PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

A Trip To The Chess Recording Studio In Chicago

The PopCulteer
October 12, 2018

It’s the place where the magic was made, The legendary Chess recording Studio, located at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, an address immortalized by The Rolling Stones in their only instrumental track, and recorded at that very address.

The Stones chose to record at Chess because it was the home base of many of the artists who inspired them. As they say on their website, “Chess Records, formed in the early 1950s by and run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, was one of the great American record labels. They produced and released many important singles and albums, which are now regarded as central to the blues and rock music genre.

“At one time, Chess Records was considered “America’s greatest blues label” with notable acts including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Etta James, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Willie Dixon was one of the main producers, songwriters and arrangers of the signature “Chess Records Sound”.

“Chess Records was based at several different locations on the South side of Chicago, Illinois. The most famous location was 2120 S. Michigan Avenue from around 1956 to 1965. During those years, acts such as Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded at the legendary studio.

“In 1993, Willie Dixon’s widow, Marie, purchased the building which was then renovated and re-opened in September 1997 with a dedication ceremony. It is now home to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. “

While your PopCulteer was in Chicago last month, our hotel was just around the corner from this landmark, and before we hopped the train home, we had to stop in and see this vital piece of musical history.

Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation is open Tuesday-Saturday from Noon until 4 PM, with tours every hour from Noon to 3 PM. You start in the lobby and walk though the entire building, winding up in the actual recording studio that was used to record so many major hit records.

There are signs posted that ask you not to shoot video or record any audio there. The reasons for this are two-fold. First and foremost, the museum tours are a major source of revenue for the non-profit Wille Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation, and the more video people post of the tours on Facebook, the less reason people have to take the very reasonably-priced tour.

The second reason is that, very soon, the recording studio will be re-opened as a working studio where people can record music. When we were there the old studio control board was out being refurbished, and the plan is to restore all the analog recording equipment to perfect working order. They don’t want to just give away studio time that will be going for a premium once they’re up and running.

To be honest, when I saw that shooting video was prohibited, I was a bit relieved. I’ve pretty obsessively shot video of every cool thing that I’ve done, almost since the beginning of PopCult, and sometimes shooting the video takes away from the experience of actually being in cool places or at fun events. I was perfectly content to soak in the experience, and only took a handful of photos (which are allowed).

The only drawback was that, at the end of the tour, when my lovely wife Mel asked if it was okay to sing and try out the amazing acoustics of that fantastic room with the vaulted ceilings and specially designed walls, I couldn’t shoot any video of the moment. I did grab a photo, though. Mel, after waffling a bit while deciding what to sing, took my request of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”

Trust me, Mel sounded amazing standing in the spot where Etta James recorded “At Last,” singing into the very same microphone (which wasn’t on, but still. Mel made it sound like it was).

I could go on and on about the acoustics of that room (seen right). Our tour guide played some of the music recorded there, and hearing it in the same room where it was recorded was just uncanny. At one point someone in the tour group coughed, and it sounded like it was on the original recording. I swear, being in that room, even my thoughts sounded better.

Anyone with any interest in American music owes it to themselves to visit Willie Dixon’s Blues Foundation. You can find out more about it HERE. If you live in Chicago and haven’t been there yet, what the hell are you waiting for?  It’s a short walk from two different L stops on Cermak, so you can take the Red, Green or Orange line there with no problem. You can even eat at White Castle after the tour.

We plan to go back next summer, and stick around for one of the free Thursday concerts next door in Willie Dixon’s Blues Garden. I think we are allowed to shoot video there.

Here are a few photos of our trip to the Chess Recording Studio.

The landmark plaque.
The promised land!

 

Mrs. and Mr. PopCulteer, standing among the greatness.

 

I didn’t want to post detailed photos of all of the fantastic exhibits, but Raymond Wallace would never forgive me if I didn’t include this shot of Bo Diddley’s display.

 

The office of Leonard Chess, given a heavenly glow by me forgetting to wipe off the camera lens on my phone.
Willie Dixon’s bass. If you’ve ever listened to music in the last sixty years, you’ve probably heard it.
Vintage recording equipment in the rehearsal room.
In the recording studio, Willie Dixon’s pianos are flanked by a mini-exhibit of paintings by Ron Wood.
Meanwhile in the other end of the studio, Mel tries out the acoustics.
The control room, which was roped off pending its restoration. I was able to lean in and get one quick photo.
One last photo of the happy couple in the legendary recording studio.

I want to stress that these pictures only scratch the surface of the dozens of displays and artifacts located in Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation.  You will find everything from Koko Taylor’s dresses to Chuck Berry’s pants to life masks of over thirty blues and rock legends. There’s a gift shop, the offices of the Chess Brothers, what used to be the loading dock, now filled with memorabilia, the rehearsal hall, the recording studio and even the walls of the hallways and stairwells are covered with rock and blues history. It’s an amazing place for any music lover to visit.

And that is our PopCulteer this week. As always, check back every day for fresh content and all of our regular features.

Theatre Review: Downstate

Downstate, the latest work by Pulitzer-winning playwright Bruce Norris, ranks as one of the most intense pieces of drama that I’ve ever seen. Almost three weeks after seeing this play in previews at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, I still find myself thinking about it almost daily.

Downstate is set in a group home for convicted sex offenders in downstate Illinois. Four men, registered sex offenders who have served their time, but still have to be monitored, share the home and Norris takes the daunting task of daring to potray these men as real human beings, obviously seriously flawed, but full-fledged people who push the limits of sympathy with the audience.

Norris goes out on a limb in humanizing the last people that society is allowed to despise and dispose of, and that remarkable feat almost obscures the underlying themes of the play. The characters are very real, but are also archetypes, with the offenders practicing varying stages of denial about what they did. He also demonstrates the restrictions placed on the members of the group home as we see how they are barred from owning smartphones or accessing the internet, and limited in where they can legally go to shop or work. The details of all this are eye-opening.

As the play opens Fred, played by the incredible Francis Guinan, is being confronted by Andy, one of his victims, played by Tim Hopper, who is trying to come to terms with his post-traumatic life using a questionable form of confrontational therapy and is having trouble with the fact that Fred seems like a very likeable and sympathetic soul. Fred is confined to a motorized scooter and would be the kind of elderly neighbor that you’d want to help and look after, except for the fact that he was a piano teacher who molested his young students.

Guinan and Hopper are spectacular in their roles. Guinan perfectly tugs at the audiences heartstrings, while eventually showing his true colors. With his determined sense of mission and then the utter confusion when he faces reality, Hopper captures the impotent rage of a victim of a crime that resonates throughout his life.

In the midst of all this, the other members of the group home are facing their own issues. Felix (Eddie Torres), a deeply religious hispanic man, has been caught trying to contact his victim, who is his daughter. Gio (Glenn Davis), a young black wannabee mover-and-shaker is seemingly in denial about the consequences of his actions, and operates as though he could very easily move on with life, if only “the man” wouldn’t keep him down. Dee (K Todd Freeman), who acts as Fred’s caregiver, is a deeply sarcastic gay man who, like most true villains, does not accept that he did anything wrong.

And I use the word “villain” on purpose. These are all characters who have sexually abused underage children. Society has deemed that they be registered as sex offenders for life, and that they be bound by restrictions that will never end. Norris does not in any way potray this life sentence as wrong. He simply shows the real-life implications of their status, such as when, early in the play, Ivy, the Parole Officer (played by Cecilia Noble) informs them that the city council has expanded the safety zone around schools to the point where they will no longer be able to shop at their regular grocery store.

That the audience can feel sympathy for the sex offenders and possibly feel the restrcitions are too much is a testament to how well Norris has crafted this play, and how well the cast makes them seem like real people. Even though all four offenders display varying degrees of toxic narcissism at different times of the play, it is possible to relate to them, or at least recognize them as being like people you’ve known.

The first act sets the stage and introduces the characters, while the second act is when everything combusts and we see the inevitable collisions of the different storylines.

I don’t want to dilute the effect of the story by givng a detailed synopsis. The emotional gut-punches are numerous. Norris also presents plenty of humor. Part of the nature of the human spirit is the ability to crack wise, even when you’re in a horrible situation of your own making. There are quite a few laughs in this play, and quite a few tears, plus some shocking things that might send some audience members over the edge, emotionally. Downstate, in the end, is an intense drama that tackles one of the most controversial elements of society in a very real and emotionally-draining manner.

Every aspect of this production is truly remarkable. Downstate is a commissioned co-production of Steppenwolf Theater and The National Theater of Great Britain, and following its run at Steppenwolf (which wraps up November 11) it will open in London next spring.

Directed by Tony Award winner Pam McKinnon, the cast, amazingly a blending of American and British talent, is note-perfect throughout. There is not a weak link. In addition to Guinan and Hopper, every cast member excels. K Todd Freeman (right) as Dee is a tragic character worthy of a show all his own.

Even the scenic design by Todd Rosenthal is sheer perfection, capturing the look and feel of a group home, with stains on the ceiling, and attempts at turning an institutional setting into a place to live.

Ultimately, this incredible work of drama leaves the audience pondering if this is really the best way for society to deal with the aftermath of sexual abuse. Is this a crime for which a debt to society can truly be paid? How do we deal with these people after they’ve served their time, and more importantly, how do we help their victims deal with their own personal aftermaths?

Downstate is a very important work of theatre, and if you have any chance to see this world-premiere production, you should. This is one of the great works of drama.

(Except for the poster photo, all photos are by Michael Brosilow, and are courtesy of Steppenwolf Theater).

Remembering Woody Numbers

Mark your calendars now because on October 20, IWA East Coast will present a special memorial tribute show to their fallen comrade, Woody Numbers.  Woody passed away late last year, and was a cornerstone of IWA East Coast from day one.  He’d also appeared at other wrestling federations around the state, and his loss was a blow to the entire West Virginia wrestling community.

In his honor, IWA East Coast will be introducing new tag team title belts, and the championship will be named after Woody.

I’ll be posting more details about the show next week.  You can expect some of the area’s top wrestlers to come out and salute the memory of Woody, and you know that they’ll put on one hell of a show. Clear your schedules now because you do not want to miss this.

Kickstarter Alert: Forbidden Gallery #3

A few weeks ago I wrote a glowing review of ACP Comics’ Forbidden Gallery #3.  I told you at the time that a Kickstarter campaign was planned to pay for the printing of the book. Unfortunately, that campaign began the day that I left for my trip to Chicago, and I’ve just now found the time to tell you about it. And there’s only one week left.

So, if you like great horror comics, say, the kind that combine classic EC Comics with Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, then you’d best head on over to this Kickstarter campaign and plunk down some money.They still have quite a ways to go to meet their goal, and this is a really worthwhile project.

As I said in my review, this third issue continues the wonderful combination of veteran talents with bright newcomers and creates a perfect comics experience for the Halloween season with five scary short stories , all hosted by Archimedes, the curator of the Forbidden Gallery. Forbidden Gallery #3 is a worthy successor to the excellent previous two issues (you can read my reviews of those HERE and HERE, and order them HERE).

Check out the video below for more enticements.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Tuesday is our most-listened-to day on The AIR and we try to load it up with new episodes of our most popular shows as often as possible. Wouldn’t you know it,  that’s exactly what we did again this week as we bring you more great local music and other goodies like Swing and Psychedelica. This week all three of our Tuesday music programs feature new episodes, and they’re all pretty special.  You can tune in at The AIR website, or listen in on this non-controversial embedded radio player…

Today at 10 AM we are bringing you yet another brand-new episode of Radio Free Charleston, opening with new music from Willaim Matheny, and continuing with a great mix of new music and stuff from deep in our archives. See the playlist below the jump.

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

At 2 PM it’s time for Nigel Pye and his psychedelic mixtape program, Psychedelic Shack. This week we get yet another new episode of Psychedelic Shack in its new one-hour format, bringing you Nigel and his weekly hour-long mix of mind-blowing psychedelic music. In this week’s show you’ll hear vintage Vanilla Fuidge, Donovan, Janis Joplin and more mind-altering music. See the playlist below the jump.

Psychedelic Shack can be heard Tuesday’s at 2 PM, with replays Wednesday at 11 AM, Thursday at 5 PM and Saturday at 7 AM.

At 3 PM The Swing Shift brings you another new hour that mixes all types of Swing Music from the last one hundred years into an eminently danceable, cohesive whole. From Jimmie Lunceford and Fletcher Henderson to Joe Jackson and The Brian Setzer Orchestra to new music from Swing Republic and Jack’s Cats, this is one swingin’ affair.

You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 7 AM, Thursday at 7 PM and Saturday at 9 AM, only on The AIR. You can also hear all-night marathons, seven hours each, starting at Midnight Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Remember, you can tune in to The AIR at all hours of the day and night for a variety and quality of programming that you will not find anywhere else.

Continue reading…

Monday Morning Art: Chicago Kaiju

 

Continuing our month of somewhat spooky or scary art, this week we have a digital painting that started life as a simple cityscape, as seen looking North from my hotel window near Chicago’s Chinatown. The problem was that in the first version of the painting, due to the presence of The Willis Tower, the whole balance seemed off.

There was just too much sky in the left and center of painting.

So…I figured that I’d put something really cool there, just to balance things out and give the painting the proper Feng Shui. The first mobile object of the proper height that came to mind was a certain atomic mutation from Japan. As you can see, Godzilla seems right at home closing in on The Magnificent Mile. It makes for a better painting, and lets the viewer imagine his or her own narrative. Plus, having a monster in it makes it work for this month’s theme!

Click the image to see it bigger.

Meanwhile, today on The AIR, we present a day-early birthday salute to John Lennon on the Monday Marathon, We start at 7 AM with four hours of Beatles Blast, then at 11 AM, and until midnight, we present what will probably be the final encore for some time of last February’s epic Beatles Marathon concert by Rubber Soul. In case you don’t remember, earlier this year Mark Scarpelli’s Beatles tribute band, Rubber Soul, performed an all-day concert of over 200 Beatles songs, with dozens of guest performers like Ryan Hardiman, Mel Larch, Ron Sowell, Amanda Brigette, Ryan Kennedy, Bob Thompson, Julie Adams and more local stalwarts.

You can read all about it HERE. You’ll find a full playlist and rough guide to when each hour of the marathon starts.

This is our low-fi “bootleg” recording of the concert, and after this airing we’ll probably have to shuffle it off the servers for a while, so be sure to catch it.

Tune in at The AIR Website, or on this neat little embedded player…

Sunday Evening Video: RFC Halloween Part One

Every Sunday in October we are going to use our Sunday Evening Video feature to flash back to classic Halloween episodes of Radio Free Charleston. This week we go all the way back to our first Halloween special, in 2006. Orginally a two-parter, these shows have since been combined into one longer clip.

This was our first attempt to do something more ambitious than our normal video jukebox-type show, and in it you will see skits with me, Mel Larch and Brian Young, short films by Frank Panucci, Third Mind Incarnation and Brian Young, and music by Whistlepunk, The Concept, Professor Mike, Clownhole and half of The Pistol Whippers.

You’ll get to see me get killed and ressurected, plus there are ghosts and spirits and really cool posters for monster movies that they sold at Dollar Tree back when they carried really cool stuff. These were originally episodes 7 and 8 of Radio Free Charleston‘s video incarnation.

It’s a fun start for our video salute to Halloween month.

The RFC Flashback: Episode 155

From April, 2012 we find Radio Free Charleston 155, “Love Robot Shirt,” featuring music is from The Amorous, Godmode Broadway and Dual Core, plus the return of Stark Charleston. Host segments were shot in the parking lot of the WV Division of Tourism in South Charleston.

Our first musical guest on this week’s show was Clarksburg’s The Amorous. An indie-pop band with spiritual leaning.s We recorded the band live during Charcon in 2011, and assembled this video using audio enhanced with a studio recording.

Godmode Broadway (seen right) was an exciting band that was hard to pigeonhole, musically. They jumped between progressive rock, metal, reggae, surf and any other style they felt like playing–sometimes during a single song. The band was made up of Billy Freedom on vocls, Will Smoot on guitar, Steve Walker on bass, Ben Lamb on drums and our old friend, Synth-master,David Synn. Sadly, this band burned brightly, then went their separate ways, but it was great while it lasted, and making this video with them was a high point of RFC.

Playing us out this week we went to Charcon, or more specifically to Hack3rcon, for nerdcore rapper, DualCore, with “This One’s For You.” This also a fun shoot, and broadened the musical scope of the show a bit. You can read the original production notes for this episode HERE.

Chicago Photos and More

The PopCulteer
October 5, 2018

A week ago your PopCulteer arrived back home after spending most of the week in Chicago. This was part two of mine and Mel Larch’s anniversary trip, and we had a blast, even though I returned to a ton of outside assignments that had to be taken care of immediately.

That’s why it’s taken me a week to post these photos.  Later this weekend I will post my review of the play we saw (at Steppenwolf, one of the most-respected theaters in the world, and coincidentally, where your PopCulteer and his wife got married), and next week you might get a couple of bonus photo essays from our trip. You’ll get teasers for those below.

After the photo essay, we have a couple of brief news items, so follow it all the way down, okay.

Next week, with any luck, The AIR will feature all-new afternoon music programming, including the return of Herman Linte to Prognosis, and more great local music on Radio Free Charleston. You can always listen to our sister internet station at The AIR website, or on the embedded player that you will find at the bottom of this post.

Now, on with the photos…

The anniversary couple (about a month late) just up the street from where we got married.

 

We found the place in The Loop where they buried Roger Ebert (not really).

 

We took in a couple of games at Wrigley so Mel could see her Cubs. This was why we had to go to Yankee Stadium in August. I had to see my team play first. I’ve been a fan longer.
We stayed in a new hotel this trip (Hampton Inn McCormick Place) and out the window we could see a handy L Station, White Castle, and beyond that, the architectural wonders of the Hilliard Apartments, and then… Chinatown.
While waiting to hop the train home, we spent about an hour getting our toes wet in Chinatown.
It was a blast, and we plan to devote a whole day to shopping and sight-seeing there when we return to Chicago in December.
The view from our hotel window shows a vibrant neighborhood, and from here you can see a tree, which is in a garden next to the Legendary Chess Records.
We took the tour of this place where Chuck Berry, Etta James and Bo Diddly recorded their biggest hits, and I’ll bring you photos of that next week.
One last look from our hotel window at the famous Chicago Skyline, partially obscured by clouds. You can see the building formerly known as “The Hancock Tower” disappear in the mist in the middle of the picture.

Will Vinton, R.I.P.

Sad news from the world of animation as yesterday the passing of Claymation pioneer, Will Vinton, was announced by his family. The creator of The California Raisins and many great short films had been quietly dealing with cancer for more than the last decade.

PopCult had no idea of that a few weeks ago when we featured documentaries about him and samples of his work in Sunday Evening Videos. You can see that post HERE.

Sad Mad Glad: The Musical

This show opened last week, while we were out of town, and I didn’t get a chance to plug it. You have a few more chances to see the CYAC production of Sad Mad Glad: The Musical at their new performance space in the Charleston Town Center this weekend.

Especially for ages 7 and under, but fun for everyone. Four Dolphins Press and Contemporary Youth Arts Company have teamed up to create, Sad Mad Glad: The Musical.

Mark Scarpelli and Dan Kehde’s musical adaptation of Chuck Stump and Jim Strawn’s children’s books, Sad, Mad, Glad, debuted on September 27, 2018. A dozen new songs with titles such as “Your Eyes, Your Nose, Your Skin, Your Toes,” “Why, Why, Why” and “Pozz-itivity” pack this hour-long jaunt written for the 7 and under crowd.

Attitude is everything! And, just like academics, attitude and character are learned. The Sad Mad Glad Book  won the 2008 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Gold Medal. Using vivid photos and a fun, rhyming text that incorporates American folk wisdom and popular body idioms, The Sad Mad Glad Book helps teach children life lessons by taking something they already know – their body parts, and linking them to positive thoughts and behaviors. Anyone that enjoys molding young minds will find the unique format of this book helps children share feelings and build self-esteem while they’re having fun!

Another Sad Mad Glad Book-The Anatomy of Your Attitude picks up where The Sad Mad Glad Book left off. Recognized as 2009 Outstanding Book of the Year – Most Inspirational to Youth, by Independent Publisher, it uses even more body idioms and American folk wisdom to help children of all ages learn and reinforce the benefits of possessing a positive attitude and making smart choices in life. With the same look and feel of the original, Another Sad Mad Glad Book will lead to hours of thought-provoking conversation between adults and the special children in their lives.

Sad Mad Glad: The Musical
CYAC Theater in the Town Center Mall, 2nd floor
Charleston, WV
Show performances are:
7:00 PM October 5, 6
2:00 PM October 6, 7
Tickets are $15.00 per adult and $8 for student. $5 for 6 and under.
https://www.showclix.com/event/sad-mad-glad-the-musical

Call 304-541-4756 for more information.

The AIR

Here’s that handy embedded player so you can tune in and listen to reruns of some very, very well-done radio shows this weekend (except for Radio Free Charleston, which was new, and which you can read about HERE).

 

And that is it for this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features and look for a bonus post this weekend with a theatre review.

 

 

Chaos in Toyland

Nobody seems to know what the hell is really going on with Toys R Us this week. Also, KayBee Toys, which promised to be a major presence in malls this holiday season, hasn’t made a peep since May, which is of concern since seasonal stores really should be open by now.

The big bombshell news this week was that the lenders who hold the intellectual property of Toys R Us, including trademarks, websites, and private-label brands, filed papers with the bankruptcy court on Tuesday to cancel the expected auction of those intellectual property assets with the intention to use them to create a new business entity themselves.

They did this on the eve of the Toy Association of America’s annual Fall Toy Preview in Dallas, and they coincidentally debuted their new business there on Wednesday. The problem is, what they’ve announced is so vague that a person couldn’t be blamed for thinking that they’re just making it all up as they go along.

As seen at right, Geoffrey (reportedly with someone surprising inside the suit) was wandering the aisles at the Fall Toy Preview, offering photo ops to anybody who wanted one, and wearing a cape that said “Back from Vacation.”

One thing is clear: Whatever their plans are, they’ve been in the works for months. The auction of the intellectual property assets was supposed to have happened in July, and it seems likely that bids were submitted, and came in so low that the current caretakers of the IP decided to keep it for themselves.

What isn’t clear is just exactly what they intend to do with it.

The new business is “Geoffrey’s Toy Box,” and while there have been references to new stores, there are also references to retail partners, as well as this description of what they are: “A wholesale toy distributor and intellectual property company whose focus is on popular play patterns across trusted brands that kids and parents love. Geoffrey’s Toy Box is a fully outfitted organization with design, development and global sourcing expertise. Portfolio includes popular brands like Journey Girls, Fastlane, True Heroes, You & Me, Imaginarium, Just like Home and more!”

Speculation has run rampant, and folks on social media are going crazy at the idea of Toys R Us rising from the ashes and reopening old stores. That simply is not going to happen. At least not anytime soon.

Leaks, rumors and press statements tell a tale of a large cardboard display, shaped like a train with Geoffrey the Giraffe as engineer, that would hold an assortment of those private label brands that were previously exclusive to TRU. Hints and allegations indicate that the most likely location for this toy boutique would be Kohl’s, or possibly some other Midwest-based retailer. If this happens, it’s a short-term move designed to keep the trademarks in front of the public. That idea, is massively underwhelming. It could even be a bit of misdirection.

Supposedly, these displays will start appearing in November, which would indicate that this plan has to have been in the works for several months. I’ve been trying to find out what was happening with the IP auction since July, and it seems that they knew early on that it was not going to happen.  If you recall, Toys R Us had a massive liquidation sale and shut down all 800 of its US retail outlets back in June, after lenders refused to extend the company any further credit after a disastrous Chistmas season in 2017.

Reportedly, the lender behind this week’s move is Richard Barry, who is rather controversial in the toy business, with one toymaker going on the record accusing him of engineering the entire Toys R Us bankruptcy as part of a massive fraudulent scheme.

According to some sources, Barry was actually wearing the Geoffrey the Giraffe suit at the Dallas Toy Preview. This could just be part of a plan to get higher bids for the IP, or if you believe the wilder conspiracy theories, the entire bankruptcy was designed to rip off as many people as possible while killing the retail end of the company.

That conspiracy theory may not be so wild after all. The people who currently own the intellectual property are the same people who essentially ran the company out of business in the first place, and at least one major toymaker has vowed to never let those people sell his toys again. That would explain the emphasis on their private-label brands, instead of touting themselves as “where the toys are.”

I didn’t jump on this story sooner because it’s still developing, and all I can do is share the incomplete knowledge that’s already out there.

Speaking of incomplete, nobody seems to be saying anything about KB Toys, which announced plans to open 1,000 pop-up stores in malls across the country, just in time for the holiday season.

That may very well happen, but the company has not made any announcements since last May, and seasonal pop-up stores should at least be confirming locations and hiring by now.

One report has KB Toys opening 1,000 pop-up stores on Black Friday, but even at that late date, the stores will need to be stocked and staffed, and with not even their Facebook page being updated since early May, it seems like this revival may not happen this year. As I write this, no local mall has any deal in place for a KB Toys pop-up. It is possible that this is the most efficient stealth retail launch in history, but it’s looking a bit like there’s a slim chance we’ll see KB Toys return this year.

Meanhwile, Party City opened up around 50 temporary “Toy City” stores around the country beginning in late August. These are combined with Halloween City, and the closest one to Charleston is just North of Columbus. While it’s cool that they were able to pull this off on such short notice, it looks like the selection at those stores is not unlike the typical type you find at pop-up stores, with a heavy emphasis on big-name toys like Barbie, Lego and Hot Wheels, plus a lot of board games and not much in the way of offerings from smaller toy companies.

Elsewhere, almost every retailer that has a toy department is beefing them up for the holiday season. Bookstore chains, Barnes & Noble and Books A Million are devoting half of their floor space to toys now. Walgreens is looking to expand their toy offerings. Kroger is mulling over the idea of creating a larger-than-usual seasonal toy section and Walmart and Target are expanding their toy departments by as much as 50%.

PopCult will revisit this story as further developments occur.