Kool Kat of the Week: Dangerous Curves Ahead with Atlanta’s Tori Rodriguez as She Bends it Like Bettie and Releases Her Inaugural Bettie Page Fitness Workout Video

Posted on: Aug 1st, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crewdvd cover image for web
Managing Editor

Tori Rodriguez unleashed this past week, the first in a series of Bettie Page fitness videos,Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio” on DVD (digital version also available), which can be purchased on the Bettie Page Fitness website. Tori, local psychotherapist, wellness coach, freelance journalist, singer-songwriter (as Aneles) and all-around Bettie aficionado, is the social media editor for several Bettie Page (1923-2008) websites including BettiePage. Three more videos are on the horizon, so shake a tail feather and keep your eyes peeled! For a peep show of stills from the first video, take a peek here.

Experiencing Mary Harron’s 2005 film, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE for the first time ignited the unquenchable flame leading Rodriguez to becoming enraptured with the life of Ms. Page. Not only has Rodriguez written oodles of articles exploring the life, times and images of history’s notorious bombshell Pin-Up [“The Pin-Up Model’s Guide to Body Confidence” – REFINERY29, Feb. 2015; “Male Fans Made Bettie Page a Star, but Female Fans Made Her an Icon” – THE ATLANTIC, Jan. 2014, just to name a few], she’s also worked alongside Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori, during Atlanta’s kick-off screening of his documentary, BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (2012). Mori’s documentary headlined Rodriguez’s BettieFest at The Plaza Theatre in December 2013, which also included her debut tribute to Bettie Page, “Bettie Loved.” Rodriguez’s current Bettie-venture, and labor of love, Bettie Page Fitness, encompasses a desire to reinforce positive body image while stepping away from conventional female role labeling and embracing Ms. Page’s ability to reconfigure and redefine societal views on health and beauty.

ATLRetro caught up with Tori Rodriguez for a quick interview about her Bettie Page affection; her new series of “body-positive” Bettie Page fitness videos; working with Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori; and the influence Bettie has had on the life of women in the past and present.

bettie fit ab still for promo with logoATLRetro: We see that you are an all-out Bettie Page lover, and who wouldn’t be? She was gorgeous, ferocious, independent and strong! Can you tell our readers a little about your first introduction to the “Queen of Pin-Ups”?

Tori Rodriguez: A dear friend who knows me well, who knows I have thing for radical women, suggested we watch THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, in which Bettie is played by Gretchen Mol. Immediately after watching it, I started learning everything I could about the real Bettie–and of course, she was even more mind-blowing than the movie demonstrated, though I think Mol did an excellent job.

You wrote an article for THE ATLANTIC titled “Male Fans Made Bettie Page a Star but Female Fans Made Her an Icon.” What do you think Bettie symbolizes to women then and now?

I don’t think many women back then knew about Bettie, because they generally didn’t have access to the men’s mags she appeared in. But today she represents all those wonderful traits you mentioned, and she’s so free, confident, authentic and joyful. All of those are things that people struggle with, so it’s compelling to see a counterexample to what we assume is normal and inevitable. She’s also insanely hot, but still imperfect–a little cellulite here and there, bags under the eyes at times, imperfect teeth by today’s standards–which makes her confidenceThe-Notorious-Bettie-Page even more inspiring! And it reminds us that we can also be beautiful even in our imperfection. It’s more about how you embrace and work with what you’re blessed to have.

Why do you think her popularity has only increased over time?

I think it’s because those traits are timeless and universally appealing. One of the most important ways in which Bettie is inspiring is that she rejects false dichotomies–the commonly promoted and accepted notion that women can only be one thing or the other. She’s strong and soft, sexy and sweet, smart and silly, sexual and virtuous; all kinds of seemingly conflicting roles. So, in fact, we can be both, neither, everything, at different times. And she’s always so sure about whatever she’s doing–even when it’s like, “Who would ever think of doing that?!” Ha!

Would you say that the widespread burlesque revival, rife with “liberated sexuality” and “unflinching body positivity,” has kept Bettie in the limelight longer than most sex symbols/icons of her day? And why?

bp fit video still 2That’s a good question, and I’d be curious to know more about that. I do know that, yes, many in the burlesque community absolutely love Bettie and definitely support her legacy. I think she stands out and her legacy endures because of those unique characteristics mentioned above, and because of her depth and range of expression compared with, really, any other model ever.

Who, besides Bettie, are your other vintage role models?

Of course there’s Marilyn Monroe, who I know much less about, but plan to learn more. I do know she was much smarter and more interesting than people might imagine. I adore funk singer and producer Betty Davis, ex-wife of Miles Davis, who influenced changes in his sound and look. I’m a complete and utter fanatic for Jackie Wilson; he’s a huge influence on me as a singer.

In December 2013, your alias/band, Aneles, released its first single, “Bettie Loved,” through Sneer Records, which was performed live atBetty-Page-Reveals-All-poster Atlanta’s screening of Academy Award-nominated director, Mark Mori’s BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. Can you tell our readers a little about the song and its importance?

It’s funny you ask because the song plays during the credits at the end of the workout in my video! It was such a huge honor getting to sing it at the screening of BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. It all started when I learned that Bettie loved Western movies, and for some reason I thought “Bettie loved Westerns” (which is the first line of the chorus) would be a cool, simple line that would capture something specific and colorful about her personality. I wrote the whole song from there – lyrics, melody, vocal arrangement – and I felt compelled to make it a true tribute song, a bio in a nutshell that, if someone hears it now or in a hundred years, they’ll have a clear idea of who she was and why she was and is important, especially to and for women. I was fortunate to get to meet with Mori around that time, who has always supported and helped facilitate all my Bettie-related projects, starting with letting me create BettieFest, which I organized around the screening of BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL. It’s a documentary about Bettie’s life, which she narrates. It’s captivating and visually stunning – nonstop photos of Bettie, many of them previously unreleased – and it really captures her personality and spirit, while giving her the opportunity to tell the story that had only been told on her behalf.

Will there be additional Bettie-inspired tunes in the future?

I’m sure I will write more Bettie-inspired songs in the future!

Photo by Wayne Ackerson

Photo by Wayne Ackerson

The first video in the Bettie Page Fitness series, “Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio” will be available on DVD on August 4. Can you tell our readers a little about the workout and what to expect with the workout?

Amazingly, production finished ahead of schedule, so I released the DVD this past week! When I designed the workout, I based each move around specific photos of Bettie–all of which appear in the video. She’s either doing an exercise move or just a pose that resembles one. I also incorporated lots of moves and tips to work toward the excellent posture, balance and core strength that she had. Viewers will get a fun and challenging total body workout while being encouraged and entertained with photos of Bettie throughout.

How many videos will be in the series? And how can our readers get a copy of the DVD so they can empower themselves, Bettie-style?

I don’t know how many videos there will ultimately be in the series, but I already have three more planned. I’m strongly leaning toward yoga for the next one; inspired by this article I wrote about Bettie and yoga in June 2014, for “You Beauty”, which you can read here. Readers can order the DVD or digital version of the video at Bettie Page Fitness.

You state that your workout videos embody a “body-positive workout,” inspired by Ms. Page. Can you explain a little about what this means and give a little detail about Bettie’s views on body image?

It’s a body-positive workout in several ways. One is that I encourage viewers to respect their body’s limits, to challenge themselves but not overdo it. The point is to be healthy, feel alive and enjoy our bodies like Bettie was and did and not to punish or push ourselves too hard. It’s also body-positive in that the point is not to look like her or anyone else, but to be inspired by her to be the best version of ourselves. I haven’t read anything about Bettie’s view on body image specifically, but she’s known for defending nudity as natural, and she loved to take naked “air baths” as she called them!

Pin-Up Tori Rodriguez, Photo by Bettina May

Pin-Up Tori Rodriguez, Photo by Bettina May

What’s next for Tori Rodriguez?

In addition to making more Bettie Page Fitness videos, I’ll continue in my roles as psychotherapist and wellness coach, freelance journalist, blogger and social media editor for the BettiePage website and related sites, and singer-songwriter… and I’m sure I’ll find more pursuits to have fun with!

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about yourself and your loyalty, appreciation and love of Bettie Page?

I take great pleasure and privilege in finding new ways to honor Bettie’s life and legacy, and I hope everyone enjoys my labors of love!

All photos courtesy of Tori Rodriguez and used with permission. Photos of Bettie Page used with permission by CMG Worldwide.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Gritty Psychedelic Garage Rockers Nick and Peter Furgiuele of Gringo Star Get Nostalgic and Make a Hometown Pit-Stop, Slingin’ Some Old-School Sounds with a Modern Twist

Posted on: Oct 27th, 2014 By:

by Melanie CrewGringo Star 2014 PR-5 (2)
Managing Editor/Contributing Writer

Gringo Star, will be slingin’ that nitty gritty, ‘60s beach-y dirty rock ‘n’ roll your mama warned you about this Thursday, October 30, during a homecoming pit-stop on their whirlwind of a Fall tour, at DASHBOARD CO-OP, presented by Atlanta’s own WRAS-Album 88! And if that wasn’t enough, they’ll be hawkin’ their hot-off-the-presses, 7”- debuting two new edgy singles, “Long Time Gone” and “World of Spin” released by dizzybird records, which can also be purchased here. So, rock out, clear your calendar, and shake on down for a night of psychedelic shenanigans with Gringo Star and their pals, the psych-rock outfit, the Mood Rings at DASHBOARD CO-OP this Thursday!

Atlanta’s Gringo Star is a long-running collaboration of brothers Nick and Pete Furgiuele, catching the ears of the nation and the itch reaped from the godfathers of R&B, rock and soul. Their tantalizing and tainted tunes pay homage to The Kinks, Richie Valens, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, Sam Cooke and a helluva lot of old-school rockers and purveyors of doo-wop and soul. Their love of music sprung from a childhood chock full of the wonderment spilling over from their radio dj’ing granddad and his tales of the past. With three full-length albums under their gritty garage rockin’ belts [2008’s “All Y’All”, 2011’s “Count Yer Lucky Stars”, 2013’s “Floating Out to See”], their new 7” and nods from national outlets [December 2011, Rolling Stone mention here, Consequence of Sound articles here and more recently, a review in The New York Times here ], they are well on their way to the psychedelic garage rockin’ celestial cloud of Gringo Star-dom!

ATLRetro caught up with Nick Furgiuele for a quick interview about Gringo Star’s rock ‘n’ roll roots, their new singles “Long Time Gone/World of Spin”, why Aretha Franklin rubs them the wrong way and their upcoming show at DASHBOARD CO-OP!

Gringo Star 2014 PR-6And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Furgiuele, take a peek at Gringo Star’s new “World of Spin” video, reminiscent of “an old Polaroid coming to life”, here, directed, shot and edited by Megan Gamez.

ATLRetro: Your Fall 2014 tour has been a non-stop rockin’ trek across the U.S. What’s it like getting to come home and put on a show for your local fans?

Nick Furgiuele: It’s always great to play in Atlanta, getting to come back to a bunch of familiar faces and friends after being gone awhile.

You have a show nearly every day so far on this tour; what’s a day on the road like for Gringo Star?

Well, there are nights we don’t get to bed until 4:30 am, and then we’re up at 9 am. to start driving to the next spot. So first, we have to find coffee. Seventy-five percent of touring, we’re driving down the highway, so we have a little acoustic guitar and we just have sing-alongs in the van. The radio sucks and our CD player doesn’t work, either, so that helps pass the time on the drives. That and apples. Then we get to the place—load in, sound check, hurry up and wait. Play the set, load out. Repeat.

How did you get involved in Atlanta’s rockin’ indie music scene?

We’re all from Atlanta or the surrounding area.

Gringo Star has been described as being the purveyors of retro-infused rock, stepping in and out of genres, while keeping your fans on their toes anticipating what’s coming next. How would you describe your sound?

#underground

Can you tell folks a little bit about your new 7-inch featuring “Long Time Gone” and “World of Spin?”gringorooftopcincy

This is the first record we’ve recorded that was just Pete and me on all the instruments, vocals and recording. We did it at his home studio in Atlanta earlier this spring. “Long time Gone” is my song and “World of Spin” is Pete’s.

Having experienced releasing albums that were both produced in studio with an engineer [2008’s All Y’all and 2011’s Count Yer Lucky Stars] and home recorded, mixed and produced [2013’s Floating Out to See and your new 7-inch], which would you say fits your band’s persona more and why?

We like doing things both ways. Lately we’ve been more into doing it ourselves. It’s just nice to have more time to experiment with the songs, arrangements and sounds. Sometimes when you’re in a studio with a producer, you feel more pressure to finish things up or hurry because of time constraints. Plus, although it’s great to have some other ears besides ours involved, in a way, it’s also kind of nice that we don’t have any other outside perspectives—it’s as much us as it can be.

You guys draw much of your sound from a wide spectrum of musical acts of the past [Sam Cooke; Ritchie Valens; The Stooges; CCR, to name a few], fusing their genius with your own. If you could pick one musician/band from the past that influenced you the most, who would it be and why?

It’s hard to pick only one. The Kinks are way up there. Buddy Holly was one of the first guys I was really into, but there are so many great bands and singers out there.

1277168_10151884827439797_837269387_oMusic definitely runs in your family with your grandfather’s involvement in ‘40s and ‘50s radio and his induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Can you tell our readers any interesting tales about what it was like growing up with his stories and how they influenced your own musical upbringing?

That all definitely played a big part in us playing music growing up. Our mom used to always tell us stories about her childhood, being around the early rock & roll scene, hanging out with Sam Cooke, who was granddad’s favorite, working at the record shop and going to shows. Our granddad started off as a radio DJ and then got into promoting shows and opened several record shops in Columbus, Ga. He used to put on shows by Sam Cooke, The Soul Stirrers, James Brown, Otis Redding, Little Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, Martha and the Vandellas and on and on. We always used to look through my grandma’s scrapbook at all the photos she took of the shows, and we’d listen to her retell the stories. I guess one of the go-to stories we used to hear was how our granddad was putting on a show with Aretha Franklin coming through town, and she got completely wasted on whiskey and then fell off the stage that night and broke her arm. My grandma took her to the ER. She said she was swearing at her the whole way. And then she sued my granddad for the medical bill. So, yeah, never been much of an Aretha fan. Can’t stand her voice.

If you could put together a dream lineup of bands to play with [still around or not], who would it be and why?

I would have loved to have played with Ritchie Valens. I love his guitar playing so much.

Anything special planned for your 7” release party at Dashboard Co-Op this Thursday?10373113_10152507399444797_5166874530616465230_o

We couldn’t be more excited to have this show at the Dashboard Co-Op space over on North Ave. We’ve been friends with them for years and love that we’re getting to do the show somewhere a little different from the normal clubs in town. Plus, Dashboard has a major rad exhibit currently installed over there that folks can check out. We have the WRAS DJs spinning tunes between bands and afterward for the dance party! And our pals Mood Rings are playing with us, too! And it’s ALL AGES!! And if you’re old enough, there’s free beer!!!

What’s next for Gringo Star?

We’re going down to Florida for a final week of shows after the Atlanta release show, and then we’ll be back to start working on the new album, which we hope to finish before the end of the year.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

The question is, “How do I do shots with Gringo Star at one of their upcoming shows?” Answer: Tweet at us. #shotswithgringo

All photos courtesy of Gringo Star and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Genre-Bending, Vintage Rock ‘n’ Roll Slingin’, Nashville Soul Revivalist, Will Stewart of Willie and the Giant, has Rhythm, So Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Posted on: Oct 14th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/
Contributing Writer

L-R Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor, Will Stewart. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

L-R Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor, Will Stewart. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

Willie and the Giant, vintage rock ‘n’ roll slingers will be takin’ Atlanta by storm at Smith’s Olde Bar this Saturday, Oct. 18 on their tour through the South! Their newly pressed 7-inch vinyl, debuting two singles reeking of nostalgia, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and “Poor Boy,” both cut and recorded live at the ever comfy and throwback studio, Welcome to 1979, will be up for grabs! So, rock out, get a whole lotta rhythm, shake a tail feather and don’t forget to snag up a 7-inch or two! Acoustic folk and blues duo, Alex & Todd are along for the rhythmic ride, so come on down for a rockin’ retro ruckus this Saturday night at Smith’s Olde Bar!

Willie and the Giant, musical sons of Nashville and Birmingham, is made up of Will Stewart (vocals/guitar), Jon “The Giant” Poor (vocals/guitar), Grant Prettyman (bass) and Mac Kramer (drums). Not only has the group released two new singles, but a self-titled album is on the horizon for 2015, with their brand new label, Cumberland Brothers Music, run by Nick Worley, the band’s producer and engineer.The new album will be filled to the brim with an explosion of sounds with nods to American roots rock, ‘70s funk and more! Willie and the Giant, bathing in the blood, sweat and tears of vintage rock ‘n’ roll, are groovin’ to the top and have no plans to slow the momentum any time soon!

ATLRetro caught up with Stewart, for a quick interview about Willie and the Giant’s headfirst dive into rock ‘n’ roll, their new singles and record deal with Cumberland Brothers Music and their aversion to music labels and genres.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Stewart, take a listen to Willie and the Giant’s “Ain’t Gonna Wait”/”Poor Boy” single, here.

ATLRetro: Can you tell folks how you found the “Giant” and the rest of your band-mates and what brought you guys together?

Will Stewart: I moved from Birmingham to Nashville in November 2012. By coincidence, Jon Poor (“Giant”) and Mac Kramer (drums) moved from Birmingham to Nashville at the exact same time (We didn’t know each other while living in Birmingham.) They moved into a house with my then-bandmate Nick (also a Birmingham transplant), and that’s how we eventually met. The rest, as they say, is history.

There’s got to be a story behind the band’s name. Can you fill our readers in?

Photo Credit: Jack Smith

Photo Credit: Jack Smith

My height is pretty average and Jon is 6’5″ on a good day. There’s a video of us playing a show a few years back in which the camera exaggerates his height and has the opposite effect for my height. We thought it was hilarious and jokingly said, “Willie and the Giant!” When we formed the band, that name immediately came to mind as the obvious choice for the band name. We also think the “Giant” is a nice metaphor for our monster rhythm section – it could go a few different ways I suppose.

Can you tell folks a little about your debut singles, “Ain’t Gonna Wait” and “Poor Boy,” released this past September?

These two tunes just go really well together. I wrote these when I first moved to Nashville in late 2012, before the formation of WATG but thought they would fit into the set we were building in the early months of the band. I was listening to a lot of songs from the early/mid-sixties Chess Records and Atlantic Records R&B catalogs and almost every song seemed to be about breaking-up or falling in/out of love. So these tunes were sort of born out of that period of listening – it’s a tip of the hat musically and lyrically to that era.   

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Jon Poor, Grant Pettyman. Photo Credit: Sarah Sellari

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Jon Poor, Grant Prettyman. Photo Credit: Sarah Sellari

Any special tricks on snagging the jazzy award-winning, The Chad Fisher Group, known for backing Greg Allman, and legendary groups, like The Temptations, The O’Jays and the Four Tops, for your debut singles?

Well, being from Birmingham, we had nothing but respect and admiration for Chad Fisher – he’s an institution in Birmingham and when we decided to use horns on these two tracks we knew immediately that we wanted Chad Fisher Horns to play and arrange the parts. 

How exciting to not only get offered a rockin’ record deal, but to be the first group to sign with the new label, Cumberland Brothers Music. Can you tell folks a little about how you were discovered?

It’s incredibly exciting and we’re all very grateful to be part of the Cumberland Brothers family. Nick Worley and I met in late 2012. We shared very similar tastes in music, so I approached him about recording some demos in early 2013. After that we continued working on other projects and some months passed. Later, I got a call one day from Nick saying that he was starting a label and wanted me to be a part of it. As a musician, it’s one of those things you always fantasize about, so when it actually happened I was just thrilled and very grateful for the opportunity.

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Grant Pettyman, Jon Poor. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

L-R Mac Kramer, Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Jon Poor. Photo Credit: Abbey Grace Henley

How would you, as a musician, describe your band’s sound? Willie and the Giant has been described as being like, “M. Ward fronting a Memphis soul revue,” groove rock and a vintage soul revival. Was this intentional, or did it just happen?

People are going to throw around labels and genres pretty loosely, that’s just how it is. Obviously, our first two singles are our interpretation of early American R&B, so we’ve heard the “soul” thing quite a bit (not that that’s a bad thing). That said, our forthcoming full-length and live show is a smattering (word of the day!) of American roots and rock to British invasion to 70s funk to modern indie and pop. So I’m going to stop short of labeling and just let folks listen and decide for themselves. Ultimately we want to be a band whose music is very difficult to label.

Who are some of your favorite vintage performers and influences?

I’ll just keep this pre-1965: Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, The Impressions, Solomon Burke, Elvis, James Brown, the Stones, Dylan, Sam Cooke and on and on.

Can you tell our readers a little about your upcoming debut album and when they’ll be able to snag ‘em up?

We’re actually right in the middle of mixing the full-length and hoping for an early 2015 release. But again, it’s kind of hard to describe the sound because it covers a lot of ground. We’re just so excited that this is becoming a reality and can’t wait to share it with everyone. 

L-R Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor.

L-R Will Stewart, Grant Prettyman, Mac Kramer, Jon Poor.

What brings you southern guys even further south, way down into Atlanta?

Our bassist (Grant) is from Atlanta, so we have some roots there. I have some close friends there and we always have a hell of a time playing in Atlanta – we’re looking forward to the show next week!

Any special plans for your show at Smith’s Olde Bar this Saturday?

Nothing too crazy, just playing a ton of new tunes. We’ll also have our newly pressed 7-inch vinyl and t-shirts in tow (We accept cash and all major credit cards!)

What’s next for Willie and the Giant?

We’re going to be hitting the road as much as possible for the next two to three months, leading up to the release of the debut full-length album. Playing live is what we get off on – so that’s always going to be front and center for us as a band.

All photographs are courtesy of Will Stewart/Willie and the Giant and used with permission.

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