot of work don’t anybody fool you, but I’m also not tarring roofs in 115 degree temperature, so I’m thankful for that. I’m doing what I love to do and I’m able to pay the bills. There’re long hours and they’re a lot of work, but you know, man, it sure beats the alternative so I’m cool with that.

EA: It’s all about perspective. I read somewhere, when I was trying to do some research on you, that when you came to Vegas, you were on a tv show, that you were hosting like a horror Saturday night thing. Is that right?
DK: Absolutely, absolutely. When I lived in FL, I used to do a lot of live theater down there, so I’ve got a little bit of an acting background . Coming out here to Vegas was when I was really active in television business and the tv station was an independent station so we had no news. So we had no personalities. We had no actual personalities that represent the station. In this market, there’s a lot of places to make personal appearances that’s good for business. The other stations, they get their news people that they can send out and shake hands and all that kind of stuff. I’m also, from the bigger cities of Cleveland and Detroit, and growing up as a kid I always watched the horror host, I’m a huge horror movie fan. I always watched that stuff growing up, so everybody at the station decided it would be awesome to do a late night, old school, horror movie show, a hosted horror show. I pretty much got elected into doing it . 

So we created a character, a vampire who loved Elvis in Las Vegas. And his name was Count Cool Rider and Elvis’ theme song is CC Rider, so his character was Count Cool Rider. He’s kind of a biker/hotrod/Elvis-loving vampire in Vegas…We worked Saturday nights from 10 til midnight, every Saturday. It was called Saturday Fright at the movies. That show ran for 10 years. From 1990-2000. And 52 weeks a year, we were trying to keep things current, so we were doing about 45…a year. That’s a whole lot of work for 10 years straight. Man, talk about a huge following here in the Vegas market. A couple people tried to syndicate it, but the films in the other markets iss where the problems came in. So it’s basically stayed here on the local level . Althought the show’s pirated in other areas. I get letters from PA and people like that, were are recording and sending it back there was kinda cool. That’s where the whole “count” comes from and behind the scenes, the cars and the bikes, that hobby which has just grown and grown and grown. When I signed off the air Saturday Fright at the Movies off the air in 2000, that’s when I basically focused my efforts into creating Counts Kustoms and that’s how that came about. My guys that work with me down there and friends that I’ve known that work with me for awhile,…what do we call this place. It was kind of unanimous because everybody here in Vegas knew who the count was. So we’ll just call it Count’s Kustoms. Who knew that the shop was going to blow up to be the national, international thing. Count’s Kustoms came to happen and the whole motorcycle craze got big. I was featured on several shows that were on the Discovery Channel at one time or another. My bikes have been in just about every magazine that publishes that. I’ve got a rig and a crew of guys that we were on the road doing bike shows all over the place. It was very big there for awhile. Count’s Kustoms was big in the bike world for awhile then the economy tanked and I pulled everything back and just focused in the shop on mainly doing repairs and automotive repairs and things like that . Just pay the bills. Keep everybody happy. Keep everything going. Along came Rick Harrison and my whole world was changed. 

It really has man, it really has. It’s…. Would you be interested in doing our work. We do cars, we do bikes, we do…unusual things. Like absolutely. Would you mind if we shot a scene or two here with you at your shop with you in it. Would you be cool with that? Absolutely. I understood what that could do for my business. The first time they came over, we shot a big scene together and it went really well. Literally four, five days later, my phone rings and there’s some producer sitting…in NY somewhere, saying I’m looking at footage of you and I want to know more about you. Okay. So we got to know each other, got to talking and he flew out to Vegas, we spent time together, he some my operation, saw my building, my shop. Next thing you know he’s talking about, let’s shoot a pilot and we shot a pilot. This production company works with several networks and I’m just so fortunate that it was History that loved the pilot and jumped on it. History has been number one in cable network. In the nation it’s huge. And so to be involved with History and then for them to actually step up and put me in prime time as well, those are things that just don’t happen very often so I’m officially the luckiest guy in the world. From there with Counting Cars on the air, we literally set records with our ratings. Our premiere was the biggest premier that History has ever had ever on the History Channel. It set monster records. We did about 4 ½ million people on our show premiere. They’ve never had a premiere come out that strong. It was six weeks cause it was 13 shows, they were doing 2 shows a night every Tuesday night. So we were on for 6 weeks and we literally won our time slot 3 of those weeks and we were 2nd place in our time slots for the other 3 weeks. We were actually doing numbers like the Big Bang Theory. It was like you’re kidding me, seriously? So the ratings were huge, the people were lovin’ it and that’s when History basically got ahold of me and said okay we gotta do season 2 and like I said it was just a matter of a handful of days ago that I got the word that after season 2 we’ll go right into season 3. It’s just a real blessing man. I’m a firm believer in the Lord, I’m a firm believer that prayer works. I was raised that way and I cannot take credit for any of this man. I really believe God has just smiled down upon us and that’s the reason that good things are happening…

EA: Wow, what a whirlwind.
DK: Absolutely crazy, it’s a madhouse man. I show up at my shop now and there are hundreds of people in my parking lot and they just want to come in and they want to see the shop and they want to say “hi” and I do my best to try to shake hands with everybody and take pictures with everybody and still try to get work done. It’s mindblowing how this just happens and the nicest people that I’ve met through this show. The fans that watch. They’re from all over the world they come down and they’re just some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. I come home at the end of the day everyday and it’s like “wow” what just happened today. Everyday is like “wow”. I’m a fortunate guy. I assure you this, man, I’m the kind of guy that gives back in every way I can. Like I was talking earlier about the music programs for the kids. And I’m a huge supporter of our troops. We do benefits for our troops. My band, we do things for the Marines all the time. We do fundraisers at their leatherneck club. And they always have Zito77 so we come down there and we do that for them and help them raise money for that. We do charitable things like for the Wounded Warrior projects, things like that. Doing everything we can to try to give back as much as we can because you know. I feel so lucky that things are being given unto me, I want to give back as much as I can.

EA: That is just awesome to hear and I can tell that you’re sincere by the tone of your voice.
DK: You gotta be. You gotta do this. I go back to my upbringing, but…If it’s coming from upstairs, then I gotta give back and I feel like the more I give back, the more he continues to bless…It’s more than a philosophy for me, it’s a way of life.

EA: Right, that’s awesome. I’ve talked with some people around here locally that whole concept that freedom’s not free. They’re supporter of the troops as well everything that they do that allows me to do what I do.
DK: Amen. I do my best, man, I really do. And you know, I respect people’s different opinions. A lot of people are saying, we shouldn’t be in any war. We gotta bring the troops back, this and that. It’s always a two-sided argument. I’m one that’s very strong about national security. I fall on the conservative side… Whether you agree with the war that we’re involved in or disagree with the war that we’re involved in, the bottom line is this. Our troops are laying their lives on the line for our freedom. So whether you agree with it or not, one thing you can’t deny, those troops are over there for us and for our freedom. So you have to support the troops.

EA: Since you’re a big horror fan film buff. What are some of your favorite horror films?
DK: Anything from Nosferatu 1923, starring Max Shrek silent movie, that was awesome. Bela Lugosi, I believe it was 1934, Dracula, he was fantastic. I’m huge on Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. I thought that movie was very, very well done. I think Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman was a masterpiece. I’m also a huge fan of Vincent Price movies. Peter Lorre, Vincent Price then you go back to the Christopher Lee days. Those are the things I grew up on as a kid, so I think about Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing all those guys. That’s the stuff I grew up watching. There’s a real nostalgic side of me that loves a lot of the old horror. I just love it so much. And there’s some new stuff, well I call it new stuff. Interview with the Vampire, that’s new even though that was 16, 18 years ago I’m guessing. And then Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was an absolute masterpiece. I like things like the SAW movies. They make you bite your fingernails off and just try to make it through the movie. I’m into all of it, but those are some of my favorites.

I think The Shining was a masterpiece. The Shining, Stanley Kubrick was way cutting edge on that. That show really pioneered the use of stage and when you go into that snow maze scene. There’s no tracks, there’s no nothing. That shot was just seamlessly smooth. That was all fake and phenomenol movie right there. As far as modern horror is concerned, someone that I absolutely love I think is a genius in several ways is I’m a big Rob Zombie guy. I absolutely love his music. I’ve seen him live several times. It’s phenomenal. I love his art. He’s quite an artist. He’s got some really great stuff there, but as a director in his horror films, House of a Thousand Corpses is a masterpiece in my book. Devil’s Rejects, and …again was another masterpiece in my book. I love his interpretation of the original Halloween. I don’t even call it a remake, because it wasn’t a remake. It was more his interpretation of Halloween. And it was so raw and edgy and dirty. I thought it was a masterpiece. I love Rob Zombie. I think he’s great. Met him one time.I think he’s way cool.

EA: That’s cool. It’s funny that you mention Rob Zombie because Dee Wallace was asked the question who was her favorite director that she’s ever worked with and she had just finished filming his upcoming Lords of Salem and she had to sit there and think about it for awhile because she’s worked with Spielberg, Blake Edwards, Peter Jackson and “ if I had to speak truthful right now, it would be Rob Zombie”.
DK: Everybody says amazing things about him. Cassandra Peterson, Elvira, she’s a friend of mine and she’s so cool, we got to talking one night about Rob cause she knows Rob. And she just went on and on about what a nice person him and Sherry and how generous they are and how kind they are. And their home is beautiful and they open their home up to friends and have people over. That they’re just these sweet, kind, generous people. It’s just so funny cause you look at him and you think oh geez. He just turns out to be a really genuine nice guy.

EA: One last thing I want to ask you. So what do you have coming up in the future? Besides the second and third season you’ll be filming through April?
DK: That’s a really good question. Right now I’m 100 percent focused on these next 2 seasons of Counting Cars. That’s my number one priority because it has boosted everything in my world. It has boosted all of my businesses I’m involved in, it’s boosted the band and the music that I’m getting the opportunity to do. So that’s my number one focus, but I know the band has some out of town bookings coming up. We’re going to focus on writing some more original music and maybe putting out a record. Other than that man, cars and bikes. I’m just focused on cars and bikes and I’m lovin’ every minute of it.

EA: Awesome. Thank you again Danny for doing the interview. I really appreciate it. This is a real treat for me.
DK: Mark, the pleasure’s all mine. It’s really great to meet you and call on me anytime. You want me to do anything ever again, just holler. I’m easy brother.

EA: I’ll let you know. Have a great gig and Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.
DK: Thank you Mark. Happy Thanksgiving to you and all the holidays coming up. Hope it’s safe and fun.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Crypt Of Rays - Venturing Into The World of CRYPTICON SEATTLE! 2012

The ghouls, horror fiends, and other assorted freaks invaded Seattle once again for the 2012 edition of Crypticon Seattle on Friday May 25th, Saturday May 26th, and Sunday May 27th.  The event was again held at the Hilton Hotel SeaTac where it moved to in 2011 (previously in Everett in 2010, the Seattle Center in 2009, and the Double Tree in 2008).

This year's guest list was stellar.  Check it out for yourself:

*Doug Bradley (Pinhead from the Hellraiser films, Nightbreed)
*Dee Wallace (E.T., The Howling, Cujo, Halloween (revamp))
*Richard Kiel (Jaws from the James Bond classics The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Happy Gilmore, the Twilight Zone, Pale Rider)
*Ricou Browning (the creature from the Universal classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon)
*Don Coscarelli (director of the Phantasm films, Bubba Ho-Tep)
*Sonny Landham (Predator, The Warriors, 48 Hours)
*James O'Barr (creator of The Crow comic book/character)
*J LaRose (Saw 3, Saw 4, Insidious)
*Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 and 5, Halloween and Halloween 2 revamps)
*Marilyn Burns (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive)
*Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever)
*Gangrel (wrestler, former WWE superstar)
*Voltaire (stop motion animator, musician, jack of all trades)
*and others

Along with the guests, there were numerous vendors, author's alley, panels, film screenings, parties, mixers, and everything else associated with conventions.

I was fortunate enough to be covering this year's Crypticon for Eclectic Arts.  A nod of thanks to Mr. Chris Saint for approving my press credentials.

Where to begin? 

I met so many people over the past three days that it's nearly impossible to recount every discussion or contact that was made.  I will do my best to do so, though.

Right off the top, one thing I can say is that I encountered no issues at the convention, aside from one (that I will write about later) that was more an annoyance than anything.  Overall, the convention was smooth and pretty much on target for my expectations.  Having covered ZomBcon in 2011, I was expecting something similar at Crypticon.  In many ways, Crypticon exceeded my expectations so hats off to the organizers.

I was accompanied by three different EA staff members during the weekend.  One who had helped me cover ZomBcon and two newbies - to get a different perspective from those who had never set foot in a convention of this or any other kind.  They added information to this event article that I missed or forgot about.  The photos that will accompany this article and the interview articles in the print version of EA were also taken by the same EA staff.

One aspect that I would really like to mention is the demeanor of the media guests.  Every single one of them were so accommodating, gracious, engaging, and a joy to talk to.  The EA Crypticon newbies were suitably impressed as well with the actors, their approachability, and how they interacted with the fans.

It only takes one guest with a lousy attitude to potentially sour or ruin a convention experience for a fan.  From my own personal perspective, being a fan of many of the guests in attendance, I was filled with a sense of renewed hope, that one can be successful and not have a raging ego or a bitter attitude toward the industry as a whole.

The first day of Crypticon, I wanted to get a lay of the land, look at the schedule, talk to a few of the guests to nail down approximate times (and days) for when I would be interviewing them.  I had already touched base with Ms. Dee Wallace and the webmaster for Mr. Doug Bradley in advance.  I was hoping to schedule a sit down interview with both of them, possibly away from the convention hall (due to the noise, distractions, etc).  But, if that didn't work, I just wanted enough time to do a decent interview.

Ms. Wallace's people (and herself) had told me to touch base on Friday at the convention and we would set something up for Sunday.  I also heard back from Laura, Mr. Bradley's webmaster, about doing the exact same thing (talk with Mr. Bradley on Friday about what day/time would be best).

My assistant on Friday had been to more than one horror convention.  However, she didn't know who was going to be there at this year's Crypticon until we walked into the vendor room.  I knew I wanted to find Ms. Wallace as soon as possible.  As we walked toward her two tables, my assistant was in a bit of shock, an OMG it's Dee Wallace kind of shock.  Being a huge Stephen King fan meant my assistant was also overly familiar with Ms. Wallace's role in "Cujo".

There were a few fans talking to Ms. Wallace at her tables.  Once they left, I introduced myself and much to my surprise, Ms. Wallace said it's so slow in here we could probably do the interview tonight.  Could I have done it?  Yeah, but I had mentally prepared myself for Sunday.  As a side note, Ms. Wallace suggested we do it away from the convention before the vendor room closed but she said she had to stick around after 8pm for a wedding in the middle of the vendor room.  She was rather dismissive about having to stick around and, in hindsight, that would of been an awesome time to do the interview in a nearby room but alas it wasn't to be.  Damn wedding (no offense to the couple).  Oh well.  We agreed on early Sunday - between 11am and 11:30am.

As we walked around the floor, there were always people at Mr. Bradley's table (the other guest I needed to speak with) so we continued looking around at the various vendor booths and such.  We were walking by J. LaRose's table.  I was looking at some of the photos for purchase on his table (mainly from the "Saw" films and "Insidious").  Mr. LaRose was very friendly asking how we were doing.  We ended up talking for a good ten to fifteen minutes about Seattle, conventions, and the beer scene in the NW and Florida (where Mr. LaRose resides).  He was so down to earth and interesting that I asked him about doing an interview later on in the weekend (Sunday).  He said sure and now I had two interviews scheduled.

Anyone that knows me knows how much I've been into the Crow and for how long.  I picked up the first print of the second issue off the stands back in 1989.  I've met James O'Barr three times prior - way back in 1994/1995.  At 8pm he was schedule to do a panel.  A handful of us were waiting in Emerald Ballroom C along with the moderator.  Unfortunately, after twenty minutes and no Mr. O'Barr, the panel was canceled.  I was a bit bummed but figured I could chat with him on Saturday or Sunday.

I later found out straight from Mr. O'Barr that he was scheduled to be in two places at once.  He told me that he didn't know anything about the panel.  He was told at 8pm to be at this VIP mixer for those fans that bought the VIP tickets.  He was rather upset about it as events like mixers just aren't his thing.  He would much rather be at a panel talking about his work with his fans.  I alluded to one bad aspect of the Con and this was it.  

Even though I'm jumping all over the place here, I must also mention the panels that I attended on Saturday.  Six hours of them in a row!  I would of stayed for the seventh but I needed to get into the vendor room before it closed at 7pm that day.

The moderator of four of the six panels I attended was Mr. Tony Kay.  Mr. Kay's credentials (from

"In addition to holding down, you know, a real-live day job, I scribble freelance for this lovely 'site, Seattle Concerts Examiner, and City Arts magazine. I also host Trivia Night Tuesdays at the Bourbon Bar in Columbia City Theater; serve as schlockologist for Bizarro Movie Nights at the Aster Coffee Lounge in Ballard; and took home the ass-end of a trophy competing against fellow movie nerds on the Independent Film Channel's Ultimate Film Fanatic game show a few years back."

Mr. Kay impressed me.  A lot.  So much so that I actually talked to him a bit to say exactly that.  I honestly didn't expect to go into Crypticon being impressed by a moderator.  And I don't say that like I'm some aloof asshole.  I mean it wasn't on my radar to be checking out the moderators and how they went about their business.

Mr. Kay was professional, did a splendid job of balancing moderator with genre geek, and let the guests actually, gasp, SPEAK.  This was one of my biggest gripes about ZomBcon.  I expect the moderator to keep the discussion on course, to give the guest some bullet points to pull from, ask follow up questions when appropriate, and that's it.  The panel never is and never should be about the moderators IF it's concerning a guest.  Panels that are covering specific subjects or topics, of course then the panel of moderators will be discussing things with themselves and, hopefully, the audience.  But when there's a guest panel, I want to hear from the guest.  They are the focus.  If I wanted to listen to two or three or four geeks try to out do each other with obscure film references and facts, I'd listen to a podcast, you know?  But I digress.

The first panel I attended was with Mr. Kay moderating a discussion with "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" star and legend Mr. Ricou Browning.  The last survivng member of the famous Universal line up of movie monsters, I was looking forward to what Mr. Browning had to say.  And I wasn't disappointed.

Mr. Browning told stories of growing up in the water (via swimming and scuba diving).  He was as sharp as a tack as well.  He was rattling off dates, names, you name it he knew it.  It was interesting to hear about the Creature suit itself, the weight they had to use so that it would sink (the suit was made of rubber and was buoyant).  Many are probably not aware of Mr. Browning's creation of the Flipper character in film and television.  This panel really set the tone for the rest that followed.  I went in, learned a lot that I didn't know before, and left very impressed with Mr. Browning.

I stopped by Mr. Browning's table on Sunday and asked a few questions, following up on his panel from the previous day.  He told a great tale of a sea lion that he raised in his home for five years!  How it slept in a bed in the house, how they used the bathtub for it and how it loved to overflow the tub so that water ran down the hallway, after which the sea lion would slide on it's belly, much like a kid on a plastic Slip N Slide.  Mr. Browning is a legend, the only surviving actor from the classic Universal Monster days.  I was honored to meet him.

The next panel I attended was moderated by Ronnie Angel and featured Sonny Landham.  I've always been a big fan of the "Predator" film and Mr. Landham's portrayal of Billy in the film.  He was also quite memorable in "Lock Up" (with Stallone), and in the hit "48 hours" (with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte).  Mr. Landham came into the room in a wheel chair.  While he has naturally aged (like we all do), there was no mistaking that big, booming voice of Mr. Landham's.  He has the kind of voice that makes you drop what you're doing and hope to God he's not pissed at you.

Mr. Landham answered questions, and quite often had a remark for any one that opened the back door of the ballroom.  "You got the $50 bucks?" he hollared to one late attendee.  He also quipped at another fan who came in late "she doesn't know who the Hell I am" and laughed.

When Mr. Landham's panel was over, he shook the fans hands as he was wheeled out of the ballroom.

The next panel was an eye opening treat as well.  Doug Bradley is a horror fan's God (or Devil I suppose) or at least one of them.  Playing the iconic Pinhead from the "Hellraiser" films, he is someone I was stoked to interview later in the weekend.  As I mentioned to Mr. Bradley, he doesn't need a moderator.  Once you get him talking about a topic, he's off to the races with anecdotes, humor, wit, and matter of factness that is absolutely entertaining.  The moderator listed for this panel was not there.  I'm not sure who the gentleman was in her place but, again, luckily he didn't need to ask much as Mr. Bradley commanded the room like troops before battle.

After Mr. Bradley's panel, we had a decision to make.  Do we stay for the next panel (or two), or wander the vendor floor to perhaps speak a little one on one with the guests, maybe grab some lunch to eat (as it was 3pm now), etc.  The decision was pretty much made for us.

Toward the end of Mr. Bradley's panel, one of the next guests came in a bit early.  Mr. Bradley kindly told the guest, Mr. Richard Kiel, to "come on in Richard".  If you don't know who Mr. Kiel is, stop reading this blog right now and go jump into moving traffic.  Now.

But, seriously, it was a nice gesture on Mr. Bradley's part to not only recognize Mr. Kiel but to welcome him into the room while his panel wrapped up.

Mr. Kay was back in the moderator chair for the panel with Mr. Kiel, most known for his villain Jaws in two of the James Bond films "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker" and Ms. Marilyn Burns, the lone survivor Sally in the original horror classic, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".  Each guest had great personal stories to tell about their careers, their better known films, and were very well spoken and engaging with the audience.  I found it interesting to see that the prejudice that surrounds people that are of Mr. Kiel's size and stature to be rather true at the convention.  He spoke about trying to breakout of the monster role, the assumption that he's stupid due to his size, etc.  Movies have helped perpetuate that stereotype (Frankenstein anyone?) as has society as a whole.

Mr. Kiel really could be described as a gentle giant.  He is very articulate, warm, and has a story telling ability that pulls you in and takes you on a journey of decade proportions.  He was a fascinating guest to hear from and I followed up with him twice after the panel when he was back at his table in the vendor room.

We spoke about "Happy Gilmore" and how it brought him a new generation of fans.  He also recounted the tale of writing his book about Cassius Clay.  Mr. Kiel gave me the historical background and I found myself mesmerized by the depth of knowledge that Mr. Kiel possessed regarding the historical figure.  I asked if he had a copy of the book with him that I could purchase.  He said "I didn't think to bring any as I didn't think there would be any normal people here at the convention like you and I" and then laughed.

We then got on the topic of shooting overseas, Asian countries to be exact.  Mr. Kiel had asked about my background (being Asian).  He told me about shooting commercials in Japan, visiting Kyoto, working in Taipei and Hong Kong.  He is a great storyteller and he even interjected a few personal stories about his son, his past Asian girlfriend(s), and whether or not his son would live happily ever after with his newest girlfriend.  It was very amusing but for privacy sake, I won't go into the details here.

Ms. Burns showed me that she basically had her own personal horror film going on within the horror film that was "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".  Some of the things she and the cast endured in that sweltering heat on an indie budgeted film made the audience cringe.  She recounted a tale, during the dinner scene toward the end of the film, where she is tied down to a chair (wrists and ankles) and they needed a rag to stuff in her mouth.  Someone shouted out on set, "we need a rag!".  So a crew member went looking around the house (if you remember that dirty ass, nasty house in the film then you know how awful this is going to be) for a rag.  He found one on the ground, filth ridden, and proceeded to stuff it in her mouth.  She kept it in for take after take, tasting the critters, dirt, and whatever else was on that rag.  During one take, she fell over, still tied down to the chair.  She just lay there on the floor.  As the crew were setting up for another take, after probably minutes, someone finally said, "someone get the girl up".  Still think making a film is all glitz and glamor?  Hardly.

The next panel was also another treat.  Mr. Kay continued with Mr. Don Coscarelli - the director of such films as "Phantasm", the three sequels that it spawned, "Bubba Ho-Tep", and the sword and sandal cult film "Beastmaster".

Mr. Coscarelli was a pure joy to listen to.  He had story after story about making the films, things that happened on the sets, and other asides that made the hour go by insanely fast.  A funny and down to earth man, Mr. Coscarelli could do well hosting a show of his own.  Really!

At this point it's 5pm and the next panel I knew I wanted to stay for which was Ms. Dee Wallace.  Besides Doug Bradley, Ms. Wallace was the other guest that I was really excited to meet.  Mr. Kay was moderating this panel as well.  Someone must of been smart by assigning so many panels to Mr. Kay as, again, he did a bang up job.

Ms. Wallace was, well, Dee.  She is no bullshit.  She is funny, loud, engaging, caring, insightful, and has stories on top of stories.  She is a woman that has been through so much, has seen it all over her forty plus year career, and yet she still comes across as the most down to earth, real, person.  As Ms. Wallace has so many stories to tell, Mr. Kay did a great job of letting Dee go off on tangents and such, giving her space to work so to speak, but also keeping things moving forward as the panel progressed.

At this point, it was time to check out the vendor room before it closed for the day.  My assistant wanted to meet Doug Bradley before he left for the evening.  Doug was most accommodating with the fans.  My assistant got a signed photo and a candid photo with Doug.  She was happy and it ended the convention for her on a high note.

Sunday was a blurrrrrrrrr.  This was the one on one interview day for me.  I'll get into all that soon.

With two days down and one more to go, in many ways the most important day of the convention for me, I arrived at the Hilton before 11am on Sunday.  My assistant and I rode up with some other press in the elevator to the third floor and walked around.  Many of the vendors and guests weren't set up yet at their tables so we passed the time with those that were available.

After ten minutes or so, I noticed Ms. Wallace was at her tables, ready to start another day.  I asked her if this was a good time to do the sit down interview we had scheduled.  She said "it looks pretty slow right now so let's do it".

This interview will be in an upcoming issue of EA - when it's ready, I'll be posting about it here on this very blog.

A few side notes I can write about is that one fan came up to Dee's table with a genuine ET metal lunch box which I thought was cool.  She signed it for him and I asked if he had the thermos that goes with it (knowing that ups the value considerably).  Alas, he didn't but you could tell he was happy to have Dee sign it.

Another fan was looking at the various photos and didn't want to interrupt our interview.  He came back after the fact and bought a photo.

I can also add that Dee gave me more time than she had agreed on which I really appreciated.  There's another cool and funny story here but, again, it'll be in the one on one interview in the print version of EA.  Look for it soon!

Mr. Bradley was the next interview - I'm skipping through time here as his interview was in the afternoon.  He had an assistant with him to handle sales at the table so off we went with his interview.  Much like Dee Wallace's interview, Doug gave me more time than allotted, which made me feel good.  He also didn't break from the interview at all - even though fans would come up and look at the photos and such at his table.  He definitely didn't need to do that as interruptions happen at these things but, again, that was cool of him.

And you know what I'm going to write next - you can read his interview in an upcoming issue of EA.  Hey - EA started out as a print magazine and that will always be the main focus.  \m/

The last interview almost didn't happen.  I was supposed to talk with J. LaRose a bit on Sunday but every time I looked over at his table, he was nowhere to be found.  After three attempts, I told my assistant, let's go.  As we were leaving the vendor room, who shows up?  Mr. LaRose.  We walked to his table to do the interview then he decided we should do it somewhere quieter.  So we found a side room and did the interview there which was nice as the din of noise from the vendor hall was gone.

All together now - you can read his interview in the print version of EA!

After three days of Crypticon, I was ready to head home.  The convention was a ton of fun to cover and I think I did the Crypticon Seattle folks justice as well as the guests in terms of coverage.  This event article is just one of four things I am working on for the 2012 Crypticon Seattle coverage.  The other three being the in person interviews I did for the print version of EA.

To all the Crypticon organizers, Mr. Saint, guests, vendors, and random people I met over the three days, my thanks for making the convention experience a memorable one.  I can't wait for next year's Crypticon Seattle!


EA Back Issues:

$5 US postpaid will get one issue delivered to your door if you live in the lower 48 here in the US.   Outside of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii) will cost anywhere from $8 US to $10 US (depending on where its being shipped to).

PayPal Paymentsmark AT seattlenextdoor DOT com 

Money order or well concealed cash:  please email me for snail mail address.

Questions?  Email me at:  EclecticArtsZine AT gmail DOT com


Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Want My F'n Beer! FOGGY NOGGIN BREWING Interview! 5/20/12

What does Foggy Noggin Brewing and ESPN analyst Brock Huard have in common?  On the day of this interview a neighbor brought Mr. Huard and his family by Foggy Noggin Brewing for a short visit.  There were a few “that guy looks familiar” stares but outside of that, Mr. Huard came and went with little fanfare.  To those of us that have been to Foggy Noggin before, this isn’t surprising as the atmosphere is laid back and enjoyable.

My first experience at Foggy Noggin was back in 2010, a month or two after their grand opening in March of that year.  I remember driving up the driveway and seeing the black and white FN sign and being a bit skeptical to be honest.  I walked into the garage where one or two other people were sampling the beers at the time – Bit O’ Beaver (English bitter) and Christmas Duck (English porter).  There were no pint sales at the time, only samples and growlers to go, open one Saturday afternoon a month.

Meeting Jim Jamison, brew master, for the first time, I was instantly put at ease about his brewery operation.  Jim’s extensive home brewing background, laid back personality, knowledge of the beer scene, and passion for beer made my initial visit a memorable one.  After trying both Beaver and Duck more than once, I left with a growler of Beaver, one of many to come.

Having been back several times since that initial visit, attending both anniversary releases, and several growlers later, I felt it was time to do a proper interview with Jim and Foggy Noggin.  Pull up a chair and read on.

EA:  So I was talking to Matthew (assistant brewer and Jim’s son) about Seattle Beer Week (May 10-20th) and the event you were at on Thursday May 10th at Elliot Bay Pizza in Mill Creek.  How did it go?

JJ:  It was standing room only.  Some of the regulars of Elliot Bay Pizza were kind of surprised when they showed up because there was no place to be so they left (laughs).  We brought some unusual beers.  We brought our 2012 Anniversary Ale which we don’t normally let out of the brewery to keg accounts.  We brought a keg of Wasky (Burton Ale – which will be bottled in the future).  And we brought a keg of our MLK Alt (German style alt – one of two beer exceptions to the English styled beers that Foggy Noggin produces – the other being the cream ale that Jim is producing for his daughter’s wedding).  Normally we do half pints of the Alt but they got a whole keg so he was doing growler fills (laughs).  That was fun.  He also had Elysian’s Split Shot – the Seattle Beer Week official beer.  I thought that was a pretty nice beer.

EA:  Do you have any other SBW events you’re doing?

JJ:  The only other one we’re doing is at Malt N Vine in Redmond on the last day, May 20th, for the Hangover Brunch.  So we’re doing the first day of SBW and the last day.  For me it’s tough as there are too many events.  

EA:  Staying with present day events, now that you’re on your third year, is this where you thought you’d be when you started Foggy Noggin?

JJ:  Honestly, we didn’t know.  We had no idea what to expect.  Being as remote as we are, and back then, Skookum Brewing was probably the closest one to us, meaning they had their brewery on their property like us.  It’s a little bit different as they’re not brewing in a neighborhood so much, more like open space.  But, we had no idea as there really weren’t too many people doing what we we’re doing when we started.  I was shocked.  I mean, I didn’t know if anyone would show up at our grand opening back in 2010.  Did you make the grand opening?

EA:  No, I missed that.

JJ:  We had a few people waiting when we opened up.  But, we ran out of beer!  We went through everything we had.  We had brewed every weekend from January 23rd and the grand opening was on March 20th and we sold out of everything.  

EA:  Wow!  So, that’s like a nice problem to have (laughs)

JJ:  It was.  And we were only open once a month at that point (they’re usually open every Saturday now – check their blog or Facebook for weekly updates).  We had to brew enough beer so we could be open the next month.  So, we decided that wasn’t going to hold out very long because we would just not have enough beer.  So, we added a couple more fermenters and that helped a lot.  I couldn’t distribute anything.  And, it’s nice to have everybody here at the tasting room but not everybody can get here.

We want as many people to experience our beers as we can.  So, you want a balance of beer that’s here in this environment because people think this is kind of cool (tasting room in the garage) but, also, what about the people that don’t have a chance to get here?  Like those that live down in Tacoma or those that live up in Bellingham or wherever, really.  I really want to have our beer in their community, too.  But, it’s hard with our size, to do much of that, to get kegs out to the outlying areas.

So, I think we’ve got a decent balance.  We’re not getting kegs out to those places but when we do it’s kind of special.  

EA:  So you’re not saturating the market…

JJ:  Yeah, it’s tough when I have people that want to carry my beer and I have to talk to them and see what their intention is.  Like do they have a rotating handle that every once in a while they’ll put a keg of Foggy Noggin beer on?  And usually it’s “no, we want to have a keg on all the time” and that’s when I have to tell them we can’t do that.  We just can’t do that.  It’s impossible for us.  If I did, then I’d have no other tap accounts.

I’ve turned down a lot of people because I’m not what work’s for their system.  

EA:  Where they expect a new keg every Tuesday or whatever…

JJ:  Yeah.  And I understand.  They have to print beer menus, they want commonality through their tap lineup, maybe once a quarter they change their lineup, etc.  We just can’t accommodate that.  I’ve even had some chains approach me like Joey’s (three locations around the Seattle area).  They wanted a tap account and I was like I couldn’t even supply one of your locations let alone all three (laughs).  

EA:  But thanks for the offer…

JJ:  Yeah!  I mean it’s flattering that they’re interested but who knows?  Maybe in a different time, we’ll be in a different position.

EA:  That brings up another question that I know I’ve talked to you about previously.  Do you want to keep things where they are with your production or do you want to grow and expand in, say, three years to more of a production facility and a pilot facility?  Or is that just too crazy?

JJ:    Honestly, we think about all the possibilities, like making our flagship beers on a bigger scale and continue making the seasonal beers on a smaller scale.  Moving to another location is another idea.  Or staying where we are, those are all options.  We’re thinking about adding more fermenters and adding a fermentation room to the brew house in the back (the brew house is a stand alone building on the back of Jim’s property).  So, instead of six batches a week, maybe we brew twenty or twenty four batches a week.  That’s a lot more capacity but that’s a lot of work.  We’re labor intensive on a half barrel system.  Really labor intensive.  

But, there’s also an interest that a half barrel system, a small batch system, is a novelty and pretty unique, too, and if we stay with that small batch system, that’s kind of our niche.  We want to do authentic English ales on really small batches.  

We have nothing to complain about.  We like where we are and we’re weighing all of our opportunities.  We’re not interested in going out and getting, you know, investors, a bunch of debt, etc.  And we don’t make that much money here so it would take a long time to save up enough to expand like that (laughs).

My plan to expand was when the lottery was $600 million but I didn’t win (laughs).

EA:  (laughs) You and me both.  I had plans for that money but it didn’t happen.

JJ:  I had better plans than whoever won it did (laughs).

EA: (laughs)

EA:  You make a good point about keeping the hand crafted aspect to your beers versus doing thousands of gallons of beer on a production system…

JJ:  Yeah, I don’t know if the individual character of our beers would come through if we did it on a grander scale.  You have a place like Widmer, probably the biggest per batch brewery in the Northwest, and they make some great beers on that scale.  So, I’m sure you could dial in the recipes to whatever you need them to be.  Bigger doesn’t mean worse beer.  People think that, you know, Budweiser, Miller, Coors bigger means you make that type of beer.  Not true.  Anheuser-Busch could make any beer they wanted to.  I mean, hats off to them, they make the same beer every single time.  When you get a Bud it tastes like a Bud every single time, whether you like it or not (laughs).

EA:  Give ‘em some props for….something (laughs)

JJ:  (laughs)

EA:  So, let’s go back.  Jim, where were you born?  Raised?  And when did you start getting into beer?

JJ:  Born and raised in Portland, Oregon.  I went to college at Oregon State.  In 1978 I found a beer bar in Portland.  They had six or eight taps representing different countries.  Rainier Dark represented the US, they had Guinness, etc.  But they had, I’m thinking it was like, 1200 bottled beers from around the world.  It was every beer that you could bring into Oregon at the time.  They had a printed menu and I would fold it up and take it with me and I went through every beer on that list.   It took me years to do.  But that’s where I learned all the differences.  You know the Austrian beers versus the Czech Republic beers versus the French beers, they had them all.  When I got into the British styles I was like, wow, these are different.  They’re a little more balanced, all the flavors are a little more subtle but you can taste them all.  That’s where I learned that, to me, English beers were so unique, that English style.  That’s what got me hooked on that.

So, then I grew up, got married, had kids, etc.  In 1992 my wife bought me a home brew kit.  That’s the box it came in (points to the top of the cooler where Jim sells growlers from).  I played around with it.  The first couple batches were terrible.  But you drink ‘em cuz you made it (laughs).

Then I started writing about beer.  I had started Northwest Brew News (not to be confused with the Northwest Brewing News – Mark).  I got to meet a lot of great brewers, tried a lot of beers, etc.  We had tastings by style of Northwest breweries.  So I would print that, for example, we’re doing a pale ale tasting.  The first ten breweries to respond would ship us beer and we’d invite subscribers of the publication and they’d taste them and do taster notes.  Whenever we did a tasting, that became our most popular issues.  Then the breweries would always ask for permission to use those comments for promotional purposes.

EA:  How long were you home brewing before you started Brew News?

JJ:  In 1994 so two years I had been home brewing.  And that was kind of hap hazard as that wasn’t the greatest beer.  You do it on the stove top, you ferment it in the laundry room, my wife didn’t like the smell in the house and all that stuff, so I got kicked out into the garage. (laughs)

EA: (laughs) At least it was in the garage.  She could of said don’t do it at all or do it completely off the property.

JJ:  Yeah.  We had a lot of fun with it.  You know, as my kids got older, they got more interested in it.  When I bought the current system that we use from Fall Creek Brewing (they never opened out of Marysville), the kids were more interested.  We were brewing every weekend.  And Matthew (Jim’s son), he was out of college at that point.  So, he was really interested in learning how to brew beer.  And that’s when we started brewing together.  So Matthew’s been brewing quite a while with me.

When my youngest turned 21, we decided this is what we want to do.  We want to build a brewery.  We had so much extra beer, we were giving it away to people, and they were going, “man, I’d buy this”.  We were like we don’t have any debt; we can do it here on the property, worst case scenario we end up with a great brewery building in the back yard.  What’s wrong with that, ya know?  When my youngest turned 21 we decided to go as I wanted all the kids to be of legal age.  And so we’ve never turned back.

But it took a long time.  It took me two and a half years from the day we decided to go, to make ourselves a business, file all the paper work, we didn’t open our doors until two and a half years after that.

EA:  What would you say was one of the biggest surprises or hurdles during that two and a half year period of time getting Foggy Noggin up and running?

JJ:  Well, I didn’t know it was going to take so long.  The federal government at that time was kind of transitioning.  They didn’t have a director in place.  It was hard to communicate with them.  They’re a lot easier now.  Applications are online and their turnaround is more like six months now.

I had the brewery originally set up in my garage.  They used to allow that.  Places like Big E Ales, originally he was in his garage.  So they were allowing that in the past.  But the new director read through the laws, the old laws, and he interpreted the laws that you can’t do that.  Anything that had a common wall to a residence, you couldn’t have a brewery.  So, that pushed us out to build the brewery in the back.  So that took us a little bit of time because we had to build it (laughs).  And it had to be a commercial building.  It looks like a shed but it’s a shed that meets all the commercial building requirements.  So I have fire marshal that inspects it every year.  I have a suppression system in there that has to be inspected every year.

EA:   I remember you telling me about when you were really close to opening, back in like December of 2009, an inspector came and said you couldn’t because you didn’t have a handrail leading up to the brewery.  Is that right?

JJ:  We had all of our inspections up to that point.  We had our electrical inspections, our plumbing inspections, all of it.  The final one was your final certificate of occupancy inspection.  The guy walked up to it and said, “well, I already see that you’re going to fail”.  I said, “what do you mean you haven’t even been inside yet?”  He said, “you don’t have a railing.”  I said, “a railing?  We have two steps.”  He said, “if you have one step you have to have a railing.”  This was on December 22nd, 2009 I want to say.  So I said, “I tell you what.  Before Christmas, I’ll have one built and I’ll send you a picture of it if you’ll give me a contingency write off on it – that I’ll have the railing built.  If I don’t send you the picture, then don’t approve the inspection.”  He says, “I don’t want to come back here.”  (laughs)  So, I had it built, sent him the picture, and that was that.  I mean the railing doesn’t really serve any purpose.  It’s more in the way than helpful.

EA:  It’s those weird little things that they want…

JJ:  Yeah!  

EA:  So when you were going through the whole process of getting Foggy Noggin open, did you have anybody that helped you or had good advice?

JJ:  The one that I kind of used as my sounding board was Vertigo Brewing out of Hillsboro, OR.  They were a one barrel system.  They were about a year ahead of us so they went through a lot of the same things.  

I remember meeting them for the first time and I brought a couple of growlers with me.  We weren’t brewing for sale, yet.  And I know exactly how they feel because I get it all the time now.  They were like, “here’s another home brewer who wants us to taste his beer.”  The biggest thing was that, I use Pro Mash software for all of our batches and it has an inventory function.  They didn’t know how to use the inventory on it.  They were like, “how do we know how much inventory we have?”  I was like “you guys don’t use the inventory on there?  Let me show you.”  I showed them how to use it and they go “oh, maybe this guy knows something.”  (laughs)

EA:  (laughs)

JJ: We hit it off pretty good after that.  I gave ‘em some beers to try.  They were surprised that our beers were as good as they were.  And we still communicate quite a bit.  So, they helped me out with some of the things they went through.  

EA:  How about some of the local breweries in terms of help or advice?

JJ:  Not when we were opening up.  But once we opened I was looking into other kegs and I checked out Skookum.  There were a couple other places, too.  When we started doing some bottling Randy at Snoqualmie Brewing was really helpful in who he used.  It’s a great community.  No one tries to hide anything.  And I know everyone’s busy.  I get a lot of requests and sometimes I can’t get back to them for a while because I’m so busy.  It’s not that I don’t want to help them.  

It’s amazing every week I get about four or five people that say they want to start a brewery, they want to ask me questions, and I usually tell them to come here when, well, like when you’re here right now, before we open on Saturday’s, so I can talk with them with little distraction.  That’s the best time to get me.

EA:  Yeah, because when you’re open and you have customers you don’t have the time to really sit down and answer anything at length.  I’m sure they want to ask you every little thing, too.

JJ:  They do.

EA:  It’s like, hey, I want to help but catch me before we open.

JJ:  I had one guy that wanted to come today and I was like today’s a bad day because I’m doing this interview so I wouldn’t be able to give him the attention.

EA:  Well, it’s good that you’re honest about it.  

JJ:  Yeah.

EA:  Instead of saying hey everyone come on by before we open and I’ll answer your questions and then you don’t have the time for them.

JJ:  Yeah, then everyone’s disappointed.  But, yeah, it’s a great community.  Everyone’s nice, helpful, there’s nobody that’s pretentious that’s like we’re little so they’re better than us.  There’s none of that.

EA:  That’s one of things I love about the beer community here.  I tell people all the time that aren’t into the beer scene that beer people are good people.  They’re not looking out solely for themselves.  If they can help someone else out, they will.  If I can help you be a little more successful, so be it.

JJ: I agree.

EA:  And that’s a nice thing to see, especially when it comes to businesses when you’re talking about dollars and cents.

JJ:  Exactly!  I think the more breweries out there that are making good beer; it just makes everybody better and stronger.  It’s not going to hurt anyone.  There are plenty of beer drinkers out there.  They say in some markets, craft beer accounts for, what, 20% of the beer sales, when it used to be like 5%?  There’s still a lot of opportunity there.

EA:  I wanted to ask you more about the Northwest Brew News.  Did you start that out of your passion for beer or what were the origins?

JJ:  That started because I was at a grocery store and there was a guy that looked really confused and he asked me some questions about beer.  And that’s when they didn’t have the selection they have today.  So I helped him and he said it would be cool if there was a publication with beer information.  And I go “that’s a good idea.”

EA:  How many years did you do the publication?

JJ:  We did it for four years.  

EA:  Do you happen to have a copy of any of the issues?

JJ:  I have a whole binder of the issues.  (Jim looks for the issues at this point).  I used to have the issue with Diamond Knot out here as I did an article on them when they were pretty new.  (Jim steps away find the binder and returns a minute later).  Yeah, I put every one of them in here.

So, the first issue was 1994 and we did Pike Place, Canyon’s down in Canyon Park, and Pete’s (Wine Shop).  So that was at the beginning.  We then expanded and we did articles on Widmer, 74th Street Alehouse, Larry’s Markets when they were still around.  I did an article on draft versus bottled beer.  

EA:  And this was all you doing all the work, all the writing?

JJ:  Most of it.  We said there were other people but I was writing all the articles at least.  We did a wheat beer tasting event.  Pyramid, Redhook in Woodinville, Bridgeport.  There was our first picture - in 1995 we put Big Time’s picture in there.  

EA:  So how did you get this distributed?

JJ:  It was a subscription.  It was cheap.  It was a buck an issue or five dollars a year.  And this got mailed to you and it came out every other month.  Dirt cheap.  We had very little advertising in it.  The first issue we had no subscribers we gave it all away.  We gave it to all the people that were featured.  We gave them a whole stack to pass out.  Hopefully people would pick it up and would want it, ya know?  I traveled a lot so I would go to the airport and I was a member of the red carpet club and I’d leave a stack in there.  When I got on the airplane, the backs of the seats, I’d leave one there.  Wherever I could (laughs).

Yeah, so the last issue was in 1997.

EA:  Why did it stop?

JJ:  It was getting too big.  We had 15,000 subscribers.  I was selective on ads.  (Jim showed me a few paid ads in the issues).  Anheuser-Busch wanted to take out a full color insert and I said no.  This isn’t what we’re doing (in reference to the AB ad).    It’s funny though I did an article on all the Michelob beers at one time, just myself.  They sent me a whole box of every beer they made at the time.  And it was pretty good beer, really.(laughs)

EA:  Is that when they were expanding into the Amber Bock and the other craft type styles?

JJ:    Yeah.

EA:  One interesting note is that with Eclectic Arts, it started with the music community around the world.  The more underground, grassroots, passionate people that may have started a fanzine, or have a blog, or are doing what they can to expose people to other sorts of music.  They are really going to like the fact that you had your own publication dedicated to beer.  They can relate to that mentality.  I don't think many people outside of the beer community know about it.

JJ:  No, I don't think they do either.

EA:  They're going to know about it now. (laughs)

JJ: (laughs)

EA:  Switching gears, I know you were up at the Bellingham Festival recently.  How did that go?

JJ:  Amazing.  That's a fun festival.  It's all for charity.  Proceeds go to a center that helps at risk youth.  And the festival is their biggest fundraiser.  They would of gone out of business if it hadn't been for the beer festival.  It's a chance to see breweries you don't normally see.  Like that's the only festival that North Fork does.  They're about twenty miles east of Bellingham.  So, it's fun to see some things you don't normally see.  

EA:  I think I read somewhere that Foggy Noggin won the people's choice award or something?

JJ:  We did.  We got first place people's choice for Diablo Del Sol (Foggy Noggin's English pale ale).  I was surprised.  I thought Chief Lightfoot (Irish red ale) would of won because everyone was coming up and saying "everyone's talking about your red ale so I want to try it."  And that was the first beer of ours that ran out at the festival.  So when they told us we need someone over here to do the awards, I expected our red ale to win.  

But the people are always right.  Whatever the like is what they like.  You can't argue that. (laughs)

EA:  Are you guy's going to be at the Washington Brewer's Festival this year I take it?

JJ:  You kind of feel like you're obligated to them.  That's the granddaddy of the festivals, the real highlight of Washington beer.  It's fun.  It's a long one though.  Three days and you're just exhausted by the end of it.  You're ready to go back to your real job (laughs).

EA:  And I remember the first year Foggy Noggin was at the Brewer's Festival, you guys got the very first customer through the gates who wanted Kastrated Dawg.

JJ:  We did, you're right, Kastrated Dawg.  Friday night we did a version of Kastrated Dawg.  We had three five gallon kegs.  We were serving a Lagavulin Scotch aged Kastrated Dawg.  That keg lasted about fifteen minutes.  That was a lot of fun.  Then we put on a version of it that was just oak aged.  And then we put on a version that was just straight up.  And that stuff just flew out.  

EA:  I remember that's where I first had it. 

JJ:  Oh really?

EA:  Yeah, I don't remember which version I had, though.  I was there on the Friday.  I remember we were standing in the line, the church bell rang to signify the opening of the Festival at 4pm, and we saw this guy literally running toward a booth but we couldn't see where he ran to.

JJ:  We were all watching.  Who were the breweries near me?  The one in Ellensburg….

EA;  Oh, Iron Horse?

JJ:  Iron Horse was on one side of me and I can't remember who was on the other side.  And we were watching and we were all like "where is that guy running to?"  And then we were like, "he's coming this way!" (laughs)

EA;  So what can we expect from the Friday only beer from Foggy Noggin this year?

JJ:  Friday we're going to do Big Chief the imperial version of our Irish red.  And we're actually going to have three beers every day.  We're going to do Big Chief on Friday.  We're going to do Chief Lightfoot on Saturday.  And we're going to do Little Chief on Sunday which is a session Irish red.

This is a little bit left of the Lagavulin Kastrated Dawg from that Brewer's Festival in 2010 (Jim pulls out a growler from his cooler with a few ounces left of the rare version of Kastated Dawg and fills a taster glass for me).  

EA:  Oh wow - nice!  You really pick up the….

JJ:  Oak…

EA:  Yeah, for sure.  And the scotch ….  Are you planning on aging any other beers?  

JJ:  I haven't put anything in there yet.  (Jim has a Woodinville Whiskey cask in his garage).  We're thinking of doing an imperial porter in there.  But when we look at our brewing schedule we're always looking at how are we going to fill enough beer for this event or that event?  It's tough.  We always look at our cooler and we're like "we have no beer, how are we going to get through the weekend?"  

We have our cream ale returning to the tasting room.  I did one batch earlier, about three of our kegs.  I wasn't here when we debuted it.  I came back and it was all gone.  I didn't even get to try it (laughs).

We also have a collaboration beer we're doing with Mt. Tabor Brewing down in Vancouver, WA.  He's a cougar (WSU) and when the beaver's came to town we had a bet that the loser had to host a collaboration brewing.  I said no one really loses but we have to make more beer on your system because he has a seven barrel system.  If brewed up here, we wouldn't get much output. (laughs)  I don't know if you've ever had any of his beers. 

EA:  No, I haven't.

JJ:  But he makes some really good beers.

EA:  Do you know what the collaboration beer is going to be?

JJ:  Yeah, it's going to be an English malt bill, our Fuller's yeast, but we're going to use a new hop.  We're going to hop it with a kind of Northwest style hop.  Our hopping schedule is going to be kind of like what we do with Diablo (Foggy Noggin's pale ale) so we're going to do a huge end of boil hopping.  So we want big hop flavor.  And not really go for the huge bitterness.  So, that's the plan.  

EA:  Will that beer only be kegged?  Any chance it will be bottled?

JJ:  It'll all be kegged.  I'm going to do a test batch and we'll run it through the tasting room.  He's going to do a test batch as well and we're going to compare the two test batches.  We're going to try and do the same thing using the same ingredients.  But the different techniques and stuff you do get a little bit different beer.  

EA:  Speaking of that kind of collaboration, do you have any plans to do anything with, say, Dirty Bucket or Brickyard?  Any of the other Nanos in the area?  

JJ:  We haven't talked about it but for us it's just hard to make enough beer for ourselves.  So, it would be a lot of fun because you learn new things when you work with different brewers and different ideas but I just don't have the space here or the time right now.  

But there are a lot of great brewers out there right now.  When I was at North Fork, my wife and I are coming up on our 30th Anniversary next year.  My favorite beer of his is his strong Scottish ale.  He said, "well you come up here and we'll do a special 30th anniversary version of it for you."  

EA:  Oh nice!

JJ:  So we may go up and do a fun brew session with him.  He's just a character.  He's a great brewer.  

EA:  That’s the thing that is cool about the beer community.  Like you're brewing the cream ale for your daughter's wedding, I know.  

JJ:  Yup.

EA:  Somebody like that would do a beer for your 30th anniversary, it's so cool as you have that flexibility to do things like that and be generous to others and do these special occasion beers.

JJ:  Yeah!  I agree.

EA:  Are there any other festivals you'll be doing this year besides the Brewers Festival?

JJ:  Yeah, we're excited about the Everett Beer Festival this year.  It's kind of in our back yard.  So we decided we're going to pick that up and we're not going to do the Winter Festival this year.  Four festivals a year is about the most we can do.  So Bellingham, the Brewer's festival, Everett, and we do the Anacortes Oktoberfest.  And that's a real fun one to do.

EA:  I haven't made it to that one yet.  Maybe I need to do that this year (laughs).

JJ:  It's a two day festival.  I think it's Friday and Saturday.  It's a fun one.  It's fun for us to go to those areas.  I don't know how it started but my son lives in Bellingham so the Green Frog was the first one to start carrying our beer up in Bellingham.  Then they closed down for a bit and relocated.  While they were closed, we started going to Copper Hog so they started carrying our beers.  They just blow through our beer.  I don’t know what it is about Bellingham but they just devour Foggy Noggin beer.  (laughs)

It's like we have a little cult following up there.  They have great breweries up there.  It's a great little beer community up there.  

EA:  That reminds me of bands that are from one area but popular in another.  Like they're from Seattle but they're huge in Detroit or whatever.

JJ:  Yeah, yeah!  And when they tour there in Detroit they sell out.

EA:  Yeah, yeah!  Same sort of thing.  Bellingham is the second home of Foggy Noggin.

JJ:  We've got a place on our waiting list up in Anacortes to carry our beer.  I have a waiting list right now of about a dozen places waiting to carry our beer.  I just haven't been able to get around to getting them our beer yet.  It's nothing personal (laughs) ..

EA:  Oh, no, no.  It’s like you said, you're at capacity and if you could accommodate them you would but right now you just can't.  

JJ:  I would love to give everybody as much as they want but.. (laughs)

EA:  Are you planning on continuing to do your anniversary beer event every year?  Maybe get to a point where you have like a four or five year vertical?

JJ:  Yeah, next year we'll have all three of our anniversary ales on tap.  This year we had two.  The fourth year we'll have all four.  But I only have enough kegs of the first year to do that.  I do have some bottles of the first year, though.

Maybe after six or seven years, we can do, like for charity, a vertical tasting raffle and the winner gets a private tasting of all seven years.  That would be kind of fun.  

EA:  That would be awesome!  Especially after how well that first anniversary ale aged, having it alongside this year's back in March.  Wow….

JJ:  It was amazing!

EA:  Holy moly…

JJ:  I was really amazed at how well it aged.  I really was.  

EA:  It was a good beer to begin with and then it turned into a beautiful beer with a year on it.

JJ:  What's it going to be like in two years…

EA:  Yeah, exactly… 

JJ:  There will be a time when it starts to degrade.  

EA:  Everything peaks.

JJ:  Yeah, maybe three years will be the peak of it?  

EA and JJ:  It'll be fun to find out (both laugh)

JJ:  Exactly! (laughs)   Every year! (laughs)

EA:  When will you be bottling your Burton ale (Wasky)?  

JJ:  We’re going to start bottling that in early summer.  We're not writing any dates on them but I really want to see how that ages because traditionally it would sit a year in the barrel before they released it from the brewery.  So our's has been so fresh and it's been pretty hoppy.  I think the hops will round out with some age.  I can't keep it around though.  When we put it on tap here it just flies out.  

EA:  It's a great beer, no doubt.

JJ:  We've got three beers I'm going to start bottling.  The Wasky will be the first one.  Then Powder Keg (the coffee stout), and then it's Big Chief (imperial red ale).  Those are pretty unique beers.  Anything we can't get a full run on due to our system, those kinds of beers I'd rather bottle.  Their just too expensive to do growlers.  I don't want to charge $20 bucks for a growler fill.  

EA:  Plus if you're doing growlers only a certain amount of people get to try it.

JJ:  Right.  Bottles are perfect.  They can share it with a couple of friends.  

EA:  More beer for more people.

JJ:  Yeah!  

EA:  Anything coming up that we haven't seen in the tasting room yet?

JJ:  We've got a recipe dialed in for a mild.  If you look at historically, the big English style beers, what have we not done?  We haven't done a wee heavy.  We haven't done an English mild.  We haven't done a barley wine.  Those are probably the big ones that we missed.  

If we do a barley wine, I'm thinking maybe this summer we’ll do it I'll only get one small keg out of it.  It'll be a 13 or 14% abv beer.  We probably would let it condition and not serve it until sometime in 2013.  So maybe something like that.  

A mild I think would be a great compliment to the other beers we do.  We have a beer that we haven't brewed commercially, it's an English amber ale.  We did a gluten free beer that we haven't brought out yet either.  We did a non-alcohol brown ale.  We brew it like a full blown beer but then we boil the alcohol off to get it down to a low or non-alcohol version.  So it has the start of a great beer.  Most of the non-alcoholic beers I’ve had, I'd rather drink water (laughs).  

We tested a golden ale last year and we're thinking of, in secondary, putting some huckle berries in it, give it that tartness and a little pink hue to the color.  Maybe do that for Susan G Komen (breast cancer).

EA:  Oh nice!

JJ:  Ya know, every pint a dollar goes toward Susan G. Komen.  

EA;  Oh cool.  It's nice when people think beyond themselves.

JJ:  Yeah and you know the problem with those great ideas is when do you have time to do it?  

EA:  Jim what was the first beer you feel you had dialed in?

JJ:  Bit O Beaver was the first beer I perfected and we're still using the same recipe from ….1995.

EA;  Wow, that's a long time.  No wonder you know it like the back of your hand.

JJ:  Yeah, and I know when something is not quite right with it, if it's tasting a little bit off.  We have our science down pretty good.  There have only been two batches that fermented out a bit too much so they were dry.  So we blended those to make Civil War (with Christmas Duck porter) and Spotted Owl (with Christmas Duck porter and Oski scotch ale).  

Spotted Owl is the weirdest beer.  I've had so many people tell me that is their favorite beer and when are you going to brew it again?  And I'm like, well, hopefully I don't have to brew it again (laughs).  But we may do a one off blending just for fun.  

I want to thank Jim Jamison and Matthew Jamison for taking the time to talk about Foggy Noggin Brewing.  If you ever get a chance to get out to the Bothell area on a Saturday, look them up at for their schedule and have a pint or two.  Or check them out at the upcoming Washington Brewer’s Festival in June.  They’re great people making great beer!

Questions or comments?  EclecticArtsZine AT gmail DOT com


EA Back Issues:

$5 US postpaid will get one issue delivered to your door if you live in the lower 48 here in the US.   Outside of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii) will cost anywhere from $8 US to $10 US (depending on where its being shipped to).

PayPal Paymentsmark AT seattlenextdoor DOT com 

Money order or well concealed cash:  please email me for snail mail address.

Questions?  Email me at:  EclecticArtsZine AT gmail DOT com